Monday, June 13, 2011

A VINTAGE YEAR: 1971 and the Year of the Law

Besides being up for Best Picture in the same year, what could "A Clockwork Orange" and “"Fiddler on the Roof" possibly have in common? What could a New York cop have in common with the last Czars of Russia? They all center around the law: “Fiddler on the Roof” focuses on the Mosaic Law, and what happens to the Jewish community when they abandon it; “A Clockwork Orange” shows what happens to a society willing to break the laws of sane and humane punishment to “rehabilitate” even its most disgusting delinquents while "Nicholas and Alexandra" discover the laws of labor, starvation and justice apply even to the most absolute rulers and, like Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) in "The French Connection" laws apply to the law keepers as well as the law breakers.
Topol as a milkman in Norman Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof of 1971.
The irony of “If I Were A Rich Man,” one of the most famous songs to ever come out of a musical is that HE IS a rich man by the standards of the spiritual life: he possesses the Mosaic Law, and what more does one need to dwell in the House of the Lord,” but the Law handed down by the Prophets? But he abandons this wealth as he and his family slowly abandons the Law: he dances with his wife at Tzeitel’s wedding; he lets Tzeitel marry whom she will instead of entering an arranged marriage, the other daughter runs off to support her future husband the Communist and the third daughter converts to Christianity. These are the woes causing the soldiers to encroach upon the Jewish community and turn them into exiles.

Alex wearing the false eyelash and holding the narcotic laced glass of milk, a clear conjunction of perverted symbols.

“A Clockwork Orange” is perhaps one of the most difficult films in the history of filmmaking to watch: you do not have anyone with whom you can identify. But no matter how despicable Alex (Malcolm McDowell) behaves, and no matter how greatly we want him punished, as a Christian society, we must behave--not as the worst among us--but as the best among us.
The "milky substance" is forced into his eyes to force the rehabilitation of a monster.
The most important symbol in the film is the eye: Alex’s false eyelash on his eye denotes “false knowledge” or wisdom (he’s street smart but not smart enough to make good decisions), but the forcing of his eye open by society to take in wisdom of how evil it is to be evil, is just as false and turns society into the same caliber of criminal it is trying to rehabilitate.
Milk is the second most important symbol. Alex drinks milk laced with narcotics, thereby perverting that which should be nourishing into that which is corrupting.
"I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking, did he fire six shots, or only five? Now, to tell you the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and it'll blow your head clean off! You've gotta ask yourself a question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?"
Clint Eastwood’s "Dirty Harry" wasn’t up for Best Picture, but it was released in this year and clearly supports the idea of the law having to be better than the criminals it’s trying to put away. According to the film, he’s called “Dirty Harry” because he’s always stuck with the dirty work, and to do that dirty work, he himself must be pure. There is a scene where Harry is surverying a church to protect a priest whose life has been threatened and while he's "peeping tom" he sees a woman through a window in her apartment "preparing for an orgy" and Harry wishes that he were a part of it, at the same time that he’s protecting a Catholic priest from the Scorpio killer. It’s this sacrifice--not being a part of the sexual "excess" of the time--that permits him to fulfill his duty; later, however, when he recites that same lines from the beginning of the film about not knowing how many bullets he has left, and asks the unarmed Scorpio killer, “Ask yourself, do you feel lucky?” we have to assume that Harry knows he has a last bullet left and intentionally leads the killer to picking up his gun so Harry can claim self-defense and shoot him… realizing that he can no longer be a law keeper now that he has broken the laws he has vowed to uphold, Harry throws down his badge.


In “Nicholas and Alexandra,” the last Russian Czars are surrounded by laws, none of which they made or are working in their favor. The last Czars fail to realize that the most important laws aren’t made by men at all, but by God: the laws of genetics, the laws of life and of death, the laws of licit and illicit sexual conduct, the laws of starvation and property, the laws of labor and public opinion, all which work against them to end their reign as the absolute rulers of vast Russia.
Director William Friedkin also did "The Exorcist.
Gene Hackman plays Brooklyn narcotics officer Popeye Doyle in "The French Connection" and the summation of Hackman’s character comes from the name “Popeye”: his eye pops, his other eye is permanently squinted so that his vision (and this should be understood symbolically) is always faulty and this is proven throughout the film. Since his actions depict his “spiritual state,” it’s also the reason why the bad guy gets away: the “good guy” doesn’t have the power that comes from being good to overcome the evil the villain represents. If we are going to say that we are the good guys, then we actually have to “be good.”
Popeye's closed eye means he misses half of what he should be seeing while his other "popped" eye takes in too much of only part of the situation. That's bad for a police officer.
A society is only as civilized as the way it treats its outlaws: if you can’t follow your own moral structures, you don’t have the authority to enforce moral structures on others who have abandoned moral structures for a life of crime. These films validate the need for law and the need for all members of society to obey those laws; in 1971, those laws regarded drug use, homosexuality, promiscuity, and really bad fashion choices, nothing less than society itself was at stake and, in 1972 when President Richard Nixon’s Watergate Scandal began, it’s clear that the moral lessons these films were trying to impart were not just timely, but also not heeded.
He didn't make time to go to the movies.