Saturday, July 28, 2012


After many alarms, including bad weather, menaces of strikes and traffic problems, the London games started without a glitch. Wisely, the British had chosen a location which will benefit from the event in the long-term thanks to the improvements that were made in infrastructure and housing. The venues do not risk becoming white elephants like they did in Athens or Beijing. The general atmosphere is one of bonhomie which seduces rather than trying to impress.
All that is well, but the opening' which is usually directed at the world at large' left many perplexed.  It looked as if it was made for urbi rather than orbi. The history of the British Isles as presented by Danny Boyle, who is presumably favoured by the Queen herself, was a collision and collusion of genres. We were supposed to follow the epos of the British from the pastoral to the Industrial Revolution, from the social welfare state to pop...only animal husbandry was missing in this melange of Florence Nightingale, James Bond and Mary Poppins.  I am sure that the majority of viewers worldwide got lost in this chaos of tableaux.  The singalong of Hey Jude in the finale was a rallying point, finally.
Her Majesty did not look particularly amused although she had accepted to be "party" to the 007 episode.  The minor VIPs and Royals looked lost and ran for cover with their constituents. The American First Lady abstained this time from "pawing" the Queen, but could not resist some of her usual gymnastic histrionics elsewhere. The Romneys held hands, after having alienated almost everybody in the realm. Mitt was reminded of the games in nowhere (Salt Lake City) while the horse of Mrs. Romney will certainly become part of the current class warfare in the USA.
In the end all will be well.  The British have done everything possible to insure security and organisation. The games almost look provincial, compared to Los Angeles (wit) or Beijing (force).  In doing so they have shown understanding for the troubled times we live in.  In presenting themselves as "insular" they might have missed an opportunity to send a message with global ambition.  The world is globalized in theoretical and financial terms, some soul might have been welcome. We need a "break" and the opening ceremony was not inspirational enough. Still one needs guts to come face to face with one's own disjointed, often incoherent history and in doing so, grandeur can be found.  After all, there is nothing wrong with some sense of humor and charm. The more global sparkle was missing though and that is an opportunity lost.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Woody Allen never had to create a persona for himself in life. He is identical to one of his most memorable creations, Zelig, a man who appeared and left without leaving as much as a trace. His opus is marked by arbitrariness, almost devoid of prejudice or a morality tale, which generally is forced upon you in American movies that have a difficult time escaping from the curse of redemption, whatever the premises might have been. Allen's pyrotechnics fit the grand American period, mostly forgotten. Belatedly he made room for a more cynical narrative, starting with his movie Match Point maybe. This represented a  big leap from Gershwin to the merciless inroads in the pseudo sordid chic of  Euro trash, which he scans with an unmatched brio (for an American.)  He switched from the neurotic intellectual world in New York City to the Prosecco crowd which can be viewed ad nauseam in Vanity Fair.  He observes both categories with a mixture of disdain and commiserative sympathy. In his latest European ventures he comes close to Almodovar but cannot handle the latter's perverse virtuosity.  If he tried, he might come over as clumsy. He is wise to  keep his distance and to leave the farcical to its own devices (which can be cruel), without intervening.
It is hard to judge the personality of Woody Allen. Should his more European genre be seen as a snub to America?  I doubt it, but it cannot be excluded. On the other hand, Europe comes over as a foregone backdrop for a society in tatters which plays out an indifferent libido with interchangeable partners.  The decor, be it London, Paris or Rome, is far more the deus ex machina which reduces the actors to discredited cliches, lost in grandiose inherited surroundings which they no longer can appreciate. Likewise in his American movies, Allen made New York City the focal point of  his story but there was still a connection, maybe neurotic, between his human chessboard and the city.
The latter found solace in the former and vice-versa. In Midnight in Paris Allen came close to a similar type of complicity but it remained more voyeuristic than existential.
Those film qualities can hardly resist the onslaught of Hollywood which has betrayed the sophistication of the classical American comedy and shamelessly produces blockbusters for the insane, which inhabit the current global fast food mondialisation. The same goes for other filmmakers by the way, who find it more and more difficult to argue for a space, which has largely been overtaken by a Behemoth who is deforming people and minds. As Woody said it, 80% of success is simply showing up. The masses do.

We live more and more in a world of undesirability.  Today's l'air du temps sucks. Wars will soon have their proper TV channel en direct, Kabul or Congo or South Sudan.  One can already zap between cluster bombs, suicide vests and one or another hunger calamity. Allen does not to have to talk about that. His silence is the critical subtitle of the parodies and escapism which rule the waves.  He knows that on the subject of war and peace everything has been said since Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion.  Erich von Stroheim, who played in this masterpiece, said that "in Hollywood you are as good as your last picture." While Woody Allen, fortunately, still prefers to remain bi-coastal westwards, there is more to come.  There might also be more to lose,  alas.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


The United States finds itself in an accelerating pre-election mood, which means that it is losing its way. True, the social-economic context is difficult but, contrary to what happens in the EU, remains manageable.  The problem lies elsewhere. The philosophical climate is absolutely unpalatable. Both candidates appear disconnected from the reality they are supposed to heal and the media, with few exceptions, seem to wage wars which would look anti-diluvian in Europe. In the current discourse, God, moral issues, left/right oppositions, federal against state, foreign affairs, are mere commodities which are manipulated by amateurs. The two candidates do look isolated in their own parties and obliged to talk shop rather than to make sense.  Obama looks out of touch while Romney looks contrived and boxed-in by Evangelicals and the Tea Party troglodytes (while it would be a mistake to denigrate them all) who are blackmailing the Republicans.  The Democrats look like a poor lot who hardly warm up to their candidate.  Obama tends to find refuge in distance, while Romney is the hostage of his success. He should be the miracle man in these times of recession and unemployment.  Unfortunately and paradoxically he is stained by his success as a businessman. The latest Vanity Fair and an editorial in the Wall Street Journal (of all papers) present Bain as Dante's Inferno, while it should be applauded for mostly reviving business. There have been failures indeed, but that is the law of capitalism.
It is difficult to predict what the outcome of the elections will be.  Obama has scored mostly in foreign affairs (thanks to Hillary Clinton) and a few sectoral economical pluses (auto industry).  Romney projects the perfect image of the WASP capitalist and an almost sterling record as former governor of Massachusetts, but both fail to ignite a real enthusiasm in the general public which acts as if it felt itself clueless both at home and in the world. The deluge of literature about America's decline is overwhelming and contributes to a climate of malaise. This crisis in the American exceptionalism creates a void which is filled by demagogues on the left and the right. Their arguments do not address the legitimate intellectual or cultural questions. The soundbite rules . All this distracts from the reality that America remains first in the world in military, creative, and technological advances which are unstoppable. Here and there the political (provincial) gridlock is unfortunately creating traffic jams and foolish decisions (Afghanistan) which are fed by the likes of Donald Trump, the Log Cabin, hysterical Democratic media and Co.  When I hear some arguing that Russia or China (America's first lender) are Enemy Number One, I fasten my seatbelt. When I see how women's or gay rights are under attack and how churches and sects proliferate, I start to wonder if some want to recreate a Western Saudi Arabia.  All this is the more absurd since there are more intellectuals and Nobel Prizes in the United States than there are poppies in Flanders' fields. I am confident that the U.S. will find its mojo back, but time is the mother of all miscalculations and third parties might easily be tempted to confuse a temporary fever with a fatal outcome.  The blame cannot rest solely on the shoulders of the candidates for the presidency.  Congress has been playing the role of the mad joker, confusing personality and issues.  The Republican hatred against Obama is almost Freudian and hides undercurrents which better remain unspoken. The Democratic class warfare belongs to another era and is frankly anti-progress.  It consorts ill with measure.
In Christopher Hitchens' words:  it is high time to return to the United States of Enlightenment!