Friday, September 30, 2011

The King's Speech: Self-Censorship

Why was this movie made?
I hope my little mantra, "A history movie is never, ever, never, ever, EVER about history," is well known to you by now, so when you see a movie (which did smashingly well at the box office) being made today about something from the past, you know that it's not about the past, rather, it's about what is happening today and merely masked in the events of the past.
French theatrical poster for The King's Speech.
Tom Hooper's Oscar winning hit The King's Speech about King George VI's stammering problem is not about him, rather, it is about the English royal family today, and their own uncertainty about their power and leadership in their country and the world. The film places Bertie (Colin Firth) in an uncomfortable position between the great William Shakespeare (whom Lionel Logue [Geoffrey Rush] is always acting out when he has the chance) and German leader Adolf Hitler who says whatever it is he says rather well. Bertie is placed between his brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) and his father, King George V (Michael Gambon); Bertie is placed between the great orator Sir Winston Churchill who, as Prime Minister, holds the real power, and the people of England who are tempted to believe that he is a phony king after his brother's abdication. When strong opposites exist within a screenplay, it's a sign of great writing and character development (please see Gestures: the Significance of the Insignificant for more on The King's Speech). 
Bertie attempting to give a speech at the opening of the show; maybe, just maybe, Bertie is really a scapegoat for England today, and it's really England who is afraid to speak and take the lead when the lead needs to be taken...? Bertie is a scapegoat for England today the way The Elephant Man is a scapegoat for the poor. If Bertie's difficulty speaking signifies the larger issue of England stammering in its ability to lead at a time of international "economic warfare," what causes that problem?
There is a sad but important point made by The King's Speechno one is listening to what he is saying but how he says it, because they are waiting for him to fumble.  And perhaps this is the deep-seated anxiety of every member of the British Empire, the world is waiting for them to fumble the lead. "Stuttering" is a form of self-censorship, because it keeps you from saying what you want to say because of the consequences. It's not explored why Bertie stammers,but it is certainly because he doesn't feel he has been properly valued, he has not received sufficient unconditional love for him to have confidence in himself (remember his father, King George V saying, "I was afraid of my father and my sons will be afraid of me!").
Note that amazing wall behind Bertie:  imagine that motley wall is symbolic of Bertie's soul, from which he must step out of himself to speak into the microphone to hear his true voice, unafraid of what he will say and the consequences. We know this moment is important because in the upper, left-side of the picture is an airplane, a symbol of the fighting coming in World War II. Note the dramatic comparison to The Elephant Man: Bertie is royalty but the metaphor for his soul--the wall--is an utter mess; John Merrick is a "freak" commoner but the metaphor for his soul is the cathedral.
Yet it's the British Empire expressing insecurity about itself in this film, whether the world really values the great contributions and achievements made, the sacrifices and victories. French philosopher Paul Ricoeur said we are who we are when we are in conversation. The truthfulness of our in-most being comes out when we speak words, when we make statements, when we do not speak and we do not make statements. That Bertie cannot speak means that he cannot make himself known as he is; if Bertie is symbolic of the British Empire, then the British Empire is having an identity crisis because it's restrained from telling the world who and what it is.
A most intimate and fearful moment for Bertie: his brother, King Edward, announces his abdication and that "Bertie the Stutterer" is now King. In speaking, Edward says that he is not king, he has put a selfish desire (an unholy desire, at that) before his duty and before his country, before all his ancestors who sacrificed and suffered. When Bertie takes the coronation oath and says "Yes," he is saying what he is and Edward isn't: a patriot, leader and father to his country.
But the title of the film, The King's Speech, is the center of our focus: what kinds of speeches do the members of the royal family give today? "Thank you for coming out and supporting today's charitable polo match, I do hope you will enjoy yourself and give generously to the children benefiting from this event, a splendid punch has been provided by the Royal Air Force wives," etc., etc., etc. I read once, that young Prince Charles had wanted to work in a factory, but he wasn't allowed to. How do you think such an experience would have changed him and all of the British Empire today, had the government allowed him to do something? Prince Harry was serving the army on the front lines of combat in Afghanistan, until it was made public and he was pulled back. There is a dynamic in which the royal family is caught:
Lionel Logue symbolically represents several important aspects necessary to England's leadership in The King's Speech. One, he's from Australia, signifying the great vastness of the Empire and all its resources, in terms of people and their talents, and material resources. Secondly, his continual references and acting out of Shakespeare (the greatest writer in history) invokes the long and astonishing cultural history of Great Britain in all its richness. Thirdly, there is the British character of the people of the Empire, and their dignity and commitment to nobleness. These aspects of the "make-up" of the British Empire unconsciously works on the audience demonstrating why Great Britain should be a leader today.
I am an American, so it would be ridiculous of me to be a royalist, BUT I AM SAYING that the English government is committed to having a royal family, and commits a large portion of tax dollars to supporting them, so give them the chance and dignity to earn it! But me being an American brings up the American in the film, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). Yes, this "hussy" is absolutely a symbol for America: just as she "learned certain skills in Shanghai," so America has allowed our debt to be bought by the Chinese and we have moved from "husband to husband," having affairs with anyone who would float us money; facts are facts and reality is reality, and The King's Speech, released in 2010, was even before the downgrading of our credit this year! American's "leaders" in Washington have led us right out of leadership in the world because of our debt and the endless squabbles in the nation's capital; only England is left to guide the world to safer grounds.
When that red light goes on, Bertie is on, literally. When Prince William becomes king in Great Britain, what will the government--and the people--allow him to do? Will they allow him to be king? Will they allow him to lead? Will they allow him to speak for them? Will they allow him to make Great Britain's cause his cause? Or will he be a puppet, a figurehead, a nobody, an effigy? This is the time for the government and the royal family to decide if the dark clouds of ancient history have passed from the sky once and for all.
In conclusion, Bertie's stuttering not only reveals the identity crisis within Great Britain about its role in the world today, but about Prince William as well: his father, Prince Charles, renounced his place in line for the throne over Camilla, much like King Edward did for Wallis Simpson. The royal family has become so languid and paralyzed by their forced inactivity they can never be expected to lead, unless the people and the government take a deep breath and make a leap of faith. I know there are things which I cannot write nor can I say, because of the invisible shackles of political correctness and the oppressive power of "the weak" who will rear their head and come crashing down upon me in all their mediocrity; and, I daresay, the situation is rather similar for the Empire, that it is those who cannot lead themselves who are determined to keep Great Britain from leading.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Cost of Empire: The Wind in the Willows

Cover of the 1at Edition released in 1908.
Simplicity is always best.
Kenneth Grahame's 1908 children's classic The Wind in the Willows keeps the radical symbols very simple, so simple, even a child can understand. Ratty is a the symbol of reason; Mole is the symbol of the emotions; Badger is the symbol of strength and, Toad, well, Toad is stubborness personified. These are, basically, the great qualities that make up England yet, according to Grahame, Empire, Imperialism and "adventure" is not English.
Theatrical poster for stage adaptation. It's important to note that the motor car is red, Grahame tells us that it's Toad's favorite color, because it is quite similar to the red dresses of the two little girls in Leisure Hours. As the color symbolic of the appetites, Toad's red motor car demonstrates to readers how we "let our appetites get away" from us and out of control. Initially, it's a "canary yellow gypsy cart" which Toad wants to travel in. Yellow, being the color of gold, denotes royalty, so Grahame acknowledges that there is a "natural impulse" of a royal line and country to want to explore and conquer, however, in the craze for motor cars, and his theft of one, Grahame really draws the un-English characteristics of "too many adventures"and there is nothing properly English about that.
Ratty and Mole enjoy adventure but only when tempered with prudence and the assurance of material comfort (Ratty, after all, is a Water Rat, symbolic of the British Royal Navy's superior water power). Badger is a homebody not needing anything or anyone. Toad, on the other hand, is the soul of adventure, all that is needed is the open-road, the freedom of the air and the energy to take advantage of it. It's not that the animals have been personified, rather, it's that our own personalities and appetites have been given befitting animal figures to show ourselves to us.
Kenneth Grahame by Sargent.
The key symbols of this work is the Tudor window in Toad's bedroom at Toad Hall and the Red Lion Inn where Toad steals the motor car (in the popular animated Disney version of The Adventure of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Toad trades Toad Hall for the motor car, but in Grahame's work, Toad--in a moment of passion--steals the motor car). Mirrors and windows symbolize our inner-reflections and meditations, those intimate things we know of ourselves which no one else knows. That Toad's window (his reflections on himself) is specifically from the "Tudor" period, alerts us to the line Grahame draws between Toad and the reigns of King Henry VIII and, more specifically, Queen Elizabeth I.
The Ditchley Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, circa 1592, The National Portrait Gallery, London. The world is at the feet of Elizabeth, literally. The vast power of her Navy and her... pirates.
The Tudor period in English history was a time of economic prosperity and global expansionism. The defensive powers of the English Navy and the exploits of Sir Francis Drake (to put it mildly) meant that England enjoyed a time of world power on the international stage of politics, religion and trade. This time of social "revolution" (as some have called it but not all would) is exactly what Grahame wants readers to consider when Toad escapes from his Tudor window in Toad Hall (after his friends have locked him down to get him over his "motor-mania") and it's a statement of Toad's wasted wealth, since glass was something for only the wealthy in the Tudor period and was one of the pursuits of the very wealthy (which Toad certainly is). Yet Toad's wealth doesn't free him of responsibility, rather, it obligates him to responsibility, and his passing fads--like the clothes of the Tudor period--were expensive and quickly outdated.
Sir Francis Drake, knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
Grahame draws a parallel between the great figure of Sir Francis Drake of the Tudor imagination and Toad: both are thieves. It's easy to paint over what they did with other terms more delicate and agreeable, such as conquering, passion, destiny, and I am quite sure that someone more articulate than myself could manage many more; however, the action is that most disagreeable accusation: stealing. Drake stole gold from the Spanish and Toad steals a motor car from some people at the Red Lion Inn; the gold was a "vehicle" for Elizabeth's power just as the motor car was a vehicle for Toad's "control of the road." This sordid side of Empire and power is what Grahame wants his readers (at the tender and impressionable age of children) to understand about the world of politics.
The statue of "The Lionheart" outside Westminster.
The second reference is the Red Lion Inn, where Toad steals the motor car and is arrested, having to give over his ancestral home of Toad Hall. It is a clear and sad reference to one of the most famous of English kings, Good King Richard or Richard the Lionheart. As John Gillingham wrote in Kings and Queens of Britain: Richard I, Richard's reputation "has fluctuated wildly. The Victorians were divided. Many of them admired him as a crusader and man of God, erecting an heroic statue to him outside the Houses of Parliament; Stubbs, on the other hand, thought him ‘a bad son, a bad husband, a selfish ruler, and a vicious man’. Though born in Oxford, he spoke no English. During his ten years' reign, he was in England for no more than six months, and was totally absent for the last five years."
Robin Hood in a shooting contest. Anxious to get "Good King Richard" back from the Crusades and put down "Bad Prince John," the legend of Robin Hood, like The Wind in the Willows, draws upon the strong ties of home and the evils let loose when good rulers are absent and not "taking care of their own."
Why would Grahame not like him? 
In his "drive" to conquer the Holy Land, King Richard was captured and held prisoner. English monarchs should not leave home. And speaking of "home," we come to what happened at Toad Hall while Toad was imprisoned: the weasels from the Wild Wood take over his great manor house, very similar to Prince John taking over the throne of England while his glamorous brother is held prisoner. It's telling that Toad only regains his home by a tunnel which comes out at the butler's pantry, symbolizing, that the "lords" of great estates are the servants of the people, and only by realizing that are the gentry eligible for their positions (remember in Ivanhoe and Robin Hood, King Richard returns wearing a disguise the way Toad has to enter Toad Hall in a way other than as the Lord of the house).
Bray Lock, Buckinghamshire. The picturesque cottage sitting upon the beloved River Thames exemplifies all that is important, worthwhile and, for Grahame, English. The "return home" is the purpose of Rat, Mole and Badger, and even, finally, of J. Thaddeus Toad, and his appreciation of his home marks the signs of his genuine conversion.

What Grahame's The Wind in the Willows so successfully accomplishes is the dilemma between being "at home" or on "the larger stage" of the world politic. In this passage, Mole has been living at Ratty's for a long while, "the larger stage" in the outdoors, but he has just returned to his own little home and delights in that feeling:

The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour. He was now in just the frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him. He saw clearly how plain and simple—how narrow, even—it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one's existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome. (The Wind in the Willows)

This must be very much like British soldiers returning home after the great exploits in the far corners of the Empire. But what The Wind in the Willows is most about is the first, the criminal activity of Empire and secondly the cost. Each character in the story either symbolizes that movement away from England or that feeling of being at home and hence, where one belongs (don't forget, it recurs in another famous work of English literature, The Lord of the Rings). It's important to be important, however, most important to be so for the right reasons, and when one has their priorities straight, their reason will be right.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Moneyball and the Great American Economy

Who is the villain in this film?
Big Money.
It's not the ones who have money, and it's not the ones who don't give money, it's the mis-management of money when that money doesn't need to be spent: as the owner of the Boston Red Sox tells Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), “The Yankees spent $1.4 million to win a game that you only spent $260,000 to win.”
That's a lesson for America at a time when trillions have been spent to stimulate the economy and we're worse off now than before.
First of all, I have to say a word about critics such as David Haglund at the Slate who are complaining about Moneyball against what really happened in the Oakland A's season, or comparing it to the book; film is its own art form. Film never, ever, never, ever, EVER is historical, nor does it attempt to be. Film always uses a historical event merely as a vehicle to convey contemporary ideas beneath the mask of the past. Holding up history as a standard for a film  means that you completely miss everything modern about it.
Jonah Hill as Peter Brand. It's interesting that Billy meets Peter while Peter is working for the Cleveland Indians. Having bought Peter from the Indians, kinda of makes Peter like Tonto, and Billy like the Lone Ranger. This "play" of hero and side-kick works well in a film where there is lots of "play" going on: Casey (Billy's daughter) plays guitar, they "play" numbers, they compare themselves to card counters playing blackjack, Billy "plays" one team off another in trading team members, Peter had to role "play" that he's cutting players, etc.
Director Bennett Miller uses Moneyball as a metaphor for the American economy. That may seem like a stretch, however, supporting actor Peter Brand (Jonah Hill in a tremendously successful role) studied economics and applies it to baseball; we have to take baseball, and apply it to the economy. And it works.
What really drives the metaphor of the American economy in Moneyball is the incredibly low budget Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane has to work with and all the problems that creates for him: he starts out wanting more money from the owner, but then (pictured above) goes to the Cleveland Indians to trade some players and meets Peter Brand. Peter teaches Billy that money has turned the great, all-American game of baseball into something it was never meant to be: a real estate auction. Re-evaluating their own understanding of the game allows them to "see what others have overlooked," and be able to win as a result.
Peter tells Coach Billy Beane that there are great players who get overlooked because we all have built-in biases about what great ballplayers should be; he's absolutely right. "Buying players doesn't buy wins," although that's exactly the way the game has been played instead of "buying runs." This movie could not exist without Game theory and the genuis of play. In my entry for "Game Theory" in How To Eat Art, I detail examples of game and play and the advantages of each. Game is based on a set of rules and the teams use their advantage to win (for example, basketball players are tall to put them closer to the hoop to score with greater ease). Billy tells his board of advisers, "If we play like the Yankees in here, we'll lose to the Yankees out there," because--like a basketball team with the tallest players--the Yankees have the deepest pockets.
Brad Pitt as Billy Beane. Throughout the film, there are flashbacks Beane has of his own career gone from full of hope to bitter disappointment: he passed up a full-scholarship at Stanford to sign a contract with the Mets but not being able to perform, he was traded several times until he decided to become a scout. The "intuition" of a scout to see a good player and think that player could make it in the major leagues reflects some of the chaos theory I have posted on in other places: there are too many factors to be able to guarantee a player will be successful in the majors and Moneyball employs the statistical analysis typical of the mathematical branches of chaos theory to "order the chaos." But Bennett Miller does a great job directing: in this scene, after a devastating loss of his three best players to the Yankees, Beane is literally "in the dark" about what to do and Miller conveys that with the darkness and emptiness of the stadium; that's directing.
On the other hand, play will utilize creative solutions to finding "loopholes" in the rules, hidden advantages in themselves or hidden disadvantages within their opponent to undermine the rules (think of the Ewoks in Star Wars, taking on the evil Empire and devastating that huge, mechanized army with tree trunks and trip wires). Peter, who majored in economics and was then hired by the Cleveland Indians to do "player analysis," has something which the symbol of his eyeglasses enhances about him: clear vision. Peter can see in players what baseball can't see in them, the ability to take the rules of the game and win with them: Peter explains to Billy that managers have an imperfect understanding of where runs come from; big teams don't want players who get to walk to base all the time, but getting on the base is the first step towards a win.
Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg, one of the players overlooked by other teams when his days as a catcher were over because he couldn't throw the ball anymore. "Hatte" represents Americans who lost their jobs and still have remarkable skills to offer the economy but haven't been given the chance because employers are overlooking them, just like big-budget baseball clubs, and that's keeping the economy down the same way it keeps the game of baseball down.
How does this relate to the economy?
Pitcher Chad Bradford (Casey Bond) has a great record, but all the other teams overlooked him because "he looks funny throwing," and a commentator says, "He's a freak and not in a good way"; another player "waddles like a duck," and another player has a bad record... in strip clubs. Billy and Peter "build intelligence into their players" by letting them know what they are good at, and expecting that from them. This is the way employers should be hiring workers in America. The opening quote for the film comes from Mickey Mantle: "It's unbelievable how much you don't know about the game you've been playing all your life," and for America, we have been capitalists from the first day this land was discovered, but the last few years you would think we didn't know anything about the basics of a free-market economy.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as coach Art Howe. In the film and in real life, the wrong people get the credit for the right decisions and the right moves; Howe gets the credit which Peter and Billy deserve. It's especially aggravating because Howe only sees "how" events justify his mis-perceptions of the new players.
The biggest obstacle to overcoming the biases is the coach, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Just like employers who have a pre-conceived notion of what qualifications a candidate for a job should have, Art has his own biases about what a ball player should look like and hit like and catch like; Peter takes the "island of misfit toys" and shows how, indeed, they do fit after all. Art's inability to understand and disrespect for the real, fundamental nature of what baseball is mirrors the forces in government who pass legislation to shackle business instead of giving businesses a chance. "Billy Beane has been trying to re-invent a system that has been working for years, but it just hasn't worked," but that system has been working for the big teams with deep pockets, it wasn't working for all the teams, nor for all the players; when this new team gets in and wins 20 straight games (a record) it still doesn't change perceptions, because everyone wants their perceptions to be proven correct, not to be shown a new way of doing things.
Father Billy Beane and daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey). Billy hadn't heard his daughter sing before he buys her a new guitar, and similarly, Billy hadn't heard the true voice of baseball until he got this "team of misfits" that no one else would take on and see how they play the game and the game lets them win with the skills and talents they have. Billy buying the guitar for his daughter is like Billy buying a "new instrument" for baseball, a new game and a new way.
Billy Beane's daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey) sings the song "Enjoy the Show," and on the surface, it's about her dad and mom (Robin Wright) being divorced and she's "caught in the middle" of two parents, but there's much more to this song:
The "little girl" is America because, remember, we're a young country, and we're caught in the middle of the Democrats and the Republicans as they tear this country apart, one piece of legislation at a time. "It's a lot to be something I'm not," is the United States being slowly forced into a socialist system when it's not, it never has been and never will be. So what is the show we are supposed to sit back and enjoy? It's not the "showdown" in Washington between political parties, it's history, because we are a part of it and making it, and we have to remember that everything we do, just like the Oakland A's, is going to be remembered.
Not many male actors would probably want to be next to Brad Pitt, which is its own bias. Mr. Pitt performed so well in this movie that, if Hollywood doesn't at least give him an Oscar nomination for this role, it will show Hollywood's bias against him.
One last accolade: Bennett Miller, like the Oakland A's, takes methods of directing that haven't been used in a long time and breathes new life in them by appropriately using them to the maximum benefit for greater character analysis: shots of Billy, very close up on his eyes, in the dark, shows that "he's searching but not finding anything," and when Peter is turning the baseball over in his hand, he's turning the game (its ins and outs) over in his mind (the hand is symbolic of his strength and Peter's strength is his brain) and letting Peter show Billy a metaphor even as the whole film is a metaphor. There are tons of other examples, like casting Jonah Hill to be opposite of Brad Pitt to illustrate to us the viewers our own biases when it comes to watching movies and who should be in leading parts and who shouldn't. Mr. Miller, thank you.
Like a coach who doesn't know where his next win is going to come from, the American economy doesn't know where it's next break in the recession is going to come from,...or when.
"Do you believe in this thing or not?" Billy asks Peter, and Peter says, "Yes, I believe in it." And that's a question for every American right now: do we believe in capitalism or do we want socialism?" and that is not a rhetorical question, we have to answer that and stick with it, and remember what makes the great game of capitalism so successful: each of us, with our own, unique skills, gifts and talents, using them for the benefit of ourselves and every one else. When we are on the bottom, underneath the 50 feet of crap, that's when we shine and we perform our best.

Killer Elite: Definitions of Patriotism

Oil is dirty, especially when it's stained with blood.
I wrote in my “pre-review” of the trailer that I was concerned with motive and finding the “villain” in this film because it's difficult to find those “villainous” qualities which a general audience can agree with and to my very, very pleasant surprise, Gary McKendry's Killer Elite delivers on not only a villain, but the complexity of the moral structure in which the characters are operating which provides all of them with a motive that just happens to be conflicting with everyone else's.
It reaches back to 1980-81 to tell us why we are having the problems we are today: the wrong morals got filed under the name “patriotism,” which acts both as the motive and the villain; there aren't any villains in this film, just good men with dirty hands, and some with more dirt than others. While Danny (Jason Statham) kills several men to avenge a oil-wealthy sheik whose sons were murdered by British SAS special agents during the Oman war in order to free his best friend Hunter (Robert deNiro), Spike (Clive Owens) is an "off the radar" operative who protects former SAS agents. Unwittingly, Danny is set-up by the government to smooth things over with the oil-wealthy sheik, while Spike "gets in the way." Danny's patriotism is taking revenge for a wronged sheik and saving his friend; Spike's is protecting those who (right or wrong) carried our their government's orders in a shadowy war and the government's idea of a patriot is the one who can get the most oil... in this movie, those three definitions are in deadly conflict.
Clive Owen as Spike. His left eye was shot out during  an SAS assignment and he has a fake eye. Usually the symbolism of such a character trait would signify a flaw, meaning that character had flawed visions or was unable to "see" what was really going on; with Spike, however, he sees (before anyone else) that SAS agents are being targeted by Danny and have to be protected, and he sees that the government is sacrificing agents to ease tensions with the Middle East.
Why is that important? It demonstrates how the British Empire is being led by the nose by a "crust of desert floating on oil" because it uses far more resources than it can sustain on its own. Doing anything necessary to have primary access to those oil fields (including killing Middle Easterners and British agents) is a serious moral and economic conflict the entire world must face and openly address.Go back to the trailer at the beginning of this post: at 0:12, there is a black Benz which sustains an explosion, then flips over. That car is the symbol of the entire film, because the car represents motive (a vehicle is what "drives" us in one direction vs going in a different direction) and it flipping over means that the world has gotten out of control and turned upside-down. The opening lines are "The world is in chaos" because of the oil-wars, and that could be just as applicable today as in 1980.
A bloody fight scene. This was painful to watch. Spike is trying to protect former SAS agents Danny has to kill in revenge for a sheik whose sons died as a result of a "fuzzy war" the British government waged in Oman to get oil rights. When a government agent becomes involved, three different (and legitimate) definitions of "patriotism" come into play, but each is really incompatible with the others.
It does borrow from a few other action films, such as The Bourne Identity (2002): Jason Bourne doesn't want to kill again because there were children around; in Killer Elite, Danny opens the door of the black car that has "flipped out of control" to kill a man and behind him is a young child who gets blood all over her face. That child symbolizes the future of the world and the blood that stains the generation growing up in the 80's. It also borrows from Quantum of Solace (2008) and the government's unquenchable thirst for oil and its willingness to do nearly anything for it. Like Kill Bill (2003), it makes “revenge” an open door for a sequel. But who said that borrowing good things from good films was a bad thing?... I didn't.
In the trailer, you're made to believe Danny flips that chair on top of Spike, but that man on the floor on the right side is the government agent who set Danny up. In opposite terms of the "black car flipping out of control," Danny flipping upside-down in the chair signifies him trying to "right the world," and put things back in their proper order; however, the film recognizes that it can't be done.
What does the film do well that sets it apart from other films? Killer Elite demonstrates the deadliness of having a “relative” moral system: Hunter takes a stupid job so he can have $6 million dollars, because even though he knows he shouldn't take the job, he wants the money. Danny kills.... seven or eight (I lost count) to save Hunter, although Danny doesn't want to and knows that he shouldn't. Spike is set on avenging the death of the SAS agents who killed the sheik's sons; everyone in this tangle of knots has a value but none of them are willing to uphold an absolute value above the “circumstantial values,” i.e., Thou Shalt Not Kill, Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery, Thou Shalt Not Consume More Oil and Resources Than Your Country Can Self-Sufficiently Provide, you know, the basics.
Hunter (Robert deNiro) and Danny. Hunter is the most problematic character because he's so materialistic. He stops while they're escaping to get his watch, he takes a huge cut of "blood money" to "cover his expenses and the entire series of events was set off because he wanted to get $6 million to do a killing. As "the older generation" Hunter represents those who were motivated by greed, whereas both Danny and Spike symbolize more idealistic goals.
There's an important symbol: a hawk with a mask on. The predatory bird symbolizes Danny who "hunts down" the men he has to kill to free Hunter, but just as Danny doesn't realize the British government is allowing him to assuage the wounds of the sheik so the British government can get on good terms with his only remaining son, Danny is also "blind" to the consequences all his killing is doing. And this is the importance of Killer Elite as an action film: it recognizes consequences. No one (agent or government) can kill all those people, spill all that blood, in the name of oil or anything else, and a deadly, world-wide chain of events not be set off which is worse than the original problems. In previous action films, killing was just a part of the "spree" of dirty work which had to be done, but in the constant world-jumping (it goes from Mexico to Australia, to Paris to London to Oman back to London, etc.) there is the loss of privacy, i.e., what I do in the privacy of London doesn't effect Oman, but Killer Elite makes sure that you know differently, that every action has a moral consequence and this is what makes it a far better movie than critics are crediting it with.
If they hadn't found themselves fighting on the opposite sides of a not-so-clear-cut battle, these two probably would have been best friends. While Spike's "fake eye" is symbolically a problem for the character, Danny frequently wears sunglasses throughout the film and even has to "let his eyes adjust to the light." But the symbol verifying both characters in their virtue is Spike has a wife and child, and Danny has a girlfriend with whom he's planning his life. As viewers, we can't underestimate the importance of "carrying on their line" in the battle of good and evil because (even in a morally relative world) the "hero" has to continue their line on and both Danny and Spike seem to do do.
The last problem is the title, Killer Elite. Why does the civilized world have to have--not only a special class of killers--but an elite class of killers? For the government to employ and depend upon killers to do its "dirty work," doesn't speak well of civilization and the "moral superiority" we think we have over the not-so-distant past. "It isn't over 'till both sides say it is," different characters say at different points in the script; at the end of the film, "it" isn't over, and that's really the underlying lesson of the film. History is never finished.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mary Poppins: Frankenstein & Animal Farm

Julie Andrews in her Oscar-winning role as Mary Poppins.
One great work of art invokes another,... and then another. In  the 1964 film Mary Poppins, the stability of the British Empire is challenged even as it is re-enforced: the same forces which created both the Elephant Man (The Ugly Face of British Imperialism: The Elephant Man) and the two anonymous, upper-class girls in Leisure Hours (Leisure Hours and Victorian Consumption) are also at work in Mary Poppins and threatening--not only the Banks family--but the whole Empire as well, and at a precarious moment. Two important works of British art are cited in Mary Poppins: Frankenstein and Animal Farm, with the intent of demonstrating that the lessons from those works have been heeded and the ills prophesied have been overcome. 
It's the opening sequence of the credits which alert the viewer to the dire state of the Empire's heart: London. The fog hanging over that most ancient and glorious of cities is nostalgic and symbolic of the stupor over the Empire itself; if the panoramic view of London isn't sufficient, Bert (Dick Van Dyke) slips into an unconscious moment and describes the mist that is coming: the mist is coming over us, the viewers, because we won't be able to “clearly see” all that is presented for our consideration, but there is the mist of acquiescence for the characters, as well, and they need to be awaken from their slumber. The film is wonderfully complex, and there isn't space to cover it all in one simple blogspot, therefore, thereby and therewith,... we will focus on two characters and one song: Katie Nanna, Admiral Boom and A Spoonful of Sugar.
Elsa Lanchester in her iconic role as the "Bride" with
Boris Karloff as the "Monster."
In my post Cowboys and Aliens: the US-British Alliance, I detail how we are always bringing our baggage with us: there are certain things the makers of art and films know about us, and they use that knowledge to their advantage, because the deeper they can forge a bond between us and their art, the deeper will be our love for that art. Katie Nanna is one such example. Played by the great Elsa Lanchester, her iconic role as the bride in James Whale's 1935 classic The Bride of Frankenstein not only brings into play everything we associate with the Frankenstein monster, but everything which culture has left to our imaginations about the failed relationship with his so-called bride. (The original Frankenstein was written in 1818 by Mary Shelley). An iconic role can haunt an actor all their days, because it's nearly impossible for the audience to get it out of their heads that part which the actor played, and "the Bride" was that role for Ms. Lanchester.
Seeing this nanny of the Banks' children, a Gothic monster, makes you ask, would you leave your children with her? And that's rather the point, isn't it? A nanny is a "mercenary mother," paid to do a job that can really only be done from the heart: motherhood. We start to see the undermining of the British Empire: the Banks (and other families) are so wealthy, they can afford to pay someone to raise their children for them: the financial success of the Empire means that the future (children) are not receiving the love and care they require, which will be its undoing (like the two upper-class girls in Leisure Hours), i.e., success is its own downfall. When writing an advertisement for a nanny, Mr. Banks sings, "A British nanny must be a general, the future Empire lies within her hands," without realizing that the future Empire lies within his and his wife's hands. But a "general," as Mr. Banks calls her, doesn't possess the correct "virtues" to "mold the young breed" as the future leaders of Empire, and Katie Nanna, importantly, demonstrates that.
Mary Poppins arriving at the Banks' home, #17 Cherry Tree Lane.
We, the audience, can know that Katie Nanna is an unintentionally bad influence on the Banks' children because the very ideals and virtues of “Englishness” which had given birth to the great world leaders, now gives birth to little monsters. Jane and Michael Banks are in the park chasing their kite. Two important symbols are in this simple scenario: the park representing Eden, the idyllic and the kite, their wishes, aspirations, hopes, goals, ambitions, anything that fills the heart and guides us through our life. Ellen (the Banks' maid) frets that the children were playing by the lion's cage and that tells us that they have been led by their animal passions instead of something lofty and ideal. The kite “gets away” from the children because it's not constructed very well: a dream is a dream, but it exists within a concrete reality so it can be realized, hopefully, for the good of all, and this is where parenting comes in: Mr. Banks doesn't interest himself in the children and neither does Winifred Banks. In the father and the mother we see the driving forces of the Empire: commerce and politics (the bank and "votes for women"), and the future of Britain (the children) will just have to fend for themselves.
Mary Poppins arriving with Jane and Michael's advertisement for a nanny. The important difference between the "mother" figure that the children want and the "general" which Mr. Banks wants lies in the conflicting image of Queen Victoria: some see her as a successful monarch because of her being a "mother"; others see her as successful because, in spite of being a mother, she managed to be a monarch. Likewise, Mr. Banks imagines that, in spite of being human beings, Jane and Michael can manage to be British soldiers. The differences in the wording of the advertisements illustrates what the father wants his children to grow up to be and what the children want their parents to be.
Let's turn our attentions to discuss Admiral Boom (Reginald Owen). He was a member of His Majesty's Navy, and at the regular intervals of the day, he releases a time-gun to keep London punctual. When he does so—and this is a real gem—the residents of London take their “posts” to secure their valuables against the shock of the gun: there is a vase on the piano (which no one knows how to play), two paintings on the wall, a gilded vase with crystals, on another wall are five more paintings, another vase, a curio cabinet with china and figurines... this is the accumulation of wealth as a result of Empire, and they have to be protected, as a result of Empire.
The more one has the more one has to protect.
Bert and Mary overlooking London from the rooftops. Having this unique view is rather topsy-turvy: those on the bottom of the social ladder (a chimney sweep, a nanny and children) are able to see from the "top of the ladder." Their position "above everyone and everything else" in this scene re-enforces that we, too, are going to be shown a unique perspective but only because of the grime and soot we take on can we be cleansed of the ills we are going to be shown.
There aren't any religious rituals in the family, but there are material rituals. Because this moment is so amusing, we tend to overlook the seriousness of it: as a result of the time-gun going off, a gilded mirror sways upon the wall as Mr. Banks attempts to straighten his tie. The mirror is a symbol of interior reflection, his tie is a sign that he is a gentleman, but the "unstable" measure by which he knows he is a gentleman (the swaying mirror) is off balance and so, he, too,therefore is off balance and everything he does as a result of that (there is no stability to anchor his perceptions).
Bert leading the chimney sweeps in song and dance. The explanation of the folklore that chimney sweeps "are lucky" comes from Bert's own song: chimney sweeps are considered at "the bottom of the social ladder," so to be courteous to a chimney sweep is a blessing because you are showing kindness to one who doesn't have much in the world. Admiral Boom's blasting of the chimney sweeps acts as a reprimand that the Royal Navy (of which Boom is a symbolic representation) not being kind to those on the bottom of the social ladder, but treating them according to their social stations, is its own punishment in not recognizing the value of all people.
Admiral Boom, then, is an important character because as he represents the Navy, he is both the "force" that allowed citizens to amass their wealth and a "force" which threatens that wealth. There is another important item to be discussed regarding Admiral Boom: Hottentots. When Bert and the chimney sweeps dance on the rooftops of London and Admiral Boom sees them, he calls them "Hottentots," after the Khoikhoi people of southern Africa and orders "a double-charge" in the gun. With his brush, Bert takes aim at one of the "fireworks" and "hits it back at Admiral Boom"; this is no accident. Admiral Boom's attack on the Hottentots displays Great Britain firing upon their own people, that the Khoikhoi and others "displaced" by Imperialism are as deeply human and a part of the British Empire as the chimney sweeps of London, and the attacks upon them are attacks upon Great Britain itself (the firework coming back to attack Admiral Boom). This scene is "double-charged": the Navy is charged with being murderous, but it confesses it's learned the lesson. 
Mary Poppins arriving with Jane and Michael's "things," their coats and hats. Symbolically, the children must be "prepared" for the adventure they are going on or the lessons will be lost upon them.
Now we can slowly turn our attention to the last item for this posting: A Spoonful of Sugar.
When Mary Poppins hops on the banister of the stairwell, the act of going up the stairs symbolizes the upper or higher regions of our thought, and she does it with ease. She goes into the room that will be hers and begins to unpack, mysteriously bringing things out of the carpet bag that don't seem possible: her carpet bag symbolizes history, and each item represents lessons that only history can teach us. Because a hat refers to the head, which symbolizes our reason and governing functions, the first item Mary Poppins pulls out is a hat stand, the right place and way to take off her hat--free her of the constraints of reason--but then take it back up again when necessary. That Michael and Jane can't find anything in the bag is accurate: they are too young to appreciate the long, rich history of Great Britain and what it can teach them.
The discipline Mary Poppins insists upon upholds British virtue, but she has the wisdom to balance it with the warmth of love and the understanding of what the children really need and are missing from their lives.
She pulls out a large, gilded, ornately framed mirror so she can see herself: again, the mirror symbolizes interior reflection, so Mary Poppins is teaching the children to look at everything at once (not segment economic reports and poverty reports, upper-class education and lower-class education, but a holistic approach to Empire). The rubber tree plant she pulls out literally represents the prosperous rubber industry which Great Britain had profited from, so that the children know "a thing of beauty," not only the beauty of creating industry and inventing, but the items that come from industry. The floor lamp is illumination, shoes symbolize the will, the hand mirror is personal meditation on one's own individuality and calling in life.
Tidying up the nursery and singing A Spoonful of Sugar.
The next lesson follows suit: tidying up the nursery. One might say the entire movie centers upon this theme. We know from Mr. Banks that it's 1910 and King Edward VII is on the throne. Because we have seen the cherry trees blooming on the street we know it's spring, so King Edward literally has weeks left to live until his death on May 6 when his son King George V will take the throne and World War I will begin in 4 short years. Tidying the nursery is imperative at this point in time because "the wind is changing," and the Empire itself must be prepared for what is to come. (Consequently, Mary Poppins was released in 1964 and just a few months later, in January 1965, the great Winston Churchill himself would no longer be alive). “Tidying up the nursery,” is the same as “putting one's house in order,” and this is what Mary Poppins is teaching the new generation to a song called A Spoonful of Sugar (helps the medicine go down). To decode this song, we need ask only one question.
Where does sugar come from?
A sugar plantation, run and worked by slaves.
Surveying her room as if it were the Empire itself.
Mary Poppins tells the children, "A job well begun is half done," and she explains, "In every job there is an element of fun. Find the fun and snap, the job becomes a game," which is a clear reference to Game Theory and the "games of the political world," which the future has to learn. Specifically, it's the game involving a "spoonful of sugar," which is the reference to the great abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. In the video link below, historian Simon Schama details how, after the great revolutions for freedom and liberty which Britons had won for themselves, they then turned around and enslaved the rest of the world. The point of Mary Poppins' song, Spoonful of Sugar, is that the reward of freeing the slaves was the sugar, and not the tangible product from sugar cane to be traded and exported. Upon this predicate rests the greatness of the British Empire: they put their house in order. Just as Jane and Michael Banks' nursery is a mess, so, too, at times is the "House of Government" a mess, and needs to be put in order, and there is its own sweetness to that job well done.

Simon Schama: History of Great Britain "Queen Sugar"

What is interesting--but consistent--with the rest of the film, is that there is an abundance of "cleaning up" the children do, there is a bit of craziness (too much of a good thing which will be repeated when they laugh so hard they fly up to the ceiling), but Mary Poppins allows them to do what they are going to do, this is her parenting strategy to allow this and then put a stop to it when it becomes nonsense, going against English reasonableness.
Winifred Banks who "doesn't change" throughout most of the film.
Mary Poppins and the children sliding up and down upon the banister of the stairs illustrates the ease of reflection which the children are gaining: a stairway (going up) symbolizes a higher level of thought to be attained; going down to a main level symbolizes that application of higher wisdom attained into one's daily life. (When Mr. Banks has been sacked [he got sacked when he was going to sack Mary Poppins] he had spent the night in the cellar fixing the children's kite; the cellar symbolizes that he went deep within himself, the "night" symbolizes that dark spell of uncertainty and the fixed kite represents his understanding of what really made the British Empire and the British people, great). When they slide past Ellen the maid dusting the banister, it illustrates the differentiation being made in "work": Ellen's work is rather tedious and bears no fruit but the children have done what used to be a tedious job, tidying up the nursery, but have acquired a deeper understanding they will carry with them for life. 
Series of Mary Poppins and the children "entering" the world of art.
When Mary Poppins, Bert and the children jump through the painting, it is the entering into the world of artistic rendering, literally. Mary and Bert sing “It's a jolly holiday," and that holiday is the peace of 1910 and again in the 1960s (given the facets of the Cold War, it was relatively peaceful). And, I would like to add, it's possible because of the U.S.-British Alliance (I refuse to miss a chance to celebrate that! Please see Cowboys and Aliens: the US-British Alliance and Captain America: A Movie of Movies).
Since he was an American, Dick van Dyke playing Bert, could symbolize America in this film, and Mary Poppins having to "haul him over the stone fence" could be a sign that Americans weren't paying as close attention to the political dangers of the 1960s as the Brits were. Yet the "jolly holiday" Britain and America enjoy at this time results from a (relatively speaking) stable world peace.
The odd thing about this “adventure” in the painting is they stop in a farmyard. Of all the places they could imagine to go, and they go to a barnyard... because of the great work of British art, Animal Farm. Just as Mary Poppins demonstrates its self-awareness about the dangers of the Empire becoming a monster as presented in Frankenstein, so in this barnyard scene, it also invokes the great British novel by George Orwell and the dangers he prophesied within it. It's important that the animals sing in unison, and then the pig snorts at the end by himself, because in the “noise” of the pig (recall, please, good reader, that the pigs—being the smartest of the animals—took control of the farm) is the encoded language of, “Four legs good, two legs bad.” The 60's in Great Britain saw dramatic challenges of radical political "isms"—not to mention the threats of the Cold War—and in the simple barnyard, the great political fears of the Empire have been put to rest.
Mary Poppins as the winner of the horse race.
Lastly, the great horse race Mary Poppins wins: it's very simple symbolism for the nuclear arms race in the 1960s against the Soviet Union and China, and the carousel horses they ride invokes, again, the Game Theory of world politics. The supporting "material" for this interpretation within the film comes from the famous word, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." As the word to say "when you don't know what to say," it acts as a "mask" for what one truly feels, just as the mask of The Elephant Man covers his face and the screen "screens out" anything undesirable for the two girls in Leisure Hours,  "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," is a statement of Super-powerism, and the might of the British Empire, because those are sentiments which cannot be expressed in plain terms, hence, it must be expressed in artistic terms. There is a part of the song where Mary Poppins sings, "It can save your life," and a male band member interupts and says, "For example, one night I said it to me girl, and now me girl is me wife," and his much larger wife bangs him on the head with her tamborene. This situation for a "word" saving your life doesn't make sense, unless, we examine the power of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in terms of the British-US alliance during World War II. If the small man could be taken from Great Britain--fighting for its life against the Nazis during the Battle for Britain, than the US (significantly larger in size than Great Britain in terms of land mass) could be the woman, who hearing the great orator Sir Winston Churchill (the rallying speeches calling American's to arm) finally entered World War II and through resources saved Great Britain; what was just a "friendship" between the two countries became a political marriage.
George Banks in the uniform of a British citizen and, by attacking his "uniform," his employers at the bank are attempting to strip Banks of his identity. But this is where the play on words comes in: as Mr. Dawes Sr. (Dick van Dyke) says, "As long as the banks stand, England stands," but in the greater view, we should see that as the "Banks family," of George, Winifred, Jane and Michael, and when they fall, England will fall.
For example, when George Banks is sacked by the Bank because of the run on the bank his son has caused, he says "the word," but what he is really saying is that I am more than my job, and I am more than your expendable employee; it's a sad fact of linguistics, that often, our poor, fragile language doesn't communicate the great truths as accurately as it should, and so, there are words like "supercalifragililisticexpialidocious" to express that for us.
"Feed the Birds," symbolizes the "feeding of our spirits and souls," so we don't become automatons like the orderly and efficient bureaucrats in Banks' bank.
There is a problem: when the children are returned to the nursery and can't go to sleep because of all the excitement, it appears that Mary Poppins denies that she had won the horse race, and she's right to do so. Like with the carpet bag, the children only saw a horse race, but it was the greater arms race that Mary Poppins won, not a mere race around the track; the children, at this point, still haven't learned all their lessons.
The wind has changed, but all is in order.
In conclusion, there is far more to discuss with this film than what I have space for (although, as usual, I have made a posting too long anyway). Mary Poppins presents another example of adjustment and self-correction, utilizing art which has shaped the British Empire, recognizing dangers and self-correcting and why the Empire has continued as long as it has.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Leisure Hours and Victorian Consumption

Leisure Hours by John Everett Millais, 1864, Detroit Institute of Arts.
Please click on the image to view at full resolution.
John Everett Millais' Leisure Hours of 1864 is a gorgeous painting: the textiles and colors faithfully represent the concerns of the time, however, it is in the sinister aspects of the painting which makes this one stand out above others.
The first item noticed are the sumptuous dresses the girls wear: the red velvet and Millais' handling of the material is exquisite; yet "red" is the color of the appetites, and taken with the young age of the girls--their postures and their gazes--we should be alerted that this is no ordinary portrait painting. The green carpet on the floor could represent "hope" (since green is the color of spring and rebirth), yet it looks more like artificial grass, and if we take a more likely understanding of the symbolism, the green means "envy," and that is the foundation of the girls' lives.
Millais was forced to leave the art group, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, with
which he was associated because the champion critic of the group, John Ruskin,
would not consummate his marriage to Effie, who left Ruskin for Millais, which, you
can imagine, caused an outrageous scandal in society and somewhat
blackened Millais' reputation.
The appetite the red signifies is the dress itself: an appetite for the material wealth of the Victorian era which, for the two children in the painting, was going to be founded on greed and envy of others in their social class.
But it gets worse.
The very frontal, forward-looking gaze of the girl on the left resembles the gaze of Edouard Manet's 1863 scandalous painting Olympia which depicts a prostitute in her "place of business" looking at a customer who has brought flowers to her.
The scandal by which all other scandals are measured is Manet's Olympia
of 1863, today in Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.
The look doesn't strike us as scandalous today, but in 1863, it had broken the wall existing between the viewer and the subject within the art.  Worst of all, knowing that she is looking at her "customer," she's looking at us! We are the ones placed inside the boudoir of the courtesan, whether we want to be there or not. In 1863, critics wrote that the only reason the painting wasn't torn to tatters by spectators was the precautions authorities had taken to prevent a riot.
In contrasting the girl on the left-side of Leisure Hours with Olympia, the blue ribbon in her hair invokes the choker around Olympia's neck, and the "exposed" foot of the little girl, hanging out in a very un-lady-like way, suggests--not particularly that she will prostitute herself for fine material pleasures later in life, as Olympia has prostituted herself--but that her appetite for the finer things in life will make her licentious in her drives and ambitions. In this manner, the decorative screen behind the two girls literally "screens out" everything that is behind the screen: notice the edging of the screen on the left margin of the canvas and how it blocks from the girls everything that doesn't belong in this created world of the painting, similar to the "masking" of the Elephant Man, John Merrick in the film The Elephant Man (please see The Ugly Face of British Imperialism: The Elephant Man for more on how "masks" work). 
But the edging on the screen suggests that it has been pulled back, and not everything can be kept out of this world of beauty and leisure which the two girls occupy. Since something lurks behind the screen, we can understand the "hidden" foot of the girl on the right side, her "withdrawal" into herself as a result of her privileged lifestyle and material comforts. Further, her sideways glance suggests that she will look at everything that way, i.e., askew.
The flowers, of course, full of symbolism as always: will the girls grow to a maturation and individuation which the virtues of flowers symbolize, or will the training in virtue wither and die like the flowers scattered on the carpet?
The redundancy in the pattern on the screen suggests a redundancy about what the screen hides: epidemics in poverty, child-labor and illness. The Victorian Era was a time of peace, prosperity and refined taste in the arts, but it was also a terrible time to be poor. The pattern on the screen suggests the kind of pattern of "dealing with" the poor, the ignorant children, and sick and insane, in terms of numbers, institutions and dark shadows.
Ultimately, the Victorian world the two girls occupy is very much like the bowl before them: an artifishal world. The girls will grow up, because they need not fear the illnesses plaguing the children of the lower-classes, and they will find successful husbands who will provide for their expensive tastes they have acquired as a result of their upbringing, and they, in turn, will bear children who will be even worse than they themselves.

The two goldfish mirror the two girls, trapped in a shallow world, completely cared for by the outside of which it has no consciousness; the fish, then, represent a "world within a world," and it should be recalled that the year after Leisure Hours was finished, Lewis Carroll published Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
It's Millais' juxtaposing of the casual posture of the girls with the expensive dresses they don, because if those were special gowns just for the occasion they wouldn't be lounging on the floor; yet these are girls accustomed to luxury and anything less than that will not be acceptable o .  But there is a terrible alternative, that these are only "leisure hours," and the hours are about to be up, and the rest of the screen will come down, revealing the ugly reality kept at bay. If we consider the two girls in this light, they might be two faces of the emerging England as a result of the material consumption by the few, and the dire poverty of the many.