October 21, 2007

LAST REEL: DARJEELING MAILBAG

TLG-reader Mike Arria writes:

My take on the Wes Anderson-thing that is evolving on your blog: the new movie reminds me of "Lost in Translation"; a film that attracted hype and praise that I could not even being to understand. Coppola started out with a prolonged ass-shot and proceeded to tell a xenophobic tale about a financially well-off, distressed woman stuck in a strange land, surrounded by Asians. Eventually, she found a way to battle her insomnia and inability to apply her Philosophy degree anywhere: she discovered a sad, rugged older-man; also rich. Many reviews, and many of my friends, prattled on about how the movie highlighted an "intellectual affair" but I don't recall Johansson or Murray saying anything even slightly interesting to one another. In short, I hated the movie.
I don't hate the new WA movie as much as LIT. In fact, I consider myself something of a WA fan-I think the commentary on desire within "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tennenbaums" is much more intriguing than anything Hollywood typically churns out and if I was writing an essay on all this, I would probably use the next few lines to quote some Paglia on the history of taboo variations of love and/or bring up Christopher Hitchens' line about "Lolita" being the only believable love story.
But I digress: "The Darjeeling Limited" is at best offensive and at worst racist. It's tremendously depressing that someone like Wes Anderson, beloved by emo-kids, scenesters, and "countercultural types"-the majority of which presumably hold political and social beliefs which could be defined as "liberal" or "left-wing", are willing to overlook the problematic nature of his new film based on the fact he pays close attention to detail and can construct a hip soundtrack.
There's this perplexing distinction between "high-brow" and "low-brow" art in American society. Suggest something ridiculous like JD Salinger is responsible for the death of John Lennon or "The White Album" should be blamed for the Manson murders and be, justifiably, laughed out of the room. Bring up the equally farcical point that gangsta-rap, not domestic policy, is crippling the black community or point out that Marilyn Manson is the culprit behind suburban school-shootings and be invited to some sort of governmental panel to break down your ideas.
"Alternative" plays by the same rules as the "Mainstream" in this regard; more people should be up in arms about the racism in the new WA film but I haven't even read much in this vein-beyond your stuff and the Salon piece. On the flipside, a pop-artist like Britney Spears shaves her head and gives a drugged-out performance and the same people are exchanging myspace posts about how retarded she is. Please.
Maybe I'm digging too far into this but hear me out: last winter, "The New Yorker" ran a short bit about President Bush's reading list. Apparently, one of the books he consumed was "The Stranger" by Albert Camus. Now, there are a lot of inexpensive jokes of the Michael Moore-variety that one could make at this juncture about pop-up books or young-adult novels but this is true: the President really read Camus and, evidently, had some discussions with his minions about existentialism
I wish Bush would have also read the (late, great) Edward Said's commentary on the novel, where he discusses the fact that Camus wasn't very sympathetic when it came to the issue of Algerian independence. The Arab that the main character, Meursault, kills at the beginning of the novel is nameless; merely a plot-device to get to more pressing issues, mainly, the personal philosophy of the Western protagonist. Said concludes: "It is accurate to say, therefore, that Camus's narratives lay severe and ontologically prior claims to Algeria 's geography."
Certainly there's something ironic about Bush, a leader who had the difference between a Shitte and Sunni being explained to him weeks after the American invasion of Iraq, reading the aforementioned text without the proper context.
The "prior Western claims" that Said refers to certainly can lead to some ambitious actions, as evidenced by the invasion of Iraq . What would be the least ambitious ideas that one could use such claims as a vehicle for? I think Anderson wins the prize for aiming the lowest: this time around they're being used as a device to determine where Jason Schwartzman will or will not stick his dick. Two thumbs down.
Back to Said-from the introduction to "Culture and Imperialism": "Yet all these works, which are so indebted to Conrad's anti-imperialist irony in "Nostromo", argue that the source of the world's significant action and life is in the West, whose representatives seem at liberty to visit their fantasies and philanthropies upon a mind-deadened Third-World. In this view, the outlying regions of the world have no life, history, or culture to speak of, no independence or integrity worth representing without the West..." and Anderson's faults are, therefore, all the more aggravating because "contemporary novelists and filmmakers" have done their work "after decolonization, after the massive intellectual, moral, and imaginative overhaul and deconstruction of Western representation of the non-Western world."
That's my two cents.

Posted by Jessica at October 21, 2007 02:53 PM | TrackBack