I don’t think it’s even possible for a person’s image to flip quite so completely as Rock Hudson’s did over the course of his lifetime. Hudson now is viewed as a hugely important gay icon, whose coming out of the closet and disclosure of AIDS had a huge impact on the public’s perception of these things and shifted the conversation. But it only had this impact because before this, Hudson was such a huge heterosexual icon, the foremost example of male physical perfection of his era, like Clark Gable in the 1930s or Brad Pitt in the 1990s. He looked like he could defend himself if he needed to, tall and rugged, but he also had an easy charm and tenderness that made his many comedic films big hits. He had all the right stuff to make a generation of women obsess over him as a protector and a fantasy boyfriend. Still, despite this he did try to push himself as an actor and take roles outside of his usual wheelhouse: his most famous such was in Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, where he plays an introverted, working-class gardener. But the best of these films is Seconds.

It’s not so much that Seconds wouldn’t work without Hudson: someone like Robert Mitchum could have fit in the role, and that would be an interesting movie to see as well. But Hudson gives it a special quality just by being Rock Hudson: to look like Rock Hudson, living beachfront on Malibu without concerns about money, would be something close to the ultimate American fantasy. So, really, only Rock Hudson could possibly make it convincing that such a thing would be a nightmare, the stuff of horror films, which Seconds essentially is. That Hudson was perceived as such a happy, uncomplicated presence makes his depressed, internal character all the more riveting and interesting. And while all that is true, Hudson’s casting would be a gimmick if he didn’t have the goods to pull off what he needs to in the movie. And he sure does.

Seconds is simple enough in plot. An elderly banker who is deeply unhappy with his life decides to throw in his lot with a shady company that offers a service to people like him: a fresh start, thanks to experimental surgical techniques and the company’s own substantial resources. Hudson plays the banker post-surgery, nicely channeling the weary energy that John Randolph provides as the “old” version of the character. At first it seems so promising: a new house, replete with a company-provided butler, a new vocation in painting, before long a younger love interest (played by Salome Jens, who I mostly know as the female shapeshifter from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). But this is where the movie gets interesting. Hudson isn’t at all happy with the new life. He’s frustrated by his inability to paint. He’s angered by the pressures to fit into the local social scene. There wind up being a few more strings attached than he thought to his new life, and even the woman winds up having a few secrets of her own. The new life winds up not being quite what it was billed to be, and I’ll reveal no more.

Seconds is, like Chinatown or Point Blank or, somewhat more recently, Inside Man, a political critique that backloads the message and initially sucks you in by pretending like it’s just a normal thriller. It’s very easy to imagine a conventional version of the film, which would probably involve Hudson triumphing over the company and getting away with the girl. Thankfully it doesn’t have such an uninteresting ending. Despite coming out in the 1960s the movie, in tone and substance, feels more like the cinema of the 1970s. Corporate America is presented as essentially amoral: the corporation in the film is unregulated and, due to the nature of the business, essentially all-powerful so far as its customers are concerned. It openly uses them up for everything they can get from them. American values–the real ones, like fame, appearance and wealth, not so much the stated ones–are shown to be a shallow mirage. Hudson’s banker realizes–too late–that the reason he was unhappy in the first place was that he bought into what he was told he wanted instead of trying to figure out what he actually wanted, and with his rebirth, he committed the same mistake again. The deathless American conceit that perfect exteriors can somehow lead to an inner perfection is skewered here, as improved exteriors really have no effect upon the protagonist’s unhappiness. The only truly happy people we encounter seem to be the Santa Barbara hippies that Hudson and Jens visit about 2/3 of the way through the movie at a major turning point, though they aren’t referred to as hippies since that wasn’t a thing yet in 1965. A positive view of the counterculture, of all things. It’s frankly kind of amazing this movie got released at all!

Seconds is just a great film. There are so many little details that you pick up on a rewatch, such as that painting is actually Hudson’s second choice for what he wished he were, or the significance of Hudson returning to the “quiet room” full of men that he encounters early in the movie. Are these scenarios designed to fail? It doesn’t seem like it would be profitable if this company were bankrolling all these guys’ lavish lives for decades. (Also very interesting that it’s only men who seem to avail themselves of this option.) It’s definitely a thinky movie, which is probably why it wasn’t popular when it was released. (Also, it was a bit “off brand” for Hudson, so his fans didn’t show up for it.) Some attention must also be paid to the cinematography by James Wong Howe, which is excellent, as well as John Frankenheimer’s direction, which is truly unnerving and savage in a way that studio movies rarely ever are. (Again, it’s amazing the movie ever got released!) But in the end, this really is Hudson’s movie. More than anything, it’s a parable about the dangers of mindlessness whose observations don’t seem at all dated. Hudson’s performance gets this across perfectly.

Share
Lev filed this under: , ,  

No Republican politician will ever support the impeachment of Donald Trump. No matter what.

Share
Lev filed this under: ,  

It’s worth noting that, among all the other stories involving them right now, the Trump/Bannon grand geopolitical strategy is in tatters. France and the Netherlands passed by the opportunity to install populist right governments this year, and Germany is very unlikely to do so either. It also can’t be overstated just how much the plan to shred the EU and return to blood and soil nationalisms was dependent on hard Brexit being a success, which in turn meant putting a huge investment on Theresa May. Brilliant! If things continue as they are, within a few months she’ll be replaced by a left-wing Labour government that is going to want nothing to do with Trump whatsoever, and is going to water Brexit down even more than Theresa May is going to be forced to water it down after losing her majority. (I had real doubts she would have been able to pull off the right wingers’ fantasy Brexit even if she hadn’t made one of the biggest mistakes in recent memory, but at this point it’s definitely dead.) I suppose there’s a shot (a fairly decent one, in fact) that Austria will keep their hopes alive this year, but that’s pretty much it. And for a group that’s often derided as fascists, that would be poignant indeed.

Admittedly, when it comes to the domestic side, Trump and Bannon are extremely effective–at destroying American power. Atrios has a great link here. Sometimes this is called “soft power” (also I think Hillary Clinton tried to rebrand it as “smart power” which didn’t really take off), but really it’s just being able to get the things you want without the mess and expense of a war. Wars tend to be a less straightforward way of accomplishing this stuff, particularly in the modern era, when small, weak states can fairly easily resist much more powerful ones until the latter loses interest. Iraq didn’t yield to America, Yemen shows no signs of yielding to the Saudis, Ukraine is still resisting Russia, etc. Obama did a really great job in restoring that power after Bush but Trump is going to kill it for good. Now it’s a pattern, you see. When a Democrat is elected to clean up the mess Trump made, they won’t be able to pull an Obama because everyone else will figure the person succeeding President Cory Booker (e.g.) is going to shred all the work he did internationally. Really, Trump has already done this by showing the world that Bush wasn’t an aberration, and that if anything the next Republican is going to be even worse than he is. Unfortunately the military budget will stay high for some time to come (not even Democrats really want to bring it down), but the reputation, the fear, the perception of power, it’s all gone now. I hope you enjoyed it!

Share
Lev filed this under: ,  

I think there just may be something to this whole Trump-Russia story…

Share
Lev filed this under: ,  

In his biannual post to try to temporarily assuage his vague feelings of white guilt, King Wanker Supreme, David Brooks, bemoans the lack of sophistication in his “friend with only a high school degree”, who “[froze] up” when faced with a fancy deli menu listing posh sandwich-delicacies with funny names.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

See!, Poors eat Mexican.

If the internets have any justice, I wish someone would create a meme with a laughing Brooks wearing a big wig, exclaiming “Let them eat fine Italian deli meat!”

P.S. I bet Brooks is the type of person who sniffs at someone with a certificate from a non-B.A.-granting “culinary school” saying it qualifies as higher education.  Thus, I’d venture that most chefs, with “only a high school education”, probably know a fuckton more about cuisine and quality ingredients than a wanker like Brooks.

Share

Apropos of nothing in particular, today’s chaos du jour put me in mind of this Machiavelli quote:

“Minds are of three kinds: one is capable of thinking for itself; another is able to understand the thinking of others; and a third can neither think for itself nor understand the thinking of others. The first is of the highest excellence, the second is excellent, and the third is worthless.”

Share
Metavirus filed this under: ,  

Since our esteemed Lev joined us back in 2010, he has been tallying up an impressive body of insightful and well-regarded commentary on matters both political and consequential.  He will soon surpass me in the total number of posts since I started this blog in 2008.  Huzzah!

I’m very thankful for his seven-year (!!) tenure here, especially considering how silent I’ve been lately.  Here’s hoping for another seven and more years, as well as a dominating democratic resurgence.  Well, at least chances for the former are pretty good. :)

Share
Metavirus filed this under: , ,  

I don’t know if it’s just a silly toy that he puts out to watch the mice scurry around or if he is constantly on the verge of firing top people in his administration before backing down, but it is pretty remarkable that nearly six months in, we’ve constantly been hearing about how someone (Bannon, Priebus, Spicey, etc.) is on the outs with Trump and about to depart, and yet none of them have. Really, the only one who did get the boot was Flynn, and reportedly Trump regrets that. Honestly, my guess is that it’s just histrionics from the obviously histrionic Trump. Trump is the exact sort of person who likes people to obsess about his moods and moves, what he might do, and he always needs to be the center of attention.

The question is: do those people actually have the safest jobs in the country? I say yes. I doubt both that Trump could bring himself to pull the trigger if he hasn’t yet, or that he could find better than those people. (He would be better off without Bannon altogether, but his pseudointellectualism makes him the proverbial one-eyed man so far as Trump is concerned.)

Share
Lev filed this under: