Friday, November 07, 2008

An unlikely candidate wins; a famous hack passes

In the light of recent events, had this to say:

The morning after November 4 the kids were asking "did you vote?" To which I said "no," and explained about my status. I added: "the White House though, isn't as white as it used to be, is it?"

After which I launched into a short rant on the significance of the recent US election, saying "I'm not a citizen, and in one way that's a disadvantage--I'm not as involved and don't have as much at stake in this as you do (in a way that's not completely true, though; as a tax-paying US resident, as a citizen of a world dominated by the United States, I do have considerable stakes. Have huge emotional stakes, anyway, citizen or no citizen). On the other hand, think of me as a man from Mars who has come to Earth to have a looksee.

"I've been accused by other kids of being anti-American (some portions of my lecture on Philippine history gave rise to this); I don't agree--America as a huge and powerful country will have its share of faults and virtues, mistakes and achievements. I happen to point them all out when I'm talking. I don't believe in sugarcoating.

"In this case, I think Obama's win is a showcase of one of this country's most admirable virtues, the tremendous possibilities presented to each and every one no matter what class, creed, or skin color. This is one moment in your history when my admiration for this country is ascendant. You should be proud--I am proud, of you, of what your people have done."

I ended the little speech with a: "Doesn't matter what your political affiliations are, Obama's victory means this: if a black man from a broken family can make it to the White House, then what can you, any of you, even me, what are we capable of doing? How high can we rise, now that we've been shown what's possible? Think about it."

On an admittedly more negative note, Michael Crichton has died at the age of 66.

He's done some good work. I think the best book he's ever written was The Andromeda Strain, where the star was a deadly microbe; I even liked the crisp 1971 adaptation done by Robert Wise (the recent miniseries, though, is a lengthy bore). I liked Westworld (1973), easily the best job of directing he's ever done (it helped that he had such a strong premise--the theme park as a reality show--and Yul Brynner as a terrifyingly implacable robot gunslinger). I liked The Lost World (1997), where Spielberg turned Crichton's dully sociopathic dinosaurs into hilariously sociopathic slapstick artists, able to provoke laughter as readily as shrieks. I even liked Kaufman's version of one of Crichton's novels, Rising Sun (1993).

He knew how to extrapolate a gripping premise from the latest in techonological and sociological trends, he knew how to frame said premise in a provocative way, and he knew how to market the hell out of it. What he didn't know how to do is write decent prose, and populate his books with sufficiently engaging, convincingly human characters (it says something of a writer when his dinosaurs are more expressive than his ostensibly human heroes).

I remember his Rising Sun, which film critic David Ehrenstein accuses of racism. I do think the novel is racist, but that filmmaker Philip Kaufman manages to subvert the book's themes, mainly by pushing them to one side and concentrating on making a great-looking film, sensual and playful with the conventions of noir and the sex thriller.

Coming away from Kaufman's picture, I pretty much summed up the film's theme as this: that the Japanese are gradually rendering the American businessman irrelevant, and that the true conflict will be fought between rival Japanese companies, not American ones (of course this was in the '90s; Japan and the world's economy were in better shape then).

I'd seen--and enjoyed--Kaufman's film first. Then I picked a paperback off of a Wal Mart shelf (funny how Crichton's novels seem to belong there) and towards the book's end read exactly that premise, blurted out loud by one of the man characters. Apparently Kaufman was able to suggest the film's themes without using a single word of Crichton's flatfooted dialogue.

In Disclosure he just about stated the same thing--this time women and not the Japanese would meet and battle as equals, and men would find themselves irrelevant.

Crichton's philosophy might more or less be found in one of his books--I'm thinking Jurassic Park (or was it The Lost World?), where one of the scientists (can't remember his name, only that Jeff Goldblum played him) declares that we shouldn't whine about saving the Earth; the Earth will be fine; it's our own survival we should be concerned about. He may have a point, but beneath that statement is the implication that if we do die, that's because we're stupid, and we deserve to die. There's a strong evolutionary (Libertarian?) strain running through his books (the question is always which is the strongest female or strongest Japanese or strongest dinosaur, ) and while I'm a strong believer that Darwin's theory applies to the natural world, I don't think it should necessarily apply as freely and thoroughly to our modern society. Choosing to follow or not follow trends in nature, after all, is one thing that distinguishes us from animals--one thing that marks us as fully human.


Ted said...

On Michael Crichton: I mostly agree. He is a hack, and often not a very inspired hack, but he is a "dedicated" hack who plays it straight. He doesn't self-parody his hackiness. There's, thus, an integrity to his hackdom. His works are good fodder for film. Unfortunately, he was so popular and so successful that (like, say, Neil Simon, who also has silos of great fodder) he had an overpowering and suffocating influence on the actual films.

Check this out for something different from Crichton:

i Dealing: Or the Berkeley-To-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues
is a little piece (a very authentic and unreproducible piece, though) of the late sixties-early seventies zeitgeist. I haven't seen it since it came out in theaters over thirty-five years ago, and I don't remember thinking that much of it, then, but I do remember that I was struck by the attitude. We sometimes forget how quickly things can seem to change. One moment it's Doris Day, the next it's Elliot Gould and
i Getty Straight,
which also feature Robert F. Lyons, whose greaters asset and biggest misfortune is that he resembles Jack Nicholson.

As for Obama's election, I'd like to think I voted for him because he was the best candidate who had a chance to win, but I can't deny that race played a part in creating my view. I, unregenerate Viet Nam age boomer, think that a little bloodletting wrt race may be what the doctor ordered. He has a chance, as to race, to be "Nixon in China." Maybe not, but I can hope. Who knows, someday maybe a Black Man (or a partial Black Man) will run and lose, and no one will think it was because of racism.

Ted Fontenot

Noel Vera said...

Someone should just take his movies and do to them what he'd want to do to the rest of humanity.

Serious. King was furious about Kubrick's adaptation of the Shining but it holds up very well now. I'd say the most successful Crichton adaptation is Rising Sun, which Kaufman made his own.

As for Obama--we'll see. Seems to be moving vigorously this past week.