Jan 2, 2020

Slaughterhouse-Five




A nonlinear big budget Hollywood sci-fi arthouse flick addressing the Allied powers unofficial war crime of the totally terroristic firebombing of Dresden during the Second World War certainly seems like a sort of wishful alt-right fanboy fantasy yet, somewhat inexplicably, such an insanely idiosyncratic cinematic work actually does exist and naturally it is not exactly a famous film despite being based on a relatively famous novel.  Luckily, it is also a great film that, despite being nearly half-a-century old, is rather fresh despite technically belonged to a genre that does not typically age gracefully.  Indeed, Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)—a film based on American postmodern writer Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel of the same name—is, in my less than humble opinion, one of the greatest films of the so-called ‘New Hollywood’ era and certainly more deserving of notability than the various classic films associated with the movement as directed by the likes of Peter Bogdanovich, Hal Ashby, Miloš Forman, and Arthur Penn, among countless others. Likewise, I would also argue that it is a rare film that, not unlike Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), is superior to its source novel (in fact, Vonnegut was quite happy with the film and would even state, “I love George Roy Hill and Universal Pictures, who made a flawless translation of my novel”). Of course, the film’s director George Roy Hill is best known for the New Hollywood classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)—a sort of American Western answer to François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962)—which is a film that I have always found to be hopelessly soft, sentimental, and obscenely overrated.

Not unlike his American New Wave contemporaries Michael Ritchie (Prime Cut, The Bad News Bears) and Alan J. Pakula (Klute, Sophie's Choice), Hill is a good argument against auteurism as a talented filmmaker that, relatively speaking, lacked a potent personalized approach and signature style, which was arguably a benefit to a preternatural picture like Slaughterhouse-Five that could have easily been an absolutely abominable artistic disaster were it helmed by a more monomaniacal and/or fetishistic filmmaker (speaking of, Guillermo del Toro, who has certainly demonstrated his commitment to the cultural marxist cause by introducing interspecies miscegenation in the fiercely fishy The Shape of Water (2017), announced in 2013 that he plans to remake the film in collaboration with silly semitic screenwriter Charlie Kaufman). That such a film was ever made in Hebraic Hollywood—a place that, more than any other, clearly has no sympathy for the complete destruction of an ancient German city and countless priceless pieces of architecture—is nothing short of a miracle and virtual fluke of cinema history that reveals Hill's inordinate artistic integrity as a rare Hollywood filmmaker that was clearly not willing to bend-over for Zion (notably, underrated kiwi mischling auteur Vincent Ward would later depict the firebombing of Dresden in a somewhat less effective yet nonetheless still potent fashion in his rarely-seen film Map of the Human Heart (1992)).  Needless to say, had Hill prostituted himself by directing a holocaust film on a similar scale to Slaughterhouse-Five, he would probably be better remembered and more revered today.



 Notably, the full title of Vonnegut’s book is Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death and the author is described on the title page as “A FOURTH-GENERATION GERMAN-AMERICAN NOW LIVING IN EASY CIRCUMSTANCES ON CAPE COD [AND SMOKING TOO MUCH], WHO, AS AN AMERICAN INFANTRY SCOUT HORS DE COMBAT, AS A PRISONER OF WAR, WITNESSED THE FIRE-BOMBING OF DRESDEN, GERMANY, ‘THE FLORENCE OF THE ELBE,’ A LONG TIME AGO, AND SURVIVED TO TELL THE TALE. THIS IS A NOVEL SOMEWHAT IN THE TELEGRAPHIC SCHIZOPHRENIC MANNER OF TALES OF THE PLANET TRALFAMADORE, WHERE THE FLYING SAUCERS COME FROM. PEACE.”  Indeed, as Vonnegut’s author description (possibly unwittingly?) alludes to, one of the greatest absurdities of WWII, not unlike WWI, is that German-Americans made up the largest ethnic to fight for the United States against Germany and Vonnegut—a battalion scout with the 106 Infantry Division that was captured on December 22, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge—even had the singular displeasure as “fourth-generation German-American” of witnessing an irreplaceable Teutonic city from his ancestral homeland being completely eradicated by his own countrymen while a POW in what was ultimately a literal ‘holocaust’ (aka ‘sacrificial mass slaughter via fire’). Notably, Jean-Luc Godard of all people noticed the absurdity of this situation in his obscure feature Germany Year 90 Nine Zero (1991) aka Allemagne 90 neuf zero where it is narrated, “The US never understood the war, or took part in it. At best, their fight was not the state’s fight, nor on the same battleground. The US can only imagine a civil war. It’s always themselves and their own defects, personified by the enemy, that they combat in all wars. For them, war is a moral dilemma. When they were English, they fought the English. When they became Americans, they fought Americans. Once sufficiently influenced by the Germans, morally and culturally, they attacked the Germans. The first American to take a prisoner in 1917 was Meyer. The prisoner’s name was also Meyer.” Of course, life’s great dark absurdities are what Slaughterhouse-Five is all about, hence its lack of popularity among the general public which prefers disposable neatly-packaged feel-good banalities to mercurial movies that challenge the mind and seep into the soul. 



 Alien abductions, the firebombing of Dresden, homicidal wop psychopaths with lifelong grudges, and a seemingly autistic affectless hero are just a couple of the seemingly discordant ingredients that make Slaughterhouse-Five so insanely yet ideally idiosyncratic, yet the film is no less exceptional in terms of its form as a nonlinear flick with a virtual ‘jigsaw’ approach to editing (courtesy of editor Dede Allen of such classics as The Hustler (1961) and Night Moves (1975)) that manages to mimic human memory in terms of switching back-and-forth between major events from the protagonist’s fairly eclectically traumatic life. Indeed, it is an extraordinary film about an extraordinary life as lived by a largely less than extraordinary individual that just floats through existence yet somehow achieves a sort of strange truly out-of-this-world transcendence in the end. While technically a sci-fi film and undoubtedly one of the first to deal with the theme of alien abduction, Vonnegut clearly has no special love for the genre and merely uses it trappings for mostly philosophical reasons (of course, for Hebraic Hollywood to make a film about the horrors of the Dresden Bombings seems like science fiction in itself, but I digress). Just as in the novel, the film is a quasi-existentialist work where the magnificent meaningless of life is given a vaguely optimistic spin where the viewer is asked to focus on the good and forget the bad, even in a demented culture-destroying world where the Dresden tragedy occurred. Notably, in a special introduction featured in the 1976 Franklin Library edition of the novel, Vonnegut stated of the event, “The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in.” Undoubtedly, Vonnegut’s sentiments sum up the overall charmingly dispiriting spirit of the film, which is very much beauteous in a bitingly surreal fashion comparable to blood splattered across fresh white snow (which, quite fittingly, actually appears in the film). 


 Although a man that probably could be best described by the title of Austrian novelist Robert Musil’s unfinished three-volume novel The Man Without Qualities (1930–1943), the film’s protagonist Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks)—a tall blond American boy with an all-American Norman Rockwell-esque essence—has led a virtually magical life filled with great tragedy and heartbreak but also great wonder, intrigue, and splendor. A virtual cipher of a man that lead actor Sack portrays quite perfectly as far as effectively radiating a flat affect is concerned, Billy is clearly a model for the eponymous heroes of Woody Allen’s Zelig (1983) and Forrest Gump (1994), Chance the gardener in Hal Ashby’s Being There (1979), Léon in Andrzej Żuławski’s L'Amour Braque (1985), and Dougie Jones in Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), among various other examples. Luckily, Billy’s character is perfect for such a story as it allows the viewer to more easily embrace a film that deals with both the very real horror of war and a sort of goofy science fiction that defies reason. Falling somewhere in between an ‘Everyman’ and Nietzsche’s ‘last man’ with a good bit of autism thrown in for good measure, Billy is also in many ways quite typical of an American male of his era in that he goes off to war, gets married and has two kids, has a relatively successful career, and then retires, but only two events from his life give it true meaning: the Dresden firebombing and alien abduction. Of course, the latter is pure fantasy and a sort of expression of Vonnegut’s own pseudo-metaphysical wishful thinking in regard to some intangible humanist heaven where even autists like Billy Pilgrim get to fuck premium grade pussy for eternity for an exceedingly erudite all-alien audience. 


 While the film begins during WWII with a seemingly lost Billy roaming around in a considerably chaotic snowy Europa, the film rather seamlessly weaves back-and-forth between his life, including before and after that war that seemingly left indelible scars on his curious psyche. The son of a fierce fat father that—to impress his equally big boorish friends—put him in a traumatizing ‘sink-or-swim’ scenario as a small child where he was thrown into the deep-end of a public pool while completely naked and a comparably ludicrously large-and-in-charge mouthy mother, Billy hardly has the makings of a martial soldier and he virtually sleepwalks through the entire war despite it also having a totally traumatizing effect on his life.  For example, when the Germans give him a woman's coat to wear in an attempt to emasculate him, Billy is completely clueless that he is being mock until a British POW makes it crystal clear to him and even then he does not seem to care.  Aside from surviving the horrors of the Dresden terrorist bombings and being forced to move countless charred kraut corpses with other GI POWs, Billy also witnesses the senseless execution of his sole friend Edgar Derby (Eugene Roche)—a kindhearted teacher and family man that acts as a sort of much-needed father figure for the hapless protagonist—who is punished for ‘theft’ by some overly enterprising SS men after randomly being spotted rather innocently grabbing a Hummel figurine from some ruins.  Undoubtedly, Derby's absurdly senseless death, which is over a cute inanimate object that, rather innocently and sentimentally, reminds the poor character of his son and that one of the SS men subsequently throws away like trash after having the middle-aged GI swiftly executed, completely personifies the spirit of dark tragicomedic absurdism that guides both the film and novel.  Although Billy made a short-lived but completely unforgettable friend in Derby while a POW, he also becomes the #1 eternal enemy of a psychotic Sicilian-American named Paul Lazzaro (Ron Leibman)—a loudmouthed lunatic of the suitably swarthy sort that, arguably quite revealingly, has turned irrational homo-hating into a sort of unintentionally humorous poetic art—that vows to kill him one day because he quite wrongfully believes that he caused the death of his comrade Roland Weary (Kevin Conway), or as he initially threatens the protagonist, “A fag frolic in Wyoming. I’ll be there, Pilgrim, waitin’ for you.” Needless to say, Lazzaro does kill Billy and, as someone hopelessly “unstuck in time” that experiences various events from his life at various times multiple times, the protagonist is well aware this death-by-dago awaits him. 


 While Billy survives the Dresden Bombing and, in turn, the Second World War, and then gets married, has two kids, and becomes a successful optometrist, he seems completely detached from his ‘life’ and instead seeks sanctuary in his beloved doggo ‘Spot.’ After catching his son Robert (Perry King) masturbating to a centerfold of a sexploitation starlet named Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine of Bob Fosse's Lenny (1974)), Billy also finds a rare source of solace in the sensual lady and the silly sword-and-sandal (aka peplum) films that she stars in (and that his incessantly nagging lard ass wife, who he clearly does not love, highly disproves of). The Tralfamadorians—a group of highly intelligent and sophisticated extraterrestrials who exist in all times simultaneously—seem to realize this and transport both Billy and Montana to a virtual human zoo located on their planet of Tralfamadore, thereupon leading to an unlikely love affair between the protagonist (who is now middle-aged) and voluptuous diva that eventually leads to the birth of one son. As Billy tries in vain to explain to his pedantic son-in-law in regard to the important insights that he has acquired from these aliens, “On Tralfamadore you learn that the world is just a collection of moments, all strung together in beautiful, random order. And if we’re going to survive, it’s up to us to concentration on the good moments and ignore the bad.” In the end, Billy even learns to accept his own rather absurd assassination at the hands of his deranged wop nemesis Lazzaro who kills him while he is giving a speech on the subject of Tralfamadore while in the guido’s shitty home city of Philadelphia.  Despite Billy’s insistence on remembering the good, the Dresden bombing, which acts both as the climax and ‘centerpiece’ of the film, sticks out the most in the end (as it should).  After all, it is hard to forget the complete incineration of a singularly striking place full of happy children and old people (as Hill underscores during the pre-bombing scenes) that the protagonist initially describes upon first seeing it as, “the Land of Oz.” Indeed, right before the climatic bombing scene, the viewer is teased with a quasi-travelogue of sorts featuring the most beauteous pieces of ancient Teutonic architecture juxtaposed with a composition by Johann Sebastian Bach in a virtually aesthetically angelic combo that arguably represents the height of apolitical German high kultur in an exceedingly ethereal scenario where it seems ‘nothing bad can happen,’ henceforth perfectly underscoring the true apocalyptic horrors of the firebombing of Dresden.



 When I was in college, I once had this insufferably whiny slave-morality-ridden professor—a seriously shameless shabbos goy that once asked all the Jewish kids in my class to stand-up in a bizarre scenario of seemingly worshipful racial fetishization—that used to use his monotonous lectures to cry about being persecuted for being a “polack” (which, considering his relatively young age, seemed rather unlikely) or to philo-semitically proselytize for the chosen amongst god’s chosen. During one fairly unforgettable lecture where he rather recklessly exposed the pathetic heights of his craven ressentiment-driven bloodlust, this exceedingly erratically effete professor did an impassioned speech on how good the Dresden firebombings were and even went on to describe in great detail the cultural importance of the city and how it was easily incinerated because it was largely made up of wood buildings due to being so ancient. After witnessing this bitchy biddy—a virtual middle-aged boy with the sad sick soul of a neurotic sex-starved old woman that probably still has not gotten over the ostensible trauma of a jock shoving him into a locker during high school—practically drool with a certain sadistic glee at the mere thought of the totally senseless brutal extermination of German woman and children and destruction of great German culture, I naturally came to the conclusion that those that ordered the senseless bombings were operating from a similar unhinged mindset.  After all, rabid Jewish United States Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. infamously came up with the Morgenthau Plan with the odious objective of turning Germany into a depopulated wasteland, not to mention the fact that Albert Einstein lied to FDR about Germany’s advancements in nuclear science so that he could get the Manhattan Project started in the hope that his ex-homeland would be nuked.  Of course, what makes Slaughterhouse-Five such a successful antiwar film is that it is not plagued with the sort of hatred or resentment that inspired the pseudo-heroic Morgenthau and Einsteins of the world or the literary frauds like Elie Wiesel and Jerzy Kosiński. Indeed, it is only because Germany was destroyed and Zion prevailed that we even know of the zio-media-hype names of Einstein and Wiesel today while ignoring real geniuses like Nikola Tesla and a peaceful Aryan humanist like Vonnegut (who, if he was not a leftist of sorts, would have surely been completely ignored). 


 
While Slaughterhouse-Five is unequivocally the greatest Vonnegut film adaptation of all-time as the novelist himself recognized, Mother Night (1996) directed by Christine (1983) lead Keith Gordon surely makes for a great double feature with George Roy Hill’s film. Based on the 1961 Vonnegut novel of the same name, the film, which features an iconic cameo from the German-American writer, centers around the considerably conflicted antihero of Howard W. Campbell, Jr.—a character that seems to be inspired by both American modernist poet Ezra Pound and William ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ Joyce—who lives a sort of double life and overall schizophrenic existence as an American Nazi propagandist that quite deceptively uses his radio show to spread hidden messages that can only be decoded by Allied intelligence. Notably, the character also appears in Roy’s Slaughterhouse-Five during the early part of the Dresden bombing scene in a red-white-and-blue swastika uniform that whacked-out wop Lazzaro describes as a “fag outfit.” While neither film is even remotely ‘pro-Nazi,’ they both manage to question the official WWII narrative and, quite unlike virtually any Hollywood WWII films, make light of atrocities committed against the Germans (in fact, Mother Night director Gordon is a member of the tribe, but he doesn’t let his ethno-racial loyalties get in the way of a good weird paranoiac story, as the film even makes reference to the mass rape of German women by Soviet hordes). As for other Vonnegut adaptations, the Jerry Lewis/Sam Fuller vehicle Slapstick of Another Kind (1982) is one of the worst films ever made and Breakfast of Champions (1999)—a film that should have worked since it was directed by offbeat auteur Alan Rudolph who, not unlike his friend-cum-mentor Robert Altman, is totally suited for such subject matter—is a total mess that the author apparently felt was “painful to watch.” 


 As far as I am concerned, George Roy Hill is one of the most underrated filmmakers associated with the so-called American New Wave and Slaughterhouse-Five is superior to anything that was ever directed by more respected filmmakers associated with the movement like Paul Mazursky, Norman Jewison, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdanovich, Mike Nichols, and countless others. A sort of spiritual cinema son of Hollywood maverick William A. Wellman (Wings, The Ox-Bow Incident) as both filmmakers were man’s men that served as fighter pilots and had a lifelong love of flying in general as demonstrated by their respective films, Hill brought a certainly inordinate masculinity to American cinema during an exceedingly emasculated (post)hippie era with underrated films like the mesmerizing männerbund aviation drama The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)—a film that pays tribute to the singular glory of Teutonic fighter pilots and the similarly daredevil-ish American pilots that, despite technically being enemies, respected them—and the vehemently anti-p.c. hockey dramedy Slap Shot (1977) starring Paul Newman in a rare lovably sleazy role. With The World According to Garp (1982)—a personal childhood favorite that, until relatively recently (last year), I could not recall the name of despite it being burned into my mind nearly thirty years ago—Hill directed a film that was clearly a (quite superior) model for Forrest Gump, albeit darker and more inordinately eccentric. While not one of his masterpieces, Hill brought some unexpected much-needed-nuance to the whole perennial Israeli–Palestinian conflict with his John le Carré adaptation The Little Drummer Girl (1984) starring Klaus Kinski of all people as a sort of Machiavellian Mossad agent in an uneven yet reasonably enthralling film where the Israelis ultimately come out looking like the most underhanded of international terroristic exploiters. In my less than humble opinion, it is a damn shame that Hill will always be best remembered for the softcore western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but Americans love their westerns and hate their war crimes. 



 While the curious combination of real-life war atrocities and alien abductions might seem a tad bit silly, especially to those that take the Dresden firebombing seriously, the two things somehow work together perfectly in Hill's Slaughterhouse-Five and their seemingly discordant combo make even more perfect sense if one has consulted the UFO writings of the great ‘Aryan Christ’ Carl Jung. While Jung did not completely rule out the possibility of space aliens and flying saucers, he did feel that the whole UFO phenomenon that more or less kicked off during World War II was part of a psychological and, in turn, spiritual crisis that was plaguing the Occidental mind. Indeed, as Jung argued in Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky (1959), “One can hardly suppose that anything of such worldwide incidence as the Ufo legend is purely fortuitous and of no importance whatever […] The basis for this kind of rumor is an emotional tension having its cause in a situation of collective distress or danger, or in a vital psychic need. This condition undoubtedly exists today, in so far as the whole world is suffering under the strain of Russian policies and their still unpredictable consequences […] Precisely because the conscious mind does not know about them and is therefore confronted with a situation from which there seems to be no way out, these strange contents cannot be integrated directly but seek to express themselves indirectly, thus giving rise to unexpected and apparently inexplicable opinions, beliefs, illusions, visions, and so forth. Any unusual natural occurrences such as meteors, comets, ‘rains of blood,’ a calf with two heads, and suchlike abortions are interpreted as menacing omens, or else signs are seen in the heavens.” Undoubtedly, despite his general autistic demeanor, Slaughterhouse-Five protagonist Billy Pilgrim—an absurdly lucky survivor of the hell-on-earth Dresden nightmare—is a man plagued with a certain ‘emotional tension,’ which he is ultimately relieved of with the best next thing to heaven: a sort of extraterrestrial fuck factory where he gets to make love with the literal girl of his dreams in a baroque out-of-this world setting where his alien overlords, the Tralfamadorians, tell him everything he needs to know about life and existence, thereupon elevating him of every single fear and worry that he has. In that sense, both Vonnegut’s novel and Hill’s film adaptation act as sort of esoteric escapism where the ‘emotional tension’ that has resulted in the UFO phenomenon is cured by said UFO phenomenon; or at least Vonnegut’s fantastic fictional humanist version of it. 


 Notably, in attempting to describe the nightmarish state of painting in the post-WWII UFO age, Jung remarked, “Just as women’s fashions find every innovation, however absurd and repellent, ‘beautiful,’ so too does modern art of this kind. It is the ‘beauty’ of chaos. That is what this art heralds and eulogizes: the gorgeous rubbish heap of our civilization. It must be admitted that such an undertaking is productive of fear, especially when allied to the political possibilities of our catastrophic age. One can well imagine that in an epoch of the ‘great destroyers’ it is a particular satisfaction to be at least the broom that sweeps the rubbish into the corner.” While Slaughterhouse-Five—a film that literally depicts one of the greatest cities in human history as a sort of grotesquely gorgeous rubbish heap as partly caused by largely cultureless American philistines—does have a certain ‘soothing’ quality, it is also indubitably an expression of the ‘beauty of chaos’ that Jung describes in our pre-dystopian age of ‘great destroyers’ of the innately cosmopolitan alien culture-distorting sort. In that sense, the film is more potent than ever, not to mention radically red-pilled compared to the rancid raunch and cultural retardation that epitomizes most recent Hollywood sci-fi flicks (and movies in general).  After all, you will not find another Hollywood movie that makes positive reference to English historian and supposed ‘holocaust denier’ David Irving who, as the film alludes to, was the first to seriously study the Dresden atrocity with his revolutionary text The Destruction of Dresden (1963).  As for Vonnegut’s novel, it might even eventually prove to have predicted the forsaken future of the U.S. when it notes that, “The United States of America has been Balkanized, has been divided into twenty petty nations so that it will never again be a threat to world peace. Chicago has been hydrogen-bombed by angry Chinamen. So it goes. It is all brand new.” Indeed, so it goes. 



-Ty E

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