I’ve followed the plight of these sad fuckers (aka “Somali Pirates”) for a little while now and for multiple reasons. People approached me to write a movie about them a few years back. Their idea was basically an exact reenactment of what the Navy Seals team did in the Wired article (linked above). Simply, white guys shooting black guys and being righteous about it. It pissed me off then and it pisses me off now.
I find this whole situation fascinating and depressing. Basically, because of a whole bunch of fucked up shit, Somalia became/is an anarchic state. No government. No rules. Pure chaos. But in this system of chaos, a form of order emerged. Former fisherman (with the aid of some criminal organisations) took their useless fishing vessels and used them to raid shipping lanes, kidnap Cargo and/or seamen. These “Pirates” were moderately violent but none of their captives were killed and most were never physically traumatized. And, for the most part, the pirates were fiscally rewarded for their endeavours (they found reward in a starving system of chaos) and therefore, based on positive reinforcement, the frequency of their piracy skyrocketed and other Somalis followed in their footsteps. Piracy boomed. Sure it wasn’t “government” sanctioned taxation for it lacked the legitimacy of an official governing body, but, essentially, it was, when you boiled it down, Somali citizenry taxing Cargo ships directly for passing through their water space (or near their water space). If the Cargo companies didn’t pay the tax, the Pirates would hold cargo/employees in collateral until the companies wised up. Official governments do this all over the place, sure not with AK-47s, and not with human hostages (necessarily), but money does go from those who run the cargo ships into the pockets of those who run the countries. The only difference between the two is one is called a “pirate” and the other a “politician.” And what is the response of the politician to the pirate fucking with his gig - kill the fuckers.
Obama green lit two navy seal snipers (two guys who were also there when Bin Laden kicked it) to blow the heads off these fuckers’ bodies when they kidnapped Richard Phillips in 2009 (remember that, he’ll be played by Tom Hanks). And now they’ve (we’ve) gone and killed 9 more “pirates” (in their sleep and, although heavily armed, they were asleep!!). Richard Roeper will be interviewing one of the Seals on the radio. How fucked is that? 9 lives, man. Woot! We’re the kings of the world. They killed 9 guys who, yes, were heavily armed, who were asleep, who had imprisoned two people for three months (kept them alive and unharmed by the way) and whose training with said heavy weaponry has been limited to display and not actual use. Wow. Way to go Navy Seals.
The “Somali pirates” had nothing, no system, no way of making a legitimate income, no way to put food on their tables. So they could either just give up, choose to die, or, perhaps, do what all human beings have done through out time, god forbid, work with what they got (lemons to lemonade, people). And so they began to create a system, to create order in this fucked up place, that could aid in their own survival. Sure, it wasn’t an ideal system and these guys did have guns and were willing to poke them in peoples’ faces, but, least we forget, they weren’t the ones that killed first. It was the established system (Us - all of us!!!) that killed first and, being a part of that established system, being an apathetic loser with an internet connection, it makes me really sad and really sick to my stomach.
I was just saying, “Modern screenwriting lacks innovation. There’s no one person writing now, really, including Charlie Kaufman, that pushes the boundaries of narrative storytelling. The modern screenwriter is fluent in 3 act, 5 act, Truby-ese, the sequence method, Seger-ese, McKee-ese, Chinese, etc. Kaufman, for example, is so fluent in all of these languages that his work (like Tarantino’s) is based on a criticism of any and all known screenwriting/literary methods and theories. They get meaning by deconstructing these languages. It’s meta-screenwriting. And, of course, it’s valid and entertaining because thought is being applied in a non-typical way. It’s ‘fresh’ because it allows us – the audience - to puzzle but also provides us with life preservers. I’ll show you what I mean. Here’s a non-linear sentence:
'…for the crime I did indeed commit, and put in prison, before I was arrested, and stole three apples, I ran to the market.'
It’s natural for us to piece the puzzle back together again. And, of course, we find some sort of relief in solving these puzzles. Perhaps not emotionally, but intellectually. The life preserver in the case of this syntactically challenged sentence is English grammar. You read the sentence and begin to realign it to your understanding. But this sentence does nothing to really push our understanding of, say, anything. It plays solely with ‘knowns’ and leaves nothing to the imagination (it lacks any ‘unknowns’).
But true innovation, and I mean where the storyteller has to tell its story by the story’s own set of specific rules, dictated by its subject, without precedent, is truly lacking in modern filmmaking (I might extend this to all literary/music/entertainment forms).
Where do we think these ‘screenwriting languages’ originated? Our ancient storytellers had to muse - yes, I said it - on how to tell their specific stories. They had to innovate. And then they had to refine. And then they had to push the boundaries of what came before. And, sometimes, they had to not just deconstruct what came before, they had to abolish it. Cinema is dying because its cabal of creatives are not interested in innovation and, like all of us, fear the freedom of the unknown.”
Okay, I didn’t say this to anyone in particular, but I thought it! And I wrote it down! And, of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Abbas Kiarostami is an exception. CERTIFIED COPY is an exception. Not that he obliterates the screenwriting language(s), not that what he does isn’t comparable to Kaufman or Tarantino, but that, in this specific instance, it is his story (his thesis) that dictates its telling. And, unlike his contemporaries, he leaves a lot to the imagination.
- SML -
Elle: Look at your wife, who has made herself pretty today. Look. Open your eyes.
My take on the death drive. You may or may not need to be familiar with J.G. Ballard for this to compute.
To be or not to be… Ballardian.
Ballardian. It’s a word that derives from a flesh, blood, and bone namesake (the physical Ballard), but also represents the inner workings of his psyche, his obsessions, and his fetishes (the metaphysical Ballard). It can even be detached from its source to…
"Why is everything so hard for me? Why can’t I play the piano like I breathe?"
- Bruno S. (in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser)
Kaspar Hauser walked into a village with his skull cracked and bleeding. He had a note in his hand. He seemed mute. And, after reading the contents of the note, it was quickly determined that he was raised in isolation. Not by wolves per se, but by beastly, human creatures that confined him – as Werner Herzog imagines – to a stable with only a cat and a donkey as his companions. He was dumb by all reasonable standards – he could not write, he could not speak although he did make sounds. He became a curiosity for the learned in the village. He became a toy for the intelligent to manipulate. He became an experiment in human ego. Could this feral savage be tamed? Could his humanity transcend his horrible, inhuman upbringing? And failing that, failing an innate humanity, could he be taught how to be human?
He learned to speak. He learned to dress himself and to clean himself. Although his companions consisted of aristocrats and geniuses, his status never altered from that of mere curiosity. He was poked and prodded and revealed as a sort of wunderkind (although the curiosity didn’t stem from composing operas in his sleep, it stemmed from his abilities, at 16, to have simple conversations and to eat with a fork).
He was entertainment. He was something to be exploited. To be ogled at. A pet monkey on a chain. And although his clay-like exterior began to shape itself into something resembling a proper human being (by the villagers’ standards of course), he was always seen as the other. The dumb. The feral child raised by beasts.
He is not like us, the villagers would say. We must make him like us. And as Kaspar Hauser flailed against all that he had not learned and was trying to learn (“Why is everything so hard for me? Why can’t I play the piano like I breathe?”), as Kaspar Hauser began to interact with the human world, it was always he who was the oddity. Even though he showed an innate gentleness, a simple curiosity, and his presence did little to harm anything but the villagers’ sense of smell, he was never human enough. He must learn to count. He must learn to play the piano. He must wear starched collars and silken boots. He must accept a Christian god into his heart. And he must do these things within the parameters laid out by the villagers’ own standards of humanity. Standards of humanity that were handed down through generation to generation, taught to children and then to those children’s children etc. etc. etc.
Kaspar Hauser wanted very much to be accepted by the villagers, to be accepted into the human race (a very human thing to want). So he did all that was asked of him, he played their games, and tried to understand and adopt their ways. And, in the end, he was murdered.
My thoughts on THE SEARCHERS (circa a few years ago)…
On Ethan Edwards…
He’s a man formed in the belly of nothingness. His existence is the struggle to make something out of nothing. To find order in chaos. He is flesh. The world he lives in is hard, physical. But the rules he lives by are fluid. There is only one certainty, death,…