How Apocalypto Relates to the News

When I watch the news I often think of the movie Apocalypto.   This is a Mel Gibson directed movie that deals with the Mayans.  The movie is an insane spectacle filled with ideas and blood.  The characters speak in ancient Mayan dialogue, but the movie is brilliant because it manages to tell the story in ways that are mostly visual.  It is an extremely intelligent piece of entertainment, an action movie with ideas.  It is barbarous, batshit insane, kinetic entertainment.  

Now why do I think of this movie when I see the news?  This is not due to the themes of the movie.  The Mayan empire is depicted as a civilization on the verge of collapse due to environmental calamity and human exploitation.  It came out during the Bush years and the Iraq War.  Gibson even commented that the Mayan rulers were very similar to Bush in his boys.  Sure, the invading Europeans put the nail in the coffin of the Mayans, but the Europeans are aided by the Mayan leaders’ tyrannical rule.  That is not to say that is true in history, but Gibson is trying to draw a parallel through art.  He is saying if we don’t quit oppressing people, if we don’t protect the environment, history shows that we and our way of life is in trouble.

However, none of that crosses my mind when I watch the news.  The greatest emotional quality of Apocalypto is insanity.  When I watch the news and they focus on the trivial and ignore the important, I feel emotionally like I do when I watch Apocalypto.   When I see war and oppression trumpeted as normal, when I see global warming treated as not real, when I see celebrity eclipse the common good, I feel the same as when I watch Apocalypto.  

There is intellectual truth and emotional truth in art.  Even if you argue that the movie doesn’t have the former, it has the latter in spades.  It feels like what happens when the world turns upside down.  It’s why the movie makes me happy, even though it is largely an action movie and a quite dark one at that.  Someone connected to an emotion that is all too common in the modern world.  It’s always uplifting to know someone feels like you do.  If there are others, you might just stand a chance. 


Lou Reed, Comedian

One of my favorite comedians is Lou Reed.  Seriously.  Some of you that know the man’s work will think I’m jesting.  Some will think I’m comparing his later solo work with the Velvet Underground and saying it’s comically bad.  Others will think I’m talking about his voice and saying the fact that he has about a two note range is funny.  However, as much as I like the Velvets, I listen to Lou’s solo output way more.  And I love almost all of his solo output.  Those of you that didn’t like The Raven, or Lulu, or Ecstasy, are missing out on some great stuff.  And despite his limitations as a vocalist, I think that it is a perfect instrument for conveying his truth.  I think he’s funny because I think his lyrics are often intentionally funny in the blackest of the black humor that they possess.

Lou’s remark on Berlin, what many consider to be one of the most depressing albums of all time, was, “We were just trying to have some fun.”  There’s a point where things get so dark that they pass through some kind of other dimension and come out the other end funny.  I remember seeing Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and feeling uncomfortable for part of it.  By the time people were dancing and catching human heads in baskets, it became so absurd that it was funny.  Again, the kind of comedy that I’m talking about is not laughing at something because it’s ridiculous or bad.  Apocalypto is one of my favorite films and I think that, behind its relentless action and nonstop entertainment, it has a serious theme.  I’m talking about the divine comedy.  I’m talking about the fact that a lot of what has been done and is being done on this planet is absurd.  We have believed in weird gods, have killed each other for pointless reasons, have worked jobs to which there was no meaning, and have followed senseless cultural practices.  If you pull back and look at things through a wide angle there is a space for comedy in all of this.

I think Lou Reed gets this.  On Berlin’s Sad Song he sings:

I’m gonna stop wasting my time
Somebody else would have broken both of her arms

When he sings this he is singing in his typical deadpan voice.  Behind him is an almost ecstatic symphony of music.  Glorious guitars and other instruments reach for the heavens.  Berlin is the tale of junkies and their downfall.  Lou sympathizes enough with them to make them human.  However, he also seems to grasp the cruel absurdity of their situation.  The combination of music and lyrics here create something that is inherently funny.  He isn’t making fun of them though.  He is laughing at a universe that has allowed such a situation to take place.

Another song that makes me laugh is Lou’s Fly Into the Sun, from one of his most underrated albums New Sensations.  In this he sings:

The earth is weeping, the sky is shaking
the stars split to their core
And every proton and unnamed neutron
is fusing in my bones
And an unnamed mammal is darkly rising
as man burns from his tomb
And I look at this as a blissful moment
to fly into the sun
Fly into the sun
fly into the sun
I’d burn up into a million pieces
and fly into the sun

On this song Lou Reed is singing about a nuclear holocaust.  However, his music is light and major key.  Lou is using over the top poetic language.  By combining that with the music he is creating a sense of high comedy.  The human race is simply ridiculous for ever allowing itself to create a world where we could wipe each other out with such ease.  He is making a point through humor without being didactic.

Anytime my soul feels dark and I need to cheer up, Lou Reed is never far away.  Lou’s writing touches upon every human emotion.  He does have songs that can break your heart and songs that are filled with a righteous fury.  However, a sense of humor is always lurking near.  Lou Reed is one of rock’s greatest comedians and truth seekers; defying the god’s and bringing fire back to man.

In Defense of the Art of Mel Gibson

I can’t help it to admit that I really like Mel Gibson movies.  Braveheart was entertaining.  I wasn’t as in to The Passion of the Christ, not because of its religious theme, but because I felt like it didn’t hold up to intellectual scrutiny.  That can be a different topic for a different day.  But the movie that I love most of all, one of my favorite movies of all time, is Apocalypto.  It’s batshit crazy, intelligent, and entertaining all at the same time.  I’m also a fan of mad Mel’s acting in such movies as The Road Warrior and Get the Gringo.  The Lethal Weapon movies are always a good laugh.  I haven’t seen The Beaver yet, but I hope to some day.

Liking him is problematic for obvious reasons.  Anyone with a phone, TV, or computer connection is well versed in his public meltdowns, anti-Semitic rants, and off set explosions.

The first question is should the artists personal life in anyway affect the way that we view the work that they have created?  Although one can’t help by being influenced by things we read in tabloids or interviews, I don’t think that one should.  All people, whether they are artists or not, have good and bad in them.  Maybe someone that is struggling with demons uses art to try to heal themselves, make sense of the world around them like any artist, and reflect the inner turmoil that they feel on a day to day basis.  Maybe their art is the one bit of light in them that is able to get out.  I’m not here to play psychologist though.

George Orwell once wrote an essay called A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray.  I’m going to try to get this as right as possible, as I have just searched my books for my copy and came up empty.  However, in this essay he talks about how the less than reputable Vicar of Bray has left the world with a poem or song, written by someone else about him, that brought Orwell fond memories.  He also talks about how a ruler that was cruel to his people planted trees that long after the ruler was dead people found pleasure sitting in the shade of.  The main point of Orwell’s essay goes on to be that by planting trees you can leave the world something good long after you are gone despite whatever shortcomings you might have had in life.  Another thing I took from Orwell’s essay is that we can’t see how 10, or 50, or 100, or even 1,000 years from now whatever contribution we make to the world will be judged.  It’s very possible that we could be a devious fool in our own lifetime and leave something to the world that others will enjoy for many years to come.

Another problem I have in getting too worked up over the things Mel Gibson has said is that they are only a snapshot of a much bigger life than we will know.  Maybe Mr. Gibson has done more good than harm over the course of his life.  This does not mean that the things that were leaked were not repulsive.  Pictures lie.  If you have ever seen a beautiful picture of a tropical rainforest you usually don’t sit and ponder how hot it is there.  We also seem so quick to judge people in this society based on moments.

I remember one time while drinking that I said I was going to burn down the city of Philadelphia.  I love the city of Philly and am a big Eagles fan.  If that moment had been caught on tape and I was a famous figure would I have been deemed a monster?

I am not here to defend Mr. Gibson’s actions.  I don’t know him and neither do you.  I know he has said some horrible things, but he has also made some compelling films.  I’m not his friend and probably never will be.  I might not even want to be if I had the chance.  He may be more monster than man.  Should I like him as a person?  I don’t know.  But I know that I can watch his movies and enjoy them without the slightest bit of guilt.