Dune – Just Another Fascist Sci-Fi Pornographic Fantasy?

By “pornographic”, incidentally, I don’t mean sexually pornographic.  I mean in the sense of distilling an artistic entity into it’s most obvious, banal, and debasing parts.  I mean it in the same way that I would tell you that Disney is mostly pornographic: it is film that caters to banal fantasies and fetishes about heroism and suffering.

I have never read “Dune”.  I tried but it bored me, very quickly.  I generally despise banal fantasies.  I might try again some day– certain people keep telling me it’s great– , but for now I’m going to build a personal synopsis using online resources.  Yes, I know: that is inadequate.  But before I commit to reading 900 pages of dreck, I want to know if there is anything worthwhile in there.  I’m getting old.  I don’t have that much time left to waste.

Synopsis of Dune:

First of all, we have an Emperor.  Are science fiction writers congenitally incapable of imagining a universe without a royal family?  (Well, P. K. Dick did, in “Blade Runner”).  And if we have a royal family, we have a princess, in this case, Timothee Chalamet, (because I guess Leonardo Di Caprio and Andrew McCarthy and the princesses are getting too big now).

So we have House Atreides headed by Leto and the emperor Padishah. Emperor Shaddam IV orders Leto to rule the planet Arrakis (which is the putative Dune of the title).    Arrakis is where you get LSD.

Leto has a concubine, a witch, with magical powers, like Peter Pan, Lady Jessica, who is an “acolyte” of the Bene Gesserit, a very, very mysterious group.  So mysterious, we can’t tell you anything about it.  Just wallow in the mystery, okay?

Oh, there’s too many characters, none of whom sound interesting yet.  Lady Jessica bears Leto a son, Paul, who is so obviously a Christ figure that Frank Herbert can count on most reviewers not mentioning it for fear of appearing crass.  Paul passes a test with higher marks than anyone else ever– he’s just so special.  After all, he’s a princess.  That’s why we have Timothy Chalamet.  And less interesting now, because we know that this sequence is merely a device to keep us from thinking Paul wants to be the chosen one.  The chosen one never wants to be the chosen one.  He is always dragged, reluctantly, kicking and screaming, to his DESTINY.  The same way princesses are always compelled to wear glorious dresses and jewelry and accept the worship of the masses of people who think that princesses should be worshipped.

So they move to Arrakeen– Leto, Jessica, Paul, and the indentured servants.  Arrakeen is a “stronghold”– nice — on Arrakis.

And we have the bad guys, the Harkonnens.   And the perfidious Suk doctor Wellington, who has mixed motives, and thus becomes more interesting than he was, but still, he BETRAYS our hero, Leto, and brings suffering to the real hero, the Christ figure, Paul.

The name… Paul?  Seriously?

And what makes Paul utterly dull and lifeless: he acquires magical powers of by drinking the “Waters of Life” which are supposed to poison males (here we get all the suffering again, to prove that Paul is no greedy little parvenu, but a suffering, selfless, honest-to-god hero.  Here the reader feels good about himself.  He goes to sleep fantasizing he is Paul, and everyone loves him because he suffered for his power– he didn’t take it because he was a fucking, greedy little arrogant twerp, which is probably the truth.  It is almost always the truth.  Show me a ruler who actually sat back and waited for authority and power to be thrust upon him?

If you believe Hollywood movies, heroism is bestowed upon humble reluctant protagonists by accident or fate or whatever– anything except personal ego and ambition.  Just the opposite, in fact, of Shakespeare.

So Paul is now dull: he prevails, when he prevails, not because he tries harder or is witty or clever or well-educated or has learned to lead– no, no, no– he has magic.  It’s way easier and saves the novelist years of work.  And now he really is the “messiah”, the Kwisatz Haderach, the fruit of the long-term Bene Gesserit breeding program.

Doesn’t that all just sound fascinating to you?  No, not me either.  We already have a bible, and Greek myths, and Star Wars (God spare us the ultimate mediocrity in sci-fi).   We already have a film version of “Dune” by David Lynch that was so bad that he disowned it.   And I suspect he disowned it not because the studio destroyed his film, as he insisted, but because he couldn’t believe how bad his own work was.  The studio didn’t invent Sting’s costume, or Kyle MacLachlan’s incomprehensibly British accent or the voice-over of every character.

Why Dune?  What is supposedly so original or powerful about it?  Villeneuve made “Blade Runner 2049″ and “Arrival” both of which were, frankly, dumb.   What can he do with the “Dune” franchise?  (“Incendies“, on the other hand, was fine.)

Helen MacDonald interviewed director Villeneuve for the Times.  I generally want to trust my sources here but she says this, as she is about to interview Villeneuve by Zoom:

When I held up my “Star Wars” mug to demonstrate my sci-fi credentials, his eyebrows rose high over his half-rim glasses, and he grinned.


You are trying to tell me that “Dune” is profound and complex and smart and original and brilliant, and yet you are a fan of the dumbest science fiction franchise in the known universe?

And you tell me Villeneuve “grinned” when you said that?

Let’s see if she can rebuild her credibility.   No, she can’t.  “Star Wars” was purposely conceived of as a “B” franchise, a dumb, childish, unsophisticated story of princesses and cute robots and lasers and space ships and rogues and almost nothing genuinely interesting about man or science or space.   It is worse than uninteresting: it actually saps genuine curiosity and wonder from the viewer’s brain.

Helen MacDonald, author of the wonderful “H is for Hawk”,  is clearly a fan-girl or maybe she’s hoping Villeneuve will take on one of her own books in the future: she is a major suck-up.  She writes, “Timothée Chalamet described him as ‘one of the most beautiful souls.’ ”  She blathers about how nice he was to her on the Zoom call.

Give it a rest, mom.






A Bill Jamesian Analysis of Voter Suppression

This fascinating article in the New York Times gives a surprisingly anodyne perspective on voter suppression efforts by Republican (and some Democrat) State Legislatures.

The key takeaway is that, for all the fuss, most of the Republican efforts to reduce voter turnout among perceived Democratic constituencies have little overall effect on the outcome.

Why?  Partly because many of the legislative changes don’t work.  Voters continue to turn out, even if voting times and locations are reduced, and voter id is required.  Partly because some of the policies also impact Republican voters.  Partly because the numbers involved are actually quite small.

In baseball, many fans have the impression that the 50-home run hitting first baseman is irreplaceable, because they don’t take into account the fact that his replacement will also hit a lot of home runs.  You don’t lose 50– you lose maybe 10, maybe 15.  And the intentional walk– yes, you reduced the chances of a good-hitter driving in a run, but you also increase the chance that that hitter who is now a baserunner will also score.   It’s a wash and now most astute baseball commentators and managers recognize it.

So take the actual number of voters who don’t turn out and subtract the number of them who vote for the other party and then calculate that as a percentage of the total number of voters– and you have a marginal effect.

I admit, I was a bit surprised.  What do critics of this analysis say?  They don’t say it’s wrong.  They say that the principle of voting rights is more important than the actual effect, and I agree with that.


What Normal Americans Think

In an interview, Mr. Schmidt said his goal was to show Dr. Journey “what normal Americans think.”

A student at the University of Chicago named Daniel Schmidt found out that there was a course being offered called “The Problem of Whiteness”.  The course was described as an exploration of how the racial category of “white” has evolved over time.

Students explore how white people are treated as the norm, affecting, among other things, wealth and political power.

Dr. Journey’s syllabus included readings like, “How Did Jews Become White Folks?” by Karen Brodkin and “The Souls of White Folk,” a lesser-known essay by W.E.B. Du Bois.

Sounds pretty harmless to me.  I’m not sure I would have agreed with Dr. Journey’s perspective, but I would certainly have attended the course before criticizing it.  If she’s into tagging “white privilege” at every opportunity, I won’t be a fan.  If she believes the U.S. is fundamentally founded on racists beliefs, I don’t believe you can really dispute it.  Nor can you dispute the evidence of, yes, “systemic racism” in the U.S.

But let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and suppose that there was something in this course that you disagreed with.  Say you think that it doesn’t give enough credit to the achievements of white civilizations like Sweden and Finland and Scarborough.  Or the ineluctable charms of tap-dancing.  Or why “Gone With the Wind” is the greatest film ever made.  At the University of Chicago, you are free to disagree— assertively so.

Even Mr. Schmidt admits that the University of Chicago has an admirable policy on free speech.  If Anne Coulter wants to come and perform some witchcraft and spew her toxic white nationalism– let her.  If Noam Chomsky wants to come and spew his toxic progressivism– let him.  I’m being sardonic here, but I vehemently agree with the policy.  Nobody should ever ban Anne Coulter from speaking anywhere.  Nobody should ever invite her either, but, if you really want to, go ahead.  Her character and vitriol speaks for itself.  Does she speak for you?  Own it.

But Mr. Schmidt, like so many of his ilk, didn’t choose to simply exercise his freedom to disagree.  He didn’t even take the fucking course to find out what was actually in it and what the professor, Rebecca Journey, had to say about white culture.  I repeat– like so many of his ilk.  What he did was tweet ignorant comments along with Ms.  Journey’s email address and photo obviously intending that she would be harassed.  Not debated.  Not disputed.  Not argued with: simply harassed.  That’s the way assholes like Schmidt and his party do it.  And it worked, exactly as he hoped: hundreds of his “followers”– his sheep– sent her harassing messages, letters, and emails.

I would invite Ms. Journey to have thicker skin.  She postponed the course.  She should not have, and the University, which did back her up, should have taken modest if necessary steps to ensure that she was safe from any idiots out there who regarded Mr. Schmidt as something other than a moron.  But she should perhaps accept that some hate mail — in today’s culture– is the inevitable byproduct of political polarization right now and the worst thing one can do is let them win.

Does she really want Schmidt to crow in triumph that he stopped the woke mob in its tracks?





Queen’s Bohemian Bailout

I saw a Youtube video entitled “Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody 1981 Live Video” and was ready to be impressed.

I despise the song, of course.  It is the junk food of pop music, full of sugar and corn starch and whipped cream, signifying nothing more than some sophomoric masochistic self-pitying kitsch.  But everybody knows about the monumental effort made recording it, multi-tracked harmonies, bombastic background vocals, and so on.  Freddie Mercury has a great voice, I will admit, but the recorded song is the product of studio tricks and engineer pimps and not that of a genuine musical sensibility.

So, I have an open mind.  Maybe they actually performed it creditably live.  That would be something to hear.  And I wouldn’t expect it to sound like the studio recording.  I just thought it might be an interesting, authentic rendition, and  I should give Mercury the opportunity to prove that he really does have some artistic credibility.

And of course I was disappointed.  Mercury starts out playing piano and singing, the rest of the band joins in, and then he abandons the stage and the studio recording is played.   Yes, the studio recording.  Thousands of people just paid $100 or more each to hear Freddie play a CD.  And watch him wiggle his ass on stage for a moment or two, before returning to the piano and taking over again for “nothing really matters” and the coda.  Brian May appears to actually play lead guitar through this segment.

What is this crap?  Seriously?  What a shame-faced contemptible act of artistic cowardice.

There were options.  He could have assembled a group of back-up singers.  He could have arranged it for solo piano or guitar.  He could have exercised some genuine artistic creativity and come up with variations, innovations, an accordion solo, kazoos, anything but this absurd disappointment.

But then, anyone who is a fan of this song won’t care.


“I Don’t Give a Fuck if You’re Innocent: The Perverse Judicial Philosophy of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas”

A man is convicted of rape and murder of a child.  He is sentenced to death.  He appeals and appeals, and the execution is delayed.  He ends up sitting in prison for 30 years.

But he has always maintained his innocence.  Many people believe him.  After considerable efforts by outside groups, his case is re-examined by the same District Attorney’s office that convicted him and they discover that the evidence used to convict him was false, was presented to the jury inaccurately, and that in all probability he did not commit the crime.   They find that he had a remarkably incompetent lawyer and they assert that a reasonably competent attorney could, with some assurance, have persuaded a jury of their client’s innocence.

The key evidence against him consisted of an “expert’s” conclusion that internal injuries suffered by the child could only have occurred during a window of opportunity when the man had exclusive custody of the child and, presumably, may have been caused by rape.  A reexamination of that evidence by competent experts concluded, with certainty, that the injuries had, in fact, occurred before that window of opportunity.  The other charges against him all depended on that original medical evidence.

The man was innocent though it was believed he should have sought medical care for the child sooner than he did.

Quiz question:  would the legal system in the United States then do the right thing and release the man, and expunge his record?

I bet you think so.  I bet any decent, rational human being would think so.  But you are not Clarence Thomas.  Here is Clarence Thomas’ judgement:

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that a federal court considering a habeas corpus petition, or a petition challenging the validity of a prisoner’s conviction or sentence, “may not conduct an evidentiary hearing or otherwise consider evidence beyond the state-court record based on ineffective assistance of state post-conviction counsel.”

In other words, nah nah nah nah.  In other words, we don’t give a damn if he’s innocent: lock him up.  This is a Supreme Court Justice speaking.  He has god-like powers of the judicial system in the United States.  He openly declared that even if a man can be proven innocent, once a court has found him guilty, he stays guilty.

We made a huge mistake, a massive judicial error, but because you didn’t catch us, you have to die.  (Barry Jones was sentenced to death: I’m not sure why it was not carried out.)

“The idea that Mr. Jones had committed the fatal injury — the evidence was no longer there,” she concluded, adding, “The original theory of the state was flawed.”  Laura Conover

Laura Conover is the country attorney for Pima County which prosecuted the original case in 1995.  It is quite unusual for officials in the same office that prosecuted an innocent man to man up and admit they made a mistake.  It is rare.  Bravo for Laura Conover.  One wishes she was on the Supreme Court instead of Clarence fucking Thomas.

Thomas isn’t alone on this: the other five Republican appointees think it’s perfectly swell to not want to hear anything that contradicts a guilty conviction once the sucker has been convicted.   This is a legal system that knowingly denies poor litigants adequate counsel.  Public Defenders, as every knows, are almost all overwhelmed with the volume of cases they handle, which is also why so many plea deals are made.  This is why many, many innocent people plead guilty to reduced charges– because they know that their chances of being convicted no matter what the evidence is very high.

I use the word “fuck” in my title because this attitude by fucking Clarence Thomas and his asshole colleagues is utterly, monstrously, categorically evil.  There are those who agree with my conclusion but feel it is counterproductive to resort to name-calling and invective.  I’m not involved in U.S. politics so I feel free to say what I think about Clarence Fucking Thomas.  He should be impeached.  And all of the Republican Senators who voted to confirm him should resign their seats in craven remorse because they all declare loudly and vociferously how much they love freedom and liberty and justice for all.




All Direct References to Sex were Deleted

Please enjoy “Casablanca” if you have an opportunity to watch it.  It’s enjoyable.  But if you’re a bit of a serious film buff, as I am, you might be somewhat disappointed.  If you are influenced by the hype, you will assume it’s great and come away thinking it is a classic, one of the greatest films of all time.  If you look at it objectively, it’s an enjoyable but deeply flawed artifact of an earlier era in Hollywood.

It is not a great film.  And that is not really a secret.  My opinion is not really way “out there”.  The makers of the film themselves never thought it would even be received as a good film, let alone a great one.  They were as surprised as anyone when it became a modest hit.  They were surprised it won an Oscar as best picture, an award that was probably largely influenced by the politics of the era (it came out in 1942).  They were probably even more surprised when, as time went by, it came to be regarded as a “classic”.

The problems are obvious.  Way too much glycerin tears.  Mawkish scenes of melodrama.  Improbable story developments.  Bogart’s acting (he’s just playing himself, folks).  The awful sets (the entire film was made on a backlot at Warner Brothers).  The over-dressed major characters.  The cliches.

There is a video on Youtube that nicely dramatizes the kind of mass hallucination that takes place when a film beloved by Hollywood types and heavily promoted as a “classic” must be reframed so that all of its major deficiencies now become assets.  Thus Spielberg raves about the emotional depth of a mawkish, sentimental, over-wrought scene of melodrama.  Thus William Friedkin raves about the dynamics of an editing process that is clearly rudimentary and perfunctory.  Thus they rave about the fake studio sets which, instead of reducing exotic locations to static, frigid cut-outs, is actually cleverly intended to provide the film with some kind ethereal mythic quality.  They rave about Ilsa’s fabulous (and ridiculously unrealistic) costumes.

Look– when they made this film, nobody was fooled by these elements.  They didn’t choose the artificial studio sets because they preferred them. They chose them because they were too cheap to film on location (by “on location”, of course, we don’t mean in Casablanca itself, but in a real, similar city).  The film would have been far better had they filmed in Paris, or a similar European city, and Casablanca, or a similar African city.  Think of the scenes of the shops along the narrow streets, the vendors, the animals.   Think of a real airport and real planes.  Think of Paris.  And they didn’t choose the costumes to add to the authenticity: they chose the costumes to sell you on Hollywood glamour.

In its favor, most of the extras were actual European refugees, and that shows.  Those are genuine tears in the eyes of some of the extras in that scene where they drown out the Germans by singing Le Marseillaise.   Great scene, right?  It was lifted from Renoir’s “Grand Illusion”.

Ingrid Bergman really was an extraordinary beauty who could act.  But they dressed her up in the latest high fashions and did her hair and makeup so she looked like a super-model at a fashion show and not very much like a refugee or member of the underground.  The same, of course, applies to Paul Henreid who looked absurdly well-coiffed for an underground leader on the lam from the Nazis.

The romance is kid stuff.  There was implied sex in the original script but Hollywood in 1942 lived by the Hayes Code and one thing it was very specific about is that no leading character would leave his or her spouse for a lover, and the lead characters, if unmarried, can never have sex.  The Hayes Code told America that you are children and cannot be trusted to consider adult themes and complexities.  Some would argue, of course, that this makes the film more “wholesome”.  I can agree with that.  If you really think “wholesome” is some kind of flattering artistic category, instead of more properly an attribute of Wonderbread.

I don’t mind if people enjoy the film.  But it breaks my heart to know what most people who will watch “Casablanca” and adore it will never see “The Third Man” or “The Best Years of Our Lives” or “Day of Wrath” or “Gaslight” or “Late Spring” or “Diabolique” or “Children of Paradise” any of the other truly great films of that era.

Farting on Sacred Scripture

I don’t think politics can get much more stupid than this.

A Democratic politician has been taking bibles from tables in the lounge and hiding them under the seat cushions.  In one case, he put one in the fridge.  Some Republicans were horrified to discover that their asses actually rested on holy scripture.  Some of them may even have farted.  As we know, hell is full of miscreants who farted on holy scripture.

The Republicans apparently believe the Bible has some kind of weird voodoo power that can be transmitted up through the anus and into the larynx and cause otherwise rational politicians to defecate on Reason and Rationality and Intelligence and try to expel a Presbyterian Minister (Stahl Hamilton) who likes to play mild practical jokes.  The vote was 30-28, a majority, but not enough. A two-thirds majority is required to expel a member.

Hamilton was apparently trying to make the point that religion and politics should be kept separate.  The fact that the Republicans almost voted him out of office for tampering with their totemic texts tells you that he is absolutely right.

The Double Standard

The double-standard peaks out from behind it’s feminist camouflage.

I was thinking of Al Franken here, mostly.  There is no doubt at all that if a man had performed the same rude gesture as Ellen Degeneres did, he would have been roundly condemned.  If he had been a Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris would have led the charge to drive him from office.

Well, let’s hear it Senators Gillibrand and Harris!  Let’s hear your full-throated outrage once again: this kind of sexual ogling and intimidation will not be tolerated!  You will never, ever appear on her show.  Ever.

What was Franken accused of?  Posing for a picture with his hands in the air over a woman’s chest.  And the other accusations, as far as I can determine, include “trying to kiss me”.  Oh the horror!  A man tried to kiss me!  Off with his head!!  Yet some feminist jihadists insisted on lumping Franken in with Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey as poster-ogres of the passing patriarchy.

Imagine a male guest on Ellen asking the hostess what she thinks of his penis?   What do you think?  Just a trivial thing that should be swept aside and ignored.  Let’s just get on to something real, here?  Or a horribly inappropriate and offensive gesture that should be sanctioned immediately with suitable consequences?

Well, here we have Gal Gadot asking Jimmy Kimmel what he thinks of her breasts.  My point is not that Gal should be fired from her job because she asked Jimmy Kimmel to comment on her breasts (which she pointed to with her hands) but that neither of these incidents, nor the ones Al Franken was accused of, nor the ones that Louis C.K. was accused of, rises to the level of hysteria with which Franken’s alleged offenses were greeted by the “outraged” harpies who demanded his resignation.

I am most disgusted with Kirsten Gillibrand.  It was widely discussed at the time that Gillibrand was looking for Franken’s scalp as an entree into the world of 2020 presidential candidates.

And so it was.  Guess whose running for president in 2020?

I didn’t hear as much speculation then about Kamala Harris’ motives.  But guess who else is running for president in 2020?

A pox on both their houses.

When asked what type of man she likes, Rihanna said: “I like men who are more aggressive, but mysterious. I like them to be sure of themselves and know that you’re the man, I’m the lady, and the only way for us to make this work is if we play our roles.

I’m not sure that a man who heeded the call here would not be worried that after being “aggressive” he would be accused of not obtaining enthusiastic consent.  Is it possible to have both?


“It’s no problem at all for a man to wear a dark blue suit a hundred days in a row,” she said, “but if I wear the same blazer four times within two weeks, the letters start pouring in.”  Angela Merkel

I have no doubt that most, if not all, of those letters (do they really still send letters in Germany?) come from women.  We have seen similar reactions to women newscasters who change their hairstyle.  So why do some feminists keep blaming men for the double-standard applied to women in politics?  Why are you outraged at us?  Why aren’t you working on your own constituency, who publicly ogle breasts, yearn for “aggressive” men, and complain about the way you dress and look?

When I was in college, years and years ago, I was asked by a couple of girls– good friends to each other–  to take their portrait together.  They tried various poses, and dressing in similar t-shirts, and sweaters, and tank-tops.  Then I half-jokingly suggested they pose nude, back to back.  I remembered a similar picture of the two women in the band Heart.  I thought it looked strikingly beautiful.  The two girls looked at me thoughtfully and considered it and I was quite sure they were ready to go when I quipped, “and without makeup”.  They immediately, decisively rejected that option.  They were horrified at the very thought.

I’ve thought about that lot, for years.  I– the male– was the one who thought they would look more beautiful with their flaws, with a more natural image of their faces, with their real pores and real eyes and real lips.

Would a good feminist argue that they only think that way because they have been brainwashed by men to think that?  I don’t believe it.


I recently read an article (can’t remember where– the Atlantic?) that described, with adoration, the conclusion of the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  This article went to argue that “The Marriage of Figaro” is one of the greatest artistic achievements of Western Civilization.  I decided I must see it.  One must be cultured.

There is a wonderful version on Youtube by Glyndebourne Festival Opera– with subtitles!  Here’s another.  You want subtitles because “The Marriage of Figaro” is in Italian and songs don’t generally translate well from one language to another.  You want to know what’s happening.

I will summarize the plot because I want to try to remember the basic plot points and regurgitating it is a good way to do that.

Okay, so here we go.  Figaro is a servant to the Count.  The Count has just abolished le droit de seigneur to the delight of his citizens.  This, of course, is the mythical right of a lord to have the first sex with a subordinate woman on her wedding night.  Figaro is especially delighted because he wishes to marry a fellow servant, hand-maiden to the Countess, Susanna.   The Count, however, realizing he has missed an opportunity, attempts to rescind abolishment at least for one case: Susanna.  Meanwhile, a mischievous servant, Cherubino, has been roaming around the castle making out with lots of women, and even has his eye on Susanna as well.  The Count knows about him and wants to send him off to join the army, but the Countess and Susanna decide to dress him up as a woman so he can hide from the Count.

The Countess is upset about the Count chasing other women so she and Susanna plot together.  Susanna will send a note to the Count agreeing to meet secretly in the garden that night.  The Countess will dress up as Susanna on her wedding night, wearing her veil, and then wait there instead, trapping the Count.  Susanna will dress up as the Countess.  Figaro doesn’t know about the plan and thinks, at first, that Susanna is about to betray him.  Somehow, he finds out she is not (there are lot of overheard conversations in this opera), but Susanna doesn’t know that Figaro knows that it is her dressed as the Countess.  Figaro decides to have some fun and pretends to be hitting on the Countess.  An angry Susanna whacks him a few times until he admits he knew who she was right away.  The Count, meanwhile, does believe that Figaro was hitting on his wife, the Countess and calls in the guards to arrest them.  That’s when his wife shows up revealing the Count’s nefarious scheme.  The Count asks for forgiveness and everyone is happy.  They sing a lovely song together.

That’s the song the writer raved about:  Pian pianin le andrò più presso.

Or is it “Contessa Perdono”?  I am not sure how Opera segments are organized and I don’t feel like taking the time to find out.  There are lists and references to tracks and then to arias and recitatives and duets, and then subtitles referring to specific passages, I think.

In Amadeus, Salieri speaks about “Figaro” in the same vein as the piece in the Atlantic:

The restored third act is bold, brilliant. The fourth… was astounding. l saw a woman disguised in her maid’s clothes hear her husband speak the first tender words he’d offered her in years. Simply because he thinks she is someone else.

l heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theatre… conferring on all who sat there perfect absolution.

God was singing through this little man to all the world. Unstoppable. Making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar.

Anyway.  Here’s my take-aways from watching the entire 3 hours.

One of the greatest works of art in history?  Seriously?  The music is absolutely fabulous, of course, but the comedy is very broad, very obvious, and the characters are cardboard cut-outs, really.  One does get “into it” if you watch it patiently, and it is fairly enjoyable, but I would not rank it even against the movie about the composer, “Amadeus”, which, to me, was far more profound, far more insightful, and richer and deeper.

It is interesting to hear praise for the last act, the reconciliation scene, which kind of trivializes the philandering going on.  All is forgiven.  “Perfect absolution”.  Let’s get back to the party and enjoy the frivolous pleasures of flirtation and– well, fucking.  I don’t object to Mozart’s take on the issue– I mean, it is a comedy.  But I wonder if the admiring audience shares his Woody Alan-esque view of love and romance?

But if you were trying to sell the “perfect absolution” is this context, you could never beat the musical setting of that piece: it is exquisite.


The Slobbering Appreciation of Tina Turner

If you were ever trying to sell me on the importance or artistic genius of a particular singer, song-writer, painter, novelist, or film-maker, the first mistake is to talk about how may books, albums, singles he or she has sold, or how much his latest movie grossed, or how much a painting of his recently sold for at Christies, or even how many Oscars he won.

Leonardo Di Caprio has an Oscar for acting.

Case closed.

To me, that information is worse than irrelevant: it’s a marker of likely mediocrity.  Line up Beyonce, Neil Diamond, Steven Spielberg, Basquiat, Andy Warhol, whoever you like: I’m not buying.

So when Tina Turner died recently we were bombarded with the usual fawning appreciations from the media most of which, of course, exaggerated her good qualities and completely forgot about the bad ones.  That’s to be expected.  What I did not expect was a slobbering wet kiss from the New York Times in the “Headlines” podcast.  The Times, a very, very good paper, should be embarrassed by this one.  Don’t do it again.

For one thing, Tina Turner did not quite stand out as breathlessly alone as the Times made it sound.  There have been a lot of great female rock or pop singers over the years and each one of them claims to have been the first important one.  Diana Ross (another singer I never cared for), Dionne Warwick, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin — of course! Nina Simone– even more of course.  Come on folks– it’s not that hard.

The Fanny’s were more substantial and far more interesting than Tina Turner.  Ever heard of them?  I thought not.

It’s not that Turner is not entitled to an appreciation.  She’s not really the giant some make her out to be: she’s had a few good hits and she put on a lively show and a lot of feminists see her as an icon for self-empowerment for the way she dumped Ike Turner, struck out on her own, and found someone else’s great songs to cover.  I hope the feminists who complain about men oogling women find it in their hearts to forgive Turner for wearing costumes that conspicuously beg to be oogled.  Come on.

“What’s Love Got to Do With It” is not a bad song.  It’s a less incisive update of Bob Dylan’s stunning “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word”, a toxic take-down of romanticism and delusion.  You would not call “What’s Love Got to Do With It” a toxic take down of anything, really.  It’s a glorious hook, wonderful arrangement, and a couple of verses.  Not bad.  It resonates with her disillusionment with Ike Turner.   Okay?  Good song; now let’s not weigh it down with unentitled significance.

“Proud Mary” gets dreary after a while but I can see why someone hearing it for the first time might think of himself as thinking of himself being blown away.   I really dislike the intro on one of the most popular live performances on Youtube, the patter about “we never take things slow”, as if that is supposed to be incredibly sexy or funny or both.

The talk about her “sensational comeback” is a lot of hype: she never stopped touring really and continued to appear on television shows like “Donny and Marie” (yes she did), The Brady Bunch Hour, Sonny and Cher, and Hollywood Squares.  Just because “Private Dancer” was a monster hit doesn’t mean that Turner’s career didn’t exist prior to it, but it’s a story everyone loves and repeats no matter how many times they’ve heard it, or untrue it is.

The bottom line for me is, has she ever done a song that really mattered to me?   Like any of these:

  • Someday Soon (Ian & Sylvia, Judy Collins)
  • Anchorage (Michelle Shocked)
  • Diamonds and Rust (Joan Baez)
  • That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be (Carly Simon)
  • You Don’t Own Me (Leslie Gore)

Doing this list I can’ help but notice how many of these songs performed by women were written by men.  Sigh.  All except “Diamonds and Rust”.

Wikipedia, incidentally, tirelessly lists Tina Turner’s sales records.  A long list of so many so much so popular.   Why?  Because there is not much to say about what she actually achieved artistically?  Loud and fast and legs.

Wikipedia also reports on her divorce and her allegations of physical abuse against Ike Turner while acknowledging that he did a hell of a lot for her career early on.  When they divorced, I had the impression, from all the blather, that he left her penniless.  Yes, penniless, along with two Jaguars, furs, and jewelry.   She demanded $4,000 a month in alimony.  Wiki doesn’t say if she got it or not, but the BS about running away from Ike with 23 cents in her pocket is just that: BS.  Oh, she may have had 23 cents in her pocket– and the keys to the Jaguar.

She refused to attend his funeral.  Phil Spector, the murderer, did.

There is a film.  I’d be absolutely pleasantly stunned if it was any more accurate than the usual Hollywood bullshit.