Jul 27, 2020

The Cremator

Mainly due to its curious inclusion of Austrian actor Paulus Manker portraying the great Viennese Jewish philosopher Otto Weininger—a character he would play on stage and ultimately immortalize by directing and starring in the rarely-seen masterpiece Weiningers Nacht (1990) aka Weininger's Last Night—I recently made the mistake of watching the fiercely flaccid pseudo-metaphysical feminist flick My 20th Century (1989) aka Az én XX. Századom directed by Ildikó Enyedi and felt the need to cleanse my soul with another black-and-white art film from one of the other strangely dejecting (mostly) Slavic areas that used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While the last thing I want to see is another holocaust film, I actually decided on the rather grim Czechoslovak New Wave classic The Cremator (1969) aka Spalovač mrtvol directed by Slovak semite Juraj Herz (Morgiana, Habermann) as it is a rare piece of singular tragicomedic shoah cinema that actually manages to be both humorous and aesthetically pleasing in a strangely aberrant-garde sort of fashion. In fact, despite technically being a holocaust film as directed by an authentic Hebraic holocaust survivor, the film is so innately idiosyncratic, abrasively absurd, and surreally schizophrenic that I never felt that I was watching a film that would be endorsed by the ADL or the sort of especially naive idiot that sincerely believes that Schindler’s List (1993) is a serious film about the perils of prejudice and heights of human suffering (or whatever). 

Clearly owing a hefty spiritual and aesthetic debt to German Expressionism and some of the more grotesque Teutonic Dada artists like Otto Dix, the film notably stars the popular Czech star Rudolf Hrušínský—an actor that, quite humorously but not surprisingly, was previously best known for lovable comedic roles—who resembles a sort of all-the-more-bulging-eyed (but hardly Hebraic) Peter Lorre. Since Lorre became a symbol for Judaic criminality and depravity due to his iconic performance in mischling master Fritz Lang’s serial killer masterpiece M (1931), which was infamously referenced in Nazi mischling filmmaker's agitprop flick Der Ewige Jude (1940) aka The Eternal Jew, it is certainly strangely fitting that the actor’s Czech doppelganger portrays a naughty Nazi cremator of sorts who murders his part-Jewish family members as it—whether intentional or not—surely symbolizes both the triumph of Judea and the death of the Occident, for such a film would have been completely unthinkable only 25 years before during the Third Reich era. Of course, the film is, quite thankfully, just as anti-commie as it is anti-nazi as the setting is at least partly symbolic of the sort of artistically stifling and all-oppressive Soviet totalitarianism that would dominate shortly after the cinematic work was created as a result of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia (aka ‘Operation Danube’) that effectively destroyed the Czechoslovak New Wave. In fact, despite being selected as the Czechoslovakian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 42nd Academy Awards, the film was banned soon after it was released and would be completely hidden from the world until the collapse of the communist system in Czechoslovakia in 1989. And, indeed, The Cremator certainly feels like the sort of singularly subversive film that had been imprisoned in a vault for decades as it manages to be merrily macabre and misanthropic in the sort of audacious alienating fashion that would offend individuals of all political stripes, especially completely humorless authoritarian bureaucrat types that somehow get a hard-on from soulless schlock like socialist realism. 

 While I would be a liar if I tried to pass myself off as a Czechoslovak New Wave expert of sorts, I think I am familiar enough with the movement to say that, during its all-too-brief existence, it unequivocally produced some of the most preternaturally dark, perturbing, and artistically enterprising films in all of cinema history. Indeed, while kosher Czech filmmaker Miloš Forman is unfortunately the best known filmmaker associated with the movement since he would later go on to direct hit Hollywood films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984), his classic Czech New Wave flicks like Loves of a Blonde (1965) and The Firemen's Ball (1967) are pretty softcore and less than aesthetically ambitious when compared to the anti-kraut celluloid pagan blood orgy that is František Vláčil’s Marketa Lazarová (1967) or the kaleidoscopic coming-of-age vampirism of Jaromil Jireš’ Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970). Fans of degenerate ‘food play’ bullshit like wet and messy fetishism, feederism, and nyotaimori can also rejoice in Czech auteuress Věra Chytilová’s classic psychedelic psychodrama Daisies (1966) where a debauched dumb dame duo gets all down and dirty with dick-shaped devourables and cutesy cunt chaos, among other things. With her all-the-more-avant-garde Adam and Eve reworking Fruit of Paradise (1970), Chytilová once again demonstrated a singular talent for finding the most organically beauteous color schemes in the darkness of men’s souls.  Of course, considering the strange Teutophobia of Vláčil’s films like Marketa Lazarová and The Valley of the Bees (1967), the filmmakers of the Czech New Wave were naturally also interested in the historical subject of the Big H.

Long before the holocaust became a jadedly Judeocentric cinema subject of the cliché-ridden and unwittingly cynical sort, Czech enfant terrible Jan Němec bombarded the world with his exceedingly esoteric and exquisitely elliptical debut feature Diamonds of the Night (1964), which makes Schindler’s List seem like a retarded Richard Donner action movie by comparison in terms of artistic and emotional complexity. And, to go back to Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, it is like a vampire flick as directed by the lovechild Sergei Parajanov and a Völkisch auteur à la Ewiger Wald (1936), albeit shamelessly surreally Slavonic. As for The Cremator—undoubtedly Juraj Herz’s greatest film and a cinematic work that the director himself has described as having total artistic control of—it is arguably the greatest, most idiosyncratically immaculate, and unforgettable film associated with the Czech New Wave and somehow it rather abstractly, aberrantly, and, arguably, aloofly, meditates on the shoah.  Thankfully, the film also has a masterful musical score by Czech maestro Zdeněk Liška who of course created music for great films by great directors like Jan Švankmajer, František Vláčil, and Věra Chytilová, among countless others.

 The Cremator was not the first hit Czech holocaust film of its era as director Juraj Herz, who was self-taught, actually worked as a second-unit director on two shoah cinematic showcases, including Zbyněk Brynych’s Transport from Paradise (1962) and Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos’ Academy Award-winning The Shop on Main Street (1965)—a film that seems pretty tame and banal by today's sensational shoah standards—before going solo with the non-shoah short The Junk Shop (1965). Like Kadár and quite unlike Spielberg, Herz was also actually a holocaust survivor that spent his childhood in Ravensbrück concentration camp and, according to film programmer Irena Kovarova, he apparently developed certain perverse interests in regard to sex and death as a result of what he personally witnessed there (or as she so calmly states in a featurette included with The Criterion Collection blu-ray release of The Cremator, “he came from the camps knowing way too much about sex and way too much about death”), which is quite apparent in his film as it is a stylishly sleazy cinematic work that seems to say more about its curious creator than the nasty Nazi numbskulls it so devilishly depicts. Of course, belated NYC cineaste Amos Vogel—a Vienna-born Jew with certain obvious ethnic/political biases—tries to spin it a different way in his classic text Film as a Subversive Art (1974) where he argues that is, “A provocative attempt to penetrate the origins of sado-sexual Nazi mentality is made in this oppressive, strongly expressionist film about an inhibited petty bourgeois family-man whose work with corpses at the local crematorium – to free them for the after-life – gains unexpected proportions during the Nazi occupation […] Editing and camerawork is strongly influenced by the new cinema in the West. Equally surprising for the puritanical East is its clear, yet entirely ‘hidden’ portrayal of fellatio, with the girl under a table and the man sitting behind it: at the end, she merges, wiping her mouth.” Indeed, probably not realizing Herz is a fellow chosenite, Vogel highlights supposed Nazi perversity while unwittingly exposing his own perversion and spiritual contempt for Slavic folk. When it comes down to it, The Cremator is really the freewheeling artistic expression of a damaged and debauched holocaust survivor who, as a Eastern European Jew, is a quite worthy heir of Franz Kafka and Bruno Schulz (who of course influenced the Brothers Quay who were also heavily influenced by Herz’s friend and collaborator Jan Švankmajer). 

 If any film manages to reconcile the grotesque expressionist poetry of Gottfried Benn with the disturbingly degenerate caricatures of the poet’s ideological nemesis George Grosz, it is indubitably The Cremator which, rather fittingly, oftentimes feels like a tribute to virtually all forms of pre-Nazi Entartete Kunst. If Italian-Jewish criminologist was right when he argued in his text Man of Genius (1889) that artistic genius was oftentimes a form of hereditary insanity, Herz’s films certainly support that thesis as they are clearly not the product of a sound mind but a debauched dude whose potent aesthetic vision is only rivaled by his clear affection for the fantastically rancid and risqué and it is next to impossible to separate the two in a frolicsomely fucked film like The Cremator where social conformity becomes a symbol of moral corrosion despite the film itself being a gleeful expression of moral corrosion where morbidity is made merry yet the everyday and bourgeois is somehow supposed to be the sickest thing of all. In its horror-ish depiction of the mental decline of an enterprising bourgeois family man, the film can certainly be compared to works ranging from Arturo Ripstein’s The Castle of Purity (1973) aka El castillo de la pureza to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), but Herz’s magnum opus is ultimately a singular flick that really has no contemporaries. While it is easy to describe it as an anti-nazi/anti-bourgeois critique straight from the blackened heart of a renegade holocaust survivor, I think it is also a film that resonates with fellow Jew Gustav Mahler’s words, “In my works can be found my whole existence, my whole view of life. . . .There too will be found my angst—my anxiety, my fear.”  In terms of its unwaveringly subversive spirit, gorgeous yet grotesque neo-gothic aesthetic, and rather brazen approach to depicting the ultimate taboo of familicide, I think the film comes closest to Italian auteur Marco Bellocchio's truly iconoclastic debut feature Fists in the Pocket (1965).

 Auter Herz wants you to immediately known right from the get-go of The Cremator that the titular protagonist is a banal bourgeois guy with a banal bourgeois family, but he also wants you to know that there is something serious off and unnerving weird about this somewhat cartoonish protagonist who acts if he is the autistic star of an insanely idealized dream than a real person with a real life. Indeed, as Karel Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínský) states to his wife at the very beginning of the film in a spasmodically edited scene while hanging out with his nuclear family at the local zoo, “My sweet…This is the blessed spot where we met 17 years ago. Only the leopard is new. Kind nature long ago relieved the other of his shackles. You see, dear, I keep talking of nature’s benevolence, of merciful fate, of the kindness of God. We judge and criticize others, rebuke them. But what about we ourselves? I always have the feeling that I do so little for you […] Thanks to your dowry…to your blessed mother’s support and the support of your aunt. Perhaps I furnished our apartment, but that’s about all. Dear, I must take care of you. Zina is 16, Mili 14. Come now, children… Cages are for mute creatures.” Undoubtedly, Herr Kopfrkingl is big on freedom as he sees his job as cremator as a form of liberation where he is selflessly liberates souls as inspired by his curious influence from Bardo Thodol aka The Tibetan Book of the Dead. As a mensch that respects his Judaic physician Dr. Bettleheim (Eduard Kohout), new employee Strauss (Jiří Lír), and half-Hebrew wife Lakmé (Vlasta Chramostová who also portrays the protagonist’s favorite prostitute), Kopfrkingl seems totally devoid of racial prejudice, but it does not take much for him to be convinced of the virtues of completely betraying all the Jews in his life when his brutal kraut Nazi comrade Walter Reinke (Ilja Prachař) tells him of the new Aryan agenda that includes many personal perks, including an all-blonde brothel and a nice new job as an all-power cremator that dedicates his life to “liberating” souls.  No longer content with just burning bodies, Kopfrkingl graduates on to coldblooded murder so that he speed-up the process of liberating souls. While initially thinking of himself as nothing more than a proud cultivated Czech that even enjoys the “Jewish way” of “jellied carp” during Christimas, Kopfrkingl begins stating things like, “even the old Teutons, dear friends, burned their dead, entrusted them to flames,” after his rather culturally confused Nazi conversion and it is ultimately his beloved mischling family the pays the most pernicious price in a film where ideology and insanity are virtually depicted as one and the same.

 Indeed, aside from betraying his Jewish friends after receiving the distinguished honor of being invited by his boy Bettleheim to a Chevra Suda dinner and providing phony talk of a Jewish conspiracy to his Nazi friends, Kopfrkingl goes completely crazy and kills his Jewish wife and son (although he also tries to kill his beloved daughter, the Nazis promise to do the job for him) so that they can be properly cremated with Aryan corpses and obtain a patently preposterous posthumous purity of sorts. Despite being clearly unhinged, Kopfrkingl is provided with top secret knowledge by a Nazi bigwig about a souped-up crematorium and gas chambers, which he naturally fully approves of. Not surprisingly, Herr Kopfrkingl’s mental decline parallels his rise to power and he increasingly comes into contact with his rather dedicated Dalai Lama doppelganger who confirms to him the crucial spiritual necessity of his work. In fact, at the very end of the film in an ominously otherworldly scene where Nazi bigwigs drive him away in a fancy car in the rain as a virtual young witchy Angel of Death sees him off, Kopfrkingl declares with a strange degree of deranged gleeful dedication, “No one will suffer. I’ll save them all” as he schizophrenically imagines himself being driven to Dalai Lama's Potala Palace where he assumedly believes he will be taking over (notably, the film takes place in the aftermath of the death of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, in 1933, which was also the same year as the rise of Hitler and National Socialist takeover of Germany). Of course, as Cioran once so rightly and elegantly wrote, “Nietzsche’s great luck—to have ended as he did: in euphoria!”  Indeed, Kopfrkingl might have brutally murdered his family members and betrayed virtually every friend he has ever had, but he is nothing if not exceedingly enraptured as if he has literally died and gone to heaven.

 With its captivating combination of severely spasmodic schizo editing, sometimes nauseating and even necrotic yet simultaneously faux-merry melodrama, gorgeously grotesque gothic aesthetics and tone, charmingly creepy caricature-like characters, heterodox horror ingredients and somehow paradoxically antiquated yet avant-garde essence, The Cremator—a film that manages to both define and transcend the movement is belongs to—is surely the cream of the Czech cinematic crop and a rare merry celluloid testament to the metaphysics of morbidity and misanthropy. In its depiction of an almost transcendental transformation of a bourgeois bore and striking experimental dreamlike cinematography, the film sometimes almost feels John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966) as produced by the ghost of Val Lewton had he died brutally and morbidly in a concentration camp (as opposed to rather impotently croaking from a low-key heart attack like he did in real-life). Of course, despite the film’s preternatural persuasion, auteur Juraj Herz wears his many eclectic aesthetic influences on his sleeve, most notably during a scene in the film where the film’s protagonist stands in front of great Early Netherlandish master Hieronymus Bosch’s masterpiece ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights,’ hence Kopfrkingl's classic lines from the film like, “The only certainty in life is death…and the implementation of a propitious new order. The Fuehrer’s new, fortunate Europe and death are the only certainties that we humans have.”  While executed in an innately ironical fashion, Herz's film is nothing if not a truly hypnotic celebration of Spanish homeboy José Millán Astray's classic motto: “Long Live Death.” Instead of hysterically harping on the holocaust, Herz seamlessly interweaves classic pieces of art (including of the archaic Judaic sort) and even vintage Aryan pornography to tell something profoundly (disturbing) about the (in)human condition, thereupon confirming the perennial nature of truly great art in a cinematic work that, despite its decidedly degenerate essence, should be celebrated as a truly great piece of cinematic art. Of course, it should be no surprise that the film also pays tribute to the grotesque grandiosity of Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol as it is a key aesthetic influence in a cinematic work that audaciously borrows from the highbrow and lowbrow without ever once attempting to discriminate between the two, hence the aberrant artistic brilliance of the film. Indeed, The Cremator might contain the aesthetic integrity and overall meticulousness of mise-en-scène of an early Tarkvosky flick, but it also has the unhinged spirit and intense amorality of an Andy Milligan flick à la Seeds (1968). In that sense, it is no surprise that Herz later went into more genre-driven artsploitation oriented territory with a film like Ferat Vampire (1982) aka Upír z Feratu which is notable for being a bloodsucker flick with a blood-fueled automobile. 

 By sheer happenstance, I was recently reading Emil Cioran’s classic text The Trouble With Being Born (1973) around the same time I re-watched The Cremator and soon discovered the Romanian philosopher gave what would be a nice thematic description of the film when he wrote, “Annihilating affords a sense of power, flatters something obscure, something original in us. It is not by erecting but by pulverizing that we may divine the secret satisfactions of a god. Whence the lure of destruction and the illusions it provokes among the frenzied of any era.” In fact, the book contains a number of aphorisms that would make for suitable descriptions of the film. For Example, the deranged protagonist is strangely likeable because, as Cioran noted, “We forgive only madmen and children for being frank with us: others, if they have the audacity to imitate them, will regret it sooner or later.” In terms of the film’s depiction of paternal filicide, one might be tempted to awkwardly laugh at Cioran’s remark, “My vision of the future is so exact that if I had children, I should strangle them here and now.” As for the film’s shamelessly merry misanthropy and overall decided worship of death, one cannot help but wallow in Cioran’s words, “Man gives off a special odor: of all the animals, he alone smells of the corpse.”

As for the film’s director Herz, who I have mixed feelings about but regard his shoah flick as a masterpiece, The Cremator is a good example of what Cioran was hinting at when he wrote, “A writer has left his mark on us not because we have read him a great deal but because we have thought of him more than is warranted. I have not frequented Baudelaire or Pascal particularly, but I have not stopped thinking of their miseries, which have accompanied me everywhere as faithfully as my own.” Indeed, as someone that could certainly do without ever see another holocaust flick again, I have to argue that Herz is, to some extent, a rare artist with virtual alchemical abilities as morbid mensch that can clearly take the shittiest and most play-out subjects and molds them into something akin to artistic gold.  After all, there is more genuine horror in a single slice of dark humor in The Cremator than there is in the entirety of Schindler's List but I guess that should be expected from a film that basks in the banality of big budget bathos.  Of course, it would probably be fairer to compare Herz's flick to The Pianist (2002) as it was also directed by a holocaust survivor of sorts but ultimately The Cremator has more in common with Roman Polanski's early Polish avant-garde features like The Lamp (1959) aka Lampa—a film that certainly can be seen as a sort of allegory for the holocaust and the apocalyptic nightmare nature of the Second World War in general, especially in Eastern Europe—than the director's hit Palme d'Or and Academy Award-winning Hollywood holocaust flick.

 To shamelessly borrow another quote from Cioran, I think that auteur Herz would approve of his words in relation to a major theme of The Cremator when he wrote, “When we think of the Berlin salons in the Romantic period, of the role played in them by a Henrietta Herz or a Rachel Levin, of the friendship between the latter and Crown Prince Louis-Ferdinand; and when we then think that if such women had lived in this century they would have died in some gas chamber, we cannot help considering the belief in progress as the falsest and stupidest of superstitions.” Of course, one of the most brilliant aspects of the film is that it seems like a Hebrew-helmed aesthetic hodgepodge of numerous pre-Nazi European artistic movements over the last two centuries that concludes with German Expressionism, thereupon associating, not unlike Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s magnum opus Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977), the Third Reich with the dubious legacy of the destruction of European art and culture as a result of the Hitlerite taint. In short, the capitulation of Nazi Germany also resulted in an absurd aesthetic holocaust sorts, hence Frankfurt school Führer Theodor Adorno’s despicable dictum that, “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Of course, The Cremator is pleasantly putrid cinematic poetry as directed by a holocaust survivor and it certainly says more about than shoah than, say, Claude Lanzmann’s badly bloated 566-minute anti-polack doc Shoah (1985).  Indeed, Herz's film is the closest thing the world will ever have to a film as directed by Otto Dix, albeit from a savagely sardonic post-shoah Jewish perspective instead of a savagely sardonic post-WWI kraut one.

Notably, in her insightful text Lustmord: Sexual Murder in Weimar Germany (1995), German-language folklore and literature scholar Maria Tatar noted that in Nazi Germany, “Jews came to be linked not only with the perpetrators of sexual murder, but with the victims as well. Like the prostitute, the Jew is seen to represent a serious threat to the moral, fiscal, and sexual economy of the social body. As Sander Gilman has pointed out, both prostitutes and Jews have been linked by what is seen to be a sexualized relation to capital—they have ‘but one interest, the conversion of sex into money or money into sex.’ Unable to find value in transcendent spiritual matters, their interests remain fixed on the material and financial. More important, prostitutes and Jews, because of their spiritual corruption, are considered carriers of sexually transmitted diseases, a view clearly articulated in Hitler's MEIN KAMPF.”  Of course, one of the most intriguing and perversely trollish aspects of The Cremator is that auteur Herz completely subverts these stereotypes and depicts the Nazi characters in the fashion Tatar describes as the Nazis have their own special all-blonde bordello where they debased Aryan dames as a reward for their role in the destruction of Eastern European Jewry.  Additionally, lead character Karel Kopfrkingl is a particularly perverted hypocrite with a strange fear-cum-fetish of STDs to the point where he regularly sees his Jewish physician friend Dr. Bettleheim, who he eventually betrays to secure his place as a patron of Aryan prostitution, to see if he has contracted a sexually-transmitted disease (in fact, Kopfrkingl seems especially enamored while admiring a grotesque Bellmer-esque STD display at a local carnival in a scene that really underscores the character's innate association of sex and death).

As Tatar also noted in her book, the “Jewish vampire” was another common trope of (proto)Nazi culture as arguably most brutally described in Artur Dinter's popular Weimar era novel Die Sünde wider das Blut (1917) aka The Sin Against the Blood but also largely apolitical cinematic works like F.W. Murnau's masterpiece Nosferatu (1922).  While The Cremator does not feature any literal bloodsuckers, it does feature its fair share of blood and Kopfrkingl can certainly be seen as an unconventional ‘psychic vampire’ of sorts.  Needless to say, it is no surprise that director Herz would later work in the vampire genre.  In that sense, one can see Hebrew Herz as an artist that is so gleefully transgressive in both the aesthetic and (meta)political sense that he has fully embraced the negative Nazi racial stereotypes to the point of nihilistic fury as if his main goal with his art was to destroy the very meaning of early twentieth-century race, art, and culture.  After all, one simply cannot finish The Cremator without being ‘touched,’ if not being downright tormented.  Indeed, the film almost makes me want to agree with Cioran, who I will quote one more time, when he wrote, “The number of fanatics, extremists, and degenerates I have been able to admire!  A relief bordering on orgasm at the notion that one will never again embrace a cause, any cause . . .”  Naturally, things get a big complicated when one finds themselves being able to respect both Herz and Dinter.  In terms of attempting to reconcile a film like The Cremator and NS thinkers like Dinter, Alfred Rosenberg, and Hans F. K. Günther, the alpha-neofolk outfit Death In June is your best bet, especially their somewhat obscure album Free Tibet (2006) where The Tibetan Book of the Dead receives a tribute of sorts.

-Ty E

Jul 12, 2020


While I do not typically tend to following the behavior of old independent filmmakers as all my favorites long ago croaked, I could not help but smirk upon passively coming across an attack against Spike Lee by old school auteur Jon Jost (All the Vermeers in New York, The Bed You Sleep In) on facebook on June 13, 2020. As an elderly lefty draft-dodger that seems to think he is still living in a different era, Jost is not exactly someone I find myself tending to agree with on even the most fundamental level yet he has proved with underrated films like Last Chants for a Slow Dance (1977)—a rather intimate and aesthetically idiosyncratic depiction of a small-time sociopathic criminal—that he is a singular and uncompromising artist and his recent rant against little Lee is fairly respectable and surprising considering the current state of the decidedly degenerated (dis)United States. Indeed, as Jost wrote, “I was never a Spike Lee fan. I met him once, long ago when I was running, for no money, a collective stand for American independent filmmakers at the Berlin Film Festival - 1979-80, I think I did it for 3 years. I tried to get Spike to join with his first short film, WE CUT HEADS. He was too busy hustling for himself to be bothered, and brushed it off. It had I think less to do with race than class – he comes from upper middle class Brooklyn and it shows. He is releasing a new film, DA FIVE BLOODS. Along with it, for Covid times, he put out a short, NEW YORK NEW YORK, which lasts as long as the Sinatra song. Shots of an emptied New York, taken from archival footage. The song, shots with dissolves and cuts. Real lazy-ass filmmaking totally leaning on the song. Bad filmmaking. Of course it has been praised as blah blah blah. Nostalgia is cheap. Sinatra is good. Spike is a ho, doing his best to prove he is a down black bro. It is an act and always has been, the well-off now very wealthy (40 mil) guy proving he's one of the gang. Spike, like Mr Zimmerman, is now a very rich man. And like Dylan he's made his wealth commenting on, describing, using the misery of America as his subject and topic. This is one of the magical aspects of America, in which it is always the wealthy who are allowed to speak for the poor.”

Admittedly, I found Jost’s sentiments, which I mostly share, humorous enough to inspire me to finally get around to re-watching Lee’s savage satire Bamboozled (2000), which was recently released on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection for the first time on March 17, 2020. While I was not as impressed with the film as I was when I first saw it well over a decade ago at a more impressionable time in my life when I had less refined taste and now see it as somewhat of a mess of a movie that oftentimes plods and succumbs to unintentional absurdity at its somewhat pointless 135-minute running time like so many other unpleasantly grotesquely garish Spike Lee Joints, I can still safely say that it is unequivocally the proudly angry Afro-American filmmaker’s most ambitious and subversive cinematic to date and in stark contrast to his recent curiously kosher conformist crap like BlacKkKlansman (2018) where he seemed to be atoning for the virtual career-long accusation of ‘antisemitism’ that began with the ADL and various Hebraic film critics attacking the director for his unflattering but historically accurate depiction of Judaic nightclub owners in Mo' Better Blues (1990). To his credit, Lee refused to apologize for these comically sound kosher caricatures and instead opted to up the ante in terms of ostensible anti-Semitic content with his most shameless and subversive film to date, Bamboozled, thereupon predictably resulting in tons of negative reviews and accusations of antisemitism despite his propensity to get away with virtually all other forms of racial antagonism.  Following his most Scorsese-esque film to date, Summer of Sam (1999)—a film that is, rather ironically, also Lee's most anti-guido film to date—the film represents the director at the height of his most gleefully bombastic and hyperbolic race-hate powers as a film that does for both mainstream television and Hollywood in general what John Schlesinger's The Day of the Locust (1975) for Golden Age Hollywood, albeit to a more racially ravenous degree.

Undoubtedly, the selective outrage against Lee by film critics of a mostly similar persuasion becomes quite clear when one considers the predictable silence in regard to filmmaker’s fetish for goombah-bashing as is glaringly clear in films like Do the Right Thing (1989), Jungle Fever (1991), and Summer of Sam despite the filmmaker borrowing his entire style from his supposed Sicilian-American friend Martin Scorsese. Of course, if Lee’s films—or at least his best ones—were not ridden with raw race-hate and demented Der Stürmer-tier racial caricatures of virtually all races (including his own), they would hardly be worth watching and simply cheap expressions of glittery bloated budget kitsch (in fact, Lee’s fairly unknown sometimes-filmmaker brother Cinqué Lee demonstrated a greater dedication to serious art fagdom with his film Window on Your Present (2010)). While oftentimes genuinely funny (albeit sometimes unintentionally so), Bamboozled is indubitably a fiercely fucked flick that is fueled by tastefully toxic racial venom and full of a very calculated yet primitive contempt where Lee demonstrates his nauseating sense of unselfconscious narcissism by repeatedly referencing to himself and his various enemies (e.g. Quentin Tarantino), but of course such superlatively senselessly shallow self-aggrandizement is one of the things that makes Lee’s films so interesting, even if it does not exactly endear one to the filmmaker’s character (or lack thereof). An unintentional racial exploitation film supposedly satirizing Hollywood’s history of racial exploitation, Bamboozled is, in many ways, a virtual cinematic train wreck polluted with mostly corrosive racial cultural debris of both the long ago past and present and it is simply impossible to look away. Simultaneously critiquing the Anglo blackface action of early WASP maestro D.W. Griffith and Hebraic Hollywood while exploiting the most idiotic cultural trends among the modern-day black ghetto subproletariat, Lee’s never-sweetly-sardonic satire is ultimately a surreal expression of racial neurosis and nihilism where the somewhat deranged director characteristically incessantly critiques yet never offers any serious answers aside from condemning the actions of ‘uncle tom’ types like the film's unconventionally pathetic (anti)hero . In short, Lee’s pleasantly perniciously playful neo-minstrel movie reveals that the filmmaker suffers from a sort of racial psychosis which, as the film vividly demonstrates, is only natural for an innately inorganic ‘multicultural’ nation where the minority is forced to live at the behest at the majority; or so the fucked filmmaker wants you to think.

Undoubtedly, Lee’s racial psychosis becomes clear simply when one realizes that Bamboozled—a film that might have single-handedly destroyed the dubious legacy of Hebraic blackface icon Al Jolson had it been more popular—was dedicated to Jewish-American screenwriter Budd Schulberg (On the Waterfront, The Harder They Fall). While it does make sense that Lee would dedicate the film to Schulberg when one considers that the film was clearly heavily influenced by Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957)—an inordinately cruel satiric dramedy about the propensity for TV networks to create and celebrate loathsome grifters that the screenwriter is celebrated for penning—it does seem rather absurd when one considers that a major theme of the film is how Judaic writers, directors, producers, and actors have historically exploited blacks and negative black racial stereotypes. In fact, speaking of Hebraic writers, there is even a scene in the film where the (anti)hero played by Damon Wayans expresses his disdain for lack of black writers on his neo-minstrel TV show by contemptuously proclaiming to a Hebraic underling, “If I had my druthers, they’d be at least one negro writer in this room, and that afro does not qualify you, my Jewish friend.” Needless to say, the counter-kosher references do not stop there as one of the most despicable characters in the film is a seeming sociopathic Jewess named Myrna Goldfarb (Dina Pearlman) who postures as a good little racial freedom fighter by bragging in an obnoxiously condescending manner to the black protagonist in regard to her ancestral civil rights cred, “my parents marched in Selma, Alabama, with Dr. King” while simultaneously suggesting means to exploit exceedingly grotesque (anti)black racial stereotypes on television. In fact, the character of Myrna Goldfarb is more loathsome than anything you might find in Veit Harlan infamous NS classic Jud Süß (1940) as the villain of that film at least has his positive traits, so it should be no surprise that Lee was routinely accused of antisemitism by various film critics. Notably, Lee actually based Goldfarb on a real person, or as the filmmaker explained in Spike Lee: Interviews (2002), “There was an article in their VANITY FAIR or NEW YORK magazine about these young Jewish women publicists for the Wu-Tang Clan, and she was sort of patterned after them. That's another thing, getting back to what we were talking about before, I'm supposed to be anti-Semitic. Because BAMBOOZLED has a publicist named Myrna Goldfarb, that's another example of my anti-Semitism! That's what Amy Taubin said in the VILLAGE VOICE.”

Aside from possibly Goldfarb, the character of Thomas Dunwitty (portrayed by obnoxious Hebraic philistine Michael Rapaport)—a gleefully racist wigger TV executive that has happens to be the boss of the film’s ‘uncle tom’ protagonist Pierre Delacroix/Peerless Dothan (Damon Wayans)—is probably the most decidedly despicable as a rude and raunchy race-fetishizing fiend that literally gets off to routinely shouting “nigger” at blacks in between strategically bragging about the fact that he has a black wife and mulatto kids. Playing it safer with Dunwitty—or ‘dumb whity’ as the name less than subtly suggests—the character is more covertly kosher as demonstrated by his use of stereotypical Yiddish phrases like “Mazel tov” and unforgettably unflattering portrayal by low IQ Hebraic hothead Rapaport who is just as notorious in both acting roles and real-life for shamelessly ‘acting black’ as is probably exemplified in the singularly horrendous film Zebrahead (1992).  Dunwitty hates “white-bread” shows about black people and considers the idea that a healthy black middleclass even exists as being patently absurd and beneath contempt as the character takes an almost a demonic delight in lowbrow black dysfunction.  Fed up with the fact that Dunwitty rejects and cancels any show that he writes about intelligent bourgeois black types, Pierre Delacroix—a racially conflicted type that was born ‘Peerless Dothan’ but decided to change his name to sound more ‘white’ (it seems Lee has never heard of famous black American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux or French colonialism)—conspires to create a modern-day minstrel show that is so ruthlessly racially repugnant that he can escape his contract by being fired while, at the same time, somehow exposing the racism of the TV network.

Of course, in the tradition of Melvyn Kaminsky’s The Producers (1967), Pierre’s preposterous scheme does not exactly work out as planned and instead he unleashes a sort of culturally terrifying televised negro nightmare that ultimately destroys his entire life and confirms that many (white) Americans (still?) believe that blackface is beautiful (or something). While obviously a satire, Lee, who was partly inspired to create the film as a result of being disturbed upon seeing such cinematic classics as D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind (1939) in film school, clearly wants the viewer to see the film as, at least in part, a horror film of the aberrant agitprop sort where whity has his face rubbed in the cultural disgrace of the blackface of his ancestors (which is made quite clear in a vintage blackface montage at the very end of the film). When lead Pierre declares to his bitch boss Dunwitty, “And as Mark Twain so fully understood, satire is the way if we are ever to live side by side in peace and harmony. So my show that I’m pitching is about promoting racial healing,” he is clearly expressing the opposite of Lee’s sentiment and intent as Bamboozled is unequivocally a ‘race hate’ film that can only inspire racial hatred, nihilism, and gaslighting. Still, I would argue that it is Lee’s unequivocal pièce de résistance and a tastefully trying testament to the racially apocalyptic essence of the decidedly (dis)United States of American.  A satire-within-a-satire (as well as a satire of satires), the film ironically (attempts to) underscore how racial satires can have the opposite effect of their artistic intent, or so the uniquely unhip and hapless protagonist Pierre learns upon exploiting the great American culture of taboo blackface with the noble objective of ruthlessly squashing negative black stereotypes and ultimately discovering to his great chagrin that America loves said stereotypes, hence the popularity of hip hop and household name status of such dubious buffoons as Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne who certainly represent a sort of neo-minstrel phenomenon of sorts.

Notably, in his insightful yet oftentimes historically dishonest text Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot (1996), Judaic far-left political scientist Michael Rogin—the progeny of union and pinko activist types—attempts to downplay the severity of the Yiddish role in blackface and Al Jolson’s (in)famous performance in The Jazz Singer (1927) (which of course is routinely referenced in Bamboozled). Indeed, in regard to the ‘musical miscegenation’ of Jolson and company, Rogin argues, “Like the Jewish struggle for racial justice, the black-inspired music of urban Jews was a declaration of war against the racial and ethnic hierarchy of Protestant, genteel culture.” In other words, the proto-wigger minstrel routine of Jolson, warped ‘white negro’ hipsterdom of Norman Mailer, and hokey hip hop hijinx of the Beastie Boys, among countless other examples, can be seen as at least partly informed by Hebraic hatred for mainstream white America. In Bamboozled, Hollywood executive types like Dunwitty and Myrna Goldfarb reflect the chutzpah and arrogance of this bizarre form of cultural appropriation that is expressed with a sort of gleeful contempt for the very same race of people that they are pretending to be in solidarity with. Driven by a sort of ‘psychological blackface’ sociopathy where they do not seem the least bit concerned about hurting or disrespecting the very same race of people they are ostensibly paying tribute to, these characters humorously manage to make a mockery out of both their own race and the one they are poorly attempting to pantomime.  Blinded by an almost hypnotic level of hubris, they cannot even see black people as actual people with actual feelings as if ‘being black’ is simply an identity the one can purchase at the local mall when one feels ashamed at the banality of their own race. Needless to say, with Bamboozled, Lee exposes this cruel culture-distorting phenomenon while, at the same time, fighting fire with filmic fire. In fact, this was not Lee’s first attempt at fighting back, or as Rogin complained, “No African American put on Jewface in a Hollywood film, to my knowledge, until Eddie Murphy’s Jewish barber in COMING TO AMERICA […] When Spike Lee turned the Jewish blackface tables in MO’ BETTER BLUES (1990), with barbed, comic ethnic stereotypes of two brothers in the entertainment business, Josh and Joe Flatbush, the outcry about anti-Semitism sounded in a historical vacuum.”

As one would expect from any of Lee’s better films, Bamboozled does to some extent encourage personal responsibility among colored folks by ruthlessly critiquing its more self-destructive and otherwise deleterious elements. Indeed, aside from constantly attacking lead Pierre Delacroix for being an uncle tom that sold his soul to the very same pernicious people that profit from the exploitation of his race, the film also attacks the antihero’s antithesis in the form of a militant rap collective named the Mau Maus—a group named in tribute to the Mau Mau Uprising (1952–1960) when black Kenyans successfully revolted against whites and the British Empire—that promote a moronic mix of pseudo-marxist revolution and primitive ghetto culture that promotes drug addiction, illiteracy, and all-around stupidity. Notably, the group is lead by a charming chap named Julius ‘Big Blak Afrika’ Hopkins (Mos Def) who happens to be the brother of lead Pierre’s self-described “little lamb” personal assistant/ex-lover Sloan Hopkins (Jada Pinkett Smith) in what ultimately a symbolic representation of black interfamilial conflict and the two self-destructive extremes of contemporary black identity. For example, when Julius dares to describe his sister Sloan as a “house-nigger” after she tells him he “sounds retarded” and is “embarrassing” due to his vulgar black nationalist rhetoric, she tells him to get his “field-nigger-ass” out of her home.

While ostensibly on different sides of the spectrum of black society, both characters have virtually sold their souls as Sloan is a borderline sellout that works for a TV network that denigrates her people while Julius represents a lowbrow lunatic fringe that marinates in malt liquor, senseless black-on-black murder, and pseudo-Marxist moronacy. Needless to say, it is fitting that all of these characters meet tragic ends, though Sloan arguably ‘redeems’ herself by ‘unintentionally’ killing her boss Pierre who of course must pay for being the mastermind of the popular Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show where black actors in blackface make a great mockery of their race for mostly adoring white American audiences.  Hiring two haplessly desperate street performers named Manray (Savion Glover) and Womack (Tommy Davidson)—largely ignorant and pathetic characters that are desperate to get the latest ‘Timmi Hillnigger’ jeans—that he proudly rechristens ‘Mantan’ and ‘Sleep 'n Eat’ respectively, protagonist Pierre Delacroix boldly exploits and debases everyone with his new minstrel show as if he is on some sort of holy mission.  Needless to say, Pierre also thoroughly debases himself and in the end pays the ultimate price.  Indeed, in what is arguably a symbolic depiction of Mother Africa getting revenge against race traitors, Pierre is gunned down by his beloved Sloan who, as an unintended consequence of the protagonist's neo-minstrel show (which she reluctantly worked on), loses both her lover Manray and brother Julius.  In short, Bamboozled does not have a happy ending because Lee (probably rightly) believes that there is probably no happy ending to America's racial disharmony as virtually all of past human history has confirmed, hence the cathartic need for comedy of this inordinately cruel and conflicted sort. Undoubtedly, the successful but short-lived sketch comedy show Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace (2016)—a so-called ‘post-irony’ TV series that was also ruthlessly attacked (and ultimately blacklisted) under the dubious charge of antisemitism—achieved something similar to Lee's film, albeit for a largely young white racially-conscious audience.  When Pierre declares at the very ending of the film, “always keep ‘em laughing,” one cannot help but think it is the only way to endure this American racial Armageddon.

While Bamboozled certainly mocks minstrel-esque rappers that profit from making a mockery out of their race by being grotesque racial caricatures of the drug-addled, crime-prone, and sub-literate sort, director Lee certainly could not foresee the rise of mainstream rappers like Tekashi 6ix9ine and Nicki Minaj as they are indubitably infinitely more exploitative and spiritually bankrupt than any of the acts featured in the Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show, which at least advertises itself as a comedy. Indeed, say what you will about the blackface buffonerry depicted in a D.W. Griffith flick or a jazzy Jolson vehicle, but they seem fairly milktoast compared to the phenomenon of ‘twerking’ and gang murders that plague the sick and retarded anti-human joke that is modern hip hop (pseudo)culture. Of course, while Lee would probably attempt to argue otherwise, this killer kitsch (pseudo)culture is just as toxic to whites and other races as is to blacks (after all, the troll-like being known as Tekashi 6ix9ine is actually Latino).  Notably, one of the arguments among proponents for desegregation was that it would help to uplift blacks, but as the popularity of rap music certainly demonstrates, it had the complete opposite result as demonstrated by the countless working-class, middleclass, and even wealthy whites that have adopted the culture of the poorest blacks in which is ultimately of vicious circle of spiritual blackface debasement where everyone loses.  After all, one can only guess how many lives were ruined as a result of naive white kids embracing Eminem—a rather milk-toast moron nowadays who parrots mainstream media talks and routinely cries about Donald Trump and his shame at being melanin-deprived—during the late-1990s and mindlessly adopting the rather retarded (non)life that he so grotesquely glorified.  Arguably, the deleterious and all-around nihilistic nature of this strange distinctly American (yet constantly exported) form of cultural miscegenation is best epitomized by the short and tragic life of SoundCloud rap/Emo rap figure XXXTentacion—a rather popular figure among melancholic and effete Xanax-addled white boys from broken middelclass homes—who ostensibly promoted anti-racism in a video where he hangs a white child and who brutally beat women and robbed people before he was gunned down at the age of 20 in 2018. While it is easy to write-off somebody like XXXTentacion as a wayward wastrel that got what he deserved, his popularity is the real concern as it means that audiences are just as unwittingly doomed as the dumb asses that make the minstrel show a big hit in Bamboozled.

A ruthlessly renegade musical of rancid racial razzmatazz where virtually every single (black) characters meets a miserable end, Bamboozled is not a product of the merry Martin Luther King Jr. School of Filmmaking where a deluded manufactured dream is dispensed like a condom from a machine in some shady truckstop but closer to the ‘anti-communist communist’ film collages of Dušan Makavejev like W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) and Sweet Movie (1974) in terms of pleasantly preposterously pessimistic perspective. Of course, Lee’s film is about dreams, albeit of the doubly dark deranging sort where the intrinsic impossibility of (inter)racial harmony is sardonically exposed in the way characters of all races (but especially the black race) react to the most mindless sort of race-denigrating mainstream entertainment as they eat broadcasted shit with sadistic glee without even properly digesting it, therein finding themselves in a particularly precarious situation when it is far too late. Somewhat curiously, Warren Beatty of all people pulled a similar savagely satiric stunt with his somewhat slightly underrated flick Bulworth (1998)—a rare Hollywood film that also dares to point out Hebraic Hollywood hypocrisy—but little Lee goes all the way with a film that is the cinematic equivalent of a pitch black nuke as detonated by the crack-and-acid-addled son of Huey P. Newton. While the film might contain all the rage of Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, it is channeled through the lunatic lens of MAD magazine marinated in malt liquor meets the peculiar plastic pathos and socio-politically revolutionary aesthetic artifice of Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst (1988).

Shot on atrocious Mini DV digital video (with faux TV commercials curiously shot on 35mm), the film is, in many ways, absurdly aesthetically atrocious, which is fitting for an aggro Afro-American anti-cinematic work that basks in the nadir of kitschy cultural debris. In that sense, the film is like a cruel culturally apocalyptic cinematic counterpoint to James Whale’s Show Boat (1936)—an inordinately romantic musical with exquisite expressionistic cinematography based on the novel of the same name by leftist Jewess Edna Ferber and penned by mischling maestro Oscar Hammerstein II that deals with themes of miscegenation (as personified by a tragic mulatta) and features famous black actors Paul Robeson and Hattie McDaniel—as a film that uncompromisingly shatters the liberal dream of ‘equality’ and does so in the manner of absurdist anti-art agitprop. Speaking of Whale—a cinematic maestro that was himself the victim of the historical curse of a marginalized identity via Bill Condon's defamatory yet somehow worthwhile fictionalized biopic Gods and Monsters (1998)—Bamboozled also tells a simple tale about the perils of creation and that there is always the danger that what you create might turn monstrous and escape your grasp as Pierre Delacroix learned the hard way.

As the various harshly negative reviews of the film and artistic stagnation of his career demonstrates, Bamboozled is the closest thing to a filmic Frankenstein monster that the Afro-auteur Lee has ever made as none of his later films would even come close to the venomous iconoclasm and subversion of his morbidly merry neo-minstrel movie. In regard to attacks from various Jewish critics, Lee once stated in an interview, “The easiest way to discredit the work of a filmmaker whose subject matter is race is to call him a racist. Simple. There is an unwritten code, especially if you're not Jewish, that if you have a Jewish character who is not positive, you're automatically considered anti-Semitic. But I'm not going to be handcuffed like that or be forced to falsify a situation. You mean to tell me that in the history of the music industry there have never been any white managers who deliberately exploited black artists? That in BAMBOOZLED, while I can have rappers going around smoking herb, drinking malt liquor, and killing people, I can't have a Jewish publicist whose character might be a little shaky?” Of course, as a good percentage of contemporary movie and TV trash ranging from White Chicks (2004)—a rare example of ‘whiteface’ of the transracial/transsexual sort—to Dear White People (2017-present) to the singularly wretched Simon Kinberg/Jordan Peele The Twilight Zone (2019-present) reboot unequivocally confirm, anti-white racism is not only perfectly acceptable but totally vogue in the totally culturally, artistically, intellectually, and spiritually bankrupt cesspool that is modern-day Hollywood, but Lee is totally right about counter-kosher sentiment, which probably explains why he opted to direct the surprisingly philo-semitic BlacKkKlansman by kosher mini-mogul Jason Blum’s innately anti-white Blumhouse Productions. In short, Lee seems to have learned some hard lesson as a result of Bamboozled about who he can and cannot attack and now he has ironically become a sort of Pierre Delacroix, albeit one that still postures as a subversive.  Needless to say, to describe the film as ‘woke’ would be an insult to its artistic and intellectual integrity as such a film would never ever be made today as it at least partly contradicts the corporate-backed sapphic sista blm narrative.

For a director that has borrowed most of what he knows from great mainstream Italian-American filmmakers like Vincente Minnelli, Frank Capra, and Martin Scorsese—members of the group Spike has had a career-long obsession with treating in a minstrel-esque fashion (including this film, which includes an obnoxious Sicilian-American character in blackface boasting about the dark skin of his fellow Sicilians)—Bamboozled seems especially bizarre as a flick that feels like Federico Fellini meets Dogme 95 as directed by an angry black kid that just read the Nation of Islam (NOI) classic The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews (1991). In short, that such a film even exists is nothing short of a movie miracle and indicative of how once cherished things like ‘free of speech’ and ‘artistic integrity’ have become somewhat of an anachronism in the past two decades or so. While I have very respect for Lee as a man and only slightly more for him as a filmmaker, Bamboozled at least reveals that he might have become a serious artist if frivolous and superficial things like posturing and guidosploitation tactics were not his main motivations. When I compare the film to his more recent celebrated antifa-approved conformist turd BlacKkKlansman, I cannot help but reminded of Pierre Delacroix's final words as he dies after taking a bullet to the gut, “As I bled to death, as my very life oozed out of me, all I could think of was something the great Negro James Baldwin had written: ‘People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become, and they pay for it, very simply, by the lives they lead.’” Indeed, one cannot deny that Jon Jost was at least partly right when he declares, “Spike is a ho, doing his best to prove he is a down black bro. It is an act and always has been, the well-off now very weathy (40 mil) guy proving he's one of the gang.”

While he also committed the liberal sin of ‘cultural appropriation’ by borrowing virtually everything he knew from Europeans while ironically making films against European colonialism, Senegalese auteur Ousmane Sembène—the undisputed ‘father of African film’ and director of such notable works as La noire de… (1966) aka Black Girl and Xala (1975)—at least was the real deal in terms of organic black revolutionary cinematic art. In terms of somewhat overlooked black American directors that do not need to exploit black racial stereotypes to make authentic black cinema that culturally empowers, Lee simply cannot compare to Charles Burnett and his classic films like Killer of Sheep (1978) and especially the mystifying folk comedy To Sleep with Anger (1990). Additionally, Carl Franklin has proved a special talent for using Hollywood genre conventions to explore black (and sometimes white) racial issues with classics like One False Move (1992) and Devil in a Blue Dress (1995). Even when it comes to goofy black filmmakers like half-kraut mulatto Michael Schultz, his films like Cooley High (1975), Car Wash (1976), The Last Dragon (1985), and Krush Groove (1985) have more ‘soul’ than most of Lee's films and do not seem like the conflicted expressions of someone suffering from a terminal case of racial ressentiment, but I digress. Undoubtedly, in terms of exploiting the worst aspects of black prole kultur, Lee probably most closely follows in the footsteps of Melvin Van Peebles of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) infamy. In fact, Lee even more or less copied Van Peebles’ debut feature The Story of a Three-Day Pass (1968) aka La permission with his uneven miscegenation movie Jungle Fever (1991). To Lee’s credit, he is still a much better filmmaker than Van Peebles, who seems to have never learned the basics of cinematic technique and has thoroughly debased himself with such retarded pseudo-erotic neo-minstrel shit as Vrooom Vroom Vrooom (1995).

When it comes down to it, Lee is just doing the black mainstream equivalent of Scorsese and Robert Zemeckis (who Lee has curiously routinely criticized) and cannot be seen as any sort of innovator as even the low-budget films of a forgotten ‘race film’ director like Spencer Williams, including The Blood of Jesus (1941) and Go Down, Death! (1945), are considerably more idiosyncratic when looked at through the context of cinema history.  Still, it takes a special sort of brutal bastard to direct a film like Bamboozled that was clearly meant to be an assault on the greater part of humanity and for that—and pretty much that alone—Lee deserves more artistic cred than 99.9% of Hollywood whore filmmakers, even if BlacKkKlansman is the ultimate expression of black-blackface shabbos goy whoredom and a disgraceful insult to the legacy of trash auteur Ted V. Mikels' exploitation excrement The Black Klansman (1966).  Indeed, probably the only way Lee could redeem himself at this point is by remaking the West German exploitation classic Born Black (1969) aka Der verlogene Akt—a film that, incidentally was directed by a part-Hebraic exploitation hack by the name of Rolf von Sydow who, despite his partial kosher pedigree, fought in Uncle Adolf's army—as both the film and its director represent the sort of hyperbolic racial nihilism that America's #1 most famous black filmmaker does best.  While Bamboozled is indubitably Spike Lee's most intellectually rewarding and layered film to date, somehow I think most viewers would find the cinematic experience more rewarding if they took heed of gentleman junky queer William S. Burroughs' words, “Exterminate all rational thought,” for such is the only way to accept the innately irredeemable culturally miscegenated clusterfuck that is American (pseudo)culture lest you go insane with abject disgust and disillusionment, among other things.  After all, whether Lee wants to admit it or not, Hollywood and the mainstream media has bamboozled everyone, especially America's infuriatingly voiceless and disenfranchised silent majority, hence the very real nightmare that has replaced the American Dream that exists today.

-Ty E

Jun 12, 2020

The Birds

While I have never particularly cared for monster movies one way or another (and I find most killer animals films to be rather retarded), I think it is safe to say that Alfred Hitchcock was taking a big quasi-artistic risk when he decided to make a horror flick about birds as they are, at least to my mind, the most benignly beautiful of god’s creatures and hardly beings that inspire feelings of fear and terror. After all, unless you are someone that suffers from the acute aesthetic aliment of liking Troma trash like Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006), there is not another single decent killer bird flick aside from Hitch’s The Birds (1963), but of course the film has much more to offer than the seemingly goofy thrill of uniquely unlucky humans suffering the less than dignified fate of being liquidated by fierce feathered flocks as the film’s title—a clear reference to British slang for women—surely hints. Indeed, the film seems like what might happen if anti-feminist Jewess Esther Vilar’s classic anti-vag quasi-manifesto The Manipulated Man (1971) aka Der Dressierte Mann was used as the philosophical inspiration for the anti-monster film par excellence as a curiously quirky yet strangely sexually cruel cinematic work where the viewer roots for the killer birds, especially when they attack obnoxious human birds and the dumb easily manipulated men that love them. In fact, the real ‘monster’ of the film is women and femininity as an oftentimes cleverly cryptic cinematic work that reveals womankind without its figurative makeup, not unlike Norman Bates’ mummified mommy's face in Hitch’s arguable magnum opus Psycho (1960). Speaking of Psycho, the film also certainly does not leave the less fairer sex off the hook as the dubious dating habits of a nearly-middle-aged momma’s boy ultimately leads to the doom of no less than two hot dames in the film. In short, The Birds is a masterwork in mainstream movie misanthropy where the real monster is humanity to the point where one does not really question why the birds want to wipe humans out despite it being an obviously absurdly silly premise, hence the understatedly eccentric brilliance of the film; or so I learned during a recent re-watching of the film for the first time since I was a young kid.

One of the things that I find particularly annoying about Hitchcock’s films in general is that, aside from their glaring artificiality, I rarely ever find myself identifying with any aspect of them, but on my recent re-watching of the famously bloated British auteur’s feathery flick I was bombarded with seagulls, which I am certainly familiar with. Indeed, as someone that has the luxury of living at the beach, I have also had the luxury of regularly encountering gulls—a seabird that is so unsavory that is known to engage in kleptoparasitism—and can certainly say they are the ideal bird type when it comes to apocalyptic feathered dinosaur flicks. Aside from seagulls crashing into my car windshield at least a couple times, I have personally witnessed these parasitic winged creatures eat cigarette butts, shit on small children at the local boardwalk, and steal french-fries right out of the hands of unsuspecting vacationers. In short, gulls—or ‘mews’ as they were once called—are a bird of an oftentimes stunning natural beauty that is betrayed by their grotesquely aggressive behavior, which Hitch’s flick really underscores. Of course, the main characters of the film make these killer birds—whether they be seagull or otherwise—seem like totally angelic beasts by comparison as it is a stylishly savage cinematic work where much of the frivolousness that defines civilization is both literally and figuratively ripped to shreds by seemingly god-ordained creatures that force said main characters to confront nature in all its unsentimental brutality for what is probably the first time in their entire exceedingly sheltered lives.  While it is well known that character development is not exactly key when it comes to creature features, The Birds largely works because Hitchcock goes to great pains to teach the viewer to hate the main characters in all their agonizingly all-too-human glory. Seemingly at least partly fueled by hatred and resentment for the sort of hot blonde bitch that Hitch—a sexually dubious dude that infamously obsessed over his leading ladies and personal secretaries in rather creepy ways—could never get despite his great fame and fortune, the film is also a great example as to why Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto went so far as in tome The Dark Side Of Genius: The Life Of Alfred Hitchcock (1983) to describe his cinematic works as, “astonishingly personal documents.”

 In fact, Spoto makes it very clear at the beginning of his extensive biography that Hitchcock was a highly secretive chap that, despite his fame and intelligence, left very little behind in the way of journals and letters, as if he was deathly paranoid that someone might glean some special insight in regard to his psyche and/or personal life, among other things. In that sense, Hitchcock’s films can be somewhat fun to analyze in an auteurist sense as they are indubitably the works of a pervert, misogynist, misanthrope, and sadist, albeit one that seemingly lacked the gall and balls to truly practice such tendencies in real-life to any serious degree (for example, as Spoto also notes, Hitch's wife more or less wore the pants in the marriage). Notably, as Spoto mentions in his bio, Hitch actually dared to offer some rare thematic insight in regard to The Birds when he stated, “The girl represents complacency. The mother panics because she stars off being so strong, but she is not strong, it is a facade: she has been substituting her son for her husband. She is the weak character in the story. But the girl shows that people can be strong when they face up to the situations. . . . But as a group they were the victims of Judgment Day. . . . I felt that after PSYCHO people would expect something to top it.”

In the film, the almost insufferably sassy socialite heroine Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren)—a rich bitch that loves playing practical jokes who becomes the unwitting butt of the joke in the end—travels about an hour-away over the weekend to see and ultimately attempt to ensnare a vaguely hunky lawyer named Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) that she barely knows, only to discover he is the son of an obscenely overprotective widowed bitch named Lydia (Jessica Tandy) who seems intent on forever carrying her grownup baby boy’s balls in her purse (of course, as Norman Bates insightfully states in Psycho, “A son is a poor substitute for a lover.”). Luckily, Hitchcock uses the killer birds to ruthlessly murder the romantic melodrama and, in the process, puts these pretty yet putrid people in their place in an almost therapeutically apocalyptic scenario where the petty problems and plotlines of pretty prosaic people are deemed irrelevant as a peroxide blonde cutie goes from being insufferably comfortably smug and confidant to catatonic in a single scenic weekend. In that sense, Hitch exposes himself as a sort of spiritual (proto)incel, though his observations in regard to the so-called fairer sex seem very close to that of a bitchy gay man à la Rainer Werner Fassbinder or even Andy Milligan (who, of course, also utilized horror genre conventions to express misanthropic and misogynistic sentiments) than some virginal heterosexual gamer. Needless to say, I do not think it would be a stretch to describe Hitchcock as the real monster of The Birds, but he is such a marvelous monster that he thankfully trades in tired genre tropes for sexual terror.  Also proving that he did not need Bernard Herrmann or a traditional musical score in general to make a great cinematic work, the film is also notable for its exquisitely eerie electronic proto-synthesizer Trautonium anti-soundtrack as composed by kooky krauts Oskar Sala and Remi Gassmann. In that sense, the film goes back to Hitch's early cinematic roots as a student of German Expressionism which is fitting since it was a movement that imbued the horror genre with artistic merit.

While Hitchcock certainly took a frisky, if not downright fierce (albeit somewhat covert), approach when depicting those of the feminine persuasion, The Birds is arguably his most ruthlessly ‘gyno-ambivalent’ flick in both the covert and overt sense. For example, as Camille Paglia argued in her magnum opus Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), “The Harpies are servants of the Furies. They are ‘the Snatchers’ (from harpazo, ‘snatch’), airborne pirates, befouling men with their droppings. They represent the aspect of femaleness that clutches and kills in order to feed itself. The archetypal power of Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, comes from its reactivation of the Harpy myth, shown as both bird and woman.” While Paglia might be committing puffery and giving too much credit to an oftentimes goofy horror flick (indeed, compare Hitch's flick to Belgian auteur Raoul Servais' delectably disturbing animated short Harpya (1979)), her BFI Film Classics book The Birds (1998) provide a number of positively penetrating insights about the monstrous tendencies of the so-called fairer sex.  Indeed, while I have to agree with Woody Allen of all people when he stated in a Sight and Sound Hitchcock tribute, “I delighted in about five of Hitchcock’s movies and enjoyed a few others pretty much, but there are many I have no interest in, including some revered ones. They are all very light entertainment, fun like airport books or, as he referred to them, ‘slices of cake,’” it is ironically The Birds—a film with a premise that is so patently absurd and seemingly silly that is screams excremental exploitation trash—of all films where Hitch arguably reveals the most about his own personal Weltanschauung in terms of both elegantly and intricately expressing his great contempt for humanity and especially the opposite sex.

A monster movie for people that do not necessarily give a shit about monster movies, the film is mostly worthy of Paglia’s praise of the film as “a perverse ode to woman’s sexual glamour, which Hitchcock shows in all its seductive phases, from brittle artifice to melting vulnerability.” Of course, Paglia is a fiery guidette carpet-muncher and while I agree with her that Tippi Hedren is indubitably the greatest and most beauteous of the haute Hitch hoes, I think it would be more accurate to describe the film as a delightfully devastating deconstruction of the intricate perennial lie that is woman’s sexual glamour, which Hitchcock soaks in blood and bird shit in what is ultimately a rather ruthless film where a hot twat ‘peroxide blonde’ faces struggle for the first time in her putridly privileged San Francisco socialite life and naturally completely mentally deteriorates in the process, thereupon exposing both the innate frivolity and fragility of femininity. In short, The Birds demonstrates that it is a man’s world and the veneer of civilization, which is completely demolished in Hitch’s film, is the only thing keeping people from remembering that simple fact, hence the lack of so-called feminism among primitive peoples. After all, it is only the hocus pocus of feminine glamour, which is clearly and cleverly depicted in the film, that causes man to yield his power as most women would have very little if it was not handed to them by a dumb horny men that have foolishly fallen under their spell.

While it is impossible to completely hate her, blonde bombshell bon vivant Melanie Daniels—a vapid San Francisco vamp that lives a life of luxury due to her father owning a successful newspaper—immediately announces her sickening sense of self-absorption at the beginning of the film when a little boy whistles at her and she responds by proudly smiling, as if she thrives completely on male attention, including even that of a cheeky kid that is clearly old enough to be her son. While she never verbally expresses it, Melanie is clearly husband-shopping as she is getting pretty old for a debutante and she even immediately begins attempting to capture her prey upon meeting a young bachelor named Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) while shopping for Indian mynah birds at a local pet store. Despite (or, probably more accurately, because of) the fact that Mitch makes a total moron of her by pretending to think she is a store employee and letting her perform an entire bullshit seduction routine, Melanie is immediately enamored with the young hunk who, as a lawyer, recognized her from court in regard to a case he describes to her as, “one of your practical jokes that resulted in the smashing of a plate-glass window.” When Mitch states things like, “Back in your gilded cage, Melanie Daniels” and “The judge should have put you behind bars,” you can practically imagine the heroine getting her panties soaked at the sense of stern male authority and her subsequent actions certainly hint at such a reaction as she utilizes her father’s newspaper power to find out who the hunk is simply by writing down his license plate. Determined to entangle Mitch in her virtual bourgeois femme fatale web, Melanie symbolically buys him lovebirds, but she only learns later from a neighbor that, despite being a hardly-young professional, the young bachelor curiously spends his weekends at his mother’s house in Bodega Bay.  Despite being about 60 miles away from SF and Mitch expressing no serious desire to be with her, Melanie absurdly decides to head to Bodega Bay with the lovebirds in what ultimately proves to be the worst mistake of her entire life. While she does seem to achieve her objective of ensnaring Mitch the oedipally curious bitch, she will never be the same woman again as a poor little rich girl that now has bird-induced PTSD.

Although heroine Melanie Daniels is, to a certain degree, vaguely likeable, Hitch makes it quite clear that she is a half-crazed spoiled cunt that, among other things, engages in stalking, emotional blackmail, lying and deception, and various forms of deleterious tomfoolery. Of course, such is to be expected of a pretty peroxide blonde and as Paglia noted in regard to the character in the context of Hitchcockian cinema, “As a bottle blonde herself, she seems to gain strength from the peroxide, which operates on her like a transfusion of plasma. They dye theme appears in Hitchcock as early as THE LODGER […] Hitchcock treats blonde as a beautiful, false color, symbolizing women’s lack of fidelity and trustworthiness.” Despite being riddled with a good percentage of negative female stereotypes, Melanie also expresses absurd pretenses towards (proto)feminist folly, or as Paglia noted, “Miffed at Lydia’s frostiness, Melanie digs in her heels and refuses to let Mitch pick her up for dinner: ‘I can find my own way,’ she says, in what could stand as a manifesto of feminist independence.” Needless to say, Melanie is not the only insufferable chick in the flick, as Mitch’s widowed mother Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy)—a woman that, not coincidentally, bears a striking resemblance to the heroine, albeit a couple decades older—is every young debutante’s worst nightmare as a stuck-up old bitch that treats her son as if he were her hubby. Despite the fact she looks borderline elderly, Lydia has a banally conformist adolescent daughter named Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) who Melanie strategically buys lovebirds for as a birthday gift even though said birds are really clearly a symbolic gift to Mitch who she plans to capture via her feminine wiles.

Out of all the main female characters in the film, a young single schoolteacher named Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette)—a buxom brunette of the subtly bitchy yet rather sexy sort—is probably the most tolerable yet ultimately most tragic. An old flame of Mitch’s who actually relocated to Bodega Bay because of him, Annie was no match for the momma boy Mitch’s momma Lydia yet she still cannot get over him, hence why she has stayed in the area. Luckily for Melanie, the titular feathered terrors take care of the competition as the heroine and Mitch eventually suffering the shock of finding the ravaged remains of still-beauteous Annie's bloody bird-brutalized body. Arguably more ravishing and certainly strangely sexier than Melanie, Annie is assuredly one of the most interesting of the Hitchcock chicks and as Paglia noted in regard to the character, “Suzanne Pleshette, with her savvy Jewish Freudianism, puts all the right shadings into her marvelous depiction of the articulate, hyperconscious, but slightly depressive Annie.” In fact, Annie goes as far as arguably hinting that her ex-lover is gay when she states, “Maybe there’s never been anything between Mitch and any girl.” Needless to say, when Annie states in regard to San Francisco—the virtual cocksucker capital of the world—“I guess that’s where everyone meets Mitch,” one cannot help but feel that is once again hinting at his dubious sexuality (notably, in her new foreword to the 2nd edition of her BFI Film Classics book The Birds, Paglia would even describe a neighbor of Mitch’s portrayed by Richard Deacon as “a waspish, fashion-savvy gay connoisseur who recognizes the supreme sexual power of a woman as cult object without yielding to it”).

While The Birds undoubtedly portrays leading lady Melanie Daniels as an inordinately manipulative and exceedingly entitled bitch that is used to getting what she wants whenever she because she realizes that she has a pricey pussy and is more intrinsically important—both in terms of class and genetics—than most of humanity, her female inferiors, which includes women of all ages (but certainly not coincidentally, especially older women), actually prove to be the greater monsters to the point where they irrationally accuse her of causing the virtual bird apocalypse after all hell breaks loose. Indeed, one hyper hysterical mother portrayed by Doreen Lang even dares to scream in Melanie’s face at a diner, “Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this? They said when you got here, the whole thing started. Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from? I think you're the cause of all this. I think you're evil! EVIL!” Of course, in stereotypical negative female fashion, this sensually sapless bitch just seems to be utilizing the situation to unload her (potentially subconscious) sexual jealously onto a feisty Fräulein that is both much younger and more beautiful than she is, yet Hitchcock makes sure it is almost impossible not to feel a certain schadenfreude at Melanie’s expense as it is about time that the preternaturally pretty heroine be smacked in the face with reality and learn what it means to truly suffer. Additionally, Melanie has something metaphysically (fe)malefic about her and as Paglia noted in regard to the diner scene with Doreen Lang, “The shrill mother, like a witch-baiter in THE CRUCIBLE, advances on Melanie, whose point of view is taken by the camera and therefore us […] Melanie, having had quite enough of impossible mothers, smacks her solidly in the face—which breaks the spell, but there is still no movement to Melanie’s side. While the woman’s charges are too irrational and sensational to accept in naturalistic terms, they have a mythic power that cannot be shaken off: on some level, Melanie really is a kind of vampire attuned to nature’s occult messages.”

 Undoubtedly, until she is brutalized by the birds, Melanie wears a perennial smile of self-satisfaction as if there is no doubt in her mind that the world is her oyster, which is in stark contrast to Mitch’s constantly moody and broody bitch mom Lydia who immediately expresses a guarded glacial demeanor to the heroine that only begins to dissipate as the feathered apocalypse begins to get fierce. In that sense, Paglia makes an interesting argument when she mentions, “Crisscross (the theme of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN): literally from the moment Melanie crosses her legs, the bird attack begins. Has Lydia’s witchy malice evoked it? […] Lydia ‘panics,’ Hitchcock told Bogdanovich, because ‘she is not strong, it is a façade’: so architecturally, she is crumbling.” In short, female strength comes with a sunny smile as opposed to a fierce frown as exemplified by the stark contrast between the young and fertile Melanie and old and postmenopausal widow Lydia (who is so desperate for a man that she has succumbed to covert incest and has irrationally attempted to shield her son from a female mate so that she can perversely keep him for herself). Indeed, one can sense that Lydia innately understands (but, due to very personal reasons, does not want to accept) that her son has found a most apt sexual mate when she states to Melanie, “I feel as if I don’t understand you at all, and I want so much to understand. Because my son seems to be very fond of you, and I don’t quite know how I feel about it. I don’t even know if I like you or not […] Mitch is important to me. I want to like whatever girl he chooses.”  Needless to say, were it not for the beaked holocaust and Melanie's behavior during said beaked holocaust, it is dubious as to whether or not Lydia would have ever embraced the heroine as the almost quasi-biblical experience seems to force the fiercely frigid old hag to finally come out of her shell.

Notably, the film concludes with Lydia caressing a catatonic Melanie as the lead characters escape Bodega Bay in a car driven by Mitch and one can only assume that the older woman’s display of compassion is somewhat deceptive as it can be rightly assumed that the widow no longer feels threatened that her much beloved substitute husband—her own son—will be  taken away from her, at least not completely. For example, as Paglia argued, “At the end of THE BIRDS, who wields the claw? I agree with Margret M. Horwitz’s view that Lydia certainly appears ‘victorious’ and that she and the birds have ‘achieved dominance.’ Melanie is now damaged goods, which Madonna Lydia prefers for her pieta,” but, of course, part of the brilliance of the film is Hitchcock’s quite intentional ambiguity. After all, the film would have probably not been such a big hit, especially among chicks, if it was made completely unequivocal that woman are obscenely opportunistic, cold, calculating, callous and craven creatures that only get all the more so with age. Of course, the great irony of the filmmaker’s understated misogynistic brilliance is that his film is as coldly covert and cryptic as the monstrous women it portrays and in that sense, Hitch is the real monster of The Birds.

Whether intentional or not (I certainly believe the former), it is certainly fitting that, not unlike Jacques Tourneur/Val Letwon with Cat People (1942) and Paul Schrader with his 1982 remake, The Birds connects horror with the primordial horror of femininity, which makes perfect sense when considers the closer link that the fairer sex has with nature. Indeed, as Otto Weininger—a virtually blacklisted philosopher that, not unlike with Oswald Spengler, Paglia certainly borrowed a thing or two from—argued in his magnum opus Sex and Character: An Investigation of Fundamental Principles (1903), “Women are closer to nature in their unconscious than man. The flowers are their sisters, and they are less far removed from animals than Man, as is proved by the fact that they are surely more strongly inclined to bestiality than he is (remember the myths of Leda and Pasiphae; and women’s relationship with their lapdog is also much more sensual than is general believed).” And, of course, what better symbol of femininity than the angelic parasite known as the seagull and its flying sisters?! While The Birds heroine is constantly conspiring and plotting her next move, her main goal is clearly completely instinctual and that is to find a man and procreate, which she literally dedicates all her efforts to in her absurd pursuit of momma’s boy Mitch. After all, as Weininger once wrote (and Hitchcock would surely agree with), “Woman seeks her fulfillment as an object. She is the chattel, either of the man or of the child, and all she wants to be taken for is a chattel, despite all her attempts to hide this. There is no surer way to misunderstand what Woman really wants than by being interested in what goes on inside her and sympathizing with her emotions and her hopes, her experiences and her inner nature. Woman does not want to be treated as a subject. All she ever wants—and that is what makes her Woman—is to remain passive and to feel a will directed toward her. She does not want to be treated either timidly or gently. Nor does she want to be respected. Rather, she needs to be desired merely as a body and to be the sole possession of another. Just as a mere sensation only assumes reality when it becomes a concept—that is, an object—so Woman only acquires her existence, and a sense of her existence, when she is elevated by a man or a child—a subject—to his object, and thus has an existence bestowed on her.” Of course, this is explains why Melanie is totally turned on by Mitch’s initial rather arrogant insults (and why women in general are totally disgusted by ostensible ‘nice guy’ types) to the point where she fabricates an entire journey to be with him (despite knowing next to nil about him). Indeed, as far as nature is concerned, Melanie’s only real mistake is being attracted to a momma’s boy, which is probably the deleterious subconscious result of having a troubled relationship with her own estranged mother who abandoned her. Ironically, in the end, Melanie does acquire a surrogate mother of sorts but it is dubious at best that she, Mitch, and mommy Lydia will live ‘happy ever after’ in the end, especially since she has already made the unforgivable mistake of exposing weakness to the old lady. After all, as Hitch knew, trust no birds/bitches.

 Just the other day, I saw a redneck truck plow down two seagulls on the main road in my hometown and there was a certain ironical poetry to these bright white bird bodies as these dead winged parasites still demonstrated more beauty than all the humans around them despite dying such undignified deaths. Indeed, while I am not particularly fond of gulls, they are undoubtedly less obnoxious and purer than the mostly putrid people that have turned their habitat—a resort town—into a hedonistic wasteland where (sub)humans come to bask in booze at the beach and other senseless shit that has less intrinsic value than bird shit. In short, the people I regularly encounter in real-life are certainly more worthy of a bird apocalypse than the characters in The Birds, which says a lot since I feel hardly sympathetic towards the characters of Hitch’s flick. Needless to say, a sequel exists but the made-for-TV turd The Birds II: Land's End (1994) directed by Hebraic Halloween sequel hack Rick Rosenthal is even worse than one might presume despite also featuring Tippi Hedren (who, rather curiously, does not reprise her Melanie Daniels character). Indeed, as much as I like seaside horror cinema, The Birds II provides less entertainment than staring at seagull roadkill for 90 minutes or so. Instead, Jean Renoir’s The Woman on the Beach (1947), Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (1961), Ken Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves (1977), Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (1979), John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980), and Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987), among a couple other examples, make for a nice companion to Hitchcock’s classic if you enjoy fun horror in the sun this summer. In that sense, The Birds might be, for me, Hitch’s most enjoyable film. As for Robert Eggers' latest The Lighthouse (2019)—a film that feels like what the mongrelized mutant offspring of H.P. Lovecraft and F.W. Murnau might make if attempting to take a grotesquely gynophobic approach to Harrington’s Night Tide and The Birds—it is probably the greatest killer seagull flick since Hitch's classic, which of course does not say all that much but I can certainly recommend it.

Notably, during his pre-The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) years, British auteur Peter Greenaway paid tribute to both Hitchcock and The Birds in various experimental collage-like films. In fact, Greenaway's absurdly ambitious first feature The Falls (1980)—an eccentrically and oftentimes esoterically epic 195-minute avant-garde docucomedy of sorts—can be seen, in part, as a sort of absurdist (anti)sequel to The Birds that, aside from being set in a post-apocalyptic realm where characters have bird-like mutations and are obsessed with birds and flights, makes numerous references to the classic Hitch flick.  For example, a film character named Obsian Fallicutt—a fanatical film editor that, not unlike Greenaway, becomes obsessed with films with ornithological themes—is described as believing that Hitch faked the mysterious apocalyptic scenario that is central to the film.  Indeed, as the film's narrator states, “Obsian Fallicutt had a theory that the V.U.E. [Violent Unknown Event] was an expensive, elaborate hoax perpetrated by A.J. Hitchcock to give some credibility to the unsettling and unsatisfactory ending of his film THE BIRDS.”  Needless to say, The Falls is mandatory-viewing for anyone with an acute autistic obsession with birds and/or The Birds.

Undoubtedly, one of the things that makes The Birds so inordinately enjoyable and artistically singular, especially in the context of Hitch’s overall oeuvre, is its strangely foreboding ambiguity. Indeed, as Robin Wood notes in his classic text Hitchcock's Films Revisited (1989) in regard to the conclusion of the film, “A bleak enough message; and in the last sequence of the film—the departure by car through the massed, waiting birds—the effect of bleakness is intensified by the uncertainties. For uncertainty is the keynote of the film: Hitchcock allows himself and us no easy comfort. Under this sense of judgment, of intense scrutiny, every action becomes ambiguous. The carrying of the lovebirds out to the ca: is it a touching gesture (through the child) of continuing faith, despite all, in the goodness of nature and the possibility of order, or an absurd clinging to a sentimental view of life, a refusal still to face reality? The mother’s cradling of Melanie in her arms and the shot of their interlocking hands: is it a gesture of acceptance (hence creative and fertile) or a new manifestation of maternal possessiveness? Melanie’s broken condition: does it represent the possibility of development into true womanhood, or a final relapse into infantile dependence? All these questions are left open: if we demand a resolution of them we have missed the whole tone and temper of the film. We can say, at best, that there is a suggestion of a new depth, a new fertility in the relationships—Lydia has become the mother Melanie never had. The point about the ending is that the degree of optimism or pessimism it is felt to contain must depend on ourselves: what Hitchcock gives us is the questions.” Of course, as a proud (cultural) pessimist, I can only interpret the film’s conclusion as being nothing more than a sort of figurative ‘calm before the storm’ where the main characters receive a temporary reprieve before the misery commences. As to whether it is the birds or their own self-destructive behavior and/or dysfunctional relationships that destroys them, it remains to be seen.  In that sense, one must at least give credit to Rick Rosenthal for not reprising the original characters in his steaming celluloid seagull shit The Birds II as it would have surely contributed to the destruction of the mystique of the original film, hence the true unmitigated horror of most horror sequels.

Probably the greatest compliment I can pay to The Birds is that its greatest scenes resemble a sort of goofy warped take on a landscape painting by great Swiss Symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin who Weininger once described as “one feels that mountains are dead and is mightily attracted only to the sea with its eternal motion.” Of course, as from its eternal motion, the sea represents a sort of escape from humanity as an unconquerable realm that virtually separates worlds, hence the genius of using birds as an apocalyptic catalyst as not even water can offer a chance of escape.  Naturally, it is also extremely fitting that it was also directed by the man behind the idiosyncratic anti-nazi propaganda piece Lifeboat (1944) where the sea become a sort of perennial psychodramatic prison where man's sanity and civilization are put to the ultimate test. Surely, The Birds—a film that has aged somewhat gracefully over nearly 60 years—can be seen as a sort of allegorical cinematic ‘canary in a coal mine’ in regard to a sort of sexual apocalypse that has afflicted the Occident for sometime but certainly went into overdrive during the dreaded 1960s.

Indeed, as Weininger—a Viennese Jew whose somewhat predictable suicide Spengler once poetically described as death, “in a spiritual struggle of essentially Magian experience is one of the noblest spectacles ever presented by a Late religiousness”—foresaw over a century ago, “Our age is not only the most Jewish, but also the most effeminate of all ages; an age in which art only provides a sudarium for its moods and which has derived the artistic urge in humans from the games played by animals; an age of the most credulous anarchism, an age without any appreciation of the state and law, an age of species ethic, an age of the shallowest of all imaginable interpretations of history (historical materialism), an age of capitalism and Marxism, an age for which history, life, science, everything, has become nothing but economics and technology: an age that has declared genius to be a form of madness, but which no longer has one great artist or one great philosopher, an age that is most devoid of originality, but which chases most frantically after originality; an age that has replaced the idea of virginity with the cult of the demivierge. This age also has the distinction of being the first to have not only affirmed and worshiped sexual intercourse, but to have practically made it a duty, not as a way of achieving oblivion, as the Romans or Greeks did in their bacchanals, but in order to find itself and to give its own dreariness a meaning.”  Despite Hitchcock's Roman Catholic background and formative Jesuit education that he once described to mischling Peter Bogdanovich as being so highly influential in the sense that, “The Jesuits taught me organization, control and, to some degree, analysis,” there is no question of the Freudian factor of his oeuvre and his various crucial collaborations with Hebrews that include Ealing Studios head Michael Balcon, composer Bernard Herrmann, businessman Sidney Bernstein, screenwriters Arthur Laurents and Ben Hecht, and graphic designer Saul Bass, among countless others, reveals that the filmmaker is—for better or worse—a glaring product/symptom of Judaic modernity.

Undoubtedly, to various degrees, Hitch’s films absolutely epitomize this spiritually necrotic disease, but at least The Birds arguably recognizes it on a sort of ambiguous subtextual level as a flick where a scheming debutante, momma’s boy lawyer, and covertly incestuous mother seem to get their just deserts; or at least they are forced to pull their heads out of the asses for the first time in their entire pathetic lives due to the curious circumstance of a wonderfully nonsensical Neornithes nightmare. Of course, in the end, flocks of fatally fierce feathered friends attacking people seems less patently absurd than the petty and patently prosaic concerns of the pretty plastic people of The Birds who are forced by a sort of goofy Armageddon to, at least temporarily, end their innate inertia. As guido gore maestro Lucio Fulci's The Exorcist rip-off Manhattan Baby (1982)—a film that manages to pay tribute to both Hitch’s Psycho and The Birds in a single scene in its depiction of stuffed birds coming alive and killing their master—surely demonstrates, killer winged beasts are not interesting enough to make a film worthwhile but they make a nice backdrop to a film marinated in misanthropy and ostensible misogyny where one cannot help but root for the birds, including seagulls.

While I hardly would describe most of Hitch's film as art and find very little to admire about the life and work of Pablo Picasso, I think the Spanish artist could have certainly been talking about The Birds when he once stated, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” as it is a film that gives a soul to the soulless and takes a pleasantly preposterous approach to giving a sort of human vulnerability to the only superficially human.  Indeed, the film might make Hitchcock seem rather unflattering in that it seems like his savagely sadistic reaction to a lifetime of being rejected by premium grade pussy, but he does somewhat paradoxically demonstrate that pretty peroxide blondes also have feelings (or whatever), which the filmmaker took to even further extremes with lead Tippi Hedren in his underrated subsequent film Marnie (1964).  After all, Hitchcock—a lifelong sadistic practical joker—seemed to most enjoy cinematically abusing female birds and he apparently even acted like a monster to Hedren in real-life, so it is only natural that a high-point in his career would involve literal birds brutalizing people in what is arguably the most playfully pernicious cinematic pun in cinema history.  Of course, in a seemingly apocalyptic age that is increasingly decadent and feminine where relationships between the sexes have reached an all-time high in terms of dysfunction to the point where the birth rate is dropping rapidly in the West and divorce is the norm and marriage is considered a joke, The Birds—a film where it takes a literal bird apocalypse for the heroine to become more passive and her male love interest to take real action and act like a man—is certainly more relevant today than when it was first released and thus more pleasantly punishing than Psycho.  After all, we need a world with more pretty birds and less men in dresses.

-Ty E