Friday, May 1, 2020

THE SHADOWS OF OLYMPUS

Manhattan art dealer and sometime art thief Ashley Sutton has been blackmailed by a mysterious client into the most dangerous job of her career-breaking into the ninetieth story office of financier Harold Northrop and stealing a disc from his safe.

The job goes badly, and Ashley and her partner Logan Scott end up on the run, from both Northrop, and her angry client.

Their only way out lies in their unraveling the mystery of the disc's contents-which leads Ashley into a dark corner of her personal past, while plunging her into the middle of a conspiracy by a secretive and powerful group intent on controlling the world's future in . . .




Available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon and other retailers.

You can also check out the book at Inkitt and Wattpad.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

THE MILITARY TECHNO-THRILLER: A HISTORY

THE MILITARY TECHNO-THRILLER: A HISTORY takes a close look at this widely read but still little studied genre, tracing its origins from the Victorian-era invasion story, to its 1980s heyday as king of the bestseller list in the hands of authors like Tom Clancy, down to today, considering its interaction with other genres and other media throughout. In the process, this book also tells the larger story of how the ways in which we think about, imagine and portray war evolved during the last century to bring us to where we are now.



The Military Techno-thriller: A History is now available in print and e-book formats from Amazon and other retailers.

Get your copy today.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A CENTURY OF SPY FICTION: REFLECTIONS ON THE GENRE

A CENTURY OF SPY FICTION: REFLECTIONS ON THE GENRE brings together Nader Elhefnawy's writings on that subject. From the birth of the spy story in the marriage of detective fiction with the invasion story to the genre's post-Cold War travails, from the forgotten but hugely important adventures of the original "international man of mystery" Duckworth Drew to the reimagining of Jason Bourne, from the notorious weirdness of the Bond villains to the prose style of John le Carre, they trace the broader history while peering at many a keyhole to see just what has been going on all the while in this often mysterious genre about mystery.



Get your copy today.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Rehabilitating War

The reality was that by the turn of the twentieth century the industrialization of war had made going to war an act of self-immolation--as Ivan Bloch recognized presciently and argued meticulously, comprehensively and irrefutably in his brilliant study of the subject. The ministers and monarchs and generals of the great powers did not like his analysis, and in their stupidity, cowardice, arrogance, irresponsibility, ignored it as, when the logic of empire demanded it, they went to war in their accustomed manner.

In the fighting that followed the commanders on both sides bore out the definition of insanity (and stupidity) as repeating the same action over and over again in the expectation of a different result they mounted offensive after offensive in which they squandered the lives of a generation and drove their economies to the breaking point. Ultimately numbers told, and the exhausted Central Powers gave in, but not before Russia collapsed, Italy was plunged into chaos, and even France and Britain became shaky--while the catastrophe of the war was such, and the continuing cynicism of the leadership such, that the prospects for a lasting peace were dim, and unrealized, World War I paving the way for the still vaster horror of World War II.

This does not suit the right-wing revisionists, who have still not learned the lesson about the impracticability of war, even after industrial war gave way to mechanized war, chemical war, aerial war, and even intercontinental, thermonuclear, "push-button" war. They dislike the image of wastage of human life in pointless offensives on a static battlefield. They dislike the view that the war cost so much and decided so little and led to worse in a generation's time.

So they pretend going to war and then, after stalemate set in, sticking it out as long as they did, in the manner that they did, was the right and proper thing to do in the circumstances. They demand that the reader sympathize with the leaders whose mediocrity and conformism and cowardice led to the "practical option" that more intelligent and braver people had already realize had ceased to be practical. They shrug off the wastage, saying it was not so bad, really--or even, as Correlli Barnett has, that our image of trench warfare's horrors is really a reflection of the softness of the public school boys exposed to the "real world" for the first time. They marginalize the simple-minded brute force approach of the generals and the profligacy with human life associated with it (we are not asked to sympathize with the soldiers condemned to their deaths, here), preferring to play up the idea that the armies were truly dynamic, innovating technologically and tactically (never mind how little it altered the lines). They insist that the war's victims be called heroes, insist that any critic be ashamed to speak ill of anything for which they sacrificed (rather than were thrown away for), and contend that to the extent the war or the peace were less than satisfactory, they all did the best they could, that things would have been worse had they been otherwise, that the fault really lay elsewhere--perhaps the peoples of the West becoming too little army-minded and too much welfare-minded.

The revisionist vision is as obscene as it is idiotic, a whitewash of the war rather than an attempt to expose overlooked truth, and their hatred for anyone who would give the lie to their false narrative such that figures like Niall Ferguson devote so much ink to attacking Blackadder Goes Forth for the bit of truth about that war it conveyed to the viewer amid the laughter.

That last is unforgivable.

Reflections on Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front
6/18/19
Announcing . . . A Century of Spy Fiction: Reflections on the Genre
6/17/19
Announcing . . . The Military Techno-Thriller: A History
6/6/19
THE MILITARY TECHNO-THRILLER: A HISTORY
6/6/19
'Nineties Dreams
6/6/19
Looking Past the Hardcovers: Techno-Thrillers in Other Media
6/6/19

Reflections on Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front

I recently revisited Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. The book is not a sprawling epic in the manner of War and Peace but a compact (175 pages in my paperback edition) chronicle of the experiences of its narrator, a young enlistee in the German army, by the start of the story already in the field a good while, through the remainder of the conflict.

As might be expected given the book's reputation, to say nothing of the stuff of the more serious war literature generally, it depicts the gruesome destruction of bodies and minds, the narrowing of horizons amid it all, the sharpening of the little pleasures they steal (often literally) in the quieter moments--a fine meal, a few hours in the company of a woman. The alienation of the foot soldier trying to hold onto life and limb and sanity from talk of the "big picture," and from the civilians they are (often justly) sure cannot understand what they have been through. The baggage and the scars they bear forever after. The martinet sergeants and medical corp quacks and corrupt officers and, just off-stage, businessmen thriving financially far behind the lines. Still, familiar as it all is, Remarque's crisp treatment still expresses it all with great clarity and force.

Naturally the Nazis hated it, and not solely because it tells the truth about war rather than glorifying it, but because it gave the lie to their "stab in the back" propaganda. (As the novel proceeds one sees the German army ground down, and in the concluding chapters, finally overwhelmed by superior Allied resources and manpower.)

The Nazis' hatred of Remarque's book, in fact, started a long-running conflict between the German government and Universal over it in which Hollywood, frankly, disgraced itself, subordinating even what artistic freedom the Hays Code left to foreign profits. (Ben Urwand tells that story in some detail in his very worthwhile The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler.)

Today one might imagine the book to be no more popular than that with their heirs, of whom we now see and hear so much more than we did just a short while before, in Germany and everywhere else. Any reader of recent historiography (for instance, neocon court historian Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War) quickly sees the evidence that the right-wingers seeking to rehabilitate that war, and war more generally, have been getting the upper hand.

That seems to me all the more reason to take a look at this deserved classic if you haven't seen it, and reason for a second look if you already have.

Announcing . . . A Century of Spy Fiction: Reflections on the Genre
6/17/19
Announcing . . . The Military Techno-Thriller: A History
6/6/19
THE MILITARY TECHNO-THRILLER: A HISTORY
6/6/19
'Nineties Dreams
6/6/19
Looking Past the Hardcovers: Techno-Thrillers in Other Media
6/6/19

Monday, June 17, 2019

Announcing . . . A Century of Spy Fiction: Reflections on the Genre

A CENTURY OF SPY FICTION: REFLECTIONS ON THE GENRE brings together Nader Elhefnawy's writings on that subject. From the birth of the spy story in the marriage of detective fiction with the invasion story to the genre's post-Cold War travails, from the forgotten but hugely important adventures of the original "international man of mystery" Duckworth Drew to the reimagining of Jason Bourne, from the notorious weirdness of the Bond villains to the prose style of John le Carre, they trace the broader history while peering at many a keyhole to see just what has been going on all the while in this often mysterious genre about mystery.



Get your copy today.

Rewatching the '90s?

I recently had occasion to think about how we never left the '80s in the really important things--in our economics and politics, the right-wing backlash, the financialization and inequality and the rest going on and on and on.

To my surprise, this is even the case with television, as I am reminded when I run across a rerun of a TV show from the '90s. The Pretender, for instance.

This may sound odd. The long opening credits sequences have been discarded--for the sake of cramming in more commercials, I'm sure, no matter what anyone says. There is less inclination to standalone episodes and more toward arcs (albeit shoddily assembled ones). There is much pompous display of self-important edginess and middlebrow pretentiousness (the indie movie sensibility come to the small-screen).

But simply happening on an episode in the middle, especially if no one is holding a cell phone or making an ostentatiously current pop culture reference, none of this is necessarily apparent. What is apparent is the way people look and talk, the hair and the clothes, the ring of the dialogue--even the texture of the images--they don't scream '80s the way a show from the '80s or '70s or earlier does. It might have been made yesterday. Or so it seems to me.

But then I actually am old enough to remember when the '90s was new.

I wonder, does that factor into all this?

Nostalgia and the '90s
6/17/19
A Note on Independent Film
8/1/13

Nostalgia and the '90s

Yup, we've arrived at the moment for '90s nostalgia. A lot of us (myself included) had doubts it would happen, but clearly it did (if belatedly and compared with earlier waves of the kind, quietly).

Listed below are my posts regarding that whole issue.

The Action Film's Transitional Years: Recalling the 1990s
6/6/19
'Nineties Dreams
6/6/19
Schooled Does Star Wars
4/4/19
Getting Schooled
4/4/19
Remembering Suicide Kings
8/6/13
A Note on Independent Film
8/1/13

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Announcing . . . The Military Techno-Thriller: A History

Way back in 2009 I published a couple of pieces on the military techno-thriller--in part, because of how much critics seemed to ignore this not-so-long-ago widely read genre.

These pieces were, respectively:

"Revisiting the Victorian Techno-thriller" at Strange Horizons, which looked back at the invasion story of the pre-World War I and drew a straight line from that genre to the techno-thriller of more recent decades.

and

"The Rise and Fall of the Military Techno-thriller" over at the Internet Review of Science Fiction (IROSF), which shifted its focus to the military techno-thriller genre that so boomed in the 1980s in the hands of writers like Tom Clancy, and whose popularity has since waned somewhat.

The Strange Horizons piece is still up at that site. The piece that ran on IROSF can no longer be found at its original place of publication (the web site, alas, ceased publishing in 2010 and has since been taken offline entirely), but I have posted it over at Raritania, while a PDF version is, along with a good deal else of my recent nonfiction, available over at the Social Sciences Research Network. (If you read more than a few pieces there you need an account, but they offer them for free, the procedure is simple, and the wealth of material on every subject at that site makes it more than worth the trouble in my view.)

Shortly after publishing those first items I found I had more to say on the subject--and soon enough was working my way toward a whole book on the matter. Of course, in the last ten years I have had any number of projects--while the research burden proved heavier than I initially expected (again, because so little has been written about the matter, forcing me to do more original research myself--one small example of which is my analysis of the genre's bestseller list presence, also run on SSRN). Still, a couple of years ago I knocked out my first draft, and have since been revising and polishing it.

Finally ready for the world, The Military Techno-thriller: A History is now available in print and e-book formats from Amazon and other retailers.



Get your copy today.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The End of High Concept Comedy?

Recently running into a commercial for the Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly vehicle Holmes & Watson on On Demand I was surprised that I didn't recall hearing a word about it, and eventually got around to looking it up. I quickly ran across Jesse Hassenger's article on the matter at The Verge that made it clear that not only did the film drop into theaters last December with little fanfare, before flopping, but that it appeared symptomatic of a significant trend--the decline of the A-list, star-centered comedy (the top slots at the box office, more than ever, are monopolized by sci-fi/fantasy action and splashy animated movies), which has long been noticeable but which hit a new low in 2018.

While Hassenger is right to notice the trend, his explanation--that movie-goers are getting their comedy from action movies and animation--does not really convince me. I don't deny that there may be some truth in it, but I suspect a far bigger competitor to these films, like all films, is the small screen--to which not only are movies zipping from the theater in record time, but which is replete with original comedy of its own through the burgeoning array of channels and streaming services.

To get people out of the house and make them pay $20 a ticket, parking fees, and notoriously obscene concession stand prices for mediocre food, the big screen really has to deliver something they can get elsewhere.

There are only two things it can offer now.

One is to serve up something that plays differently on a big screen than a small.

The other is to make the film's release feel like an event--something they want to participate in right now with everybody else rather than wait two months to see it much more cheaply in the comfort of their own home.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe flourished by accomplishing both. However, neither works nearly so well for comedy. While action can seem more thrilling on a giant screen, I'm not sure it does nearly so much for slapstick, let alone one-liners. And where the creation of a sense of an event is concerned--the latest entry in an action-adventure epic seems more plausible material for such an effort than a repeat of goofy antics.

It is the case, too, that Hollywood has less incentive to try--and perhaps, less ability than it used to. Where incentive is concerned, consider the things that make movies lucrative commercially--foreign earnings, sequels, and merchandising. High-concept A-list comedy is less natural material for this than the action movies and family animation. Comedy travels less well than action, it lends itself less easily to "Part 6," and the rest.

Where ability is concerned, it should be acknowledged that comedy is simply harder to do passably than action (what is funny is a lot harder to pin down than the stuff of tentpole thrills)--and the audience more unforgiving when filmmakers make a botch of it. One can botch a big action blockbuster badly, and people will still walk away feeling reasonably satisfied if they saw that quickly cut, glossy, flashy-looking $200 million parade of CGI up on the screen. (Remember Transformers 2? Despite the criticism and the outsized budgets the series made it to Transformers 5, and Bumblebee, which might be getting its own sequels even as the endurance of the main series has become uncertain.) But screw up a comedy, and the people who are not laughing, entirely aware of the fact that they are not laughing, will be quicker to punish those who have wasted their time and money.

It might be added, too, that this is not a promising political climate where much of the traditional material of comedy--the sex comedy, the romantic comedy whose decline has already been the subject of any number of articles--is concerned. (Is the Hays Code era Ernest Lubitsch too edgy for today's puritanical Hollywood? Quite likely.) And of course, those inside the Hollywood bubble, utterly insulated from the lives and concerns of ninety-nine percent-plus of the planet, are likely neither inclined nor equipped to tackle any real social satire (and the right-wing press ready to tear them apart if they even try).*

Naturally, I do not see the trend running its course any time soon.

* Again I cite David Graeber: "Look at a list of the lead actors of a major motion picture nowadays and you are likely to find barely a single one that can't boast at least two generations of Hollywood actors, writers, producers, and directors in their family tree. The film industry has come to be dominated by an in-marrying caste."

Announcing . . . The Military Techno-Thriller: A History
6/6/19
THE MILITARY TECHNO-THRILLER: A HISTORY
6/6/19
My Posts on Bullshit Jobs
4/10/19
Some of What I've Been Up to Lately (NYRSF, SSRN, Star Wars in Context: Second Edition)
5/3/18
Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
11/30/16
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
11/12/15
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
10/10/15
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
9/24/15
Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today
7/27/15
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
7/9/15
My Posts on the '80s Action Film
8/27/13

The Action Film's Transitional Years: Recalling the 1990s

Once upon a time cops and, especially in the '80s, the commando, were the characteristic figures of the action movie, a relatively grounded, often quite gritty, mid-budget and typically R-rated affair stressing gunplay and car chases. Today it seems that the genre is nearly synonymous with super-powered superheroes at the center of megabudgeted, Computer Generated Imagery-fueled science fiction extravaganzas, more family-friendly than not, but so big and so fast that looking right at them one can scarcely tell what is happening on the screen for much of the time. I would argue that where this was concerned, the 1990s was the key transitional period.

A Generation of Action Films: From the 1960s to the 1980s
In the 1960s the first half dozen or so Bond films largely established the essentials of the genre, from their filmic structure (specifically, the packing in of more thrills, substantially through the use of multiple set pieces, if necessary at the expense of narrative logic), to the range of essential material (the variety of fight and chase scenes, from frogmen-with-knives to ninjas to pursuits on skis), to the associated cinematographic and editing techniques (the use of close shots, short takes, jump cuts and exaggerated sound effects in portraying the fight scenes), as well as developing much of the required technology (techniques for underwater and aerial photography), and probing the limits to the intensification or scaling up of the pattern. In pace and spectacle You Only Live Twice represented a maximum that later Bond films only occasionally and marginally exceeded for decades afterward, while only once was a Bond film to cost more to make before the 1990s.



Still, it must be admitted that Hollywood was slow to replicate their success. It certainly cashed in on the Bond films' success with a rush of spy-themed movies, but generally went the cheaper, easier route of parody, while showing little alertness to what might be called the "poetics of the action movie"—saving its resources for splashy musicals, while the younger, fresher talents capable of walking a new path generally seem to have been more interested in the edgier material. For all that Hollywood did produce contemporary-set films with action in them, but a good look at the crime films and disaster films of the '60s and '70s shows that they were just regular crime dramas that might have a big car chase in the middle (Bullitt, The French Connection, Dirty Harry), or variations on Grand Hotel in which things periodically blew up or crashed or burned down (Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno).

As the years progressed Hollywood continued its movement in this direction (Magnum Force and still more The Enforcer are rather more action-packed than the original Dirty Harry), but American filmmaking only really assimilated the pattern, let alone added anything to it, with Star Wars (1977). George Lucas' blend of action movie mechanics with space operatic imagery and revolutionary special effects (principally, the use of a computer-controlled camera that permitted a greater precision and replicability in effects shots, making the process cheaper, and allowing the production of more complex, denser, more elaborate shots of the type) was, where this kind of filmmaking was concerned, a revolution for Hollywood, and the world.



Once again Hollywood was not particularly quick to learn the lesson. Just as in the heyday of the Bond films Hollywood imitated the spy theme rather than the action movie mechanics, it imitated the space theme of Star Wars rather than what the movie did with it—as a viewing of those first two great follow-ups to Star Wars' success, Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, makes clear. Still, more action movies did not follow, not least by way of Lucas, who scripted and produced the Steven Spielberg-helmed Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), initiating a wave of H. Rider Haggardesque action-adventure, while encouraging the trend toward faster pacing, more gunplay and the rest—the second big-screen Star Trek film reflecting the logic in opting for a battle between Kirk and his most storied enemy, Khan (1982).

The same summer also saw John Rambo make his way to the screen in a battle with the authorities that escalated into a one-man war on the National Guard, First Blood. The finale had him cutting loose on the town that mistreated him with a machine gun, but it was really James Cameron's mix of science fiction and paramilitary action, The Terminator (1984), that established the pattern for films where the central figures, rather than shooting down opponents with a sidearm, takes them out in greater numbers with a machine gun—prevailing in the subsequent '80s action classics Commando (1985); that same summer's Rambo: First Blood, Part II (1985); Cameron's sequel to what had previously been a haunted house horror movie in space, Alien, the ingeniously titled Aliens (1986); and Predator (1987), which actually begins with Arnold Schwarzenegger participating in a conventional enough commando raid in Latin America, such that one could easily mistake it for a sequel to Commando. Heavier firepower of the kind also became increasingly characteristic of the similarly prolific cop movies, like that same summer's Lethal Weapon (1987), Robocop (1987) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987).

Of course, the tendency had already hit something of a natural limit, and even self-parody, in Commando, where at the climax the protagonist mows down line after line of oncoming attackers just by facing in their direction as the machine gun he has on his hip blazes away. So did it also go for the genre more generally, a fact harder to ignore as the decade continued.* Over-the-top as the second Rambo film, the gargantuan Rambo III (1988), at the time the most expensive production in movie history, tried to top that, and simply looked foolish, while the finale of Stallone's next action film, 1989's gadget, assault vehicle and explosion-filled Tango & Cash, reinforced the impression. It was the case, too, that the angst to which the paramilitary action genre spoke increasingly felt like yesterday's issue. (Rambo was a spectacle of post-Vietnam anguish—fifteen years after the troops came home.) The box office grosses made this harder to ignore as the genre's two most iconic paramilitary franchises each flopped, the fifth Dirty Harry film, The Dead Pool, virtually ignored by moviegoers, while Rambo III made a mere third of what the second Rambo movie had in North America.

The Action Movie is Dead. Long Live the Action Movie!
One flop, or two, has never been enough to make Hollywood shift gears all by itself, the more so as at any given moment the movies to hit theaters two years on have probably already been greenlit—and while entertainment journalists, displaying their usual lack of historical memory for the business they write about and their tendency to read in any little up or down an epoch-defining trend, made noises about the end of the action film soon enough, this was not to be so. Indeed, Hollywood continued to make '80s-style Stallone and Schwarzenegger films, and Schwarzenegger in particular scoring a number of successes (Total Recall, Terminator 2, Cliffhanger, True Lies, Eraser); while milking those franchises that still seemed viable—and relatively successful with Die Hard (which was reasonably successful during that same summer in which Rambo III flopped), and Lethal Weapon (Lethal Weapon 2 having done very well in 1989, and leading to two more successful sequels in 1992 and 1998).

However, the fact that the action movie actually became more rather than less prominent at the box office during the 1990s was due to Hollywood's willingness to try other ideas. Not by any means did they all pan out. The decade saw quite a few video game-based action films, for example, like Super Mario Bros. (1993), Double Dragon (1994) and Street Fighter: The Movie (1994). (In these years only the relatively low-budget, August dump month release Mortal Kombat (1995) was a big enough hit to warrant a sequel, and only one (1997).) There was, too, quite an effort to produce female-centered action films, with an American remake of Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita, Point of No Return (1992); and Geena Davis' Cutthroat Island (1995) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). Things turned up a bit for both endeavors with Charlie's Angels (2000) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), but only to a slight degree. Instead the real successes derived from other approaches.

Repeat the Die Hard Formula . . . Endlessly
In the course of squeezing those extant franchises, there was the repetition of their ideas. After the second Die Hard film the actual Die Hard franchise generally moved away from the pattern of the original—a situation in which "terrorists" or somesuch seize a building or other structure and take everyone in it hostage for the sake of executing some film; miss an individual who remains loose and, despite their isolation, perhaps because they have loved ones at stake, undertakes a one-man guerrilla war against the bad guys with the clock ticking, the authorities outside trying to help and often making a botch of it, and likely some final twist awaiting us which will show the villains' plan was not quite what we thought it was at the beginning. However, no one else did, the imitators numerous and often shameless, as the innumerable lists of them on the web show.

Steven Seagal's career high film, Under Siege (1992), was "Die Hard on a battleship." Speed (1994) was "Die Hard on a bus." The Rock (1996) was "Die Hard on Alacatraz." Air Force One was . . . "Die Hard on Air Force One," the same summer that The Rock star Nicholas Cage wound up in a similar situation on a plane full of convicts, Con Air (1997). We even got Die Hard out on the "final frontier" in the eighth Star Trek film, Star Trek: First Contact (1996), where the Borg took over the Enterprise, and Jean-Luc Picard, initially single-handed, had to recover the ship and save the day and the universe from their control.

And of course, alongside these big-budgeted hits there were a good many less celebrated efforts, like those other "Die Hard on a plane" films, Passenger 57 (1993) and Executive Decision (1996); the "Die Hard in a school" movies Toy Soldiers (1991) and Masterminds (1997) (where Patrick Stewart was the villain rather than the day-saving hero this time); "Die Hard in a stadium," Sudden Death (1995); the less successful sequels to Under Siege and Speed, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) (train), and Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997); and an abundance of straight-to-video stuff, like the Anna Nicole Smith vehicle Skyscraper (1996), which stuck with the skyscraper idea of the original because, why not, and anyway, no one was really watching that for the plot, were they? Meanwhile, one can see more modest influences of the '88 classic in more mobile action films like Cliffhanger (1993) and Broken Arrow (1996), or even the family comedy Home Alone (1990).

When American Movies Aren't Enough, Look Abroad
Besides imitating Die Hard, there was a measure of borrowing from abroad, some more successful than others, with France an obvious case. Hollywood's remake of Besson's Nikita was a critical and commercial disappointment, and the reception to Besson's own English-language film The Professional (1994) was cold, but the biggest action hit of 1994, True Lies, was a remake of Claude Zidi's La Totale! (1991).

Moreover, the borrowing from France was minor next to that from Hong Kong. Hardly a new idea for action filmmakers (Tango & Cash "borrowed" its opening from Jackie Chan's Police Story), this intensified drastically, with recent Hong Kong hits getting the kind of highly publicized wide releases virtually unheard of for foreign productions, starting with the Jackie Chan vehicle Rumble in the Bronx in early 1996. More significantly, Hollywood also copied the fight choreography of the films, particularly the tight, choppy martial arts style made famous by Jackie Chan, the "heroic violence" of director John Woo's films, and the "wire fu" of directors like Yuen Woo-ping, to such a degree that they would soon become standard. Hollywood also brought many of the figures themselves into its own movies, with Woo making American films like Hard Target (1992), Broken Arrow and Face/Off (1997), and Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh and Tsui Hark not long in following them. (Sammo Hung even got a prime time Big Three network show for two seasons, Martial Law (1998-2000) on CBS.)

Often the tropes, and the figures, were used to inject new life into tiring or idea-starved franchises. The Bond series, serving up yet another, and particularly nonsensical, do-over of The Spy Who Loved Me (itself a do-over of You Only Live Twice) in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), sought a measure of novelty in having Bond work with a Chinese agent this time, in an adventure set in Vietnam, with Hong Kong star Yeoh cast as said agent and getting a martial arts sequence in which to do her thing. The next year the fourth installment of the Lethal Weapon series (1998) featured Jet Li in a supporting role that was hyped far out of proportion to his actual screen time, while the sequel to the 1996 film adaptation of the old Mission: Impossible TV series (2000) had director John Woo bringing his trademark "heroic violence" into the franchise, epitomized by the climactic fight scene in which protagonist Ethan Hunt and his current adversary raced at each other on their motorcycles, then leaped off them to fight in mid-air.

More subtly, the pairing of Jackie Chan with Chris Tucker permitted Hollywood a significant success with the long-flagging buddy-cop action-comedy genre, Rush Hour (1998), and a more minor one with the even less vibrant Western, Shanghai Noon (2000). More significant as a pop cultural moment than any one of these films, however, a more than usually entertaining use of what Hong Kong martial arts films had to offer was part of the package that made the original The Matrix (1999) one of the decade's biggest pop cultural phenomena.

When You Run Out of Movies to Copy, Turn to TV
The 1990s, in general, was a decade of nostalgia for earlier periods, with Hollywood in particular seizing on a good many old TV shows as inspiration for big screen films—like The Addams Family, The Flintstones and The Brady Bunch, each of which was followed up by a sequel. Where the action genre was concerned the possibilities were more limited than with comedy because of the limitations of that medium in this genre, especially in its earlier days. Still, there were some efforts, the two great successes among which were, of course, The Fugitive (1993) and Mission: Impossible (1996). Notable, too, were the space opera Lost in Space (1998), and the James Bond-meets-Western series, Wild Wild West (1999).

By and large the "adaptations" were superficial, relying more on nostalgic evocation of brand names than anything else where the source material was concerned, and deriving much of their interest from elsewhere, even when they were being thoroughly derivative. Mission: Impossible director Brian De Palma, whose previous transformation of an old TV show into a feature film had borrowed its most famous scene from a classic film (The Untouchables, which worked in the baby carriage rolling down the steps from Sergei Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin), likewise turned to another classic movie for MI's most memorable sequence, the hanging-by-a-rope break-in scene from Topkapi (1964). (Much imitated since, everyone seems to think Mission: Impossible was the first to do it, testifying to the brevity of most cinemagoers' memories.)

Unsurprisingly, there was not much of a basis for a major franchise in these. The Fugitive, whose plot about the innocent Dr. Richard Kimble's attempt to survive and clear his name was scarcely repeatable, was nonetheless a big enough hit that the producers endeavored to do so on the basis of Tommy Lee Jones' well-received turn as Sam Gerard, U.S. Marshals (1998), and did not succeed, the series ending there, while there was insufficient enthusiasm to attempt even that with Lost in Space or Wild Wild West. However, the Mission: Impossible series has, with the aid of new borrowings, soldiered on into the present (numbers seven and eight being shot back-to-back at last report).

More Military Hardware
As the cop-and-commando films of the '80s showed, there was a tendency to incorporate more military hardware into the adventure to up the level of action, while this heyday of the military techno-thriller saw a still broader fascination with high-tech weaponry. Where bildungsroman had been a reliable basis for box office success with films like Private Benjamin (1980), Stripes (1981), and An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), mixing into such a story F-14 Tomcats in aerial showdowns with foreign enemies made Top Gun the biggest hit of the year in 1986, while that same year's Iron Eagle (where Louis Gossett Jr. again played the mentor) enjoyed a more modest success.

This did not immediately lead to a slew of military-themed action movies. However, the successful adaptation of Tom Clancy's submarine thriller The Hunt for Red October (1990) for the big screen changed that, not only making a multi-movie franchise out of the adventures of its protagonist Jack Ryan (followed up in 1992 with Patriot Games and 1994 with Clear and Present Danger), but also leading to such hits as Under Siege, Crimson Tide, Broken Arrow, Executive Orders and Air Force One. (As noted earlier, many of them were variants on the Die Hard formula, and it does seem worth noting that the confined spaces and destructive potential of warships and military aircraft made convenient settings for such plots, while the fact that such scenarios were smaller in scale may have made them more approachable for audiences.) At the same time there was more hardware on display in movies not built around this theme, with True Lies, the biggest action hit of its year, incorporating a Harrier jet fighter into the climax, while it seems worth noting that the Bond films of the period, particularly Goldeneye (1995) and Tomorrow Never Dies, made especially lavish use of combat aircraft, warships and the like in their action scenes.

Intensified Editing
Besides recycling classic movie stunts so old that to many they seemed new, adding in Hong Kong-style martial arts and gunplay, and continuing to up the military-grade firepower, Hollywood action films worked to squeeze more effect out of such spectacle as they served up, not least through a more intensive use of editing. That approach, of course, was not wholly without precedent, in cases precedent going far back into film history. Montage pioneer Sergei Eisenstein's penchant for short shot lengths is strikingly contemporary, while it is worth noting that more action-oriented film has always tended to be more tightly edited than other kinds (John Ford or Howard Hawks, for instance, tending to shorter takes than Billy Wilder). Later the advent of television and the television commercial provided an arena for ultra-tight editing, facilitated by the shortness of the product, which in the 1960s became a major influence on cinema, by way of those formative James Bond films (so much so that they may be said to have helped create the action movie), and more widely evident in moviemaking as the work of Richard Lester on films like A Hard Day's Night (1964). In the 1970s Don Simpson's famous and infamous promotion of "high concept"-style filmmaking, which turned a movie into a two hour commercial, or music video (an approach encouraged by his enlistment of makers of commercials and music videos as feature film directors, like Ridley and Tony Scott, and Adrian Lyne), which became routine across the industry, intensified this yet again.

Still, technological change made this easier and more commonplace, notably the commercial availability of digital editing technology from 1989 on, which contributed to a sharp drop in Average Shot Length. Indeed, where feature film was concerned the possibilities were rather rapidly exploited, most notoriously by Michael Bay, yet another director of commercials and music videos who made a major splash in feature film with Bad Boys (1995), The Rock (1996) and Armageddon, though others were more aggressive still, not least Paul W.S. Anderson. It was the latter who, in short order, took the trend to what appears a natural limit in Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse (2004) (with an ALS of a mere 1.7 seconds), virtually no movie pushing the envelope further in the fifteen years since.

More Science Fiction. Much, Much More Science Fiction—and Much, Much Less of Some Other Things . . .
As the late '80s already demonstrated, the desire of filmmakers and audiences alike for bigger and better action movie spectacle was exceeding the limits of the frameworks provided by the old cop-and-commando stories, even with the additions discussed above. And so there was a turn to the fantastic—to displays of more than superhuman ability and outright superheroics (Batman), to exotic creatures (Jurassic Park), to the depiction of disaster (Twister), the cast-of-thousands epic (Braveheart), and the space opera that brought all these together (Independence Day, and above all Star Wars: Episode I—the Phantom Menace).

None of these ideas was new, of course. Indeed, there was a certain amount of nostalgia evident here as well, whether for old-fashioned superheroes, B-movie monsters, Irwin Allen disaster films, historical epics or Star Wars and its imitators. Nonetheless, new technology—above all, Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)—permitted such visions to be realized with a new ease, polish and flair. It was this that made the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park what they were, this that created those casts of thousands in a movie like Braveheart—while at the end of the decade, in The Phantom Menace, it permitted George Lucas to conjure all-CGI worlds, such as was hardly dreamed of back when he made the original Star Wars. Detractors of that film and the other prequels were harshly critical of the approach, but there is no denying that it was something new, that at least some found pleasure in the results, and that it did change the way movies were made.

Going along with the shift toward science fiction, and at that, science fiction films of these particular kinds, there were other, subtler shifts. One, reflecting the fact that science fiction's attraction was its affording room for bigger and more exotic action, was that rise in movie budgets. As late as the mid-1980s a summer blockbuster could be made for between $10 and $20 million, as was the case with Commando, or the science fiction-tinged-but-still-thoroughly-paramilitary Aliens and Robocop. By the late 1990s budgets on the order of $100 million (and often much more) were standard.

Another was the way the movies served up their thrills. Where paramilitary adventures emphasized bloody mayhem, these larger-budgeted, more briskly edited films were broadly staged effects extravaganzas, less apt to stress gore—or grit of any kind. Along with the generally declining tendency of popular film to "gratuitous" nudity (in contrast with the bits Commando or Die Hard served up), this meant less reason for an R rating, which in any case became a riskier bet when such large budgets were at stake. The result was that where any list of '80s action movies mostly consisted of movies advertised with the caution that "People under 17 years may only be admitted if accompanied by a parent or guardian," the R-rated action movies generally slipped from their genre's top ranks.

To be sure, there was still a very great deal of the '80s action film in those machine gun-packing Die Hard retreads and last Schwarzenegger films and the rest. Yet, it seems worth noting that the science fiction films outperformed them with increasing consistency and by widening margins, even without a Lucas or a Spielberg at the helm. In 1992 Batman Returns was the highest-grossing film of the year, in 1993 Jurassic Park, in 1995 the next Batman sequel, Batman Forever the biggest action success. The trend became still more pronounced in 1996 with The Rock and Eraser doing well, but nowhere near so well as Twister and Independence Day. The following year Air Force One was a hit, but well behind Men in Black and the Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World. In 1998 Lethal Weapon 4 was a moneymaker, but one well short of Godzilla, Deep Impact and Armageddon, while in 1999 The Phantom Menace, The Matrix and The Mummy were the year's action hits, all safely placing among the top ten earners of the year. By contrast, the highest-ranked, non-science fiction action film of the year was the latest entry in the perennial Bond series at #13, while Mel Gibson's Payback was down in the #26 position, and Schwarzenegger's End of Days (in spite of its supernatural and end-of-the-millennium theme) was all the way down at #33.

Unsurprisingly, the Die Hard retreads puttered to a halt sometime around 1997, and so did the techno-military action (Air Force One appears a last hurrah for both those genres as summer box office staples), while Stallone and then Schwarzenegger became steadily more marginal performers—all of this coming to look like rather B-movie stuff. Hong Kong flavoring remained very much part of any old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat that still took place, but was an element in the mix rather than the star of the show.

Meanwhile the colossally-budgeted newer-style science fiction epics were the titans fighting for the box office's commanding heights. In all that, The Matrix and its sequels seem to merit special attention. An R-rated, bullet-riddled mix of sci-fi and machine gun-packing paramilitary action that starts off in--where else?--L.A., it looked backward in that respect, while in its accent on superpowers it looked forward, and in being so Janus-faced, appears to have been very much of its moment.

* The parody of this kind of action film in Jim Abrahams' Hot Shots! Part Deux did not really have to do much more than imitate what Commando already did.

Announcing . . . The Military Techno-Thriller: A History
6/6/19
THE MILITARY TECHNO-THRILLER: A HISTORY
6/6/19
Some of What I've Been Up to Lately (NYRSF, SSRN, Star Wars in Context: Second Edition)
5/3/18
Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
11/30/16
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
11/12/15
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
10/10/15
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
9/24/15
Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today
7/27/15
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
7/9/15
My Posts on the '80s Action Film
8/27/13

'Nineties Dreams

Originally posted at NADER ELHEFNAWY on June 6, 2019

Looking back one does not think of the 'nineties as a particularly utopian, optimistic, moment. The declaration that history was at an end--crowed on the right, whose response dominated the discussion, the more so as so many on the left were badly shaken, and the few who dared question this reading of events were so thoroughly marginalized.

Still, the period had expectations of something better ahead. The mainstream, at least, assumed a breathing spell from international conflict--not an end to conflict, but at least a lot less danger of great power war, and perhaps, more effective international management of such conflict as broke out, with the United Nations becoming a vehicle for a revived effort at collective security through which East and West together could conduct such humanitarian intervention as was needed. (Such thinking is even evident when one looks back at the pop culture of the time. Remember the plot of the first Street Fighter movie, where Guile commanded a peacekeeping force? Remember the UN special forces team in Clive Cussler's Sahara? Probably not. But I do.)

Such arrangements were not regarded as precluding a "peace dividend," which it was thought might help the country get its house in order. Even if much of the rhetoric could be read as nationalist rather than social democratic, preoccupied with competitiveness rather than equity, even conservatives thought neoliberalism had gone too far, and something had to be done (as one recalls reading, for instance, Mr. Southern Strategy himself, Kevin Phillips). The financialization and deindustrialization of the economy; the country's dilapidated physical infrastructure and the flaws of the educational system; the high-priced and underperforming health care system--there was expectation that all this would be redressed.

There was, too, some thought for the amelioration of the pressure on the natural environment. One heard much of deforestation, and pesticides, and the hole in the ozone layer, while the danger of climate change was already widely known, well understood. These were, after all, the years when, in what was then an exceptional investment for a basic cable channel, TBS produced Captain Planet, and the revival of G.I Joe sent Flint off to lead the Eco-Warriors (because a Joe has "got to care about the environment"), and on the big screen Steven Seagal battled eco-criminals in movies like On Deadly Ground. These were the years of the Rio Declaration, and of even Texas oil man and Middle East oil war-wager George H.W. Bush lamely claiming that if reelected he would be "the environmental President."

Of course, the decade, and the generation since, proved a colossal disappointment. War with Iraq became permanent, with grave consequences for all concerned ("We think the price is worth it"), while in just a few years Cold War-style crises were becoming routine again (the Norwegian rocket incident, the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, the confrontation at the Pristina airport where, legend has it, James Blunt "saved the world"). Even before that the vision of collective security and humanitarian intervention via the UN broke down as Russia opposed NATO action in the Balkans (a far from trivial factor in reviving tension between Washington and Moscow), and a genocide in Rwanda unopposed by the world community revealed the gap between rhetoric and reality.

Peace dividend? By and large little changed from the Cold War. The force was cut by a couple of battle carriers, a few divisions, some wings; a few acquisitions programs were cut but replaced with others that, to the surprise of no one, proved equally expensive (the Seawolf subs replaced by the not-so-budget Viriginia class); and American forces remained massively present in Europe, East Asia, and more than ever before, the Middle East (with the Navy newly forming a Fifth Fleet, and headquartering it in Bahrain).

Where the American economy was concerned, the 'nineties did not mark the end of neoliberalism, but its locking in by a Clinton administration committed, above all, to balanced budgets achieved at the slightest possible trouble to the well-off and considerable trouble to those least well-off (up went fuel tax and payroll tax, while welfare was nearly "reformed" out of existence, even as corporate welfare moved ample, not least the giveaway of the airwaves to Big Media); to "Reinventing Government" along business lines; to free trade (NAFTA, GATT) and deregulation (regarding the ownership of telecommunications, banks, brokerages, while Reinventing Government meant regulatory enforcement generally became fairly "hands-off") and privatization (indeed, much more ambitious privatization, for instance, in regard to the military-owned utilities infrastructure and the Federally-owned portion of the electric grid and maybe even Social Security) than it actually managed to realize.*

Reversing financialization and deindustrialization? Forget it. Financialization, certainly, went into overdrive. The infrastructure? Well, that bill that Bill promised during the campaign as stimulus fell by the wayside, as did any really active role for government in industrial or uban development, the President preferring Third World-ish "enterprise zones" for bringing investment to poor areas. Education? The administration certainly proclaimed ambitious goals--and then mostly backed the private sector again, by way of support for charter schools. Health care reform? Sorry, Bill said to the supporters who had expected it, "I used up all my political capital on those free trade agreements you guys didn't want," treatment of the issue limited to Medicaid cuts and a feeble, market-centered attempt to hold down costs through Health Management Organizations.

The treatment of the environment? Entirely consistent with all that . . .

Of course, there was less backlash than there might have been, for various reasons. Where international relations was concerned, it mattered that Americans tuned out the rest of the world amid end-of-the-Cold War triumphalism, and that criticism of the country's military posture had become far less allowable since the '70s (a story David Sirota, among others, has told memorably), and that with the "culture wars" and upper-class identity politics swallowing up defense policy along with everything else, the debates over gays and women in the military were treated far more lengthily and seriously than the issue of what a military was for in the first place. (It mattered, too, that collective security, humanitarian intervention and the rest never had much of a popular base of support.)

Where the country's economic life was concerned, the initial confusion and surprise entailed a certain disenchantment, but this was muted by the fact that those who desired alternative policies had nowhere else to go (this was the behavior of the Democrat, after all!), and by the fact that, in the latter half of the decade, a Silicon Valley-cum-Wall Street bubble meant the kind of growth the country had not seen in a generation as people got new toys to play with ("What are these Internets I keep hearing so much about?"), convincing them there was fire as well as smoke here, while neoliberal hucksters like Tom Friedman talked up the moment for all it was worth. That Dow Jones average would go up and up for ever, they said, and through your pension fund, or even if you just quit your day job to become a day trader, you too would get a piece of the action, with the hugeness of the rapidly, eternally growing pie meaning that even a very little slice could have you retiring at forty. And all this would somehow take care of everything else, even the environment, as growing wealth and ever-more efficient technology effortlessly solved these problems that seemed to loom so large . . .

The illusions died, of course, war and even great power war resurging (Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia, Libya, Syria, Ukraine), neoliberalism rolling on and on from catastrophe to catastrophe (tech crash, global fuel and food crisis, the Great Recession and the decade of austerity which followed) as the talking about those same old economic and associated social problems (deindustrialization and infrastructure and health care) just went on and on and on without action, and the environmental calamity worsening well beyond the fears of most at the time (as climate change-driven apocalypse increasingly appeared in even the most mainstream discussion a threat not only within the life of the living, but the present generation). In the process the 'nineties has actually come to seem even to someone who thought they were fairly awful as, in at least some respects, less bleak than the vista before us now.

Announcing . . . The Military Techno-Thriller: A History
6/6/19
THE MILITARY TECHNO-THRILLER: A HISTORY
6/6/19
My Posts on Neoliberal Environmentalism
4/12/19
Neoliberalism in the United States
4/3/19
The Clinton Legacy: Domestic Policy
12/19/18
Bill Clinton's Neoliberal Record: A Cheat Sheet
12/19/18
Review: Listen, Liberal, by Thomas Frank
7/13/18
Revisiting The Politics of Rich and Poor
12/3/12
Review: The Politics of Rich and Poor, by Kevin Phillips
12/1/12
Review: Pity the Billionaire, by Thomas Frank
3/3/12

Looking Past the Hardcovers: Techno-Thrillers in Other Media

Writing about the military techno-thriller--



--I generally focused on print works.

This was for several reasons--because this is where the over century old tradition has been longest and strongest; because my training and experience was overwhelmingly in analyzing literary text; because I had spent a lot of time reading techno-thriller novels back in the 1990s and wanted to write about that, the more so as very little has been written of them.

Still, recently reading David Sirota's cultural history of the '80s Back to Our Future, the strongest part of which was its discussion of the marketing of pop militarism in the '80s in response to the "Vietnam Syndrome," I was struck by how little the print techno-thriller came up. Tom Clancy was, for two years running, the author of the year's top-selling novel (1988 and 1989), and the decade's top-selling novelist, on the strength of The Cardinal of the Kremlin and Clear and Present Danger (and The Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising and Patriot Games too), but save for an explanatory note for a single, brief, rather offhand, reference to Jack Ryan, the name simply does not come up. (Still less is there any reference to, for instance, Stephen Coonts or Larry Bond or the rest.)

Instead the discussion focuses on a number of films and TV shows--in particular, Red Dawn and Top Gun and G.I. Joe--and video games. This does, to some extent, reflect the fact that where his recounting of the relevant political history relies on solid scholarship to produce a robustly comprehensive picture of that side of the period, there is an element of personal reminiscence in his discussion of the pop culture. And Sirota was, as Goldbergs viewers remember, a young person at the time, much more likely to rewatch Red Dawn on VHS or play Contra on Nintendo than plow through one of Clancy's doorstops. However, that is exactly the point. A lot more people, of all ages, watched movies and TV, and played video games, than read books, even the bestselling books of the day, and this was all the more relevant with his focus in that portion of his study on the molding of the outlook of the young.

This does not seem to me to make the print techno-thriller less important or interesting. But, content for the time being with what I have written about that, it did suggest to me where my research might go from here, in the direction of all those works with which I was not unfamiliar (his generation is more or less my generation, and I sure did play Contra and the rest well before I picked up a book by Clancy), but to which I had been less attentive academically.

In fact, I have found myself revisiting the body of writing relevant to this side of film, television, and especially gaming history (because a "big picture" seems most elusive here). So far as I can tell it is much like those bodies of work on anything else to do with pop culture.

On the one hand there is journalism, more interested (often too much so) in retelling the personal stories of "industry players" in that manner so thrilling to devotees of the cult-of-the-tech-entrepreneur than offering comprehensive understandings of the subject matter, or much cultural or political insight; often downright sloppily researched and written; and frequently passing off material suitable for a decent article as a doorstop of a book (the easier for them to do because they have set their sights on telling a story, and telling it sloppily).

On the other hand there is scholarship, tending in the other direction, toward the overly narrow rather than the overly broad, normally in line with the fashionable academic obsessions (with regard to subject matter and methodology) I find . . . well, less than illuminating, especially when undertaking a project like this.

Still, that suggests to me that there is more to be said about the matter--and I hope to say something of it when I get around to revisiting the subject.

Announcing . . . The Military Techno-Thriller: A History
6/6/19
THE MILITARY TECHNO-THRILLER: A HISTORY
6/6/19
The '80s Never Ended
4/14/19
Why Was Hollywood So Slow to Capitalize on the Action Film?
4/14/19
Nostalgia and the '80s
4/7/19
Review: Armada, by Ernest Cline
4/7/19
An Anorak's Thoughts On Ready Player One (Film Adaptation)
4/7/19
Reading Ready Player One: A Few Thoughts
4/7/19
The Twentieth Anniversary of The Phantom Menace: A Brief Note
4/4/19
Schooled Does Star Wars
4/4/19
Getting Schooled
4/4/19
Watching The Goldbergs
4/4/19
Some of What I've Been Up to Lately (NYRSF, SSRN, Star Wars in Context: Second Edition)
5/3/18
Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
11/30/16
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
11/12/15
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
10/10/15
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
9/24/15
Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today
7/27/15
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
7/9/15
My Posts on the '80s Action Film
8/27/13

On Shintaro Ishihara, Again

I must admit that I hesitated before writing about Shintaro Ishihara again.

Given the state of politics today, everywhere, humorous, ironic, and above all, critical, reference to politicians who are not merely corrupt or reactionary, but vulgar and stupid to a degree that makes the pieties with which they are approached risible, is running at the rate of a dime a dozen. It can seem particularly cheap to make fun of foreign "leaders" when no country can feel pride in those it has at home.

Still, having run across the film Crazed Fruit on cable, which is based on a Shintaro Ishihara story and script, and in which Ishihara makes an appalling appearance in the movie as an actor, as well as the scarcity of writing on his work in English, it seemed well to go ahead and just post my thoughts on the movie.

My Posts on Shintaro Ishihara
6/6/19

Crazed Fruit: Some Thoughts

The screen adaptation of Shintaro Ishihara's second novel, Crazed Fruit, ran on TCM some time ago.

I understand the movie has been recognized with a place in the Criterion Collection.

I have not read the book. But if the film is at all representative of it, it seems that Ishihara, who has screenwriting credit, simply reshuffled the elements of his first book, Season of the Sun--snotty rich college kids who spend their time playing on the beach and with boats, going to nightclubs, trying to get laid and getting into fights; some "tough" talk about generation gaps and the worthlessness of ideas next to action that comes off as the pseudo-macho, pseudo-intellectual drivel of posers; a conflict between brothers over a girl with more than a little history, and a proneness to manipulate and use men, with the younger brother the more susceptible and the older the more tough-minded; and just so we know the author's serious, the culmination of all that in sudden, violent death. We also see plenty of certain unattractive elements more pronounced in his other writing, and out of which he made a political career--like racism and xenophobia with which a certain amount of sexual baggage is nakedly mixed in. (Yes, there is a "The foreigners are here to take away our women!" element in this particular mix.)

The result is a piece of sh--excuse me, melodrama inadequate to support the movie's 86 minute running time.

An interesting note: in addition to furnishing the source material and the screenplay, Ishihara also appears in the movie. And not just appears. With the camera focused on his face he loudly declares "I'M ISHIHARA!"--just in case we didn't know. And this alter ego of his also named Ishihara, who happens to be part of a pack of the aforementioned snotty rich college kids (in this case, also members of the Tokyo U wrestling team) participates in beating up the film's star, Shintaro Ishihara's real-life younger brother, the "James Dean of Japan," Yujiro Ishihara.

So basically Ishihara, going far beyond a subtle Alfred Hitchcock-like cameo, announces on camera that he is indeed Ishihara, then physically attacks his younger but more celebrated sibling (because we all know the comparative standings of writers and movie stars, don't we?) on camera.

Make of that what you will.

In light of, well, everything the man has done since.

Interestingly, it seems Francois Truffaut was impressed, so much so that his seeing this film led to a collaboration between the French New Waver and the ultra-rightist who would call French a "failed language" (1962's Love at Twenty).

Make of that what you will, too.

I know I do.

My Posts on Shintaro Ishihara
6/6/19

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon