Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Wyatt Earp in Tibet in 2012
Some films are patchworks. This
is one. And it starts with the Mayan apocalypse prevision in 2012 of course
The apocalypse is coming. We know
that. But we have to make it realistic and use the good old Christian myths
again without saying so, at least not too obviously. So there is an explosion
at the surface of the sun bigger than what has ever been witnessed before. That
has the effect of making the core of the earth, or at least a greater
proportion of the inner mass go up in temperature at a great speed, making this
mass more fluid, hence liberating the tectonic plates and the continents.
That means earthquakes, tsunamis
and so on. Our news are full of such events. Just make them bigger, more
gigantic. Waves that are nearly 2,000 meters high and you have it.
Add to that Tibet and the
Chinese. Noah can be repeated again: a remake of the arch and there we are. There
will be three arks at the end, after the catastrophe, because we need a trinity
somewhere. Without the Chinese nothing could have been done, and what’s more
they provided the work force, probably cheap, and the security forces to build
the arks first and then to make sure only the people who have the proper passes
can go on them. The world without the Chinese could not go through the
apocalypse without any comfort.
The US president is black of course
because in 2009 it was obvious he was.
A little bit of Buddhism does not
harm but at the same time the only surviving Buddhist monk actually cheated the
system with his brother, a lay person, to save their own parents, and end up
saving a few more as stowaways.
Add to that a family situation
and you have it all: parents divorced, the ex-wife has a new boy friend. The
children of the broken marriage, a boy and a girl, are the perfect American
reconstructed or recomposed family.
The catastrophe itself is nothing
but special effects. They are funny, maybe impressive but certainly not
frightening. So banal after all. We can imagine catastrophes of this type every
day and some happen every other week.
The funny part is the end. The
arks find out that only Africa has survived, with a pun on the Cape of Good Hope
. Humanity started in Africa and it will
start again in Africa
. Marvelous. But rather simple
Now and then some ethical
questions are brought up, but they are so easy and the answer is so banal. In
such a catastrophe those ethical questions would certainly not be the main
questions. The main question would be to keep people from panicking or just
plain hurting if not killing one another. It is nice to think that in such an
extreme situation people would think of saving their neighbors. We can always
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
KEVIN COSTNER – WYATT EARP – 1994
A true story mind you. So it has
to be good. It is well filmed, well presented, suspenseful enough. But the
general frame of the western and life on the frontier is not disrupted in any
way by any unforeseeable element. A few original points yet.
To become the sheriff of a city like
any other of the type, is banal for a horse thief who is running away from
justice and the recollection of his first wife who died of diphtheria when
pregnant. One deserves a second chance.
To have two brothers as his
deputies is a lot more original.
To get into a rivalry with a gang
of bad boys is also banal. But to get through without one wound of any sort
while one of his brothers is killed and the other one nearly loses his right
arm and will be handicapped if not crippled all his life, is rather more
Then to swear vengeance and to
just go away and make sure the gang is destroyed one at a time after the first
confrontation that killed a few is banal, but to be married happily on the west
coast and to be seen last going to Alaska to take part in a gold rush while the
gang members are getting killed is probably less common place.
What’s left at the end? The
vision of an original character, of a man of honor in a situation where honor
is rather cheap, of a judge who is honest and of a county sheriff or marshal
who is crooked, of a second “wife” who is more a fair arrangement to be able to
go incognito in the Far West, for both the man and the woman, and finally of the
third and last wife who is brought into this western situation as a potential shady
lady by a dishonorable male character.
What’s the most important element
is the fact that the three brothers are like one and for them family, and in
fact blood is everything that counts, and we could add friendship between a
couple of men that makes them absolutely loyal to each other. That’s probably what
Walt Whitman called the “manly love of comrades.”
Entertaining though slightly long,
but a decent intensity all along.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Deux notes de lecture: les bébés sauvent les . . . je n'ose pas dire le mot qui rime avec celui-ci
LAURENT – 2014
Un sujet d’enfer mais traité en diable, bien qu’hélas le diable est en
train de se faire violenter par une bande d’anges craignos. Yves Saint Laurent
a « révolutionné » la mode féminine, le vestiaire de la femme, comme
un autre a écrit un bestiaire d’animaux. Mais on peut lui pardonner tout à
partir de là : son homosexualité, sa maniaco-dépression, son utilisation
abusive de certaines drogues, son infidélité aux autres et à lui-même. Sa seule
fidélité est pour son génie qui est montré comme une sorte d’hystérie vécue
seul à seul avec lui-même. C’est triste.
C’est triste que l’on réduise cet homme à ce pantin. On n’atteint aucune
part la profondeur de l’homme qui a consacré sa vie à habiller les femmes car
il n’a pratiquement jamais eu le courage d’habiller les hommes qu’il désirait
car il désirait les hommes, rien que les hommes. Les femmes étaient des présentoirs,
des étals de fringues, j’en passe et des meilleures, « mesdemoiselles » !
On ne signale ce qu’il a fait pour bouleverser le monde de la mode
masculine qu’une seule fois, et encore en enlevant le parfum pour homme et en
ne gardant que Yves Saint Laurent nu sur cette publicité ainsi désincarnée.
Pierre Berger est montré comme une espèce de figure paternelle qui recolle
les morceaux et ramasse les cendres, mais encore une fois la profondeur a
disparu. Alors on essaie de choquer le bourgeois en montrant une ou deux scènes
de drague homosexuelle, mais encore très habillée, très modérée, très mesurée,
pour ne surtout pas choquer les bonnes manières des bourgeois mais seulement leur
pudibonderie de surface. Il n’y a pas plus pervers que les gens qui se choquent
à une paire de fesses mâles, mais surtout pas à une paire de seins femelles. Ils
diraient bien sûr féminins dans ce dernier cas.
C’est donc un rendez-vous manqué avec l’homme qui a été le premier à poser
le concept de mode masculine, de parfum masculin dans notre monde postmoderne,
ouvrant ainsi la porte au monde post-postmoderne où la mode masculine n’est pas
du dandysme gay. Il n’y en a que pour les femmes et quand on parle d’homme il n’y
a que l’homosexualité. Fatiguant à la longue car l’homme a tellement d’autres
caractéristiques que la sexualité.
QUELQUE LIVRE DE
BAIN POUR BÉBÉ
Ce produit, et d'autres du même genre, doivent donner à l'enfant nouveau né
le goût du livre avant même qu'il ait été sevré.
Ici ce n'est qu'un livre pour le bain, donc que l'enfant peut mettre dans
l'eau, mais aussi dans la bouche, et apprendre à tourner les pages.
Il suffit de lui faire une démonstration de lecture. Et on n'est là encore
que sur le livre comme support matériel. Bientôt nous aurons le livre sur
support numérisé: tournez les pages et le livre se lit tout seul avec musique
et quelques flashes lumineux pour suivre l'histoire en images. C'est pour
avant-hier dans le monde de demain.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Slightly too moralistic to be true
TOM CRUISE – ALL THE RIGHT MOVES – 1983
Curiosity may kill the cat but it
does not kill nostalgia. To discover today this thirty year old film with a Tom
Cruise who must have been hardly out of his teens at the time is funny but
interesting to know what an important actor today was at the beginning of his
career. You may recognize some of his facial and attitudinal ticks but he sure
The film itself is nothing to
brag about. A High School football film again. Stef is a promising football
player who could easily get a football scholarship in any college or nearly, if
he could finish his senior year on the football team and even take the team to
He does not because he makes a
mistake he had been warned about several times on the last game he plays (the
last but one of the season). In fact his team loses the game because he attacks
a player who had the ball after he had passed the ball away. He was attacking
the man instead of following the ball. Penalty and the game is lost.
The coach is furious of course
after the game but Stef is aggressive and in fact attacks the coach and makes
him responsible. From this point to the catastrophe there was only one step and
Stef crossed it. He is dropped from the team. Then he has to walk home, quite a
good distance. So he thumbs a lift and is picked by a band of loafers from his
city who decide to go spoil and soil the home of the coach and his cars. They
manage to get Stef along and he is considered as responsible for it.
He is dropped from all prospective
colleges. Since he is from a steel industry city in Pennsylvania
, he has no future except
working at the mill.
The film is supposed to teach us
a lesson, just the way it does to Stef: apologize and forgive, but that’s hard
when you were wrong in the first place, though it is also hard when you get
even with someone who is wrong by being wrong yourself, i.e. not forgiving
and/or not apologizing. At the same time apologizing and forgiving may become a
sort of encouragement to other people to go on being obnoxious.
Life at times cannot go without
some strife and tension and people have to learn to step over it and just put
it behind. But fear comes back into the picture. When you are afraid of life
you tend to look back behind yourself and then you cannot put the past behind. If
you try too hard it might backfire, at least in your dreams.
The myth in the film is that such
strife and tension is typically masculine and it takes women to soften the
situation: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and the medicine goes down. Really?
I am sure I will trip my foot in the carpet if I tried that magic potion.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
Saturday, April 26, 2014
Don't you cry on my page, baby!
JOHNNY DEPP – CRY
BABY – 1990
A small and funny film shot in
the late 1980s (1989-1990), at the end of Reagan’s era and in the middle of
George Bush Senior’s regency, has no pretension except to debunk everything and
everyone and make fun of a system that is as crooked as it is full of bigotry.
A remake of the Mods and the Rockers,
of the Jets and the Sharks, the Montague and the Capulet, American sauce on top
and whip cream to top it off and kick it up. But this multiple remake is so overloaded
with clichés and prejudices that it becomes hilarious and the objective is to
make us laugh at those biases and other preconceived ideas about the other
group, since the whole world is nothing but A versus B.
At the same time the film debunks
fake education based on square ideas being the best in the world, on some clean
type of dressing being the only decent, godlike and non-obscene way of dressing,
all the rest, jeans and everything else, being nothing but homosexual showing
off especially for girls who are supposed to wear decent dresses.
You add a love story in that viper
nest and you have a real Romeo and a genuine Juliet. But the world must have
changed because the judge is falling in love with Juliet’s grandmother and he
becomes sentimental and releases Romeo, alias Cry Baby. I must admit that the
prison break is definitely as good as all those we were able to examine and/or
supervise in the eponymous TV series. And do not forget that the best way to
get out of trouble is to follow the rat. Rats are best to get out of the way,
out of trouble and back to home security, I do not mean the security of your
The film is fabulous as for the
music of the late 1950s, actually dated thanks to the evening prayer in the
very special school for boys where the “boys” are supposed to thank Dwight
Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. That’s cool indeed.
Be it only for the music the film
is worth its eighty-two minutes, but the “dancing” and the performance of the
actors, particularly the very young Johnny Depp is refreshing in this world
where everything is nothing but special effect and make believe.
An excellent piece of dialogue
alluding to the famous Unabomber who was definitely literate and had been
avctive in the bombing business since 1978 at the time when the film was made.
Cry-Baby: That's right, Allison. My father was the
"Alphabet Bomber." He may have been crazy, but he was my pop. Only
one I ever had.
Allison: God. I heard about the Alphabet Bomber. Bombs
exploding in the... in the airport and barber shop...
Cry-Baby: That's right. All in alphabetical order. Car
wash... drug store... I used to lay in my crib and hear him scream in his
sleep..."A,B,C,D,E,F,G... BOOM! BOOM!"
Cry-Baby: My mother tried to stop him. She couldn't
even spell, for Christ's sake, but they fried her too.
Have one empathetic thought for
this man who is in prison for life.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
Friday, April 25, 2014
The beat generation deserved a better and more empathetic scrutiny
DANIEL RADCLIFFE –
DANE DEHAAN – BEN FISTER – JACK HUSTON – MICHAEL C. HALL – KILL YOUR DARLINGS –
A film that was expected by many
people, because of an actor who were getting out of a teenage part that had
lasted six or seven years, like Daniel Radcliffe, or an actor surviving a long
series, and his own cancer, like Michael C. Hall. But as for me the main reason
was the subject of that film, the birth of the beat generation, the meeting of
the main protagonists of the beat generation to be and become. We are in 1943
and we meet young students at Columbia
in New York
. They are all going to be the
writers and poets of that post war lost generation that will beat their guilt
out of their minds and beat us down into our own guilt.
We all know Allen Ginsberg, Jack
Kerouac, William Burroughs and Lucien Carr. It is true the fifth character of
this pentacle, David Kammerer, is not really known for what he has achieved in
his own life, what he has left behind under his own name. He just was the
English teacher who fell in love with his pupil Lucien Carr who fell in love
too but as a teenager who had to grow out of this pubescent love and did not
know how to do it, especially since David Kammerer did not know he had to yield
and step away. Instead of that he followed the young man and haunted him.
Our four future poets and
writers were all in breaking rules and
experimenting all kinds of strange things, drugs, morphine, alcohol of course, marihuana,
but also the excitement and thrill they could get out of violating some good
old standards in their society, like sexual taboos and rejected sexual orientations.
But they all had to break themselves, to collide into one another and bruise,
hurt and even dismantle one another and themselves. It looks as if their future
talent had to be born in the blood of a sacrificed innocent man whose sole
crime was to love one of them excessively, obsessively, compulsively. That’s
the most dramatic and unexplainable fact in their lives and careers. They all
needed that death to become. I just hope they were haunted by their guilt till
the end of their own lives.
Strangely enough their society
was lenient, even for the actual murderer, and that can be explained easily by
the fact that David Kammerer was gay and their society at the time was
definitely and irredeemably antigay. Lucien Carr could have pleaded non guilty
because David Kammerer being a homosexual, he had the right to defend his honor
and kill him. But Allan Ginsberg, definitely, and Jack Kerouac more or less,
not to speak of William Burroughs who was retrieved and taken away by his own
father, had to tell the truth in a way or another, and to let everyone, and
Lucien Carr first of all, know the truth: Lucien Carr was in love with David
Kammerer, which made him a homosexual too. He thus had to accept the verdict of
murder in the first degree. And yet he only got eighteen months of probationary
detention. Quite cheap for the life of a man, even a homosexual!
But what remains the real truth
for us is that these four poets and writers found their inspiration and force
in those mixed orientations and in that crime, described in all its ugliness:
discover the details in the film itself. And we are shown the horror twice,
plus told about it in full detail one third time, along with the first visual
demonstration. No way for us not to know the obsessive and compulsive
obligation, necessity, impulse, desire and even fascination to commit that
murder, to kill that man, slowly and systematically, as some kind of a last
final commitment to each other till death them part and death, inflicted by the
young man to the older man, does part them.
We will say it is very romantic
to find one’s artistic inspiration in one’s suffering, but here that romanticism
is sadistic since they find their inspiration in the suffering they inflict
onto one another, including onto an outsider who tries to stick to their small
circle of . . . what can we call them? Friends? I doubt it.
The film is packed with fast
action, rich piles of artifacts and props, and the actors are all quite
seasoned in their guilt and non-repentance, the non-repentance of some
crocodiles shedding tears on the suffering of others when they only shed tears
on their own misery which is no misery at all since anyway they will be able to
use their families or their connections to get through. The film does not in
any way acclaim, applaud and approve of this beat generation, but it rather
shows how they were lost because they were from more or less well off families:
they hated it but they used it skillfully in order to avoid punishment or to
get a second chance. The only one who really did it with his own hands is Jack
Kerouac, but he was like the fifth wheel of a wagon, the one who took part but
did not really belong.
But the film also contains some
easy symbolism like showing William Burroughs shooting himself with morphine,
Allen Ginsberg being sexually penetrated by some unknown outsider he had
accidently picked in the street, and Lucien Carr repeatedly stabbing David
Kammerer. It is easy and it is also farfetched as if drug addiction, gay sex
and killing a gay partner were the same thing, as if gay orientation led
necessarily to anal sex shown on the screen, a syringe in your arm and a knife
in the chest of your lover, the three at the same time and in close and dense
succession. It even could sound like exposure more than fair presentation. Is
the film ambiguous about this beat generation?
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
This very early play is of course simple, a little bit too much so.
PAUL GREEN – WHITE DRESSES – THE DRAMA AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 1921 – PRODUCED BY THE STUDIO THEATRE,
BUFFALO, NEW YORK, 1923
One of the very first plays
written by Paul Green, when he was a student at the University
of North Carolina
under the guidance of Professor Frederick H. Koch.
It is supposed to draw its matter
from Paul Green’s immediate social and cultural environment. Having been raised
on a white farm he captures in this play the lot of some black farm workers. The
landlord is the farmer. The black characters are Candace McLean, the aunt of
the main character Mary McLean, the “nearly white” daughter of Candace’s sister
who yielded to the sexual advances of a white man who offered her – as we are
going to learn at the end – a white dress, the same way the landlord’s son has
just offered a white dress to Mary. There was of course no marriage afterwards
and there would be none for Mary if she yielded.
Mary is confronted to the same
sexual advances from the son of the landlord. Mary is under the illusion that
since she is “nearly white” she could – and should – be treated “like” or even “as”
a white girl.
The father of the young man and
landlord knows better and he has decided either to get rid of Candace and Mary
McLean because Mary does not produce enough work to pay for her rent and to
take care of herself and her aunt, or to have Mary married to Jim, a black
young man who would be a second worker in the rented house, and that would
solve the problem of the son who could not then go against such an important
The girl resists this solution,
due to her illusion about her color but in the end she yields and marries Jim over
night and accepts to lose her racial illusion.
The idea is of course not so bad
though Mary yields to prevent some hurtful situation for her old and ailing aunt.
But the play is very schematic, nearly caricatural, when in about five minutes
Mary, under the landlord’s blackmail, shifts from
almost white? . . . He’s black and I hate him. I can’t marry no nigger. . . “
“Yes, yes, I’ll marry him. I’ll
marry him. They ain’t no way to be white. I got to be a nigger. . . He’s a
nigger and …yes …I’m a nigger too.”
That caricature is saved by the
revelation from the aunt that Mary’s mother fell to the trick of the white
dress and by her burning the two white dresses that are symbolical of a fake
promise from the white man (you’ll be my wife and you’ll be treated like a
white woman) and of the total illusion that what you see is what you get (white
on the surface means white in depth).
In fact the play then supports
the theory of racial purity defended at the time by Marcus Garvey and his
popular black nationalist movement. Marcus Garvey in that perspective will come
to support the theory that one drop of black blood is enough to make you black and
even some time later to go and meet the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and to
sign a declaration with him supporting racial purity for both white and black
This play is a good testimony
about the early 1920s in the South of the USA, though the picture is deeply
racist and one-sided, slightly too superficial in the way the girl yields to
that racist vision of her society.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
Thursday, April 24, 2014
You cannot force history, but you can't stop it either.
KONCHALOVSKY – SIBERIADE – 1979
This film is probably a master
piece. To summarize the history of Russia
and the Soviet Union
in some four odd hours is
in itself a miracle. But what’s more it concentrates on Siberia and it follows
one little village, Elan, in this region, and in this village essentially three
generations of the Ustyuzhanin
family, in fact Afanasi, the grand father, then Nikolai the father and Aleksei
the son, as opposed to the other family in the village, the Solomins. The first
family are the poor ones, the underlings before the revolution, the others are
the top family. The revolution of course transforms these relations and we
follow the lives of these three men essentially in their village, when they are
there since they are often rejected, or they just go away, and then they come
Afanasi is the only one who does not come back. He is always
there and lives alone with his son and no wife.
Nikolai comes back as a Soviet officer, a Communist cadre and
it is dramatic because he had been thrown away at the beginning of the
revolution and his paramour, from the other family, had escaped from the
village to find him and follow him. It will be a difficult situation since she
will be burned to death by the white Cossacks during the civil war after the
revolution. He comes back with his young son in the 1930s and is killed by the
other paramour of his wife, the one she left behind.
Aleksei is sent to an orphanage, then on one visit to the
village and his relatives a recruiting unit at the very beginning of the war
against Nazi Germany accepts his enlisting, though he is slightly too young,
and he will be a hero in the war, saving his captain all by himself. But in the
1960s he comes back as a master driller to drill for oil in his village because
he knows there is some: he discovered it with his father when he was a kid when
they marched into the marsh known as the Devil’s Mane and there oil was oozing
out all over the place and they managed to set it on fire, accidently. Aleksei
though wants to leave after a while, with the woman he had taught how to dance
when just under 18 before he enlisted, and it is when he finally can go and is
going to go, alone because the woman refuses to follow him, he goes say goodbye
to his drilling mates and it is then oil is struck and starts bursting out. But
it gets on fire for some unimportant reason and the derrick falls and traps one
man. All the others go and Nikolai manages the situation to save that man, but Nikolai
is caught by the fire and dies.
But the film is a lot more important than that. It is a real
film about history. You cannot force history to do something it does not want
to do because you have to work with people and people do not necessarily want
to change and you have to convince them. It may take three generations to move
from the superstition about the Devil’s Mane to the acceptance that the village
is going to be completely transformed by that oil, and the most dramatic war
possible in the meantime after a very dramatic and heroic revolution.
The film then shows how at the beginning of this political
revolution Nikolai was naïve and thought it was easy to make people do what
they did not want to do, and he is killed just because his rival in love
refuses to follow him and kills him. It fails because of some private business
and affair, a love story that had not gone the way one of the lovers wanted. Trite,
and yet history is also the result of such capricious and unpredictable
elements. It will take thirty years and one generation for what was then
possible in the 1930s to become a reality in the 1960s.
And in the 1960s we are no longer speaking of that kind of
romantic revolution Nikolai had in mind. Aleksei and the other oil drillers around
him are confronted to the stubborn desire of the central authorities in Moscow to develop the country and to decide in Moscow what is best for everyone and the small village and
the country around is going to become the largest man-made sea with the largest
hydroelectric dam and factory on the Volga. It
is a pure miracle that makes oil burst out of its underground lair on the very
same day, killing Aleksei, as the central committee of the Communist Party or
some other bureaucratic authority like this one is meeting to take a decision
in favor of the dam. The events stop the dam project in its shoes and in its trail.
Unluckily, and Konchalovsky knew all about it in 1979, that was the last moment
when history was right against the bureaucrats. After that the USSR entered a very dark time when bureaucracy
was the only possible authority and initiative from people was discouraged and
even choked, and stagnation started, leading finally to regression and the fall
of the USSR.
We feel that end the director could not know under the open discourse about the
heroism of this Aleksei.
The last but one thing about the film that has to be said is
that the director chose to always look at historical events through the
intimate eyes of one character or another, mainly the Ustyuzhanin
truth is in the eyes of the beholders and not in the brains of the leaders. The
death of Lenin is actually shown, but the death of Stalin is not and when the
older Aleksei revisits as a dream his visit as a child of the Devil’s Mane with
his father, he gets inside a small hut that had been used by some hypothetical drillers.
Aleksei is dreaming of course at this moment and he gets afraid and starts
calling his father, as he had done when a child, and to get out of the hut he
has to tear up a portrait of Stalin. This scene is of course very symbolical,
especially since in the next minute he sinks in some quicksand and drowns,
another symbolical act in that dream of his.
The last element I would like to emphasize is the way the
director plays on the fake black and white (always in a shade that is not
black, sepia or green, etc) to have archives images of some historical moments,
Lenin’s arrival in Petrograd, his funeral, and later on Gagarin, for example.
At the same time the same fake black and white sequences are used to bring the
wishes, the dreams, the recollections of the characters. The real time of each
episode is in full colors. That gives a real density to the film as if we
constantly had a film in the film with flashbacks and at times flash-forwards into
the future (rarely) and into dreams (more often).
I must reckon it is not easy to find that film in DVD. I got
edition in NTSC in Russian with English subtitles. But it was worth it.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Agitprop is a difficult art but it can be poignant at times
RICHARD WRIGHT & ROBIN ENDRES, eds. – EIGHT MEN SPEAKS
AND OTHER PLAYS FROM THE CANADIAN WORKERS’ THEATRE – 1928-1936 – NEW HOGHTON
Difficult to find this book. I
finally found a copy in the USA
from Saint Mary’s University Library, via Amazon.com.
Nine plays altogether, some very
short, and one bigger, Eight Men Speak.
They are strongly inspired by the Communist Party of Canada and particularly Tim
Buck, their general secretary, who was arrested with seven other militants and
sent to prison for five years for what we have to call today political reasons
hidden behind the disturbance they may cause to public order based on a special
section of the penal code, section 98. Note the present French Prime Minister,
previously Minister of the Interior invoked that famous public order that might
be disturbed if the humorist Dieudonné was allowed to performed in a show of
his in 2014. That shows there still is some relevance in that play, indeed. There
in the prison there was an attempt against his life by some prison warden
though it is not clear how with five bullets he managed to miss him. It might
have been more for intimidation, but nevertheless that was preposterous.
The play became famous because it
was banned, the theatre managers who tried to program it in their theatres got
their license cancelled at once, and some parts of it were played or at least
read in public meetings, etc.
But the other eight plays or
stage productions were all dealing with social problems at the time of the Big
Depression in Canada: “Theatre – our weapon,” “Unemployment,” “Looking Forward”
(living on relief and yet after twenty years of regular paying of your
mortgage, when only two years are left, your house is foreclosed by the bank),
“Scientific Socialism” (a confrontation of H.G. Wells and G.B. Shaw at Hyde
Park Corner, both with the slogan “Scientific Socialism,” the Fabian militant and the supposedly
communist author of The Open Conspiracy,
both rejected by the audience and finally pushed aside by a real communist
working class speaker and his audience), “Unity” (in 1933 calling for the unity
of socialists, communists, trade-unionists and non-affiliated workers in order
to avoid fascism, this play is going against the Komintern order not to unite
with the social democrats, or other brands of reformist socialists), “Joe
Derry” (an illustration of the class against class strategy of the Young
Communist League for young people), “War in The East” (the Japanese war against
Formosa, Korea, Manchuria and China and the myth of Japanese soldiers killing
their officers and joining the Chinese soldiers to the music of the
International), and “And the Answer is” (the only play that does not oppose
working class people and capitalists, but oppose simple and poor people to
middle class wealthy women who are bigots and unable to share even a room with
some people who need it).
This theater, except the last
play, is pure agitprop typical of the 1920s and 1930s. It is based on the
division of society in two classes: the working class and the capitalists, both
dressed in class uniforms. The strong presence of communist ideology with some
original points at times like calling for unity with the socialists in 1933,
hardly six or eight months after the elections that enabled Hitler to be
appointed Chancellor. But this call was going against the Komintern, though it
was quite obvious the division in Germany
was the key for Hitler to get through the 1932 elections and it was to bring
Popular Front governments in Spain
The second leitmotiv is the
coming war, meaning the next World War that was the centre of these plays,
especially “War in The East” that dealt with the Japanese offensive in Asia
. The third theme had to do with class struggle,
social problems and the repression of any organized action of the working class
as being subversive. The USSR
were the constant ghosts behind the scenes, either as a menace or as a promise.
But, once again, except the last
play, all these plays do not explore any psychology on the side of the
characters. They are one-sided and clear-cut. The situations then are just as much
caricatural as you can imagine. There is hardly any poetry, except what we
could call the poetry of the mottos and slogans. That reminds me how Richard
Wright will be proposed later in the 1930s by the US Communist Party to become
the political writer of the party, writing slogans and pamphlets.
The objective of this theater is
not to explore any complicated situation. It is to entertain a working class
audience with working class language and working class politics. The objective
is not to get the support of people who are not convinced already, let alone
who are hostile, but to reinforce the conviction of those who are already
Of course agitprop does not work
beyond the short period directly concerned and the precise issues at stake in
that short period for one single unified group of people. Agitprop is not
necessarily leaning to the left, though it is commonly known on this side of the
A great agitprop author is
Mayakovsky but he often reached out and could produce great poetic texts, like
in A Cloud In Trousers. Another
famous playwright in the field is Bertolt Brecht, though he often reached the
psychological exploration of his characters and situations that are seen as
dialectically contradictory and not just in black and white. He often uses a
lot of grey and at times some colors. Some of his plays, though attached to
particular event, like the Spanish Civil War, still have a great power because
of this widening of the psychology of the characters.
This rare book then is a
testimony about that period, though there is no black character in these plays,
even if some could be black, though it is not mentioned, and we wonder why
Richard Wright was involved in this work, except as some trail blazing
experience he needed to mature into the powerful author he was to become.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Sad, nostalgic and in a way rather fatalistic
THE LUNCHBOX –
INDIAN FILM – 2013
A small but interesting film
about simple people in India
today, simple is a way of speaking since the main character is dealing with
public finances. But that is not really important. There is no ostentatious Hindu
religion. There is no Muslim religion. We are obviously living among Hindu
people and on the train to and from Mumbai, now and then there is a group of
children reciting mantras in order to get a coin or two: in other words they
are begging. We may also have a set of adult males doing the same, reciting
mantras, we assume all along the trip. But that’s little. This absence of
Hinduism enables the film to be totally silent on the worst problem of India today,
the Dalits. This silence on this social problem is surprising, or maybe not so
surprising after all. Let’s push that modern form of slavery under the table or
under the carpet and it does not exist.
The film is just a story about a
man who is going to retire. He is aging. Due to a mistake in the lunchbox
delivery system he gets the lunchbox from a woman who is trying to re-conquer
her husband by cooking special lunches for him. An epistolary relation starts
via the lunchbox: message to and message fro. Till a meeting becomes possible.
But it is then the aging man discovers he has no right to entertain some
illusion about that younger woman, nor nurture illusions in her about a
rejuvenating love affair which is nothing but a compensation for her inability
to have a relation with her own husband. And he has no right to flatter his ego
with the idea that he might still be young, to the point of maybe not retiring
So everything goes right in the
end, and he retires and his successor can take over. This successor is a total
mystery since he is an absolute orphan but he is not a Dalit, and cannot be one
since after some time his girlfriend who eloped with him gets the benediction
of her rich father and they get married. Such a man who educated himself and
who got experience in other countries before coming back to India is
fascinating in a way because we can see everyday in our cities these Hindus
from Sri Lanka (Tamils) or from India (Hindis or Tamils) selling fruit at the
entrance of underground stations. To expatriate themselves, at least for a
while seems to be part of the life experience of a certain proportion of Hindis
and Tamils for very different reasons at times, since the Tamils of Sri Lanka
mostly went to Europe or Australia and Canada to run away from the civil war of
the terroristic Tamil Tigers, though they were then the preys of these Tigers
who blackmailed them with their relatives in Sri Lanka to force them to pay the
“revolutionary tax.” The film does not really say how and why that young man
That’s the most surprising aspect
of the film. It remains very vague on details and explanations. And in the end
it is a very sad film about aging accepted by the main character but that leads
him to a life of total idleness he turns into some kind of voyeurism from his
terrace into the home of what appears to be a Christian family. Nostalgia for
real life, with a family and an activity.
has to cope with this problem
fast otherwise the country will do the same as the population: it will age in
idleness and the inability to be productive and creative.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU