In France, the actor Michel Robin died. He turned 90. He played in more than 120 films. Always bit parts. You can recognize him by his bald head and the banal characters he usually had to portray.
Favorites are Mais ne nous délivrez pas du mal (1971), a film about two beautiful adolescent girls who start indulging in a satanic love for evil. Robin plays the simple gardener whose parakeet is killed by the diabolic duo.
There is L’Invitation (1973) in which Robin plays a simple and clumsy office worker who, after inheriting a fortune, invites his colleagues to his new estate. There, those good bourgeois men and women are intoxicated by a spiked drink at the hands of a rogue bartender. The situation escalates. Cult movie.
And then there is the genius animal head puppet film Marquis (1989) in which Robin voices a certain Ambert, a rat prison guard who is eager to be sodomized by the Marquis de Sade, something Colin, the living and talking phallus of the Marquis does not wish to indulge in.
Sean Connery was a Scottish actor, for a long time considered the most handsome man alive.
I have fond memories of four of his films:
In The Man Who Would Be King (1975), he is one of two British adventurers who first become king of Kafiristan, which is an actual historical region in Afghanistan. Kafirs are unbelievers.
In Highlander (1986) he is an Egyptian immortal who has to compete with Christophe Lambert.
In The Name of the Rose (1986), Connery is a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Thomas Aquinas.
But in Zardoz (1972) Connery is the funniest and the most memorable. Not necessarily in the good sense, because Zardoz is really a ridiculous movie, and not even in the “so bad that it’s good” category. But once you saw that movie, you never forget the image of Connery, like a kind of beefcake in orange shorts, with a mustache, with crossed suspenders.
I have to formally advise you not to watch that film.
We are 2293. The inhabitants of Earth consist of two groups, the Brutes, the plebs, ruled by the Eternals, a small elite that is bored. Eternals use part of the Brutes, the Exterminators, as a band of chosen warriors to kill common Brutes. Sean Connery is one of them.
The Eternals have a god for the destroyers, Zardoz, a giant stone head that flies through the air and spews weapons.
The teaching that Zardoz preaches goes like this:
“The Penis is evil. The Penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the Gun shoots death and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals. Go forth, and kill! Zardoz has spoken!””
Movies such as Zardoz were inspired by neo-malthusian overpopulation disaster scenarios distributed in books such as The Population Bomb (1968) and The Limits to Growth (1971) by the Club of Rome. Those books were partly right. Today population stabilization is predicted by 2064. Then we return — I hope with enough secularists (the religious shall NOT inherit the earth) — to an ideal of two billion inhabitants. A gentle return. Two billion is ideal for our planet, we were two billion in 1927.
Although Zardoz was really a shitty film, there were some good films to come out of this dystopian eco-fiction scene.
There is Silent Running (1972), about a spaceship that takes the last plants of Earth into space and Soylent Green (1973), about a society where the starving inhabitants of Earth are encouraged to commit euthanasia. Euthanized people are then offered back to starving humanity as biscuit food, but now I deviate very far from Sean Connery.
In the scene above she is Fadela, the housekeeper in Naked Lunch (1991) who chases away the penis-buttocks-cartilage centipede.
The scene is known as the mujahideen’s scene, because that is the name of the typewriter.
In this particular scene actress Judy Davis sits on the lap of Peter Weller. They represent Burroughs and his wife. They take a drug named majoun. Judy Davis is typing on a typewriter. On the paper Arabic words appear. Peter Weller tells her to write dirtier prose, meaning more erotic, more pornographic. As the words become filthier the typewriter starts to enjoy the prose more. It starts undulating under her fingers, giving way, until it finally opens up and shows its fleshy vaginal innards. Judy Davis introduces her hands. She licks Peter Weller’s fingers. A penis emerges from the innards of the typewriter. They start kissing and making out.
Next scene. Judy and Peter are in bed together. Clothed A penis-like centipede with buttocks and cartilage jumps from what appears to be a cupboard with them in bed. We Just before it jumps there is a shot of ‘it’ showing other vagina-like orifices. It flaps around them in bed in a bizarre threesome, making squishy sounds.
A woman comes in with a whip. This is Fadela played by Monique Mercure. She chides the centipede, chasing it outside. It jumps from the balcony and when it hits the ground, it transforms into the typewriter.
The Poughkeepsie Shuffle: Tracing ‘The French Connection’ (2000)
Sonny Grosso was a New York City police detective turned movie and television producer, noted for his role in the “French Connection” heroin bust immortalized in the The French Connection (1971), directed by William Friedkin.
The BBC documentary The Poughkeepsie Shuffle: Tracing ‘The French Connection’ (2000) [above] features him extensively.
After being an adviser on The French Connection, Grosso went on to play a part in the film Cruising (1980), also directed by William Friedkin.
This film is also the subject of a documentary (above).
Gahan Wilson was an American author, cartoonist and illustrator.
I was unacquainted with the work of Wilson. Dave Letterman introduced him in the 1980s as the “guru of gruesome, wizard of the weird and the Michelangelo of the macabre.”
Me being European, Wilson reminds me of Tomi Ungerer (1931- 2019) or Roland Topor (1938-1997) and perhaps more of Topor, since like Topor, Wilson was not political.
Wilson is regarded as the only heir of Charles Addams (1912-1988) and often mentioned in one breath with Edward Gorey (1925-2000) .
The epithet ‘sick humor‘ sometimes pops up, although I have to disagree on this one, as, as a European, I am used to Hara Kiri, most likely the epitome of 20th century sick humor.
Since I found out about his death, I watched the “The Waitress” episode of The Kid (2001) and Wilson’s appearance at David Letterman’s (March 30, 1982) when he published Is Nothing Sacred?. I also listened to a reading of the wonderful story “The Sea was Wet as Wet Could Be” (1967).
His cartoon “I am an insane eye doctor and I am going to kill you now…” is frequently cited as of his best work. In it, a non-suspecting man reading an optometrist’s ‘eye examination’ with the text cited is approached from behind by a knife wielding optometrist.
There are body horror elements in his work and the cartoon “Harry, I really think you ought to go to the doctor.”, in which Harry is a regular man with the head of a prawn, is positively Lovecraftian.
He is perhaps best known for his book The Western Canon, to its supporters a work defending art for art’s sake, the absoluteness of aesthetic value and literary genius; to its detractors a defense of elitism and dead white males. This makes Bloom is a cultural critic in the tradition of Matthew Arnold who stated that “[culture is] the best that has been said and thought in the world” (Culture and Anarchy, 1869).
I discovered Bloom in the early 2000s in a period I was researching the nobrow concept.
His death has been a good occasion to dig into the university library and bring home The Western Canon and The Anxiety of Influence.
The bulk of today’s research went to The Western Canon, it is arguably Bloom’s best-known work and it has had relevance outside of the lit crit world.
The notion of a canon has also recently shown itself the object of a political debate in Flanders, the region I live and where the right (NVA) has managed to include it into to the policy of the Jambon Government The opposition (the left) was against it. The culture war fought in our region is one akin to the clash of civilizations of Huntington, more specifically the west and how it tries to come to to terms with the renewed religiosity in the form of Islam.
That Bloom’s canonization of 26 authors was an apolitical process can be read on page 4:
“I am not concerned with . . . the current debate between the right-wing defenders of the Canon, who wish to preserve it for its supposed (and nonexistent) moral values, and the academic-journalistic network I have dubbed the School of Resentment, who wish to overthrow the Canon in order to advance their supposed (and nonexistent) programs for social change.”
If you’re not familiar with Bloom and what to catch up quickly, you may want to check the interviews Bloom gave to Charlie Rose.
Here [above] is one in which he makes a couple of amusing and astute observations on the western canon and its detractors:
He came to my attention via local left-wing thinkers such as Ico Maly, Stephen Bouquin, Mark Saey and Jan Blommaert.
Wallerstein is famous for his world systems theory, a grand narrative-type historiography.
I like grand narratives, so that’s not the problem.
But I have three objections. 1) Wallerstein appears to be an political activist just as much as a scientist, 2) Wallerstein suggests that imperialism is a purely European and capitalist phenomenon and 3) I do not believe that the pre-eminence of Europe and the west (the so-called “European miracle” or the “great divergence“) is only due to the exploitation of its colonies.
1) Wallerstein literally states:”I do not believe there exists any social science that is not committed.” —The Modern World-System, volume 1, 1974
To note that empires go back to the dawn of history may seem a truism, but in fact it is no trivial assertion. Some insist, for example, that “imperialism, which peaked around the end of the nineteenth century, is somehow an invention or by-product of modern capitalism—in Lenin’s words, “the highest stage of capitalism.” Building on this, they argue that empire was necessary (indispensable) to the prosperity and survival of modern capitalism. The tenacity of this belief can be measured by a copious literature averring that imperialism aimed above all at material gain, even where it manifestly cost and lost.History belies such intrinsic links to capitalism. Consider the ancient empires of Egypt, China, Assyria, Persia, Rome, etc.; or, in modern times, the late, unlamented Communist-Socialist empire of the Soviet Union. That so much ink has been spilled on this issue reflects the need to discredit the imperialists and capitalists by way of encouraging resistance and revolution. They’re in it for the money—what can be worse? Meanwhile bad definitions and explanations lead to bad conclusions.”
“Clearly, the common view of imperialism as a Western invention and monopoly visited on non-European peoples is wrong.”
3) While I do believe that colonization contributed to Europe’s wealth (and the “European miracle” or the “great divergence”), I doubt that it is the only reason for its wealth.
First a summary from Wallerstein’s world-system:
Immanuel Wallerstein characterised the world system as a set of mechanisms, which redistributes surplus value from the periphery to the core. In his terminology, the core is the developed, industrialized part of the world, and the periphery is the “underdeveloped”, typically raw materials-exporting, poor part of the world; the market being the means by which the core exploits the periphery.
To paraphrase: the world-system (the first world and the other countries) redistributes wealth from the periphery (the third world) to the core countries (the first world).
“The historians debate these matters [concerned with the “European miracle”], the questions “why” and “when,” but not the question “whether” — whether a miracle happened at all. Or, to be more precise, they do not even consider the possibility that the rise of Europe above other civilizations did not begin until 1492, that it resulted not from any European superiority of mind, culture, or environment, but rather from the riches and spoils obtained in the conquest and colonial exploitation of America and, later, Africa and Asia. This possibility is not debated at all, nor is it even discussed, although a very few historians (notably Janet Abu-Lughod, Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, and Immanuel Wallerstein) have come close to doing so in very recent years.”
So “European superiority” results from “the riches and spoils obtained in conquest and colonial exploitation of American and, later, Africa and Asia?” I doubt it. I follow Landes and Jones in these matters, but not totally.
I sympathize with an in-between-model as proposed by Pomeranz in The Great Divergence (2000) as described by (P. H. H. Vries, 2001):
“that [The Great Divergence] pays more attention to connections than Landes almost goes without saying. Landes, in his magnum opus tends to completely neglect the role of “the rest” in the rise of the West. Pomeranz regards the part played by Europe’s periphery as crucial, without, however, simply rehearsing the kind of analysis that has become stock in trade of the world-systems school.”
While I do agree with critics of the West such as Wallerstein who state that we must not lose ourselves in self-aggrandizing theories of European superiority, we must also not do the reverse and wallow in oikophobia and conclude that Europe is a horrible place and eurocentrism is just as bad as racism (or its imaginary offspring cultural racism).
Another point I wish to make is that the limit of Wallerstein’s world-systems theory lies in its neglect of the cultural component. Like Marxism, it only factors in the economic components.
In fact, when I googled “Wallerstein” and “Huntington” I found this citation from Wallerstein’s The Decline of American Power (2003) which is not very consistent with his own world-system theory:
“We tend to think and to speak of Christianity as the “West” and Islam as the “East.” … Why? … We have had some answers recently that are well known to you. Samuel Huntington sees the West and Islam as two antithetical “civilizations” that are in long term political conflict. Edward Said sees Orientalism as a false construct erected for ideological reasons by the Western world, one both pervasive and pernicious in its effect. I prefer to approach the question another way and ask the question, why is it that the Christian world seems to have singled out the Islamic world as its particular demon, and not merely recently but ever since the emergence of Islam? Actually the reverse has probably also been true, that Islam has regarded Christianity as its particular demon.”
So, while Wallerstein says that he wants to approach the question answered by Samuel “clash of civilizations” Huntington in a different way, one would expect that he denies that there is a clash of civilizations. Yet, he simply says that the Christian world has singled out the Islamic world as its “demon” and that the Islamic world has chosen the west as its enemy. Is that not the same as saying that there is a clash of civilizations?
I want to conclude with an apocryphal dictum attributed to Leo Strauss who once suggested that if all cultures are relative, then cannibalism is a matter of taste.”