Idiocracy Really Doesn’t Hold Up

It really doesn’t hold up, as comedy or sci fi. Like many people, I’ve been referencing it for years, and I finally showed it to my teenage son, and he was not impressed. The premise of “dumb ppl reproduce more, therefore everyone get real dumb” has a point of diminishing returns. You have to have a certain level of cognitive ability to have meaningful interactions with other people, especially if the meaningful interaction you’re trying to have is, y’know, having relations. So there’s that.


Also, it seemed to me that a lot of the “futuristic” advances didn’t make sense and were being used to make cheap jokes. The biggest culprit here is the Starbucks also being a rub’n’tug, for a variety of reasons, not least of which is brand identity; doesn’t seem very reflective of their current progressive values. You could say that, actually, the sex work is all sex positivity gone too far and whatnot. But look at how the services are framed. Stuff like, “Gentlemen’s latte,” meant to suggest old timey shoeshine booths. The image it conjures is a smartly dressed businessman, brusquely turning the pages of his WSJ as he gets toppy. Not at all sex positive.

Look at the way the film treats women in general. It’s pretty terrible; the women in President Camacho’s Cabinet seem to understand and acknowledge that they are only there for sex, and no one seems to have an issue about it. I get that “lol, ppl are dumb” but these kinds of transactional relationships are extremely complicated, and it doesn’t seem like Judge wanted to address them. There’s a lot of humor there too, and tons of potential. You could write a whole fictional future history for why things are the way they are with regard to sex politics in workspaces.

The societal conversation about how men and women get along, in workspaces, in public spaces, everywhere, is an extremely deep and nuanced conversation, one that the film’s premise doesn’t have an answer for. It’s like not only did everyone get dumber, they all forgot feminism was a thing, like, ever.

One thing that film absolutely nailed. The way cops talk, all “particular individual” and all that. It is a perfect rendition of a really really dumb guy that wants to sound smart, so he overuses the shit out of a handful of polysyllabic words. This behavior is prized in the military and police forces, because those organizations are rife with concerns about making the correct display; wear the right ribbons in the right order, call people by their proper rank, execute that salute properly! All these display elements, like the mating dances of birds, are symbolic and ultimately meaningless, but there are strong social and other consequences for those who do not play along. and those ppl become instructors and model this bullshit, obfuscating manner of speech to others, and on and on.

All the stuff about corporations owning everything, “brought to you by Carl’s Jr.” was pretty spot on, give it that.

Sharknado Is A Misunderstood Masterpiece

I think a lot of people view Sharknado through the lens of this obviously over the top premise, but in my view they’re missing the real heart of the film. A careful viewing of the piece reveals a subtle meditation on the unfulfilled dreams of the Post WWII period, the so-called “Belle Epoque” and how it was a thematic echo of Reconstruction.

Fin’s name is a reference to shark anatomy, sure, but notice that it’s also the name of Mark Twain’s most timeless character, Huckleberry Finn. No chance this is a coincidence, as we see Fin at the beginning of the film in almost identical circumstances as Huck at the end of his story – disillusioned at having seen the dark underbelly brought on by the economic conditions of their time. In Huck’s case it was the carpetbaggers and swindlers, particularly the “performers” he briefly linked up with, while in Finn’s case, it was the dot-com promises and Bernie Madoffs of the early and mid aughts, culminating in the Housing Crisis. The Belle Epoque was not without similar shenanigans. Suburban housing developers made a mint on the booming suburbs, while the inner cities suffered from redlining, gentrification, and other dishonest housing practices whose effects we are still reeling from today. The crumbling inner cities are featured throughout the film as Fin and friends fight for their lives, reflecting the struggle faced by those residents in real life.

Notice the use of weather as metaphor for socioeconomic concerns. Fin’s bar is going under financially, then literally as the deluge takes it. The loss of his bar echoes the sentiment of the female workforce, who arguably were a deciding factor in winning WWII, being collectively told that the men were back and they were no longer needed. The malaise created by this rejection percolated and contributed greatly to the Counterculture of the 60s and 2nd and 3rd Wave Feminism. In this exquisite work of cinema, April embodies this spirit best of all, her very name being associated with Spring, the time of year when those thought dead or dying rise again and bloom. Even the career arc of actor Tara Reid has had a similar rebirth, in a case of life imitating art.

In the film’s climactic scene, April’s place as the Sacred Mother archetype is never more clear than when she stands by as Fin cuts first himself, then his daughter out of the belly of the shark. Like Ethausva, Etruscan Goddess of Childbirth and Midwives, she is essentially the Midwife here. In fact, it’s an act of rebirth, another reference to Spring.

The weather metaphors continue. The currents of the ocean, which are the proximate cause of hurricanes and other big storms, reflect socioeconomic currents in society. The various movements that have shaped and continue to shape our civilization are ever changing and can be deadly, much like the weather phenomenon used in this masterpiece of film making.

Fin-ally, I want to point attention to the phenomenon of echoing, which this amazing work is rife with. The ocean, with its properties of being mostly cold and salty liquid, is the most extraordinary conductor of sound that we know of in the Solar System. Sound waves in the ocean can echo for decades before their amplitude diminishes. It’s only natural that a magnificent work of art such as this, about a Great Evil that Comes From The Ocean, is permeated with echoes of commentary on the past and current states of society. History is formed by echoes of the populations that preceded, that came before, and it continues, iteration upon iteration. In the same exact way, we’ve gotten, to date, four additional Sharknado films, each more cogent and impactful than the last, but also equally so.

It is truly the best time to be alive to see the creation of these masterworks. Endless meaning summed up in 90 minutes a pop. Godlike use of camera, lighting, sound, effects, and acting, yet also unmistakably human. The first time I saw the first installment of what will be known in the future as Man’s Greatest Achievement, I was basically Jodie Foster in Contact when she sees the celestial event. I had no idea such a thing could exist.

The Shape of Water

I watched The Shape of Water, the latest Guillermo del Toro film. It’s about Elisa, a mute woman who lives above a movie theater and works the night shift cleaning at a government science facility. Before and after work, she visits her neighbor, an older bachelor who is trying to resurrect his career as a commercial artist. She brings him food and they watch movies together. At work, her best friend is Zelda, who chats with Elisa about her husband and her family life.

The film is set in the early 1960s, in a world that can be described as “when America was great.” Michael Shannon’s Strickland is a Heroic Alpha Male, a total badass who singlehandedly wrangled the Creature from the jungles of South America. The Creature, played by Doug Jones, looks otherworldly and is thought to be a menace. Elisa and Zelda are tasked with cleaning the room that houses the tank in which the Creature is kept. From the first time she sees the Creature, Elisa is fascinated with him. By degrees, their relationship develops with boiled eggs and Golden Age Hollywood showtunes.

This movie has, without a doubt, the very best and most affectionate human/fish love scene in film. Seriously though, there is major commentary about love, about identity, and about people standing up for themselves.

This is an amazing movie. It’s very weird, and very beautiful. Sally Hawkins is outstanding, and Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, and Richard Jenkins give excellent performances. This is a story about finding love even though you’re different, about standing with those you’re close to, and about fighting against forces that would remove the unique things from the world.

City Lights: The First Romantic Comedy

City Lights

As a fan of cinema, the exploration of early films and the works of early stars like Chaplin are instructive. Seeing familiar jokes and gags done in perhaps their original form enhances my appreciation for later films, and it shows the influence of these works. City Lights is no exception.

Sights and Sounds

Many funny scenes depend on the camera angle for maximum effect. The scene early in the film with the sidewalk elevator narrowly missing the Tramp several times as he examines a piece of “artwork” is a good early example of this. The shot, which shows the Tramp almost stepping into the hole several times while not noticing, is shot from in front of the Tramp, letting the audience in on the secret while showing that he has no idea what’s going on.

The fact that Chaplin scored this film, as well as write, direct, and act in, shows that he was very talented in different ways. It also shows a bit of a control freak at work. It seems that he had such a particular idea about what the film needed to look and sound like, that he could only rely on his own talents to put it together correctly. The result seems to have been remembered fairly as a work of genius, but it could have easily been a disaster with only one creative force making all the decisions.

The Jokes

city-lights-2

There are tons of brilliant physical jokes found in this film. The sequence at the very beginning with the statue unveiling shows the immense comic talent of Chaplin the performer, especially the part where his trousers are caught on the sword and the National Anthem starts playing, and he has to scramble to keep from losing his footing, struggling in a very funny way. There are many gags that I’ve seen before in later works, such as in the scene by the water where the Millionaire is trying to help the Tramp out of the water and inadvertently pulls him in. That scene showcases the comic timing that Chaplin and his costar had; it’s amazing to see how well executed the sequence is, much of it on one take. Perhaps the most amazing scene in terms of slapstick comedy is to be found at the restaurant/ club when the Tramp and the Millionaire go out, both visibly inebriated. Chaplin’s slippery staggering across the dance floor, ending at the table, is nothing short of spectacular in terms of choreography and execution. Scenes like this showcase Chaplin’s meticulous attention to detail, and the result is riveting. One director told me that the most fascinating thing to watch is precision. Chaplin and his costars show this in many scenes, but the restaurant/ club sequence really shines as a work of many parts moving with incredible precision.

city-lights-cigar2

My favorite joke of the whole movie is when the Tramp is driving around in the Millionaire’s car, looking for a smoke, and he sees a rich man toss a butt on the sidewalk and pulls over, only to meet another tramp trying to pick it up, whom he shoves away to take the smoke for himself. The joke worked on many levels: first there’s the physical, slapstick humor of pushing a guy out of the way to pick up a cigar. From the perspective of each character, there’s another layer of humor. The Tramp desperately wants a smoke and is willing to do anything to get it. He carefully follows the rich man until he drops the cigar on the sidewalk. How dare that other homeless fellow try to grab what he’s earned? Consider it from the perspective of that other homeless fellow; he’s just bumming along, sees a good sized butt discarded on the sidewalk, and figures this must be my lucky day, only to be shoved away rudely by a guy in a tuxedo and a nice car! How does he dare? This is an intricate piece of social commentary that has deeper meaning given Chaplin’s origins as a poor person.

The Characters and Their Meaning

The Millionaire seems to have serious issues that are dealt with somewhat lightly; the first time we see him, he’s about to kill himself. He also has what may be called “drunken recall” as he only seems to recognize the Tramp when he’s drunk. Could this character be subtle commentary from Chaplin about rich people who view others, particularly the poor, as disposable props, while they are ultimately trapped in a superficial life devoid of meaning, leading to destructive behavior such as excessive drinking?

The audience sympathizes with the Tramp while still having a laugh at his foibles. He succeeds in being a funny character that we care about. We see this develop in the affection he has for the Blind Girl and the flower that she gives him. He goes to extremes just to help her out, including shoveling droppings and stepping into the ring to get clobbered. In the end, he gives all the money to her, even as he’s bound for jail; we are touched by his sacrifice. The character balances the two extremes; being a prat-falling fool on one side and being a love struck hero on the other. Both sides are larger than life, and show Chaplin’s vision of the city as a place of cosmic coincidences, some tragic, others comic, which ultimately lead to a Happy Ending for those that deserve it, namely the Tramp and the Blind Girl.

virginia-cherril

In the city where everyone is indifferent or outright hates the Tramp, the one who shows kindness with no expectation of reciprocity is the Blind Girl. Her blindness is not just her lack of vision, her generosity towards the Tramp shows that she is blind to the social station that one occupies or whether they can afford to buy her flowers, although she does think the Tramp is a rich man. She is the only one who sees the Tramp for his real human value, especially at the end when she realizes who he really is.

The title, City Lights, can refer to her experience with the Tramp, in that, thanks to his help, the “lights” can come on and she can see. It could also refer to the Blind Girl herself; in a city full of people who disdain the Tramp, she is the one who causes his countenance to “light up” with joy.

In the end, we can see City Lights as commentary on people. People show their value not through what they can buy, but what they are willing to do for those others with no thought of getting anything in return. Chaplin’s poor childhood certainly shows its influence in this film and in the Tramp character in general. The fantasy – that someone out there will love me for me regardless of my wealth – is one that everyone can understand and appreciate, and it is communicated in a careful, artful way, which is why this film is so highly regarded.