Watching Scraps: It Happened One Night & Alien: Covenant

What happens one night? Well, Cary Grant’s lead decides to stalk a lady on the night bus. His intentions are pure, of course, because in this universe, sex only exists under very specific conditions.

She’s just too stupid to get along! He carries her across the country, and in the process, she falls in love with him. He isn’t sure whether to reciprocate at first, but then he decides to make a 3 hour drive to New York, write an article of several pages, and then return to the motel in another epic 3 hour drive, before she wakes up, to accept her love. And would you know it, he doesn’t quite make it in time!

In a famous scene, it is implied Claudette Colbert’s lead can stop a car with her stockinged leg, although the driver actually stops to pick them up with the aim of stealing their things. Really, they were both as useless as each other at hitching a ride. In order to get around the censors, they had to hang up a sheet in-between the two beds, just to air the room of the scent of sex enough, so that any taste of it is left til the last scenes, where they order a trumpet and blow it in an admittedly quite clever reference, and strong commitment to the bit. It’s a seven degrees of separation from sex scene.

There’s this thing about the black and white 4:3 format. It’s cute, and harmless, largely due to the vast machinery of censorship that hovers over it like an gargantuan pair of invisible scissors. From time to time this mechanism becomes very visible, as the lead actors disappear from the screen for the last 10 mins of the film, largely due to the fact that they’re going to fuck. As a result, I always feel safe when i’m watching these films. Not that i’m afraid of sex, in fact 4:3 films censored for violence etc. but not sex, would probably be the most amazingly comforting genre. I couldn’t speculate as to what form the sex would take – it’s hard to imagine the specifics.

It’s just that the 16:9 aspect ratio in colour opens onto a world where dangerous things could happen at any time. In black and white, 4:3, you’re always safe. No one’s going to get their face torn off, no one’s going to try and destroy the foundations to a world. Or at least, any such intentions have long lost their bite, that world has already fallen to pieces in war after war, and been restructured and sold off. We have become ‘desensitised’. Or rather, the work of sensitisation has relaxed. Along with it went much of the legislative frameworks enforcing morals in the movies.

Or is it the phenomenology of the fissure between our world and the black and white world? Because Le Chien Andalusian wants to disturb us, of course. But the lack of colour and general frame rate and world of the early films, but also their distance from us historically, helps place them in categories away from the threatening.

The other day I watched Alien Covenant. They called them ‘Grand Guignol’ elements, faces getting torn off etc. Aliens popping out of unexpected places, backs, throats… Relating covenant even back to Alien (1979) it seems there is a loss of heart. Maybe that is specific to Ridley Scott’s trajectory. Or maybe it’s how the realistic depiction of gore relates to its time. My dad couldn’t bear the chest popping scene in that original film, but I find it a bit squeamish though not disturbing. But events in Covenant disturbed me, through their disinterest in the people they were happening to. John Hurt always seemed human, throughout everything that was happening to him.

But I wasn’t interested in that, as such. Covenant felt without hope, at least not human hope. Whereas in the 1979 film, there is always the hope that Ripley survives, and lives a safe life, regardless of what happens in those later films. There is even an element of this in Prometheus (2012) which has this kind of hopeful ending, which is then betrayed in an ahuman fashion in Covenant, without even allowing Elizabeth Shaw to have her say on screen in the latter. But apparently Scott has decided that those films are about robots from now on.

Frank Capra’s 1934 film gave me nothing to worry about, and that’s partly down to the fact that it’s a ‘screwball comedy’, but it’s also down to the fact that I knew I didn’t have to worry about anything. Everything would be okay. The censors ensured it. Who plays this role in our time? Our friends who recommend us films, and reassure us. But it’s better that it’s now a choice, a choice to let possibilities and their danger in. A choice watch an old film.

Aphorisms II

There is a beautiful pathos of history in the fact that the totalising force and the absolutist will always be dogged by those with a blog. The might of the word, of knowledge, is similar to the might of the ocean. You may divert its force for a time, but it will flatten all land eventually. You may think you can divert it. But once something is realised, it stays realised.

*

When I hear someone exasperate about the internet, I always think – which comment annoyed you today? Which site fractured your sense of comfort in knowledge? Because of course, there is no such thing as the internet. There are only individual users, and groups… But then, that’s not quite right. The word – internet – like the word – society – has an image or sectional meaning whenever used in this way. It comes accompanied with – a comment section filled with drivel – the endless mass of opinions – lists of reviews, one to five stars, each with their set of entries… And I can’t help but think of this, whenever someone says ‘what’s wrong is the internet’ or jokes that… If it weren’t for the internet, we’d all be happy. The internet, they say, like a compulsion, their fingers itching to pick up a dustpan and brush, or an EMP device. I wonder if they know how they seem to us? We who have lived in the internet. They merely adopted the internet. We were born in it, moulded by it…

*

One was not born, but rather became, man. Or, the same, we can say that a newborn has a biological history, but not as yet, a cultural history. But why the past tense? ‘Man’ is dead – now, there is man. Because Man in our cultures was rarely defined against something, it was so throughout, so hegemonic, that it became such that it was never thrown into question. What an incredible amount of violence and ignorance must have been undertaken to reach that point, where everything other was buried beyond sight. But now those who work to define themselves as men, do it against the woman, the other, the beyond. That they do this is a symptom that they have already become different.

Or is this too simple – for who wrote the books, the newspapers, owned the presses? Rich Men knew their rich world, keeping the right company, having all the weapons. And so there must be a history of people outside, in the countryside, in the underground, out of ear-shot, who did not pay heed to the shouting and babbling of homoerotic joy at ‘Man’ (though of course that has its place.) These are the people who have so quickly in our time wrested their voice and as a byproduct of that process, ‘Man’ was destroyed. Their existence was only expected in a crude, partial way, in small encounters soon pushed from the mind. Or their behaviour was put into categories beyond thought. Or, they were simply ignored, kept from the true accounts, as the image was forging. It is an image with a great inner weakness that is destroyed simply by the existence of difference.

*

Since the old world is dead on its feet, we need only to keep living how we want, in order to push it softly into its grave. Culture is dead, long live culture.

*

Postmodernity is partly the realisation that we are animal, and much culture is therefore arbitrary. The kinds of firework show deviations from the past through so-called primitive art, and geometric shapes, becomes ubiquitous, and beautiful. This is the universalism, channeled and shaped consciously or unconsciously by architects through international capitalism, delusions of true rememberance and projection of power into giant capital structures like Shanghai.

*

Information of a thing can infuse its phenomena, knowing this or that makes it seem ‘yes, that should be like that’. A brutalist building could seem cold or totalitarian, but when you know it was built in response to dead aristocratic imitation of imperial forms, and built for the use of normal people, then it seems warm, and loving, and clears the air.

*

My brain has a buffer zone for target words – I see the word Manchester, and then type it into my phone – I’m going to… Manchester. But the word I saw has overridden what I originally meant to say – the shop. The target is replaced by a functionally similar word, but never by an ungrammatical word. One of my colleagues will talk along with me, almost to the point of mimicking everything I say. Watching or hearing speech is so bound up with speaking that they sometime bleed into each other.

*

Perfect translation is an oxymoron. That there is no such thing as a perfect translation is a tautology. We may say that the most perfect translation is the same sentence written out twice, and read twice by the same person, and even then we have problems.

*

People make more sense when we consider the regimes of meaning they move within, what commanding concepts structure or hold important nodes within their connectome – be it atoms, material, science, or with friends, of days and nights out, of love or sex, or of politics – of ideals or utopias, or realism coloured by nationalism, or by history, or by strategy, or of faith or religious cultus, or of meditativeness of the moment, or of the smallness or greatness of the moment, or the worst of all, just doing stuff no matter what it is. And all of this might be more or less hidden, or subtextual.

I move from regime to regime, depending on which regime has disappointed me most recently. If I think the answers rest in friendship (which I mostly do) then I consciously try live in this regime of meaning, where we do what we say we will do, and honour and love each other. I succeed to varying degrees. This is all just a fancy way of talking about what really matters to us.

*

Can Descartes’ answer to the problem of life be boiled down to this; we are in the care of a great and powerful illusionist, one who cares for us greatly, who feeds us our worlds out of love for us, coddling us. Within this illusion, other, smaller, illusions are spun to make us doubt them and in deepen our trust in the greater illusion.

*

One might say that if we knew everything about someone, we could say exactly what they would do in a situation. But what kind of arrogance is this? We don’t know everything about anybody. And nevertheless, such a someone can still have good reasons for their actions. They may still deliberate, and act, they can still be free.

V.11

If I can relax a few people
can admit the existence of
sex! I will have expectations
that will be beached and left to drown

I wait in the queue for the bank
of clouds, where the blue sky is cut.
and thats a wrap, people. antique,
the vistas of the air become

animal in immense cuteness.
i say be jubilant we fuck
and that we generally want
nothing more than a quiet night

alone with the one we love, to
spoon and stuff but fuck also, now
the world has realised we gain
a world from admitting our roots

in the vast fields beside our friends
and cousins the bonobo, who
create literatures of sex
out of the grass, the leaves, the world.

some people scare at this freedom
to walk across and fall in love.
and of course this is my spectrum
analysis of loneliness

Alexia

After asking permission to sit
I held your hand and examined it;
Five pages, each embedded with more meaning
Than infinite libraries. I flicked
From page to page, and finally
I touched the palm, this mystic object
I could not parse, not then.

Deaf to your breathing, your signature, your eyes
I let it fall, then left the bed
And left your room, and you.
I do not think we ever spoke again.

Histories and worlds enfold this move
Inevitable as it was; from here it seems the fulcrum
Of a trajectory not taken.
An old satellite, decaying orbit
Suddenly snags the atmosphere and falls
Silent in the darkness, till the planet’s roaring
Shakes it out, it rips apart;
Just so, I left the building.

And now, from time to time, in another land
I dwell upon your hand.