Bit off more than I can chew tonight, alas – I started entries on Spiderman, the Syrian Band, the MSNBC Cheney piece about the “evil genius,” the deathless tale of DirecTV service calls Nine and Ten, and “A Clockwork Orange,” the movie. As of 12:07 AM each was unfinished. Crap! Well, you get half a loaf, then. A moldy one at that. Begin:

Saw Spider-Man 2 on Friday night. Greatest ever, genre-defining, et cetera. The sound was awful. Bad print: during the fight scenes, the speakers would drop out at certain db levels, as though they were protecting themselves from blowing out. I was not happy, and afterwards said I was going to get my money back. “Are you kidding?” said my wife. “Are you kidding?” said Mrs. Giant Swede.

Said the Giant Swede: “I’m going to get a refund too. That was horrible.”

The wives rolled their eyes: guys! Who noticed?

The manager was standing at the door handing out refunds to everyone, apologizing, apologizing. Damn: all that righteous anger, and nothing to do but say “well, thank you.” Customer satisfaction. I hate when that happens.

As for the movie, I’ve nothing to add to all the stellar reviews. Except maybe this: all my years as a comic-reading kid, I could not have imagined this. When I was 12, a movie like this was impossible. Couldn’t be done. We didn’t even think in these terms. A movie back then with Doc Ock - well, we’d be looking for the filaments that controlled his tentacles. Now we have tentacles that not only have no wires, but have personalities sufficient to earn an Oscar nod for Best Supporting. It’s all so good you don’t care that they’ve redefined the basics of the story, making Aunt May stout and strong instead of the tremulous cadaver Ditko originally conceived. (Still get a thrill seeing his name in the credits.) It’s okay that Mary Jane isn’t a swingin’ redhead, or that the Most Holy Order of Betty, Gwen and then Mary Jane has been completely ignored. Completely!

Yes, it’s different. Who cares. The movie makes up for these alterations in small subtle ways that float right over the heads of the newbies. The one-armed Professor Connor, for example: that’s the Lizard. J. Jonah’s astronaut son? You don’t want to know the tsuris he comes to. This movie set up three sequels. And I’ll be there for each.

Oh, and for those who insist that Elfman’s score is still something special: hum the theme. Go ahead. Just try.

Syrian band update: it now appears that they were a Syrian band. (It's an Insty link, which should send you to skeptics and supporters.) I am duly chastened for encouraging you to read this story and draw your own conclusions. In the future we must hew to a new rule: if you are on an airplane and you see a group of Arabic men with foreign passports work in concert, including standing up en masse and taking to the lavs during landing, you are obliged to give the give them the benefit of the doubt. Do not report your concerns to the flight attendants.

Funny: Friday night I was prowling through various blogs’ comment sections re: the Innocuous Syrian Band, and found myself described as “a hair’s breadth away from full-blown paranoid schitzophrenia.” Let me repeat what I wrote:

I tell you, something like this happens on a big scale – lots of planes dropping out of the sky, half the country is going to ask for detention camps. All because we didn't dare delay or inconvenience self-professed bands of Syrian "musicians" because it might suggest we were (gasp) dispositionally suspicious of a dozen Syrians clutching violin cases. Is profiling a good idea? Read the piece, put yourself on that plane before you answer the question.

So it’s a sign of frantic paranoia to ask if we should pull aside Syrians before they get on the plane. It’s full-blown nutso nonsense to request that people should read the piece and decide for themselves.

Repeat to yourself: there is no threat. Freedom is Slavery! Ignorance is Wisdom! Vigilance is, uh, racism!

To some people, the very idea that a woman writes her account of being worried on a plane is tantamount to the government requiring the TSA to put a knee on the neck of anyone whose skintone trends towards the swarthy. Noted. But I’ll tell you this: I’d rather we err on the side of concern and inconvenience a few than wave on board four twitchy Saudis and suffer the loss of the Sears Tower. Because I’m one of those nuts who thinks there’s a war on. You know: a paranoid. Full blown. I see visions, and in these horrible dreams I see two towers falling. Some days I think that really happened. Time to double up on the thorazine.

I watched “A Clockwork Orange” for the first time in many years, many years, and had a different reaction. When I first saw it I was a young man already besotted by Burgess. I got the point – Alex was bad, rotten to the core, but we had to root for him because he was cool. This was not the point of the book. We had to root for Alex because he represented an essential element of humanity that society was attempting to remove: moral choice. Burgess did make him likeable – the dialect gave him an elevated tone that went against his acts, and Alex cozened the reader, drew him close with lingo that was conspiratorial, self-deprecating, ironic and mocking.
Once you understood what he was saying, that is. “Clockwork” is almost impenetrable until you get the hang of Nadsat, and unless you know Russian you’re constantly consulting the glossary. The language insulates you from the acts, not the actor. His violence doesn’t seem so bad when you’re viewing it through the thick murky glass of a baffling dialect. If you don’t know German, Mein Kampf doesn’t look particularly evil.

The language of the book is also in the movie, but there’s much less of it; for every word there are a thousand pictures, flying past at 32 frames per second. The language is not an essential part of the story, but an affectation, as much as the wardrobe or the sets. We end up not with Alex, but the preternaturally charismatic Malcolm McDowell as Alex. He’s cool. We enjoy his insouciance and defiance; he has all the best characteristics in a movie where few have any redeeming value. He is clever, a leader, amusing, and even rather cultured. The movie puts us on his side for his reasons and sets it all to the classical music Alex loves.

Kubrick’s version that seemed exhilarating when I was 20, and seems repulsive now. Alex was right to scream when they ruined Beethoven for him. It reminded me that I never hear La Gazza Ladra without remembering the violent scenes in which Kubrick used it.

Annnd of course there’s the matter of the deleted last chapter. Kubrick worked from the American version of the book. The original had another chapter. Kubrick knew this, but went with the American version, leaving us with Alex once more allowed to twin the Ode to Joy with visions you’d expect from a sociopathic 16 year old. He wins! The end.

But there’s more.


Amazon Honor SystemClick Here to PayLearn More
c. 1995-2004 j. lileks