October 10, 2005

The Pirates of Penzance

The good boy, apprenticed to pirates, swashbuckles with the gang until the moment he turns 21, then turns on his former comrades as defender of all the things pirates loot and pillage. He has a clear sense of precedence among his obligations, and pursues each with good cheer. Moral philosophers may wring their hands about dilemmas; the good boy takes them as just 'part of the game.'

What does it mean that philosophic puzzles worthy of Wittgenstein show up as jokes in the music halls of Victorian England?

Posted by shea0017 at 12:20 PM

October 4, 2005

Commander in Chief

This a philosophically useful piece. First, it allows the viewer to chemically isolate wit and intelligence: The West Wing , through most of its run, has both, and this piece lacks both entirely, though the trappings are the same. The West Wing writers try to inform about real issues. They seldom constitute perfect heroes or perfect villains, because they recognize both of these types to be limited and essentially boring. And, by far the most important thing: the writers give the support staff good attention. The glamour of the setting doesn't have to carry the show, because the day to day banter in the staff offices is so witty and pointed and engaging. Commander in Chief, in its pilot episode, informed about nothing, established a stereotyped villain in the role of Satanic presence, and gave the staff nothing to talk about. The whole charm of the show rested on glitz: Geena Davis' beauty and charm, and the opulence of the Washington theatre of power -- limos and helicopters and good furniture and people snapping to attention. Unless this piece gets some substance soon, it will nosedive. But, in the meantime, folks interested in good television should tape it; one can learn from it what has to be present to make television work. This thing fails unnecessarily.

Also, one piece of Commander in Chief works brilliantly: the precipitous demotion of the Presidential husband from trusted advisor to First Lady. One winces through every demeaning bit of this degradation, and then wonders why one hasn't winced comparably in sympathy for the real First Ladies. This is feminism with teeth.

I wish I could reach the writers, to say this: watch The West Wing. It established a new genre of political drama, one in which there is room for many interesting variants. The West Wing wrote the rulebook on how to do political drama well; I'd be happy to watch any show that played by its rules.

Posted by shea0017 at 2:24 PM

The Godfather

The Godfather is my guilty pleasure. Chancing on it on cable, I can’t not watch. I found the book putrid. The story needs to be framed with an audience warning: "colossal stupidity set to good music is still colossal stupidity." Old Mafiosi in Red Hook hang around the coffee places, watching Mafia movies. People who wouldn’t think of going to an Auschwitz theme restaurant find Godfather’s Pizza endearing and quaint and art-deco. The Sopranos is a National Geographic special on a circle of hell. So why does this movie hook me.

Watching it again last night, I think I got an answer. It is so beautiful around the edges. In that, it is just like the Illiad, where, amid impalings and gougings and disembowelings, the dawn always rises rosy-fingered, the poet reminds us that somewhere behind the battle lines there are big bathtubs being filled with steaming hot water. The Godfather happens in roughly 1947, after the war, when people could begin their lives again. The cars are sculpture. The buildings are grand and shiny. Domestic life is affectionate and prosperous. A beautiful world is constantly in the background of The Godfather – a world that had surely faded by the time the movie was made, and that recedes further from us every day. The Corleones return to the old feuds; they trouble their own house. They can see no way out of the old patterns, and the viewer, locked in their minds, feels equally trapped, as the world of security and substance is wrecked, decision by decision. But what gives the movie its charm is the picture of what they are all giving up.

There’s a story around that the flying saucer people got very interested in the United States just after the war; there were so many sightings that the government hired pet scientists as professional debunkers to quiet the craze. Maybe They got interested in what interests the makers of The Godfather, a world with a brief opportunity for dignity and grace and hope.

Posted by shea0017 at 2:02 PM