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Mattis and Kim: mirrors have consequences

Friday, April 21st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — the current nuclear standoff, with a coda on silver beech and copper birch ]
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I spend a fair amount of time suggesting that formal characteristics found in events are frequently worth special note, and mirroring is a good example. Here, in Why Mattis versus Kim Jong-Un Will End Badly for Us All, War on tnhe Rocks indicates the potential (and potent) peril of mirroring in the context of our latest Korean adventure:

Inadvertent war in Korea is more likely now than at any point in recent history. Whereas a second Korean war has always been possible, clashing U.S. and North Korean “theories of victory” — beliefs about what it takes to successfully coerce and control escalation — now make it plausible, even probable.

Patterns of bluster and brinkmanship have of course long characterized affairs on the Korean Peninsula. For “Korea watchers,” there’s a perverse comfort in the predictability of a situation that, to the uninitiated, sometimes looks anything but stable.

So on some level, the rhythm of recent saber-rattling between the Trump administration and North Korea recalls the perverse comfort of typical Korea policy. On a recent visit to South Korea, Vice President Mike Pence cited U.S. attacks in Syria and Afghanistan as indications of U.S. resolve against North Korea. This statement followed numerous officials confirming that the administration is contemplating preventive strikes against the North, and a recent policy review on North Korea yielding one overarching imperative: “maximum pressure.” North Korea’s rhetoric and posturing has been no less confrontational and no less familiar. As Pence departed Alaska for South Korea, North Korea attempted a submarine-launched ballistic missile test that failed. Upon news that a U.S. carrier group was headed to its neighborhood, North Korea responded that “a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment” and that it’s “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”

These words and deeds themselves are more heated than usual, but unremarkable in the context of all that’s come before. North Korea routinely threatens war, often summoning images of a future mushroom cloud. The United States routinely dispatches aircraft carriers, bombers, and other strategic military assets in hopes of signaling resolve while actually registering little more than displeasure with North Korean behavior. The notion of “maximum pressure,” moreover, only differs from the approach of past U.S. presidents in the ambiguous adjective “maximum.” Pressure is the historical mean of U.S. policy toward North Korea. My concern is not with these observable dynamics to date, but rather with what lies beneath them, and what may be coming soon as a consequence.

It’s getting harder to ignore that the Pentagon, under Secretary Jim Mattis, may have a coercive theory of victory that largely mirrors that of North Korea under Kim Jong-Un. The danger is in the fundamental incompatibility of these disturbingly similar sets of strategic beliefs.

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Smoke and the hall of mirrors, a digression:

An excellent place for final confrontations with heroes, the Hall Of Mirrors wins high marks for ease of use. All you have to do is lure your victim inside by dashing in yourself, and then cackle with glee as they find you reflected back not once but a thousand times… When you have had your fun, seal the exits and fill the cramped space with some kind of liquid. Plain water works as well as anything, but why not add food dye for color. Or, for a touch of whimsy, use a sickeningly sweet fruit punch.

Neil Zawacki, How to Be a Villain, in TV Tropes: Hall of Mirrors

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Mirroring sets up an echo chamber — consider the myth of Narcissus** — which is also a sort of ping-pong game and a feedback machine —

and hence a magnifier or an accelerator. It can allm too easily howl out of control, with — in this case — nuclear consequences.

** Narcissus sees his reflection, Echo echos his voice back to him, thus the myth encompasses a parallelism between visual and aural self-perceptions in a wonderful act of inter-media symmetry.

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Form is the decorative act of the creative mind, adding to meaning by the use of devices of art in the way the materials of the art are deployed — as when the poet notes (specifically) beech and birch trees in a wood, delighted by the verbal felicity between the two words, or Coppola matches helicopter rotors against the blades of a hotel room fan in the beginning of Apocalypse Now.

And then the delight triples with the addition of a metallic match:

But again, I digress..

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Talmud meets the Gridiron

Friday, April 21st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — they meet in the American war movie exploring the use of drones, Good Kill ]
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A quick example of Talmud-to-movie translation:

Lest we forget:

Ha-Ba le-Horgekha Hashkem le-Horgo is a teaching of increasing popularity among Israelis. Taken from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72:1, its most precise translation is: ‘If someone comes to kill you, get up early to kill him first.’ It seems that every online newspaper Comment section will include this sentence when discussing Israeli aggression: the Gaza offensive? ‘Kill him first’. The Second Lebanon War? ‘Kill him fi rst’ again. A Google search for the expression ‘kill him first’ and ‘flotilla’ yields more than 4,200 Hebrew results, confi rming the centrality of this narrative. This convenient license to kill extends beyond the online community to Israeli decision makers and politicians. Following the Second Lebanon War, Ehud Yatom, a Likud MK, explained the asymmetrical death toll of 44 Israeli civilians and 1,191 Lebanese civilians with the same trump card:

‘and if someone comes to kill you, get up early to kill him fi rst.’ It has been used by Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon when addressing university students about their military reserve service and by Minister of Public Security Avi Dichter when lecturing about IDF strategy. It was also the explanation provided by Minister of Minorities Avishai Braverman for the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai. Even Ayoub Kara, a Druze MK from Likud, has used it. When asked about the Iranian nuclear plan Kara showed little originality: ‘I think an attack on Iran will be justifi ed’, he said, ‘since if someone comes to kill you, get up early to kill him first.’

Jewish Quarterly, Kill Him First

Similarly:

Several days before the horror of September 11, 2001, Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres spoke to Conservative rabbis in an international conference call. Responding to a concern expressed about Israel’s policy of preemptive targeted killings of suspected terrorist leaders and the inevitable collateral damage, Mr. Peres defended the practice, citing an oft-quoted rabbinic legal dictum, “Im ba l’hargekha, hashkem l’hargo,” “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him (first).”

American Jewish Committee, If Someone Comes to Kill You, Rise Up and Kill Him First

And further:

Our policy is guided by two main principles: the first is “if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,” and the second is “if anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands.”

PM Netanyahu, Opening of Knesset winter session, 2011

And by way of contrast with New Testament teaching:

There is nothing righteous in turning the other cheek. We are not supposed to passively accept death, but rather to fight and survive.

Times of Israel, Torah for Today: What does the Torah say about… self-defence

There’s nothing I can see, so I can’t perceive it..

Monday, April 10th, 2017

[ Charles Cameron — on what may yet remain invisible ]
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It is, surely, a matter of both culure and disposition:

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The Dale McKinnon quote is from In the Light of reverence, a documentary presenting native spirituality in conflict with western land uses in Lakota, Hopi and Wintu sacred areas (the Devil’s Tower, Colorado Plateau, and Mt Shasta, respectively):

Highly recommended.

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Saint-Exupery‘s quote, from The Little Prince, offers a possible explanation and response.

Paul Klee on the role of the artist:

Art does not reproduce the visible; it makes visible

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Sunday surprise — literal rainfall ancient and modern

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a DoubleQuote in the arts ]
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Guillaume Apollinaire:

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Il pleut

Il pleut des voix de femmes comme si elles étaient mortes même dans le souvenir
c’est vous aussi qu’il pleut merveilleuses rencontres de ma vie ô gouttelettes
et ces nuages cabrés se prennent à hennir tout un univers de villes auriculaires
écoute s’il pleut tandis que le regret et le dédain pleurent une ancienne musique
écoute tomber les liens qui te retiennent en haut et en bas.

Roger Shattuck, brilliant author of The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France) translates:

It’s Raining

It’s raining women’s voices as if they had died even in memory
And it’s raining you as well marvellous encounters of my life O little drops
Those rearing clouds begin to neigh a whole universe of auricular cities
Listen if it rains while regret and disdain weep to an ancient music
Listen to the bonds fall off which hold you above and below

As Edward Hirsch comments at Poetry Foundation:

The slanting lines of Apollinaire’s poem create the sensation of rain running downward across a windowpane. Graphic form and verbal music come together as each long vertical line becomes a rhythmic unit of meaning

— which is itself a verbal / visual DoubleQuote!

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Code running downward..

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This was brought to mind by the magnificent title sequence of the Le Carré thriller The Night Manager:

essentially completing a second DoubleQuote with those falling droplets. those rising bubbles — and there are several filmic equivalents of DoubleQuotes graphic matches aka match cuts — in the sequence itself: bomb cloud > martini, tea cups >machine gun, contrails > pearls..

I’m always happy to see more Le Carré on film..

There’s more than one way for a Muslim to have border problems

Monday, February 27th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Trump, Assad and Trump ]
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The first way, which is drawing a lot of fire these days, is via the Trump “Muslim ban” —

— but it ain’t the only way: angering al-Assad can also do the trick.

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An alternative example of the first kind would give us this —

— in some ways it’s a closer match, since both Russo and Khatib were traveling to significant events where their work would be highlighted. On the other hand, the Muhammad Ali Jr instance is powerful by reason of the issue of his religion coming up..

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Sources:

  • Guardian, US border agents ask Muhammad Ali’s son: ‘Are you a Muslim?’
  • Vox, The White Helmets cinematographer Khaled Khatib was coming to the Oscars
  • Guardian, Leading French academic threatened with deportation at Houston airport
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    But then we could also juxtapose the alternative first examples with one another, making a DoubleQuote of two instances of problems with US border agents —

    — and yes, much of the world is looking on.


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