May 15, 2005

My O'Connor Still Isn't Here

The first week of summer is over now, and what a week it has been . . . Funny how much it has been defined by the status of a spontaneous purchase. Anyway, I haven't really got the energy to chronicle it fully right now, but I'll hit a few of the high points.

My O'Connor still isn't here, as noted above, but the other two are . . . and fortunately it didn't arrive on Saturday or I would have been frustrated indeed. I checked my mail after hours on Friday, noting a small sign which said something to the effect of "We have changed the locks on some of the CPOs. You may pick up your new key on Monday." I noted the strange shininess of my own CPOs lock, and my suspicions were confirmed when my key didn't work. That's two Netflix and a book of Flannery O'Connor goodness I won't be receiving this weekend . . .

My Korean roommates have been difficult to get a lock on. They have moved in slowly, moved back out, had different people moved in, tried to move me out, and relegated me to a small corner of the apartment. Despite the apparent complaining in those last few sentences, I've had no real trouble with them. There are between one and five of them sleeping here each night, but it's rather difficult to track since they stay up late (like, 4:30 am late) every night watching movies on the TV which sits right next to the place I used to sleep.

This TV is hooked up to a desktop computer and is never turned off, even when they aren't here (which happens regularly from about 5-11 pm every evening thus far). There was some minor trouble a few days ago when they randomly decided to move one of the couches out onto the porch between 4:30 and 8 am. I asked them to move it back in and they did, apologizing and saying they didn't know it was mine. I'd like to know who the hell else it could belong to . . . But nevermind. I have been allowed to keep to the office and am virtually never bothered back here, so here is where I spend my time quite happily during the few hours of the day when I am actually at home and not asleep.

Wednesday was my first day in Intro to Philosophy with a certain professor who will remain unnamed for the duration. His name in a Google search already ranks my site uncomfortably high, and I have never had anything but the most uncomplimentary things to say about his teaching . . . For those of you who have followed my blog long enough, he taught my Shakespeare class in Spring '04. For those of you who haven't, I direct you to the archives at the right.

The first hour of Philosophy brought all of my horrible memories of his "teaching" rushing back to me and by our first break I was already fuming. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that during break every day I walk right by Dr. Watson's film class, which I took last summer and which ranks as one of the finest courses offered at this university. It's almost unendurable.

Ashley, who is in the class with me, did her usual bit in defense of the teacher when I went off during the break, but by the time we were halfway through the first worksheet for homework, she was far less than pleased. This simply is not a real course . . . let alone a college-level one. I've had poor examples of teaching and much busywork in classes before, but I think what makes this grate so badly is the fact that our teacher is so consistently and vociferously convinced that he is offering excellent material which will fire our creativity and sharpen our critical thinking skills.

He couldn't be more wrong about this if he suggested that copying and pasting the table of contents of our textbook from the book's website onto a worksheet is comparable in learning value to discussing controversial metaphysical questions which are actually related to philosophy. Wait. That's exactly what he's doing. No lie. I wish I were joking.

Anyway, I'm sure you'll hear more from me on the subject as the month-long course progresses. I keep telling myself that one month is significantly less than one semester, so it's all worth it in the end . . . *sigh*

Meanwhile, in the last five days alone I have seen three movies which have a shot at the summer top ten: White Oleander with 97%, Rebecca with 98%, and Judgment at Nuremberg with 99%. The strength of the first lies in the superb acting talent it employs as well as some excellent storytelling through character development. The second is some of Hitchcock's best work, with an excellent balance between romance and suspense (sort of a Jane Eyre meets . . . well, okay, it's a lot like Jane Eyre, but there's more to it than just that) and his only film to win a Best Picture Oscar.

As for the final film, I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially to History majors. The film is a masterpiece on a number of levels, and I kept thinking throughout that I wished I had seen it last summer. At that time I saw and wrote about two movies in particular which kept coming to mind as I watched this one. One was Schindler's List, the other was a very short (32 min.) French documentary called Night and Fog. The movie finally provided the closure I needed after watching the two Holocaust films and should serve to bring any truly honest train of thought on the subject to its logical conclusion. This film echoed some of the thoughts I had about the documentary in particular last year (post linked above), but of course it was both more thorough and more eloquent, and provided a number of additional things for me to ponder carefully.

Judgment at Nuremberg came out in 1961 and is set in 1948, recounting the story of a trial of "lesser" Nazi war criminals: high-ranking judges from the court system. It paints an interesting picture, both of Germans and Americans at the time. In particular, I was captivated by the vision of an uncertain America on the brink of serious trouble with Soviet Russia. The Berlin airlift is in progress and the American people are focused almost all of their energy on Stalin's alarming power plays. Yet there still remains the question of what to do with these horrible, horrible Germans who murdered millions of people in cold blood. Some want to prosecute the entire race, others simply want to quietly forget, and still others are deeply concerned with putting the past behind them so that the German people can be enlisted in the intense ideological conflict which is building between democracy and communism.

Into the middle of this arrives a quiet, district court judge played by Spencer Tracy who must try to clear the muddied waters of a world that is trying to move on in order to arrive at a just verdict. Other compelling roles are filled by Burt Lancaster as one of the defendants, Richard Widmark as the prosecuting (or is it persecuting?) attorney, and Marlene Dietrich as a upper-class German woman who befriends Tracy's character . . . all members of a formidable ensemble cast which also includes William Shatner, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift and Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes . . . !!! . . . also playing a minor role was the actor who played Major Hochstetter in the same series).

I had to save special mention for Maximilian Schell, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his incredible portrayal of the German lawyer who has been assigned to defend the Nazis. He is not exactly pleased with the job, but he is committed to giving them the best defense that he can, and before the end we begin to wonder whether he can keep form becoming sympathetic to their positions in the midst of his impassioned defense.

There is some excellent technical work in the movie. I was awed by the scene where Tracy walks through a massive arena where enormous Nazi rallies took place (one such rally appearing in the famous propoganda film Triumph of the Will). The entire place is deserted save for this one, lone figure trodding past the massive, empty construction of stone steps, pillars and platforms before which row upon row of identically-uniformed Nazis stood before der Furher. As Tracy walks along, we hear the Nazi anthem playing loud and clear, and as he glances over the spot, high above, where Hitler once stood and addressed hundreds of thousands, we hear his voice, piercing and insistent, haunting the place forever.

The movie brings powerful arguments to bear and asks many uncomfortable questions. It shows us, over and over, that the German people are just that . . . people. It blurs the lines between right and wrong, duty to country and duty to humanity, personal accountibility and responsibilty and loyalty and obedience, introducing large gray areas. And then, it brings them all back into sharp, hard focus at the end, with a searing indictment of the entire human race, including the viewer.

The movie (made, as I said, in 1961) is a brilliant and eloquent warning to an America emerging from the volatile atmosphere of the McCarthy years, but still very much in the midst of a stand-off with the Soviet Union. And as Spencer Tracy trudges out of a prison, formerly controlled by the Nazis, now lined with dozens of American MPs, to the tune of the Nazi national anthem, we know that the movie is saying that a single moment's inattention could take our own nation to the very brink of an incredible evil in the name of national security and the protection of our people and our ideals, if it hasn't already. Without getting too overtly political here (it's getting late and I need sleep) let me just say that the movie seems just as relevant now (or more) as it must have over forty years ago.

America, beware.

Posted by Jared at May 15, 2005 11:59 PM | TrackBack