Saturday, July 31, 2010
Here's a great fish cleaning method for perch (also known as survival food); it's quick, efficient, and saves all the meat--unlike filleting, which most of us are not experienced enough to do well. This method leaves the bones in, but in a survival situation the meat is more important than aesthetics, especially when working with small fish like perch. If you are fortunate enough to live near a decent lake you know you can easily pull a dozen perch from the water in a couple hours.
Following the above method, I cleaned all my recent perch with the Kershaw Bear Hunter featured in the URSUT knives post. It performed admirably in this role--as expected from an all-purpose blade--especially since no filleting was involved. Its hard plastic, seamless handle was also notable during the cleanup phase.
at 1:07 PM
Thursday, July 22, 2010
The 2009 Norwegian comedy/horror film, Dead Snow, is a curious thing: an intentionally cliche-ridden black comedy/gore horror zombie flick (the least interesting of either genre, and probably most appealing to annoying teenagers) with a simple storyline, yet it is oddly provocative.
It will serve us to not speculate as to the intentions of the film's director and co-writer, Tommy Wirkola--whether disclosure, predictive programming, a warning, or whatever else it may be; we will merely observe the film's motifs as an intellectual exercise aiding in understanding our current predicament:
A group of medical school students heads up to the mountains for the weekend--Easter weekend. This is an unusual, but not arbitrary, date, with its contemporary connotation of resurrection.
The students are going to such a remote location that they have to hike in, and, of course, their cell phones don't work out here. The isolated locale is the classic horror environment as it intensifies the horribleness of the horror: no one can escape, no one can hear you scream, and no one is coming to help you. The students, whomever they represent, are helpless.
The students are visited by a hiker one night. He tells them about the evil that inhabits these mountains: at the end of WWII, a unit of Nazis, led by Commander Herzog, fled to the hills where it was assumed they were frozen to death.
The name Herzog means: "A member of the highest rank of nobility in Germany and Austria, corresponding to the British duke."
Even though the zombie genre is currently being done to death, it still makes for a valuable metaphor; typically, the transformation of a group of people into zombies represents a loss of humanity--as in our modern consumer/materialistic culture, for example.
But these are more orthodox zombies, the undead. This undead motif, coupled with the Nazi theme (which several critics consider arbitrary) provides the viewer with a unconscious symbol indicating that Nazism never died.
Neither does the snow seem a meaningless circumstance of the environment--especially considering that the word appears in the film's title. In the above captures, the viewer finds that the Nazi zombies climb out from the snow itself.
Ice acts as a symbol of preservation, as in keeping something on ice--here the Nazi ideology, i.e., it has been kept alive underground (both literally and figuratively) and never really went away after WWII as most believe.
It is due to this preservation that the Nazi ideology can be resurrected this Easter (it is because the students stumble upon some Nazi treasure that the zombies hunt them down).
The symbol of the undead Nazi ideology buried in the snow also brings to mind rumors that there exist Nazi enclaves in both Antarctica and the Arctic circle. Not only are these locations rumored to contain Nazi bases, but these places are supposedly entrances to inner earth.
A fascinating research package on this can be found at Steve Quayle's Operation High Jump archive page.
Also supporting this undead Nazi ideology is the historically documented Operation Paperclip.
Again, it does no good to speculate on the director's motivations; it is only useful to analyze the symbols. So do the students find a way to defeat the Nazi zombies? No. The Nazi Zombies win in killing all the students. Not even one student gets away to safety.
Finally, an except from Glenn B. Infield's book Secrets of the SS that speaks to the persistence of the Nazi mentality:
"Spain is a safe haven for the SS men. Skorzeny lived there in peace until his death in 1975. Leon Degrelle, Belgium's leading Nazi collaborator, to whom Hitler once referred as an ideal example of a man whom he would have liked as a son, settled in Spain after the war and made a fortune in real estate. On a television program, when asked whether he didn't regret his actions during the Third Reich, Degrelle replied: 'I am only sorry that I didn't succeed. If I had the chance I would do it all over again but much more forcefully.'" (p. 224)
at 10:52 AM
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Most would agree that the problem with 1982's First Blood is the three Rambo films that followed it. It's not that those later films were bad (as action films), but the sheer volume of big knives, big muscles, and big explosions have diluted Rambo's first outing to an extent where the film's intellectual meat often goes unnoticed (as well as the novel's).
The film opens with John Rambo walking toward the home of a buddy from the Vietnam War, but Rambo soon learns that Delmore has died from cancer. We learn from this exchange between Rambo and the woman at the home that Rambo humorous and kind person as well as a loyal and trustworthy friend--after all, how many people would walk all this way to see and old Army buddy?
Before leaving, Rambo hands the woman a picture of Delmore he had been carrying with him. On the surface, this appears a kind gesture--as though an acknowledgment that this woman had more right to the fading memory of Delmore than Rambo. But what this reveals about Rambo is more pertinent to the context of the film, because what he is actually doing by transferring this picture/memory is cutting his loses.
Cutting one's loses in this sense is a coping mechanism, or a mental survival skill; this is why the dead and wounded are separated in combat: seeing the dead destroys morale. Survivalism is one of the film's main themes (we later learn that Rambo is the lone survivor of his Special Forces team), but more important is survival's essential component of stubbornness--this tenacious refusal to be consumed by one's circumstances--that gives us something to chew on. This is something we can all relate to in these trying times.
A drifter, or wanderer, like Rambo is by nature either trying to escape from something, or in search of something--or both. This veteran, we come to learn, is plagued by memories of the horrors of war, not to mention the treatment he received upon his return to his home country, so he is also looking for a place of respite.
It is interesting that this town is named Hope, and not only that but Rambo has to pass through the "Gateway To Holidayland" to get there. A gateway implies a passage to safety--here a fortress of wilderness, not unlike the gates Rambo would have passed through to enter his firebase in Vietnam, the kind of place Rambo might fit in--into a land of relaxation, rest.
As he enters the town, we can imagine that his mind races with optimism. Maybe he'll just pass through, or maybe he has found a place to call his own--if only for a while.
The town of Hope, Colorado is run by the firm, but fair, hand of Sheriff Will Teasle (who in the novel was himself a Korean War veteran). We learn from the first few minutes of Teasle's appearance that he seems to be well-liked by the community, but does not suffer fools well.
Teasle is certainly not interested in having someone like Rambo around, a vagrant. The town's orderliness, its harmony, is obviously a source of pride for Teasle, a reflection of himself.
Teasle is quick to pick up Rambo and deposit him on the other side of town, even though Rambo only wants something to eat. And here we have the spark of an epic conflict between the two most stubborn people in the world--also known as good cinema.
Although most film reviewers will remark that this film's main theme is about the treatment of veterans following the Vietnam War, that is merely the ignition system for the film's real story: that of the conflict between two hardheads who don't know when to quit.
Rambo soon turns around and heads back toward Hope. Rambo, we soon learn, is a Medal of Honor recipient; he isn't about to take this kind of treatment from some small town putz sheriff. The question is, does Rambo turn around here because he has every right to, or does he turn around because he refuses to be mistreated by Teasle?
Many viewers see Teasle as a jerk, and what he did to Rambo as wrong. But is he wrong? Wasn't he only looking after his town by helping this shaggy drifter pass through quickly? His duty is to his town and its residents, that is his job. One has to ask what you would do in Teasle's shoes. Maybe he had previous experience with drifters, "your kind" as he put it. However, this is supposed to be a free country where a man should be able to travel and dress any way he pleases without being harassed. Rambo has committed no crime.
So what should Teasle have done if he had strong suspicions that this drifter would later commit a crime? What if he could be absolutely sure that someone would later commit a crime, would he be justified in trying to prevent it?
But we do know two things: the violence and destruction could have been avoided had Teasle been kinder to Rambo, and they could have been avoided had Rambo just kept on going rather than turn around. The great success of the film is that is doesn't allow clear good guy/bad guy assignments to form, they're both wrong. They're both so hardheaded that the situation escalates past the point of no return.
The iconic "Rambo knife" makes its debut. While this tool has taken on a somewhat cartoonish connotation within pop culture and often used in a derisive way, it is a symbolic extension of Rambo himself: dangerous, self-reliant, overkill. It is an awesome knife with a long, subdued blade, sawtooth spine, and a hollow handle with a compass buttcap. This knife represents not only the deeper notions of survival itself, but the means to procure the essentials: food, shelter, fire, and self defense.
Here now, in the above scene, with Rambo under arrest, is Teasle's second move. Let's note what could have happened: Rambo would have spent the night in jail, probably have gone before a judge, and would have gotten a slap on the wrist and been on his way, Or may even Teasle would have let him go after a short time, especially after learning that John Rambo is a war hero. Teasle is not a cruel or stupid man, after all.
However, two more problems arise: the idiot deputy Art Galt, and Rambo's flashbacks.
Once Rambo assaults several police officers and escapes from the station there is no more turning back. The smoldering has just burst into flames.
Rambo heads straight for the woods, right where he feels at home.
It is while pursuing Rambo through the woods that the officers receive word that he was a Green Beret and Medal of Honor winner. Teasle's expression here is interesting; he could be thinking "Oh, crap" or it could be regret. Maybe a little of both. At any rate, one officer is dead and they've passed the point of no return.
Lest the audience believe that Rambo is just another psycho robotic killer, we are given this: Rambo comes across this teenage boy in the woods, throws him to the ground, and draws back his knife ready to kill. But he doesn't; he checks himself, and lets the boy go.
Rambo dispatches the local cops with ease. They never even see him coming. Then he catches up with Teasle, telling him, "I could have killed them all. I could've killed you. In town you're the law, out here it's me. Don't push it. Don't push it or I'll give you a war you won't believe. Let it go. Let it go."
Teasle, obviously isn't going to, and cannot, let it go. He might wish that he could, but he cannot.
A base of operations is soon formed for the manhunt. Now we have the local police, the State Police, and the National Guard involved.
It is at this point that the film becomes a fantasy. It is the fantasy of every man who has ever suffered an injustice. Of every broken man who wants to take on the world, blow it up.
One of the deputies tells Teasle, "I was just talking to Mitch, and he was saying that Galt and a couple of the deputies were a little hard on the guy."
It's interesting to see here how this information comes as the situation escalates, providing Rambo, now a bonafide criminal, with a hint of justification--almost as though this whole mess were caused by police provocation.
Enter Colonel Trautman, Rambo's Special Forces commander, the one who made him. Trautman tells Teasle, "I didn't come here to rescue Rambo from you... I came here to rescue you from him."
Later, Trautman gets Rambo to answer the radio he has taken from one of the policemen. Rambo says, "There wouldn't be no trouble except for that king sh** cop. All I wanted was something to eat. But the man kept pushing, sir."
Trautman: "Well, you did some pushing of your own, Johnny."
Rambo: "They drew first blood, not me."
Again, this is the heart of the conflict: two hardheads too proud to just let it go, both feeling justified.
Rambo has very quickly regressed into an indigenous person: improvised clothing, bandanna, a rack of wild boar on his shoulder, and living in a cave of sorts. He is also a master of guerrilla warfare. Hmm...
This manhunt is beginning to resemble the Vietnam War itself. The above shot could be one from a dozen Nam films. Rambo has brought the war home.
The National Guardsmen eventually manage to trap Rambo in the abandoned mine and fire a light anti-tank weapon into it, collapsing the entrance.
After this explosion, everyone, including Trautman, thinks Rambo is dead--and in films, when everyone thinks a character is dead, that is symbolic of a real death.
Following the death, we see Rambo navigating the Underworld with a torch.
And after a death, and some comtemplative time in the Underworld, there must be an ascension back into the real world. (This scene hints at a hero-type of rebirth. while outside the scope of this report, this narrative line may be ripe for analysis for anyone with nothing better to do. Anyone not familiar with the Hero Quest may read all about it in the Men Who Stare At Goats report)
The ghost of Rambo returns to Hope and sets it ablaze, then shoots the place up with an M60. He is not on the run anymore; he is on the attack. The viewer here is obligated to ask themselves what Rambo is now trying to destroy? Is it Hope itself? Is it his delusions of ever returning to some sort of normalcy? Is this revenge on a large scale?
Is it the big corporate profiteers who benefit from innocent, young men and women going abroad and getting chewed up?
Maybe everything. Maybe Rambo doesn't even know at an intellectual level; only feels something askew with the world.
In the end, after much property damage to Hope, Rambo shoots Teasle, injuring him. Rambo could kill him, finish him off, he has won and they now both know it. But Rambo does not kill him. Trautman intervenes and talks Rambo out of it. There is no way out alive now, he tells Rambo; the place is surrounded by police.
Now it's back to a stalemate. They'll both die unless someone calls an end to it. This is a game with no winners, only losers.
Then, following a brief venting about the horrors of war and the poor treatment of veterans upon their return, Rambo agrees to turn himself in to the police. These final words, many would argue, are unnecessary and would have been better left unsaid. Maybe so; even though the viewer can empathize with Rambo, it does sound a bit like he's been driven by some outside agent. When Trautman says, "It's over, Johnny, it's over!"
Rambo replies, "Nothing's over! Nothing! You just don't turn it off!"
This "it" potentially distracts us from the film's greatest strengths: the self-imposed tyranny of pride and stubbornness. Where in the woods we learned that Rambo was not a pyschotic robot killer, this "it" almost alludes to some sort of robotic programming. But let's not allow this to thin the value of the Rambo/Teasle battle.
How many people have men have gone to jail over trivial lawn disputes with neighbors? How many children have suffered under two hardheaded parents battling unto divorce--and beyond? How many have ended up in the hospital who should have just let it go?
What do pride and stubbornness ever do for us? What do they provide?
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
at 1:59 PM