PUCK. My wife is excited about the Winter Classic, Flyers against
Rangers. The papers are devoted to showing us the high-tech graphics of
masks on both sides. Slick? Yeah. But I still prefer the
blank malevolence of the mask above, which Bernie Parent wore in
winning two successive Stanley Cups for Philadelphia. (What he'll also
be wearing in the alumni game a day before.)
The best thing about the Winter Classic is that it allowed us non-HBO
subscribers to see the slam-bang documentary about The Broad Street
Bullies on cable. Which we watched last night.
Jeez. The whole
thing is here.
I don't even know what the best thing is. The two Stanley Cups? The
fact that Slap Shot was a
poor imitation of a real and much better team? The unexpected
iconography of Kate Smith? The only ever fair treatment of Philadelphia
sports fans in a major media product? Or the humiliation of the Russian
Red Army Team, when they'd crushed the NHL's best and suddenly the most
hated team in hockey was conscripted by a commissioner who loathed them
to defend the honor of the NHL, Canada, The United States, and our way
of life. Oh yeah. It's the last one.
Forget the Miracle on Ice. This wasn't
like that. It wasn't the Olympics. It was Philadelphia. The Russians
came into town riding a wave of victories over NHL royalty. The disreputable, no-talent Flyers
began by preventing them from penetrating the blue line, which no one had ever done. When they'd
accomplished that, they set about beating the shit out of the Russians.
Who left the ice.
Until they learned they wouldn't get paid for quitting. Then the Flyers
rubbed it in. The Flyers way.
In the Cold War, this was maybe the second closest we ever came to Hot
War. If you've never seen the story of the Broad Street Bullies, watch it.
It's not hagiography. It's a warts and all account. But as someone who
had to follow this history at a distance, in Boston, home of Bobby Orr
and Phil Esposito, a city seething with angry contempt of the Flyers, I
was thrilled to see Bruins of that era acknowledging what so few in The Hockey
ever do: that the Flyers won not because of their thuggery but because
they could play The Hockey.
Watch the Winter Classic. It's a spectacular once-a-year event.
Merry Christmas, everyone. And a Happy New Year too.
I'm not going to critique the lists, but I will characterize what's on
them: Obsolete nostalgia that caters to adults, not children. Grown men
are arguing back and forth about whether Christmas Story has finally
eclipsed It's a Wonderful Life,
while others are still charmed by Miracle
on 34th Street, White
Christmas, The Grinch Who
Stole Christmas, and Holiday
Inn. I don't think anybody much cares for The Polar Express, but the Hallmark
Channel is disgracing the whole subject with an endless set of treacly
movies involving Santa's family and various dysfunctions therein that
can only be resolved by has-been actors checking the "heartwarming" box
on their fading resumes.
Hollywood, in all its native generosity, wants
to give us various Bad Santas who rob banks and Christmas charities
but back off at the last second in a nod to, um, peace on earth and
But none of these is actually a movie for children. The only
magic ever cited is that of grownups rediscovering the innocence of
childhood for a day or a week at most.
What I'm about to say is heresy, but I have to say it anyway. It's all
junk. And this isn't a rant about post-modernism. The problem was
intensely exacerbated by the Coca Cola company, but the real problem
begins all the way back with Clement Moore's T'was the Night Before Christmas (which postdates the last surviving vestige of Old Christmas, Dickens's "A Christmas Carol.").
That's what separated Santa Claus from his Christian roots. When he
became a "jolly old elf," he became secular, and the division of
Christmas into two co-existent but contradictory holidays, one
religious and one commercial, began. Why the current favorite, A Christmas Story, is almost devoid
of religious content. What kid actually gets more than a tenth of the
wry humor in Jean Shepard's admittedly amusing memoir? If they do, it
speaks more to their observations of silly parents than their own
experience. Ovaltine decoder rings? If they're laughing at that, it's
only because you're laughing and they're sharing your laughter.
Even the new movies are just remakes, dressed up with sophisticated
industrial allusions or the toleration of childish credulity, designed
to drive home the point that Santa Claus doesn't, can't possibly,
exist. The apotheosis of this intention is a new iPhone ad. Santa
receives a text from Mrs. Santa: "You have 3.8 billion appointments."
Santa Claus -- otherwise known as St. Nicholas -- was once a Christian
not a commercial symbol. He wasn't magical; he was a sliver of
divinity. He was each child's introduction to the consequences of moral
obligation. If you'd been good, he would reward you. If you'd been bad,
you might get sticks and lumps of coal in your stocking. He was a
Christ figure in children's terms.
I remember. I remember worrying whether I'd been good or bad and how
that might be judged by someone who didn't necessarily hear all my
excuses. My earliest memory of critical self-reflection. And then, when
Christmas morning came and there were presents instead of coal, I felt
joy. So I am not such a bad boy after all. That's the message of
Christian redemption in a nutshell. Kindergarten Christianity.
All gone now. Even the oldest of the most revered movies postulate
Santa as a kind of idiot who exists only to bring delight to children
one day of the year. Unless they're conveying the dark truth that Santa
is a figment of childhood imagination, best responded to by learning
the truth sooner rather than later or, more sentimentally, later rather than sooner. (Poor Natalie Wood.)
So Santa Claus is dead. The MSM revels in stories about drunken Santas
at malls, unvetted Santas who might be child molesters, Santas who are
coached to keep children's wishes within their parents' economic means,
and on and on. My parents once walked a similar but far less deadly
tightrope: the street corner Santas were his helpers, as were the
department store Santas, and the Clement Moore poem was a Christmas Eve
ritual almost akin to confession and absolution: Yes, all is forgiven
and he is on his way; you can sleep peacefully tonight. A kind of
preparation for Communion. Why, perhaps, we reciprocated with cookies
and a beverage for the one who was going to sanctify us by his presence.
One final point. I know it can be argued that the Santa question has
been rendered moot by time itself. The myth is corny, inconceivable,
preposterous. No wonder there hasn't been anything new in a couple of
generations. Adult nostalgia is the only possible corner of Christmas
in which Santa can still exist at any level.
But this, too, is a falsehood. The extraordinary success with children
of all ages of Harry Potter points the way toward a new Christmas
classic -- if only anyone wanted to make one. Is there not room in a
Harry Potter type universe for a new version of St. Nicholas who does
indeed see and remember what each child has been up to and rewards or
admonishes them individually? He doesn't have to be fat or jolly or
small, and he doesn't have to have a factory filled with toy-making
elves. He's a spirit who guards and instructs the children, fabricating
their gifts on the fly from the goodness of their own souls. That's his
inspiring energy. He could look like Dumbledore or Gandalf. He could be
a little bit frightening even in his goodness, which mix has been a
staple of childhood fiction from Hans Christian Andersen to the
Brothers Grimm to Charles Perrault.
I don't know about you. But I miss the old guy. Maybe, like Lazarus, he
too can rise from the dead. If we could just stop thinking that
Christmas is about us and our memories rather than the kids we pretend
Ha ha. I notice your little tantrum fizzled out. It must have been
quite a high, though. Even big shots in a sympathetic national media
pretended your high ideals are what made you camp out in the parks.
But, deep down you know that wasnít it. A sign carried by one of your
comrades that read, ďWe want more, you have moreĒ was closer to the
truth. And now that youíre back in your cozy room above your parentsí
garage, I can tell you something you donít even know about yourselves.
What you are really demanding is much more than money. What youíre
saying is, ďI demand happiness.Ē As in, you expect someone else to do
whatever it takes to make you happy. Someone else? Do you mean me? No
one said what was in it for me.
I could call you a spoiled, pampered brat, but that doesnít seem to
cover it. A demand like the one youíre making has to be deeper than
that. It must come from an emotional corruption, a character deformity.
Yeah, thatís what you have. You feel that happiness is your right and
you demand that it be given to you by someone else, in unlimited
amounts. I know who you are -- youíre a student who racked up huge
debts and canít get a job. Now you feel itís not your fault and youfeel
entitled to debt forgiveness and an easy office job, despite not having
any employable skills. That would make you happy for a while, wouldnít
it? But what about the person, the organizations, the nation expected
to provide it? What was it you said about them, the lenders whom you
would loot and employers whom you would rob? Oh yeah, I remember: You
called them the evil 1%. And you expect them to guarantee your
happiness. You snot.
I have some news for you. Your little scam is old. Way back in your
grandparents' time, some dude named Salinger wrote a short story, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, about
two broads sitting around boozing on an icy afternoon. But the story's
really about you. The host is miserable (like you) and convinces her
friend to stay and guzzle scotch instead of going back to work, and as
the drinks go down she starts crying over the long-ago death of her
lover. The guy was poor but could always make her laugh, and thatís all
she remembers, because to her that meant he would always make her happy (happiness as a gift -- sound
familiar?). She was promised the gift of happiness and didnít get it.
But the kicker is. she wound up marrying a serious man, one who
actually provided everything needed for her well-being. But she is
still miserable and hates her husband. See, she wants laughter, which
is an emotion of happiness, but she doesnít get it that happiness is
nothing if itís not derived from a fundamental well-being. Character
deformity: her emotions are disconnected from reality and will never be
real. Sheíd be miserable with either man; she will always be miserable,
no matter what, and she will always be a sinkhole of wants. Can you
You're playing a rigged game, and youíre late to it. Have you taken
note that your demands were not met? Youíre like the last looter at the
store who finds nothing but broken glass and empty shelves, and as a
final blow the police finally show up and nab you. All the other
looters already got the goods and left the last vandal to take the rap.
Thatís you. Take a last look at the devastated store as they slap on
the cuffs and haul you off. All the news about the struggling economy,
unemployment, hopelessness, debt, default, and misery -- thatís the
legacy of the other looters who already took what they wanted because
they feel entitled to happiness, just like you. The only difference is
that now no one is replacing the glass and restocking the shelves,
because they expected someone else to do it. Which, sorry to break it
to you, will be you, as terms
of your parole.
But guess what? The old producers of the things you want and believe
yourself entitled to are tired. They canít and won't support a
degenerate generation of thieves. Which means it's your generation that will have to
become the new producers required to support the waves of new looters
to come Itís all fixed -- thatís how the game ends.
Oh. Whatís that? No one told you the rules? Hmmm, thatís too bad.
Jokeís on you. Ha ha.
I didn't really mean that "Ha Ha" part. I meant HA HA. Or HA HA HA.
Unless I meant, Gawd help us. Yeah, that's the one.
Monday, December 19, 2011
The Girl with the
many words. About everything. The music is overwrought too.
I REVIEW.... They're about to release a movie called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,
starring the Brit stick named Daniel Craig. Doesn't give me much hope
for its success. I've never seen an actor with less emotional range,
I've reviewed in the past. His James Bond is sullen,
humorless, and downright dreary. His subsequent Cowboys & Aliens effort cements
him as a diminutive Brit version of Schwarzenegger's terminator, with a
method acting tic or two offered up as evidence of empathy. If I were
casting Hamlet, I'd pick
Jason Stathem and even Vin Diesel over Daniel Craig for the eponymous
role because of their greater capacity to connect emotionally with
audiences. Are we clear?
But with all the hype I've seen for this movie, I finally broke one of
my semi-cardinal rules and watched the Swedish original of which the
Daniel Craig vehicle is a remake. The semi-cardinal rule has to do with
subtitles. I don't like reading movies. Although the lady of the house
has succeeded in getting me to watch subtitled Russian and German film
classics, which has led to other abominations against my popcorn movie
soul. I never do it for fun, but this time it was a calculation. There
are now three of these movies featuring the same characters. and if
they've convinced Hollywood to take a chance on doing something
different, maybe there's something worth watching.
The good news? There is. The bad news? Hollywood -- even with abundant
Brit help -- has no chance of doing it as well as the Swedes. The most
extreme violence in this very dark movie is sexual, something
Hollywood can't render truthfully or objectively, but only coyly
and leeringly, or politically. It's central in this case, however. Rendered in
Scandinavian terms, coldly and without blinking. And with very few
Same goes for the movie as a whole. I've seen the Daniel Craig trailer,
which speaks the world to me. They're trying unusually hard to do a
faithful remake, but even in the scene fragments they show, they feel
compelled to explain and verbalize what the original merely shows
without remark. And by casting a ham like Christopher Plummer in the
pivotal plot role, we're guaranteed more scenery chewing than the
original eschews so effectively.
Oh. Did I forget to tantalize you? Here's the teaser. A disgraced
journalist is sentenced to a term in prison because he's been found
guilty of criminal libel. He has six months before he has to begin
serving his sentence. A mysterious third party hires a security firm
to investigate him. An eccentric researcher (i.e., paid hacker) at that
firm does the investigation and concludes that he was set up. The
attorney who heard her conclusions arranges a meeting between the
journalist and a tycoon who is harboring a secret sorrow. The beloved
niece he regarded as a daughter disappeared in the 1960s without a
trace. He suspects members of his own family, several of whom had Nazi
ties during WWII. Now approaching death, he wants the mystery solved.
Meanwhile we learn that the eccentric researcher has a criminal past, a
history of violence, and is on parole. A new parole officer begins to
harass her sexually while she continues to follow the fate of the
journalist she believes was set up.
So, yes, the journalist and the mysterious hacker do ultimately join
forces to pursue the solution of a forty-year-old maybe crime, and
there are twists and turns, and more twists, and additional turns, and
emotional complications, and more violence, murder, and, of course,
more turns and twists. Almost
all of which are delivered to us in such matter-of-fact terms that some
loony-tunes casting director got the wrong idea that a dead carp like
Daniel Craig would be perfect for the male lead.
I don't see how he can be. The two key roles in this movie -- which is
incredibly suspenseful and absorbing -- are complicated, contradictory
characters. The journalist is both strong and weak. He's a bulldog in
his profession but baffled and in denial about how to handle direct
assaults on his person. The girl with the dragon tattoo is similarly
afflicted, but neither an opposite nor a complement. She's a kind of
perpendicular. As a hacker she's a relentless and thorough problem
solver, driven not by ethics but outrage and obsession. Attacked in
person, she is an archetypal and, when necessary, lethal Nemesis. But
where the journalist is emotionally vulnerable, she wears an iron
carapace of cold. Their work as a team is sometimes brilliantly
effective and sometime tone deaf, on both sides.
Can Hollywood do justice to this? Can Daniel Craig? I doubt it. Let's
not forget that Swedes know something about playwriting. Where Brits always think more words are the answer, Swedes think fewer are a better answer. There's
a scene in the trailer up top which is, once again, very close to the
original. Where Daniel Craig says "Put some clothes on. Get rid of your girlfriend," the Swedish version contains no such Brit ordering about. The dragon girl is already clothed, the
journalist observes the girlfriend exiting the bedroom and asks if
there is any coffee. Everybody, including us, knows what has been seen and WHY IT ISN'T IMPORTANT. Why the dragon girl eventually comes to trust him.
I actually appreciated the subtitles. So much is unsaid, unspoken, that
it becomes easy to imagine the entire movie as a set of interior
monologues for which subtitles are a graceful necessity.
I've avoided spoilers. If you can find a way (Netflix,
etc), see the
Pretty sure you'll be as enthralled as I was.
the other hand, here's what Americans do well:
only grimacing because I'm holding the damn camera at arm's length. Can't explain the
scratches. I'm thinking Raebert detected the scent of Cheeto
and licked the lens.
OBJECTED TO THE PIC. So Lady Laird didn't like my Egotistical
Senile Old Fool portrait. She seems to think it's insulting to her for
some reason. Why I'm correcting the record. Thus, your very own
photographic portrait of InstaPunk.
Of course, I never have only one agenda. FINE ARTIST is threatening
to do a portrait of me when he loses his bet about Ron Paul. But I
won't be sitting for any portrait sitting. Other artists have worked
from photos. So can he. I suggest something along the lines of a St.
Nuke version of the above:
have an iPhone, my PhotoShop back... What stands †in the way of my boundless
self-aggrandizing ego? Zip.
Or, maybe, after all these years, I thought I should finally introduce
myself, so you could finally put a face to my annoying voice.
You're welcome but not obligated to send me pictures in return.