Sunday, October 27, 2002

Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion

What a week it's been. With lunatic snipers and lunatic Chechens all over the news it's been hard to keep away. Hard not to be as dismayed as ever. But I managed to escape for a while and catch Donnie Darko, released over here at long last. It's startlingly good. Reviews from the States intrigued me and I expected a somewhat angsty David Lynch-style drama. Instead, Richard Kelly's debut feature serves up a sly satire on suburban strangeness reminiscent of John Hughes's 80s teen flicks but with genuine thoughtfulness. The comparisons with David Lynch's surrealism are justified but Kelly keeps a tighter grip on the story, and it never lapses into the sort of mocking parody Lynch is known for.

It's always refreshing to watch a movie that has a distinct sense of itself, and Donnie Darko has this in spades. The plot isn't easily summarised, but it follows Donnie (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a precociously bright high-school student who suffers hallucinations of a sinister giant rabbit predicting the end of the world. Pretty straightforward, eh? The film covers ideas as diverse as time-travel, love, fate, and psychosis. It's notable for its skewering of both small-town conservatism and 'touchy-feely' self-help therapy. One of the funniest scenes finds Donnie (whose test scores are 'intimidating') faced with a patently daft execise where he has to assess a short scenario and mark it on a sliding scale between 'fear' and 'love'. His teacher's simplistic dogma suggests Donnie might not be the only person in town with a shaky grasp of reality.

The avoidance of cliche is refreshing too. Though steeped in 80's pop culture, it's not a period piece. If the ending is baffling (and I thought it was), it's baffling in a way that makes you want to argue about what it all meant, not dismiss it as pretention. This film is deliriously alive in a year of pretty unadventurous cinema. Although Road To Perdition was sublimely beautiful it didn't grip me in nearly as many ways. It's criminal that we've had to wait so long to see this. It's also criminal that it is showing on so few screens around Britain. Take the time to see it if you can - it's one in a million.

Andrew Sullivan and Mark Steyn ask whether skewed assumptions may have slowed the capture of the Washington sniper. Most Americans abhor the idea of racial profiling but there's a convincing argument that it was in fact used. The consensus is that Police and the FBI were likely looking for a white 'militia type' male with ties to extreme right-wing organisations. Most damning of all is evidence that several chances to apprehend John Mohammed were missed.

It's understandable that the overwhelming relief felt right now supercedes serious questions about this - but I do hope these questions get asked. Not just questions about the profiling techniques involved but how the supposedly objective science involved can be tilted off balance by political or cultural considerations.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Siege Over

The Russians have stormed the theatre where Chechen terrorists held hundreds of people captive. Some hostages do appear to have been killed - the count is 67 right now.

I didn't think it was going to end any other way. The loss of life is awful but under the circumstances it could have been much, much worse.

In the past couple of days I've heard the Chechens described as 'guerillas', 'rebels', 'hostage-takers' and 'extremists'. All these terms are appropriate but I've noticed that the major media outlets have avoided using the T word. Do they use some rule of thumb whereby terrorists have to kill a certain number of people before they are described as terrorists? It might just look like semantics but there does seem to be a reluctance to use this crucial word.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

James Lileks wonders how long it will take before the root-causers start drawing a link between the Washington Sniper and the sins of US foreign policy.

Just a few hours. The arrest of John Mohammed today prompted Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy to ask viewers whether the victims of the sniper were the latest casualties of America's war on terror. Not victims of terror but the war on terror. I'm not making this up. Mohammed hasn't even been charged and already we've got commentators speculating about his possible motives.

Displaying impressive mental gymnastics, Krishnan skipped several awkward hurdles of logic and reason and landed in a great big sandheap of a conclusion involving Mohammed's theoretical anger over America's response to September 11. The clear implication was that once again, America has only itself to blame for the carnage visited upon it. The workings of a deranged mind were raised to the level of tragically misguided protest without even a fingernail-paring of evidence. The individual rationale for the killings (or lack of one) was neither morally condemned nor treated to any kind of medical perspective. Krishnan's questioning portrayed the sniper's actions as clinical, neutral results of U.S. foreign policy. The notion that governments cannot and should not be held responsible for every nutcase who takes exception to their decisions wasn't considered for a second.

Not having received a satisfactory response from viewers, Krishnan decided to badger an FBI spokesman with the same line of questioning. To his credit, the spokesman was diplomatic, telling Krishnan to "back up", rather than "fuck off" as one might have expected. It was the knee-jerk speed of this thing that propelled my jaw to the floor more than anything. I really thought we'd be into next week before the idiots set up their stalls.

Would this be so outrageous if, for example, we knew anything about the suspect's motives? Actually, yes it would. This arrant nonsense is the sort of thing that gives television news a bad name. Tabloid crudity is bearable but dishonesty is another thing altogether.

Two Arrests in Maryland

Let's hope they've caught the Washington sniper this time. Everything has been said about this one already. Acres of speculation hasn't yielded anything productive so far. Whatever this nutcase's motives are, his actions still amount to terrorism. Any meaningful distinction between political justification and psychosis evaporates when this sort of thing is the result.

I've loved the movies since I was 6. I always wondered whether I might write a book about the flicks someday: 'Postmodern horror of the 90's', 'The Fish out of Water Cycle of the mid 1980s: Fad or Phenomenon?', 'Overbearing and Bombastic Studio Blockbusters: Please Stop.' Or some such thing. I always knew getting published was a stretch but maybe I should have a go. If North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il can crack it then so can I!

I'm in two minds about purchasing his musings. As, apparently, is he. On the one hand, his musings on cinema as "a powerful ideological weapon for the revolution and construction" might be a wee bit dry. On the other hand, I want to know if he thought Signs was the biz too. Cinderella Bloggerfeller reviews Kim on Amazon.

I'm still intrigued by the double authorship thing. Does Juche ideology demand that every effort must be a collaboration or something? Is Li'l Kim simply collaborating with another Kim? Is he collaborating with himself? Or is Amazon just having a laugh?


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