For me, the entire discussion of good film is denuded of a higher purpose to the word ‘good.’ It is not that good, unless it is political. (Yes, of course there are plenty of exceptions). As such, this blog is of a piece with my last one about political music. This is not because I dislike apolitical or purely aesthetic film. It’s because there is no such thing. If it is apolitical, aesthetic, more concerned with psychology than social reality, then it has a definite political reality—that of late capitalism. Frederic Jameson astutely
“Let me try to state this distinction in a grossly oversimplified way: one of the determinants of capitalist culture, that is, the culture of the western realist and modernist novel, is a radical split between the private and the public, between the poetic and the political, between what we have come to think of as the domain of sexuality and the unconscious and that of the public world of classes, of the economic, and of secular political power: in other words, Freud and Marx.” (Jameson, “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” in New Political Science, Summer 1986 No. 15)
It is a privilege of the ruling political theory and ruling class to even have the time and space to say they are not interested in politics. To even have the idea that it is possible to separate social relations from ‘inner psychology.’ Soviet film and literature is today written off as “socialist realism,” but it is not as if the fiction we are used to is more moderate, less of a product of ideology. Our brand of fiction could just as easily be called “capitalist realism.” We don’t call it that, though, in MFA programs. We call it “good fiction.”
This is why I think arguments about the artistic worth of movies such as No Country For Old Men or Miami Vice are trapped to one side—and that side is not the left. They take for granted one of the absurd tenets of the War on Drugs, which is that drugs should be illegal. There are many reasons for this, but the top 3 are:
1) We’ve made no progress on the Drug War over the past few decades, wasting billions of dollars. Every time there is a drug bust, it only makes it more profitable to get or stay in the business. We could save enough on legalization to give everyone schooling and health care.
2) As for the danger of the drugs, they are dangerous chiefly because they are illegal. As such, doses are not consistent, they can be cut with anything, and the stigma associated with them discourages users from seeking practical help or rehabilitation.
3) In addition to taking the more than 50% of drug offenders out of prison and into rehab or productive jobs, legalization would cut down on most other crimes, since, as flipping through the television will tell you, most crimes are drug related. That is, related to drugs being illegal, since that’s where the profit is.
There are many more reasons, but this isn’t the place for them. This is the place to assert that if drugs were legal, we’d lose most of our television dramas and a good portion of our film as well! Let’s start with Miami Vice. Michael Mann is a good director; the film was tense, well-plotted and paced, and full of those ambiguities film critics love: Does Sonny place his personal attachments over his professional ones, etc? How about instead does Sonny get some god-damned POLITICAL attachments? Like the one to legalize drugs so that every murder and mutilation in the film wouldn’t have to happen?
As for “No Country for Old Men,” it’s yet another ‘psychological’ drama wherein we investigate or observe via the eccentric, unflinching eyes of the Coen Brothers’ camera the inner reality of a pathological hit man and a hapless group of people caught in his crossfire. The problem is, there is no acknowledgement from the Coens (and I assume the same for Cormac McCarthy) of the real tragedy, which is that this hit man only exists because drugs are illegal. All of the death and destruction in that horrifically violent film because drugs are illegal. You may say, judge art for its aesthetic merits, regardless of the politics of its makers, but that is only to assert your own ideology, the one created in the forges of capitalism, where the political is sliced off from the personal, and the economic sliced off from the social. It’s always passed as cheap profundity to leave big questions unanswered or indeterminate: What could drive men to behave this way. Sorry Coens, but we know an answer to the biggest Why in this film, but you obfuscate it. So it’s not a great film to me. Not as great as Godard’s Tout Va Bien or Oliver Stone’s JFK, or even the Wachowski Bros. Speed Racer, all politically sophisticated films. This is an ailing country, and it’s no country for old ideologies.
The Sacred Dice - A Revolutionary Salon
The Sacred Dice is a salon of musicians, scholars, poets, sound sculptors, activists and artists of all kinds committed to art that is committed. That could get us committed (to an asylum). That disdain's art for art's sake and artists who have no idea why they do what they do. We know why we do what we do--to create and celebrate community in a country still stuck in capitalist fantasies of individualism. If you want in, you're in. If you want out, don't worry--you already are.