Monday, January 24, 2011

My Favorite Pixar Movies

It’s time for me to admit an innocent pleasure: I’ve loved just about every film made by the experimental film company, Pixar. Many of my readers could have probably guessed that I have a soft spot for Pixar films and have no doubt throughly enjoyed many of the same films themselves with their friends and family. However, so throughly enjoyable are these films that I want to take this space and acknowledge some of my favorites, in case you missed them the first time around or at least so we can have the pleasure of considering them yet again, together.

Toy Story

I loved everything about Pixar's first film and its Pirandelloesque scenario of “toys” exiled into some terrifyingly meaningless limbo. “Buzz” Lightyear is an astronaut whose rational, positivistic outlook is challenged when he finds himself imprisoned with a menagerie of fantastic creatures in the incomprehensible alien landscape of a giant child’s bedroom. 

This film begins the cycle of “collapsing allegories” where bewildered protagonists encounter seemingly symbolic characters  (such as the cowboy Woody, voiced by Clint Eastwood, who claims to be in Hell for the prostitutes he killed). Yet the further the narrative progresses, the more problematic interpretation becomes, until an overdetermined semiotic saturation point is reached and the hypernarrative implodes into a purely asemic cinema.

Favorite Moments
  • Mr. Potato Head’s Oedipal ocular castration
  • Woody’s “tears in rain” speech
  • “Hell is other Toys” –Woody


This wonderful picture also made film history, being the first feature film to be rendered entirely from direct neural imaging from the director’s John Lasster’s brain. The control process by which the director’s vision was rendered by slave brains was at this point quite crude, which accounts for the film’s relatively low resolution and the occasional images of the director’s mother’s nude breast, typical of early ENGRM films .

A Bug’s Life

This is by far the least popular of Pixar’s films, no doubt because it is Pixar at it’s most nihilistic, depicting a brutal class struggle that eschews any Marxist soteriology in favor of an unending Master/Slave dialectic. A devastating and brutal film, even by Pixar standards, which presents the mind numbing reality of mass death as well as any documentary on genocide, well before its notorious final shot, which reveals the action of the film and the new “triumphant” hegemony of the ants as taking place on the face of the dead child from Toy Story. Men, gods and any kind of normative ideals are killed for mere senseless sport in this film, on a scale that is incomprehensibly vast and meaningless: truly, a bug’s life. 

At the same time it has, I think, the most catchy songs of any Pixar picture, composed and performed by Bruno S, who has the title role as Flick. 

Many critics denounced the film’s unrelenting nihilism, which they felt particularly inappropriate for a film aimed at children “who ought to be learning the optimistic truths of dialectical materialism” and counter to the spirit of solidarity, in favor of a “decadent fashionable pessimism." 

Monsters, Inc. 

Pixar’s adaptation of Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté is cinema at its most Sadean. Udo Kier is at his most lovable as Scully.


Set in the world of Gary Numan and his Tubeway Army, Cars is as much a tribute to Bunuel in its structure as Kubrick in its content. Gary Numan stars as Numan, a former astronaut who ostensibly suffers from post-mission amnesia, who now hosts an award winning children’s television show whose theme is “things have faces and we wipe the faces off.”

Dissatisfied with his job and his icy sadistic relationship with Nico (played by Deborah Harry), Numan circuts the city looking for “forensic clues that are the condition of the possibility for an antinomial murder yet to happen.” When he discovers that his bosses are just giant cockroaches (Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson, in cameos reprising their roles from A Bug's Life) he quits his show and takes a caretaker job at the Overlook Hotel. 

Even though it is not clear that anything happens at the snowed in resort (anything that wasn’t going to always already have happened anyway), Numan is arrested and sent to an unusual prison apparently run by the Residents. After the eyedrops and maze of naked women have their salutary effect, Numan is released into the Marines, where he becomes a donut-eating crack shot who assassinates the President. For this he is immediately given flowers and award and the camera pulls away for its final shot of Numan being applauded by an audience of Numan clones on a planet where Gary Numan (or rather, anthropomorphized cars that look like Gary Numan, as all the characters in the film are indeed rendered as anthropomorphized cars) are the only form of life. 

Favorite Moments
  • Numan teaching children that the face in the mirror is a stranger and you should not listen to anything it says.
  • David Bowie’s cameo as Grady.

In many ways the negative critical response to this film documents its success as a film where “identification with the action on the screen is questioned, indeed rendered impossible. Cars holds a mirror to its audience, but its audience are a bunch of fish or sapientless lichen and see nothing” ( “Asperger’s –the movie” Unwatchable Weeky).

It also marks the only collaboration to date between Randy Newman and Gary Numan.  

Finding Nemo

In this feature length adaptation of Heidegger’s  Gelassenheit  (“Discourse on Thinking”) an amiable little clown fish goes in search of his lost child, encountering many lovable characters along the way whose illusions about life and existence are utterly destroyed. 

Favorite Moments
  • The surfer turtle dude who talks for a solid thirty minutes, recounting each of the films of Ingmar Bergman before dying of a deliberate on-screen heroin overdose.

Nemo: Then what are we to wait for? And where are we to wait? I hardly know anymore who and where I am. 
Gill: None of us knows that, as soon as we stop fooling ourselves.

Pixar had already acquired a reputation for uncompromising and relentlessly existentially honest children’s films that were only sometimes appreciated by the general public. As one exasperated reviewer related their child’s reaction:

“Why, mommy? Why? Why? Why?”
“Why, what, dear?”
“No, mommy –why.”

The Incredibles

Another bold and outrageous film that dares to ask if a family with extraordinary abilities should be limited by slave morality. With Alejandro Jodorowsky as Zarathustra. 


Pixar’s most conceptual film is an esoteric meditation on the process of its own becoming. Remy the rat pulls on Linguini the idiot's hair to control his actions, just as director Brad Bird yokes the slave brains that animate and render the film in an unholy creative union that is beyond pleasure and pain. 

Even as someone who embraces cinema and expression at its most extreme, the idea of a rat cooking food for people is just unbearable.  


This film tells the story of its titular robot who is no sooner released from a robot insane asylum than walks into Bier Himmel where EVA is being mistreated by her robot pimps. As the pimps treat everyone universally badly, WALL*E and EVA escape to Post-Consumer Earth, which is a wild wasteland, having been fought over in successive atomic wars by apes and men.

Things look up for the couple as WALL*E gets a new job on an extermination team, retasked by Starship Troopers as a mass grave digging machine. However, things turn for the worse as WALL*E’s superiors are revealed as to be themselves giant cockroaches. EVA returns to prostitution and the Earth is destroyed. 

This was unfortunately Bruno S. final film, as his brain was destroyed by filming.

All these wonderful family films are included in Pixar: God is Dead: Everything is Permitted, A Collector’s set, in 10 discs or Rights Managed Recoverable Memory Engram Concept.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Inspiring Canine Tales Reconsidered

Proponents of canine virtue and Sunday School teachers are fond of recounting the loyal vigil of Hachiko, an Akita, for his owner, Professor Hidesamuro Ueno. Every day, the story goes, Hachiko would come to Shibuya Station to greet his master returning from his classes on the train. In May 1925, the professor suffered a sudden cerebral hemorrhage and died, never to return to the same station –or so the story goes.

Undaunted by his repeated failure to appear, Hachiko continued to visit the station and await his master -for the next decade, with a promptness and unfailing faith in his return that has filled out many a sermon or heart-cockle warming.

However, this moving and sentimental tale takes on a new light when it is revealed that Hidesamuro Ueno actually suffered no such sudden and inexplicable illness at  all. Rather, Professor Hidesamuro Ueno had, in fact, cruelly faked is own death for the express purpose of escaping the dog's company, which he felt had grown onerous. Unable to face his dog directly, the perfidious teacher had elected simply to never travel by the same station.

The reality of the narrative becomes still more disheartening when we realize that the dog undoubtedly knew this and consciously used the sentimentality of his vigil to deprive his former master the possibility of ever returning someday to his house as he had originally planned. The professor was forced to take an apartment farther from the University of Tokyo. Eventually the Professor’s absence from home and dog’s persistent vigil caused an enormous loss of face for the Professor, who resigned in disgrace and never returned to Tokyo, ending a promising academic career.

Given these sad, but undeniable facts, we cannot help but consider that this poignant story which originally seemed a parable of undying loyalty, love and sincerity, horrifically is the opposite of all these things, being in actuality a narrative of dissimulation, betrayal, revenge and a bitter contest unto death, where is shown not that the dog may surpass us at our best virtues, but that may equal us at our lowest.

Book: Hachiko, Implacable Shaming Dog


June Lockhart described the television program Lassie as "a fairy tale about people on a farm in which the dog solves all the problems in 22 minutes, in time for the last commercial.”

Invariably these problems revolved around encounters or crises that the boy had, from which the intrepid rough collie was either able to directly extricate or bring appropriate help.

This melodramatic scenario is actually based on fact, but the facts themselves are disturbing.

The fictional Lassie’s rescue of his hapless boy owner and stories like it no doubt have their origin in the story of the unfortunate Lucien and his dog Sultan in post war southwestern France. The boy and the dog had been exploring a series of concealed caves when the boy became trapped in a narrow passage.

Human help was indeed summoned to the boy's rescue, but seemingly inadvertently. The dog had indeed attracted much attention to itself, but only in its frantic and somewhat futile attempts to secure or purchase a gun.

Immediately previous to this, the dog had in fact, successfully purchased some curious supplies that significantly qualify his ostensible rescue efforts, including beer, pornography, condoms and dog food.

Things grow darker still when we examine the further contents of the sack the dog had assembled from the boy's home to bring to the scene of the cave. Whereas it did contain some salves and medicine, its manifest seems to suggest, on one interpretation, that this is only because it was included to facilitate some wholly diabolical, prolonged, highly unnatural and sadistic ordeal in the unknown seclusion of the caves and their unknown network, consisting, as it does, of wire, wire cutters, pliers, shears, various knives, knitting needles, masking tape and lipstick and other feminine cosmetic articles taken from the toilet of the boy's mother.

Though these disturbing details were overshadowed by the relief at the boy's rescue, they became the object of perplexity and suspicion in due course. The dog precipitously vanished one night, though whether he took flight or fell to some rash sanction remains unknown.

Indeed, if we follow the story past its usual popular terminus, the incident really has an air of tragedy or disquieting mystery, as the dog's disappearance did not end the intrigue. Rather, the sinister import of these usually omitted details eventually came to cast their penumbra of uncertainty and suspicion on even the boy himself, who now sometimes received mysterious packages, whose contents remain unknown, save that they were often wrapped in foreign and Asiatic newspapers with a spoor of spice and feculence.

Some in the village were not above the libelous speculation that the event had more deliberate contrivance, either before or after the incident, than generally attributed. There was speculation to the effect that the accident concealed or was the unplanned sequela to some planned clandestine rendezvous with the dog, the deliberate and unclean purpose of which was a subject alluded to only in the briefest, most blasphemous, most drunken oaths in the local pubs. During the war, the town had been spared little and lost much. Recriminations and accusations as to who colluded with the Germans and the Vichy government were kept in check only by fear of counter accusations. Were the contents of the sack intended not for the boy, but for collaborators hidden in the caves? Germans, even? Why was the boy allowed to roam on his own in an area where the Germans were known to store arms and supplies? Or as tipsier tongues had it, had the dog and the boy stumbled upon a network of caves decorated with unknown prehistoric drawings depicting the unthinkable, as at Lascaux? Did others, as folktales said, await their rendezvous?

The boy's eventual choice of career did nothing to dispel these rumors.

When, after a few years, the young man failed to report to duty, the family made great haste to declare their child dead and end the matter presumptively.

Though many years after the event, the caves were promptly declared a public hazard and dynamited. Even its entrance was thoroughly effaced and wholly subtracted from public record, lest it become the locale of tales and ghost stories.

Books: Robbe-Grillet, Lucien et Sultan, Cahaix, Les Dormeurs dans la Terre


Of history’s great dogs, surely one of the greatest was Fala, FDR’s beloved Scotch Terrier, whose presence at the signing of the Atlantic Charter places him at the scene not only of America’s entry into the Second World War, but as one of the architects of the post-war order. Fala’s very public role in politics, as the host of public relations films showing a day at the White House to his integral role in rebuffing FDR’s critics founded and invented a critical role for the First Dog that every White House pet has followed on, but never equaled.

However, Fala’s very loyalty to his president is the tragedy of his downfall, the scandal of which, too, has no equal.

Fala truly could not accept FDR’s passing, a death that cruelly bereft him of seeing the war he had so foreseen and fought so bravely come to an end. Unlike the cunning Japanese Akita previously discussed, Fala genuinely expected and wished his master’s return.

For all his loyalty and canine instincts, Fala did not truly understand the democratic process. When Harry S. Truman came into office, Fala could only see the former vice-president as a usurper and murderer. Even living at Val-Kill, Eleanor herself was to report the little dog sulking about, Hamlet-like, brooding on a perceived un-righted wrong.   

This much, at least, is undisputed and documented historical fact. As for Fala’s tragic downfall, many observers would agree that Fala continued to make trouble for the Truman administration. From McCarthyism to general strikes, there seemed to be no side that could not find a fierce, scrappy ally in Fala, as long as they challenged Truman. Yet, in as much as some conspiracy theorists would associate him with Torresola and Collazo, firm evidence is lacking.  The former First Dog spent his remaining days at some distance from Washington, or anywhere Truman went. He died only three years later.

His rehabilitation followed immediately with his interment next to his beloved master, for whom he may have been willing to bite anything, even high treason.

Books: Fala: Architect of the New World Order, The Littlest Traitor