Archive for October, 2021

Enemy Agent

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2021 by dcairns

Black Sunset by Clancy Sigal, with its catchpenny subtitle Hollywood Sex, Life, Glamour, Betrayal & Raging Egos, was a chance discovery – they had a copy at St Columba’s Bookshop, which is the destination of my favourite long walks (my new low-carb diet requires exercise to accompany it, also apparently random blood-sugar crash collapses). They had the book in the movie section, which is correct, even though it looks like and reads like a thriller, or almost.

Sigal was, it seems, a genuine Hollywood agent working for Sam Jaffe (not the High Llama guy) at the time of the blacklist. His memoir seems trustworthy, since although he fills it with celebrity cameos and broiling tension, he doesn’t concoct anything resembling a plot. He writes propulsively, which is impressive since he was apparently 90 when this was published. He died a year later.

It’s hard to know for sure how factual it all is, but asides from consistently spelling Joseph Cotten’s surname incorrectly, it all seems to be in keeping with the known facts. Numerous names are changed to protect the guilty by association — the only writer I could ID from Sigal’s description (a woman working on the script of the first Hollywood film to feature Nazi murder camp footage is a pretty specific description) is Decla Dunning, the film being Welles’ THE STRANGER.

Among those cameos are Joan Crawford, discovered throwing up on the Universal lot, Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, both Jaffe clients. Lorre’s chapter is terrific —

On learning of Sigal’s rep as a killer agent who even resorts to violence: “What’s that I hear? You beating up people for Mister Jaffe? THEN WHY DON’T YOU DO IT FOR ME, FAULER SACK? [lazy shit]”

On learning that, as a soldier, Sigal had gone awol to attend the Nuremberg Trials with the intention of assassinating Goering, but had muffed it: “You were there and did nozzing! Schwachkopf! […] Idiot! No wonder you get me only these crazy parts. […] You noodle, why didn’t you shoot?”

On HUAC members anti-semitic tendency to call unfriendly witnesses by their foreign, rather than their Americanized names: “Wait until they get to Ladislav Lowenstein.”

There are also a memorable walk-on by Martin Berkeley, a psychotic case who named more names that anyone alive, compulsively, like a ratfink tic. He named names he didn’t even know. His brief scene here suggests a psychological explanation: he felt guilty after naming names, so he named more names to convince himself it was nothing to be ashamed of. And felt MORE guilty, so named MORE names… And there’s a guest appearance by William Alland, Thompson and News on the March from CITIZEN KANE, by now a B-movie scifi producer at Universal, who seems equally demented.

With images like movie stars and agents gathering for a rooftop party on the Jaffe offices to watch a nearby atom bomb test, this could make a great movie, but you’d have to invent a plot. Sigal’s life was too disorderly to provide one, it seems (he later partnered in R.D. Laing’s experimental mental asylum, had a relationship with Doris Lessing, and co-wrote Julie Taymor’s FRIDA

What’s the Time, Mister Wolf?

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2021 by dcairns

Squid Game not only lives up to the hype, it’s better than it has any right to be. While the high-concept gladiatorial set-up mixes together BATTLE ROYALE, EYES WIDE SHUT, The Prisoner, maybe Lost, the execution is just original enough, and the execution astonishingly consistent and flawless. Amazing design, great performances, the twists all play fair and deepen the meaning of the show rather than undercutting it.

There was a point where Fiona observed that the grim situation of the central characters, competing for their lives, echoed that of Nazi murder camp inmates. I said that it mainly reminded me of school. The fact that there were authority figures, enforcers of rules, but they made no effort to protect their subjects from each other, seemed particularly telling. That tied in with the use of schoolyard games tricked up to provide a body count.

The first game, Red Light / Green Light, was played at my primary school, but my memory tells me that we called it What’s the Time, Mister Wolf? For no reason any of us understood.

Of course, now we’re getting stories about Scottish school kids who’ve watched the show and are playing the games for real. Of course. Of course.

It was striking to me that none of the big kids at my school, those who were NOT bullies, ever protected the weak kids from being bullied. Too much trouble. Not their business. And the playground was a place of anarchy, completely unmonitored. It’s very much what we see in Hwang Dong-hyuk’s series. All he adds is a body count (warning: the show is very, very violent and it’s ridiculous that it should be rated 15. If you’re going to have ratings they should mean something).

If you wanted to make schoolyards free from violence, psychological as well as physical, you would have to pay adults to supervise. Unsupervised play is when kids pick up bad habits from one another, mainly. The presence of responsible adults forces them to act civilised, mostly.

The other thing that Squid Game is about, obviously, is late-stage capitalism and class, like PARASITE. The idea that people on the bottom rungs of any modern society would willingly face death to escape their situation seems quite plausible, and if we’re not there yet, we probably soon will be.

Squid Game is on Netflix. Fiona rates it the best TV show she’s seen since Breaking Bad, I don’t have a handy rating but I can find literally nothing wrong with it.

Halloweenie Roast

Posted in FILM on October 25, 2021 by dcairns