A friend of mine this spring became embroiled in a tedious and prolonged conflict with Authority. As can sometimes happen in the course of such conflicts, my friend found himself now and again fantasizing about piloting a motor vehicle through the front window of the headquarters of said Authority.
This would have solved nothing, of course, but the mere mental expression of it served to satisfy the desire, as well as relieve his blood pressure, at least for a bit.
There was a piece last week in the New York Times about this, titled “Why The Imp In Your Brain Gets Out.” It considered the mental phenomenon of receiving a seemingly irresistible impulse to, say, moon your boss, or hurl hors d’oeuvres at a boor. According to a paper submitted to Science, a “susceptibility to rude fantasies in fact reflects the workings of a normally sensitive, social brain.” Well, that’s a relief. Apparently the “adult brain expends at least as much energy on inhibition as on action”; thus, “to avoid blurting out that a colleague is a raging hypocrite, the brain must first imagine just that.” Things can get tricky, though, for once the brain is inhabited by such a thought, “the very presence of that catastrophic insult . . . increases the odds that the brain will spit it out.”
So: yet another manufacturer’s defect.
Anyway. My friend’s situation led me to muse a bit about memorable scenes in cinema of people who do not manage to contain the irresistible impulse, to corral the imp, and so set about physically assaulting the edifi of Authority. Problem is, in raking through my brain, I found the place kind of arid. After a lifetime of deep immersion in film, I’ve recently fallen out of the habit of frequenting the cinematic well—haven’t been to a theater in more than a year, not much better in watching DVDs. As a result, I guess, my filmic memory has pretty much dried up.
Oh well. Maybe the seven films feebly recalled on the other side of the “furthur” will have something for somebody.
White Line Fever
This is a pretty bad movie, but one of the first to leap to mind, mostly because it closely tracks my friend’s fantasy: at the climax, a motor vehicle is used to wreak vengeance on the Wrong. It’s also grooved into my mind because I watched it so many times. Why? Well, in my younger days, I lived way up in the mountains, with a B&W TV that accessed but a single station, one that late at night would broadcast a revolving series of about 40 old movies and TV episodes. Because I had not yet weaned myself from either television or marijuana, I and my partner found ourselves watching some pretty hideous things, multiple times. White Line Fever was one of them.
In this goofy hoot, Jan-Michael Vincent portrays a Vietnam vet who comes home from the wars jist wantin’ ta make a honest’ livin’ as a long-haul trucker-man. Problem is, corporate snakes have infested the trucking game, and they make life plumb miserable for Our Hero. Eventually, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and so a beaten and torn Vincent is compelled to drive his semi, “The Blue Mule,” through the home of the Chief Evil Bad Man, who conveniently enough lives in a place called The Glass House—so that the final conflict, filmed in slo-mo, can feature lots and lots and lots of flying glass. The film also offers some shameless ham from two veterans of the Sam Peckinpah repertory company, L.Q. Jones and Slim Pickens.
Some people apparently took this film very, very seriously. The photo above is from a site that describes a replica “Blue Mule” in loving detail, stating “when completed this truck will be exactly as the one carrol jo hummer drove through the glass house when he was working for red river trucking in the movie White Line Fever.” Yowsa!
George C. Scott, sitting on a pile of dollars accumulated as an actor, decided to expend some in directing “personal projects.” The first was Rage, inspired by a real-life military mishap. Scott plays an Arizona rancher whose sheep, son, and very own self are inadvertently sprayed by bad chemicals. The sheep keel right over, while Scott and his son are shuffled off to a hospital. The son soon dies; Scott, being Scott, manages to get to The Truth. Rather than just waste away in the hospital, as The Powers intended, he escapes, and, in the few days left to him, determines to Wreak Vengeance on those who Wronged him. He succeeds in plowing his vehicle into the poison-brewing facility that concocted his death, then blows it straight to hell; his body gives out as he is preparing to do the same to the military base that ordered up and sprayed the poison. A typical example of 70s cinema: the bad guys win.
(Scott in his personal pursuits eventually exhausted his bank account with The Savage Is Loose, a fairly disturbed howler about incest. Scott and his real-life wife played a couple stranded for some years on a deserted island with their young son. Junior eventually grows up, and decides he wants a taste of mommy. Lots of fussin’ and fightin’ over that notion. A typically brutal review by a typically bad critic can be found here; see Scott in all his intense castaway glory there to the right. Recalled Scott: “I also produced the film, and I distributed it myself, too. I lost my ass on that picture; there were all kinds of lawsuits.”)
In this little-seen 1992 film, the aggrieved seize the edifice of authority, rather than obliterate it. A seething cabal of veterans and Good Doctors, both of whom have had it up to here with insipid regulations and substandard care, take over a VA hospital, and demand that the government start Behaving Decently. Because this is a ’90s film, rather than a ’70s film, it ends in Hope, rather than Despair.
Hearts And Minds
This documentary includes scenes of what is to me one of the most eloquent rejections of authority to occur in my lifetime: the gathering of Vietnam veterans outside the gates of the White House, to throw over the fence the medals they had “won” for their service in the United States military. One of those veterans says he will never again follow commands, never again pick up a gun, unless—and here he nods towards the White House—it becomes necessary “to take these steps.”
Do The Right Thing
In a satisfying complicated scene from Spike Lee’s satisfying complicated Do The Right Thing, Lee’s character, Mookie, sets off a little riot in Bedford-Stuyvesant by tossing a garbage can through the plate-glass window of Sal’s Famous, the pizzeria that is his place of employment. Police had responded to a fracas inside Sal’s, involving the Italian proprietors, and a pair of locals who’d decided that since Sal’s was situated in a black neighborhood, there should be some black faces among the Italians in the photo gallery up on the wall. Responding NYC police, as responding NYC police will do, choked to death one of the locals. As the police pull away with the body, Mookie, caught between his abashed employers and his increasingly agitated neighbors, contrives to “do the right thing”: by stepping away from the former and towards the latter, emptying a trash can in the street, and then hurling it through the window. Cue bedlam.
An example of the sort of bunged-up dumb-foolery that can occur when a froot loop sets out to confront authority. A barking mad cabbie determines he needs to assassinate a presidential candidate; he believes this man to be somehow responsible for his failure to successfully woo a woman. Frustrated by the candidate’s security goons, the cabbie instead wanders off to another part of town to shoot up a seedy brothel. He is then hailed as a hero for rescuing a child from prostitution. This film almost immediately bled over into real life, when Texas nutso John Hinckley, seeking to impress the woman who played the child prostitute in the film, Jodie Foster, journeyed up to Washington DC, and proceeded to fire bullets at and into President Ronald Reagan.
The Pride And The Passion
When a callow youth, I thought this a terribly romantic movie. A brave and determined group of Spanish peasants retrieves a giant cannon discarded by Napoleon’s men, and heroically rolls it across miles and miles of countryside, so that it might be used to breach the medieval walls of the French-occupied city of Avila. The peasants can then run, unarmed, across acres and acres of open land, under withering French artillery fire, to pour through the hole and with their spirit and numbers subdue the perfidious French. Almost all of these peasants die, of course, including the fiery Spanish madonna Sophia Loren, expiring there before the rubbled walls of Avila, and in the arms of English naval officer Cary Grant. But when I was young and stupid as shit I thought it fine and wonderful that they died so that their country could be “free.” When my brain developed I learned that these people were no better off under the homegrown bastards and brutes who succeeded Napoleon than they were under the Little Corsican. In fact, they were terminally worse off, because they were dead. What these peasants died for was another 150 years of the Catholic Church greedily feeding off them like vampires, while various assorted Spanish rulers slapped saddles on their backs and rode them like whipped mules. I also discovered that the film was laughably “based” on C. S. Forester’s nihilistic novel The Gun, in which the cannon chaotically passes from cold-blooded brigand to cold-blooded brigand, until it is unceremoniously dumped into the same sort of ditch from which it was first retrieved, having accomplished nothing but needlessly spilling rivers of blood. Not the sort of film that would be made in 1957, and certainly not by a Sunny Jim like The Pride and the Passion‘s Stanley Kramer.
And that’s enough of that. In the event, my friend passed through his period of smolderingly pondering the wisdom of crashing the gates, voted no, and so remains out of custody. As of this moment, so do I. So we’re doing right well, he and I.
Mister Senor Love Daddy, dj and proprietor of “the cool-out corner” in Do The Right Thing, offers a lot of fine lines, and I’ll close with a few of them, uttered the morning after:
My people. My people. What can I say? Say what I can. I saw it but I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it what I saw. Are we gonna live together? Together are we gonna live?