Archive for Donald Trump

The Big Mouth

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2021 by dcairns

I was curious about Errol Morris’ AMERICAN DHARMA, about Trump advisor and Breitbart exec Steve Bannon, but not apparently curious enough to see it when it was new. I finally checked it out.

Essentially, it conforms to the conclusions I’ve already drawn about Morris’s filmmaking. When he was making documentaries about ordinary people, he had an impressive ability to get them to open up. When he switched to people like Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld, he was suddenly dealing with people who had decades of practice obfuscating and outright lying and who were not about to change the habits of a lifetime. If David Frost couldn’t open up Richard Nixon, a barefaced crook, in three hours of television, Morris wasn’t going to get any damaging revelations out of these creeps in the space of a feature film. So all his films do is humanise the monsters. This, in some circumstances, might seem worthwhile in itself — monsters are human too. Understanding them can be useful, salutary. But McNamara’s technocrat logic and Rumsfeld’s nauseating folksiness are really just masks.

AMERICAN DHARMA does a number of things with Stephen K. Bannon (as he likes to call himself): it makes him look good, by filming him in a reconstructed set from Henry King’s TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH, and in hero poses on an airfield, and by flattering lighting and angles — we all know Bannon as a grubby unshaven carcinomic schlub wrapped in excess shirts, a kind of fleshly embodiment of Trumpian excess and corruption. Here he looks, at times, positively noble.

The Bannon emerging from the film is contradictory, which the real Bannon probably is too, but I felt I understood him less at the film’s end than at the beginning. Without feeling I’d been wrong in any of my derogatory opinions about him before. The onscreen Bannon’s most appealing characteristic was his admiration of Morris as a filmmaker and tearful-kitten-emoji eagerness to have Morris’ respect and affection. He genuinely didn’t want Morris to see him as a racist, white supremacist, mean bad guy. So the things he said were calculated to portray him otherwise. Morris was able to use film clips to show Bannon being less cautious elsewhere. When he instructed his audience that when they were called racists, they should “wear it as a badge of pride,” it definitely opened up a schism-chasm between affable Steve the interviewee and his public persona elsewhere. But it seemed, despite a 96 minute runtime, that there just wasn’t any opportunity to get into the nitty-gritty of how exactly it is possible to wear being called racist as a badge of honour, if you’re not a racist. Maybe getting a political figure to approach the truth about himself is going to take much more than an average/minimum feature length. Maybe it can’t be done. Maybe, if that’s true, it shouldn’t be attempted.

Of the varied slithery shitheels and war criminals Morris has allowed to wriggle free over the years (remember how he concluded that the Abu Ghraib torturers were only following orders?), Bannon ought to be the easiest to pin down. He’s not as clever as he thinks he is — I’m not at all certain he’s using the word “dharma” accurately, and certainly the line “we hit them with an enormous fuselage” (rather than “fusillade” — and this guy was in the military?) is laughable. And here is an apparent Breitbart headline, which will reward you for more attention than the copy editor gave it:


As we know from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and other places, Bannon is a man who likes to talk, and while that other jovial fat fellow of sinister motivation, Caspar Guttman, says that talking can only be done judiciously when practiced regularly, it is not certain that talking constantly can ever be judicious, especially if you have crimes to conceal. Bannon not infrequently says the quiet part out loud, because he just can’t bear the thought of there being a quiet part. So it’s actually surprising that Morris, emerging from behind his Interrotron™ to appear as a sort of CKANE Thompson interlocutor, can’t pin down his subject more meaningfully. I guess Morris could argue that, since I didn’t like Bannon better at the film’s end, he hadn’t glorified, glamourised, flattered and platformed a dangerous nutjob — but I have never felt Bannon’s craftiness, sadism and bigotry LESS keenly than I did watching him preen here.

Morris does catch Bannon in one flat-out lie, his assertion that Trump wrote his own inauguration address, which is followed by a slow blink so transparently bogus in its movie-sincerity that Morris’ cry of “Oh come on!” is hardly necessary. And his juxtapositions of archive news footage and doc interview occasionally get at the cruelty underlying the Trump administration’s every action, but living through those years made all that much more visible if you had eyes to see.

I once read that the left cares about human welfare and doing no harm, and the right cares about values, which felt true-ish. So that driving abortion underground, causing more harm, would seem perfectly reasonable to a rightwinger, since all that matters is not endorsing abortion. The death penalty needn’t work as a deterrent, it needn’t save money, it needn’t be humane, it just has to serve as the ultimate statement of a society’s values: there are certain things we feel are so bad that we get to kill you for them.

Suddenly, or not so suddenly, with the Trump administration it seemed like the cruelty was the point. The religious right could overlook Trump violating every commandment ever chiselled, so long as he hurt the right people. Morris mentions this cruelty, but he never follows up on it. When he asks “How is this helping anything?” he’s missing the point. It was never supposed to help anybody or anything, it was just a statement of identity: This particular kind of cruelty is the kind we like. As always with Trump-era wingnuttery, it’s all projection, so when the right accuses the left of identity politics, they’re confessing. Their politics is ALL about identity — their own.

Bannon is, at least, a better movie critic than Trump, who no doubt only chose CITIZEN KANE because it’s “the greatest.” I am undecided if Morris cut that piece together to conflate both Mrs. Kane’s because he assumes Trump doesn’t remember there’s two of them, or just because he wasn’t taking care. Bannon’s reading of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT is possibly smarter than Morris’. But less humane.

Nixon on Ice

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 26, 2020 by dcairns

SLEEPER came up in conversation the other day. You might want to consider getting frozen until this is all over (Covid-19/Trump/the Marvel universe).

The specific bit referred to is the reference to Nixon. Woody Allen has been revived from cryogenics in the year 2173, two hundred years after being put on ice. The people who have defrosted him try to bring him up to speed on historical developments.

A bit of TV news footage is screened for him: Dick Nixon addresses the nation. “Some of us have a theory that he might once have been a president of the United States, but that he did something horrendous so that all records, everything was wiped out about him. There is nothing in the history books, there are no pictures on stamps, no money…”

“Yes,” says Woody, “He actually was president of the United States, but I know that whenever he used to leave the White House the secret service used to count the silverware.”

What’s impressive here is that the movie opened in December 1973 and was presumably shot months earlier, and Nixon didn’t resign until August ’74. So that we could say that among his other accomplishments, WA doesn’t get enough credit for being a prophet.

(Please don’t let’s make this a referendum on his guilt or innocence vis-a-vis sex crimes. You’re allowed your opinion and I’m hanging on to my lack of one.)

I wonder how Trump will fare. Nixon, of course, was not erased from history but he certainly didn’t get commemorative stamps, just a bloated biopic. Trump seems unfilmable as even while he’s happening, he remains unimaginable. And there’s no inner life there to explore. Oliver Stone admitted he had to make his fictional Nixon gifted with more self-awareness than the real guy (as when he compares himself ruefully to Kennedy).

Back to SLEEPER: I had to look up a reference right before this one. It’s explained that our civilisation was largely wiped out by a war, when “a man called Albert Shanker got ahold of a nuclear warhead.” I had no idea who that was and probably audiences at the time outside the US didn’t either, but Shanker was president of the United Federation of Teachers. Which I find very funny, even without looking deeper into his character to discover what it was that made Allen feel he couldn’t be trusted with a nuke.

Mad in USA

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on August 21, 2017 by dcairns


One of my big theories, which I may have mentioned before, is about projection. We project onto our enemies our own most shameful traits, and so who we hate and why we hate them sometimes says more about us than them. I don’t feel bad about hating Donald John Trump for his stupidity, grandiloquence, intolerance, aggression and dishonesty, since those are all qualities I can find in myself, and I find them deplorable.

What I find interesting is how all the insults Trump applies to others — and for a man with such a limited vocabulary, he has used quite a few — apply better to him than to those he attacks. Crooked! Sad! Failing! And the alt-right’s phrase “virtue signalling” — used whenever someone to the left of Hitler says something they be honestly believe to be nice, something that actually IS virtuous, becomes an interesting one.

Firstly, when did virtue become something to be held in contempt? But the addition of “signalling” makes the intent clear: this supposed virtue is a sham, it is merely part of a ritual whereby leftie types self-indentify to one another. I’m nice, are you nice? It still doesn’t strike me as that awful. I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with it. But the alt-right are pretty different from the conservatives. It’s been argued that while liberals care about the most good for the most people, or at least like to think so, conservatives care about “values.” Which have nothing to do with anybody’s wellbeing and are often mere bigotry. So a conservative can be in favour of something that will have only negative effects, like the war on drugs or the right to bear arms, but that doesn’t matter, because what’s important is that it’s, in fact, virtuous, according to the rule-book (which is typically some interpretation of the Bible, the Constitution, or something heard on Fox News).

But at a certain point, conservatism shades into the even more toxic alt-right, who are full of hatred and negativity and know it. It makes them feel better to believe the left are insincere, full of the same nastiness, just lacking the balls to come out and admit it.

But ironically, the right are the ones who are always signalling. Liberal “virtue signalling” could be more simply described as “stating your beliefs” or maybe “stating your professed beliefs” if you want to be cynical about it. The signallers, the code-users, are on the alt-right. “Globalist” means Jew. They know it, and they know we know it, but only those dumb neo-Nazis who are spoiling the fun for everyone else would admit to anti-Semitism. The right have all these corny sayings, “red pill” and shit like that, and they also have this carefully maintained not-too-plausible deniability, a gossamer-thin veil between their outward presentation and their obvious, but never confessed racism.

Is Trump’s obsessive use of the “OK” gesture a White Power sign? (The three raised fingers form a W, the circled thumb and forefinger and the ball of the thumb a P.) This seems to have started off as a 4-chan hoax. But now it’s a well-known enough meme that a smart president would avoid doing it. So that the fact that Trump continues to do it, can’t seem to SPEAK without doing it, starts to look like a genuine signal.”Look, I’m using a symbol with racists associations, AND I DON’T CARE.

If you look at the OCCASIONS his tiny thumb and forefinger meet during his notorious, and live-in-ignominy historic Trump Tower press conference, I would point out two things –(1) it now seems connected in his mind with white power, because he uses it whenever talking about white supremacists and (2) he definitely isn’t using it to mean “OK.”

One last movie-based observation since this is supposed to be a movie blog (but this stuff is OBSESSING me right now). Ronald Reagan: movie star. George W. Bush: executive producer (of THE HITCHER and others). Steve Bannon: movie producer (appalling political “documentaries,” somehow owns a piece of Seinfeld). Maybe nobody associated with the movie business should be allowed in politics?

Donald Trump has been in several movies, but he should have been disqualified anyway for being an evil, stupid, corrupt, racist asshole.