[Excalibur] [Monty Python and H.G.] [Blazing Saddles] [Making Mr. Right] [Animal House] [South Park]

[Slaughterhouse-Five] [Dr. Strangelove] [Starship Troopers]

[1984] [Brazil] [Gattaca] [Lathe of Heaven] [Fight Club]


(Excalibur: Classic Romance, Definitely Not a Satire)


Citation (expanded):

Excalibur.  John Boorman, dir., co-script, producer.  USA (sic): Warner (prod.) / Orion, Warner (dist.), 1981.  Rospo Pallenberg, co-script with JB, from Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur [published 1485]).  140 min. / USA, edited version: 119 min.  Original music: Trevor Jones.  Unoriginal music: Carl Orff (from Carmina Burana), Richard Wagner. 


Major Cast (Note: Arthurian spellings can vary.)  


Uther Pendragon Gabriel Byrne   Arthur                         Nigel Terry
Morgana                             Helen Mirren Igrayne                        Katrine Boorman
Lancelot                           Nicholas Clay Gawain                           Liam Neeson
Guenevere                        Cherie Lunghi Cornwall                        Corin Redgrave
Perceval                           Paul Geoffrey Kay                                 Niall O'Brien  
Merlin                              Nicol Williamson Leondegrance               Patrick Stewart  
Mordred                            Robert Addie Boy Mordred  Charley Boorman
Ector                                  Clive Swift   Uryens                            Keith Buckley


Plot summaries courtesy of IMDb.


Comments and Questions


1.  On Sir Thomas Malory's The Morte Darthur: "The Death of Arthur"—title variously spelled; characters' names variously spelled; some roles vary in different versions.

            The Morte Darthur does not end with "The Death of King Arthur" (section VI in my source) but with "The Death of Launcelot and Guinevere" (section VII).  The climax of the story is the death announced in the book's title, with the stories of Launcelot and Guinevere (and others) tied up fairly neatly in the concluding section, for the dénouement (i.e., final tying up of story lines).  The overarching story is, after all, the Courtly Love of Launcelot and Guinevere and how this instance of Courtly Love involved a betrayal: not just the adultery necessary for Courtly Love, but the betrayal of Arthur as Lord and friend. 

                        • How does Excalibur finish up the love triangle of Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot? 

                        • How does Excalibur handle the love affair and adultery: Tragically, Romantically—a little of each?  Is there any hint of a comic or satiric cuckolding? 

In classic Courtly Romance, the adultery was a given: among the Courtly class, marriage was business, so romance had to be outside of marriage; since people of all classes usually married young if they could, Courtly romance was usually—at least in literature—adulterous.  G. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales starts out with "The Knight's Tale," a cleaned up and mildly comic short Romance tale; it is answered by "The Miller's Tale"—a fabliau (a long, dirty joke, here in most excellent verse).  "The Miller's Tale" takes the situation of old husband, young wife, young male collegiate border and makes it into a nasty, very funny satire centering on adultery; if we want the joke, we want the old husband to be cuckolded—and we get comic punishments for stupidity and pride, not adultery. 

            In Malory's version of The Death of Arthur, King Arthur mortally wounds Sir Mordred, his necessarily bastard son by his (half-)sister Morgan le Fey.  (Contrast Launcelot's holy bastard, the Grail Knight, Sir Galahad.)  And Arthur in turn is mortally (?) wounded by Mordred. 

                        Arthur commands Sir Bedivere, "take thou Excalibur, my good sword, and go with it to yonder water side, and when thou comest there I charge thee throw my sword in that water, and come again and tell me what thou seest."  Bedivere hides Excalibur instead and returns to Arthur.  "'What saw thou there?' said the King," and Bedivere replies, "Sir […], I saw nothing but waves and winds"—which tips off Arthur that Bedivere disobeyed.  Arthur again orders the sword thrown into the water, and this bit is repeated.  «Magic» third time, Bedivere goes to the water,  "bound the girdle about the hilts" of Excalibur, "and then he threw the sword into the water, as he might; and there came and arm and an hand above the water and met it, and caught it, and so shook it thrive and brandished, and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water."

                      • How is this business handled in Excalibur?  Does Boorman's handling of the sequence avoid the possible laughter at a disembodied arm and hand catching a sword? 

                      • Is Sir Bedivere the «sword knight» in Excalibur?  If another knight,  what, if anything, is the significance of the change?

                        Arthur has Bedivere carry him "to that water side," where Excalibur had been thrown.  And when they were at the water side, even fast by the bank hoved a little barge with many fair ladies in it, and among them all was a queen, and all they had black hoods," and all wept and mourned "when they saw King Arthur.  'Now put me into the barge,' said the king."  Which done, "that queen said, 'Ah, dear brother, why have ye tarried so long from me?  Alas, this wound on your head hath caught over-much cold.'"  The barge is rowed off and Bedivere calls after it, demanding what would become of him with enemies all about.  Arthur answers, "'Comfort thyself […] and do as thou  mayest, for in me is no trust for to trust in; for I will into the vale of Avilion to heal me of my grievous wound: and if thou hear never more of me, pray for my soul.'  But ever the queens and ladies wept and shrieked, that it was pity to hear."  Bevidere also "wept and wailed" and went off into the forest, where he comes across "a chapel and an hermitage," where he finds a hermit "groveling on all four," and "a tomb that was newly graven."  The hermit is the former Bishop of Canterbury, who doesn't know who's in the tomb "But this night, at midnight,  here came a number of ladies, and brought hither a dead corpse, and prayed me to bury him," and paid well for him to do it.  Bedivere concludes, the corpse "was my lord King Arthur," and swoons.  Malory concludes this part:

Thus of Arthur I find never more written in books that be authorized, nor more of the very certainty of his death heard I never read, but thus was he led away in a ship wherein were three queens; the one was King Arthur's sister, Queen Morgan le Fay [or Fey]; the other was the Queen of Northgalis; the third was the Queen of  the Waste Lands.  Also there was Nimue, the chief lady of the lake, that had done much for King Arthur.  More of the death of King Arthur could I never find, but that ladies brought him to his burials; and such one was buried there, that the hermit bare witness that sometime was Bishop of Canterbury, but yet the hermit knew not in certain that he was verily the body of King Arthur […].

Yet some men say in many parts of England [i.e., long after the fall of Arthur's Britain) that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place; and men  say that he shall come again, and he shall win the holy cross.  I will not say it shall be so,  but rather I will say, here in this world he changed his life.  But many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hic jacet Arthur Rex, quondam Rex que futurus.

["Here lies King Arthur, who was once king, and will be king again."  Or, "Here lies Arthur, the once and future king."]

                    • What is Boorman's version of the end of Arthur?  Should we see Arthur going off "into the vale of Avilion"?  Into The Mists of Avalon—a realm of preChristian magic?  Barging off with three regal women—we know not where?  Barging off to die and become a legend?                       • What are the generic effects of the various possibilities for an ending—or the effect on genre if the ending is strongly ambiguous? 

(Source: Charles Richard Sanders and Charles E. Ward, The Morte Darthur by Sir Thomas Malory: An Abridgment with An Introduction [New York: Appleton, 1940:  esp. 200-02]). 


2.  Two MU students a couple decades back coming out of a screening of Excalibur. 

                                She: I've seen this movie—but I've never seen this movie.

                                He: If you speak English you've «seen» the movie; we all grew up on Camelot. 

I grew up on such stories and a generation back many Americans still did—but did you?  If you're new in the neighborhood of Camelot, what did you make of it?  What generic expectations did you bring to the film?  Should we see Excalibur as, finally, tragic (the fall of Arthur and old Britain)?


3.  The backstory, birth, rise, triumph, and fall of Arthur—the great passion of Guenivere and Lancelot—these stories can be neatly told, and are neatly told in Excalibur. The Riverside edition of Selections from the Works of Sir Thomas Malory is called King Arthur and His Knights and includes a fair bit of the material that makes Malory's work a Late Medieval Romance (with Early Modern inflections).  With a Round Table surrounded by valorous knights, it's easy to just go around the Table, so to speak, and tell their tales.  In Monty Python and the Holy Grail look for a looser structure, one fitted for Romance and Satire. 


4.  Excalibur (1981) comes after Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975); should we see Python/Grail as a «pre-existent satire» of Excalibur?  With or without satiric commentary, what should we make of the politics of Excalibur and similar Romances?  HINTs:

                                    Who cooks the food for the banquets at Camelot?  

                                    Name two people at Camelot of rank below squire.  (Alternatively, name four enlisted personnel on an Enterprise in any of the STAR TREK saga.  Or name any two of the friends the Skywalker kids hung out with in the continuing STAR WARS saga.)

                                    What careers in Camelot are open to women of talent? 

                                    What alternatives to monarchy are considered as Britain gets politically organized?  (What alternatives to a chain of command were considered for STAR TREK: Voyager?) 

                                    What efforts do we see to organize peasant militias, armed with the sort of primitive pikes and long bows that might bring down mounted marauders? 

                                    How is the coming of Christianity presented?  (In the world of the film, is emerging Christianity progressive?) 

                                    What were the politics of the musicians whose existent music Boorman used?  What, if anything, should we make of the politics of music?  Can music be political? 


5.  Film Studies Issues:

                        a.  How does Boorman indicate shifts of time and era in Excalibur? 

                        b.  How does Boorman indicate shifts of reality from everyday toward Fantasy? 

                        c.  Anything notable about camera-work, lighting and/or use of colors? 

                        d.  In the final shot, why have the barge/boat with the three queens so small? 

                        e.  What in the mise-en-scene cues us we're in RomanceLand?  (Note the Queen of the Waste Lands in Malory, and that The Wasteland is a frequent alternative locale in Romance; what is it alternative to?)



[Monty Python and H.G.]



Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, dir.  UK: Michael White Productions, National Film Trustee Company, Python (Monty) Pictures Lt.  (prod.) / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Cinema 5 Distributing, Columbia Pictures-Columbia TriStar, MI Films Ltd., Rainbow Releasing (dist.), 1975.  091 minutes. 


Writing credits: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin (i.e., Monty Python). 


Major Cast


Graham Chapman   King Arthur/Voice of God/Middle Head/Hiccoughing Guard
John Cleese  

Second Soldier with a Keen Interest in Birds/Large Man with Dead Body/Black Knight/Mr Newt (A Village Blacksmith Quite Interested in Burning Witches)/A Quite Extraordinarily Rude Frenchman/Tim the Wizard/Sir Launcelot the Brave

Eric Idle  

The Dead Collector/Mr Blint (A Village N'er-Do-Well Very Keen on Burning Witches)/Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir Launcelot/The Guard Who Doesn't Hiccough but Tries to Get Things Straight/Concorde (Sir Launcelot's Trusty Steed)/Roger the Shrubber (A Shrubber)/Brother Maynard

Terry Gilliam   Patsy (Arthur's Trusty Steed)/Green Knight/Soothsayer/Bridgekeeper/Sir Gawain (The First to be Killed by the Rabbit)/Animator
Terry Jones Dennis's Mother/Sir Bedevere/Left Head/Voice of Cartoon Scribe/Prince Herbert
Michael Palin

1st Soldier with a Keen Interest in Birds/Dennis/Mr Duck (A Village Carpenter Who is Almost Keener Than Anyone Else to Burn Witches)/Right Head/Sir Galahad the Pure/Leader of the Knights Who Say 'Ni!'/Narrator/King of Swamp Castle/Brother Maynard's Roommate

Connie Booth The Witch
Carol Cleveland   Zoot and Dingo
Neil Innes The First Self-Destructive Monk/Robin's Least Favourite Minstrel/The Page Crushed by a Rabbit/The Owner of a Duck
Bee Duffell Old Crone to Whom King Arthur Said 'Ni!'
John Young The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't/The Historian Who Isn't A.J.P. Taylor At All
Rita Davies The Historian Who Isn't A.J.P. Taylor (Honestly)'s Wife
Avril Stewart Either Piglet or Winston
Sally Kinghorn Either Winston or Piglet
Mark Zycon Prisoner


Plot summary courtesy of IMDb.

Comments and Questions


1.  For a Romance, Sir Thomas Malory's The Morte Darthur, is elegantly structured: a locale, a premise, an over-arching story of the rise and fall of Britain, the great love-triangle of Guenivere, Arthur, Lancelot (with various spellings).  Still, it moves all over the place, as the various knights get their stories told—and a major knight like Lancelot can get a couple stories told.  Malory offers great Lit.: love and war, sex, violence, betrayal, hate, and piety.  Heavy on the piety with "Sir Galahad, the servant of Jesus Christ and very [= true] knight […] a clean virgin above all knights as the flower of the lily in whom virginity is signified" (King Arthur and His Knights 108; "The Holy Grail").  John Boorman's film, Excalibur, is even more tightly focussed, concentrating on the sword and Arthur and the love story—and giving us a relatively chaste Lancelot and sparing us a virginal, contrasting Galahad.  Python/Grail offers some comparison and contrasts with both works. 

                        • Is Satire like unto Romance in its invitation to episodic structure? 

                        • "The Death of Arthur" story arguably moves from Romance into Tragedy for its conclusion, especially in Excalibur, where "the rest is silence" after the death of Arthur.  How does Python/Grail end?  Does Python/Grail conclude? 

                        • How does Lancelot come through in Python/Grail?  Galahad, The Pure?  What is the Python take on martial heroism?  On virginity? 

Comic/Satiric—Political Theory Question: Why is male virginity often funny, female virginity less so?  Would the scene of Galahad's temptation at Castle Anthrax be funny if we had a (female) Warrior Maiden among a bunch of horny men?  In a nonpatriarchal, Amazonian culture, could you have such a joke (perhaps with a closet heterosexual)?  In a truly Christian culture, would any kind of virginity be funny?  (Maybe, in a comedy for a Protestant audience, such as Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.)


2.  Kevin Thomas in the LA Times places Python/Grail in one historical context in 1975 and asserts that the film "can also be read as an expose of the folly and brutality of war" (see above).   Do you think this assertion correct for audience response near the end of the Vietnam War in 1975?  Do you  think this is a legitimate reading for today? 


3.  If Python/Grail is not an antiwar film, what is the object of its satire?  If it does not have a satiric "butt," a target, can it be a satire?  If it is merely a parody of Camelot stories, is it satire?  Alternatively, if you accept parody as a form of satire, can a mere parody be serious satire? 


4.  What is the significance of Dennis, and the anarcho-syndicalist critique of Arthur's rule?  Why is this funny?  Shouldn't good Jeffersonian democratic-republicans—e.g., patriotic Americans—find Dennis right in rejecting weird theories of divine right based on having a sword thrown at a guy by some "watery tart"?  If something is being satirized in this scene—what?  More generally, what're the politics of Python (and maybe of Satire generally)?  


5.  How does God come through in Python/Grail?  How does Holy Church do?  (Note that British churches can be unabashedly patriotic an militaristic, displaying banners and statues of military heroes.  So The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch may have some British significances foreigners can miss.) 


6.  Steve Martin has said, "Comedy Is Not Pretty"; satiric comedy can get downright ugly.  Why do we laugh at the Black Knight, as he gets cut to pieces by Arthur?  Undoubtedly we take righteous pleasure at the reductio ad finem / reductio ad adsurdum (pushing to the end and reducing to the absurd) of macho masochism; still … what else is so damn funny?  Why do we laugh at the murder of a father to avoid inconvenience during a time of plague?  What is funny about the forced marriage of a son—and the destruction of a wedding party? 


7.  As early as 1957, in his Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye noted the tendency of Satire—for all its claims to gritty realism—to move off into fantasy.  When and how does Python/Grail move into at least what Kevin Thomas calls "the Pythons' absurdist vision"? 


8.  What is so funny—and is there anything satiric—about a modern British cop patting down for weapons a fully-armored knight (Sir Lancelot)? 



[Blazing Saddles]

BLAZING SADDLES.  Mel Brooks, dir., co-script (with Andrew Bergman [story also], Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, Alan Unger), some songs, acting.  USA: Crossbow Productions, Warner (prod.) / Warner (dist.), 1975.  

Short Form: It's a Mel Brooks movie. 
Major Cast 

Cleavon Little  Bart, Sheriff  Gene Wilder   Jim, The Waco Kid
Slim Pickens  Taggart David Huddleston  Olson Johnson
Liam Dunn   Reverend Johnson Alex Karras   Mongo
John Hillerman  Howard Johnson George Furth   Van Johnson
Mel Brooks Governor William J. Le Petomane/Indian Chief/ World War I-Era Aviator in Bad-Men Lineup Harvey Korman Hedley Lamarr, State Procurer/Attorney General/Assistant to the Governor
Jack Starrett Gabby Johnson Madeline Kahn   Lili Von Shtupp
Carol DeLuise   Harriett Johnson Richard Collier   Dr. Sam Johnson
Charles McGregor Charlie Don Megowan   Gum Chewer
Robyn Hilton   Miss Stein Karl Lukas     Cut Throat #1
Dom DeLuise   Buddy Bizarre Burton Gilliam   Lyle
Count Basie  Himself Gilda Radner   Townswoman in church (uncredited)
Robert Ridgely   Boris the Hangman (uncredited)    
"He Rode a Blazing Saddle" by Mel Brooks, sung by Frankie Laine.  
To hear the song: http://www.farwestmeats.com/sounds/blazsad1.wav


When outlaws ruled the West
And fear filled the land
A cry went up for a man with guts
To take the West in hand.
They needed a man who was brave and true
With justice for all as his aim
Then out of the sun rode a man with a gun
And Thad was his name
Yes Thad was his name!
He rode a blazing saddle!
He wore a shining star!
His job to offer battle
To bad men near and far!
He conquered fear and he conquered hate
He turned dark night into day
He made his blazing saddle
A torch to light the way!
            From http://dana.ucc.nau.edu/~tb9/archive/00_10.html

Wonderful (albeit it somewhat lengthy) summary with quotes from the film by Tim Dirks at filmsite.org.

Plot summary courtesy of IMDb.



"3Blackchicks Review"


Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2001



Comments and Questions


1.  Rose Cooper says "Mel Brooks' point is that racists and their ilk are the stupid ones, ripe to be ridiculed and ignored for the idiots they are.  In Blazing Saddles, we don't laugh with these fools, we laugh at them."  Is this the point you get from Blazing Saddles?  If not, what point(s) do you get?  Or,  does Blazing Saddles lack a point? 


2.  In a quotation I've undoubtedly given you, Northrop Frye suggests that Satiric genius tends toward what respectable society considers obscene.  Want to add scatological as well, or whatever the correct term is for "fart jokes"?  Is there a point to the bean-eating scene?  (One suggestion: it defamiliarizes and deromanticizes all those scenes of cowpokes sitting around the ol' campfire eating all those beans, and nobody, ever cutting a fart.  The critic suggested we'd never watch one of those cliché scenes against without giggling a bit—and that that was a very good thing.)


3.  At age 18 in Military Science 101, I was rather surprised to learn that an official US Army text book, based on the official history of the Army, held George Armstrong Custer to be a villain worthy to be shot.  My full-colonel instructor thought our text a little soft on Custer: "We hang murderers."  Growing up on Westerns, I was also surprised to find Army actions in the wars against the Plains Indians called "the nadir [= lowest point] of American military history."  The movies had it that Custer and the Cavalry were the good guys, not,  in the Colonel's formulation, "guilty of war crimes"  A colleague in the History Department not all that much younger than I was surprised that I was surprised; he'd grown up assuming movies lied about US history.  What's your background here? 

     • Do you assume movies often don't just fictionalize history but lie about it—present propaganda based in falsehoods? 

     • Were you taught in history courses about atrocities against the Plains Indians (and others), including by the Seventh Cavalry and George Armstrong Custer? 

If you were not taught the gory details of The Conquest of the West, does Blazing Saddles perform a useful function for you in deromanticizing it? 

             • The Indians/Jews gag can be useful here: The Bible's description of the Assyrian Empires move through Israelite territory has been likened to a description of US Western expansion written from the point of view of the Sioux; the typification is double-edged.  Given the chance—as at Jericho in ancient times and actions by the Irgun, the Stern Gang, and their more recent descendants—Israelites and Jews will commit massacres, but the great majority of our history has had us victims of massacres.  Ancient Israel / Assyrians = Indians / Settlers should be a disturbing equation. 

             • In the classic Western, one could ask "Where are the Blacks and Chinese?"—Blazing Saddles raises the issue. 


4.  Lenny Bruce suggested that we should use racial epithets much more often—use them until they became just words and lose their power to hurt.  Rich Erlich suggests that the ideal for the next few decades is less to get Americans from hating and contemning minorities than to get the minorities into positions where they don't have to care much if some people despise them.  Accepting that such theories are at least arguable, is Blazing Saddles useful in defanging racist language?  Or does the film "normalize" racist language and thereby work against US minorities? 


5.  How does Blazing Saddles handle The Problem of the Ending in Satire? 

             • Is it useful  to break the frame and insist we're watching a movie?  (Doesn't such distancing undermine any point the film might have?)

             • Does the breaking of the frame at the end fit in with the appearance of Count Basie providing the background music?  The toll-booth gag? 


6.  Again, the legend, anyway, is that Cleavon Little had an answering line to Madeline Kahn's "It's twue!  It's twue!"  Certainly it's an obvious sort of gag.  Why not leave in or put in such a joke?  It would make the scene smuttier, but it would foreground assumptions about the size of Black men's penises.  Wouldn't it be more offensive to a taboo but also  more moral to extend the joke? 

                    (Someone working on the Masters and Johnson sex project actually measured a sample: the flaccid Black penis averages "a silly     millimeter longer," to recycle a line from an old cigarette ad—with no differences for erect penises.)


7.  Are women dealt with fairly in Blazing Saddles?  More or less fairly than in classic Westerns?  Do women appear any worse than the men? 


8.  Does Blazing Saddles undermine authority?  If so,  does it do so usefully?  (The politics of attacking authority can get very complex, and interesting.) 




[Making Mr. Right]




Making Mr. Right.  Dir. Susan Seidelman.  USA: Orion, 1987.  John Malkovich, Ann Magnuson, stars.  098 minutes


Brief description: Pygmalion/Galatea motif with some gender reversal and other twists (possibly including a sendup of male questing).  Dr. Jeff Peters is a scientist who makes a male android who gets humanized by Frankie Stone—who becomes more fully human in turn.  Peters does not get humanized, but he does get a happy ending, shot into space.  Frankie Stone and the android (Ulysses) live happily ever after?


Major Cast


John Malkovich Dr. Jeff Peters , Ulysses 
Ann Magnuson Frankie Stone
Glenne Headley Trish (F.S.'s friend)
Polly Bergen Estelle (F.S.'s mother)
Laurie Metcalf Sandy
Ben Masters Steve Marcus


Plot Summary courtesy of IMDb.                        


Reviewed by Linda Lopez McAlister

For The Women's Show, WMNF-FM, Tampa, FL




Comments and Questions


1.  John Malkovich is the star of Mr. Right, but the character, Frankie Stone, is the protagonist.  Note opening of film and notice how we know Stone will be important, and so will the relationship between men and women. 


2.  In the little movie we see at the meeting early in Mr. Right, note the title for Jeff Peters: Chief Robotic Engineer.  Since the soundtrack of the commercial within the film makes clear that what's being pitched is an android, the "Robotic" in the title becomes ambiguous.  How is "Dr. JEFF PETERS" a Chief and a "Robotic Engineer"?  Does he change during the course of the film?  If so, does he become a bit more human?  More like a man? 


3.  This movie is in form a comedy, and the traditional pattern of comedies moves from relative unhappiness to happiness—for the positive central characters.  In Northrop Frye's analysis, central characters who aren't positive and remain that way have to be circumvented or expelled (such an expelled character is an alazon [plural, alazones]).  Generally, romantic comedy moves toward integrating as many people as possible into a new, better, more flexible society, coalescing around a central couple.  How happy is the conclusion of Mr. Right?  How appropriate?  How appropriate if the film examines a Ulysses character from Penelope's point of view?  How appropriate if the fim is satiric comedy? 


4.  According to Henri Bergson ("Comedy," ca. 1900), the essence of comedy is "the superimposition of the mechanical upon the organic," specifically upon the human.  How does Mr. Right use this technique?  How does it get comedy out making the mechanical more human? 


5.  How does the film use voice-over announcements and intercut TV shows and commercials?  (Compare RoboCop.) 


6.  Given the men in this film, is there something to be said for a woman's getting herself an android, or even a robot, and making Mr. Right?  Is the film an equal opportunity satire, getting us to laugh at women also? 


7.  Joan Gordon and several other big-time feminist scholars of science fiction once agreed that, if men erred in enjoying "T&A" films, it was equally bad for women to enjoy films that let them lust after men.  "But what the hell; it's sexist but fun"—and she lead an extended discussion of Mr. Right as a "C&B" flik (where the "B" stands for "buns").  Is part of the attraction of the film for women (gay men?) Malkovich's body—or at least for women intellectuals over 30?  Is part of the fantasy "making" Mr. Right—sexually initiating a well-hung innocent? 

                  The film Metropolis makes much of "the male gaze" and both the power of women (or female robot) and oppression of women (at least of the saintly sort) through the male gaze.  Is the male-gendered Ulysses the object of the female gaze in a similar and/or different way? 


8.  Making Mr. Right shows women interested in sex.  Is this aspect of the film «Good for the Women» (as a power minority in patriarchal culture) or not?  Is it good for women if the "cultural dominant" is sexual puritanism and finds lust in one's heart as bad as adultery?

From the ancient world well into the Enlightenment, women were held by many male intellectuals to be inferior and (and because) women were sexually insatiable.  In the 19th c., women were better than men because far less interested in sex than the male beast—and one of the reasons to keep women home and domestic and carefully married was to protect women. 


9.  Insofar as Making Mr. Right is a satire, what is being satirized? 

                  • American society, as typified by Miami, Florida?  (Note Ulysses as an "innocent abroad" in Miami, FL.)

                  • Female/Male relations in America?

                  • Women who waste time and talent searching for Mr. Right?  The Mr. Wrongs those women often get?  The "Romantic Code" that requires most American women and many American men to have as a prime goal finding one's "life partner" and "soul mate"? 

                  • Heroic questing?  (See below, Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses.")

If several of the above—is Making Mr. Right an unusual comedy but fairly typical satire?


[Animal House]


Citation (Extended):

National Lampoon's Animal House (vt Animal  House).  John Landis, dir.  USA: Universal (prod.) / MCA/Universal Pictures (US dist.), 1978.  Douglas Kenney, Harold Ramis, Chris Miller, script.  Ivan Reitman, Matty Simmons, prod.  Original music by Elmer Bernstein and Stephen Bishop (songs).  109 minutes. 


Major Cast


John 'Bluto' Blutarsky

John Belushi

Eric 'Otter' Stratton, ∆ Rush Chairman

Tim Matheson

Dean Vernon Wormer

John Vernon

Marion Wormer (Mrs. Dean Wormer)

Verna Bloom

Larry 'Pinto' Kroger

Tom Hulce

Mayor Carmine DePasto

Cesare Danova

Donald 'Boon' Schoenstein

Peter Riegert

Mandy Pepperidge

Mary Louise Weller

Kent 'Flounder' Dorfman

Stephen Furst

Gregory 'Greg' Marmalard

James Daughton

Daniel Simpson 'D-Day' Day

Bruce McGill

Douglas C. 'Doug' Neidermeyer

Mark Metcalf

Otis Day

DeWayne Jessie

Katy Fuller

Karen Allen

Robert Hoover, Pres. ∆ House

James Widdoes

Barbara Sue 'Babs' Jansen

Martha Smith (I)

Clorette DePasto

Sarah Holcomb

Shelly Dubinsky

Lisa Baur

Chip Diller

Kevin Bacon

Professor Dave Jennings

Donald Sutherland


Douglas Kenney


Chris Miller (III)


Bruce Bonnheim


Joshua Daniel

Otter's Co-Ed

Sunny Johnson (I)

Sissy, Flounder's Girlfriend

Stacy Grooman


Plot summary courtesy of IMDb.


Graphic Novel (something like that):

The National Lampoon's Animal House Book.  Chris Miller, author and editor.  Peter Kleinman, art direction.  Judith Jacklin, design.  John Shannon and Christine M. Loss, photography.  Np.: 21st Century Communications—Book division, 1978.  Based on the film. 


Comments and Questions


1.  In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and the clown Feste are singing drunkenly and loudly late at night, and are told to be quiet by the tight-assed, puritanical steward of the house, Malvolio.  The confrontation is significant and centers on Sir Toby's rhetorical questions to Malvolio, "Art [thou] any more than a steward?  Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, that there will be no more cakes and ale?" (2.3.106-8).  In the Twelfth Night world of—mostly—aristocratic romantic comedy, Sir Toby wins this confrontation: He's a drunken genteel snob who needs to be brought under control, but he represents upper-class Carnival and fun against Malvolio's bourgeois restrictions.  Mostly wins; it's a complex play.  In the satirical world of Animal House we get similar confrontations.  Who wins?  At least, who wins your sympathy? 


2.  Watching Gone With the Wind even in Peoria, Illinois ("Land of Lincoln"), I got a few stares when I cheered when General Sherman's name came on the screen.  Why?  Here enters, offscreen, the obvious hero of the film: the man most responsible for making "gone with the wind" the corrupt culture of the Old, Slave-owning South.  Far more like George Lucas's 1973 American Graffiti than the 1939 Gone with the Wind, Animal House looks back from the late 1970s at the end of the period in US history in which college students could get by pretty much untouched by events unfolding off-screen: the civil rights movement and the (at the time) slowly escalating US involvement in Indochina.  Arguably, none of us should identify with any of the students at Faber College—no more than a moralistic, solid Jewish Yankee such as I would identify with Scarlett O'Hare and her lot, enjoying their sinfully exacted wealth in the Old South.  But yet—

                           • It's possible that many pre-civilization, pre-patriarchal folk got by on 20 hours or so of work a week; hence, it's possible that the "Reality Principle" demands of work might be unreal, a relatively recent imposition of rulers with grandiose schemes to exploit overly-pliant populations.  Students I, as a teacher and property owner in Oxford, tend to see as loud, obnoxious parasites upon the Body Politic might be leading a more natural, healthier life than a puritanical society allows.  The voices of anarchy and Holiday may be right, and, possibly, we should resist civilized authority and the demands to grow up to be a drudge.  Bluto may present an important voice in a debate. 

                           • The real animals in Animal House—the violent men—turn out to be Greg Marmalard and the Omegas, and this is important.  The Omegas feature Greg and Doug Neidermeyer, and they are associated with established politics and with ROTC.  Marmalard is President of "Panhellenic Council" (sic) in Chris Miller's formulation in the Book; Neidermeyer is student commander of the Faber College ROTC detachment.  The "Where Are They Now" section of the graphic novel version has Gregory Breed Marmalard '63 as "Nixon White House Aide | Raped in Prison—1974" and Douglas C. Neidermeyer '63 as "Killed in Vietnam by His Own Troops."  For many in the 1978 audience, the Deltas vs. the Omegas prefigured the later 1960s confrontation between (among others) the Counterculture and the Movement on one side and the Establishment—I'm oversimplifying a lot here—on the other side. 


3.  Oversimplifying again—The Black Power Movement got started in part because of a loss of faith among Blacks in the good faith of even Leftist, activist Whites.  The Women's Movement got started in substantial part because many women on the Left became convinced that Leftist men were still frequently unreconstructed male chauvinist pigs, who would not help much with women's issues.  Insofar as Deltas vs. the Omegas and the Faber administrations prefigure the US Left against the Establishment, would Animal House be evidence that Black Power and Women's Liberation activists had good insights?  How good or bad is Animal House on politics of the racial and gender variety? 


4.  Most of you have been raised in "Just Say No"/"Zero Tolerance" subculture in part because by 1968 a fair number of US authorities figured out that those first illegal reefers and maybe even those first illegal beers—the initial acts of disobedience to authority—really could push the thin edge of the camel's nose down the slippery slope toward perdition.  (I watched in 1970 as the President of PanHel—the sorority group—at U. of IL, Urbana, addressed a crowd and took a big step: saying the youth of America would take no more sh*t off of these [significant pause] "motherfu*kers.")

                           • What do you make of the drug use in Animal House?

                           • How do you respond to the general irresponsibility?


5.  More than subsequent films in its subgenre, Animal House shows college students actually doing school things: cheating sometimes, but that's for class.  There are references to GPAs—and the significance thereof for young men facing the draft.  REAL QUESTION: With all to satirize in education, and with a strong tradition of anti-pedant satire, why are so few students in recent films shown studenting?


6.  For  it's 1978 audience, do you think Animal House was serious satire?  If so, what was satirized?  For an audience in the early 21st century, if Animal House is a satire, what is being satirized? 

                  • Relationships of love and sex?  (How romantic is this movie?)

                  • To what extent were and are the Deltas objects of satire? 


7.  Endings are difficult in Romance and Satire; does Animal House come to an effective ending?  Satire tends off into realism in one direction and fantasy in another: is the FireBlade reviewer right that "these folks are going to jail for a long, long time in the real world"—though not in the world of the final fantasy of the film? 

                  • Pinto gets laid at last—but problematically.  Is this decorous for satire?

                  • The combination of Carnival plus Good Order and Obedience to Authority symbolized in a festive parade is reduced to mere chaos.  Is this decorous for satire?

                           If Order is Dean Wormer and the Omegas, there may be much to say for chaos.  As Otter says (in Miller's Book), Bluto is right to call for revenge, "Psychotic, but absolutely right. […] This situation absolutely requires a really futile, stupid gesture on someone's part."  Bluto "swelled his chest proudly.  'And we're just the guys to do it!'"

                           If the Marx Brother's 1933 Duck Soup is to be praised for its "classic anarchic and irreverent Marx schtick" (Video Hound's Golden Retriever); if the 1963 It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World comes to an absolutely nihilistic ending—far more downbeat and amoral than the ending of the recent remake Rat Race—then Animal House may be in good company.  But it there is a pattern here, what might such a pattern mean for film satire? 



[South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut]



South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut.  Trey Parker, dir., co-script, voices, songs, co-prod. with Matt Stone.  USA: Comedy Central and Comedy Partners (prod.) / Paramount and Warner (dist), 1999.  Parker, Matt Stone, Pam Brady, writing credits (TV show, script).  Parker, Stone, Marc Shaiman, songs.  Blur Studio, heaven and hell special effects.  081 minutes.  "Rated R for pervasive vulgar language and crude sexual humor, and for some violent  images."


Short Form Credit: The "authors" of South Park are Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with help from their friends, including Comedy Central (the basic-cable network) and Paramount. 


Usage Note: I'll use small caps South Park for this movie; if I refer to South Park or South Park, it's the TV show (unless I screw up).  [Small Caps for films can be a useful convention.]


Major Cast


Trey Parker Stan Marsh/Eric Cartman/Satan/Mr. Herbert Garrison/Phillip Niles Argyle/Randy Marsh/Canadian Ambassador/Mr. Mackey/Army General/Ned Gerblanski/Additional Voices
Matt Stone Kyle Broslofski/Kenny McCormick/Saddam Hussein/Terrence Henry Stoot/Jimbo Kearn/Gerald Broslofski/Bill Gates/Additional Voices
Mary Kay Bergman   Liane Cartman; Sheila Broflovski; Sharon Marsh; Wendy Testeberger; Clitoris; Additional
Isaac Hayes Jerome 'Chef' McElroy
Jesse Howell, Anthony Cross-Thomas,  Franchesca Clifford Ike Broflovski



Additional Voices:  

George Clooney:  Dr. Gouache; Dr. Doctor

Brent Spiner:  Conan O'Brien

Minnie Driver:  Brooke Shields

Dave Foley:  The Baldwin Brothers

Eric Idle:  Dr. Vosknocker


Songs (from credits on VHS tape)


"Mountain Town" by Parker and Shaiman, performed by Stan, Kenny, Kyle, Eric, Stan's mother Sharon Marsh, Kyle's mother Sheila Broflovski.

"Uncle Fucka" by Parker, Asses of Fire version performed by Terrence and Phillip (variously spelled).

"Wendy's Song" by Parker and Shaiman, performed by Stan Marsh.

"It's Easy, Mmmkay" by Parker and Shaiman, performed by Mr. Mackey, Stan, Eric, Kyle, Wendy Testeburger, and Gregory.

"Hell Isn't Good" by Parker, performed by D.V.D.A.

"Blame Canada," by Parker and Shaiman, performed by Sheila Broflovski, Sharon Marsh, Liane Cartman, and Ms. McCormack

"Kyle's Mom's a Bitch," by Trey Parker, performed by Eric Cartman and Marc Shaiman [sic]

"What Would Brian Boitano Do?", by Parker and Shaiman, performed by Stan, Kyle, and Eric.

"Up There" by Parker, performed by Satan (The Dark Prince)

"La Resistance (Medley)," by Parker and Shaiman, performed by "Howard McGillin and the People of South Park."

"I Can Change," by Parker, performed by Saddam Hussein.

"I'm Super," by Parker and Shaiman, performed by Big Gay Al.

"The Mole's Reprise," by Parker and Shaiman, performed by The Mole and Kyle Broflovski.

"Mountain Town (Reprise)," by Parker and Shaiman, performed by the people of South Park.

"What Would Brian Boitano Do? Pt. II," by Parker and Shaiman, performed by D.V.D.A

"Eyes of a Child," by Parker, sung by Michael McDonald.


Annotations, Comments, and Questions

1.  Annotations

                        Apocalypse/Armageddon: The most famous vision of The Last Days (and a canonical work for orthodox Christians) is The Revelation to John, also known as The Apocalypse—it's the last book in the standard organization of Christian bibles.  The Apocalypse in this vision is the end of time and of our universe, with the final battle between Good and Evil fought at Armageddon yielding the victory  of Good and the beginning of the eternal reign of The Lamb (Christ); the evil and/or unbelieving will sent off to hell and God will "wipe away all tears" from the eyes of His righteous.  BUT, on the way to "a new heaven and a new earth" and the New Jerusalem there is the Beast from the Sea and the Beast from the Land and other portents—and the rule of Evil.  So Parker and Stone have good authority for seeing Satan looking forward to beginning of The Last Days (the Terrence and Phillip part is a change in the authorized version of the story).

                        Brian Boitano: Olympic figure skater popular at the time of the South Park movie and still on the Web; see http://kate.best.vwh.net/.  For lyrics to "What Would Brian Boitano Do": http://home.usadatanet.net/~paruby/06_boitano.htm

                        cigars: Cigars figured in the sex scandal involving William Jefferson Clinton, Pres. of the United States, and Monica Lewinsky.  For background (in case anyone still cares), try http://www.coffeeshoptimes.com/monica.html    (DISCLAIMER: I only glanced at the site.) 

                        D.V.D.A.: a band people on the web are tying to get information on—or "DVD Assoc. of America."

                        Menorah: A Hanukkah menorah, appears behind Sheila Broflovski in the scene in which she does a TV interview from her home, marking her emphatically as a Jewish mother

                        V-chip, from http://www.fcc.gov/vchip/

       Last year [sometime late 1990s,] the FCC adopted rules requiring all television sets with picture screens 33 centimeters (13 inches) or larger to be equipped with features to block the display of television programming based upon its rating.  This technology is known as the "V-Chip." The V-Chip reads information encoded in the rated program and blocks programs from the set based upon the rating selected by the parent.

       Pursuant to the Commission’s rules, half of all new television models 13 inches or larger manufactured after July 1, 1999, and all sets 13 inches or larger manufactured after January 1, 2000 must have V-Chip technology.  Set top boxes that allow consumers to use V-Chip technology on their existing sets are now available.

A conduct-control implant is a motif from science fiction that was never seriously considered by the US Congress of Clinton Administration. 


2.  Comments/Questions

                        A.  In his Slate review, David Edelstein says that "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is hardly PC, but it's still a piece of joyous left-wing propaganda."  What are the politics of South Park?   Why might it be odd that a piece of left-wing propaganda is not Politically Correct?

                                    (1) Joanna Russ and other feminist critics have taught us to ask, "Where are the women?"; and in South Park women are very important.  Is it a good thing for real-world women for women characters to have important roles in a satire?  (Is South Park misogynist—hating women—or just your standard-issue, probably useful, satiric misanthropic, in the sense of contemning humans generally, regardless of sex, gender, or whatever?)

                                                (a) Why have Sheila Broflovski as a Jewish, East-Coast, activist Mom leading what has traditionally been a Midwestern, puritanical Christian crusade: protecting children from smut?  (Hint: Who was US president when the V-chip was approved?  Whose joining of the antipornography crusade gave it a wider legitimacy?) 

                                                (b) What should we make of giving a speaking part to the clitoris?  (The next logical step after The Vagina Monologues?)

                                                (c) Gays and African-Americans also appear in South Park: How prominently?  To what effect? 

                                                (d) Where are the Christians in South Park?  Jesus lives in South Park and has a TV show; why didn't he participate in the film's action? 

                                                (e) Where are the politicians besides Bill Clinton?  South Park has an active mayor (when she has to act)—where was she? 

                                    (2) How do the mostly male kid activists come through? 

                                                (a) Will they get as sacrificial and/or murderous for La Resistance as the grownups will for their causes?

                                                (b) Why does Stan, so to speak, "Join the Movement"?  (One historian I read noted an increase of births nine months after 19th-c. Revivalist campaigns, so going to a meeting with sex at least in the back of one's mind is nothing new—even among those getting active to get saved.  And some people did like the Movement of the 1960s as a good place to get laid.  Stan is too young for sex, but he does have romance on his mind, and impressing Wendy.)


                        B.  South Park in form is a musical comedy.  There are a lot of songs.  The plot movement is toward re-established peace and harmony in North America, with the only difference the real death of Kenny—but with Kenny joining the buxom angels in Heaven.  And Saddam Hussein ends up thoroughly in Hell. 

                                    (1) When MAD Magazine gives us a primer for kids, you can be fairly sure they're using it for their most biting satire.  When Tom Lehrer gives us "children's" songs like "MLF Lullaby" or "Werner von Braun," you can be sure the songs will lacerate.  South Park starts with kids singing a sentimental "Mountain Town" song; there will be blood on the sand shortly. 

                                    (2) In Satire: A Critical Reintroduction (1994), Dustin Griffin talks of Satire often "invading" other forms and taking them over.  How has South Park taken over the stage-musical form?  The forms of individual songs? 

                        C.  Like most satires, South Park is highly allusive, or intertextual: It refers to a number of other works of art.  The more you catch, the more you appreciate the wit of the film—and the impressive knowledge of Parker and Stone.  Note that each of us will catch different allusions and, that far at least, will see a slightly different movie.  E.g.,

                                    • The high-tech display device at the military briefing—a STAR WARS allusion I suspect almost everyone in a course listed/cross-listed as Film Studies will get. 

                                    • Sheila Broflovski in front of a large American flag, though—there I think I'll be the only one chuckling.  It alludes to Patton (1970) with George C. Scott as General George S. Patton. 

There's a project open on identifying other allusions. 



FILMOGRAPHIC REFERENCE (Complete; material in <braces> optional)


Slaughterhouse-Five.  Dir. George Roy Hill.  <USA:> Universal, 1972.  <Paul Monash, prod.  Glenn Gould, music.  Stephen Geller, script, based on Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).> 



Major Cast


Billy Pilgrim (=BP) Michael Sacks
Valencia Merble Pilgrim Sharon Gans
Montana Wildhack Valerie Perrine
Brit. Officer Tom Wood 
Billy's Mother Lucille Benson
Howard Campbell, Jr. Richard Schaal
Paul Lazzaro Ron Leibman
Edgar Derby Eugene Rocke
Roland Weary Kevin Conway
[Werner Gluck] Nick Belle
Lionel Merble Sorrell Booke
Barbara Pilgrim Shaw Holly Near
Stanley Shaw Gary Waynesmith
(Sgt.) Robert Pilgrim Perry King



OTHER CHARACTERS: Billy's roommate in veterans' hospital: Eliot Rosewater, at the hospital after his accident: Bertram Copeland Rumfoord.  Tralfamadorians: Intelligent, spacefaring creatures from Tralfamadore, or creatures only in the mind of Billy Pilgrim as he desperately tries to escape from the pain of memory and the responsibility remembering would place upon him. 



Caution: The list is approximately accurate, but only approximately.  WWII = World War II; time of Billy Pilgrim's full adulthood (theoretically) otherwise.


1.  Pilgrim home in the 'burbs (= an unlocalized suburb in The American Heartland, if you like, call it "Ilium, NY," but be sure to know at least two meanings for "Ilium").  Barbara and Stanley arrive, BP's daughter and son-in-law.  BP in basement writing letter.  Time: present.  Clock ticks.


2.  WWII: Belgium, Battle of the Bulge (16 Dec. 1944-25 Jan. 1945).  Credits.


3.  'Burbs, more exposition in BP's letter.


4.  Flash to BP and Montana Wildhack on Tralfamadore.


5.  'Burbs, BP's letter.


6.  WWII: Bulge, BP with Lazzaro, Weary, and an unnamed (soon gone) corporal. 
7.  Tralfamadore: BP with Montana Wildhack.


8.  WWII: Battle of the Bulge.  Fight between BP and Lazzaro; three Yanks captured.  Weary must give up boots to German.


9.  Shot of shoes, to wedding night of BP and Valencia.


10.  WWII: Column of Allied POWs, Weary limping.  BP stepping on Weary's feet, esp. after he sees whores (?) in window.  BP photographed for German war propaganda.


11.  Flash cut to photographing of BP's and Valencia's anniversary.


12.  WWII: Train on-loading POWs; Col. Wild Bob thinks he recognizes BP (he doesn't) / to inside of freight car with POWs, BP goes under blanket.


13.  BP under blanket at VA hospital, avoiding his mother (and Eliot Rosewater). 


14.  WWII: POWs on train, death of Roland Weary.


15.  VA hospital shortly after WWII: BP undergoing electroshock treatments, exposition on destruction of Dresden. 


16.  WWII: Arrival at POW camps next to small death camp.  BP meets fatherly Edgar Derby.  Showers.  (NB: The POWs aren't at a death camp, but they're next door to one.  The showers would have ominous reverberation for viewers who know anything about how the Nazis ran their sophisticated death camps, where newly-arrived victims were told they were going to showers to be deloused.)


17.  Shower at YMCA (or whatever); young BP thrown into water by father; BP sinks. 


18.  WWII: POW camp, exterior.  Death camp next door.  Enter Brits.  Party inside.


19.  BP with his dog Spot in 'Burbs.  Time passes.  BP and Valencia have a child; BP more interested in Spot at a party.  Tralfamadorian ship effect (?) first appears (or first seen by BP), appears to grow.


20.  WWII: Dissolve to Lazzaro threatening BP at POW camp; BP nurtured by Edgar Derby; find diamond in coat Germans gave to BP to mock him. 


21.  BP and Valencia at their anniversary party.  BP finds Robert in the bathroom, on the toilet with a Playboy, which BP confiscates and opens to discover Montana Wildhack featured; exit BP with Playboy.  (Think about it . . . .  [The novel has BP's life on Tralfamadore with Montana Wildhack is an erotic fantasy esp. suitable for a horny, hetero male adolescent, so the little joke here may be significant.])


22/23.  Intercutting between scenes of WWII American POWs being told they're going to Dresden and choosing Edgar Derby for a leader, with BP in middle age being elected president of the local Lions Club. 


24.  Pilgrim family at Montana Wildhack film at drive-in (note the cramped two-shot we get of BP and Robert). 


25.  WWII: POW train to Dresden.  BP and Derby talk, with Lazzaro listening: Father and son stuff, with Derby coming through pretty well. 
26.  BP paying off cop at cemetary to keep Robert out of legal trouble.  Valencia, angry, off to one side, so to speak; Robert, sullen, off to another.  (Note the 19th-c. term, "cash nexus": the only human connection "imaged" in this shot might be BP/cop, connected, temporarily, by money.) 


27.  WWII: BP/Derby back on train: father/son topics.  Dresden as "The Land of Oz."


28.  WWII: Arrive at Dresden station.  Walk into beautiful city: see kids, horses; BP gets inexplicably slapped.  (Cause: Old German war hero insulted by BP's outfit and smile.)


29.  Plane ride of optometrists.  BP's crash vision.  BP tries to get plane to return.  Quartet sings.  Crash.


30.  WWII: POW March through Dresden.  Explanation of "Slaughterhouse-Five." 


31.  BP rescued after plane crash, in part because he remembers to say "Slaughterhouse-Five," Schlachthof-funf.


32.  Valencia's heroic ride in her white Cadillac to get to Billy. 


33.  BP gives Valencia white Cadillac for Valencia's birthday.


34/35/36/37.  Quick intercutting with overlapping audio between Valencia's trip to the hospital, ending with her going one way on her gurney while BP goes past her to OR on his (both unconscious). / WWII: inside Slaughterhouse-Five. / Operation on BP's head. / WWII: no talking to Germans.


38.  WWII: POWs pass by hanged person (man?)—audio from operation on BP's head.  Edgar Derby with pottery.


39.  Dissolve with Slaughterhouse-Five becoming surgeon walking down hospital corridor: BP OK, learn of death of Valencia.


40.  BP in hospital bed next to Harvard Professor B. C. Rumfoord.  Young female friend of Rumfoord brings him books.  BP finally bears his one bit of witness to Dresden: "I was there." 


41.  WWII: Dresden, 3 p.m., 13 Feb. 1945 (the day of the death of the city).


42/43.  BP, and Rumfoord, with Rumfoord talking about the 135,000 killed in Dresden nothing next to the 5 million Allied military deaths, plus other Nazi crimes; continuing in voice-over into shots of a Dresden with old people and kids.  (The visuals show "'Nazi' infants and children."  Even people with few qualms about killing Nazis can have problems with seeing kids burned to death.])


44.  WWII: 9:55 p.m., 13 Feb. 1945.  Howard W. Campbell, American traitor, addresses American POWs.  Air Raid—move to bomb shelter.  Confrontations between Campbell and Lazzaro (brief) and Edgar Derby.


45.  BP driven home from hospital by Barbara and Stanley. 


46/47.  Intercutting between German guards and US POWs climbing up out of Slaughterhouse-Five after bombing (14 Feb. 1945) and rather decrepit BP climbing stairs to bedroom, carrying Spot.


48.  WWII: Dresden, 14 Feb. 1945.  Young German guard, identified in novel as Werner Gluck, runs off trying to find his girlfriend.


49/50.  Return of Robert Pilgrim as clean-cut Green Beret sergeant.  Second appearance of Tralfamadorian ship (?)—we see a moving light anyway.  Robert apologizes; BP says he's proud of Robert, but they say little more.  BP and Spot disappear in a special effect <elec. counter: 4246>. 


51.  BP to dome on Tralfamadore, applause, dialog between BP and never-shown Tralfamadorian. 


52.  WWII: Dresden, ca. 15 Feb. 1945—"corpse mines" and pyres. 


53.  Montana Wildhack arrives on Tralfamadore, almost naked.  She and BP nurture one another.  Voice asks, "Are you mating now?"


54.  Edgar Derby finds and casually pockets small Dresden-wear figure; for doing so, he's summarily executed by firing squad. 


55.  Montana Wildhack pirouettes (like a stock shot of a china doll?) and the Tralfamadorians will get their mating. 


56.  Barbara and Stanley with BP, trying to get him to see a shrink.  BP says he's seen his whole life, up to his death in Philadelphia.


57.  Death of BP in Philadelphia ("City of Brotherly Love"), being shot by Paul Lazzaro, while BP witnesses not to Dresden but to the quietist philosophy he learned on Tralfamadore (or dreamed up). 


58.  WWII: Dissolve to Lazzaro getting BP to help him steal a huge grandfather clock, which Lazzaro drops when they hear gunfire.  The gunfire is from celebrating Russian liberators, who come by and offer BP vodka, but don't help him get up.  Last image of WWII Pilgrim: smiling BP, caught under clock.


59.  Montana Wildhack to BP: "Billy, we just had a baby boy."  BP on Tralfamadore with an incredibly clean and beautiful Montana Wildhack, with clean, soon nursing son.  The Tralfamadorians cheer; the heavens rejoice (so to speak) with fireworks.  Roll credits.



This is the story of Billy Pilgrim  . . . who is ordinary in almost every respect but one: he has come unstuck in time and jumps back and forth in this life with no control over where he is going next.  Part of one morning he might spend on the distant planet Tralfamadore with sexy movie bombshell Montana Wildhack . . ., and at the same time be in a ditch in Belgium in world War II where he is set upon by GIs Paul Lazzaro . . . and Roland Weary . . . , and then captured by German soldiers. . . .  As so it goes, from past to present, to future, until Billy finally realizes that in order for him to survive even to his death . . . he must concentrate on the good things and ignore the bad in life. 


I know that the "moral" of the novel is more complex than this—but did the MCA folk get the "moral" of the film right?  Is it right if Tralfamadore is real?  (If BP "really" is on Tralfamadore with Montana Wildhack, did the Tralfamadorians give her a perfect pregnancy and delivery?  If BP is crazy, why does Tralfamadore come across as real as Dresden?)



[Dr. Strangelove]


Citation (Full Filmographic)

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (variously capitalized and punctuated).  Stanley Kubrick, dir.  United Kingdom: Hawk Films (production company)/Columbia (distributor), 1963 (completion)/1964 (US release).  <Script by Kubrick and Terry Southern, based on Red Alert (UK title: Two Hours to Doom) by Peter George.>  


Plot summary courtesy of IMDb.


Major Cast (with comments [to gloss unfamiliar])


     Peter Sellers:

          Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (The mandrake plant was thought to resemble a man and shriek when picked; mandrake was once thought to be an aphrodisiac [Eric Partridge, Shakespeare's Bawdy].)

          President Merkin Muffley ("Merkin": "counterfeit hair for women's privy parts" or the privy part itself [vagina].  "To muff" something is to fail at it in a clumsy manner.  A "muff" is an accessory for keeping the hands warm and, from the appearance of such an accessory, a vagina [note contemporary expression "muff diver" for a man who likes to perform cunnilingus].  Seller's Muffley appears to be based on Adlai Stevenson, the model [so the critics assert] for the President in George's Red Alert.)

          Dr. Strangelove (George W. Linden notes that there was a V-2 rocket builder at Peenemunde actually named Dr. Merkwuerdigichliebe, or "Dr. Strangelove" [Nuclear War Films, ed. Jack G. Shaheen (1978), Ch. 9, p. 65].  Thomas Allen Nelson, talks of "Dr. Strangelove, whose real name is 'Merkwuerdigichliebe' [which decodes as 'cherished fate']" [Kubrick: Inside a Film Maker's Maze (1982), Ch. 4, p. 91].  More important, the name refers to men's strange love of war and destruction.)

     George C. Scott: Buck Turgidson ("Buck" for virility.  "Turgid" means "swollen"; said of a penis, it means "erect," tumescent"; applied to language, it means "overblown," "grandiloquent.")

     Sterling Hayden: General Jack D. Ripper ("Jack the Ripper" was the name given to an uncaught, unidentified murderer of London whores.)

     Keenan Wynn: Colonel Bat Guano (I.e., "Col. Bat Sh*t")

     Slim Pickens: Major T. J. "King" Kong (King Kong was a famous sympathetic ape of very large size, who dies from a fall from the Empire State Building, caused by being shot by pilots of US Army Air Corps biplanes.  In the film of that name, King Kong is in love with Fay Wray--necessarily, a platonic love.  See Susan Sontag's "Imagination of Disaster" [in SF:F] for King Kong as the "animal" within humans.)

     Peter Bull: Ambassador de Sadesky (Presumably alluding to the Marquis de Sade and sadism, but maybe also Yiddish Tsadski ["loose woman"?].)

     Tracy Reed: Miss Scott (The only woman we see in the film.  She appears both with General Turgidson and as the playmate of the month in the Playboy read on the B-52.)

     James Earl Jones: Lieutenant H. R. Dietrich, D.S.O.  (Jones is the Black in the SAC version of film cliche of the World War II platoon of GIs of every ethnic persuasion.)

     Glenn Beck: Lt. W. D. Kivel, Navigator (The cool-headed intellectual, whose lack of passion makes a major point about modern warfare.)

     Shane Rimmer: Capt. G. A. "Ace" Owens, Co-pilot

     Paul Tamarin: Lt. B. Goldberg, Radio Operator (The token Jew.)


Other Names

     Dimitri Kissoff: Russian Premier, with whom Pres. Muffley talks on the hotline (apparently based on Nikita Khruschev).

     Ripper's SAC base: Burpelson Air Force Base (as in "burp").

     Zhokhov Islands: where the Doomsday Machine is (probably) constructed.  (Pronounced "zoo-koff.")

     Original primary target for B-52 we see: Laputa (Spanish, La puta, "the whore," also the name of the flying island in J. Swift's Gulliver's Travels, where it probably derives from Martin's Luther's exclamation against "The whore, reason!").

     Target of opportunity actually hit: The ICBM complex at Coblas or Coplas (Spanish for "couplets," usually in bawdy songs).

     Commmunications gizmo on B-52s: CRM ["cream"?] 114, receives "FGD ["fugged"?] 135" for Plan R (R for Robert and later [and more exactly] Romeo.  Note in film the failure of many communication devices and much communication. 




     Opening sequence: "Try a Little Tenderness" (a sentimental song advising men to be tender to their women).

     For B-52 scenes: "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" (a patriotic number song looking forward to welcoming victorious "Johnny").

     For closing doomsday sequence: Identified by Nelson as "Vera Lynn singing 'We'll Meet Again'" (94)--which sounds like a sentimental British         World War II song.



     In Freudian terms, mostly "genital" and "oral."  Note especially the sexual imagery of the opening aerial refueling sequence: the intercourse between the tanker and the B-52, in which the tanker generously gives the bomber a large quantity of its, so to speak, precious mechanical fluids.  The "intercourse" seems to be quite efficacious, since the interior shots of the "womb" of the B-52 show the plane to be full of little men.  Note this imagery for Kubrick's 2001 (1968); the implication in both films is that men and machines are coming together (pun intended).  The oral imagery is in all the eating and allusions to eating and in Ripper's phallic cigar.  As in 2001, the eating reminds us of human animality; I don't know what it signifies beyond that, but note Kubrick's two bathroom references and early intention to end DrS with a food fight.

     The upshot of the sexual imagery comes at the climax of the film, when Maj. Kong rides the H-bomb down into Mother Russia, into the circular missile complex, setting off the Doomsday Machine.  Note the H-bomb as a humongous phallus, and Kong's riding it cowboy-style but ass-backwards, making him (in a grossly elegant student description) "both fuckor and fuckee."



     However much "PEACE IS OUR PROFESSION" (both job and what we profess), what men really get off on is war, seen in Dr.S as a kind of sublimated, or super, sex.  In 2001, A Clockwork Orange, and Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick continues his investigation of human violence, using premises more anthropological, theological, and sociological (respectively).  This theme and the man/machine conflation are both symbolized in Dr. Strangelove himself.  Strangelove is the closest thing the film has to a villain, but note that he is played by Peter Sellers, who also plays the eminently civilized Muffley and Mandrake.  (Note also Strangelove's black-gloved, mechanical hand: it alludes to the silent classic Metropolis and gets used again in a number of films.)



[Starship Troopers]


Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Writing credits: Robert A. Heinlein (novel); Edward Neumeier (script)


Major Cast


Casper Van Dien Johnny Rico  Dina Meyer Dizzy Flores 
Neil Patrick Harris Carl Jenkins  Denise Richards Carmen Ibanez 
Jake Busey Ace Levy  Clancy Brown Sgt. Zim 
Seth Gilliam Sugar Watkins  Patrick Muldoon Zander Barcalow 
Michael Ironside Jean Raszack     



Company credits for Starship Troopers (1997)


Production Companies:

TriStar Pictures [us]

Big Bug Pictures

Touchstone Pictures



Buena Vista International [us]

TriStar Pictures [us]


MPAA: Rated R for graphic sci-fi violence and gore, and for some language and nudity.


Runtime: USA:129 / Germany:124 / Norway:131

Country: USA

Language: English


Plot summary courtesy of IMDb.

Review in the packet by Nick Pfitzner on IMDb.

Comments and Questions


1.  When I saw Starship Troopers  in Hamilton!, Ohio, I was the only one in the audience laughing; the respectable people in the audience seemed to take the film perfectly straight.  And Roger Ebert somewhat agrees: he calls the film "totalitarian," not a satire on totalitarianism.  Please notecarefully your responses; I would very much like to know how young viewers in the early 21st century—much closer to the target demographic than Roger Ebert or I—respond to the film.  For you, does the film work as war movie, love story, coming-of-age story, and/or, most relevant for us, satire? 


2.  Fascism probably can't exist without enemies external and internal, but in Starship Troopers, and more so in the novel Starship Troopers, external enemies are easy to find.  In such a universe—where enemies are always (figuratively speaking) at the gates—it's possible that you can have a Fascism that is neither racist nor sexist, nor even nationalist.  My MAJOR QUESTION: If you can have a nonracist, nonsexist, only speciesist Fascism, would that be A Good Thing?  Simple question: What is Robert A, Heinlein's answer to that question.  More complex question:  What is Paul Verhoeven's? 


3.  In the film, can you take seriously the Bug War?

                        • That humans and Bugs would want the same worlds, apparently having very different ecological niches (we're mammals; they're arachnidish).

                        • That instead of nuke-shooting, power-armored wearing Mobile Infantry (as in the novel), we have grunts with small-calibre weapons?

                        • But, is the Bug attack in the film better motivated than in the novel? 

                        • If you can't take the Bug Menace seriously in the novel—and after a couple lessons in ecology, it's hard to—there's still the Bugs as allegory: They're the Chinese Communists, replacing the Skinnies—the Ruskie Soviets—as the real enemy.  If the allegory is lost in the film, what should we make of the Bugs?  Just, The Real Bad, Real Icky Guys?





Annotated Citations

              From Richard D. Erlich and Thomas P. Dunn, compiler's, Clockworks: A Multimedia Biblography of Works Useful for the Study of the Human/Machine Interface in SF (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993): section 5: Drama. 


5.003         1984.  Michael Anderson, dir.  UK: Holiday Films (prod.) / Columbia, 1955, 1956 (US release).  Based on the novel by G. Orwell, q.v. 


                            Recreates the totalitarian society of the novel.  Esp. powerful in evoking the constant surveillance by telescreens in the Ministry of Love.  (See 1984 entries in S. F. Ency. and Walt Lee, Reference Guide, for different endings of prints released in UK and USA: UK version differs greatly from end of the novel.  See below for the remake of 1984.)


5.004     1984.  Michael Radford, dir.  UK: Virgin Cinema Films (prod.) / Atlantic (US theatrical dist.) / MGM (nontheatrical dist.), 1984 / 1985 (US release).  John Hurt and Richard Burton, stars. 


                     Except for the ambiguity of Smith's final declaration of love—which, in the film, could refer to Julia—a faithful adaptation of G. Orwell's novel (q.v. under Fiction), catching and even exaggerating the grubbiness and primitiveness of the world of 1984: the technology in the Ministry of Love is not advanced, with a helicopter and the telescreens the most advanced technology in the film.  

Major Cast


Winston Smith

John Hurt

Winston's Sister

Martha Parsey


Richard Burton

William Parsons

P.J. Nicholas


Suzanna Hamilton

Susan Parsons

Lynne Radford


Cyril Cusack


Shirley Stelfox


Gregor Fisher


Janet Key


James Walker (II)

Artsem Lecturer

Hugh Walters


Andrew Wilde

Telescreen Announcer

Phyllis Logan

Tillotson's Friend

David Trevena

The Washerwoman

Pam Gems


David Cann


Joscik Barbarossa


Anthony Benson


John Boswall


Peter Frye (II)

Big Brother

Bob Flag


Roger Lloyd-Pack

Man in White Coat

John Hughes (IV)

Winston as a Boy

Rupert Baderman

Inner Party Speaker

Pip Donaghy

Winston's Mother

Corinna Seddon

Mrs. Parsons

Merelina Kendall


Writing credits: Jonathan Gems (story), from George Orwell (novel); Michael Radford (script)


Comments and Questions


1.  Margaret Thatcher: In 1979, elected Britain's first female Prime Minister, a post she held until 1990; in 1992 Awarded title of Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven as which she currently serves in the UK House of Lords.  Though a Tory, Thatcher's most famous quote may be the very unconservative one that "There is no such thing as Society.  There are individual men and women, and there are families."  And, presumably—since Thatcher ran it in the UK for a long time—there is the State.  Even if you don't see an allusion to Thatcher that "jawills" sees, ask yourself what, if anything, we see in Oceania aside from "individual mean and women," a family or two, the Party, and the State (with "Party" vs. "State" a distinction without any difference).  Do you see any social institutions separate from the Party or the State of Oceania?  Bowling leagues, churches, non-State schools, charities, book clubs, commercial firms—anything? 


2.  Ms/Mr "jawills" of Vancouver is undoubtedly right in noting in the film "less emphasis on the novel's musty, well-worn-and-endlessly-picked-over polemical import and more focus on the stark human element […]."  Do you find that a gain or a loss?  Was the "polemical  import" of the novel, its anti-totalitarianism, new to you?  Was it new to you

                   • to read a Leftist—Orwell—with qualms about "The personal is the political," who wanted a realm of the personal cut off from politics?  

                   • to encounter orthodoxy treated as an evil? 

                   • to have suggested that much of what passes for political debate might merely various orthodoxies, made possible by Doublethink? 

                   • to read a 1940s book where the most direct statement of the 1990s and current idea of "the social construction of reality" was put in the mouth of a Stalinist hack, the Inquisitor and torturer, O'Brien? 


3.  How did you react to the full-frontal nudity of Suzanna Hamilton in the film, and the full-"backal" nudity of her and John Hurt?  At one showing on the MUO Western campus, Ms. Hamilton's nakedness got laughed at. 

                   • What might be funny? 

                   • Is the attack on puritanism in the novel and film still relevant today? 


4.  Eric Blair, the man behind the pen-name "George Orwell," was antifeminist.  How do the novel and film come across on women's issues? 

                   • If Julia is a rebel primarily from the waist down, is that a bad thing by the standards of 1984 and Nineteen Eighty-Four? 

                   • Are there instances in Nineteen Eighty-Four (the novel) in which it is clear that Julia is more aware than Winston?  Are there such instances in the film? 

                   • In the world of the narrative are there issues specific to women?  Given the USSR ca. 1947-48, should there have been women's issues?  (The Soviets were better than most in terms of having women do real, paid labor—and providing child care and such—but as bad as most in having men refuse to do their share of the housework.  The leadership of the USSR was as solidly male as that of the USA or China, and also old and not very ethnically diverse.) 


5.  Note the level of technology in Radford's 1984.  Is it more primitive or more sophisticated than the technology in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four? 


6.  Try to figure out what is/was satirized in Orwell's 1948 Nineteen Eighty-Four, Radford's 1984 1984—and both works today.  Adolf Hitler was dead when Orwell wrote the novel, and Stalin died not very long after it was published.  The Fascist States are gone, and Fascism in most of the world is mostly a potential, not an immediate threat.  Stalinism is pretty well gone, and nowadays there is no more USSR or Soviet bloc. 

                   • How has surveillance changed as an issue? 

                   • Is orthodoxy still an issue? 

                   • Are figurative good Party members in the USA competent practitioners of Crimestop, Doublethink, and the other skills of orthodoxy?  (A Miami student who attended a British "public" school where he was, he said—with some exaggeration—"flogged all the time" said he felt freer at such a school than in a US high school.  Enforcement of orthodoxy in the US high school, he thought, was far more subtle, but also far more effective and limiting.) 


7.  The Narrator of Nineteen Eighty-Four tells us  that good Party members were uncanny in their ability to sense shifts in the Party line and adjust their views accordingly.  Mark Twain said in an essay called "Corn-Pone Opinions" that we humans have nothing but fashion, including fashions in ideology.  REAL QUESTION for me: Is the skill at sensing the shifting winds of ideology any different from the skill with which In people know what's fashionable in clothes or book bags or resorts or colleges? 




Citation (Annotated Filmographic)  [from "Clockwork God List"]

Brazil.  Terry Gilliam, dir.  UK: Universal (US distribution), 1985 (copyright), 1986 (US release).  131 minutes. 


CAUTION: Different cuts were produced; see below. 


     For filmographic difficulties and the very complex history of this film (as told by a partisan of the director against the studio), see Jack Mathews, The Battle of Brazil (New York: Crown, 1987); this book also includes a script with stills, illustrations, and annotations. 

     Near-future dystopia, set in a world Peter Hall and Richard Erlich have described as "funkified" (as opposed to clean, shiny, and aseptic).  Very important film for the image of the imposition of the mechanical and electronic upon the human and the use of that image as a kind of metaphor for bureaucratization.  Note "Garden" and flight imagery of dream sequences opposed to cluttered reality of the City (cf. Nineteen Eighty-Four); note also destruction of Robert DeNiro's Tuttle in a dream sequence in which he gets covered by paper and then disappears: an image for the destruction of the resourceful individual by paperwork. 



Major Cast


Sam Lowry ([anti]hero)  Jonathan Pryce
Tuttle Robert De Niro
Ida Lowry (Sam's Mother) Katherine Helmond
Mr. Kurtzmann Ian Holm
Spoor (from Central Services) Bob Hoskins
Jack Lint (of Information Retrieval) Michael Palin
Mr. Warrenn (bigshot in Info. Ret.) Ian Richardson
Mr. Helpmann (Deputy Minister, M.O.I.) Peter Vaughan
Jill Layton (heroine) Kim Greist
Dr. Jaffe (Ida L.'s plastic surgeon) Jim Broadbent
Mrs. Terrain (Ida L.'s friend) Barbara Hicks (I)


OTHER CHARACTERS:  Lime (Sam's "office mate" in Information Retrieval), Dowser (Spoor's partner—Central Services), Shirley (Daughter to Mrs. Terrain), Spiro (Maitre D' in restaurant), Mrs. Buttle, Bill—Dept. of Works (at Buttle arrest), Charlie—Dept. of Works (at arrest), M.O.I. Lobby Porter. 


Plot summar courtesy of IMDb. 

Comments and Questions

1.  Jack Mathews reports a number of comments on reaction cards from a screening of Brazil; one of them reads, "1984 meets Monty Python meets Ken Russell" (Battle of Brazil 38).  1984 shows a totalitarian England ruled by a fascist party that practices a perversion of socialism; the world of 1984 is nasty, poor, brutish, dirty, and "gray" in a manner reproduced in M. Atwood's Handmaid's Tale.  Monty Python was a British comedy troupe that did satiric movies with absurdist comedy in the tradition of the Marx Brothers.  Ken Russell is a director of intellectual movies with a fine sense of excess (Mahler, Tommy) and comedy (The Three Musketeers, The Four Musketeers).


2.  "'Why a duct?' Chico Marx once asked.  For Gilliam, the ducts in Brazil symbolized both the umbilical relationship of the people to their government and the loss of aesthetics in our cities . . ." (Matthews 99-100).  The ducts also suggest the bowels of Leviathan—the mechanical monster in which the people in the film are enclosed.  Why "Brazil"?  It's as escapist song from 1939, a year it was dangerous to try to escape from. 


3.  Terry Gilliam's other films include The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), The Fisher King (1991), Jabberwocky (1977), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Time Bandits (1981), and 12 Monkeys (1995/96).  I reprint below an Erlichian citation for that last film


12 Monkeys.  Terry Gilliam, dir.  USA: Atlas Entertainment (prod.) / Universal (dist.), 1995 (© and initial US release) / 1996 (general US release).  David Peoples and Janet Peoples, script.  "Inspired by the Film La Jetée written by Chris Marker" (The Jetty [vt. The Pier], 1963, 29 min., also prod. and dir. C. Marker).  Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stow, Brad Pitt, featured players. 

           An important dystopian film.  See for mise en scène of the post-holocaust, mechanized-underworld future (called in prod. "Eternal Night"), and for imagery of superimposition of the mechanical and electronic upon the human (including an MRI machine in the world of 1990 and television in worlds of 1990, 1996, and early 21st century).  For the funky future, horrific superimposition, and strong parallels in presentation of the antiRomantic theme, cf. and contrast TG's Brazil (cited this section).  For the theme of oligarchy associated with mechanisms and the destruction of the beauty and freedom of nature, cf. Brazil.  Also note close narrative, thematic, and visual parallels with the film version of Millennium and with M. Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, and thematic and visual parallels with Gilliam's Time Bandits (films listed this section, Piercy's novel listed under Fiction).  Handled in some detail and put into the context of Gilliam's canon in Cinefantastique 27.6 (Feb. 1996). 


For us consider also the position of Brazil, 12 Monkeys, et al. in Gilliam's continuing debate with Gilliam (and others) on the subject of Romance.  In Fisher King and perhaps Baron Munchausen, Gilliam celebrates Romance; in 12 Monkeys, it seems neat, if inadequate.  What is the attitude toward Romance in Brazil?  Cf. and contrast this debate with himself with Stanley Kubrick's debate with Stanley Kubrick on (male) violence. 






GATTACA (vt Eighth Day, The: working title).  Andrew Niccol, dir., script.  USA: Columbia Pictures, Jersey Films (prod.) / Columbia  et al. (dist), 1997.  Danny DeVito, one of three producers.  US running time: 101 (106 in Australia; Ebert: 112 minutes). 


Major Cast


Vincent Freeman

Ethan Hawke

Irene Cassini

Uma Thurman

Jerome Eugene Morrow

Jude Law

Director Josef

Gore Vidal


Blair Underwood

Younger Vincent

Mason Gamble

Younger Anton

Vincent Nielson

Young Vincent

Chad Christ

Young Anton

William Lee Scott

Personnel Officer

Clarence Graham


Ernest Borgnine


Tony Shalhoub

Detective Hugo

Alan Arkin


Cynthia Martells


Loren Dean

Gattaca Trainer

Gabrielle Reece

Twelve-Fingered Pianist

Ryan Dorin

Gattaca Detective

Russell Milton

Blood Test Detective

Steve Bessen


Plot summary courtesy of IMDb.


Comments and Questions


1.  The title of the film as GATTACA gives a sequence of nucleic acids: G-A-T-T-A-C-A:

guanine, adenine, thymine, thymine, adenine, cytosine, adenine.

              For chemical structure, see http://ndbserver.rutgers.edu/NDB/archives/NAintro/

The title as Gattaca is similar to "Attica," a name for the collection of Homeric city-states that became the heart of Greece (from an Athenian point of view)—and the name of a prison in upstate New York where there was a riot met with deadly force by forces of the State obeying the orders of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller (September 1971).  (If you can think of other possibilities, mention them.) 

                        • What, if anything, did you make of the title when you first encountered it?  How would one or more of the possible references cue us to themes in the film? 


2.  Given how "hot" the life sciences have been during the time of the development of both science Fiction and film—and how very hot biology is now—it's surprising that there aren't more SF works on biological topics.  Given how out-dated Modernist style has become in our postmodern days, it's surprising that a film set in our near future would be highly Modernist.  From such views comes the observation of GATTACA as an intriguing modernist dystopia, based in biology—which makes it different from most recent dystopias but a kissing cousin to Aldous Huxley's classic 20th-c. dystopia, Brave New World. 

                        • If you're "Generation X" or after, you grew up "po-mo" (postmodern); if that's the case, how did you respond to GATTACA's modernist mise-en-scene? 

                        • For me and many people in my generation, Brave New World was something one read, not for school but to talk about with the other kids at school: like SciFi generally, it was a somewhat underground part of popular culture.  Were you familiar with Brave New World from high school (one way or another)?  If so, did that prepare you to "read" GATTACA?  If not, what expectations, if any, did you bring to GATTACA? 


 3.  Teachers of Brave New World fairly frequently report that their students don't find the Brave New World a bad place at all.  If the goal of life is happiness, then the Brave New World fulfills that goal far better than our world and is, therefore, by one standard definition, eutopian.  If one objects, "—Then a happy pig is better than an unhappy human!", a logical response would be, "If the crucial goal is happiness, yes."  How do you judge the world of Gattaca? 

                        • Do you identify with Vincent and, through him, the other In-Valids, for whom the world of Gattaca is not very good? 

                        • Do you identify with the beautiful and successful Valids and find the world of Gattaca a good place for anyone not a loser like Vincent? 

                        • Do you find anything wrong with the attempt to have perfect children? 

                        • Given the chance to have near-perfect children, would you have the eggs and sperm for your kid modified to achieve such vast improvements? 

                        • Given the chance to have yourself genetically retrofitted, would you  do so? 

                        • A question asked in a survey of Olympic-class athletes (approximately; I'm quoting from memory): If you could take a drug that would assure you a gold medal at the next Olympiad, but would probably kill you within ten years, would you take the drug? 


4.  Gattaca was a relatively low budget movie, but by the 1990s even a low-budget movie could have a wonder-full Science-Fictional rocket launch to climax the film.  Gattaca withholds the wonder in a major way, so major I assume it's intentional.  What is the thematic effect of having the film to lead up to Vincent's victory getting into space—and then have that victorious moment so anticlimactic? 


5.  Aristophanes's The Congress Women—and Old Comedy satire—opens with a man defecating on stage, and it was notable (much later) in TV history that the first toilet flush was in the satiric All in the Family, with a subsequent toilet motif in the satiric Married … With Children.  RULE: "If you hear someone pissing or smell shit—if people are dealing at all with their less respectable 'precious bodily fluids'—you're probably in a satire."  There is a lot of body business in Gattaca: urine, blood, hair … anything that can supply a DNA sample. 

                        • How does the body motif go with the aseptic modernist look of the decor and costuming and body types (Mr. and Ms. Perfect)? 

                        • If we're in a satire in GATTACA, what is being satirized? 


6.  In its over-arching structure, GATTACA is a murder mystery and a story of brotherly competition. 

                        • Did you care who killed the company big-shot?  (Is it significant that the murderer was another big-shot, emphatically a Valid?) 

                        • Which is the more important brotherly relationship: Vincent and Anton, or Vincent and Jerome? 

                        • It's a true cliché of SF criticism that the characters compete with the background for our attention; indeed, as Ursula K. Le Guin notes, when the scenery can eat a character, the character/background distinction can get tricky.  If SF is usually part of Romance and Satire, this world/character competition fits into a larger pattern.  How interested should we be in the characters in GATTACA? 

                                    • Should we be disappointed that Vincent goes off into space, leaving Irene?  (A hero in a romantic comedy would not do that!) 

                                    • Should we take tragically the death of Jerome? 


7.  On the end of Gatttaca, from the conclusion of  Hannah Kuhlmann, "Escaping Abjection: Gattaca's Narratives of Discrimination," The University of Minnesota / Women's Studies 3190 / June 2000, < http://www.tc.umn.edu/~matri001/wost3190/Kuhlmann3.html   >:


                Choices of race and skin color could have been discussed in the doctor's office scene when Anton is designed, but instead of engaging in the potential complexities and problematic combinations of genoism and racism, the film shies away from confronting them. Vincent flees the problems of embodiment as much as the film does.  His DNA threatens his identity, and his grand destiny as an astronaut.  He seeks disembodiment in space.  It is not the problems of his eugenic society that bother him, just his own disadvantagement.  As he tells Eugene, "I don't want to be in there [Gattaca], I want to be up there [the heavens]."  He would rather saw up his own legs than fight the system on Earth, because all that troubles him is his own abject status.  He is sure he does not belong in abjection.  So, Gattaca is not really concerned with genoism, so much as it is concerned with the liberal humanist subject getting the rewards he deserves.  The movie says, "isn't it absurd that this usually privileged guy would be stuck down with women, gays and cripples, in a position reserved for racial "others"?  That's nutty!  Let's get him back on top where he belongs."

            Because he can never honestly occupy an elite position in Gattaca's world, he quests to escape his problematic meat.  In space, he tells Eugene "your legs wouldn't matter."  He can be free of his body, and actually return to a state of pre-embodiment.  "They say when you're weightless, it's the closest thing to being in the womb," Vincent fantasizes.  Escape, safety, and ignorance of embodiment's problems are his goals.  In his final voice-over speech, our triumphant hero muses:

For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I'm suddenly having a hard time leaving it.  Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star.  Maybe I'm not leaving.  Maybe I'm going home.

In other words, white, straight males with money don't belong in a world where they can be discriminated against.  They are above the problems of the rest of the world.  The liberal humanist subject Vincent has achieved his true potential, just as we always knew he would.  He has escaped abjection (where he so clearly did not belong), transcended all the problems of embodiment and left behind him all the unworthy, weak others.  Underneath its mask of anti-discriminatory language, Gattaca harbors an agenda of judgement.  Vincent urges us to remember that he "was as good as any, and better than most," a perfect reflection of the film's muddled messages of natural equality and natural superiority.  Perhaps the least progressive anti-discrimination movie ever, Gattaca contains its own system of evolutionary psychology and selection.  For all its talk about the evils of genoism and new forms of discrimination, Niccol's film only ends up reinforcing our familiar, time-honored old hierarchies of race, class, gender, sexuality and ability.  If Gattaca [the firm] "has discrimination down to a science," then Gattaca [the film] has discrimination down to an art.


Kuhlman uses here "Julia Kristeva's notion of the abject," quoting Kelly Oliver,

Kristeva develops a notion of abjection that has been very useful in diagnosing the dynamics of oppression.  She describes abjection as an operation of the psyche through which subjective and group identity are constituted by excluding anything that threat[en]s [sic] one's own (or one's group's) borders. 

We needn't accept this definition, however, to get Kuhlman's point that Gattaca's hero, Vincent, is pitied because he's held down and the kind of person who should not be held down: "white, straight males with money don't belong in a world where they can be discriminated against." 

                        • If you are not among the "white, straight males with money," did you still identify with Vincent?  Should you have identified with Vincent? 

                        • Failing to suggest a positive norm and ways out of dystopia, Gattaca fails as a critical dystopia (to use Tom Moylan's phrase) and may fail as a political statement.  Does Gattaca succeed as satire?  As SF dystopia? 

                        • Is it enough for satire to deal with one set of problems while, necessarily ignoring many other sets of problems?  Is it OK if it limits itself to the problems of the rich and privileged? 

                        • The end of Gattaca avoids any effects, special or otherwise, that might suggest the wonder of space, awe, transcendence.  Has Vincent made a good deal in leaving Earth? 


[Lathe of Heaven]


Extended Citation

Lathe of Heaven.   Fred Barzyk and David [R.] Loxton, dirs.  Loxton, exec. prod.   USA: Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 1979.  First shown Public Broadcasting System, 9 Jan. 1980.  Diane English and Roger E. Swaybill, script, from the novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, who on production. 


Source novel: Lathe of Heaven, The.  New York: Scribner's, 1971.  New York: Avon, 1973.  {Standard abbreviation: LoH}


Major Cast


George Orr

Bruce Davison

Mannie Ahrens

Peyton E. Park

Penny Crouch

Niki Flacks

Dr. William Haber

Kevin Conway (I)

George's Mother

Bernadette Whitehead

George's Father

Jo Livingston


Jane Roberts (I)


Tom Matts

Parole Officer

Frank Miller (I)

Woman on Subway

Joye Nash

Woman on Subway

Gena Sleete

Heather LeLache

Margaret Avery


Ben McKinley III


R.A. Mihailoff


Plot summary courtesy of IMDb.


Comments and Questions


            For an extended Erlichian interpretation of The Lathe of Heaven and The Lathe of Heaven, see "The Lathe of Heaven (Novel and TV Film)"; for the novel and film in the context of Le Guin's other works, see my on-line book on Le Guin, sited below under Web Sites. 


1.  If The Lathe of Heaven as novel and film are satiric, what are they attacking.  If they are AntiUtopian—why in the world attack utopia? 


2.  Le Guin has described herself as "as unconsistent Taoist and consistent unChristian" and as a communist-anarchist  and feminist.  And she's big on environmental  responsibility.  She doesn't approve of many aspects of "the Judaeo-Christian-Rationalist West."  Note well that hers is a Daoist-based (to use the new spelling for "Dao") communist-anarchism: among the things she disapproves of in the West is Marxist-Leninist authoritarian rule by an advance-guard elite assuming to  speak for the masses.  She also disapproves of the US individualist variation of "revolution from the top down."  She wants change but true change: change that percolates up from individual decisions by people, not enforced upon them. 

                  • To what extent is Dr. Haber a symbol of social engineering in its Western "technocratic" variation?  (Technocracy: Rule by an elite of people expert in technology and other techniques.) 

                  • To what extent is the film George Orr true to Le Guin's conception of the Daoist "uncarved block" or properly Child-like man? 

                  • George Orwell once described Jonathan Swift as a "Tory anarchist."  Is Le Guin a similar oxymoronic combination of "radical anarchist conservative"?  (Note that Rich Erlich, your instructor, is very much on the American Left because in many ways he's a traditional conservative; that's also true of Gary Wills, a rather more important person than Erlich.) 


3.  How good is Lathe of Heaven on gender politics?  Le Guin was and is a feminist—but she only became "cutting edge," so to speak, after LoH. 


4.  How good is Lathe of Heaven on racial politics?  It is against assimilation and images integration in the manner of a SNCC button or George and Heather making love: separation and balance together, like a Yin-Yang symbol. 


[Fight Club]



Fight Club.  David Fincher, dir.  USA: Art Linson Productions, Fox 2000 Pictures, Regency Enterprises, Taurus Film (prod.) / 20th Century Fox (dist)., 1999.  Jim Uhis, script, from the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. 


Major Cast



Edward Norton


Peter Iacangelo

Tyler Durden

Brad Pitt

Lou's Body Guard

Carl Ciarfalio (I)

Marla Singer

Helena Bonham Carter

Car Salesman

Stuart Blumberg

Robert Paulson

Meat Loaf Aday

First Man at Auto Shop

Todd Peirce

Richard Chesler

Zach Grenier

2nd Man at Auto Shop

Mark Fite (I)


Richmond Arquette

Seminary Student

Matt Winston (I)


David Andrews (I)

Raymond K. Hessel

Joon B. Kim

Group Leader

George Maguire

Bus Driver

Bennie Moore

Weeping Woman

Eugenie Bondurant

Channel 4 Reporter

W. Lauren Sanchez

Group Leader

Christina Cabot

Commissioner Jacobs

Pat McNamara (I)


Sydney Colston

Banquet Speaker

Tyrone R. Livingston


Rachel Singer

Airport Valet

Owen Masterson

Airline Attendant

Christie Cronenweth


David J. Thomas

Inspector Bird

Tim De Zarn

Winking Bartender

Paul Carafotes

Inspector Dent

Ezra Buzzington

Proprietor of Dry Cleaners

Christopher J. Fields


Dierdre D.-Jackson

Bruised Bar Patron #1

Anderson Bourell


Robert J. Stephenson

Bruised Bar Patron #2

Scotch Ellis Loring


Charlie Dell

Bartender in Halo

Michael S. Wiles

Man in Suit

Rob Lanza

Hotel Desk Clerk

Andi Carnick


David Lee Smith

Waiter at Clifton's

Edward Kowalczyk

The Mechanic

Holt McCallany

Desk Sergeant

Leonard Termo

Food Court Maitre'd

Joel Bissonnette

Detective Andrew

Van Quattro


Eion Bailey

Detective Kevin

Markus Redmond


Evan Mirand

Detective Walker

Michael Girardin

Next Month's Opponent

Robby Robinson

Detective Stern

Thom Gossom Jr.

Cop at Marla's Building

Lou Beatty Jr.

Cosmetics Buyer

Valerie Bickford



Angel Face

Jared Leto


Plot summary courtesy of IMDb.


Brief Comments and Questions


1.  I give you my views in "Utopian Satire, Consumerism, and a Crisis in American Masculinity" (although nowadays I'd tone down the sensationalist "Crisis").  I'd like yours. 

                        • Susan Faludi, a strong feminist, sympathizes with the current generations of American men for having been Shafted, as the title of her book has it.  And I recently stood in queue with an 18-year old Australian woman, travelling Rome alone, who agreed with Faludi that men have been shafted.  Do you agree?  Can you sympathize with guys who are better off than the great majority of people on Earth—some of whom are even more privileged than MUO students? 

                        • After 11 September 2001, is there a problem even with the mad dream of blowing up buildings, even after taking every precaution to  make sure  no one is hurt, aside from financially? 


2.  In its over-arching pattern, Fight Club as film is a romantic comedy, with a new and (arguably) better—freer—world coalescing around a central heterosexual couple.  How is that pattern both used and undermined: interrogated, deconstructed? 

                         • Note images of falling buildings. 

                         • Note music and shaking image of the final shot (with a quick flash of a porn-ish  still, implying a Tyler Durden disciple—or Tyler himself?—is our projectionist). 

Does Fight Club as film solve the problem of the satiric ending?  As novel? 


 3.  Is Fight Club as film or novel sexist—in the sense of misogynist?  In the sense of masculinist?  Are the women satirized as women in a way men are not satirized as men? 


4.  What are the targets for the satire in Fight Club as novel and film? 

• American consumerist Late Capitalism? 

• Testosterone-crazed Survivalists, with mad visions of a primitivist eutopia? 

• Evil car companies who produce a "Formula" for whether or not to continue killing customers?  (If so, how should we judge military planners who play Max/Min games with casualties,  e.g., the WWI formulas for artillery elevations for a rolling barrage before an attack: to maximize enemy  casualties and minimize deaths of our soldiers from "friendly fire"? 

• Cults of True Believers? 


5.  What is the upshot of the satire in Fight Club?  What changes, if any, should we make in our thoughts and/or feelings after experiencing the film or novel?