". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, February 14, 2020

A Bottled in Bond Valentine

     . . . . As this is Valentine's Day, it seems appropriate to acknowledge movie Bond's consistent love for one person, which we first see creeping toward the center of the Bond narrative with the 90's Pierce Brosnan Bond character reboot.

For various reasons related to ongoing delves into our entertainments as primary shapers of mythologies, national, personal, political and cultural, I've been doing a deep dive into the post-Connery filmic James Bond reboots of the 1990's and 2000's. These interest me because these were the transition decades when all aspects of our lives became entirely dominated by global media's reach. 

This was the period every institution from newspapers and financial industries, to political operions and even movies themselves, began to understand everything either had already changed or was in the irrevocable process of doing so. They also realized these changes gave advantage more easily to benefit themselves at the cost of the rest of us.  Bond too, then was bound to change, as was his service.

By the way, this is the first watch of every one of the Brosnan and Craig Bonds for me, with the exception of Craig's first, Casino Royal (2006), and third, Skyfall (2012).

Despite the hideous business made by the writers between Bond and the masturbation fantasies of Moneypenny for the Brosnan Bond, these are the films in which we see the relationship between M and Bond slipping into the foreground. At the start of Brosnan Bond, Goldeneye (1995) M's unflinching hardass teaches Bond the hard lessons about personal relationships he must learn in order to serve their beloved England.

Bond says, "I don't trust anyone."
M responds, "Now you're learning."

By the time we get to the 2000’s Daniel Craig reboot, and the final Dench M, in Skyfall, (2012), it is their relationship that matters most to both of them. Nor have they anyone else. Everyone they've come up with, worked with, along with the changed world has retired, or died, including M's beloved husband. It's the formula that increasingly embitters these two Bonds that everyone Bond has ever loved, or even not even bothered to pretend to love, has died too. Our Q, provider of ever more powerful magic amulets with which the Brosnan Bonds are still supplied, has kept the persona, but has been incarnated already by a series of new, and younger Q's as one after another has succumbed to the end. 

M won't tell Brosnan Bond that he's her very best, she does tell others. M betrays Bond more than once in the Brosnan and the Craig Bonds. By the end of the Brosans, Die Another Day (2002), Bond is conflicted about how she treats him and certainly by the value of what the service supposedly is for. 

Craig’s Bond, in contrast, though he flouts her orders and often expresses disgust for what she does and he does, resigns and deserts, at bottom, perceives her behaviors as doing her job, and doing it right, i,e, through being the most hardassed loyal of loyal.  He shares her values like no one else does. Her decisions are always, she says, in the best service of  England, queen and the service's purpose.

This is the antithesis of Big Bad, Silva, a rejected agent from back in the days of her Hong Kong posting, thus Skyfall's plot driver, Silva's quest to personally kill M. One agent turned pathological due to her treatment. The other is willing to lay his own life down to save M.

 Silva tells Bond that once he'd been M's favorite. M herself says in Dench's M's typical harsh needling of Bond, "[Silva]was the best I ever had, better than you. Until he went off campus, making his own deals with our enemies." Craig doesn't protest.  He's aging, his ability to be the sure shot that provides the first skill for 007 rank, is gone -- like the empire and the post WWII world of intelligence agents in the field, which is the world of which both he and M were the premiere artists.

This is love between the truest of true professionals, which begins as mentor and mentee. M and Bond's relationship IS the loyalty to the ideal of empire, the lost UK dominance in the world and even in intelligence services.

However, M per se persists, resurrects in a new M, as presumably the message is that so will the UK as and Empire resurrect. Her ceramic desk accessory, the china John Bull Dog, that Craig's Bond derides, survived the bombing of MI6 headquarters and her office. In her will, she left it to Bond.

Early in the first half of Skyhall, when Silva asks Bond what he does for a living, Craig's Bond says, "Resurrection."

Skyfall was 2012. White nationalist digital corporate demagoguery hadn’t quite yet taken dominance with the assistance of all the media platforms in their headlong charge to kill democracy and the dominance of the “west.”

Next up, Spectre (2015).

And after that comes No Time To Die (March 31, 2020) perhaps the final Craig Bond, here in the first year of the second  decade of the 21st century. Wonder if what we were already hearing about in the Brosnan Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), in which, prophetically, the Big Bad was a media mogul (Jonathan Pryce!), playing for manipulating elections across the globe, has a part in the plot.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

History Entertains Us!

     .... Last night I read the first few pages of Robert Harris's future medieval dystopian Britain mystery novel, The Second Sleep (2019).

Harris precedes the narrative with a pull quote from Thomas Hardy's 1886 novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, which is a descriptive passage of meditation upon the excavated skeleton of someone who belonged to much earlier time.

"They had lived so long ago, their time was so unlike the present, their hopes and motives were so widely removed from ours, that between them and the living there seemed to stretch a gulf too wide even for a spirit to pass."  

1886, three years before the state I was born in became a state. So we are aware how deep into our consciousness of time, of what is past, present and future Harris is going to take us.

Harris, writing in the present, looks to the past, which looks even further past, then writes a novel of the future, which is like the past. I admit I am smitten by this.

Then, even better, but proceeding purrfectly from the Hardy quotation, his opening passages could come directly from a Hardy or George Eliot -- or even Daphne du Maurier, who like Harris here, evokes the past through describing a chronologically labeled landscape excavated by the author, matched by language, pace and rhythm. Here is the first sentence of Harris's The Second Sleep:
"Late on the afternoon of Tuesday the ninth of April in the Year of Our Risen Lord 1468, a solitary traveller was to be observed picking his way on horseback across the wild moorland of that ancient region of southwestern England known since Saxon times as Wessex...."
It's elegant, pitch perfect to Harris's subject and place within the time evoked out of the reader's present -- a reader, who, if the world is fortunate, may transmute into a reader of the future -- through one time after another, beginning with Hardy, like nested Russian tea dollsm then turning around again into the present with the reader. No longer just smitten, I'm in love.  It's been a long time since a novel's opening has done this to me.


     . . . . I recently re-watched Ridley Scott's The Gladiator, so hungry do I get for scenic historical epics.  It would be appreciated if there would be at least one of these once a year in the theaters to look forward to.  (Though more often than not, one will likely be disappointed.)

What I really appreciated even at the time of Gladiator's original release (2000) was how the cinematography showed us how much land Celtiberia had that seemed created in mind of the Goddess for raising some of the very best horses in her world.

I also simultaneously had a fair amount of trouble believing the coincidence that Crowe-Maximus arrived at his Spanish horse breeding latifundia, just after his family was massacred, starting from a point nearly 2000 miles away.  I don't have trouble believing he could have ridden that far within what seems about 3 weeks, because historically Roman soldiers and messengers could travel very long distances, even over inhospital ground -- an on little food when called to.  In this case accomplishing such a travel feat would demand the wherewithall to constantly replace Maximus's horse.  We see no evidence that Maximus is carrying a cache of cash into the battle. He presumably isn't going the direct routes, and finding horses between Germania and Spain as often has he would need to change mounts would be iffy.  I always bump into this.

Also dogs were used by a Roman army.  I haven't run across references to this use but then I'm no scholar of Roman military history beyond quite broad strokes, unlike my much more comprehensive understanding of how slavery operated within the Roman Empire. 

However, I recalled the Gladiator  dogs when re-watching the really unfairly slagged and dumped Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands (2016 -- available to stream on amazon prime), because there are some truly terrifying dogs used by some of the villains in this series. The Shieldlands are the buffer zone between the ever shrinking terrain of the "Mudborn" and "The Old Lands', what looks like the remains of what had been a Roman Empire -- with various objects, styles, patterns and visitors received from there. Which is how it worked for sure as we see from excavations in Nordic and Germanic lands.

Sample of the mise en scene of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands (2016)

BTW, for those who are fond of these not strictly historically correct productions -- anyway, Beowulf is a fiction, as, say, Roland is not -- I was better than reasonably entertained.  A mixture by Brit sensibility of the American frontier western and Dark Age Sword and Sorcery that doesn't take itself overtly seriously, it's at least as much fun, with more interesting characters and monsters than The Witcher.  Another plus is Shieldland's  mise en scene ....

Sunday, February 2, 2020

What I Saw This Weekend

     . . . . I am again a partnered person.

Vaquero returned, his Jet Blue flight took off just 20 minutes ahead of the Jamaican-Cuban-Miami earthquake. We made a date, then, for Friday night, to celebrate reunion. We both were enthusiastically looking forward to viewing two exhibits that had just concurrently opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

. . . The Arte del mar: Artistic Exchange in the Caribbean exhibit was one of those, immediately upon entering the exhibit space, the area right behind one's eyebrows enlarges, engorges with a sense of wonder, surprise, and expectation.

So many of the figures in this exhibit presented to our, NYC 2020, eyes as prominently hermaphroditic -- whether that was intentional was unknown to us, however.

The Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara exhibit was also spectacular, but we're fairly familiar with these sorts of objects and the history -- not to mention the music.  Also, for me the relationship and history of the horse within these cultures, is an element I've been looking at for decades.

Whereas, in the Caribbean Exchange, the surviving artifacts are few and, apart from Carib and Taino, peoples we've never heard of before. Some of these may well have disappeared even prior to the Colombian Exchange's diseases, enslavement and genocides.  These items presented as mysterious and strange in a way the Malian, Dogan, Niger, Fulani, etc. cultures of the Sahell and West Africa are not.  Due to the literacy of Islam, these are 'historic' cultures. Whereas the items from the Caribbean Exchange cultures are forever unknown to literate history.

     . . . . Yesterday afternoon’s errands took me around my neighborhood, east and west. Approaching to the place on Bleecker Street where I've been buying our loose tea and coffee, since the branch on my block got rent priced out, I passed one of those tourist souvenir-smoke shops. Just there, a man burst out the shop door, throwing the stand of NYC post cards across the threshold. At first I thought it was an accident, and an asshole who didn't have the social grace to even say he was sorry, to the counter person who was at the other side of the door.  Then I saw the man's  face and the rest of his body. This was someone who was violently out of control, lashing out.  He yelled, “He threatened me! he said he was going to attack me!" he screamed into the faces of the rest of we pedestrians there, our faces and body language registering censure of what he'd done.  He raced down the block, where he met up two others like him, in appearance. If they weren’t exactly homeless, they lived rough lives focused on over consumption of booze and drugs. The took protective formation and ran back to the store, while the first guy continued to shout, “He said he was going to attack me, dirty m-word.”  I didn’t believe him the first time I heard him yell the store person threatened him.  Now I certainly didn’t.  I don’t known how it turned out, for all was quiet ten minutes later. The revolving post card stand was upright in its place, where I've seen it standing, for years and years of walking this block.

Yesterday had been very pleasant. I enjoyed having so many errands to do in the overcast, damp, a little foggy weather.  It felt like April, not February 1. I was shopping again, for food and supplies for two, not just myself, i.e. I was savoring having Vaquero home again.

Then, that.  I chatted with a few others who had witnessed this event.  We began to realize this white guy who caused this ruckus, that not only I reacted so negatively toward, had been trying to get the street on his side, to attack someone, by using a racial slur.  That was depressing as hell, that he thought he could do that.  OTOH, nobody on the street responded the way he wanted.  He only had his two (white) boys at his back.  Nobody else joined in.