Monthly Archives: June 2007

loser

The devilish cleverness of Usamah bin Ladin in 9/11 was that he was able to turn a losing position into a stalemate. He couldn’t win against the United States — still can’t — but he could put his organization on equal footing with us, if we let him. Before 9/11 he was a criminal, a former guerrilla plotting, with due respect to those who lost their lives on the Cole and in the African embassies, penny-ante attacks on easy American targets. But in the hours after 9/11, both newsanchors and the government were declaring that the United States was “at war.” And all of a sudden bin Ladin was in charge of, not just a terrorist network, but the enemy force. We elevated him and Al-Qaeda, made them our mortal enemy, our Moriarty. We made them appear to be a formidable foe to the world’s greatest power.

That was the first half. The second half was that by going into Iraq without a real plan, we created an atmosphere in which American soldiers became big fat targets. But these weren’t targets that you needed a clever plan and documentation and flight schools to carry out. Suddenly not only was the standard of success against Americans much lower, but so was the cost of entry. Attacking the U.S. was no longer a matter of crossing an ocean, but of crossing a border, a town, or even the street.

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shut up, baby

To take a single example, throughout The Philadelphia Story people, especially the Katherine Hepburn character, constantly refer to the Cary Grant character by his full name, “C.K. Dexter-Haven.” Hepburn rolls the name around in her mouth, “C.K. Dexter-Haven… C.K. Dexter-Haven…” for full comic effect — and it is a funny name, but every time she says it, of course, it becomes a little less funny. The joke is reduced with repetition; it hasn’t got the mass to carry it through a whole film.

In Bringing Up Baby, on the other hand, the two main characters are forever barking each other’s perfectly ordinary first names — “David!” “Susan!” Again, it can be argued that this is a maddening, irritating to the very hilt — in that same Filmspotting episode, Sam van Hallgren did a very funny off-the-cuff parody of this seeming stylistic crutch. But, on the other hand, the very plainness of it, the simplicity of the repetition, the everydayness, makes me think that the irritation is perhaps a little intentional. David and Susan, though the time-frame of their relationship is compressed, come to frustrate and annoy one another just as much as if they had been married for 20 years already. Who hasn’t experienced the annoyance of hearing his own name again from the mouth of someone he loves? Bringing Up Baby is a carnival stuffed inside a clashing mechanical monkey, and it’s not for everyone. But by many small details, director Howard Hawks and his writers anchor all the madness in a real piece of emotional earth.

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