The Charlotte News

Friday, March 28, 1941



Site Ed. Note: You may have noticed that if we ever comment at this site on cinematic representations of "reality", abject or not, we get a little snippy, maybe even supercilious.

We suppose that is because one criticizes that which one loves. And we do enjoy films. There, we confess it.

And in the never ending Quest to discover among films that precious find of joinder of rich literary content with film, a true artistic representation on film, we explore, often to our immense consternation, often to the point of wondering why we would waste two hours or more of our time on some writer's, or committee of writers', neuroses spread across celluloid for all to see, thinly veiled as some sentimental drivel to wrench tears (and, we suspect, often actual untoward behavior) from its audience of disrespected and disgruntled percipient witnesses.

So it is refreshing when we make our find, one occurring perhaps only once or twice every year, in most years, anyway.

Recently, we came across such a find and we thought we would pass it on. It is a film by German director Werner Herzog. If you're not familiar with him, we recommend starting with the "The Story of Kaspar Hauser", also known as "The Enigma of..." and then proceed to "Fitzcarraldo". Then watch "Burden of Dreams" about the making of the latter film. Then, the film to which we refer will make much more sense, though it probably stands on its own regarding that which we herein stress. The film find presents the question, humorously, "What is Truth?" Mr. Herzog, with a facility evident in only a handful of moviemakers during cinema's so far short history of story-telling, encompassing less than a hundred years if one counts its start as "Birth of a Nation" in 1915, manages usually to combine genuine and thought-provoking philosophical inquiry with representations of images on film, and most usually invests those images with an interesting and compelling tale to join them together with edited "reality" to form a comprehensible echo of semblance to human reality, one which does not cloy but inspires instead thought. Others do it well, too, such as Oliver Stone, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Alan Parker, the Brothers Coen, Spike Lee, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurozawa, and others. But Mr. Herzog, we find, accomplishes this task with such simplicity that the viewer while viewing the film does not fully realize the depth of inquiry, only later coming to grips with it, so compelling usually is the story images being viewed in the moment. Such, we credit, is Truth and Art, as close as we might approximate it, in any common language translated through a medium. It is not just an echo of the phrase beneath the logo lion, as most "arts and sciences" of filmdom manage most erratically if at all.

Fiction, as we have previously alluded herein, though certainly not an original thought, can become the highest form of Truth. Documenting Truth can become the lowest form of waste of paper, of course, and as often as not, celluloid footage. We could paint up a list of examples of that waste so long that our medium might become exhausted, so we refrain from a start on that too easy task. It would only wind up encompassing Days of Destruction and much wasted effort.

Our point here is not to point out that latter obvious truism. The examples are so numerous that one can hardly fail to find one in any theater or video store one might run across, and many times over, on any given day of the week, yesterday, today, or tomorrow. Money and commerce drive the engine of product so furiously and carelessly to fill time through the air that we can scarcely keep up with it all.

When we first saw Mr. Herzog's films, we were but a pup--through college, out of rent, in 1975--first, predictably, Kaspar, and then, within the next few months, Aguirre. We had to venture to San Franciso in those days to be so invested with this genuinely memorable cinematic experience, uniting our recent four-year study of philosophy--that is, if one can truly study philosophy, as many mistake the study of the history of philosophy, becoming thereby more a philosophe than philosopher, with the study of philosophy, the latter being more appropriately the study of thinking and how to do it in an organized manner, grounded in certain premises and realizing the while that all which flows therefrom is only as good as the strength of the premises from which the rest emanates--and we reflect now thirty years later of the changes evident in the world of technology and commerce, making it commercially viable to have these films now available in almost any burg with a reasonably well-stocked video shop. (That is a form of backwards Truth, leading from conclusion to premise.)

And from shortly after that time, we reflect on an occurrence at a local bijou, one which sadly was and is not but which was ahead of its time somewhat, being in a burg in the South, Greensboro, in the early seventies, and which displayed in small, comfortable theaters otherwise little viewed films, mostly European. It was appropriately named Janus. There, one evening in 1977, about a year after we had seen Aguirre in San Francisco, we attended this theater with a friend, bent on seeing some other film, now forgotten. What stands out in memory, however, is that Aguirre was then showing at the Janus. And, as we waited for our chosen cinematic presentation for the evening to end so we could begin, we overheard another patron saying to someone in conversation, remindful exactly of the scene with Marshall McLuhan in "Annie Hall" released the same year, "Have you seen Aguire? That's good." Now, we appreciated the sentiment and the taste of the patron, having, as we said, enjoyed the presentation a year earlier ourselves out in San Francisco. But we could scarcely contain our bubbling laughter at the pronunciation of the name, pronounced as the name, often heard in the South, especially among basketball fans in those days, "McGuire". We knew from having not only read the sub-titles but having listened also to the dialogue during its presentation in San Francisco that the name was not pronounced that way, at least we thought so. And, given that there was a second "r" in the name, we thought that fairly obvious anyway from common phonics lessons imparted to our ears long ago in primary grades, and had therefore so pronounced it correctly, at least we thought, before ever attending the film itself. But nevertheless, we credited the patron with having been astute enough to enjoy the film even if mistakenly mispronouncing the name of the principal. And the former, being far more important than the latter slight faux pas, we thought, we could forgive it and praise the former sentiment ahead of its humorous neologistic twisting. Moreover, however, we found the experience emblematic of our Southern experience, growing of age in the land of sometimes wiser than widely believed crackers.

Often, Southerners will only approximate pronunciation of words foreign to their prior experience but nevertheless will also bring an astuteness to a given topic which is sometimes missed by those who stress the perfect pronunciation of the word over the substance of the idea behind the word.

It was funny then, of course, and we, both our friend and we, nearly had to excuse ourselves from the quiet lobby, lest we make it disquiet with uncontrollable ruddy-faced derision. That was, of course, a way of dis-spelling tension over a lifetime of such wise-cracker experiences, a simultaneous feeling of sympathy with our Southern brethren coupled inescapably with our university educated inevitable superciliousness over neologism of truly creative inspiration beyond that of most other regions of the land. We openly suggested then in the two-faced Janus lobby that it would be pleasant to have Mr. Herzog there with us, to introduce him to the patron, just as with the messaged medium episode in "Annie Hall". But that was not original, either, of course, just an existential moment culled from a film to lend irony to a moment of similar pathos and comedy about a film poised yet in reality, a callow expression of our desire to drag ourselves from the primordial mud to some higher level through the uplifting knowledge that we had the proper pronunciation in our store of experience to conquer the ooze, an object lesson imparted in school from teachers also seeking the escape and so characteristically passed on and displayed often among young educated Southerners, too.

So, anyway, we were viewing this new one by Mr. Herzog, "Incident at Loch Ness", a very serious documentary about a very serious tragedy occurring during the filming of a documentary about a documentary of an incident at Loch Ness in Scotland, in a very serious search of monsters of the deep of night, filmed in daylight, and ultimately invoking the query, (rhymes with Aguirre, but with only one "r"(?)), "What is Truth?"

And we thought some about that, returning to our callow college days of youthful March afternoon sessions, perhaps awaiting the basketball tournament game to start. What is Truth, Art?

We had a pet phrase then, originally coined so far as we know, when we were studying philosophy in college. "Reality," we used to say, "is commonality." (Because it sort of rhymes somewhat and has a nice rhythm to it, it's unforgettable and therefore clever, we've always thought.) We have with years added a thought by corollary to that maxim: that Art is that which with Truth questions the commonality to find the truer meaning of "reality". (Not as rhythmic, you note, but still, we think, true.)

Often, of course, some of the less imbued, or imbrued, or more so, as the case may have it, will question those questioners who seek to explore beyond the commonality and brand them, us as "nuts", those who in folly go in search of something other than that imbued with the common perception, those who seek to invert the mirror and see the Other's perception to better understand our own in truer sense. What's the point? they ask. I know what I know, and that's all there is to it.

But, we counter, that if it weren't for such a search, say, by such lights as the Fultons or the Wrights, the brothers and Frank, we would not be where we are today.

Some may instantly rejoinder that we would be much better off therefore without such quagmire of query, just as with Aguire, that is, Aguirre. For, he wound up dead and alone in the jungle of primordial content, Lord and King only of the monkeys, the most populous inhabitants of El Dorado, ultimately secured from ready discovery by the Divine Right of the Jungle.

Yet, we say in retort, that was only a story, a tale to explore Truth in the quest for Gold.

Not dissimilar to one of our all-time favorites, (did we leave out intentionally John Huston from our list of philosopher-directors or by mere happenstance of momentary lapse?), "Treasure of Sierra Madre". (Give Polanski a Chance, too.)

But, without them, the Fultons, the Wrights, our supposed guest might quickly say to us, we would not have had the Fool's steamboats treading the Mississippi, and thus commerce in trade of slaves and their product from the fields might not have been sufficiently productive to start a civil war, dividing brother from brother. Nor aeroplanes which drop bombs in laser accuracy and destroy lives. And wars would still be fought with lancers and chivalrous routine, by and large leaving out the civilian population, secured by hedges from the battlefields of Agincourt or Hastings or the Ardennes or Bull Run. Nor would we, would we?, have had "Fitzcarraldo", a story about the showman who moved a steamboat over a mountain at the expense of lives and loves of the peasants who were employed to move it for him. Nor round, spiraling Babel buildings and such and so.

But, then, we would not have Art either, at least not as we know it. And we might yet live in the caves, drawing our mysterious history in pictures on the walls, with strange cone shapes falling from the heavens to earth to haunt us and our progeny in ever increase of mystery without premise other than that commonly accepted as such-in-the-moment, until conquered by the next instant's grave doings. And wars would then transpire over the differences from tribe to tribe, cave to cave. And we would not be able to view our Art and better understand it maybe by seeing it in moving pictures such as the one based on the Hopi translation of "life out of balance", or from the product of recording engineers and laser light translated digitizations of reality, or even the medium of printing presses. We would not be able to chronicle events at all in fact, not even in the cave drawings, much as the dog and cat leave little behind other than our memories of them. For consciousness, the fall from Eden, presumes that curse or blessing, being one or the other or mixed as the moment's lesson might suggest it.

And our commonality would be not so as it is, but blunted more often than not instead by the club, the ultimate arbiter to end it all which offends, just as the dog will revert to carnivorous origins and wrestle a bone from a fellow dog when not domesticated sufficiently by a daily regimen of Purina and Alpo, cats and mice--as we see it evidenced even still by some of our human brethren, as watch our daily parade of tragedies through the medium we will. So, to end what? For life continues on, doesn't it? within, without.

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

We may have had it right so long ago as college callow youth--"Reality is commonality." And, we believe, we must continually seek to challenge that commonality to find it more deeply real and true.

Recently, we ran across some thought trails left by an anonymous visitor, Mr. or Ms. X, to this site, left on our search engine. We are glad to receive all visitors. The visitor chronicled his or her thought streams thusly: "If I'm a cracker, what are you?" (Actually, we take liberties and paraphrase the author's illimitable and resistless art a bit. To remain completely faithful to the searched for editorial text, as originally written, it was: "since im a cracker what are you" and "since im a cracker what are you himself hahaha"--But we quibble. Hehehe.) There was some other stuff there, too, bearing no need for repetition here, it having played on "cracker" by substituting "nigger" by way of divestiture of what appeared to be anger at some things Mr. Cash had said in "Genesis of the Southern Cracker" a few years back, in 1935. And somehow, existentially, these comments appealed to us as being casually expressive of a continuing theme of "that old Southern defensiveness coming back in there". Better by far expressed that way, however, anonymously via the medium of a search engine, than elsewise of old. But--"Cash couldn't live with himself"? That's okay. That's what we're here for. We all die away from lifeblood. Maybe, one might venture to say, because ultimately none of us can flow with ourselves indefinitely. But, life yet goes on.

If I'm a cracker, what are you? What's the frequency, Kenneth?

Ah, the commonality rising from the ooze. We'd rather.

What does all of this exposition or non-exposition, as you wish, have to do with the editorials of this date in 1941 by W. J. Cash?

What is Truth?

What "Quest"?

Just a harmless medium exercise, maybe.

Happy St. Patty, say we to you, whoever you be. From Ireland, down by Lunnon come we, wearing your green and rose linnet in our bonnets to the land of the wild and treacherous--in Virginia, off Provincetown, where landed we off anchor in the harbor, November 22, 1620. Haul aweigh, boys.

Lanx satura.

Moving Day

Lo, With But a Little Rod Whole Stations Are Shifted

Like a loving spouse who carefully straightens out your neckties so that they all hang independently of each other on the rack, the Federal Communications Commission is shifting the wave bands of all United States radio stations tomorrow morning at 3 o'clock so that interference from Mexican and Cuban stations will be eliminated.

It's no slur on the rhumba and conga, mind you, and no affront to the Mexican's way of making music. It was all agreed upon some time back, formalized under the name of Havana Treaty. The idea is to send American broadcasts out on wave bands that won't overlap the air-ways out of Mexico and Cuba. It means that listeners can now stay up late at night and listen to American music without undulating rhumba bands breaking in on the boogie beat. No longer will we have giggles from Cuba rubbing shoulders in our little receiving set with guffaws from the Great Lakes. The only catch is that the Lone Ranger will now have to stay on this side of the Rio Grande.

Thus, radio and magazines have been promoting the fact that stations won't be doing business at the same old stand on the dial after Saturday morning. On Charlotte stations it means that WSOC will be changed from 1210 kilocycles to 1240, WBT from 1080 to 1110.


Bad Policy

Labor Invites Coercive Laws By Allis-Chalmers Stand

Philip Murray, chief of CIO, challenges the authority of Secretary Knox and OPM's Knudsen to demand an end of the protracted strike at Allis-Chalmers. And Christoffel, the leader of the local, announces that the strike will go on.

All of which is about as ill-advised from the stand of labor's own interest as anything could be. The authority under which the Secretary of the Navy and Mr. Knudsen act is that of the will of the people of the United States to defeat Adolf Hitler. It is an aim in which organized labor has a primary stake, for the first thing Fascism has always done has been to destroy labor unions.

The nation, therefore, has a right to expect organized labor to show some spirit of co-operation and above all to keep tanks and trucks and planes and guns rolling off the production line.

It is not asked to make undue sacrifices. All its claims as to wages, hours, working conditions, etc., will get a respectful and sympathetic hearing from the Defense Labor Mediation Board the President has just set up. All that is asked is that it keep the wheels going while disputes are being adjusted--and strike only as a last resort under great provocation.

The attitude of labor in the Allis-Chalmers case is an open invitation to the passage of harsh laws.


No Swindle

Something Besides Promises Will Fix Terms for Huns

Yesterday Lord Halifax replied to those people who are always demanding to know what Britain's war aims may be--in general terms, at least Britain, he said, envisaged a post-war order of free access to raw materials for all and economic co-operation by all.

To that a Berlin spokesman snarled:

"The same British methods--the same swindle--as preceded 1918."

But he is probably mistaken if he believes that the British are holding out promises to Germany, real or false.

Burke's often-mouthed phrase that you can't indict a whole people is a foolish one. The crimes which the German nation has committed were carefully planned for seven years, with the full participation of the overwhelming majority of the German people. And how little right Germany has to claim decent terms in the event of her defeat is admirably shown by the terms she is presently applying to her victims--as Poland.

Germany may get better terms than she deserves, probably will. But the reason will be quite simply that any other course would be too costly to the victors--in brutalizing their own peoples.

But whatever softness is shown her will not be the result of any promises to her. And in any case whatever, as Halifax made amply clear, it will be put out of her power to do again the infamous thing in which she has engaged.


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