Bob Schwartz

Category: Movies

The Incomparable Incredible Inimitable Mulla Nasrudin

 

A Sufi story:

Guess What?

A wag met Nasrudin. In his pocket he had an egg. “Tell me, Mulla; are you any good at guessing games?”

“Not bad,” said Nasrudin.

“Very well, then: Tell me what I have in my pocket.”

“Give me a clue, then.”

“It is shaped like an egg, it is yellow and white inside, and it looks like an egg.”

“Some sort of a cake,” said Nasrudin.

Idries Shah, The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin

About Mulla Nasrudin:

The Mulla is variously referred to as very stupid, improbably clever, the possessor of mystical secrets. The dervishes use him as a figure to illustrate, in their teachings, the antics characteristic of the human mind….

The Sufis, who believe that deep intuition is the only real guide to knowledge, use these stories almost like exercises. They ask people to choose a few which especially appeal to them, and to turn them over in the mind, making them their own. Teaching masters of the dervishes say that in this way a breakthrough into a higher wisdom can be effected.

But the Sufis concur with those who are not following a mystic way, that everyone can do with the Nasrudin tales what people have done through the centuries – enjoy them.

Idries Shah, The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin

It is impossible to hear these stories without thinking about Marx Brothers movies, and particularly about Duck Soup (1933). That movie is about the nation of Freedonia, which hires the world’s biggest idiot, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), to be its leader. He brings along a crew of other idiots, Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx), to help him ruin the country.

Chicolini: Now I aska you one. What has a trunk, but no key, weighs 2,000 pounds and lives in a circus?
Prosecutor: That’s irrelevant.
Chicolini: Irrelephant? Hey, that’sa that answer. There’s a whole lot of irrelephants in the circus.

* * *

Rufus T. Firefly: Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot. But don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.

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“That’s Pride F***in’ Wit Ya”: Rod Rosenstein Could Never Figure Out Whether to Follow Self-Interest, Duty or Conscience

All public servants in the Trump era—from Senators and cabinet members on down—have three possible paths to follow:

Follow your self-interest
Follow your duty, to job and to country
Follow your conscience

Many of the highest level people in the government have taken the easy path of least resistance and most gain, and have chosen self-interest, even as they try to disguise it as duty or conscience. But a number of people, many of whom finally left the government—voluntarily or not—have had to wrestle with these choices.

Whatever is happening to Rod Rosenstein, a good public servant, he never seemed to be able to figure out exactly how to be a good public servant in such strange times. He knew he owed a duty to his office and to his country, which meant a duty to his president, but that came in conflict with his conscience.

I have previously cited the movie Pulp Fiction on the question of expedience, and I repeat it here.

At this point in the movie bad boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) is convincing aging boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) to take a dive:

I think you’re gonna find ­ when all this shit is over and done ­ I think you’re gonna find yourself one smilin’ motherfucker. Thing is Butch, right now you got ability. But painful as it may be, ability don’t last. Now that’s a hard motherfuckin’ fact of life, but it’s a fact of life your ass is gonna hafta git realistic about. This business is filled to the brim with unrealistic motherfuckers who thought their ass aged like wine. Besides, even if you went all the way, what would you be? Feather-weight champion of the world. Who gives a shit? I doubt you can even get a credit card based on that.

Now the night of the fight, you may fell a slight sting, that’s pride fuckin’ wit ya. Fuck pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps. Fight through that shit. ‘Cause a year from now, when you’re kickin’ it in the Caribbean you’re gonna say, “Marsellus Wallace was right.”

Note: For those who haven’t seen Pulp Fiction (why not?), in the end Marsellus Wallace gets his, in the spirit of Quentin Tarantino’s sense of rough and uncertain justice.

“This is the business we’ve chosen.”

I watched a news panel discussing reports that Michael Cohen is distraught for his family and realizes that his business and professional life is over—not to mention the possibility of years in prison.

Some panelists expressed compassion for someone in his position. But another was less sympathetic, saying that this was the life he had chosen.

I can’t be sure, but this may have been meant to echo one of the many famous lines from the Godfather movies. In Godfather II, the dying Hyman Roth explains his attitude towards the killing of Moe Green, the man who invented modern Las Vegas. Roth knows that the Corleone family executed Green, but Roth explains to Michael Corleone why he set that fact aside:

HYMAN ROTH: There was this kid I grew up with; he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the street. Things were good, we made the most of it. During Prohibition, we ran molasses into Canada… made a fortune, your father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him and trusted him. Later on he had an idea to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI’s on the way to the West Coast. That kid’s name was Moe Greene, and the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man, a man of vision and guts. And there isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost or a statue of him in that town! Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn’t angry; I knew Moe, I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we’ve chosen; I didn’t ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business!

Facebook Releases Oculus Go—Its First Self-contained VR Headset

This isn’t a review of the Oculus Go released today—Facebook’s first self-contained Virtual Reality headset, requiring no phone or computer.

This isn’t a review of the photo above of Mark Zuckerberg demonstrating the Oculus Go. (Note: you can use the Oculus Go wearing a t-shirt or the occasional business suit, if you are demonstrating it to a Congressional committee.)

This is a mention of the growing movement to travel to and colonize Mars, a movement Trump supports. Until that dream comes true, if we want to avoid and escape the depressing and often insoluble problems we are faced with, problems that some are daily making even worse, a self-contained VR headset—from Facebook!—seems like just the ticket.

“He’s in the bestselling show. Is there life on Mars?”

Titanic Metaphor

It has been more than twenty years since the epic, iconic movie Titanic was released. More than a century since the “unsinkable” biggest ship sank. Yet until today, when the movie popped up, I hadn’t fully focused on its metaphoric value. Which makes me one of the last to catch on, but I’m known to be slow.

On the same day, the rich president, whose only “achievement” has been to help other even richer people get even richer, was spouting normal nonsense—all based on America being unsinkable (thanks only to its being in his “capable” hands). Meanwhile, the stock market, a bellwether of confidence, is suffering another difficult day, pointing to an inevitable big correction, or worse.

We’ve had over a hundred years to consider the Titanic, a situation combining arrogance, incompetence, selfishness, ignorance, stubbornness, pride, wealth, along with the tragic power of nature and chance. King of the World doesn’t matter if you’re the captain or just a passenger heading for an avoidable iceberg.

Don Burgundy: You Stay Classy Washington

“I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal.”
Ron Burgundy, Anchorman

I just watched Anchorman for the first time in a few years. There may be some artistic or social subtext there, but it is really just a monumentally stupid and funny movie. I’ve been watching the news, living in Trump America, and I need laughs.

So I checked out some reviews from when it was first released in 2004. Most reviewers liked it and thought it was a monumentally stupid and funny movie.

And then I found Stephen Hunter’s review in the Washington Post. I quote it here because his description of Ron Burgundy and his colleagues reminded me so much of somebody else.

Oh, yeah, I love lamp.


On the Spot News
By Stephen Hunter
Friday, July 9, 2004

Over the past century, film geniuses have erected many a cathedral of style, solemn structures of tradition and cohesion, the highest projection of the imagination: Swedish Realism, German Expressionism, Spanish Poetic Realism, Italian Neorealism, Danish Dogmatism.

To this hallowed list does Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” petition for admission. Its contribution: San Diego Neo-Infantilism….

The source of much mirth in “Anchorman” isn’t just the self-deluding Burgundy himself — though Ferrell is typically brilliant at projecting a character without a shred of inner life or self-awareness — but also his little coterie of on-air stud boys. They see themselves as four horsemen outlined against a diamond-blue, eternal April sky, but of course they’re really four horses’ asses on a one-way trip toward oblivion. Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd with his own Royal Air Force mustache; why did guys then think that was so cool?) is Mr. Cologne; he knows the right man-perfume dabbed on his neck gets him to chick heaven. Steven Carell is Brick Tamland, the weatherman, whose IQ approaches that of the object for which he’s named and whose continual inability to understand reality is endlessly funny. Finally, sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner) wears ten-gallon hats, makes poo-poo faces and boo-boo sound effects for comic relief among the guys (how unfunny they are is really funny) and is secretly gay.

The men fight the ascension of Veronica and the new woman she represents; the joke is how ridiculously inefficient their campaign is and how utterly it’s ignored by station management (Fred Willard and Chris Parnell). The guys, it turns out, have no chops, no arguments, no resources, no skills, nothing except the maleness that has been at the center of their entitlement their whole lives. (emphasis added)

Donald Trump Jr. and the Happy Smiling Poor of India

“The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous.”
Sullivan’s Travels

Washington Post:

Donald Trump Jr. says he admires India’s poor people because of their spirit and smiles

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, is in India this week to promote his family’s real estate empire and more than $1 billion worth of luxury Trump Tower projects in four cities, but he still had time to praise India’s poor for their smiles.

“I don’t mean to be glib about it, but you can see the poorest of the poor and there is still a smile on a face. It’s a different spirit that you don’t see in other parts of the world … and I think there’s something unique about that. I know some of the most successful people in the world, and some of them are the most miserable people in the world.”

You can draw your own conclusions about what this says about Don Jr. and others in the Trump family and circle. You can guess who the miserable successful people might be.

As for the happy smiling poor he admires, I quote from the movie Sullivan’s Travels  by Preston Sturges. A successful Hollywood director of nonsensical comedies, John L. Sullivan, wants to confront the grim reality of the Great Depression, and so plans to travel in disguise as a tramp. His butler Burrows sets him straight:

Burrows: I have never been sympathetic to the caricaturing of the poor and needy, sir.

John L. Sullivan: Who’s caricaturing? I’m going out on the road to find out what it’s like to be poor and needy and then I’m going to make a picture about it.

Burrows: If you’ll permit me to say so, sir, the subject is not an interesting one. The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous.

John L. Sullivan: But I’m doing it for the poor. Don’t you understand?

Burrows: I doubt if they would appreciate it, sir.

And:

Burrows: You see, sir, rich people and theorists – who are usually rich people – think of poverty in the negative, as the lack of riches – as disease might be called the lack of health. But it isn’t, sir. Poverty is not the lack of anything, but a positive plague, virulent in itself, contagious as cholera, with filth, criminality, vice and despair as only a few of its symptoms.

 

 

 

 

 

Trump and the Pusher Man: Easy Rider or Mean Girls?

“We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge.”
Donald Trump, State of the Union Address (2018)

In real life, I haven’t heard the term “drug pusher” used seriously in a long time. Which means that Trump is living in the past or is a big fan of either Easy Rider or Mean Girls.

For the record, the term “drug pusher” likely originated as prison slang in the 1930s, and maintained some fading currency for a few decades. Not so much today, at least not in my circles.

Easy Rider (1969)

Hoyt Axton’s song The Pusher, as recorded by Steppenwolf, was featured in the soundtrack of the movie Easy Rider:

You know I’ve smoked a lot of grass
Oh Lord, I’ve popped a lot of pills
But I never touched nothin’
That my spirit could kill
You know, I’ve seen a lot of people walkin’ ’round
With tombstones in their eyes
But the pusher don’t care
Ah, if you live or if you die

You know the dealer, the dealer is a man
With the love grass in his hand
Oh but the pusher is a monster
Good God, he’s not a natural man
The dealer for a nickel
Lord, will sell you lots of sweet dreams
Ah, but the pusher ruin your body
Lord, he’ll leave your, he’ll leave your mind to scream

God damn, the pusher
God damn, I say the pusher
I said God damn, God damn the pusher man

Well, now if I were president of this land
You know, I’d declare total war on the pusher man

Mean Girls (2004)

One of the iconic scenes in the movie Mean Girls has the teacher Ms. Corbury (Tina Fey) explaining herself to her student Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan):

“I’m a pusher Cady. I push people….And now I’m gonna push you because I know you’re smarter than this.”

Leading to this conversation:

I hate her! I mean, she’s really failing me on purpose, just because I didn’t join that stupid Mathletes! She was so queer, she was like, “I’m pusher Cady, I’m a pusher.”

Hahaha! What does that even mean?

Like a drug pusher?

Probably. She said she works three jobs. You know, I bet she sells drugs on the side to pay for her pathetic divorce.

Yes, like a drug pusher, and yes Cady, for somebody’s pathetic divorce(s). If he were president of this land, you know, he’d declare total war on the pusher man.

Note: It is probably not necessary to say this, but I will. This is not to minimize the serious problem America has with opioids and other tragically destructive drugs. It is just to point out how out of touch and out of time Trump, Sessions and others are about the problem, its causes and its solutions. And since I’m adding this note, I will mention that the song The Pusher (a Trump favorite?) makes a clear distinction between the dealer of marijuana (“love grass in his hand”) and the pusher of deadly drugs (“a monster”).

The Godfather Part II Presages the Trump Presidency

“All my people are businessmen; their loyalty is based on that…and on that basis, anything is possible.”

“Free to make our profits without the Justice Department, the FBI…looking for a man who desperately wants to be President of the United States.”

The Godfather Part II

The Godfather Part I and Part II are more than near-perfect movies, two of the most critically-acclaimed films of all time. They are compelling pictures of the unrestrained grab for power and money, fueled by mutual self-interest and governed by no other values.

These two quotes from The Godfather Part II (1974), more than forty years old, encapsulate where America finds itself today:

MICHAEL CORLEONE
“All my people are businessmen; their loyalty is based on that. One thing I learned from my father is to try to think as the people around you think…and on that basis, anything is possible.”

HYMAN ROTH
“If only I could live to see it, kid; to be there with you. How beautifully we’ve done it, step by step. Here, protected, free to make our profits without the Justice Department, the FBI; ninety miles away in partnership with a friendly government. Ninety miles, just a small step, looking for a man who desperately wants to be President of the United States, and having the cash to make it possible.”

We Welcome You to Munchkin Land (aka The Treasury)

Above, Treasury Secretary Steve Munchkin and his wife proudly inspecting the first newly printed money carrying his signature.

From this past summer, here is the same deliriously happy couple returning from Fort Knox, with fashion annotations by Mrs. Munchkin.

Tra la la la la la la la la.