All posts tagged “the military industrial complex

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Where I Was From, Joan Didion (2003)

Subject: Author Joan Didion with her Corvette. 1971 Photographer- Julian Wasser Time Inc Not Owned Merlin-1381191
One way of describing Didion’s genius (there are many) is to note that she always permits, even invites the subjects she endeavors to report on to report on her as well. Didion knew growing up that she was from an old California family; as she got older she realized there is no such thing. In Where I Was From, she explores the cultural, social, and economic histories of the state with her characteristic mix of brilliant synthetic summary and piercing detail, and gradually begins to incorporate her personal experience, seeking to understand not just a set of historical phenomena, but her own identity as well. It is thrilling.

There are so many moments and passages I could single out for their clarity of thought and elegance of expression, but as a would-be writer myself, I’ve got to call out Didion’s perfect and insane decision to devote a chapter of this book to a critical analysis of her first published novel, Run, River (1963), which Didion wrote about her home and family in California while she was homesick living in New York as a young woman. First, who does that? Second, her critique is remarkably clear-eyed and unsparing, considering her close connection to her topic. But more, the move is a dramatization of the fact that while we may tell ourselves stories in order to live (to quote Didion herself), the stories of ourselves we tell ourselves ain’t always quite correct. As a result, it’s sometimes necessary to look back at those stories and, if not revise them, have a look at why they made sense at the time, and how their usefulness has failed to endure. This is a great insight on Didion’s part, and it dovetails beautifully with her thinking about California. Is there any other place in the world where the actual and the imagined are so indistinguishable? Maybe one moral of this book is that we are each sort of Californias unto ourselves.

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Hail Caesar!, Joel & Ethan Coen (2016)

hail-cesar

The latest from the Coen Brothers, unless they’ve made another one while I’ve been typing this sentence, is Hail Caesar!, a curious mashup of nostalgic vignettes honoring old Hollywood and some kind of muddled effort to reckon with the blacklisting of communists in the 50s. Like Barton Fink (though a lot more fun), Hail Caesar! is best enjoyed for its moments — the caricatures of the standard issue Hollywood products of the era are wonderful, Frances McDormand as a kooky version of Thelma Schoonmaker is hilarious — than for its plot per se, which is pretty incoherent.

That said, one through-line does vibrate with significance. The main protagonist, a producer/fixer who works around the clock to maintain the purity of starlets and the sobriety of stars, is being courted by a Lockheed headhunter, who promises him a much easier and more remunerative job managing one of their plants. This is a crucial historical pivot in the history of California, and a brilliant touch on the Coens’ part. Just about now (1950 something), California’s about to change from a loose and rambling collection of farms and dreams to the most advanced and efficient munitions producer in history. In the movie, the Coens have the movie man turn down Lockheed’s offer. They wish.

Missed opportunity department: The Coens should have named the communist godfather figure at the beach house Gramsci instead of Marcuse. The anachronism would have been graver, yes (Gramsci died in 1937; Marcuse didn’t move to California until the mid-1960s), but imagine how tickled fans of Gramsci’s notes on Caesarism would have been!