Kubrick’s Lolita

In which James Mason and Shelley Winters beat Lucy and Dezi into the ground with baseball bats, then hop up and down upon their comedic graves

Clare Quilty, the chair

That I’d been directly immersed into the chaos of someone’s revealed dream is how I felt the first time I watched Humbert Humbert (James Mason) enter the black-and-white baroque/rococo, bric-a-brac, moving-day set of Quilty’s mansion, through which Humbert stumbles in dumb, amazed horror, hell as a puzzle where all the pieces have been retained but splintered so fine that to find a proper order is beyond the mind’s ability to comprehend what was once object or shadow play. What manner of disorder is this? Where have all the partyers gone, for there must have been a number of them. And the white sheets draped over the furniture wonder how long since they left, and when will they be called out of storage to play again in another Kubrick film? A brittle and stagnant energy of old offered up as novel, each time with a different twist of perception, so that when the layers archeologically pancake together in the sediment of time there’s no distinguishing between them. Harp and harpsichord tinklings hint at heaven subverted with the orgies of rebellious angels.

“Quilty, Quilty!” Mason calls, and eventually one of the pieces of furniture answers, stirs beneath its shroud, and there separates from a chair a man who drapes the shhet over his pajamas in the manner of a Roman toga, the sleeper awakened. Is this Quilty? “No, I’m Spartacus,” he answers. “You come to free the slaves or something?” Though Mason clearly intends to kill him, Quilty’s apparently random, rampant behavior seems careless or oblivious of eminent danger, as if he doesn’t quite understand that it’s all not a game, that to Mason this is real, and in that way maybe Mason’s actions are as illogical to Quilty as his are to Mason. Genius ping-pongs the mundane into the realm of the fantastic, the camera frame denying we are out of bounds.

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Paths of Glory

(Originally placed online in 2000. Am migrating here from another part of the website.)

Unusual for him to do while watching a film, about a quarter of the way through Paths of Glory my husband got up, went in and sat in front of the computer to check the email. I waited a moment then asked, “Can’t watch?” “No,” he said.” “It’s too real and people are too stupid.”

Paths of Glory may be anti-war, but it also contemplates your basic problems in “power over” hierarchical structures. Actually, it’s anti-war primarily through exploration of what happens when you take your typical business situation only instead of bottom-level employees you have infantry privates, and the pyramid of managers ranges from non-coms to commissioned officers to the Board of Directors parading about as Generals, occasionally visiting the floor all nice and friendly like, querying all the clerks and hosts and hostesses and stock personnel, “Hey, you ready to smile and sell today?” Most people would do well to ask themselves (at least those with a thread of cynical honesty in their blood) how they think they’d fare as an infantry private under any number of managers/bosses they’ve had. Think dealing with people’s lives lends any more responsibility and/or intelligence than pushing the employees to sell more, sell more?–hey buddy, you, the one leaning against the wall, I don’t care if you have been busting your ass all day and are taking a brief breather, I want to see all my little chickens out in the aisles doing something continually even if the something means and merits nothing, so you get out there and sell yourself because it’s not just product we’re interested in pushing we want to project an image that’ll make the civilian sigh and say, “Wow, they really care about people there, don’t they. Instead of going to church this Sunday, what say we go down to the local Wal-Mart.”

Scary to think how capriciously my life would have been handled, considering some of the people I’ve worked under, if we had been dressed in military fatigues.

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