Governor Breck Reconsidered

The original Planet of the Apes sequels may have had lower budgets and far fetched premises (even moreso than the first installment) but they became more imaginative and at times the line between hero and villain became somewhat blurred, leaving speciest (human) audiences conflicted about whom to root for. One example of this is Dr. Otto Hasslein, the villain (or is he?) from Escape From the Planet of the Apes who reluctantly sets out to kill Cornelius and Zira, when he realizes doing so may prevent intelligent apes from overtaking humanity in the far future. However, I will deal with the subject of Hasslein another day. Instead, I want to focus on the archetypal fascist character, Governor Breck, from the 4th installment of the series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972).

Governor Breck is the authoritarian leader of Central City, a futuristic totalitarian city featuring some aesthetic uniforms and awesome 1960s brutalist architecture (the film was shot in Century City in Los Angeles.) Breck is the main antagonist of the film and is mostly depicted as a rather cruel villain. Yet while he seemingly rules with an iron fist, it becomes easier for the human viewer to empathize with Breck’s methods and actions over the course of film, as events unfold and the apes revolt, rioting and burning the city to the ground. While the audience is sympathetic to the plight of Caesar (the protagonist ape and surviving child of Zira and Cornelius in the previous film) in the first half of the movie, one begins to understand the motivations of Breck toward the end of the film. Having been warned at some previous time about the possible future where apes rule over humans, Breck realizes the existential threat the apes pose to human civilization if they are allowed to become dominant, and therefore his actions seem less harsh within the context of what he is trying to prevent. While Breck is largely presented as a kind of cold hearted, fascist strawman….near the end of the film, when he is captured by Caesar and the apes, he gives a brief, yet powerfully humanizing speech:

“Because your kind were once our ancestors. Man was born of the ape. There’s still an ape curled up inside of every man, the beast that must be whipped into submission, the savage that has to be shackled in chains. You are that beast, Caesar. You taint us. You…you poison our guts. When we hate you, we’re hating the dark side of ourselves.” – Governor Breck

These unexpectedly cogent remarks serve as an important insight into our “hateful” attitudes towards those we dislike or deem to be uncivilized. It requires a great degree of self control, emotional discipline and empathy for humans to moderate ourselves and keep our base impulses in check. Yet this is required to sustain and build upon our civilization. Each of us maintains some variable capacity to behave bestial and savage-like. So when we observe people that lack impulse control, are prone to random violence and seem unable to behave civilized in a public setting, it registers with us a visceral disgust. We recognize these tendencies within ourselves as the savage genies we successfully manage to keep bottled up everyday, “genies” we’ve gone great lengths to resist unleashing upon our fellow man (as well as our furry little friends.) Those individuals or groups we observe as failing to control these negative impulses, we see as the physical manifestations of our own primal desires and the violent thoughts we don’t dare act upon, the manifestations of such that need to be dutifully kept in check by any means necessary, in order for the civilization we love and ultimately our species to survive.


Rose McGowan – “Hateful” in a Flash

Rose McGowan got heckled by some insane transwoman the other day, and the video went viral. Apparently this was because McGowan had made some “transphobic” comments in an interview with RuPaul. Basically, Rose talked about how transwomen were different than other women because they didn’t have the same biological experiences (like periods, etc.) As these were obviously empirically true statements, I suppose it’s not surprising they caused such outrage. Of course transwomen are not the same as biological women. For one thing, they are born with penises. So that’s one difference right there. Anyone could have learned this much by simply watching Kindergarten Cop.

I mean how dumb/insane do you have to be to go after someone like Rose McGowan because she “doesn’t do enough for transwomen” or whatever. Even the great-hearted among us can only politely entertain this kind of stupidity with a straight face for so long.

In all honesty, this is exactly the kind of thing that pushes people over the edge. You go through life walking on eggshells, careful to be respectful and not offend others, but you discover it’s never enough. So you just stop caring and even begin to take pleasure in offending them. Others who haven’t had quite reached their breaking point yet (some perhaps never will) wonder how you can say such “insensitive,” and “hurtful” things. but they don’t realize how you’ve come to be desensitized. Tell people enough times that they are racist/sexist/transphobic no matter what they say or do, and they will eventually decide it’s not worth trying to appease the unappeasable. This doesn’t mean they will subsequently go out of their way to be huge assholes to everyone, but they might very well stop caring so much if sharing their honest opinion or joke causes people to think they’re huge assholes. Rose McGowan’s not there yet. She’s still under the illusion that there’s a place for “white feminists” within the intersectional community. There isn’t really. These people will never accept them as their own, and the behavioral demands and speech parameters will only get more unreasonable as time goes on.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen too many of Rose McGowan’s movies. I vaguely remember watching The Doom Generation, but since I watched it at a girl’s house with a few friends on some random night in 1997, I wasn’t really paying attention. It seemed like a movie that was trying too hard to seem hip and edgy. Rose also had a small role in the movie Encino Man, which I never realized until I noticed it in her Wikipedia (it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie.) Perhaps, in the case of Encino Man was just too preoccupied with Megan Ward, who had already left a lasting impression on my psyche with her demonic mirror seduction scene in Amityville 1992: It’s About Time. Oh, and I forgot that McGowan had a supporting role in Scream also, where she gets killed while trying to escape through a doggy door.

The only real Rose McGowan centric film I’ve seen in its entirety is Devil in the Flesh, a throwaway direct-to-video “erotic” thriller from 1998 where McGowan plays,a psycho teenage girl who becomes infatuated with her teacher and tries to murder his fiancee (after successfully killing several other people.) I recall being highly annoyed with this film as a young man, because it did not deliver any payoffs on the sexual tension building up in the plot. It fell clearly into the “more tease than sleaze” category. People who make these kinds of erotic thriller movies need to realize that the viewers aren’t rooting for the good guys (or the bad guys for that matter.) They’re rooting for sex scenes to happen involving the most physically attractive characters in the movie, prefaced by an underlying sexual tension within the context of a forbidden premise. The viewer wants to see the teacher succumb to his psycho student’s advances (after resisting at first.) The viewer doesn’t care about him being a good guy and saving the day by rescuing his cheesy fiancee. Not in this kind of movie anyway. As a side note, in the sequel Devil in the Flesh II (this time starring Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) the girl does manage to successfully seduce her teacher, (albeit with the same predictably disappointing ending) so in this sense it is the superior film.

Fast forward 20 years and these days McGowan has a shaved head because she no longer wants to be seen as a “sex object.” It might seem strange coming from someone who wrote the paragraphs above, but I can’t say that I blame her really. Even average everyday girls get hit on or have to fend off creeps in pretty much any situation where human interaction can possibly occur. I can only imagine that for an actress with a public image as a sex symbol, this kind of attention would be amplified to unimaginable levels. At some point a girl may want to be noticed for something else, anything else. Not only that, but McGowan herself has (allegedly) been subjected to actual abuse by Harvey Weinstein and probably a few others as well.

So she’s a hardcore feminist activist now and an icon. Good for her I suppose. As a cynical, somewhat apathetic guy I find her interviews painful to watch, with all the excessive, misplaced self-aggrandizement and melodramatic talk about “bravery,” “revolutions” etc. It all comes across really awkward and delusional to anyone outside of her own head. It is also pretty lame to use “Brave” as the title of your autobiographical book about yourself. Still, I can’t bring myself to dislike her. For all her bombastic bluster, she still seems like a nice girl and a sincere person. This is a girl that had a rough time and went through some bad stuff and just wants to break free of all the bullshit. Anyone that displays an ability to stop giving a fuck about conforming to groupthink on any level always has the potential to go further, even if they ultimately choose to just embrace a bunch of other dumb stuff instead.

A Cornflower By Any Other Name

Call Me by Your Name is a 2017 film about a transient ephebophilic romantic entanglement between two diasporic Jews living in “northern Italy” (not otherwise specified) in the 1980s with a shared interest in European high culture and in the fact that they are both Jews. It is the type of premise that makes a typical person of These Circles™ apoplectic, and one could almost say that it was that, combined with simple curiosity, that made me watch it.

I am continually amazed by how many people flippantly throw about the term “paedophilia”. I recall Ryan Faulk remarking once that the word “racist” is useless because to brand someone with it tells one nothing about what he believes; it is used only to manipulate. Ditto here, it seems, when the younger person in the relationship is 17, which is fully four years removed from what clinicians would define as paedophilic territory. Equally amazing is how many people are saying, “But the age of consent in Italy is 14,” as if that even matters. Would this become a “paedophile movie” to these people if Italy’s age of consent were 18 in 1983?

Why Italy was chosen is indeed interesting (much of this may apply to the source material as much as the film) and segues into several other curious choices made in the film about what to show explicitly, implicitly, or not at all. Debates rage on whether Italy or Germany deserves to be called the heart of European civilisation, but it should be borne in mind that both are young countries, and the region of Italy in which the film is set was part of the same political entity as what is now called Germany for a significant chunk of its history. The two protagonists – Oliver (the man) and Elio (the teenager) – roundaboutly evoke these themes in a dialogue about classical composers, eg Bach (a German) and Busoni (an Italian).

If one draws a line, roughly, under Bologna, everything above is unambiguously white. Everything below is white too, but it is palpably not the same. Northern Italy is also the least Jewish part of the country, as Elio notes quite early on, to which Oliver says that he is from New England and is “used to being the odd Jew out.” Elio is plainly uncomfortable with his identity, which is one of the things that cause friction between the two at first. Oliver, though, is overbearingly confident and looks like a figure from a 50s film noir poster, just at the time America’s Anglo elite had begun its steady decline. One could easily believe that he was indeed a New Englander, and he spends most of his life absorbed in European cultural artefacts, but internally he cannot bring himself to abandon his apartness, his selectness, his (I dare say) chosenness. He also has five-pointed stars on his trainers, on which the camera at one point lingers for a few seconds – as if this were connected to the Star of David he wears on a discreet necklace. It is not, though. It really only puts one in mind, again, of old films, and of that place which is home to all things formless, superficial, and vacuous.

Elio is attracted to these qualities in Oliver, but when he tries imitating Oliver’s behaviour, wearing a Star of David round his own neck, it comes across as strange and hollow. His mother would apparently disapprove of it, because his family are “Jews of discretion”, but she never comments on it, which makes one wonder what was the point of even mentioning it in the first place.

Elio’s family, naturally, are odd. He sounds American. His mother and father sound English and American respectively, but it is still not clear. All of them speak at least four European languages, and they live in a bucolic Italian paradise, but it is apparently only one of their houses (do they have one for every season of the year?). They act almost as a mosaic arrangement of the clichés of European Jewry; deracination, neuroticism, feigning detachment from things.

Elio’s father, “Mr Perlman”, is an archaeologist, so the film is replete with discussion about classical antiquity, particularly their aesthetics. However, despite taking place in Italy, most of the names I remember hearing were Greek, which I found interesting because Greece had few settlements in that part of Italy – the northernmost outpost of Magna Graecia was at Adria, but it was very much an outlier. Mr Perlman waxes lyrical a few times in the film, the first time when he is showing Oliver a slideshow of classical statues and saying that they look as if they are “daring you to desire them”, at which Oliver gives a quizzical look. This comes on the heels of escalating tension between him and Elio – and afterward, his inhibitions seem to diminish. That is the explicit link to Hellenic pederasty. The implicit one is by far more interesting. Although both actors (Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet) are adult men, they could not have found two men who were more physically different. Hammer is above the 99th percentile in US male height and nearly as fetching as the Greek statues, whereas Chalamet is glabrous and gangling. Elio is at an ephebe’s age, more or less (he is played by Chalamet). He is cultured but rather unworldly and naive – and by the end of the film (like an eromenos, one is tempted to imagine), when he is inconsolably broken-hearted, one finally sees a change in his demeanour. By then he has come to terms with himself in multiple ways, not just with his incipient sexuality.

Neither one of these characters is straightforwardly gay; Elio has a girlfriend for the second half of the film with whom he copulates, and Oliver eventually ends up getting married. It is better this way, I think. If they were gay then their relationship would be that much less remarkable, since it would be the default for them both to be attracted to members of their own sex anyway. Since this is not the case, attention is drawn not to the same-sex nature of their attraction, but to everything else about them – their erudition, Oliver’s strange obsessiveness, etc. Oliver’s doctoral thesis, the reason he is staying with Elio’s family, remains a mystery except for the fact that he is assisting Elio’s father in some way, but that is never really explained either, and there are probably a load more things like that that I have missed. The performances of the two lead actors, who eat up >90% of the screen time, are among the most “real” I have ever seen in a film, and I do not recall any scenes that you would have to be gay to enjoy. There is also not a single histrionic outburst from anyone in the entire film about Elio and Oliver’s relationship, which stops it from falling into familiar(ly tedious and clichéd) territory, and Oliver even seems to remark on this towards the end when he says something to the effect of, “You are so lucky. My father would have had me carted off to a correctional facility.” In fact, the extent to which their relationship is even mentioned explicitly by any of the other characters is very limited even at the end.

So it’s worth watching, I think. But if you are the sort who would be put off by Robert Stark’s novel, this is probably not for you either.

The Experts

I reviewed the 1989 film, The Experts over at Aryan Skynet. I’m not sure this mediocre movie warranted having 1,300 words written about it, but hey that’s never stopped me before. The review can be found, here

Revisiting The Wicker Man

I first saw The Wicker Man about 15 years ago when I rented a VHS copy from Blockbuster Video, in the hope that it might feature some 70’s nudity. I think I ended up fast forwarding through most of it, except briefly for that Britt Ekland seduction scene which ends disappointingly. So yeah, as far as erotic horror goes, it’s no Stormswept. However, in spite of having almost no interest in the plot of The Wicker Man at the time, I could not bring myself to fast forward through the final scene, which was genuinely disturbing.

Unlike a throwaway fun flick like “The Wraith” that you that you can watch like 50 times whenever you want some background ambiance, The Wicker Man is one of those movies you regret watching, not because it’s bad, but because it files a traumatizing memory image into your brain that can’t be unseen. I would have been happy to never see or think about this film ever again, but somehow I roped myself into rewatching parts of it and decided it was worth giving a few thoughts on.

*Spoilers ahead*

The plot centers upon a Christian police sergeant who travels to a small Scottish island to investigate a case of a missing young girl. He soon discovers that the locals on the island have abandoned Christianity and are practicing a crude form of Celtic paganism. He is disturbed by their promiscuous behavior and what he perceives to be bizarre and superstitious activities (they utilize folk medicine like swallowing live toads to cure sore throats.) The people on the island make his investigation frustrating as they claim the girl he is looking for never existed. Eventually he locates the girl and saved her from a fate of being sacrificed as the “May Queen” (only she doesn’t appear to want to be saved.) The sergeant gets caught with her while trying to escape. He winds up being the sacrifice instead, and the film ends with him being burned alive in a giant Wicker Man, while the townsfolk joyously look on and sing “Sumer Is Icumen In.”

The leader of the island, “Lord Summerisle” (played by legendary actor Christopher Lee) resembles something of a neoreactionary figure. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, he manipulates the islanders into embracing traditional paganism (which he himself clearly doesn’t believe in) as a means to control them as well as to establish a harmoniously cohesive and functioning society. The island serves as a prototype for a mostly autonomous, rural “city state” which has deviated from modernity in favor of folklore and superstition. However, with people having wild orgies in graveyards, it is less prudish than the killjoy culture that “Little House on the Praireactionary” factions of neoreaction idealize. That being said, life on Pagan Island looks pretty groovy to me.

Anyway, near the end of the film when the police sergeant has been captured and is about to be sacrificed, he pleads with the villagers that their beliefs are a lie, and tries to convince them that sacrificing him to “their gods” won’t prevent the harvest from failing. The townspeople ignore his appeals to reason and gleefully carry out the sacrifice, burning him alive in a giant wicker man.

The irony is that for almost the entire duration of the event he is vocally professing the Christian afterlife beliefs, asserting that the Christian God he was brought up to believe in is the true one. As the flames slowly begin to engulf him, he desperately curses the islanders and recites Psalm 23, oblivious to the notion that his own prayers are no more or less likely to be answered.

What makes this film ultimately disturbing though is the way it mercilessly reveals the horror of being the odd man out among a mob of people swept up in groupthink. Regardless of what one believes, the viewer can relate the the movie to situations where they perceive themselves to be the rational individual caught in a world gone mad.

Brandon Adamson is the author of Beatnik Fascism