March 15, 2006

Christ the Vampire

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Maybe Christ is a spaceman. Maybe he is a vampire. The DIY punk era The Last Days of Christ the Vampire, penned by the pseudonymous J.G. Eccarious, takes great pleasure in playing up the blatant necrophilia of Christian corpse worship. There’s something irresistible about poking fun at a religion whose godhead is the living-dead. That combined with the Catholic obsession with the symbolic consumption of human blood makes for a conspiracy theory that, as the old adage about jokes goes: it’s only funny because it is, at least in part, true. Alejandro Jodorowski, the Chilean director maybe most famous for his surreal take on the American Western, El Topo, (1970), has a similar point to make in his remake of the play Fando and Lis from two years earlier. The monotonous and imploring chant of a blind beggar is: “A drop of blood for Christ”. Either way, Christ is what the chain smoking Rod Serling dubbed, in “The Gift” episode of The Twilight Zone, a “non-person”. Science fiction films, in particular, based on their optimism or pessimism towards the outsider, are often described as either liberal or conservative. Those, according to this logic, that vilify the "non-person" are considered conservative. “The Gift” is about an alien who brings us the cure for cancer and is gunned down by a Mexican mob who believe it is all just a trick of the devil. The most common example is the fear of Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), an emissary of good will from outer space who has come to Earth to warn us of the dangers of nuclear war. Our fear and mistrust of the "non-person", it is revealed, is based on the worst kind of xenophobia. War of the Worlds is the exact opposite kind of message movie. Our vilification of the outsider is amply reinforced by the sheer inhuman brutality of their attack on our way of life. There is nothing innocent about Steven Spielberg’s choice to remake the movie. The half-century siege of the Military Industrial Complex’s Cold War was maybe permanently replaced by the War on Terrorism. Of course, the Bushevics and the Neocons are doing their best to restore the Cold War ethos by breaking every imaginable nuclear treaty to arm India and Pakistan against the Axis of Evil (and China). What better scenario for the right wing than having a permanent war against terrorism coupled with a Neo-Cold War? It would be the most preposterous plan ever hatched if it wasn’t in reality pure suicide! There’s very little Spielberg can do with his interpretation of the original theme. H. G. Wells’ story is basically about a predatory alien race, the Martians, who are hell bent on taking over our world. The only aspect of the story that is really science fiction is that the one thing they overlooked in their plan is their total lack of immunity to our germs and viruses; our way of life literally destroys them. The devil is in the details! It’s a quick movie. There’s little room for Spielberg to insert himself. His The Minority Report (2002) was similarly well intentioned, even if it was pretty flimsy, and missed the absurdity of the point Philip K. Dick was originally going after. In Dick’s short story the decision about who was or was not a "pre-criminal" was based on read-outs from the brains of retarded monkey’s hooked up to computers over at police headquarters. In the not-so-free America, Spielberg could never make such a criticism of law enforecement, or deal with that level of absurdity in our system. His “pre-cogs” were recast in the style of an Illuminati-like Masonic mythology, all-knowing of the future afloat in the saline pool at the heart of their own police-temple. The War of the Worlds remake gave him way less room to maneuver in. Not that he did much with it. The one and only departure Spielberg made was that the Martian war machines were already buried here on Earth, perhaps millions of years ago. They do not come raining down from the sky, but burst forth from the ground on which we stand, like, what else but sleeper cells, pre-programmed to attack and destroy our way of life. What sets them off right now, as opposed to just about any other time? Who knows? Spielberg definitely doesn’t say. Is it the advent of Walmart, fast-food and strip malls they were waiting for? Spielberg leaves it hanging out there. It’s the only question that could otherwise complicate a very narrow reinterpretation of the unself-conscious conservatism of the original. Frank Herbert’s Dune is at the opposite end of the political spectrum. There is no other reason for Spielberg to have redone War of the Worlds in 2005 other than to make his comment on the War on Terror. Sure, the reality of sleeper cells plotting attacks within our country is scary. But it’s key to these kinds of movies that the "non-person's" motivation is never once visited. They are depicted as a faceless, mindless evil. Dune, conversely, proposes the oddest departure. At the time, Herbert’s book was curiously contrasted against J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was described as fantasy while Herbert was science fiction. There is, without a doubt, the distinction between the mythological past and future. The difference is between the fantasy genre which proposes originary myths vs. science fiction which seeks to politicize the present by setting our conflicts in the future, thereby supposedly allowing us to re-examine our own folly free from the prejudice that blinds us to our present reality. Tolkien’s was an Arian fantasy, in other words the mythology of the tree worshipers. The Arian’s include just about all tree-worshipers. It is not only a northern-European mythology. Iran and Jordon, for example, are Arians. The importance of the cypress in their national symbolism is a give-away. The Semites are the non-tree worshipers. In Tolkien it is good vs. evil: tree worshipers against non-tree worshipers, where the non-tree worshipers are the enemy, the evil Semites, e.g., Saruman. Herbert does not depart from the simplicity of the good vs. evil plotline. Only he politicizes it in an incredibly prophetic way. David Lynch ended up directing Dune the movie, but maybe one of the greatest movies never made was Jodorowski’s version. The actors signed on ironically included among others Christopher Lee and H.R. Giger and Jean “Moebius” Girard were some of the folks signed on to design the movie and were, in fact, well into preproduction before the plug got pulled. In Luis Mouchet’s documentary on Jodorowski, Moebius talks about what it was like to work with the director. Moebious describes how nonplused he was about how the costumes of the Harkonen, the story’s antagonists, were decided upon: “One day we had to choose the costumes of the Harkonen. He covered his eyes with one hand and went through the bookshelf, took a book by chance with his free hand. It was Titian’s paintings. He brought it to the table and banged it down, opened it to a page at random and blindly brought his finger down and said: ‘It’s going to be like that!’” Afterwards, Moebius realized: why not, what better way? It’s probably a good thing to point out to the lazy bums out there that such a strategy doesn’t work out so hot if you don’t have a boatload of really good books in your library to choose from. Lynch’s version is by contrast stiff and unsure of what to emphasize. It lacks any such poetry. The cast is all-star camp and none too shaby with Sting playing his megalomaniac, narcissistic self. At the end of the day, however, it’s hard to say whether Lynch was under-whelmed or overwhelmed by the story. Whatever the reason, the movie bombed. Regardless, the plot is insanely prescient. Get this: It is a desert planet; imperialist interests vie for the power to mine it for the most precious element in the universe, spice; the planet Dune is called Arrakis (as opposed, for example, to Arranis); the Arrakies, the people of Arrakis, who rebel against the imperialist lords are called the “Freemen”; and, just in case it wasn’t blatant enough for you, the Mother Superior, distinguished by her powers of telekinesis, in order to incite the Freemen to action, calls for a “jihad”!

Posted by dmb at 02:51 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack