I've spent the last couple of days of soaking up more films by Adam Curtis, one of the best living documentary filmmakers. Last year I watched The Power of Nightmares; earlier this year I saw The Century of the Self; lately I've been working through his two most recent: The Trap (2007) and It Felt Like a Kiss (2009).
It Felt Like a Kiss is an experimental film that is a haunting evocation of the essence of life during the Cold War. Its cast features "Rock Hudson, Saddam Hussein, Lee Harvey Oswald, Doris Day, Enos the chimp, and everyone above Level 7 in the CIA." The excellent soundtrack was composed by Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, etc) and performed by the Kronos Quartet, with loads of additional pop tracks from the period. There's no real semblance of a plot or, unlike Curtis' other films, any sort of thesis. It Felt Like a Kiss is quintessential Curtis in terms of look: heavy use of montages (including some dizzying works of editing genius) and heavy use of archival footage, proving that Curtis probably spends 8 hours a day poring through old film reels. Yet this is also a new Curtis -- less documentarian, more artist. The result is a trippy hour-long exploration of the ironies, oddities, and ambiguities of 3 or 4 of the most pivotal decades in American history. Were the U.S. a psychotic individual, this film would be its deranged subconscious bubbling up, exposing some of the roots of our modern American madness.
The Tiananmen Square massacre was twenty years ago today, though it's probably important to remember that it wasn't really just one day. My contrarian spirit dislikes being told to get worked up about this day, but the fact is that it was important and Tank Man deserves his place as an inspirational hero.
Listen to what this crazy nutjob has to say:
...In a nation [America] that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose...
We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path... that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.
Suffice to say, we ignored this yokel and chose the path of self-indulgence. We bought into Faustian economics and the seductive myth of MORE. The above speaker, one Jimmy Carter, went on to ask us Americans to re-think the need for more, more, more. This speech is from July 15, 1979. Carter's ass was soon soundly kicked by an ex-actor who told us that our unsustainable lifestyles were sustainable after all, that boundless prosperity was our God-given right, that this so-called city on a hill of ours had a moral obligation to spread the shining ideal of consumption. He who dies with the most toys wins.
I began re-thinking consumerism over three years ago. I'm still addicted. I'm still addicted to consumptive habits that console and comfort (currently, coffee). I think one of the things I loved most about hitchhiking was the freedom to stop being such a savage consumer. As Marcuse might say, perhaps "economic freedom" is freedom from the economy -- from the grind of "turbo capitalism." From the mistaken belief that owning things and consuming things will satisfy my longing for meaning.
On an almost entirely separate note: go read "Sorry, Dad, I'm Voting for Obama" by Christopher Buckley, son of the late William F. Buckley. It's a very well-written piece with a compelling case.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's two speeches at the U.N. this week are absolutely worth reading. Transcript from today's is here, while the one from the 19th is at NPR. Vast portions of the latter could've been given by most US presidents; say, Reagan to the USSR. Both speeches contain large amounts of truth, though obviously my favorite hockey mom disagrees. CNN has video clips and excerpts from the Ahmadinejad interview with Larry King.