Some notes on the possibility of a new prince
The prince complains about the landscape & the climate of the land. However, Machiavelli teaches that a sterile place will more easily foster unity & prevent idleness. Indeed, Machiavelli suggests that men rather learn from necessity than otherwise; it seems that what they learn is to conquer it. Sicily is a good counterexample: Men are apt not to learn even from harsh necessity. To leave aside for now the incompetence of the king & the princes in acquiring things for themselves, let us notice that a foreign invader conquered Sicily with a thousand men & then failed to destroy the local notables. The only thing stranger, they surrendered without much of a fight. Their spirits had been so enervated that they would not fight for themselves, to defend that which they had, to say nothing of acquiring anything. Whether they did not fear death or their cowardice was more powerful than anything else, Sicilians & their rulers seem to have a vocation for slavery.
The young prince seems to understand better than the old that it is of importance to fight for oneself & to have arms. It is no use to suggest he fought against his own king & therefore against his own country, or that he aided foreign invaders, because it could not be argued seriously that he could have fought for king & country. Lost causes are best left to priests. Further, the young prince understands that political destinies are made & unmade in the North & that he might be best served by ruling the South on the authority of the North. The North is far away & therefore could constrain him much less than the South. Marrying for money is a step in this direction, especially if the alliance with a vain & foolish – but exceptionally wealthy – ignoble family will bring him some political connections. When once he has impugned his honor by marrying money, he can nevertheless control this new family & secure himself as its ruler. Marriage, after all, is one way of acquiring for oneself. But this young prince cannot become a new prince if he does not destroy the class of princes who, like his uncle, are only a burden to the land, the people, & especially the ambitious few who desire change, seeing in it their only likely path to advancement. Fortune is not the death the old prince sees everywhere, but she is not the young beauty the young prince sees. He should her as a goddess, to be manhandled, for she favors the daring, & few are daring except when they are young. The young prince dares not think daring thoughts; indeed, besides mediocre politicking, his only ambition seems to be that his ignoble wife should make a good impression in high society.
Modernity is not likely to come upon Sicily. Religion is one cause of lack of ambition, for it preaches against crime – but there is no honorable, decent or legal way of conquering. The church cannot prevent – but must even sanction – the sins that the rulers commit in pursuit of their pleasures or privileges. This mollifies the rulers. Luxury is another cause, for it makes men soft who should be harsh & it distracts them from political conquests & brings women, balls, & the pleasures of the table to their attention. The effectual truth is this: The Church cannot make the few as moral as the many, but it shares in their immoral privileges, & thus reveal how morality & necessity connect.
The Sicilian crisis is an opportunity for a new way of ruling the country. No one will seize their state. Wealth is changing hands rapidly, making men wealthy & liquidating ancient estates. Men could make themselves anew, if they so chose. But the new rich only want to assimilate to the degenerate high class that has become too weak & cowardly to reject them. & the old, or formerly, rich only want to perpetuate their degenerate way of life, in which they do not even order & arrange the affairs of their own estates. It seems the ones marry upwards for title & social graces; the others marry downwards for money & the security it buys. The rich lose much more than they gain in the bargain, however, for titles tie them by the necks to the sinking millstone of the aristocracy…
The old prince, just like any of the young ones, is disgusted with the poverty & the weakness of the many. He agrees also with the government official from the North: The way of life of the Sicilians is disgusting & must change. But it is only an image or a consequence of the lack of spiritedness of the few. If the morality of the many is such that they are too complacent & prefer idleness to industry, then another morality must be taught them & that would require reforming the Church. After all, Machiavelli teaches that powerful cities should be built in fertile, not in sterile lands, but that the laws should supply by art the necessity for industry that sterile lands supply spontaneously… Modernity will remake the land if necessary. The real problem seems to be that the young princes trust too much in the old, who are tied to very old ways, always wasteful, damning to the spirit. The difference between the latest exemplar of the old order & his ancient forebears is this: They acquired estates & built palaces; he merely dwells in them. His outspoken alliance with his forebears is tacitly denied by his inability to be like them. The grandeur of the past, which we see throughout the story, must once have been new. The old order was once a new order & those who installed it must have known they were bringing in something new. That is all gone now; what remains of the old order is the passive element, best shown in the Church, whose only use is to keep the people from lawlessness. The active element, that which installed the order, that has disappeared. The young must be like their ancient forebears & ignore the old, or else the land will go to waste. No graver warning can be given than the conventional family visit to the nunnery which one of the female ancient forebears founded: The noble few are not made noble by founding nunneries. Nevertheless, this is the only ancient forebear that the old prince remembers. The young must desire to build their own kingdoms & cannot be satisfied to dwell in others’ kingdoms or to hope for some future kingdom not won by their own arms. Only two things are needed here: First, that the new prince should love his country more than his soul. Secondly, that new princes should first commit all the sins necessary & then make all the penitence necessary – God will always forgive.
The old prince compares himself & his kind to the lion & the gattopardo, but the young princes to the jackal & the hyena; later he adds the sheep, the many, thus confirming tacitly what he denied explicitly: That all princes are alike, being predators; this further suggests that all peoples are alike, because all they want is not to become prey. All these predators have been extirpated in Europe, but endure in Africa. Perhaps Europe is to Africa as soul is to body. Throughout his palace at Donnafugata, the prince has emblems of this wild cat, the gattopardo. But in truth, being a lion is not enough, it is also necessary to be a fox. Whereas a lion is not in himself both lion & fox, perhaps a gattopardo is. But a true lion is a lion precisely because he scares off the jackals; a fox is a fox because he avoids the snares. Perhaps a gattopardo cannot do either…
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The old city & the new
The architecture of the aristocratic palaces is incomparable. Aristocrats aspire to distinguish themselves by the luxury & beauty of their buildings, as well to add suggestions of immortality, superhuman power, & the freedom of those unbound by necessity, viz. poverty. Their palaces defy the human scale & seem unending in space as well as across time. Whatever the necessity of climate wreaks upon the many who are poor, the few who are wealthy are amply protected. The strength & durability of the stone constructions is concealed somewhat by the beauty of the embellishments: Frescoes on walls & ceilings, the family crest, paintings & exquisite furniture. The aristocrats appreciate these things, of which they have intimate knowledge, & at the same time take them for granted, for they acquired by inheriting. A birthright is as much a curse, it emerges, in the political revolution, as it is a blessing in ordinary times. The upstarts, the bourgeois, the middle class – they look upon this luxury as something greatly exotic, & it is doubtful that they share the aristocratic taste, but it is certain that they take nothing for granted, being so busy to take everything they can.
The bourgeois manners are all shyness, unpunctual, badly dressed, & they try to shake hands. The aristocrats are much more restrained & therefore bow. Martial habits both. They have not merely confidence & a commanding air, but are also splendid. The ones obey, the others condescend to command without humiliating. Perhaps embellishment describes the aristocrats even more than utility describes the bourgeois. The lower classes hear stories of war & sex without blushing, but with excitement & humor. – When a splendid young woman from a lower-class family is introduced at the dinner party, her laughter sounds terrible in the otherwise quite palace dining room: The vulgar have a vitality foreign to these late nobles.
Aristocratic men share these passions, but their only interlocutors are the ubiquitous father-confessors, who double as go-betweens, butlers, & chides: Typical masculine criticisms of feminine habits. Were the Church is a woman, she would be rather ugly & moralistic. She neither knows nor cares to learn how to persuade men…
The ball which serves to introduce Tancredi & his betrothed, Angelica, & the new alliance between aristocrats & bourgeois, shows the last splendor of aristocracy. The beauty & the riches on exhibition astound & may even be said to cloy the discerning onlooker, but they also foreshadow the end of the aristocracy, because the wealth has ended up dominating men, who cannot preserve because they cannot acquire. The past is no more present for them, who are acquainted with their history & their state, than it is to the bourgeois, who are complete foreigners. The future seems to belong rather to the latter than to the former, but it is unlovely… The old prince, who had shown such disgust & apprehension in dealing with the new ways of modernization, now contemplates his death. From the deference he now feels he has to show the emerging middle class, which robs him of his prestige, which depended on aloofness & inspiring fear; to the ugliness of the manners & naked rapacity of these people, who will never be able to foster great art & who cannot appreciate beauty because they are too greedy; everywhere he sees that the new order has nothing to offer him & will take everything away, unless he clings to what he has left.
He contemplates Greuze’s painting, The death of the just man, the old man dying in his bed, women & children surrounding the deathbed, crying, despondent, already mourning, & the young man, the prodigal son, returning home, properly chastised for his desertion, punished as it were by losing that which he had abandoned, his father; the prince believes that his death will probably look like that too, except the women should be dressed more modestly & the sheets will be dirty. Beauty conceals terror only very imperfectly. Illusions are no use to him who does not love life. The moral exhortation is lost on him. The silent suggestion is that injustice might be preferable.
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Vertú contra furore
Prenderà l’arme, et fia ’l combatter corto:
Ché l’antiquo valore
Ne gli italici cor’ non è anchor morto.
The old political order was called the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Then came the invasion of Garibaldi. Then the new Kingdom of Italy.
The story is told from the point of view of the aristocrats, on whom it concentrates, to the almost complete exclusion of the rest. But aristocracy is a part of a greater political whole & cannot receive its full meaning except in this comprehensive political setting. – Aristocracy both helps & hinders this effort to move from the self-presentation & self-understanding of the aristocrats to the understanding of the political whole. Aristocrats are aloof, independent, & therefore claim rather that they are a whole apart from the political whole, or that they are whole by themselves. But the aristocrat also claims to be at the top or the center of the city & to speak for it authoritatively, or else he would have no claim to rule.
This will likely show a great change & a great conflict; this separation between old & new may be exaggerated.
A story of revolution
The story starts with prayers. The place is an aristocratic palace in Sicily. The family is all gathered, intoning alongside the priest the Christian prayers, in Latin. Some have prayer books. Men & women alike kneel on the floor for the prayer, though the palace apparently does not have a private chapel.
Worldly news interrupts the prayers. A fearful old valet says grave disorders are threatening the land – a dead soldier has been found on the estate – another aristocrat has written a letter, bringing revolutionary tidings: Garibaldi’s men, the Piedmontese, are coming. The aristocrats are lost. God save the king. – The news compelled the duke to abandon his estates & flee in English ships. He recommends as much to our protagonist, his Excellency the Prince Salina, Fabrizio, in his letter, & refers him to the newspaper for more information. Newspapers & revolution are naturally connected. Fabrizio receives the advice with more contempt than disappointment, calling the man a coward.
The women are crying hysterically. Garibaldi – an omen or a curse in their mouths. The priest first says: Revolution. He shows no fear. The women faint; cordials are needed. The men have to occupy their palaces, the prince decides. The women are terrified. They have recourse to prayer.
Fabrizio dislikes the priest as much as the priest dislikes his nephew, Tancredi. But they agree that the times are evil. The Church is enervating men. Fabrizio, for example, does not look from sin to God, but to human nature: The nature of man & woman. This has been vitiated by woman’s piety, which priests indulge. Fabrizio, therefore, agrees implicitly with young Tancredi: Men must be men. But they disagree on the politics. The old man thinks the boy is going to a duel – the aristocratic habit of killing for honor, in preparation for serving as officers in war – but the youth is going to fight the revolution. He is going to the mountains. The old man insists on his own flag, not the republican or national flag, & on the old order, although he despises the king. So it is that the old order is left defenseless. The merits of the new order are not yet clear. Fabrizio calls the revolutionaries mafiosi.
The priest accuses the prince of liberal sympathies, even Masonic: The secularist enemies of Church power. Well, he threatens, if the throne will abandon the altar, the altar will return the favor. Fabrizio jokes that Italy would do better without so many Jesuits. He does not believe the Church really defends the aristocrats. The distinction between the many & few has not disappeared & may simply be ineradicable. But who believes in the justice of the aristocrats? The Church occupies an impossible position between old & new: Its privileges come from the few, who only accord them because the many are believers, that is to say, for public order. But that order is now in disorder. The weakness of the few, however, shows also in this way: The only occurrence of the word virtue, the feminine adjective virtuosa, refers to chastity.
The revolution looks like civil war. Revolutionary infantry manages to win a bloody barricade fight against the monarchy’s cavalry. Aristocrats & priests are lynched in the streets. Revolutionary fire squads deal revolutionary justice in the smoldering ruins. Gunfire punctuates the desolation; occasionally, artillery pieces recall the real power of war.
The new republican orders include secret voting & new social arrangements, but the aristocrats endure, as there is still a king, if a new king. Still, they hunt with their hounds, saluting loyal hounds before their bourgeois owners, & keep company with priests. Their warlike inclinations & peacetime yoke endure. Tancredi moves from Garibaldi’s republican troops to the northern king’s regular army. He is again an aristocrat. Fabrizio thinks money could help the young man to a bright future: The changing times are not all bad.
The king’s government offers the prince a senatorship. He refuses: He is no politician, nor is Sicily fit for political rule, much less for political freedom. Movement & rest are not the modes of being in Sicily, but only dying & death. Necessity does not teach the people the way to overcome necessity. They wallow in misery. The government official promises modern government will change this. It is doubtful whether he understands the origins of modern politics: He certainly finds the difficulties it originally faced strange & fearful. One of the prince’s children terrifies him with tales of bandits, ransoms, & slaughter.
Tancredi then decides to run for office. He has married money; his beautiful wife is a success in the salons. He despises Garibaldi publicly & declares the new kingdom needs justice, legality, & order. Shooting men more loyal to Garibaldi than the kingdom is one of the more satisfying requirements of this new order. This is the endgame of his allusion: In order for things to stay the same, things must change.
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A comedy about failing nobly
This is the story of a weakly movie critic whose wife abandons him, presumably because she’s a woman. He idolizes Bogart, a real man. It is unclear whether he wants the man’s confidence or his success. As Bogart’s image starts talking to him, we see nothing of his nobility. An hombre is tough – he treats women harshly, not only the villains. His confidence has something to do with being stiff-necked.
His friend & his wife somehow make time in their successful lives to help this poor guy get a date. It is likely that such attempt must fail, being that people are not particularly inclined to scrutinize their intentions, much less judge them against their abilities. Maybe this is a surrogate child. Maybe the woman is neglected & wants someone to whom to dedicate herself. Maybe the man feels like his wife could do with a dog while he busies himself being incredibly successful.
There is a great contrast between the comic erotic failures & the friendships, which seem genuine. The husband has no problem finding dates to pass on, so to speak, to the guy who turns his friendship with his wife into adultery. These are moral people, so they concern themselves with love, divorce, remarriage, perhaps. There is something innocent in friendship, such that there is a lot of talking done, & laughing, before the feverish sex.
But the critic’s idea of romance is Casablanca, which does not end well for Rick, the character played by Bogart. He learns to sacrifice & not to think of the reward of sacrifice. But this kind of humanity must always suffer from a doubt, that it is second best, that it is the result of erotic failure. Making a virtue of necessity, so to speak. But the audience of adventures & romances does not want to think of necessity.
Comedy makes fools of heroes, which questions the worth of striving. This is striving in the cause of democracy. Popular love of adventure is an implicit acquiescence in aristocracy, in the rule of superior men, if only in speeches. The closest common man & heroic man come is in their failures – they’re both susceptible to be enslaved by love, they’re both faced with defeats from which they must recover, or at least which they must endure.
Defeat forces the manly to reconsider their sense of invincibility, & mocks their aloofness, at the same time as it gives the weak some pride in having had the courage to fight. This weakling does learns how to live with being abandoned by his wife. There is some chance that he is not unlovable. There is some hope. He can nobly restrain from hurting his friends.
One of Woody Allen’s early films, a good show of the limits of comedy.
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Everybody gets corrupted. You have to have a little faith in people.
Witness the teaching of the story, so tortuously arrived at in the final lines. Not played for laughs. The angel-faced girl, uncannily sensible throughout the travails of love, delivers this line with the same calm with which she had announced the guy that he had really hurt her. This girl of seventeen or eighteen could easily be said to deserve to tyrannize over the far more erratic adults of the story – so many wrecks of the ‘60s.
The comic guy berates her now & then – he says, what do you know?, you grew up on drugs, television, & the pill! His generation was responsible for that – though he himself only for TV. Like an overwrought parent to a precocious kid, he says sometimes, don’t be so precocious, or, don’t be so mature. If everyone were like this girl, there would be no comedy; maybe no need for comedy. The comic guy is not so quick to arrive.
His first wife, kindergarten teacher, left him to become a weird San Francisco hippie. His second left him for another woman; he’d left his analyst rather than not marry her. She is publishing a book about the disaster, which scares & angers him, & the damning details brim with plausibility. He knows he could never stand up to judgment. It were better nobody knew his private life. He’s now dating a teenager, presumably out of fear.
He makes a living writing TV comedy to afford living in ambitious New York. He lives among the cleverest, quickest types & is occasionally exasperated with their genius – he recommends stupidity, they could learn something… He delivers his moral rant next to a primate skeleton – morality might relieve mortality, but laughter is easier. Maybe the man is right, trying to run over the wife & her lover is proof he was not demoralized. But it was not going to make him happy. Happily, in New York you don’t go to jail over a thing like that. Maybe part of the splendor of the city is how many chances these people get.
The story starts & ends with his affair with this young girl. There is another woman in the middle, who seems to be everything people might think about New York, but insists she is from Philadelphia – they believe in God there, there are thing they do not discuss publicly, & they do not go for adultery. Aside from morality, she loses her analyst to an acid-induced coma.
The great danger to love is this sophistication, the worst of which is not immorality. The girl insists on being taken seriously. Only love makes that possible. This might help things – beautiful New York might distract people from themselves.
Woody Allen’s best story, how difficult it is to take love seriously
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A look at the agony of creation
On his way to reconcile with the woman whom he loves, & who loved him enough to take the kids & leave her husband, Bates is stopped by the police. They somehow found a .32 in his Rolls. He says, it’s because of the Nazis – his family had trouble. He tries to plead celebrity, but it lands him in jail, which humorously reunites him with his chauffeur. Obviously, some part of life really is going nowhere, unless you’re very obedient.
Throughout the story, we see what has caused this damned bleakness. The man made comedies, now people ask him to help in every conceivable way. Is he some kind of a god, to grant all these good things? Some kind of lucky charm, to give people what they think is a fighting chance? In a striking show of lack of a sense of humor, some critic invites him to a festival of his own movies, better to be hounded by questions which are requests, & hopes which barely conceal despair.
He is among his own, then. Unsuicidal despair, he suggests, is the way of the bourgeois. His latest movie is serious to the last interminable scene. He suggests the end of the ride is not worth the ride. Everyone gets the same depressive nothingness. It is not obvious that he talks from experience. He may only be telling people what he learns from them.
Maybe Dorrie & that weird other dark girl suggest something about Bates, the contradiction between brilliance & self-destruction. They are tied up with poetry; perhaps they would not be anything interesting without it, but perhaps poets are no different. Finding people in the stead of beautiful statues is quite debilitating, or at least confusing. But a man who makes a life out of beauty cannot let go.
This man really has nothing to teach, so the people trying to turn him into a cult, or some kind of evil – a corruptor, maybe – are really wasting their time. But if we think to the end, they lose that eagerness to control – they are needy, though they do not see it. The man naturally turns to himself as an escape. He has some experience of neediness. He says he has mastered art; he knows that art gives you control over art, not life, so that you choose everything you leave out.
Isobel comes to see Bates; her children arrive later. By an extraordinary coincidence, they show up in his time of need. This woman knows how to be needed & not needed according to necessity. Thinking that she may be the problem, Bates undergoes a long education compressed into one crisis regarding the goodness of this companionship.
A strange, but sometimes funny story about what the people do to their comic poet
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Some notes on the martial art & politics
Mike Terry is a man who has learned to live with people’s fears. He is a teacher of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He always tells students, there is no situation you cannot escape. You escape by turning a disadvantage into an advantage. You learn about motion, how to move things & people by following the motions. It is no use denying that they are there. It is no help to get angry.
Protecting the neck is protecting blood & breath: Protecting mere life. Winning fights, however, requires thinking as well. Before man is wily, man must be endurant. Wit & toughness reinforce each other as habits & habits of mind, as science & insight, teaching man that he stands for something noble in standing for himself. This is hard-bought teaching & it makes man proud. He sees that he stands alone by destroying his opponents.
How about when your wife gets you in trouble with loan sharks? How about when you get your policeman student suspended because you trust rich people to be honest? Terry does not fight people who do not attack him, because fighting weaker people weakens you. But he wants to help people, to do something good for them & to help them defend themselves. How does helping people become stronger not make you weaker?
Terry’s wife is the only person to use the word noble – dripping with contempt. People who cannot make money talk about nobility. Terry answers, nobility is being correct. If truth & justice worked together, sure, that’s what it is. What if you have to hurt people for their own good? What if living with people requires punishment, not merely protection?
There is another character who talks about financializing problems. Look to the advantage & rationalize by measuring things in money. Why should the money matter? It stands for the good things. The fight between the noble & the ignoble is actually done between lawyers. Terry saves both a policeman & a lawyer, offering to teach them his martial art. He cannot protect them from the enormous corruption of the city anymore than they can protect him.
Proving to people that nobility goes beyond the laws is doubtful, to say the least. Nobility is most obvious in defeat because victory is so often so obviously unjust. Only sacrifice can satisfy people as to the lack of mercenary reasons. The life of the just man is the unhappiest because he alone can claim that God must hate him. Those who despair need help; they will not be reconciled to death; they will therefore turn to injustice, because strength needs no justification. Can we reflect on justice without considering, cannot our world be based on rational injustice?
David Mamet‘s story about the art of war.
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A self-help guide for the godless
This is a movie for people educated enough to know that turning human fat into soap is talking about the Nazis. So the reader must decide whether the story teaches you how to be the only worthwhile fascist, the successful fascist – because it has become the only moral thing to do in a consumerist society – or how necessary it has become to moderate both consumerism & the subsequent fascist reaction.
The philosophical premise is pretty obvious: The man is the city writ small. A consumerist society will create a consumerist man: Pale, flabby, hesitant. He believes in nothing enough to sacrifice. He has no respect for martial virtues. He could neither survive in the wild nor rape. But a man violent, chaotic enough to escape this cannot live by himself – he must destroy the city to remake the world in his image. The city might be the man writ large.
The style of the wit has a woman & man fight over what cancer meetings to attend to feed on the emotions of the dying. Bowel cancer is the big ticket – a scatological joke about consumerism. Another contention is testicular cancer – consumerism apparently emasculates man. But the joke is turning suffering into consumerism. Our protagonist is an insomniac whose mental insanity is provoked by his refusal to fully submit to the consumerist city. Ennui is the modern condition.
The psychological level drives the story – the madman calls it Enlightenment. The soul is split & embodied. What other way to save it? Reason is too weak to mention. Spirit, anger is embodied, because it wants to save the body. But to teach salvation, destruction must be practiced. Bloody Christianity then: To save oneself, one must lose oneself. To truly live is to brave death. Hopelessness alone cancels all ideals except the body.
The political level is trickier. Destroying capitalism is justified by democratic resentment. But also by undemocratic Romanticism: The image of New York turned into a jungle. Destroying the false capitalist prosperity to return to harsh necessity teaches that striving is original, but it is insufficient. Using Machiavellian wisdom teaches that striving must be added beyond survival: Terrify people with death, then they will love you as a savior. This is no return to nature. It is an attack on nature: The appetites driving rational capitalist comfort & prosperity are as natural as the anger that, denied, rises to destroy everything that denies it.
What will replace the destruction? Sacrifice & pain are good because obviously non-mercenary. Genuine, authentic, immediate – the fundamental manly experience – they apparently teach not escape but acceptance – suffering is the only good in necessity. Loving sainted martyrs of democracy – Gandhi, Lincoln – is killing them.
Probably the wittiest blockbuster of the ’90s, the most radical attack on America; or, a cult movie about cultures.
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If I do not stand for myself, then who will stand for me?
This is the story of a Jew, a New York City policeman, who learns about evil & shame. This is pre-Giuliani New York: Black men run the city; they humiliate the Jew. His Gentile partner, however, is always there, protecting his back. The policemen are supposed to act Irish. They despise above all the cowardly, incompetent, ignorant FBI, who presume to do violence in their city.
This man has always proved himself by a courage which partners calls brazen. He can only confess to Jews: He says, people think Jews are weaklings, so he has to prove himself. By his wit, he has survived, earning many citations. Now, he is about to save the mayor & humiliate the FBI, but he cannot run his operation because he stops to help some policemen.
He finds a dead Jew in a bad black neighborhood. Her son, rich liberal that he is, pulls strings & gets the Jewish detective on the case. Soon, he ends up spilling his contempt for Jews in front of the victim’s granddaughter. There we see the Jewish pride – he is defeated: So many centuries of anti-Semitism, there must be something wrong with the Jews. But she is proud: She wants respect, not pity – the Jews have survived everything, & will again.
Then he learns the victim was a heroine in Israel’s War of Independence; he learns about the Jews in the city, whose language he does not know. To them he confesses his fears & weaknesses, desperate finally to find a home. But they have no love to offer him, they always live as if tomorrow is a time of killing. He knows nothing of Israel, & they cannot forget or forgive anything. How innocent he must be to think they will respect him! Zionism is politics, but what he wants is more serious than politics – his great shame, his conversion, though blind to the one living God, is inspired by fearless family love.
He will destroy Israel’s enemies, but he will not break the laws he swore an oath to protect. The US Constitution does not require oaths by God, presumably because God does not enforce them. But the detective who insists always on his job knows enough to uphold the laws.
This man’s big case is a plan to catch a black criminal. He persuades his mother to betray him into thinking that he is escaping America. He destroys this criminal by telling him his mother betrayed him. He himself has no family. His desperate search for Zion means he cannot protect his partner, who dies talking about a woman. He loses his job. He learns evil is killing people for their own good.
David Mamet‘s story about the crisis facing Jews. A must see.
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On the curse of individualism
Zelig was an unfortunate boy; bullied by anti-Semites – his parents never took his side. On his deathbed, his father tells him life is desperate, meaningless; the only thing to do is tell it like it is. Maybe Zelig’s life fulfills his father’s command – he has a strange ability to imitate whoever is around him. He does not merely make images of things – he makes images of people.
Humorless doctors want to diagnose him with disease upon disease; others try to twist him this way or that. He survives. Some idiot calls him a human chameleon. This strange literalness which pervades the comedy does point to something: Which human being is Zelig? How does one recognize him? He is a Democrat to the poor, a Republican to the rich. Zelig tried to be a Yankee one day, which got him arrested…
The doctor who decides to make her career out of him does not realize she is turning therapy into a Hollywood movie. One wonders what other therapists do. Anyway, she happily moves from her professional failures to a Broadway show, where she realizes she should imitate Zelig. This causes Zelig to be no one… Now, she can put him in a trance, to try to find out the truth about him.
Newly honest, Zelig criticizes all sorts of things about her, then states his erotic arousal. In his private life, he has opinions about all things in the world. In public, he is extraordinarily eager to respect the public. When he starts publicly voicing his private opinions, he starts attacking people. Soon, he tells kids in schools to be themselves – it’s the American way, they can take it from him. There’s your story about the problem of assimilation for Jews.
Zelig first became famous for imitating people. He ends up having his picture taken with all the famous people in America. He is imitating the American dream. This all ends when his sister, eager to exploit his fame for money, ends up dead in a romantic triangle.
Zelig’s second fame is his fame for not imitating people. Having disappeared, he reappears by the side of the Pope during Easter celebrations. Who is loved more than Christ? Maybe he hoped being Pope meant everyone would like him. The most public is the best loved. But the doctor woman cures him. Now he is famous for imitating a moral American. Again, he has his picture taken with all the famous Americans. On the eve of their marriage, his many private crimes, polygamy & property crimes mostly, catch up with him. His terrible immorality is enough to doom him, whatever his apologies. About to stand trial, he disappears again. He then tries Nazism.
A very funny story about the dubious sympathy between comic poet & democracy
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