What’s Wong With This Picture?
Time Magazine Sucks
By Cole Smithey
The May 21, 2012 issue of Time Magazine is a significant bellwether. It speaks volumes about the state of America’s steadily imploding media, of which Time Magazine has crossed a line into tabloid exploitation. It could well be the magazine’s Waterloo. The New York Post has nothing on Time Magazine anymore.
A presentational image of a “mother” casually standing in front of a photographer’s white screen with her left tit exposed to allow her nearly four-year-old “son” (with the unisexual Assyrian name of Aram) to suck on it. He wears army fatigue pants and a gun-metal-gray t-shirt, and stands on a child’s chair that makes him only 18" inches shorter than his mother. The image is offensive across a wide scale of social decency. Pedophilic overtones saturate the militarized image. The chair is important because it creates an optical illusion of the child being older — much older than he is. His limp hands dangle helplessly at his mother's crotch. Dressed in a black leotard with her right hand on her hip, and her left knee cocked so that her ballet-slipper-styled shoe heel rises from the floor, suggests a come hither expression attenuated by a rebellious fuck-you attitude that dares the viewer to guess at what else she’s capable of. Her dead facial expression makes her look like a machine-woman — an android.
The representational (versus presentational) distinction is important. Here is a woman, acting as a “model.” She uses her own child to make a political statement. Skinny, blonde, and objectively sexy with tan lines that demarcate her arms from her pale white breast, the woman (Jamie Lynne Grumet) clearly intends to be the poster mom for a cult that, at best, adds more sand on the scales to the belief that most people have no business procreating. The 26-year-old Grumet isn’t yet old enough to qualify for the MILF designation that some male readers will be tempted to bestow upon her. She looks closer to 18 than to 30. One thing is certain; she cares more about her political agenda/image than she does about the vulnerable child at her breast.
The headline “ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH?” establishes a bullying editorial tone with a military association — think, “Be All You Can Be.” The rhetorical question is only barely softened by the sub-head, “Why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes—and how Dr. Bill Sears became their guru.” Note the incorrect use of the word “guru,” which is a Sanskrit term for a teacher of “Indian religions.” Talk about mixed metaphors — they are here in spades.
Whether or not the photo personally offends you, you should recognize that the posed image is more than just provocative. No kind of parallel image involving a 26-year-old male and his three or four-year-old daughter would ever pass for anything other than an actionable example of incestuous sexual exploitation. It doesn’t help matters that the boy in question sports a belly. The child is already overweight. Whether or not the boy yet perceives a sexual relationship with his mother; the effects of his long-term breastfeeding are already visible on his body.
Aram’s camouflage pants underscore a significant aspect of the photo’s subtext. The boy is being fattened up for war. His artificially created mental, emotional, and sexual state will be repurposed by a military complex poised to capitalize on his unique psychology.
The fractures are showing at Time Magazine, and every other TMZ-influenced media outlet that makes up what passes for news in this country. America doesn't do news anymore. War on civility is declared. Are we DEMOCRACY ENOUGH to do something about it? Only time will tell. You can start by canceling your subscription to Time Magazine, and or never buying it again.
The Best War Film Ever Made: "Come And See"
Elem Klimov's Masterpiece
By Cole Smithey
Stalingrad-born Elem Klimov's "Come and See" is an undiluted expression of cinematic poetry in the service of an unspeakably turbulent, fact-based, anti-war narrative about the 628 Belarusian villages burnt to the ground along with their inhabitants by the Nazis. The film is a disorienting vision of a genocide hell on Earth that would pale Hieronymus Bosch's most gruesome compositions. An electricity-buzzing stench of death and social decay hangs over the picture's constant volley between neo-realistic, formal, and documentary styles that Klimov uses to convert as wide a range of specific wartime experience as possible. The director takes the viewer on a quicksilver descent into an existential madness of war through the eyes of his 14-year-old peasant protagonist Florya. Alexei Kravchenko's extraordinary performance as the film's subjective guide encompasses a lifetime of suffering over a period of a few brutal days of the Nazi invasion.
Born into a communist family on July 9, 1933, Elem Klimov's parents constructed his first name as an acronym of Engels, Lenin, and Marx. In his 70 years, Elem Klimov made only five films: "Welcome, or No Trespassing" (1964), "The Adventures of a Dentist" (1965), "Agony" (1975) and "Farewell" (1981). "Come and See" was his astounding final picture that would establish Klimov as a storyteller of untold narrative depth and intuitive sensitivity. For the film, Klimov fashioned a detailed visual vernacular of dialectic form. The surreal narrative format expresses the overwhelming heartbreak of war. By the end, we witness a young boy's soul so ravaged by the war's horrors that he resembles an old man with only one mission in life.
When Klimov sat down to write the script with his collaborator Ales Adamovich, the ardently intellectual director crafted an acutely personal story about a boy who goes to fight against Nazi troops occupying his native Belarus in 1943, after joining up with a ragtag army of partisan soldiers taking shelter in the middle of a rugged wooded area. Objectively, "Come and See" is Elem Klimov's attempt to cinematically compartmentalize and contextualize his own wartime experiences as a child escaping the battle of Stalingrad, in the company of his mother and younger brother, by raft across the Volga while the city and river burned to the ground behind them.
Klimov said of the indelible event in relation to "Come and See," "Had I included everything I knew and shown the whole truth, even I could not have watched it."
The director asserts the story's peculiar social parameters at the start with an old man holding a horse whip while calling for two boys guilty of incessantly "digging."
"Playing a game? Digging? Well, go on digging you little bastards," the old man shouts at the boys.
From the distance arrives what seems to be a short, stout military officer carrying a stick and frothing at the mouth with recriminations for the old man that he approaches with measured steps. However, we soon realize that the apparent military officer is in fact one of the boys, speaking in a raspy adult voice and playing the part of a menacing armed forces commander. Exasperated, the old man gets on his horse and cart, telling his defiant son that if he won't listen to his father then he'll "listen to the cane." Klimov uses the vision of a young boy appearing as an old man to bookend the story as a symptom of the war's aging effect on its survivors. In the end, it will be the once fresh-faced Florya who has switched places with his friend whose fate falls to Nazi soldiers. The impersonating child deliberately chooses to comport himself as a veteran soldier, while Florya will have his youth stolen from him.
Florya's smaller companion walks along the beach to find Florya laughing manically at nothing in particular while crouched down in bushes. We are introduced to Florya as a child not in control of his behavior. There's already some madness present in his maniacal laughter. Florya is subordinate to his friend, who orders Florya to get back to work "digging." We know already that everything is not right.
Klimov employs a dynamic metaphor of the boys attempting to gain escape from the outside world by digging deeper into the earth. The oddly naturalistic scene exerts a primal human motivation at odds with noisy war planes that pass overhead.
Buried in the sand up to his shoulders, Florya struggles with both arms to pull something from under the sand as if he's being swallowed by an unseen monster attempting to drag him to the depths of hell. After much struggle, Florya excitedly extracts a prized rifle that he believes will give him entree into joining a partisan troop so that he can help battle Hitler's rampaging soldiers.
A German recon war plane flies overhead to the sound of German radio-broadcast propaganda. Klimov will reuse the same archive footage of the bomber plane many times over during the course of the film to achieve a droning visual effect of an authentic historical reference that contributes to an unrelenting rhythm of sudden violence, and brutal spatial dilemmas. Already Florya's journey is a person that we can relate to only with total involuntary commitment.
The endemic breakdown of family and society is confirmed in the next scene where Florya's frantic mother pleas directly to Klimov's empathetic camera for her son to take the axe, that she places in his hands, to kill her along with her two twin girls rather than abandon the family to go fight in the war. The woman is disconsolate as she beats Florya with a bundle of rope, refusing to allow her son to leave. But Florya is immune to his mother's panic, and winks at his little sisters while he holds the axe, playing a secret game with his innocent sisters. Two protestant soldiers peer through the family's window before entering the home to take Florya to join a nearby regiment of soldiers camped in the middle of a rugged forest. It is the last time that we will feel any sense of home or normal life in the film. The soldiers' politeness turns abruptly to that of menacing authority figures taking Florya with them as a kind of willing prisoner.
In the military camp, Florya meets a lovely but deranged teenaged girl named Glasha (disconcertingly played by Olga Mironova) whose wild-eyed stare of steel-gray eyes makes her as much of a monster as a would-be love interest for Florya to gravitate toward. That Glasha, dressed in a pretty green party dress, is carrying on some kind of affair with the troop's military chief only momentarily distracts from the extent of her mental instability inasmuch as we subjectively bestow sanity to the Partisan group's stern military leader. There's contagious insanity in the air that seems to have infllitrated every character that Klimov introduces.
The film's first act closes with a group photograph of the troop that provides a formal tableau of thick narrative subtext--witness a wounded soldier bandaged like a mummy and a black female cow with "Eat me before the Germans do," written in white on its side.
Upon their departure, the ragtag troop abandons the young boy that the military chief has quietly deemed unsuitable for the demands of battle. Florya's inconsolable anguish at being deserted by his surrogate family boils to a breaking point when he accidentally steps on a nest of eggs, killing the tiny birds in a glimpse of nature made horribly grotesque by his unavoidable human brutality. It's this violent and immediate style of detailed poetic storytelling that grips you and pulls at your senses with an inescapable urgency of survival. Klimov's precise use of graphic symbolism will steadily increase to a fever pitch in the film's stunning post modern climax where a backward moving collage attempts to collapse the Pandora's box of Hitler and the war that determines Florya's survival.
Glasha is also abandoned by the soldiers, and the two adolescent refugees cry into each others' eyes in a heartbreaking expression of raw emotion that Klimov captures with extended fourth-wall-breaking close-ups that intuitively editorialize on their fragile mental states. Florya recognizes Glasha's strange psychosis, but is unable to evade her spell. The pity that the soldiers took on the pair by leaving them behind backfires when a rash of falling German artillery shells permanently rob Florya of his hearing. The bombings are especially shocking for their violent realism that arrives suddenly with large swaths of forest ripped apart by earth-quaking explosions accompanied by a high-pitched ringing that destroys Florya's hearing and wrecks his conscious mind.
Klimov utilizes Florya's sensory deprivation with a twisted soundscape that indoctrinates us into Florya's pain and panic via a claustrophobic sonic space that increases our sense of being badly wounded. The next morning, Florya and Glasha frolic in the rain in a brief reverie where they forget the impending danger that awaits them. Under the muted sounds of sped up radio music, Glasha does a Charleston-styled flapper dance atop Florya's rain-soaked suitcase. There's a dreamlike quality to the couple's short lived musical respite before an outlandish pelican-type bird conveys an unnerving omen of unexplained incidents to follow. Wild animal life will play an important part of the image system filigree that Klimov uses to regularly connect the story to its ecological foundation in the landscape of Belarusia.
Klimov is commanding in his willingness to create abstract visual motifs, as when Florya returns to his mother's house with Glasha and peers down into a well while looking for his family. We view Florya through the back end of an organic cinematic telescope through which he sees himself. What Florya doesn't see are the mangled bloody bodies of his family and neighbors piled high against the backside of what was once his family's home. Glasha looks back and sees the carnage as they walk away from the area, but worriedly refrains from alerting Florya to the horror just behind them.
Florya runs into a thick muddy swamp that he is compelled to cross, believing that his family are hiding on a small island that he must trudge through quicksand-like mud to get to. Glasha follows Florya into the mud and holds onto the back of his coat as they painfully make their way through the thick brown sludge. Klimov layers on subdued layers of musical textures and ambient sound to weave a theme of self-flagellation, as assisted by Belarusia's uncontrolled topography that threatens to swallow up our protagonist and his female companion.
Glasha betrays Florya the first chance she gets when a Belarusian peasant helps her escape the mud. The traumatized Glasha loudly explains that Florya's family was killed, and that now he is deaf and out of his mind. Through his muted hearing, Florya hears her cruel words that Glasha speaks and reacts with a pained cry that powerfully expresses a depth of agony that imprints the film with an indelible image of victimization. Moments later Florya will be led by peasants to the badly burned body of his friend's father, who speaks his last words about how he begged the Germans that set him on fire to kill him. A crowd of desperate peasants chant under Klimov's soundscape of blowing wind. Florya sees a trench coat-dressed effigy of Hitler with a human skull head that the peasants put clay on to make more lifelike. A group cut off Florya's hair and bury it as part of a cleansing ritual that reinvents the traumatized Florya as a walking ghost.
In the third act Florya becomes a roaming independent soldier with a knack for barely escaping Nazi attacks. Florya's participation in expediting the extermination of a cornered group of Nazis by handing a gasoline filled can to a Nazi collaborator, is as suggestive an act as it is a literal one, for the Belarusian peasants will open fire on the Nazis before the fuel is ignited. Florya gains an historic perspective of Hitler that knows only annihilation. His hatred and fury seeks to eradicate the world of Adolph Hitler and his armies with tremendous prejudice. With his brain and body irreversibly changed, Florya has become the only thing that he will ever be capable of being for the rest of his life, a soldier against Hitler.
"Come and See" won the Moscow Film Festival's Grand Prize in 1985. Afterward, Klimov was elected as first secretary of the Soviet Filmmakers' Union and, during his two years on the post, oversaw the release of more than a hundred previously banned Soviet films. Elem Klimov went on to struggle with the idea of creating a film version of Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita," and with making a film adaptation of Dostoevsky's "The Devils." However, in 2000, he gave up filmmaking because he felt that he had done "everything that was possible." The visionary filmmaker died on October 26, 2003, and left behind a war film that accomplishes everything possible in cinema, and reinvents it.