April 26, 2007

Leonardo Da Vinci And The Stallion's Erection

I have to admit that I like a wide variety of films, and sometimes for the wrong reasons. I'm an aficionado of bad films -- not mediocrities, and not just bad, but so unbelievably bad that they become unintended comedies. The greatest of modern example is undoubtedly Battlefield Earth, which has such bad acting, poor direction, and logic holes so huge that even "ratbrains" could deduce them.

I also like bad film reviews, and today's New York Times has a great example. Manohla Dargis tries to sell a documentary about a repulsive subject, and invokes the Enlightenment to do so:

Written by Mr. Devor and Charles Mudede, “Zoo” is nothing if not artful. Even before its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, it had attracted a fair amount of attention that quickly morphed into a reassuringly familiar drone. Documentaries, particularly the kind shown at festivals like Sundance, tend to reaffirm the audience’s worldview, partly by appealing to its presumptive tolerance and partly by underscoring the artistry of the endeavor (the vision thing). Like many such documentaries, “Zoo” wraps its sensationalistic core in a seductive mantle, an approach that appeals to viewers already predisposed to art and the Enlightenment, “Sesame Street” and all things not Rush Limbaugh. These are films as documents of reason (yours, mine, the creators’), the cinema of indoor voices.

Got that? If you appreciate the Enlightenment and love Sesame Street, then you will understand the artistic essence of Zoo. From that description, the film might be about the elegant nature of animals contrasted with their confinement in urban centers -- a cri de coeur for the once-proud creatures of the wild. Given the Sesame Street reference, perhaps it focuses more on those born into captivity, whose true natures will never be expressed.

Or, perhaps, it's about people who have sex with animals:

The director Robinson Devor apparently would like viewers who watch his heavily reconstructed documentary, “Zoo,” to see it as a story of ineluctable desire and human dignity. Shot on Super 16-millimeter film, with many scenes steeped in a blue that would have made Yves Klein envious, “Zoo” is, to a large extent, about the rhetorical uses of beauty and metaphor and of certain filmmaking techniques like slow-motion photography. It is, rather more coyly, also about a man who died from a perforated colon after he arranged to have sex with a stallion.

Mercifully, you don’t see this death on camera, though if you sit close enough to the screen, you will see a few fairly brief images of one sexual event, accompanied by graphic sounds. It isn’t pretty, which is why the images appear only on a small television monitor. Art-house devotees may be a tolerant lot, but it’s doubtful they want to look at a stallion’s erect penis stretched across the big screen like a sailboat boom, at least in public. Certainly such an image would work directly counter to the self-conscious poeticism of Mr. Devor’s film, to its carefully confected narrative of misunderstood barnyard love and baleful testimonial. It is, after all, difficult to sing of the bodies electric and equine amid a chorus of “yucks.”

Indeed. As Leonardo himself once said, "Once you show the stallion's erection, all of the mystique is gone." Or at least that's what Dargis would have him say, since the Enlighhtenment requires one to sympathize with a man so stupid as to be unaware that a stallion's erect penis would injure him during sex. Dargis also pre-emptively scolds "Bible-believers" for eating animals but not approving of engaging in bestiality, in what I'd call one of the largest rhetorical stretches I've seen in a long while -- and I regularly read the New York Times.

Rubbish. One can hardly find a less sympathetic and more useless subject for a documentary than bestiality, something that says almost nothing about the human condition and is generally considered beyond the pale even by the perverse. Equating a film like Zoo with Enlightenment values shows that Dargis slept through the Western Civilization classes in college. Invoking a children's show like Sesame Street, where animal characters interact with children, in a review about bestiality is even more sick and twisted than the movie.

If Dargis wants to insult Rush Limbaugh and people of faith, that certainly is her prerogative. If she wants to champion bestiality to do it, it says a lot more about Manohla than it does about Rush and Christians. (hat tip: CQ reader Topcopy)


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Comments (14)

Posted by rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 8:28 AM

And that's one reason why I don't go see Art House movies: they are too wrapped up in the idea that they are making Art and want you to know they are making Art.

Tell the damn story and get on with it. The Art will come, just don't force it.

Posted by Kent [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 8:29 AM

Equating a film like Zoo with Enlightenment values shows that Dargis slept through the Western Civilization classes in college.

Is there any shred of evidence that Dargis took any Western Civilization courses in college?

Posted by Jim [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 8:32 AM

Oh, I think this movie says a lot about the human condition. It shows just how sick in the head some people are.

Jim C

Posted by syn [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 8:34 AM

Yes, enlightened Art is about digging deep into the dark bowels of humanity and splashing it all over the screen for all to experience the ugliness inside ourselves.

Up until 2004 I was in NYC theater for fifteen years and this was and still is considered creative artistry.

That, and mocking anything remotely puritanical. Ever wonder why 'artists' are fixated with ridiculing Christians?

Because their PC language prevents them from ridiculing their own politically identified groupthink. It's like 'of course humans want to experience sex with animals because Christians are uptight about their sexuality and remember Reagan caused AIDS besides fisting is so yesterday.'

Posted by Geoff [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 9:11 AM

The Enlightenment succeeded in one thing: it nurtured a peculiar character-type, that of the depraved pseudo-intellectual who is convinced he knows everything and that the rest of us are rubes.

Posted by Cato Renasci [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 9:12 AM

I suppose the only way to connect Zoo with the Enlightenment would be something along the lines of the remark that Voltaire is supposed to have made when invited to a second visit to the notoriously debauched Hellfire Club: once is philosophy, twice is perversion....

This is enough to make one long for the days a liberal (in this case Tom Lehrer) made jokes about the student at the State Agricultural College who majored in animal husbandry - until they caught him at it....

Or the days when 'bestiality' seemed mostly to encompass jokes about farm boys and sheep, or 'donkey shows' in Mexican border towns like Tijuana.


Posted by Cato Renasci [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 9:32 AM

Geoff wrote:

The Enlightenment succeeded in one thing: it nurtured a peculiar character-type, that of the depraved pseudo-intellectual who is convinced he knows everything and that the rest of us are rubes.

Actually, it was only French enlightenment that brought us characters like Rousseau and Voltaire, the Scottish/English enlightenment gave us Hume, Dugald Stewart, Adam Smith and the like. And the German enlightenment gave us Kant, who was a rigorous, if difficult, thinker.

Posted by TD [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 10:02 AM

Captain, you're a man after my own heart.

If you have BlockBuster online (or maybe even NetFlix), try and get "The Terror of Tiny Town". It's a western shot in 1938 using only midgets. They ride Shetland ponies, and many of the props (the stagecoach, for instance) is to scale for little people. Funniest thing I've ever seen.

Next on my list is "Teenagers from Outer Space", also available from Blockbuster. The monster in this is never actually seen, only its shadow -- which looks incredibly like a lobster.

Posted by GarandFan [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 11:02 AM

Isn't it amazing how much that is sick can be rescued by calling it "art".

Posted by el-vee-gee [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 12:14 PM

Give me another swig of my own bathwater and a mirror, so I can complete my fecal self-portrait.

Posted by Geoff [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 2:10 PM

Cato - you're merely more impressed with Hume and Kant than I am. In my book they are blowhards.

Hume was noted for his arrogance, and he did untold damage by turning philosophy into a game, not in Wittgenstein's intruiging sense of a game, but in the sense of a little brat throwing his toys saying "oh look at me I'm a naughty little philosopher mucking things up!"

I don't take Kant seriously but I understand that some people find something interesting there. I guess if you have to read Kant, read Hannah Arendt's interpretation of him first, and then whatever nuggets that are worthwhile in him stand out in sharper relief.

Neither Hume nor Kant are great in my book, and yes I have studied them both.

Posted by Shtetl G [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 2:26 PM

This is why I will never go to Sundance or watch a DVD that says its an award winning Sundance film.
"Hey you want to watch this movie that was at Sundance?"
"Is this the movie with the dude fu@#$%$ a horse?"
"I don't think so"
"Ahhhhh, there's a guy being fu@#$# by horse"
I just can't take that chance!

Posted by alessandrab [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 5, 2007 2:20 PM

"Invoking a children's show like Sesame Street, where animal characters interact with children, in a review about bestiality is even more sick and twisted than the movie."

Luckily for you, you were spared reading the article on Slate that followed.

Here's my comment on it:

William Saletan reaches the absurd level of trying to equate bestiality to heterosexuality (which he constructs as all bad), and states that it is the opposite of homosexuality (which he constructs as all good). Yes, you read that right.

He does this by selectively picking anything in the characteristics of the bestiality people portrayed and how they related to the animals, and makes it into a resemblance of "heterosexuality," (which, as we know, is all bad and disgusting). Then he says that from a cultural and emotional perspective, bestiality must then oppose the wonderfulness of homosexuality, because the latter is all good and magnificent -- and the opposite of heterosexuality in every way!

At least, because he is equating bestiality to heterosexuality, Saletan spares us the line that the men portrayed in "Zoo" have a bestial gene and anyone who opposes bestiality is full of hate; he does describe the men as profoundly dysfunctional.

In what way? When critics argue that homosexuality is a dysfunction and therefore not genetic, pro-homos argue that it's not a choice and it's biologically wired, and that homosexuals are exactly the same as heterosexuals, except that they like people of the same sex. (Notice: exactly the same). At the same time, people like Saletan then say homosexuals have a completely different psychology, emotional structure, and culture, and are completely different than heterosexuals. (Notice: completely different). Saletan couldn't furnish a better example of human idiocy regarding sexuality ideas garnered for the moronic liberal masses.

But Saletan reaches the pinnacle of his twisted-around sexuality comparison with the following argument: in "Zoo," all the men who engage in sex with horses could not really be accused of abuse in the strict sense of physically hurting the animals, because, in all cases, it is the horse that is active and the man that is bending down. This, he claims, is the utmost symbol of... heterosexuality.

He "clarifies" a few more points of just how "heterosexual" bestiality is.

*** But Zoo isn't about equality. It's about inequality. It gets inside the heads of the horse fetishists, exploring their peculiar mentality. At the core of that mentality is a craving for otherness. Zoophilia isn't homo. It's hetero. Very hetero. ***

So we are told that fetish of a thousand kinds is never a part of homosexuality, it's all hetero, all the time. And that homosexuality, because it is same-sex, is about equality! Like Foley being equal to his little pages, and John Browne equating himself to the male prostitute he exploited, and the 650,000 cases of homosexual batterers per year, they are just beating themselves into all that equality, of course.

*** "It's just like if you love your wife." Another, who calls himself the Happy Horseman, ventures, "You're connecting with another intelligent being." But the more the men talk, the more this pretense unravels. "I don't need a high level of emotional interaction," says a zoophile who goes by the name Coyote. The Happy Horseman agrees. A horse "has no idea what Tolstoy is, or Keats," he explains. "You can't discuss the difference between Monet and Picasso. That just doesn't exist for their world. It's a simpler, very plain world. And for those few moments, you kind of can get disconnected."

In other words, horses are bimbos. ***

And he has never heard of Gore Vidal who bragged about having reasonably anonymous sex with more than 1000 other homosexuals? And what happens at homo saunas? Oh, these aren't bimbos, these are faggots, is that why we can't equate it to the respective homosexuals who have a very disconnected psychology about sexual relations?

No, no - it's all heterosexual if it's bad, of course.

*** It's just like a gay orgy, except that it's the opposite.***

Like when war is peace, or it's all equal, except it's all different. Get it?

*** The guys aren't there to have sex with one another. They're there to have conversation with one another, followed by sex with beasts whose cousins the men regard as barbecue meat. The classlessness of the society in the house conceals its abuse of the society in the barn. Later, the men return from the barn, bonded together in silent triumph. This isn't a gay party. It's a frat party.

Because, as you know, there is no such thing as more than two homosexuals ever engaging in sex. And homosexuals and homosexual pornography never portray anyone or anything in a way or context equivalent to "meat."

But he leaves his greatest show of intellectual strength for the finale: apparently holding an acid grudge against Rush Limbaugh, he then goes to state that very little separates Limbaugh from one of these bestial men!

*** To Limbaugh, women are just like animals. Don't take my word for it. Take his. Five months ago, he compared his cat to a girlfriend: "She gets loved. She gets adoration. She gets petted. She gets fed. And she doesn't have to do anything for it, which is why I say this cat's taught me more about women than anything my whole life."

That's the kind of frat-boy thinking that ends with a bunch of drunken idiots in a barn. ***

So, yes, we are surprised to hear Saletan hasn't called PETA et al to raid Limbaugh's house and rescue the poor cat from the bestial Limbaugh. I mean, talk about steeping low to vilify and mischaracterize a political opponent. And I can't wait to hear Saletan's protest on how horrible pornography is, because it does display all these attitudes he described. Maybe when hell, freezes over, that is.

If there is anything very bestial in all of this, it is surely Saletan's writing.