Saturday, June 30, 2018

Off the Shelf: What Catholic Traditionalists Foresaw

By Michale Brendan Dougherty
June 29, 2018
Editor’s Note: Every week, Michael Brendan Dougherty writes an “Off the Shelf” column sharing casual observations on the books he’s reading and the passing scene.
My family drove back from our brief trip to Maine early Monday morning.
I’ve been reading through a collection of essays, The Best of “Triumph,” which pulls together the notable contributions to a reactionary Catholic periodical from the 1960s and 1970s. The introduction to the collection asks whether Triumph wasn’t a natural ally of the conservative movement. Hadn’t its founder, Brent Bozell, co-authored with William F. Buckley Jr. a defense of Senator Joe McCarthy? Hadn’t he worked closely with Goldwater? The answer is stark. “In the history of a magazine that habitually confounded expectations and surprised, even shocked its readers, nothing was more confounding than Brent Bozell’s decisive severance of himself andTriumph from the conservative movement.”
Bozell's arguments against conservatives are merely folded into his larger argument with modernity. In some ways he foreshadows the arguments made more recently by Patrick Deneen. Bozell urged readers to discard the illusion of a a dialectic between conservatism on one side and liberalism on the other. “Is it not clear that what we are dealing with here is not two corpses, but one? What is being discarded by history is a whole approach to man and to politics.” Bozell wants to dispel the other illusion, “that politics — the ordering of the public life — can proceed without continuing reference to God.” Bozell wanted a public life ordered such that it would “help a man be a Christian”.

You would often find, however, that Triumph is not so far from National Review as the introduction imagines. There in its pages, as in ours, is Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. The number of times that Jean-Jacques Rousseau is called into the dock in this volume nearly equals Jonah Goldberg’s effort in Suicide of the West.
The book is a beautiful specimen of traditionalist Catholic publishing. That is, it is massive, has long stretches of white space, and the typography has odd errors. Some pages in my editions are rendered in entirely bolded text. But it has its gems. In these pages the great historian Christopher Dawson writes of the Catholic Church as “this majestic superhuman reality.”
At this point, to be totally honest, I think modern American society does drive people to become Christians. Which is different from “helping” them to be Christians, I suppose. At the same time, I’m nearly despairing of the Church’s ability to keep men Christians. I can’t quite shake the anger I feel when I read about the now-acknowledged depredations of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
I thought I was already inured to the moral rot in the Catholic clergy. I’ve been briefed about the machinations in some important urban dioceses, where bishops subtly encourage the death of the parishes located on prime real estate so that the Church can close them and sign lucrative 99-year leases with property developers. My family knows of the parishes that have an internal reputation so notorious that they get nicknames. A certain St. Matthew’s becomes “St. Mattress.” And so on.
A friend who left the seminary - to morally compromising, he thought — once told me of a legendary story in his diocese. A recently ordained priest was assigned to a parish with a pastor who liked putting on rather decadent parties in the parish house. This new priest complained to his bishop about it. The bishop brushed him off. But word of the complaint leaked around the diocese, and the pastor retaliated by having the newly ordained priest’s bed removed from his room and replaced with a Jacuzzi tub. The young priest called the bishop again. “I’m leaving,” he said. “Fine, fine,” the bishop relented, saying that he could give him a new assignment. “No,” the priest responded. “I’m leaving the priesthood.” That bishop has had a major promotion since, and is considered a stalwart conservative, with extensive contacts among conservative politicians. It’s a real possibility that he reads this website. I hope he reads this and for the first time in a long time really feels the cold grip of quiet panic.
The moral corruption is so deep and pervasive it becomes almost invisible by its omnipresence. It just flashes its icy look and smile on different faces. We see it in Pope Francis inviting Cardinal Godfried Danneels to participate as an elder statesmen in the Synods on the Family, though Daneels had helped cover up the abuse of a young man by Father Roger Vangheluwe, the victim’s uncle. We see it in the way disgraced men such as Cardinal Roger Mahoney are still allowed to haunt their diocese. Even Bishop Rembert Weakland, who embezzled funds from his diocese to pay off his lover. We see it in Miami, where the former archbishop had a side business selling Spanish fly. And this is just the most basic sexual and financial corruption. Undergirding both is a spiritual and intellectual corruption.
One of the remarkable things about reading Triumph now is the sense in its essays that the events they are witnessing in the late 1960s and early 1970s are cataclysmic for the Church and society. There is a sense that things cannot go on this way for long. But, in a way, they can and did. In fact, things are much worse than the editors imagined. Reading it has stolen some of the comfort I have taken by encouraging people to imagine a more sane Church and world in 50 years looking back on the present. And how shocking they would find the nadir it all came to in our times.
There is an undeniable psychological tension between my religious belief that I cannot have hope for salvation outside the visible, institutional Church and my honest conviction that of all the institutions and societies that intersect with my life, the Church is by far the most corrupt, the most morally lax, the most disillusioning, and the most dangerous for my children. In that tension, personal prayer will dry up like dew at noon.

Where do I find hope? I find it in the faces of other young Catholics. The families at my parish who make real sacrifices for the Faith. I find it in the young writers such as Sohrab Ahmari , B. D. McClay, and Matthew Schmitz who still convert and fall in love as I did. They could start Triumph, anew. Even if sometimes my personal piety dries into dust and nothingness, the bell rings at Mass, my knee drops to the floor, and if nothing else, this gesture testifies objectively to the reality that Christ is present in the Eucharist, that Christ is Lord. Hopefully for now, that’s all I need to know.
Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West (Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics) by [Kepel, Gilles]
I’m also reading Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West, by Gilles Kepel. It was a passionate book that took stock of the terrible year 2015, which began with a slaughter at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and ended with a massacre at the Bataclan. It was followed by the martyrdom of a Catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, in 2016. That year and those events in France set everything else in the West on their current trajectory.
The wave of terror, and the many connections it had to migratory routes that Angela Merkel had encouraged to grow, has bequeathed to us a whole new system of borders within Europe, populist governments rising in Austria and Italy, the near end of Merkel’s chancellorship, and Brexit. It may have even inspired enough Americans to pull the lever for Donald Trump who promised to ban Muslim migration and travel to the United States.
Kepel traces the terror back to the 2005 riots in France, the ones that announced a new generation of native-born Muslim youth. And in a 2005 manifesto, The Global Islamic Resistance Call, by Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a Syrian Spaniard. It shifted the balance of Islamic terror, away from al-Qaeda’s old model of recruiting Middle Eastern terrorists to carry out spectaculars in the West, to looking within the “poorly integrated” Islamic youth of France. The idea was to take the struggle to Europe until its nations began to implode in the atmosphere of civil war. Those who answered the call left Europe to train as fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, later Syria.
Kepel sees Islamic terror has a fundamental challenge to a French state and French society that is ill-equipped to meet it. French political and security institutions are more insular than those in Britain and America, he insists. I find this debatable. Like most liberal intellectuals, Kepel often looks beyond the blood in the street spilled by Islamists, to the blood spilled in his imagination, by fascist reactionaries who seize power later. The book is also marred by its final lame attempt to envision a France beyond the current apocalypse, one in which the French high school serves like the Church in St. John’s Revelation, a paradigm of a new heaven and earth. One doubts French schools are peaceful or so powerful as to be able to create a new France.
Overall, though, it is a challenging book, and I find it useful to engage in a more French way of looking at political events. American commentators are obsessed by the recursiveness of American history, and tend to place all their emphasis on what we are all already supposed to know. We tend to use political commentary to reinforce long-held ideas and notions, as if we are always looking at current events as riffs on the old familiar themes of history. Kepel, like many French commentators, tends to look for what is new and distinctive in the moment, what threatens to break out and reorder French assumptions and French life. It’s a livelier way of looking at the world.
The end of history never came. But, perhaps, the end of corruption does come as a necessity. The decay of the clergy cannot long survive in a world dedicated to stripping priests of their comforts, honors, and occasionally their lives. Is it too much to think that in Europe’s future Christian priests will be more drawn to the example of men like Jacques Hamel than to the sickening worldliness of men like McCarrick and Danneels? Hopefully, they won’t even have the choice.

Show Me the Way to Go Home: Nostalgically Revisiting Steven Spielberg’s 'Jaws'.

By Amy Simmons
June 2018
Related image
Steven Spielberg ruined the ocean for me. Some people blame the director for spawning the high-concept summer blockbuster and for signalling the demise of the New Hollywood era. I blame him for a myriad of ruined trips to the beach.
When Jaws opened in the U.S. on June 20th, 1975, the film not only transformed the face of cinema – turning Spielberg into a household name – it would also change the way many of us perceived the sea.  Four decades, and nearly $500 million in ticket sales later, Jaws still keeps audiences on the edge of their seats, has fans reciting the immortal lines, and leaves us wondering if it’s safe to go back in the water.
There’s no question that Spielberg’s landmark classic terrified at least a couple of generations of holidaymakers and fed harmful misconceptions of sharksScare stories of “rogue” sharks triggered headlines that added kindle to the embers of fear that Jaws had started, and as a consequence, dozens of shark fishing tournaments swept through the East Coast of the US, causing a calamitous drop in shark numbers. Subsequently, like Dr. Frankenstein, the book’s author, Peter Benchley, could not evade the carnage in the wake of his creation, and for the latter part of his career he became a voice in the campaign for the conservation of sharks until his death in 2006 at the age of 65.  But that’s another story.
Out of all the films Spielberg has given us over his career – spanning nearly half a century – I would, perhaps controversially argue that he has never topped Jaws. Every shot, every scene, everything about the film is executed with such exquisite precision that I’m hard pressed to think of another “rouge animal” picture that has come anywhere near it, let alone better it. Eschewing the tiresome trope of sleazy characters getting what they “deserve”, Jaws is more than just a monster-movie, it’s also a superb black comedy and a gripping thriller, and unlike most modern blockbusters that frequently overwhelm viewers with nonstop “thrills”, Spielberg injects Jaws with highly suspenseful scenes and intimate character moments, and as a result,  the bigger notes hit that much harder.
Raised on E.T. (1982) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Poltergeist (1982), and Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981),I re-watched videotapes of Spielberg’s early films until they were worn out, at least until I discovered what else was out there. But for me, Jaws remains one of the truly great and lasting classics of American cinema, and one of the few films that left an indelible mark on my childhood. As such, I practically have it memorised– every line of dialogue and every musical note.
Since viewing Jaws for the first time, 37 years ago, I’ve tried to enjoy the ocean, but I just can not. I’ve tried breathing exercises, I’ve gone with friends and swam close by them the whole time. I’ve faked boldness in the hope that it would turn into real boldness. It hasn’t worked. I just think about sharks. And you can’t reason me out of it, I know the statistics.
The number of individuals who have been attacked is so small as to be considered statistically insignificant and does not warrant my anxiety – I realise that. I just feel like out of all the people bathing in the ocean, a shark would overlook everyone else, see my pale, lanky legs and wouldn’t hesitate to rip them off.
As Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) says to Chief Brody (Roy Scheider): “It’s all psychological – You yell barracuda, everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”
I’m hardly alone in my lingering galeophobia (fear of sharks) and thalassophobia (fear of the open sea), for which I hold Spielberg singularly responsible. However, the deep-sea still represents the great unknown, and any venture into its waters is a relinquishment of control. “The fear of being eaten is ingrained in people,” says Mike Heithaus, a marine biology professor at Florida International University in Miami. “If we feel like we have some control or [a] fighting chance, a situation isn’t as scary. With sharks there are no trees to climb, and you can’t outswim a shark.”2
Related image
Before I’d even seen Jaws, I was terrified of its poster. Roger Kastel’s classic illustration of the gargantuan shark with its rows of razor sharp teeth, surging relentlessly towards the tiny, naked figure of the unwitting female swimmer, remains one of the most classic and iconic images of seventies cinema. Revealing so little, but suggesting so much, this horrifying artwork was a masterpiece of movie marketing. However, as visceral and affecting as the image undoubtedly was, it was also a bit of a tease. As many already know, Jaws turned out quite differently from how it was initially conceived. Shot mostly on location on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, the film had a troubled production. This was largely down to the mechanical shark – nicknamed Bruce, after Spielberg’s lawyer – failing to work for the majority of the – way over-schedule – shoot. Despite having three prop sharks that frequently malfunctioned due to bad weather, corrosive salt water and other problems, the brilliance of Jaws emerged from its impromptu, ad hoc nature, and it was Bruce’s numerous technical failings that led to the film’s unrelenting tension and saved it from becoming just another monster movie. Due to his prop’s shortcomings, Spielberg relied on a suggestive shooting style, an incomparably talented editor in Verna Fields, and heart-pounding score by John Williams (both Oscar winners) to construct a sense of presence-through-absence. As a result, the structure of Jaws is fairly reminiscent of a slasher film, in that the killer is largely concealed until the final act.
Related image
From the opening scene, Spielberg shot mostly from the point-of-view of the shark, allowing the audience to fully take part in the experience. Moreover, he utilised an ingenious series of immersive, “swimmers-eye” POV shots – with the camera dipping above and below the sea – to give us the sense of treading water, where even the briefest glimpse of a dorsal fin, coupled with ambiguous evidence of the sharks’ aggressiveness and enormous size, were sufficient enough to induce abject terror. Hence, like any savvy director experimenting with horror, Spielberg recognised the cinematic potential of invisibility and anticipation: an audience’s imagination would be far more effective than anything he created visually. Indeed, who’d have thought, that the sight of three yellow barrels popping up to the surface of the ocean, or the sound of a clicking fishing line could be so chilling?
By picking his moments to reveal the prop shark – on screen for a grand total of about four minutes – and using the power of suggestion, Spielberg was able to build a Hitchcockian sense of suspense. Thus, it is to young Spielberg’s credit (he was just 28 when he directed Jaws) that he pulled this off with aplomb, so much so that it’s easy to forget that we don’t get a good look at the shark until well into the second half of the film. Even so, for all his deficiencies, Bruce behaved as a movie monster should. It ate children and dogs, menaced the lead actors and even swallowed one whole in front of us. We knew the shark was fake, but when it launched itself at Chief Brody – when he was given the task of laying a chum line – we had a collective heart attack.
Related image

According to one of the film’s producers, David Brown: “Almost everyone remembers when they first saw Jaws.”
The film entered my life sometime around the age of eight, when it premiered on UK television on October 8, 1981. I was hiding behind the living room door at the time – when I should have been in bed – while my parents were watching the film. They had no idea I was there, in a state of sublime terror, daring to peak at every scene. When Quint (Robert Shaw) meets his macabre fate, as he slides down the tilted deck into the shark’s gaping maw, I was horrified, distraught and in complete awe. I had never seen anything so grisly in a film before – the sight of him coughing up blood in agony still haunts me – and it burned into my retina. This was a seminal event, which most likely started my love for the horror genre, and the memory of that shark stalking the waters off the richly realised world of Amity Island has never entirely released me. Still, like most children, I loved the things that scared me, and I developed a nearly pathological obsession with sharks as a result of the film. Wading into the ocean on family holidays filled me with horror, but I still read as much as I possibly could about sharks – and shark attacks, which particularly held a dark attraction for me. I guess my child’s brain was still processing the trauma of seeing Quint being devoured alive. That said, like many of my generation, I probably saw the film far too young, and it still astonishes me to this day that Jaws received an A (restricted to adults) in the 1970s  and then was granted a PG (parental guidance) in the 1980s. Considering the film features – among other alarming scenes – the dismembered limbs of two victims and a child being violently consumed in fountains of blood, even the 12 A (suitable for children aged 12 and over) these days seems extraordinarily lenient.
Since its release, Jaws has attracted a significant amount of analysis, each argument seeking to expose the mysteries of a film that struck a nerve in the summer of ‘75 and went on to smash box-office records, nabbing rave reviews, three Academy Awards, and a Best Picture nomination in the process. In Benchley’s book, it reads like a morality tale about the hazards of adultery and the inability of an obsessed patriarch to manage his family and his community. As a film, it has been variously interpreted as a depiction of masculinity in crisis, a psychosexual/misogynist thriller with a distinctly phallic antagonist, a middle-class manifesto that only resolves itself when Quint perishes, to a post-Watergate paranoid parable about corrupt authority figures. But as a cultural phenomenon, the real story of Jaws is how a B-movie concept, creature feature, transformed Hollywood, and our summer holidays, forever.
The story is simple enough: playing out as a classic three-act drama, Jaws is largely a character-driven film about Amity Island Chief-of-Police, Martin Brody, who attempts to close the beaches, after a young woman, Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie) is killed by a great white shark. When he is refused permission by Mayor Vaughan, who is more interested in making money over the July 4th weekend, he grudgingly agrees to keep quiet. As the body count builds, the ocean-fearing Brody puts his faith in two men who know more about sharks than he does: a marine biologist, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and a professional shark hunter, Quint, who agree to help Brody find and catch the beast. It’s both an adventure and quest; a horror story with an (initially) unseen monster; a family story of a father trying to protect his children; but ultimately, it’s about three men, a battered boat and a voracious shark.
In a film loaded with unsettling moments – the unexpected appearance of Ben Gardner’s dismembered head during a late night dive, the estuary attack on the boating instructor whose leg is bitten clean off, and of course, the shark breaching the surface while Brody chums the water – it may seem impossible to pick just one to hold up as the most memorable. But for me, it is the bone-chilling, opening sequence, now the stuff of legend, featuring a young Chrissie Watkins, whose late night swim remains one of the most gripping, brutal and bruising scenes ever committed to celluloid. So effective is this scene that none of the later attacks come anywhere near as close to its nerve-shredding intensity. It is also convincing enough to stand on its own as a short horror movie about lone teenagers in peril.
Glittering seas, and the halcyon days of summer are established in Spielberg’s first shot, which focuses on a group of shaggy teens hanging out around a campfire. The camera comes to rest on the face of a blonde woman, Chrissie – who smiles invitingly at a young man sitting nearby. As they engage in a flirtatious chase towards the shore, she strips off her clothes and dives into the ocean, while he fumbles with his shoes and belt, before collapsing drunk on the beach.
The water is calm and inviting; a bell tolls and the dawn sun peeks above the far horizon. Chrissie swims out further and rests. Next, the scene cuts to a rippling, underwater perspective, where the camera focuses voyeuristically on her naked, shimmering silhouette. It’s a sublime shot, so beautiful we know it can’t last.
Related image
As Chrissie treads water – her long hair trailing over her shoulders like the seaweed in the film’s opening title sequence – Williams’s ominous ostinato quickens as the camera approaches her scissoring legs. The following shot is slightly raised above water level, no doubt to register her reaction, of first astonishment then dread. On the first yank, Chrissie’s head is jerked backwards, but she remains above the surface. The camera cuts to a tighter close up as the second violent tug pulls her under the water. When she emerges, we barely have time to register her response before she is pulled completely under for the third time. The camera remains on top of the water for an agonising few seconds, before she resurfaces with a scream. Clenched  in the jaws of the unseen predator, Chrissie is dragged across the width of the frame from left to right. The film then cuts to her inebriated pursuer, passed-out on the beach, making it clear that her cries for help are going to remain unanswered. We then cut to a wider shot as she is propelled across the surface of the ocean in a white plume of foam towards a ringing buoy, where in a brief respite, she clings on to it and prays for her life, before the shark comes back to take her. Her panicked final plea is cut off by the black water as she’s dragged under for the last time.
It’s excruciating. And as far as iconic death scenes go, it’s hard to beat.
In Hitchcockian terms, by keeping the shark offscreen Spielberg shows us the time bomb ticking under the table early on with Chrissie’s death, which dramatically heightens the feeling of unease. Likewise, the visceral impact of Jaws had a significant amount to do with the late, great editor, Verna Fields (fondly known as the “mother-cutter”), whose contribution was instrumental in maintaining the film’s flow – building tension and giving substance to the most fleeting of shots – leaving a near-matchless legacy.
Related image
A further example of Field’s editorial dexterity is illustrated in the film’s notorious beach scene, where, soon after Chrissie’s violent demise, an anxious Brody stares intently out to sea, his vision obscured by beach dwellers strolling in front of him. Here, Fields uses the passerby’s as natural wipes, cutting the shots to an unsettling rhythm, between Brody’s point-of-view and the ocean. Next, we get a flurry of images from the perspective of the coastline – Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees) paddling out on his raft, a young man playing fetch with his dog, a large lady floating on her back, a couple frolicking in the surf and a constant babble of Altmanesque, overlapping dialogue that requires and rewards intense concentration – but it’s only when the dog vanishes that the lurking presence is suggested, and by then it’s too late. When the shark finally does attack, we’re completely disoriented. The scene culminates in the film’s infamous retrograde zoom into Brody’s panicked reaction, and his nauseous realisation that he’s failed to save the child. The final image of Alex’s ripped and bloodied raft as it nudges the shore – rather like the dog’s abandoned stick floating on the water – is a potent one and provides a bloody punctuation mark to what is perhaps the film’s most masterful moment of suspense.
Aside from the film’s nearly flawless technical execution, a large part of what makes Jaws work, is its overflowing sense of life. Spielberg is fascinated by the complexities and contradictions of human nature, and the dialogue sparkles (between a cast he clearly sees as crucial collaborators) with an immediacy and wit that has never lost its charm. The smooth interplay between characters, often expressed with sight gags – from the Styrofoam cup versus beer can crushing scene, to the familial tenderness of the dinner-table interaction between Brody and his youngest son, Sean, who solemnly imitates his every move, to Quint and Hooper comparing scars, where Brody surreptitiously checks his appendix scar but remains quiet – were all the result of improvised sessions and often play out wordlessly, as all the best Spielberg moments do. Moreover, valuable contributions were made in all of the supporting roles: Lorraine Gary delivers a naturalistic, seemingly effortless performance as Ellen Brody; Murray Hamilton’s multifaceted turn as Larry Vaughn lifts the Mayor above the usual slimy politician; and the film’s minor roles are filled with remarkable, lived-in performances, where scarcely a single stray line fails to either reveal character or advance the plot.
Related image
When the film’s legendary third act takes us aboard Quint’s ramshackle boat, the OrcaJaws expands organically into a subtle examination of class war, notions of masculinity and nature fighting back against humanity, as it becomes an heir to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, while conjuring a 25-foot, three tonne creature that is part marine biology, part destiny. Shifting effortlessly between suspense, humour, and sheer horror, Spielberg’s direction vividly conveys the isolation of the characters at sea, the power of the beast at hand and the rich camaraderie and rivalry that builds between Brody’s quintessential everyman, Hooper’s privileged, oceanographic playboy and Quint’s unhinged, modern-day Captain Ahab. Here, time is taken to let these characters drive the story, and we can’t help but warm to them.
It’s well-known that the working relationship between Dreyfuss and Shaw was frequently antagonistic during the making of Jaws. Though Dreyfuss has since downplayed their rivalry, he has admitted that he was often goaded by Shaw on set – usually when drunk, which Shaw frequently was. As it turned out, this behind the scenes “feud” as Spielberg called it, had a constructive rather than detrimental effect on the film, resulting in a raw immediacy, which fed back into organic, prickly performances.
The duo allegedly made amends – much like their characters do – during the filming of Shaw’s celebrated USS Indianapolis speech, where he delivered a harrowing four-minute monologue which demands our unwavering attention.  For me, the cabin sequence – in which Quint recounts the trauma of sharks picking off his companions from the sinking ship in WW2 – remains not only a masterclass in acting but one of the greatest moments in the history of American cinema, where, for a brief moment, we forget about the menace outside and witness Quint’s suicidal drive for revenge, while the mournful cry of a humpback whale rings out in the distance, as if nature itself were lamenting his fate.
The speech, conceived by Howard Sackler and written by writer-director John Milius, was initially eight pages long, which Shaw, a noted playwright, finally trimmed down to four. When he stumbled onto the set to shoot it, however, he was so drunk that Spielberg gave up filming. However, he came back the next day sober, and nailed the scene, in a faultless performance that will never lose its potency.
The glorious absurdity of the film’s climax is one of those great cinematic moments. It’s the closest Spielberg comes to modern blockbuster territory, but by that point, an instant of excess after two hours of unremitting  tension and restraint feels more than deserved.  As social conflicts and personal concerns fall away, Spielberg’s grim capacity for big-screen gore is illustrated once again, in a brutally evocative, prolonged and graphic scene, as Quint is finally eaten alive from the waist down, thereby fulfilling his Captain Ahab destiny.
Related image
Eventually, of course, the job gets done, finished by Brody, who, trapped on the boat alone – while Hooper is still underwater – throws an oxygen tank into the shark’s cavernous mouth, and takes pot-shots with Quint’s rifle from the ship’s sinking mast. When the tank explodes, taking with it our defeated shark, it all seems somewhat implausible, but then so much of the film is. Still, Spielberg, as always, does not attempt to convince us of realism in his fantastical scenarios; rather, he builds belief in the universe containing these events. Moreover, by attaching us to his characters – who bring vivid reality to our fears, our joys, our hopes, and our pain – he pulls us in through masterful manipulation of the medium, and makes us believe the impossible.
How easy it is, perhaps due to decades of inescapable media saturation, to take Jaws for granted. The three lackluster Jaws sequels (none of which were directed by Spielberg) and countless rip-offs, have no doubt tarnished the film’s reputation, but it would be unfair not to give the director his due. In the wrong hands, the film could have been a disaster. Instead, it was a triumph of creativity and collaboration that manages to seamlessly and subtly interweave intimacy with spectacle, turning pulp fiction into pop art. Certainly, no film about a man-eating shark should be this accomplished, this important, this memorable, or frankly, this faultless. Nevertheless, Jaws turned out to be one of the most perfect cinematic fables ever told, which not only captured my young imagination, but triggered my lifelong, bittersweet love-affair with cinema and the ocean. To this writer, Jaws remains Spielberg’s masterpiece.



Friday, June 29, 2018

Book Review: 'The Fiery Angel' by Michael Walsh

June 29, 2018
Image result for walsh fiery angel
As Europe commits slow-motion suicide via a flood of Muslim migrants, and as Marxist mobs in America exploit the issue of immigrant family separation to advance their open-borders agenda, it is useful to step back from the hysteria and reflect on the bigger picture of the cultural history of the West and the inimical forces seeking to subvert it.
Michael Walsh’s compact new book The Fiery Angel: Art, Culture, Sex, Politics, and the Struggle for the Soul of the West provides that salutary perspective. A subtitle as grand as that promises a sweeping survey of the West’s artistic and intellectual heritage, as well as an insightful portrait of its enemies, and Walsh is one of the few writers who can deliver on that promise.
One would be hard-pressed to find another conservative intellectual, or intellectual of any political stripe, of Michael Walsh’s caliber. In terms of the depth and breadth of his familiarity with both high and low culture, only the iconoclastic Camille Paglia comes to mind as a rival. But Paglia isn’t also an American Book Award-winning novelist, journalist, distinguished classical music critic, and screenwriter. Walsh also writes political commentary for – among others – PJ Media, American Greatness, and the New York Post under both his own name and occasionally his alter ego David Kahane (Rules for Radical Conservatives: Beating the Left at its Own Game to Take Back America). He also happens to be a friend of mine, but my praise is not simple favoritism; his accomplishments speak for themselves.
Like its predecessor The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West(which I reviewed for FrontPage Mag here), The Fiery Angel not only draws heavily from the storytelling realms of opera, classical music, and literature from Aeschylus to Wharton, but also includes a liberal (in the plentiful, not political, sense) dose of pop culture references from Amadeus to the Twilight saga. “This volume,” Walsh introduces the book,
seeks to illustrate, by means of artistic examples both high and low, an important and rarely remarked-upon truth: that the arts give the lie to the entire cultural Marxist project by recording and revealing timeless – and some particularly timely – truths about human nature…
What we find is a remarkable consensus about basic principles of right and wrong; of the proper, if imperfect, relations between the sexes; of the importance of children to the health and future of a culture; of the nature, meaning, and need for heroism. Seen in this light, the entire Marxist-Leftist venture crumbles into dust…
What is The Fiery Angel of the book’s title? It is the name of a Prokofiev opera produced in 1955 whose stark originality, blunt sexuality, blend of the real and supernatural, and “symphony of cultural references” prompted Walsh to choose it as an “optimistic symbol” of Western culture. “[O]ur job as audience members is to decode” the story’s meaning for ourselves, and similarly, “[t]his should also be our approach to our own history, which is not a dusty mausoleum of facts, periodically exhibited for our decreasing edification upon a mortuary slab, but is instead a ripping yarn that, in teaching us about the past, is also instructing us about the present and the future.”
Walsh’s dizzying erudition could be overwhelming if he were a less entertaining and enlightening guide. In any case, there is method to what another reviewer called his “chaotic brilliance”: “[B]y tracing artistic themes and connections backward through the ages we can, like Hansel and Gretel, eventually find our way home,” Walsh writes, for “the way forward might just be backward.”
Along the way, Walsh contrasts the intellectually disputatious nature of Western thought with the ruthlessly authoritarian impulse shared by the West’s principal contemporary enemies: Leftists and fundamentalist Muslims: “Marxism seeks to replace pluralistic discourse with its own form of coercive totalitarianism – socialism ‘with a human face.’ That the face is not human at all, but satanic, needs constantly to be pointed out…” And later in the book: “The key to understanding the Left… is that it (along with Marx and his successors), utterly rejects all previous historical facts and interpretations of history in order to proclaim its New World Order. In order to make that case, the unholy Left must needs overthrow and consign history itself to the ash heap of history.” [Emphasis in original] For the same reason, “the Left has severed the great works of Western art from their modern audiences.”
In a time in which the Left demonstrates such a zealous appetite for destruction, as the Guns N’ Roses album title goes, Walsh explains that “the modern international Left has… made common cause with resentful, reactionary Islam,” both “bent on the destruction of the West.” This unholy alliance, as David Horowitz calls it, is most recently evident in the Left’s outrage over this week’s ruling by the Supreme Court upholding President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban, falsely deemed a “Muslim ban” by the Islam sympathizers of the Left. Walsh’s response in The Fiery Angel?
Western governments should make it clear that no further Muslim expansionism will be permitted. There is no rational reason for the cultural entity formerly known as Christendom to accept a single Muslim immigrant unless he – and it is almost always a “he” of military-serice age – can be shown to possess useful Western skills, not to harbor anti-Western sentiments, not to have a criminal record or any infectious diseases, and not be a burden on the public trust. Wahhabist Islam is not an “enrichment” the West needs, nor one is should desire.
Walsh decries that “the West’s agnostic loss of faith in its institutions” has led to such defeats as the fall of English cities to Pakistani rape gangs and jihadis. “[H]eld prisoner by ‘tolerance,’ forbidden by ‘compassion’ to articulate a coherent defense, and in the thralls of the ‘diversity’ chimera,” Walsh writes, “Britain has found itself morally and politically defenseless. Like the vampire, Islam keeps coming back, as do all the enemies of the West and its civilization.”
As Walsh notes, “[t]here is literally no idea too stupid for the Left to conceive and believe, if not quite achieve, in its war against God, and against us.” Stupid, yes – and dangerous and destructive as well. But as Michael Walsh demonstrates time and again in his new book, in the epic battle between Good and Evil, our satanic enemies are no match for the West’s heroic spirit and irrepressible genius.

The left’s increasingly unhinged portrayal of Trump as a dictator

June 29, 2018
Image result for president trump dictator
Scott Olson/Getty Images
The Nazi analogy has long been recognized as the crudest and dumbest form of argument, but it’s enjoying a renaissance.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden notoriously and unapologetically tweeted a photo of Auschwitz-Birkenau as a response to family separations at the border. Upon a report that parents at the border were being told that their children were being taken to get bathed and disappearing, Chris Hayes of MSNBC tweeted, “What does this remind you of?” Soledad O’Brien chimed in, “Welp, I guess we’ve put to rest the question: ‘Nazi Germany: Could it happen here in America?’ ”
Progressives imagine that they are protecting our system when making these and related charges, but they are really losing faith in it themselves and undermining its legitimacy.
Kumail Nanjiani, a comedian and actor with more than 2 million followers on Twitter, objected to Trump’s contention that illegal immigration brings criminals into the United States. He said Hitler “focused on crimes by Jews,” and this is what brought on Nazi Germany over time.
Actually, Hitler was named chancellor in January 1933 and immediately acted to curtail press and individual rights and begin repressing the Jews. He used the Reichstag fire to mobilize against opponents, including through violence, and gained full dictatorial powers via the Enabling Act in March 1933.
By comparison, Trump in his first year and a half in office has tweeted, called the press names and — yes — highlighted crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Unpresidential? Yes. Disturbing? At times. Fascistic? No.
Several books, including one by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, are devoted to more sophisticated versions of the Trump-as-budding-fascist theme.
In “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write that “Trump’s first year in office followed a familiar script. Like Alberto Fujimori, Hugo Chavez and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, America’s new president began his tenure by launching blistering rhetorical attacks on his opponents.”
Well, yeah, and these comparisons would be fair and apt if Trump went on to purge and jail his opponents.
Levitsky and Ziblatt believe the best scenario for democracy is that Trump loses. A much darker future is that “a pro-Trump GOP would retain the presidency, both houses of Congress, and the vast majority of statehouses, and it would eventually gain a solid majority in the Supreme Court.”
To do all this, Republicans would have . . . to win elections, an odd thing for an anti-democratic party to do.
Yes, authoritarians overseas win elections — by rigging them and disqualifying opponents.
After continuing to win sweeping electoral mandates, per Levitsky and Ziblatt, Republicans would then enshrine their rule by “using the techniques of constitutional hardball to manufacture durable white electoral majorities.”
They’d do this through large-scale deportations (never mind that illegal immigrants don’t vote); immigration restriction (which would require Congress passing laws and would presumably change the foreign-born percentage of the electorate only slowly over time); purges of the voter rolls (if the Ohio example recently upheld by the Supreme Court is any indication, this would involve the removal of nonvoters who didn’t reply to a notice over a period of years) and strict voter-ID laws (i.e., requiring a valid ID).
You can object to every single one of these measures and still realize that they hardly amount to the agenda of Erdogan or Fujimori.
The worries about Trump as fascist dovetail with critiques of our system itself as undemocratic. These will become more prominent as Trump moves to almost certainly nominate another robustly constitutionalist, highly credentialed jurist to the highest court in the land.
For progressives like Jonathan Chait of New York magazine and Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times, this is another sign of “minority rule.”
But Republicans get to nominate and confirm Supreme Court justices because they won the presidency and retained control of the Senate in 2016 in a hard-fought national election.
It is true that Trump won despite losing the popular vote, but the Electoral College is nothing new or untoward. It can’t be that Democrats, thought not long ago to have a lock on the presidency, suddenly can’t possibly muster 270 electoral votes. Have Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania gone from blue wall to unwinnable that quickly? And the Senate, held by Democrats as recently as 2014, become an insuperable electoral obstacle?
Our system will presumably look much better to progressives if Democrats go out and win some elections. You know, like the alleged fascists do.
Twitter: @RichLowry