The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy

Unfortunately I had to put this one down, and it was only due to the fact that every other chapter is written in the mind of a character who is schizophrenic. Maybe McCarthy is so great that it will one day be seen as a masterpiece — Faulkner narrated a story from the point of view of a dead person. But I can’t follow or even muster up the tiniest bit of care for someone who is mentally deranged. It’s like trying to feel sorry for a drunk who is crying because of something terrible that happened in their life, that’s causing them to drink. I’m actually thinking now of this woman who was a friend of some friends (she was Swiss) who went to sleep with a candle burning next to her pillow, and an empty glass, cigarettes, an ash tray and a bottle of something like schnapps or rum. She explained that she would wake up in the middle of the night and in order not to have to get out of bed, would have all her needs right there: her cigarettes and her drinks. She was a severe alcoholic and one night we made the mistake of indulging her and let us tell her all about the story of her baby that died in the hospital. It went on for hours, and it never got anywhere. She just repeated the same thing over and over and over. And later we learned that she did this to any new person she met. There was no forward motion and she was really just a broken record using this excuse to not face her problems.

That’s sort of how I felt about every other chapter in this book. For the first several chapters I could tell it was a woman’s mind, but then I finally just did a quick search and learned that it was the main character’s sister, who was dead in the “real time” part of the book. So because she was crazy, and dead, I didn’t really feel the need to read this book. If it was just his (the brother’s) story, I would have read it entirely, because we learn, early on, that he is still in love with his sister and that she’s dead. I’d love to know what that character thinks about his own obsession. But I don’t need to read the rantings of a crazy person UNLESS they make some progress. But I didn’t see it coming, and it was too hard to read: not Finnegan’s Wake hard and not even Ulysses hard, but more like Mrs. Dalloway when the “impressionism” that Virginia Woolf was trying to capture became so confusing, you couldn’t tell if you had just swept from one head to another.

So that’s one I had to put down. Currently reading, “Up With the Sun,” and enjoying it. It’s an imagined biography of the real actor and antiquarian Dirk Dallman (I’ll correct that name later), who was found murdered along with his lover Stephen in about 1980 or 81. In real life, (I think that’s now written, IRL, they did catch the guys and they were hustlers who decided to prey on some wealthy fags who bought their cocaine and grass.) Gay men have always had this interesting willingness to venture across class lines: so it was perfectly fine for an extremely wealthy gay guy (or at least one who was pretending to be wealthy) to dip into the impoverished world of the hustlers. I just hope this guy is up to the task.

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Multiple movies

I seem to be in strong disagreement with most people with recent movies. First example is “Showing Up,” with Michelle Williams by Kelly Reichardt. This movie is basically about a sculptor trying to do her work. The brief professional description is that an artist must balance her creative life with the daily drama of family and friends. Well who doesn’t have to do that? The problem is that her family and friends’ dramas are simply not that interesting until it gets to her possibly mentally deranged brother. Their mother thinks he’s genius, but he might just be a borderline personality. He digs large holes in his backyard and says their “ears” for the earth. When he enters the picture, there is at least a sense of danger. It doesn’t come to pass thankfully, but it adds some tension to what was an utterly boring movie. I’ve said somewhere else in this blog, that the artists life is not very interesting and probably not even worth studying. Maybe someone like Van Gogh or Picasso. But for the most part, writers, painters, sculptors and the like (I’m not going to include actors because they are usually bombastic and drunk, so they get into funny situations), just toil away, as unappreciated as housewives. This movie has already been talked about as a possible Best Picture.

The second example is Carmen, written by three people. There was, at least, some plot in this one. A woman who is doing some dancing on a plywood platform is being approached by some thugs in cars. When they arrive she is dancing furiously. They ask, “Where is she?” and when she doesn’t reply, they kill her.

I don’t know if the “She” is Carmen, who shows up a little bit later and somehow manages to dig a grave, bury her mother and burn the house down, all by herself. She takes off to the northern border of Chihuahua to crawl under the fence and make her way to her aunt’s house. At the same time, Aidan, played by Paul Mescal, whose star seems to be on the rise, is cajoled by his sister to go work at the border fence with the border patrol as a volunteer. It sounds like the actual border patrol is giving these volunteers (most of whom just want to murder someone) permission to assist in patrolling the border at night. Paul Mescal’s friend is a trigger itchy psycho that he knew in the army in Afghanistan. When they catch some “illegals” this friend shoots and kills 2 or 3 of them all while Aidan is screaming at him to stop. When the crazy friend turns his gun on Aidan, Aidan kills him. Carmen, who seems not to be aware of anything related to illegalities or crawling under a fence, steals their patrol vehicle and Aidan hops in the back and lies down. He lies down because he knows she will eventually run out of gas (something else she seemed not to have any understanding of). Of course she does, so she abandons the truck and starts walking. (Again, they are literally 600 hundred miles from Los Angeles. This girl does not think at all.) Aidan grabs the gas can out of the back and fills the tank, catches up with her about a mile down the road, and persuades her to get in. From there, a romance develops. They arrive at this crazy club where Carmen’s aunt encourages everyone to dance the way they feel. I kept closing my eyes in one long narrative, but would open them every so often to see if she was still talking about the same thing. She was. It literally stands perfectly still while they sing or dance or do all this nonsense about “feeling.” There is no story movement until the very end when they are trying to run again, and Aidan gets shot. He doesn’t die in real time, he dies in an exuberant dance which constitutes the ending. I was just glad it was over, but then people applauded.

So who knows. Maybe I’m an idiot.

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Succession Episode 4

This will be a short entry, as from here on out, based on my belief that Kendall has been the main character for the entire series, I will only point out what matters in that regard.

It’s still very possible that someone else has an ace up their sleeve, but at the end of this episode Kendall had pushed his sister out by promising her that she would be equal. (She immediately understood this lie as soon as it was announced that Kendall and Roman would be co-chiefs.) (I’m suddenly remembering an episode of The Office where the brilliant (haha) David Wallace decided that Dunder-Mifflin should have two co-managers. Oscar, the only smart person in that place made a joke, “Yes, what country doesn’t have two presidents? How about the two Popes?” — something to that effect.)

Anyway, once Shiv was shivved by Kendall and Rom, the announcement was made by the board of directors and everyone knew before the opening bell of Wall Street on Monday, Kendall made his next shiv. This time it was to tarnish his father’s image by using soft (Trump would call it “fake”) media to spread the rumor that his father was losing it and his children had been making all the decisions. This went against everything that Ken’s brother believed, so this was a power move, ultimately, against Roman. He hasn’t knifed him well enough, and he now has an enemy in his sister, but it’s a start.

The next episode will see how well they can stand up to the Viking. And the ending credit music, by the way, was absolutely spectacular. I hope the writer of the music makes an orchestral piece of it. The opening music is good, but it’s just bing da bing da bing da bing da. The end credits was worth a listen on its own.

I actually enjoyed this episode because so much of this happened when my dad died in 2002, (21 years ago). Some guys who had been his investors had brought paperwork for my mom to sign the day after he died. A single day they waited. I saw them come in with their manila envelope and approach my mom and tell her she needed to sign some papers dealing with the business. She was in mourning, trying to “entertain” at a wake, and these papers that they had her sign were papers that turned her shares into non voting shares, which gave them the power to run the companies he owned as they saw fit. It put her into a passive role which she could nothing about. I remember wanting to get up and stop her from signing them, but I was also so confused about my position in the family and my relationship to both my mother and father, I decided against action. If I had acted at that moment and stopped her from signing the papers, we might have avoided 5 to 10 years of lawsuits. But, in my defense, my mom would have told me to go away and she would have signed them not to “cause any trouble,” just the same way she accepted the Beckett family’s offer of $400k for my dad’s 30% of Beckett Gas, a company that my dad predicted would be worth 50 million in 20 years. Guess what? It’s worth 50 million. He was very smart.

OOOfff. This became a diary entry. Oh well. Maybe it’ll get picked up by google and will appear on page 1123 of their search results.

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Beau is Afraid by Ari Aster

I’m going to keep this in draft form until I remember the proper spelling of the writer’s name and until I can actually figure out what I saw. I read a Times review which I think was pretty accurate. Horror films are usually about waking up in a relatively normal state. Something might be off, but you go about your day, then suddenly something happens and your day either immediately turns into a nightmare, or does so gradually. The monster comes out of the closet or from under the bed. Jason starts killing her friends until he finally turns his sights on Jamie Lee Curtis. This movie flips that concept over. Beau is living in a nightmare, where there is a dead body in the street which no one has bothered to collect, some naked man is going around stabbing people to death, another bum seems to be caught in an eternal fist fight with another bum, and a gay guy is samba dancing, endlessly, to an audience of no one.

He has no friends and the only person he seems to visit is a therapist (Stephen McKinley Harrison — who was so good as a Catholic teacher in Lady Bird.) But he’s also a completely unreliable protagonist and you don’t know if what you’re seeing is “real” or not. I don’t think gets in the way of the film but it leaves it open to interpretation.

One thing you must know if you’re going to watch and Ari Aster movie is that it’s very possible that every character will die.

In an early scene, because he’s been prescribed some pills that ABSOLUTELY MUST be taken with about a half a litre of water, Beau has to run across the street to get some water from the deli because his building’s water has been shut off. While in the deli, drinking the water that will prevent him from dying, almost everyone on the street enters his building through the door he propped open, and they all go up to his apartment and have a party, fuck, fight, burn things, cook and the two bums continue to choke each other.

When they are done, he returns to his apartment and gets a call with the news that his mother has died. His mother, it turns out, is key to his predicament, but he doesn’t know this. And then he begins on one of those nightmares you have where you can’t get to someplace, like an airport, because so many things keep getting in the way, and then you finally wake up, relieved to no longer be frustrated. There are 4 major settings after he leaves his house: a suburban home where a surgeon and his wife have rescued him — I can’t recall what happened that he ended up unconscious, but it’s not important. This suburban couple is going to take care of him. One thing we notice when he gets into a bath is that he has enormous testicles — like the size of grapefruits — and the doctor (Nathan Lane) mentions this.

The second major setting is in a forest where some people who call themselves faerie people (they’re just hippies) welcome him and invite him to watch a play. The play triggers some memories.

The third but not last setting is his mother’s near mansion. It’s clear that she’s an accomplished and powerful woman. He has his first sexual experience with Parker Posey (who is really one of the most talented comedians), a childhood sweetheart for whom he has never lost his desire. She makes an absolutely brilliant face when he orgasms and his grapefruit sized nuts explode into her, but then wants to finish herself. She does while she’s still on top of him and then immediately dies. (This mirrors a lie that his mother had told him all his life — that his father died the moment he orgasmed the sperm that would become Beau.)

But it turns out that she’s not dead, but that her maid had died for her — to fool her son to see what he would do. See she’s been listening to recordings of all Beau’s sessions with his therapist, and through him, has learned that her son hates her. Through some sort of accident, Patty Lupone ends up dead as well.

He gets in a boat, goes through a cave (symbolizing, I think, the vaginal canal, which, I forgot to mention, opens the movie. His birth is depicted as first a heartbeat and darkness, and then glimpses or reddish light and then finally the camera is pushed out of the uterus and we see a baby’s bottom being spanked. As he putters through this cave in his little boat, he comes to the center of a large arena or stadium that is filled with people. This is his judgment room and there is a prosecution and a defense. The defense “lawyer” if that’s what he should be called, is thrown over the edge of the stadium and killed on a rock at the bottom of it. So there is only the prosecution. The engine of the boat starts sputtering and sparking and Beau, standing in the boat, finally realizes that it’s over. The engine explodes, the boat capsizes, traps Beau underneath, and after some struggle where we see the boat rocking a little, it subsides and Beau is dead. The audience starts to leave as the credits roll, eventually leaving a completely empty stadium.

What this is all about I can’t tell. But it’s very hard to tell with Aster’s movies what exactly he’s trying to accomplish. I’m fairly certain that this movie is about how an overbearing mother’s “love” can cripple a person. But I’m not sure if there’s much more to it than that. Just as at the end of Midsommer (another disturbing and genre defying movie by Aster), Florence Pugh decides to burn her boyfriend alive as he’s dressed in the skin of a bear (by force, by a crazy Swedish cult), it doesn’t really come to mean anything, except perhaps something rather simple. In that instance, it was something like, “Don’t take your girlfriend for granted.” In this it’s, “Don’t smother your children.” I don’t know. But the genre is horror and I think it can be forgiven for not having big and possibly unnecessary themes. The title tells us the theme. Beau is afraid. He’s afraid of his mother. That’s what the movie is. But like his other two movies, it’s fascinating and watchable.

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Don’t Worry Darling — sudden realization

This is a spoiler from the start, like from now, so don’t read until you’ve seen the movie. You’ve been warned.

Every movie has its rules and the one rule that’s made abundantly clear at the end of Don’t Worry Darling, is that if a person is killed in “Victory” (the simulation), their body dies in the real world. When Florence Pugh accidentally kills her husband in the simulation there begins a high speed chase because she’s got to run to that central mound and press her hands against the windows in order to “wake up.” Because of the nature of the film and the basic premise (that women are being enslaved through ‘real world’ eye hypnosis and other horseshit), we think throughout the movie that ALL the women are enslaved and trapped in their beds like Florence Pugh and her neighbor.

But almost toward the end, the wife of the “guru” played by Chris Pine (I think his name was Frank), is stabbed and killed by his wife. This means that she knows he will die in the real world and she doesn’t care. So either she leaves every day, like all the dutiful husbands who pretend to go to work, OR, she has the ability to wake herself up, OR, there are people attending to her body as she exists in the fictional virtual world of Victory. There’s a possibility that she has committed murder, like Pugh, against the man who is feeding her body in the real world. And there’s also a possibility that Frank (if that’s his name) is the one trapped in the bed. (I don’t think this is likely because we hear when we are in the real world Harry Styles listening to him talk on the radio.) But she says, “It’s time for a woman to take over” and she also seems to know about the rules of the world.

I was glad I didn’t think about this too much — like I said, it just occurred to me. But it strikes me as an interesting take on marriage and relationships. Whether or not you know you’re in a simulation, you will still keep acting like a human being, with desires, but much more jealousy, envy, disappointment, and all those other deadly sins.

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Succession, Season 4, Episode 3

So that was a surprise. But as I said in my previous post, he was going to die either by someone’s hand or death’s, and that the conflict was between Logan and Kendall. I would go further to say that the main character is Kendall, not Logon. Logon is a “force of nature,” as they say, but he is not on a particularly journey, except to his final one.

It is still true, in my reading of it, that Kendall has the hardest journey and is the main character of the series. This is based on an archetype that still exists psychologically: that the son must kill the father and take his place. It’s in the animal kingdom all over, as males fight for dominance and older males eventually get driven from their top spot when they are weaker physically from age or just constant fighting. This is what happens with the animals closest to humans genetically, and people who study this sort of thing says it has to do with mating rights (control over women). But in humans I don’t think it’s necessarily about DNA or mating. With humans it seems to always be about power, including the power over women’s sexuality, and although there are some people who will give up power for a younger generation to take over, this is an extremely rare phenomenon. For most of human history, people with power have to be fought physically, by those who have less or none at all. Slavery, and what followed after the civil war and Lincoln’s assassination, was about the power of West European people over other skin tones. What’s happening now, all these years later, is still the follow-up to the emancipation as well as women’s suffrage. The forces of power, and power’s effect on people, is intense but also predictable.

From this point on, the show will probably go through many conflicts of people trying to take some of that power. In fact it’s been that way all along. The money and the ventures and the stocks and all that hooey is not the point. The point is the power. But now that Logan is out of the way, the scrambling that was so well depicted in The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, is going to take place and the person who finally wins that power could either be Kendall or any of his other siblings. My money’s on Kendall because he seemed like the heir apparent. But like any succession, abdication is possible, as well as assassination, and Shiv might end up as queen.

Brian Cox said in an interview that it will be hard to watch the show after the loss of its main protagonist, but I think that’s because he’s an actor and not a literary analyst, or a psychology student. Bombastic behavior, back stabbing, attention seeking and telling everyone to “fuck off” may make him interesting to watch, but it doesn’t make him the main protagonist. Kendall is the main protagonist, and now that he has vanquished his opponent with the help of the grim reaper, it’ll be interesting to see if he can keep what arguably should be his.

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Succession, Season 4 and last.

I’m curious if I will be right, that this show can only be resolved with the father dying either at Kendall’s hand or not, with Kendall in charge. At the end of the last season, Kendall had nearly completely broken down and was probably in the middle of a mental crisis. They went in to visit their father only to discover that he and his daughter’s husband had conspired, somehow — the machinations are mostly lost on me — to cut out the three kids forever.

But then this season started and all that seemed to be water under the bridge. The three kids are starting a new company called The 100 and as far as I could tell it was going to be a kind of Angie’s list or Yelp of the top 100 rated companies. But I’m not sure what it was or how they intended to make money from it. Shiv and her husband are in the middle of a divorce (they’re separated). The useless older one who was running for president and was afraid of the polls dropping him below 1% seems to think his future wife has left him.

Anyway, I’m only interested in seeing if I’m right. I’m not really interested in this family anymore. Power is power is power. It’s unrelenting. People who have it won’t give it up. People who lose it are forever trying to chase it and persuade it to return. I’ve never had power, that I know of. I’d like to think I’d never become as crazy as some of those Trump lunatics like Roger Stone or Steve Bannon or Rudy Guiliani.

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D&D. Dungeons and Dragons, by Hasbro.

Well I usually like to credit the authors but this is a board and video game adapted into real motion pictures. This seems to be happening everywhere — or the opposite. Avatar and Star Wars, for example, are now Disney rides. Disney is releasing soon, one of their most awful attractions, “The Haunted House.” I mean, maybe in 1960, people couldn’t feel the elevator lowering and “stretching” the house so it might have been impressive once, decades ago.

Anyway, this was a delightful adventure game and I got to play… oh wait a minute… I didn’t play anything. I watched. I ate some pizza. I kept looking at Chris Pine’s crotch to see if I could detect an outline of penis or balls. I couldn’t. Most of the less hairy men wear their shirts opened to just above their chest hairline, so as not to frighten sensitive women or jealous men.

But all in all, I kind of really liked it. I liked the characters. I liked their outsider status. None of them are particularly good at their respective jobs, including Chris Pine, whose job is to “come up with a plan,” and eventually comes up with 2 which he calls 4, because the first 2 have some stink on them.

But… I don’t know. I’m a little bit tired of the movies they keep giving us. It’s like getting a pair of sox for every birthday. Now that I’m 63. And 6’3″, I love sox. It just means I don’t have to go buy some. /but here’s a little secret.

My dad died at 67. and I’m 4 years from that. All men labor under the belief that they will not live as long as their fathers. My uncle died at 58. My grandfather (dad’s father) died at 62.

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A Few Mini Reviews

The Quiet Girl.

This one actually had me crying at the end. But unfortunately, almost nothing happens. It is a subtle movie — quiet, like its title. A young girl is sent to live with some foster parents because she is rebellious — I can’t even remember if they are related or not. The foster parents or Uncle and Aunt, had lost their only child a number of years earlier. But somehow, they are able to tame her rebelliousness and she is able to make them love again. It’s not in the theaters anymore, but it had it was like finding a cup of really great tea. A little boring. Not much action. But ultimately, deeply satisfying.

John Wick 4.

One thing that’s always puzzled me about Keaanu Reeves being such a kind human being and his Hawaiian name meaning “Cool Breeze” is that he also makes incredibly violent films. The Matrix scene where he and Trinity blast their way into an office tower, for example, shows thousands of spent ammo cartridges and almost complete devastation of the lobby when there were only, basically 4 or 5 guards. Granted, they were going up against a computer virus and in that make believe world, anything is possible, but in the end, they got on an elevator and pressed the floor they wanted (with absolutely no feelings.) In fact, I think that may have been what the movie was about: the lack of feelings of both the machines/computers/simulations and the people as well.

But in the John Wick series, the level of ultraviolence is off the chart. It’s, basically, the effect of video games on entertainment. In real life, if someone shoots you, you usually die. In video games, because each character is given a certain amount of “Life” or “HP” (health points), you might have to shoot them fifteen times to bring their health down to 20%.

This seems to be the m.o. of the John Wick series, until now. Supposedly each man is wearing a flexible kevlar fabric made suit, so they often pull their lapel over their heads, their most exposed points. I can’t even remember why John Wick became a movie character, except that it was probably based on a cartoon and Keanu, who seems to have a problem with speaking, preferred to shoot people in the heads rather than speak. My guesstimation, knowing that he likes to ride his motorcycle through Manhattan, is that he got into acting on a whim, figured out how to speak some lines with as little emotion as possible (My favorite is “free clean energy, for everyone,”) and because of The Matrix, kind of got caught. It’s been reported that he has only 384 words in this movie, but the entire story and camera is focused on him. My favorite moment, and probably Keanu’s best acting moment, was his last word: Helen.

The Conformist. (Bertolucci)

This was probably my favorite of the last several movies I’ve seen. I wanted to see it 40 years ago when it was showing at my local Saturday night art house but I was probably so young and stupid I would have gone drinking with friends instead. So I never saw it. But I knew there were some gay – related issues in it and, true enough, there were. But I was surprised because I don’t know my history as well as I think I do.

The story is about the rise and fall of fascism in Italy. We like our history neatly wrapped, like the day the world went to war, or Pearl Harbor was bombed, or 9/11. But Italy had already abandoned Hitler a couple of years before he was finally killed. So this movie takes place between the rise of fascism and its death, in Italy, where it was born in the first place. The main character, “Marcello” let’s say, is haunted by a homosexual encounter he had when he was 10 or 12. Somewhere thereabouts. I presumed, because of my prejudice about old movies, that this encounter was going to be traumatic. But actually, the young boy is incredibly turned on by the soldier or fascist who turns out to have women’s length hair and may also be a transsexual. It’s not clear and I think maybe this was on purpose. But whatever happens or happened to “the conformist,” it was something he enjoyed as a ten year old. This is pedophilia of course, but it’s portrayed much more innocently than when we think of groomers or others who have sex with children or are predators.

But the important part of the movie is that he becomes a conformist and in order to “pass,” must join the fascist party of Mussolini. In a harrowing scene that was later re-imagined in New Jersey in The Sopranos, one of his best friends is murdered in the woods, after seeing him and begging him for help. He doesn’t help and by the end of the movie has lost his mind. Reporting everyone for being a fascist. Pointing fingers in every direction, but not at himself.

Btw, the episode where Drea De Matteo playing Adrianna La Cerva, girlfriend to Christopher Moltisanti, is probably one of the most horrific and heartless scenes I’ve seen on TV. And it’s a direct homage to Bertolucci and The Conformist, which also deals with Italians and their Brutish mobs.

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A movie and a move

The Forger, by Maggie Peron, based on the memoir by Ciona Schaumhaus.

The Forger was also the name of a movie starring Lauren Bacall and Josh Hutcherson, two actors that I could never imagine had ever starred in a film together. It was one I missed. This one seemed really interesting to me, mainly because of one of the quotes: “celebrates the exuberant life force….” etc.

The only problem I could really see in the movie was, this time, some of the editing and, possibly, the fact that you have to know a little more about Nazi Germany and the Gestapo than what mainstream movies like Schindler’s List have given us.

I really enjoyed the movie, but I think I had to spend… possibly… 30 to 45 minutes trying to figure it out.

Apparently, during the Hitler/Nazi regime, there were quite a large group of Jews in Germany who decided to hide their religion from the Gestapo and practiced being a good German by responding Heil Hitler whenever necessary. But it’s even more complicated than that. And this movie is complicated to a level I haven’t experienced in a long time, which is why it took me so long to understand what was going on – especially what anyone wanted.

So Cioma (I think it’s probably Chris in English but I don’t know) is an exuberant and constantly happy young man. He’s blonde and probably doesn’t have the features that Nazi Germany thought were “Jewish.” But we learn at the very beginning of the movie that his parents and grandmother were “sent East,” and then shortly after, some government official comes to catalogue his mother and father’s room, and the dining room, and then seals it off with an official Nazi tape. He says that all the contents of that room belong to no one. (It’s kind of important that this happens because the theft of Jewish wealth was something that was rampant in the Nazi regime and aided by supposedly “neutral” Switzerland. Believe me: Switzerland was never neutral. They were money launderers and Germany knew it could steal the property and money of the wealthy Jews and hide it in Swiss banks. That’s a crime that is still ongoing in my opinion.

But back to the movie, it took me a long time to understand that being “sent east” was a euphemism for being sent to Auschwitz, or Poland, the eastern front of Germany’s war with Russia (and the rest of the world.) We also have to remember that Poland was invaded by both Russia and Germany. What the Russian’s (Ukrainian’s at the time) did to Polish officers and soldiers is documented in another movie called “Hate.” And it’s worth seeing. But basically, the death camps were mostly located in Poland because it was as far away as they could get. It would be like Americans sending Jews to a desert in Nevada or the hills of Montana. So anyway, I finally started to understand that this guy was Jewish, in 1942, in Berlin. And he even gets called a dirty Jew at one point. It becomes clear he’s not supposed to ride the trolley or take public transportation to his job, where he is making the tubes of rifles (sorry gun owners, I couldn’t name a single part of a gun if I tried, except maybe the trigger). Anyway, I finally come to understand that this job gives him an “exemption,” but even then I thought it meant an exemption from soldiering. I didn’t realize that these words were about the death camps. And yet, he’s relentlessly happy. Even after his parents and grandmother were carted off “east,” he doesn’t seem to give a shit. He has a friend named Det, who seems to work by doing tailoring for “market women.” A lot of this is just impossible to follow without an explanation, which is why it took me so long to realize that there were Jews living in Berlin in 1942.

The plot of the story is that he is an expert artist and can forge documents. True to Germanic culture, the photo of the person had to have grommets on two of the corners, exactly measured x number of millimeters from the the corner of the photos. The photos had to be exact. And most importantly — this is where his talent comes in — the Nazi mark of authenticity had to be exactly 3/4 on the photos and 1/4 on the paper behind it. Also they had a specific font which everyone would recognize today as the “Nazi font.”

He and his friend Det don’t actually have proper documentation of the kind that he is forging for others. What he has is basically a library card, in today’s parlance.

Anyway, I won’t spoil the rest of the movie, but what I wanted to say about it, is that if you don’t know about the world you’re writing about (in my case, the world of underground Jews living in Berlin during the later years of the war, with most of his family already sent to the death camps), the unprepared audience is going to spend most of its intellectual time trying to understand: A) Is this guy Jewish? B) Why do they act like he’s Jewish but don’t do anything about it? C) If he’s not Jewish, why do they treat him so badly? Etc. etc. Do you see what I mean? It’s called world building. The filmmaker’s made a lot of assumptions and possibly Cioma himself when he wrote his memoir. (He made it to Switzerland and ended up fathering four boys.) He understands his experience. I don’t and it took me about 45 minutes until I finally understood what the stakes were. It’s a badly written movie, but I did enjoy it.

And finally… a move. Tonight is my last night in the apartment I’ve lived in for 36 years. I was thinking that I might leave today and spend my first new night at Tom’s mom’s place, but my main goal was to move my plants. Supposedly, some junk people are coming tomorrow to haul my awful furniture away, including my bed and couch, and then the apartment will be absolutely empty except for the few bags of clothing and such that I have left. I’m hoping that I won’t cry when I leave. But 36 years is, I guess, and probably, the longest that I will live anywhere. I can’t say that I’ve really liked it. It was something my dad wanted to do for me. The apartment was always overheated. The building was mismanaged. One time I felt my chair moving and I realized we were having an earthquake and the bizarre north and south design of the building was exacerbating that movement. One time I brought home a guy that was so drunk he wouldn’t or couldn’t be made to leave and I finally dragged him into the hallway – probably one of my worst pick up experiences. People have been extraordinarily nice to me when they find out I’m leaving, and I always want to say, “why weren’t you this nice before.” But Debbie (the broker) said, “But you’re an institution. You’re part of what they see.”

And then I realized, yes, I’m like one of those solid fixtures that you kind of pass by on your way to work and are always happy to see. Mine was the clock on 5th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd or 43rd and 44th. For as long as I worked at Leavy Rosenweig & Hyman, I would look at that clock and judge my pace and situation by it. I took a really nice picture of it on a beautiful summer day. Maybe I’m not entirely human, but I’m humbled by the fact that I’m at least “there,” for people.

Tom Cook

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