I wouldn’t Pull That Attitude If "Newsies" Was On My IMBD Filmography

Why do we let “artists” get away with it? Ok, yesterday I was listening to the Christian Bale freak-out (tantrum? melt-down? bitch fit?) tape on the radio. I understand that the D.P. ( they were called cinematographers once upon a time, right?) somehow made himself unuseful, and thus earned an another assripping from Christian Bale. I get it. They say that when an artist is in the “moment” that they get so into what they are doing that the slightest disturbance can throw them out of the moment, and ruin any possibility of making good art. I get it. But, my question is, what makes them so different? I mean, really, who hasn’t been interrupted while in a “moment”? Kids knocking on the door while you’re trying to get busy? Dog barking while you’re trying to get busy? Cell phones, people talking, whatever. The point is, is that we, meaning everybody, not just celebrities, are interrupted all the time — including when we are in our “moments”. I don’t recall anyone giving the guy at Starbucks (I refuse to call them by that pretentious title that’s supposed to make his job sound like he does anything besides make coffee) permission to verbally shread some dude who interrupts him while he’s making my most excellent tall mocha latte. Yet, we expect it of our celebrities. We give them excuses. We say that, because an actor is in the “moment” he must never be interrupted, is reason enough to excuse his or her anger management problem. Ok, try this one out. Let’s put someone having a Christian Bale moment in the world where we live: Let’s say that there is a teacher. Wait, let’s take it out of the realm of kids (because dressing down an eight year old is a problem and morally inexcusable. Unless that kid’s name is Dante. In that case, it’s not only reasonable but justified). Let’s say that there is a college professor. and he’s trying to conduct a — let’s say a philosophy of religion class. And there is a student who has a problem keeping quiet. Now, let’s also say that during this particular class the professor is experiencing a philosophic flow moment (oops, I meant “moment”). Plantinga is pouring out of him like a *insert simile here*. And, this student, as expected, opens its yap. Now, the comment the student said wasn’t totally off topic. In fact, it might have been helpful for other students to hear. It might have been like a D.P. rearranging his lights while an actor, some feet away, is doing his scene. But since the “moment” was interrupted, the professor goes postal. He rants and raves for a full five minutes, calling the student everything but a white woman (it’s a legitimate saying). Now, of course, some people might give the prof a big props for finally saying something. But others, others who may have been helped by the comment might describe the professor as an ass (if they weren’t already). We, I mean, some people might have said that it would have been better if the professor quietly spoke to the student after class, where they might have come to some agreement about raising hands (and waiting to be called on — not that raising your hand while already talking crap) before speaking. The point being, that in a classroom, it might not be appropriate if a person rips into someone — even if their “moment” is disturbed. If the student reported the incident, the professor might very well be looking forward to a nice conversation with the higher-ups of that department. Nevertheless, we don’t excuse schoolteachers, or cops, or judges, or the Sparkletts guy for going off if their “moment” is disturbed. So why do we tolerate it from “artists”? The explanation usually goes along the lines that somehow, artists are valuable to society. Value, as philosophers understand it, is intrinsically connected with ethics. So, if we bring in value, we automatically (I think) pull in certain ethical considerations that are worth examining: The Utlitarian Excuse: It’s said that we excuse outbursts like Christian Bale’s because the overall value (this time monetary) overrides any hurt feelings that a hissy-fitting celebrity may cause. Millions of dollars ride on the quality of an actor’s performance. If a movie sucks because an actor’s performance wasn’t his “all” (because the damn D.P. wouldn’t stop getting in the actor’s eyeline), then a studio stands to lose millions of dollars, which is bad. But, if we want to stretch that reasoning to the “real” world ( did you know that Kurt Loder {of MTV} had the nerve to call non-celebrities “civillians”?. really, he did. that’s some balls, eh?), we could say that potentially billions of dollars rides on the smooth goings-on in a classroom. If, for instance, a classroom is continually interrupted by a chatterbox student, the overall quality of the education of the other students may be diminished. If these students aren’t properly educated, they cannot get the good green jobs that President Obama wants them to get. And, if they can’t get good green jobs, then they won’t earn as much, and if they don’t earn as much, then they can’t buy as much… and so on. Billions of dollars down the toilet because some brat can’t clamp his trap. But here’s the catch. Anyone can excuse damn-near anything if you start calculating potential dollars. In fact, since they said that this wasn’t the first time that the D.P. broke Christian Bale’s concentration, it would have made better sense (utilitarianly speaking, of course) to kill him. That way, the interruptions are permanently stopped. Intuitionism, maybe: Sure, utilitarianism offers us plenty of excuses for allowing artists whose “moment” has been interrupted to go ballistic, but that seems intuitively wrong. It just doesn’t settle well with some people that the star of a film can strip a man of his manhood in front of God and everybody just because he saw a shadow of a dude in khaki shorts hanging up Christmas lights in the corner of his eye. We feel in our guts that there is some sort of double standard at work. I realize that I am making an appeal to intuitionism, which may or may not be a good way to go. I feel that intuitionism as an ethical theory is too amorphous to deal with than to say that intuitionist ethics is like opening up another can of worms entirely ( in fact, I tend to see opening up that can, that instead of opening up a can of kick ass, opening up a can of intuitionism is like peeling back the lid on a fresh can of suck ass). The Totally Wrong Kantian Approach: So, the utlitarian tells us to kill anyone who endangers our art, and that might be a bit extreme. So, we look to Kant. Well, Kant does say something about not letting our talents rust. Actors have plenty of talent. So, this D.P. who can’t keep his ass out of an artist’s field of vision is making things rough for Mr. Bale to do his art. Each moment he’s not in the “moment” is another moment wasted — another moment of needless rusting. If movie sets all across America and Canada (because it’s cheaper to film up there) experienced this kind of interruption, cinematic art as we know it may end forever. That is bad. But wait, Kant says that not letting out talents rust is a duty that we have to ourselves, not one we have to other people. So, if Christian Bale is so disturbed by the interruption that he cannot act, the offense is against himself, not the D.P. against him. And if we wanted to pull in a discussion of ends/means here, we can say that Christan Bale cannot accuse the D.P. of any other Kantian foul. The intent of the D.P. was to light the set properly enough so that Christian Bale looked good. His intention was not to destroy the art taking place on the set of Terminator: Salvation. But, now that I’ve mentioned using someone as a mere means, I think that I’ve figured out where the moral wrong actually is: I say that, in fact, the real offence was and is against the film-going public. Although the movie industry has given us some great art, like Spacechimps and the Sopornos, I say that it is us who are being used as a mere means to the movie industry’s ends. First, I don’t know about what other people consider normal, but going off on someone for ten minutes for getting in your field of vision is a bit excessive. I’m no Dr. Phil, but I seriously think that Christian Bale might be what we call now, a rage-o-holic. I think that he wasn’t just mad at the D.P., if you know what I mean, and for that, it is he who used the D.P. as a mere means punching bag. But, as the question pertains to us — Kant says that we enter into agreements with individuals to our mutual benefit. I will agree to pay a price to a shopkeeper because we both benefit from the fair and open exchange of money for goods. The point being is that neither is attempting to take advantage of the other in the exchange. But, I think that getting an advantage is exactly what is happening here. Christian Bale took advantage of the fact that, as the star of the film, he is able to tnatrum without consequence. Others on the set may be punished for what they do, but he is not. (I can’t imagine the camera operator raging at Christian Bale after blowing a take for making him waste film). Likewise, whenever a celebrity “gets over” or gets away with doing something that we sould not, blatant and open drug use, skankism, murder — they not only exhibit an open standard for themselves to which they feel that they must be regarded, but they also use us as a mere means to their fame. They get what they want, meanwhile we are deprived of quality entertainment and potential role model or two. In the relationship between artist and consumer, or us, we are not getting a fair exchange of money for goods ( I’d say that the last time I felt that I got my money’s worth was Grandma’s Boy, but that’s just me). Although I rant, I realize that this puny post isn’t going to change any minds about the subject. Those in the know will say that a civilian like myself will never understand the pressures of being an artist, who while in his moment, was so horribly and permanently disrupted and disturbed by some SOB who only cared about getting the set lit, and didn’t care or appreciate the fact that he was denying an artist his ability, no, his RIGHT to make good art. No, I will never understand. But I’ll say right here, if any artist wants to pull that crap with me, Ockham ain’t the only dude in town with a razor. And that, my friends, is completely utlitarianly justified.

Ash Williams and the Meaning of Life

“life is a tale, told by an idiot,  full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
— William Shakespeare

IT SEEMS STRANGE to say that I like my horror movies with a coherent plot. I seems even stranger to say that I appreciate a horror movie that has philosophical significance. And now, I intend to write about not one, but three films that possess both plot and philosophy: Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy.

SAM RAIMI'S "THE EVIL DEAD" TRILOGY: MORE PHILOSOPHICAL THAN KIERKEGAARD.

SAM RAIMI’S “THE EVIL DEAD” TRILOGY: MORE PHILOSOPHICAL THAN KIERKEGAARD.

The Evil Dead, subtitled “the ultimate experience in grueling horror”, released in 1982, and it’s sequel (?) Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992), follows the adventures in terror of Ash Williams, who, along with an assortment of companions, unknowingly (through the recitation of passages from the Necronomicon, or Book of the Dead), conjure up evil spirits that, over the course of the film, knock off each of the unfortunate unintentional conjurers “one by one”.

The first film of the trilogy The Evil Dead, starts off with nothing spectacular: five college kids (including Ash, his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, his buddy Scott, and his girlfriend Shelly) head up to an isolated cabin in the woods (not The Cabin in the Woods — That’s a different movie. And an entirely different moral situation) where they drink moonshine, smoke weed, and generally do what young folks in a typical horror flick set in an isolated cabin in the woods do.

A GROUP OF COLLEGE KIDS GO OFF TO AN ISOLATED CABIN IN THE WOODS AND WHAT HAPPENS?  YEP. THEY HAVE DINNER.

A GROUP OF COLLEGE KIDS GO OFF TO AN ISOLATED CABIN IN THE WOODS AND WHAT HAPPENS?
YEP. THEY HAVE DINNER.

While snooping around the cabin, Ash and his male companion, Scotty, stumble upon an ancient reel to reel, which just so happens to be the property of an archaeologist who just so happened to be translating passages from an ancient Sumerian text containing incantations and rituals for demonic resurrection.

Playing a mysterious reel-to-reel tape containing ancient Sumerian demonic incantations….what could possibly go wrong?

ASK CHERYL WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PLAY INCANTATIONS FROM THE NECRONOMICON AND THEN GO WALKING IN THE WOODS

ASK CHERYL WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PLAY INCANTATIONS FROM THE NECRONOMICON AND THEN GO WALKING IN THE WOODS

Well, as expected, reawakened evil immediately sets to systematically possessing and killing (most horrifically) each of the young, nubile campers.

As dawn breaks, Ash, the lone survivor, emerges covered in blood from the cabin. But as Ash breathes a sigh of relief, having survived an encounter with the evil dead, we follow a remaining evil spirit through the woods, through the cabin, eventually running headlong into Ash himself as the camera fades to black.

We assume that Ash has not escaped the evil dead, but is the last of its victims. That is, until 1987, when Evil Dead 2:Dead By Dawn was released.

It’s been rumored that Sam Raimi, having taken so much heat for the excessive violence of the first Evil Dead film, wanted to make a movie that was more appeasing to the censors.

video-nasty-newspaper1

This may explain why Evil Dead 2 is less of a sequel than it is a remake of the original film.

The film opens as Ash and his girlfriend Linda are heading up to the totally deserted, so far away from civilization that, if you were attacked by an onslaught of demonic forces, no one would hear you screaming cabin in the woods.

Once again, Ash, while rifling through someone else’s stuff, stumbles upon an old reel to reel containing a recordings read from the Necronomicon.

THIS IS THE NECRONOMICON. DO NOT READ FROM THIS BOOK

THIS IS THE NECRONOMICON. DO NOT READ FROM THIS BOOK

And, as expected, Ash and his girlfriend are besieged by the spirits of the evil undead. After beheading and dismembering his girlfriend, Ash is (eventually) joined by a different group of Red Shirts, including the archaeologist’s daughter, Annie, her assistant Ed, a hillbilly with a serious case of hyperhidrosis named Jake, and his too cute for this guy in real life girlfriend named Bobby Joe.

evil dead 2

NO, YOU ARE NOT WATCHING “THE EVIL DEAD” ALL OVER AGAIN. THIS IS A TOTALLY DIFFERENT MOVIE.

As this film ends, Ash and Annie must read from the Necronomicon to send the evil back to its own time. During the film’s climax, Annie is killed (she’s stabbed in the back with the Kandarian dagger), but the beleaguered Ash is sent back in time with the demon.

Luckily for Ash, this time he is not unarmed, and he slays the evil creature with a blast from his shotgun (his “boomstick”).  Evil Dead 2:Dead By Dawn ends as Ash is being hailed as a hero.

The last of the trilogy, Army of Darkness, opens where Evil Dead 2 leaves off. Ash finds himself held captive by a medieval army, being led off to his death. During Ash’s trip, he guides us, by way of voice-over, through a flashback. We once again see Ash and his girlfriend Linda (this time played by Bridget Fonda) heading up to that God-forsaken cabin in the woods.

most interesting cabin in the woods

We’ve seen it all before: Ash and Linda head up to the cabin, Ash finds reel to reel, Ash plays reel to reel, Linda is caried off by demonic forces, Ash battles the evil dead, Ash goes back in time, Ash ends up a slave on his way to death. However, the adventure (this time) does not take place in the cabin. Ash must retrieve the Necronomicon and banish the evil dead by reciting the words: klaatu barada nikto.

Of course, Ash fails to say the words correctly.

And this, my friends, is where the philosophy begins.

The original The Evil Dead seems simple enough — it follows the formulaic plot employed by dozens of genre films: stick a group of twenty-somethings in a remote place and kill them off one by one. Throw in a few obligatory boob shots and some pot smoking before someone gets sliced in half or shot through the head with an arrow.

The plot of The Evil Dead (and similar films) is pretty repetitive, except I do believe that The Evil Dead is the only horror film that I know of that contains a scene where a character is violated by a tree. Not with a tree, by a tree.

FOR REASONS CONCERNING THE LETTERS NSFW, I WILL NOT INCLUDE A GIF OR FILM CLIP OF THIS SCENE

FOR REASONS CONCERNING THE LETTERS NSFW, I WILL NOT INCLUDE A GIF OR FILM CLIP OF THIS SCENE

But there is something else at work here.

It is the character Ash himself.

As The Evil Dead closes, we are left to assume that Ash has suffered the fate of his companions. Yet, Ash returns in Evil Dead 2. Not only does Ash come back, he comes back with his girlfriend Linda , and we know that Linda died in the previous film.

NOT THE SAME LINDA

NOT THE SAME LINDA

Ash, however, seems completely unaware that any event that is happening in this film already happened in the first film. Now, we could take the films at face value assuming that Sam Raimi liked the plot of the original film so much, and enjoyed torturing star Bruce Campbell so thoroughly, that he felt the need to remake his first film.

That might very well be true.

However, we are given a clue that there is something else going on on a deeper level.

While searching through the Necronomicon for the incantation that will send back the evil spirit to its own time, Annie and Ash happen upon a page bearing a picture of a man standing, arm raised up holding a chainsaw.

THESE AREN'T THE PAGES WITH ASH ON THEM BUT HE WAS TOTALLY IN THE NECRONOMICON

THESE AREN’T THE PAGES WITH ASH ON THEM BUT HE WAS TOTALLY IN THE NECRONOMICON

When Annie flips to the page, Ash gasps. He tells Annie that he feels as if someone has just walked over his grave. The picture in the Necronomicon looks, with an exception of the image wearing a pair of white pants, like Ash. Annie tells Ash that the traveler was predicted to come to vanquish the evil. Ash remarks that the traveler “didn’t do a very good job”.

THE NECRONOMICON PREDICTED THAT THE TRAVELER WILL SENT THROUGH THIS VORTEX

THE NECRONOMICON PREDICTED THAT THE TRAVELER WILL SENT THROUGH THIS VORTEX

Finally, in Army of Darkness, Ash is thrust back in time where, with chainsaw on hand, he leads Richard and his army in a battle against the deadites. The priests tell Ash that he is the traveler that was predicted to save the people from the forces of evil. And, as Ash observed in Evil Dead 2 , the traveler didn’t do a very good job.

Ready for the philosophy?

When I first noticed that there was something odd about the continuity of the Evil Dead films, I had assumed that the underlying plot was time travel. It was easy enough to assume this because in Evil Dead 2 destroying the evil required opening up a portal in time.

IF IT WORKS FOR STAR TREK, WHY NOT FOR AN EVIL DEAD FLICK?

IF IT WORKS FOR STAR TREK, WHY NOT FOR AN EVIL DEAD FLICK?

That was before I had heard of Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence. Nietzsche posited that we can judge the overall value (or meaningfulness) of our live by asking ourselves this basic question: would you want to live your life over again? Nietzsche, being the excellent humorist that he was, added one small catch — the life that we live eternally would be the exact same life that we had already lived. We cannot change a thing about our lives, we must live each day, month, hour, and second as we had lived the first time around — for an eternity.

eternal

Ash, at first glance, seems to be stuck in some sort of loop. He seems to be repeating his life over and over (at least three times). However, not only does Ash seem unaware that he is repeating his life, each Evil Dead film is slightly different from the one the preceded it.

NOT THE SAME LINDA

NOT THE SAME LINDA

In each film, the group at the cabin is different. In each movie, the actress playing Ash’s girlfriend Linda is different. And each ends differently. So, in a strictly Nietzschean sense, Ash’s life is not the same. Also, Nietzsche’s question is one about life’s meaning. There seems to be no such meaningful scheme for Ash. Ash just goes through the motions and learns absolutely nothing in the process. The fact that Ash seems unaware of the fact that he repeats the same routine suggests that Ash could not make the decision to live the same life repeatedly as Nietzsche requires for eternal return. So, by my estimate, Ash’s cabin in the woods-based adventure, is not Nietzschean.

So what is it then?

As I was eliminating Nietzsche, I started to think of another doomed to repeat himself kind of guy: Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, having been condemned by the gods, is doomed to push a large rock uphill, only to have the rock slide back down the mountain when he reaches the top. For Sisyphus, he is condemned to repeat the same futile act for an eternity. No matter what Sisyphus does, the rock will roll back down the hill.

Sisyphus’ punishment sounds more like Ash’s predicament than Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence.

The first clue to this interpretation of the Evil Dead trilogy came in Evil Dead 2, where Annie and Ash are looking through the Book of the Dead. To the viewer, the picture of the traveler clearly is Ash, and Ash’s reaction suggests that the man depicted in the book is him. Annie tells Ash that a prophesy tells us the the traveler was sent to the past to destroy the evil, which suggests that there are higher forces at work in the scheme of things.

Prophesy tends to deal with matters that are assigned by the gods (or God) that humans must abide by or fulfill. So, we can (somewhat safely) assume that Ash’s predicament may have been arranged by the gods, like Sisyphus.

So, like Sisyphus, perhaps Ash has been condemned to repeat the same futile act — namely having a succession of girlfriends named Linda killed by evil demons, being sent back in time to rid civilization of evil demons, and ultimately screwing up, which will require him to repeat the task all over again.

But, unlike Camus’ Sisyphus, who ultimately finds happiness in his condemnation (he comes to gain happiness through the attempt to roll the rock uphill. The rock staying there is no longer a goal that Sisyphus seeks), Ash remains unaware that he is condemned to repeat his life over and over again.

On the DVD commentaries for the Evil Dead films, both star Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi express a disdain for the character Ash. It seems that, from their point of view, Ash may be too stupid to figure out that he has been to that cabin before. For example, Sam Raimi calls Ash an “idiot, coward and a braggart”.

In the end, Sisyphus is able to derive some meaning out of his futile existence. However, Ash Williams, it seems, is condemned to live a life best expressed by Shakespeare.

Ash Williams’ life is full of sound and fury, but ultimately it signifies nothing.