Monthly Archives: October 2019

Apocalypse Now Redux (1979)

When Apocalypse Now was released, it was heralded as a scathing indictment of the amorality of the Vietnam War. The war that divided America and defined an entire generation of alleged revolutionaries had finally been seen through the unflinching gaze of one of cinema’s greatest artists. In the wake of the release of Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut, the cinematic auteur himself has come clean and said that he doesn’t see it as an antiwar film. This is precisely the feeling with which I was left upon reviewing the film. It reveals the hot war in Vietnam as the merely the overt flipside to the domestic psychological degradation and debasement of the American soul being perpetrated through the media and the culture. If anything, Apocalypse Now reveals the savagery, futility and moral vacuum of modern warfare as its own form of psychological propaganda. The decadence and hedonism that had been unleashed in the counterculture were the exact same tools that were used to keep the ground forces numb to their own pain, loneliness and guilt. Sex, drugs and rock and roll weren’t the signifiers of rebellion that gatekeepers of culture would lead us to believe. The narcotic nihilism of The Doors’ “The End” playing against the symphony of destruction in the film’s opening isn’t really a lament. It’s a psychedelic sedative that’s meant to inoculate you to the juggernaut of inhumanity to which you are about to be subjected. These were the new chains of enslavement deployed by social engineers who had built their careers perfecting the means by which to erode the foundations of a healthy society. The combat was simply the laboratory in which the ideas were tested and the means by which the process was hastened.

Apocalypse Now makes this abundantly clear throughout the film in several different ways. The most obvious of which is the scene that Coppola himself concedes is a glorification of aerial combat. Lt. Colonel Kilgore revels in the fact that the Vietnamese are terrified by the sound of Wagner blaring over the helicopter squadron’s loudspeakers as they mercilessly slaughter the terrified civilians. The combination of aural psyops and aerial bombardment feels less like a rebuke and more like a celebration of American military dominance. Hell, you can even find articles discussing the possibility of video game adaptations. The practice of musical psyops has been extended into the era of Middle Eastern warfare with the only significant difference being the switch to heavy metal instead of 19th century operatic pagan mysticism. Same idea, different expressions.

The role of the media in advancing the domestic propaganda effort receives emphasis as well. When Willard arrives at the beachhead where Kilgore’s division is stationed, he is immediately met by a television crew directed by Coppola himself. In a meta moment, he instructs Willard to look like he’s engaged in combat. It’s a brief but highly effective scene because Coppola is revealing that the footage that would eventually be culled by Ken Burns and repackaged as hard hitting documentary was arguably just as stage managed as the fictitious effort you are viewing.

Despite the prevalence of Domino Effect narratives promulgated by the political class and official histories, Coppola goes one better by suggesting that the Viet Cong were yet another enemy created by the US government in a century that would be defined by wars fought for the express purpose of taking down manufactured boogeymen in service of the expansion of the Pax Americana. When Willard visits with the French colonists, he is given a lecture on American proxy warfare by Gaston de Marais.

Gaston de Marais: You Americans. In 1945, yeah, after the Japanese war, your president Roosevelt didn’t want the French people to stay in Indochina. So, you Americans implant the Vietnam.

Willard: [to Hubert] What’s he mean?

Hubert: Yeah, that’s true. The Vietcong were invented by the Americans, sir.

Willard: The Americans?

Gaston de Marais: And now you take the French place. And the Vietnam fight you. And what can you do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Later in the film, Kurtz’s sardonic reading of a Time magazine article suggests the naked and sanitized deception and the media were routinely peddling. The mention of Sir Robert Thompson’s affiliation with the neocons of the RAND Corporation simultaneously hints at the technocratic administration of the war effort while foreshadowing the eventual controlled release of the Pentagon Papers. As films like Wag the Dog and Network have so brilliantly illustrated, Hollywood has been completely forthright about the media’s rank mendacity and captured allegiance on numerous occasions. You need people as skillful as Steven Spielberg who can churn out agitprop like The Post to make the shills in the media seem heroic. This is ultimately what I believe Coppola was saying with Dennis Hopper’s drug addled photojournalist. Despite Kurtz’s murderous megalomania, Hopper remained enthralled by his poetic mystique. Hardly the behavior of an allegedly objective chronicler of America’s long term commitment in Vietnam.

Apocalypse Now offers what can now be seen as a fleeting moment in the ongoing politicization of sex. Once upon a time, liberals were actually promoting sexual liberation. They still do, but it’s been overshadowed by a lot of #MeToo moral grandstanding. Libidinous displays of female sexuality were simultaneously hailed as evidence of the liberated modern woman as well as a way to stick it to the conservative prudes. Coppola brings this to the forefront by portraying what amounts to a DOD sponsored strip show featuring Playboy playmates. Not only does it show how liberalism actively promotes sexual degeneracy, but it reveals Playboy as one of many forms of legal prostitution embedded within the entertainment complex.

If this seems like it’s a world away from the current cultural moment, it’s because liberals are a clever bunch. They carefully tend to the maintenance of both sides of the dialectic by deploying assets who can push the opposing perspective. They’ll happily peddle a former stripper like Cardi b in the mainstream while the entire feminist media complex will breathlessly extol the bravery of the #MeToo “movement”. Don’t believe me? Just ask feminist extraordinaire Gloria Steinem about her stint as a CIA asset and Playboy bunny.

Much like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now is a study in the real dynamics of American power. In one of many of Willard’s voice overs, he puzzles over the seemingly arbitrary decision to take Kurtz out. Kurtz was being groomed to take his place in the highest echelons of the American power structure. Because he had made the decision to step out of line and build his own cult of personality, he became a liability. His decorated status also made it necessary to make Kurtz’s retirement a black operation. It couldn’t be conducted through official channels because it would have been bad PR. It’s not about upholding any sacred honor or fixed morality. It’s about the preservation of the power structure at any cost.

Coppola also strongly suggests the link between the occult and the deep state. Kurtz had taken his considerable military training and transformed himself into a cult leader. I also believe that the appearances of Sir James George Frazer’s Golden Bough and Willard’s discovery of a newspaper article about Charles Manson were not accidents. Kurtz ended up being sacrificed at the altar of the death cult that bred him. His only transgression was carrying out his training without the sanction of his superiors.

In the paganistic final scene, Willard is immediately recognized as the new cult leader simply by virtue of slaughtering Kurtz. Three years after the release of Apocalypse Now, screenwriter John Milius directed a little sword and sorcery film called Conan the Barbarian starring a bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the film, he seeks vengeance against a cult leader who murdered his family. The final scene of Conan is deeply reminiscent of the conclusion of Apocalypse Now. The exact same premise of the gritty Vietnam War drama is effortlessly transferred over to the pulp fantasy epic. Hollywood doesn’t have a lot of tricks up its sleeve. If they’re recycling the same idea in two major motion pictures, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s a message they’re deeply invested in promoting.

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

I suppose I have to give Jim Jarmusch some credit. I watched another one of his films, and I was so disarmed by its laconic detachment and deadpan humor, I almost forgot that it masked his utter hatred for middle America. Almost. Admittedly, it’s a skill every Hollywood filmmaker needs to master, but like Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, Jarmusch’s skill is above average. Not perfect mind you, but certainly above average. Almost no one knows how to write real characters or craft real drama in a screenplay anymore. Subsequently, any director who can imitate the gestures of actual filmmakers gets considered an auteur and attracts a loyal following amongst Hollywood’s A-listers. His films have a distinct directorial POV, but he’s also one of those guys who has made the terms “indie” and “quirky” into pejoratives. That’s Jarmusch in a nutshell.

The Dead Don’t Die is a quintessentially postmodern zombie film. Similar to Tarantino, the whole thing is simply layers of meta-references to other films and pieces of pop culture which ultimately reveal a hollow core of contempt. Adam Driver’s Officer Ronnie Peterson foreshadows the ending by repeating the refrain “This is definitely going to end badly”. With this wink and nod, Jarmusch is signaling that there are no dramatic stakes whatsoever. He even wrangles a cheap laugh by using it as a device for breaking the fourth wall and making some self-congratulatory inside jokes. It’s the Waiting for Godot of zombie films. Whatever pleasure you derive from the film rests on your enjoyment of the deadpan banter between the characters.

The film is essentially a giant pisstake on small town Middle America. With the Cohen brothers, you at least get a kernel of residual affection. No such luck with Jarmusch. To him, these people are just contemptible hicks and hayseeds who deserve the zombie apocalypse that’s coming. Naturally, he engages in some standard Hollywood virtue signaling. The minority characters are all plucky, intelligent, and interesting. The white characters are slow witted, unsophisticated, and charmless. Steve Buscemi is bestowed with the dubious honor of perpetuating Hollywood’s deathless strawman of the provincial, racist MAGA dirtbag. He stoops to a Sarah Silverman-esque depth of hatred by giving him a hat which reads “Make America White Again” and naming his dog Rumsfeld. OMG! IT’S A REFERENCE TO DONALD RUMSFELD. AND IT’S HIS DOG! ISN’T THAT FUCKING HILARIOUS YOU GUYS! Fuck you, Jarmusch. It’s bad enough that no one in Hollywood knows or cares about anyone in middle America, but the fact that this lazy, royalist condescension is so commonplace is just beyond the pale.

On the positive side, the film can be read as subtle nod to the role of geoengineering’s effect on climate change. The zombie apocalypse is triggered by something called “polar fracking”. In the film, it messes with earth’s rotation. What it probably refers to is some kind of tech that manipulates the electromagnetic spectrum since it messes with everyone’s devices. Jarmusch undoubtedly wants it to be seen as comeuppance for middle America’s indifference to or skepticism of The Climate Crisis. Like the globalist elites they represent, if you just get past the smoke and mirrors, Hollywood is always tipping its hand.

I believe the title of the film reveals the establishment’s exasperation with middle America. After years and years of global trade polcy which has decimated rural America, a flood of opoids into the communities, agribusiness consolidation and a neverending onslaught of propaganda which consistently casts flyover country in the most negative light possible, the global elites cannot stand that middle America will not just roll over and capitulate to their progressive overlords. To them, they’re already dead. And yet, they won’t die. So let’s pile on one more insult by just portraying them as zombies that need to be culled by some righteous Malthusians who are just being responsible stewards of Mother Earth.

Bonus points for Chloe Sevigny giving one of the most honest portraits of a female cop since Tyne Daly in The Enforcer. But that’s all you get, Jarmusch.