Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski
I don't think I'd ever seen The Big Lebowski sober before.  Sadly it is not a movie that tends to be watched without the copious consumption of various substances.  Perhaps it was the lack of chemicals or just the fact that I've been reading and watching a lot of film history, and reading a lot of Raymond Chandler, but for the first time I feel like I really got the movie -- or at least drew something from it.  By referencing and parodying various styles of cinema it becomes a film about how difficult it is to tell a story now, how confusing and senseless everything is, and how that remains ok.

The Big Lebowski is immediately through the opening narration (and the closing as well) framed as a Western -- a story about a man who represents a moment in history in a formative moment.  As the movie progresses a second framing develops and it takes the form of a mystery, specifically in the tradition of Raymond Chandler -- what began as a story of a man and a time, becomes "a complicated case... ...You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, lotta strands..."  The encounter with the "other" private detective and the Malibu police call to mind Chandler's detective Phillip Marlowe's clashes with the cops and interactions with other PIs.  Lest we forget, The Big Lebowski is also a movie about bowling and as such to a lesser extent takes on the form of a sports film, complete with John Turturro's villainous Jesus as the antagonist. 
The movie sets up these predictable structures -- the kinds of movies we've seen for years, supplemented with hints of other more subtly present film structures:  the romance with Maude, the buddy film with Walter. It then proceeds to disappoint with each one:
  • There is no satisfying solution to the mystery.
  • There is no showdown with Jesus' bowling team.
  • Maude is not the Dude's lady friend, it is a romance subplot devoid of romance.
  • Walter as a sidekick/buddy is a constant frustration and disappointment.
In a sense the movie is as it claims to be a story of a particular time, the time is now, and the statement being made is that those traditional storytelling structures no longer suffice -- they are empty. Our mysteries don't have exciting solutions, our romances are devoid of love. 

The Big Lebowski doesn't reserve it's critique of art to film, a surprising range of art/artists are presented at their worst throughout the movie: 

Maude's intentionally shocking type of modern art (strongly vaginal) and her needlessly elaborate acrobatic painting methodology are exaggerations of common trends, and the important art related call that she and her ridiculous pencil mustached friend is an empty, endless chorus of hyena-esque laughter. 

Dance is fittingly represented by the Dude's landlord's piece for which he finally finds a venue. He stumbles incomprehensibly around the stage in outdated costume. 

In terms of musicians the film has Autobahn with their nihilist posing. What we hear of it consists of distortion with "We believe in nothing." repeated over it. 

The only writer in the movie is comatose, embedded in a ridiculous life support system, and his most notable claim to fame is having written some of the worst episodes of a terrible television show.

Even the pornography in The Big Lebowski fails to entertain, "He fixes her cable?"

I remember that when The Big Lebowski came out, for many critics, it was a disappointment after the success of Fargo. Reviews criticized it's lack of focus, and how the pieces didn't seem to hold together. Watching it again now though, that seems to be the point.  Our world, still at war in the Middle East, isn't a Western, a Mystery, a Romance, a Sports story. It meanders, art cannot save it or us, art flails the same way we do. The beauty though of The Big Lebowski is that even with a message this bleak, it arrives at the end with "Yeah man. Well you know the Dude abides." And Sam Elliot stumbling over how the story might make sense, concludes that things continue as they do and we all abide.  Which is indeed a good thing to know.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Specialization, the Internet, and being a Music Nerd

I've been thinking a lot about how the internet affects how people relate to things, particularly their interests and obsessions. The spark for this thinking was two-fold as I find inspiration usually is. Striking at the moment where two unrelated things make you say, "That's interesting."

Thing 1: I was listening the Guardian's music blog, and the guest was a man who has started a record label to indulge his musical interests -- specifically he was into Kurdish wedding shredding (it does sound strangely Metallica-esque) and Kenyan Country music.

Thing 2: I was talking about American Psycho with my friend Lisa when she brought up the chapter in which Bateman attends a U2 concert.  In her effort to track down the chapter online she came upon the U2 pop culture encyclopedia whose maintainer had apparently typed up the whole chapter as part of his ongoing attempt to capture every reference to U2 in popular culture. This is as odd as it sounds, my personal favorite entry is the Northern Exposure one. Yes, a character in a single episode wears a possibly unofficial U2 shirt.

Here are two people with notably different musical taste, but who have found something to specialize in.  They are experts in things that to other people might seem completely meaningless. Where does this drive come from? and why does it feel like this level of obsession and specialization has only become prevalent in the age of the internet?

Here's my best way of understanding it:
From an evolutionary perspective I would imagine that specialization within groups of social animals like humans. Someone is the best tracker, someone the best cook, the most alert watchman, etc. If there were not a drive to differentiate the self, to be the best at something, one might end up in a group in which everyone wants to take care of the children and no one wants to hunt. This works particularly well for small groups.

Over time obviously the social environments which people were a part of expanded and with them the possibilities for specialization. Farmer, smith, priest, artist, general, etc. The world gets larger and the possibilities grow, but at the same time so does the threat of not feeling special. Lurking under our larger and more connected world is that terrifying idea that we are not special, we are not the funniest, or the strongest, or the smartest.

With the rise of mass media, recordings and film a lot of people who within their social circle had been the specialist-- in singing, in sport, or anything else were suddenly out of specialty -- who can compete with the experts? This is probably when the idea of being a fan really took off. I am not the best singer or baseball player, but I am the biggest fan, I know every song, every player, every story.

That's where the story starts to hit home. I'm a terrible musician -- I can't sing or play anything, but I enjoy listening to music. I became a music nerd -- eager to share my latest discoveries and mixes. I dare say I was almost at the level of a record store employee ("I've never been wrong, I used to work at a record store"). Close enough for my circle of friends anyway.

I then ran into the internet, where as a music nerd the moment that you step a toe into particularly the social aspect of it you find your sense of specialness dissolving. Your taste, which your friends admire and seek out is pedestrian and uneducated.  "You mean you haven't heard _________? Everything you like would be even more worthless and boring if they hadn't done it better and earlier." You are drowning in a sea of people who specialize in exactly what you do. You arrive at a music festival wearing a shirt for the most obscure band you know and then see 5 other people wearing it.

You are left with two options in terms of feeling special: choosing one band or style of music to become the "biggest fan" of, or listening to increasingly obscure and diverse selections of music. Those roads lead to on the one hand to maintaining the U2 pop culture encyclopedia, and on the other to obsessing over Kurdish wedding music and Kenyan Country.

The funny thing is that your new specialization which allows you to feel special online. Which lets you at least pretend to be a unique expert on the internet will make the friends who used to look forward to your creative mixes, sigh as you hand them your latest collection of obscure Prince b-sides and remixes, or your brilliant collection of obscure music from every sub-sub-sub genre and era unified only by their amazing ability to be utterly unenjoyable to listen to. When they invite you to a show you will stand arms crossed judging the music: too mainstream, too emotional, too simple, too likable.

The internet is rife with people struggling to feel special. Finding obscure and unimportant things to imbue with incredible meaning and depth. It is the worst of academia writ large-- people carving smaller and more obscure fields out of everything and squabbling endlessly over who should moderate the worlds most extensive  encyclopedia of "The Jeffersons".

I can't imagine it being good for one's real social life.

On another note:
This is a quote from Proust in which I have replaced woman with band and society/salon/etc with appropriate music related terms:
The thirst for novelty that leads men of the musical world who are more or less sincere in their eagerness to keep abreast of musical developments to frequent the circles in which they can follow them makes them prefer as a rule some band as yet undiscovered, who represents still in their first freshness the hopes of a superior music so faded and tarnished in the bands who for long years have wielded the musical sceptre and who, having no secrets from these men, no longer appeal to their imagination. And every period finds itself personified thus by new bands, in a new group of bands, who, closely identified with whatever may be the latest genre, seem, in their new attire, to be at that moment making their first appearance, like an unknown special born of the last deluge, irresistible beauties of the new style, each new movement. But very often the new bands are simply, like certain statesmen who may be in office for the first time but have for the last forty years been knocking at every door without seeing any open, bands who were not known in the scene but who nevertheless had been entertaining for years past, for want of anyone better, a few "chosen friends."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Proust pledges Guermantes

In Search of Lost Time, Vol. III: The Guermantes Way (v. 3)I finished the 3rd volume of A Remembrance of Things Past after a week of being sick (complete with feverish dreams/hallucinations of polite French society), and was struck by a brilliant (or possibly idiotic) idea while riding the subway last night.  I was in the middle trying to explain to my wife how some bits of Proust are so fantastic and others have a tendency to drag a bit.  When he talks about love, loss, jealousy, art, infatuation you can relate and you constantly have moments of surprise at his brilliance, and that feeling of recognizing a thought or feeling that you experienced thousands of times but never articulated, condensed in the perfect language.  On the other hand most notably when he writes about the fashionable salons, politeness, society and nobility he sometimes manages to feel alien enough that it can end up droning on and on.

There is; however, always a kernel of truth in Proust, always something he gets at in a way you have never thought of, and in this case in the interminable pages about fashionable parties and invitations it struck me that there are some real truths about social environments, it's just that the social framework we exist in now is much more heterogeneous and complex, much less obviously stratified than that of upper class France circa 1900.  The notable exception of course is school.  Middle school, high school, college -- it doesn't matter.  Those small, rigid, and incredibly stratified social environments are the places where you can really mentally set the high society Proust spends so much time discussing.

So that's when I got another million dollar idea (I think this is number 5) -- someone needs to adapt A Remembrance of Things Past set in a school. The main character Marcel of course as the surprisingly cool and popular freshman, for some reason invited to all the right parties.  Mme de Guermantes as sorority queen -- her boyfriend, M de Guermantes, no doubt captain of the football team. Albertine as the still-in-highschool girlfriend in town for a sexy visit, M de Charlus as the lecherous and quick tempered advisor.  I'm thinking Baz Luhrmmann to direct -- no doubt with Michael Cera as the lead.

The more I think about it the more the details fall into place.  Saint-Loup as Marcel's host when he visited as a pre-frosh, now studying abroad (Morocco of course -- have to keep some details), Rachel, as Saint Loup's townie girlfriend.  M. de Guermantes' collection of paintings by Elstir re-imagined as a rare vinyl collection (albums far cooler than someone so fashionable should own).

The sticking point is that people graduate from school.  We leave that environment of exclusive parties and sought after invitations, of worrying about what people are saying behind our back, and shifting social alliances (well hopefully we do).  The thing about the Guermantes and the rest of the society Proust writes about is that they never leave that environment.  They are defined by their permanent obsession with the social and the fashionable -- even as they deny it.  They live solely to socialize, for fashion, somewhat akin to celebrities now, but they were born into it and will die in it, without ever having done anything useful.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I've been putting off writing about Exotica, I think partially because I like it so much, and partially because I think it is a difficult movie to write about for an audience who hasn't seen it. To some extent this is a function of how thriller-like the plot is. The end of the film has that kind of "ah ha" feeling that typically one only finds in a well done murder mystery, and while there is a murder in Exotica it is not solved and the resolution to the film has little to do with it.

I was thinking a bit about why Exotica is such a compelling film to me. I think there are a few elements it brings together in a pretty unique way. The first I think is the humanity and complexity of the characters. Some of my favorite movies (Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game) are my favorites because the characters defy typical characterization and stereotyping and reveal their humanity and complexity. While in any other war film Von Rauffenstein might be portrayed as the cruel german officer, in Grand Illusion the reality of his character and the sacrifices he has made out of a sense of duty to a no longer existing world evokes our sympathy. Exotica is full of those kinds of characters -- people who when we first see them we think "Oh I understand this person," but as we see more of them and the true complexity of their lives becomes apparent we are forced to re-evaluate them and their relationships.

There is a tendency in film and in life for us to immediately categorize people based on our first impressions and minor easily seen elements of who they are. Film makers often successfully use this as a tool -- we don't need to know the details of Han Solo's life preceeding the Star Wars, because the moment he swaggers onto the screen we know exactly the kind of person he is. (Maybe that's why people were so enraged by the "Han shot first" change because that action defines the character so much.) It is not that quick characterization by impression/stereotype is a bad thing, but I think it is a tool and it tends to be over-used. Characters who are -- like those in Exotica or Grand Illusion -- compelling, complex, and expectation defying, end up being much more human.

A few years ago I was at an airport awaiting someone. I passed the time standing near the sliding doors watching my fellow waiters. There was a man in a suit who particularly caught my eye. For whatever reason I looked at him with disdain and engaged in the typical stereotyping and assumptions about the wormy looking guy in the suit. I wouldn't remember this at all if it hadn't been that the person he was meeting arrived before mine. She was a woman in her early 20s, maybe his daughter maybe his niece, who knows. She walked through the doors and saw him and burst into tears -- in that kind of way that makes everyone around shrink with embarassment. The man I had so recently been mentally writing off (probably to feel better about myself) stepped toward her as everyone was stepping away, hugged her, and held her bawling onto his shoulder, with a look of incredible sympathy and love -- while embarassed Minnesotans stepped past staring disapprovingly. The feeling that I had in that moment of seeing my assumptions challenged and shown to be petty, unfair, and false -- that is the kind of experience that Exotica and its characters offer -- the reminder we need of the complexity and humanity of those around us.

It is frustrating to write so generically about the experience of seeing a movie, but the puzzle-like nature of the film demands it. To discuss how our thoughts on the individual characters change is to give too much away, but I think that is another aspect of the film that I find so compelling. I have a tendency to really enjoy fiction and film with a game or puzzle-like structure: Twin Peaks or Lost or The Book of the New Sun. Exotica is pretty unique at least to me in that it combines that kind of structure, mystery, and an "answer" with a film that is about suffering, relationships, and human nature rather than about aliens or monsters or the end of the world. It is not often that on second watching a drama you find yourself hoping to find clues. The film which off the top of my head is most similar is probably Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but with Exotica the mystery is not one of puzzling out an event: "what happened?", but rather one of character -- of trying to understand the characters: "who are they?"

Maybe it's the bringing together of those two things that I really love in film that made Exotica so suddenly a candidate for my list of favorite movies. It happens to combine a way of humanizing characters that tends to exist in sprawling unfocused character studies, with a tightness of plot, and puzzle-like nature which tends to exist in movies that involve cardbord characters uncovering clues to some artificial mystery.

There are a lot of other things to love about the film. Visually it's incredibly beautiful and full of little details. It's funny how some movies that are really focused and well structured tend to be focused on their subject matter to the exclusion of anything else. Exotica is not one of those movies -- the re-occuring and subtle presence of the "exotic" whether in the shape of lovers, culture, pets (parrots both real or fake), or race provides rich and complex fodder for thought. The visual symbolism of mirrors, both normal and one-way is thoroughly explored, as is the interactions between money and relationships. Beyond the characters we come to intimately know there are those who remain opaque and yet just as interesting. Harold in particular stands out in my mind as a fascinating and important character despite his 5 minutes on screen. Everything from his clothing and the place where he lives to other character's conversations about him ("I don’t think that I like my dad when he’s around you." "Your dad doesn’t like himself when he’s around me. But that’s okay. That’s part of what friends do to each other.") suggests a complicated and important character. He may not be one of the characters whose depths we are plumbing, but the film makes it clear that those depths are still there. The complexity, sadness, and messy solutions to the tragedies of life are not limited to the characters the film is focused upon.

I could go on and on, but it remains a difficult film to talk about without ruining it for those who haven't seen it. See it, and let me know what you think. Ultimately the lesson that stands out in my mind is one of the complexity of humans We are surrounded by others whom we write off constantly and arbitrarily in our everyday lives, but the reality is that we are all humans, flawed,damaged, and lonely; constructing relationships and rituals -- often beautiful, disturbing, strange, or all three -- to deal with our pain.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Thief of Bagdad

I have a tendency to watch a lot of depressing, or at the very least serious, movies. The Thief of Bagdad is an exception. It's an adventure, over the top, riddled with plot holes, big budget, fun. The movie is is a remake -- I'd guess one of the first -- made in 1940 based on a silent movie from 1924. The characters, settings, and plot have been further liberally borrowed from (Disney's Aladin will be the most apparent example to modern viewers). As children we watched both the 1924 version and the 1940 version (we were pretty confused by the fact that there were two). Watching it as an adult though there are some elements of discomfort particularly to do with race.

Watching older films is interesting partially because of the insight into the culture and worldview of the time. This has a tendency to feel uncomfortable to us most when it applies to race. We don't mind seeing a world in which people see religion or strangely enough even gender very differently, but when it comes to race it tends to provoke a reaction. The Thief of Bagdad is nowhere near the embarassment level of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but it is still there. The titular Thief of Bagdad -- Abu, played by the indian actor Sabu, is really representative I think of the roll of the "person of color" as sidekick in a lot of early cinema (and literature for that matter I suppose). He is the loyal, sexless, man-child -- the noble savage. The white man's fantasy of a servant who wants nothing but to help.

The Ahmed, Abu, Princess interactions reminded me of the similar situation in Casablanca with Rick, Sam and Ilsa. I think what seems so strange in both cases is that Sam and Abu clearly have a relationship with the hero's love interest, but it has been so drained of any kind of possibility of anything flirtatious or sexual that it seems unrealistic. The utter absence of anything sexual feels unnatural. The princess is supposed to be this incredible beauty who for both Ahmed and Jaffar one glimpse of her means falling in love forever. Abu sees her and registers no reaction whatsoever even as Ahmed is instantly and permanently head over heels. He is utterly sexless and innocent-- when he finds manages to outwit the genie and secure his 3 wishes he spends the 1st on sausages. Hunger being his only appetite is a recurring theme in the film.

The story begins with a flashback, Ahmed has been blinded and Abu has been very appropriately transformed into a dog (an incredibly cute and well trained dog). Having transformed him Jaffar says, "Strange how an unpleasant child can make a decent dog!" I can't imagine that the symbolism could have been lost on the audience -- particularly at the moment when the curse is lifted and there is Abu shaking the water from himself like a dog and still wearing his leash and collar. Before thinking to remove it he calls to his master to make sure he is ok (Ahmed also doesn't seem to think to remove his friend's collar and leash). I suppose Jaffar's temporarily transforming Abu into a dog is not so bad when you consider that Disney permanently transformed him into a monkey.

In the end though it is Abu who does all the real work of the hero. He's the one who helps Ahmed meet the princess, he's the one who guards her as a dog, he's the one who outwits the genie, steals the eye, wishes Ahmed to Bagdad, rescues Ahmed from certain death and kills Jaffar. And yet Ahmed is the one who ends up with the kingdom and the princess.

The final scene is a coronation/wedding -- all three are beautifully dressed though Abu is clearly uncomfortable with any clothing at all. Ahmed is speaking about how he is going to send Abu to schools so that he can become wise and be made Vizier. Upon hearing of his planned civilized future Abu escapes on his magic carpet to go "have some fun". The happy go lucky, loyal, non-threatening native doesn't really want any power or influence. He just wanted to make his master happy.

The other major non-white character in the film is of course the Genie. He is very different from the genie in the Disney movie, and perhaps if Abu is the white fantasy of the loyal, unthreatening servent, then the genie represents their fears. After all when Abu frees him he attempts to kill him. Abu asks him, "How can you be so ungrateful." To which the genie replies "Grateful? Slaves are not grateful. Not for their freedom!"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Passion of Joan of Arc

The cover of dvd copies of The Passion of Joan of Arc feature a close up of Joan's face. It is an extremely apt image to represent the film, as much of the movie consists of close-ups on her face, and the power of the movie lies in her and the other actors ability to evoke nuanced and powerful emotion without the words to suplement it. There are a lot of things that I could write about with regards to this film, but I think the thing that struck me most is how alien the culture in which is takes place is to us.

The experience of watching The Passion of Joan of Arc as a modern movie-goer is disconcerting at first. It is a silent movie in the true sense of the word, no music was originally composed or selected for it. The way it is shot feels disjointed. As Roger Ebert points out in his review:

"There is a language of shooting and editing that we subconsciously expect at the movies. We assume that if two people are talking, the cuts will make it seem that they are looking at one another... ...Almost all such visual cues are missing from ``The Passion of Joan of Arc.''"

I found myself initially wondering if I could get into the movie -- it felt too different, alien in it's age and style, not to mention the unfamiliarity of the story. It is a testimony to the strength of the movie and the performances of the actors, particularly Renee Maria Falconetti, that I ended the film utterly enthralled and on the verge of tears.

Though we can definitely engage with the film our experience of it -- particularly that of watching a historic movie that was made in a period which is now historic itself remains disconcerting. It is difficult to figure out what is a product of the period the film takes place in and what is a product of the era in which it was produced, but in the end I suppose that is not a delineation that necessarily needs to be made for the film to be interesting or powerful.

Dreyer threw out the screenplay he had been given and used the transcripts of Joan's actual trial. The end result is a pretty incredible insight into a worldview that is incredibly different from ours. The judges' questions are tangled theological questions that would have any of us -- even the most religious -- utterly confused. The most famous question is one of the judges asking Joan if she is in a state of grace. This might seem innocuous to us, but to them it was a key question, and her answer was the only answer that wouldn't have immediately led them to declaring her a heretic. They didn't care that she'd led brilliant military victories against their allies or been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of soldiers. They cared that she claimed to have had visions. They cared that she wore mens clothing. These were people to whom religion was the most important thing in the world.

It's an amazingly different environment than ours. As the trial continues you realize that while the trial certainly wasn't fair by any standard, it also at least in the eyes of the judges wasn't a sham. It was really important to them to know whether Joan was a heretic or not, and at least one of the characters seems to genuinely care for her. It is a testament to the subtlety of the acting that you can tell that some of the judges deliver their, "I have great sympathy for you Joan." genuinely and others do not without the aid of tone of voice.

Of course Joan if anything takes religion even more seriously than the judges. It is the most important thing in her life -- she lives for it. In the face of all the torture the two moments that come closest to making her break are the moments when she is offered the possibility of attending mass or recieving communion. The sense of longing in her eyes as the priest holds the host in front of her is that of a person who hasn't eaten for a month.

We live in a very different world now -- regardless of individual belief religion is no longer a matter of trials and burnings at the stake, and holding someone back from communion is no longer an effective form of torture.

I recently went to a mass at my brother's church St. Mark's. The service happened to be the feast of Corpus Christi in which they parade the host around the church glorifying it. It is not a commonly celebrated service, and it definitely felt strange. Like the film the mass was an echo of a time when people's understanding of the world was fundamentally different. There is a tendency for people who are interested in tradition to only maintain those which are comfortable, or to allow traditions to be transformed so that they fit with our modern worldview. It was refreshing to see a community not do that, to see them performs a service which feels unfamiliar and which gives us an insight into the way people percieved the world hundreds of years ago. For the space of the mass we could almost be standing next to Falconetti's Joan. She would be staring at the paraded host with that longing that at least to me feels so alien. But at the end of the service we walk out into the sunlight and into our world in which a woman won't be burned alive for wearing men's clothing or answering theological questions incorrectly.

The historian in me wonders what people will regard with a similar sense of wonder and alienation when they look back on us from 600 years from now. If I had to venture a guess it would be our faith in the truth of our economic world. I have a tendancy to be very critical of tradition or at the very least mistrustful of it. All too often the traditional is merely a way of adding a fake sense of legitimacy and permanence to things that lack both. In watching The Passion of Joan of Arc I was reminded of how experiencing the past whether through film or tradition can also be a powerful reminder of how dramatically worldviews can change, and how the truths we see as so obvious may in reality be seen as strangely in another time as we see the belief's of Joan and her judges.

A Dry White Season

A Dry White Season is sort of a strange movie to write about. The direction is ok, even the writing is only ok, and yet because of its historical setting it has a gravity and emotional impact (at least for me) that few movies do. Historical movies often annoy me because I think that attempting to recreate a moment in history is an easy way to artificially inject significance. People remember the events and consequently the film-maker doesn't have to actually engage the viewer and make them feel or think -- they can just evoke certain events to achieve emotional and intellectual engagement from the audience.

With a movie like A Dry White Season that issue is further complicated. When it was released apartheid South Africa was still very much a reality and the film was a challenge, a protest film. I would imagine that a large part of the goal of everyone involved was to bring the realities of apartheid to people's attention. Apartheid is over and the problems facing South Africa are an entirely new set, so how does the movie hold up?

My answer is: surprisingly well. The main thing that has amazed me every time I've seen the movie is that it is a very potent reminder of the lessons of state control of information/propaganda to be learned from apartheid South Africa. I would argue that there has never been a state that has more successfully controlled the information its citizens had access to than apartheid South Africa. The reason, as is immediately apparent in A Dry White Season is not that they were better at it than other similar regimes, but because the people having the truth hidden from them wanted it to remain hidden. I suppose it is pretty obvious that it is easier to lie to someone who wants to believe the lie. Parents are often the worst offenders for that -- believing obvious lies, because accepting the truth would be so much more painful. White South Africa is an example of a situation where a whole society and constituency falls into that trap, and the results were, and are, terrible. A Dry White Season is a good reminder that it is important to not accept easy, comforting lies particularly when they come from those in power.

There was one particular thing that I had not noticed on previous viewings, but which struck me as predictive of the violence that has followed the end of apartheid. There is a moment when the camera zooms in on Wellington, a practically non-existant character with maybe two lines. His brother has been murdered by the police, and his father has just been taken away to his death for looking into it. He closes the door after the police and turns back toward the camera, his 6 year old face seething with rage and frustration. The kind of rage and sense of injustice that makes you as the viewer think, "This is the face of someone who will grow up to be a killer." For a film made in 1989 that momentary hint of future violence seems remarkably prescient. There is a whole generation of Wellingtons -- abused, disenfranchised, undereducated, and filled with rage. The end of the injustice of apartheid has not meant the end of the rage and violence it engendered.

If you haven't seen it I highly recommend the movie, the directing is nothing spectacular, the acting is good though nothing spectacular, but the story, setting, and insights it offers make it a very powerful movie.