I headed out to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see GiÃ¹ la testa(A Fistful of Dynamite, or Duck, You Sucker). According to Michael Neault in his introduction of the movie, Sergio Leone — after having made several movies celebrating political revolution — Duck, You Sucker takes a much more cynical view of it. It also happens to be that there are no fewer than four versions of the film, and the one we got to see was presumed to be the "original" director's cut.
I immediate thought that as much as The Bridge on the River Kwai is a testament to the rational insanity of war, Duck, You Sucker shows war as a black comedy. In the film, John — a former Irish Republican Army explosives expert — gets paired up with Juan — a poor thief in Mexico. That is, despite John's best efforts to avoid it. And to avoid getting roped into another revolution … sort of … it seems that getting involved in revolution is more of an addictive habit than anything. Juan, in the mean time, is also trying to avoid getting into the revolution. But he accidentally keeps saving people and making terriffic progress for the revolutionaries.
As revolutions are, there are advances made by each side, making it seem like no progress is made on either front overall until perhaps, one of the parties involved just gets too tired of fighting — or forgets what the point was in the first place.
I've long enjoyed it as the blackest of the black comedies — I mean, it really doesn't get funnier than "mutually assured destruction" [perhaps save for "mutually assured self-destruction"]. The very idea that one erroneous step in the arms race and kaboom: life would be far different now than it turned out to be.
Last Wednesday I headed there (the Dryden, not nuclear apocalypse) to see The Bridge on the River Kwai. I hadn't seen it before, but Stanley Kubrick blurs the line even further between black comedy, satire, and drama. I mean, can you really do a serious movie about war — or more particularly, the logic of war? It just doesn't make any sense outside its absurd context, as if the rules of life were completely dumped topsy-turvy.
But both films really dismantle the idea of the romantic view of war as some kind of beautiful peak experience. The reality is it's bat-shit fucking crazy. It really gives me, well, strange feelings toward our troops in Iraq.
On the one hand, I genuinely dish out gratitude for their actions. I get confused as to why, exactly. I mean, I'm not glad that they're killing people. And I don't believe that what we're doing is making anything better — short-term unquestionably worse, and long-term unlikely better — at least from my broad, detached, ill-informed [thanks media, government!] view. But then for what? Perhaps that they believe — they believe so much in America that they're willing to go to a far away place where people want to kill them and stand up and say "I'm an American" and shoot anyone who tries to shoot them.
I kind of envy that kind of thinking, for it's not so simple for me. I think the Constitution was a fantastic architecture for a government, and the Bill of Rights is a stupefyingly excellent invention. But the constant attempts to leverage power — oy!, enough already! Maybe it's inevitable human behavior to abuse power, but if so, then why permit authority in the first place?
So then the jingoist asks, "so are you for America or against it?" Let me answer this way: "I am all for my version of America." The one that puts the individual at the head of the pack — not the judge or the President, but the individual. I mean, imagine the difference it would make to hear, "I'm your representative: how can I help you?" rather than "I'm your leader: do what I tell you."
I'm kind of an idealist about the whole thing. I mean, I believe that, given freedom, that people will behave well toward one another. Unfortunately, I'm up against people who believe so strongly otherwise that they will demonstrate behavior counter to my ideal for the purpose of proving it false.