Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Operation Pandora's Box

On 22 February 1974, paranoid and embittered office supply salesman Sam Byck shot and killed an airport security guard at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, stormed onto Delta Airlines Flight 523 and attempted to hijack and fly the DC-9 into the White House. When the pilots told him they could not take off until the wheel brakes had been removed, he shot them both, grabbed a woman passenger and demanded that she fly the plane. Of course, he was thwarted in his ambition to kill President Richard Nixon, and shot himself fatally in the head whilst still on the plane. Six months after the bungled assault -- codenamed Operation Pandora's Box by Byck himself -- Nixon resigned from office.

Director Niels Mueller has revived this footnote in history, and in The Assassination of Richard Nixon has produced a character study with a tightly-wound Sean Penn terrifically evoking the role of an alienated and socially-inept divorcee with a rigid notion of right and wrong and a life that is falling apart.

The would-be assassin's job is failing, his marriage is over, his children are sullen, he can't get a loan to start a tire business, his country is fighting in Vietnam, his President lies from every TV screen, and even his dog doesn't seem to care whether he is dead or alive. Penn's character blames all his problems on Richard Nixon's presidency, and becomes so frustrated with the little Dick -- "He made us a promise, he didn't deliver, then he sold us on the exact same promise and he got elected again" -- that he visits his local Black Panther office and tries to persuade them to rename themselves the Zebras and admit white members.

Penn's character will never be as bleak, compelling or provocative as that other obsessive loner De Niro's Travis Bickle, but the escapism this movie afforded me was just what the doctor ordered last night to help me through a particularly stressful couple of days. Of course, the peach bellinis we quaffed and salmon fishcakes we wolfed down afterwards at Galileo's helped lots too!


+ "Overheated and overacted, but very watchable for all that." Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.

+ "There's no discernible point to 'The Assassination of Richard Nixon', no sense of larger purpose, the film has only craft and technique to recommend it." The New York Times (reg. req.)

Other links today:

+ On cruise control: How to get out of a life rut. "As human beings, we made it through the process of evolution because we're flexible and adaptable, so we are wired for change. When we're in a rut, it's another way of saying that we're not experiencing enough change or variety. It can be easier to stay with what feels familiar, rather than take the initiative to make adjustments. However, if you face your fears, experiment with new approaches, and then take consistent action, no matter how small the steps, you will feel a sense of empowerment and increase your confidence."

+ iPod killers? "Mobile phones that rock, jam, thunder, and swing are on the way. Wireless operators around the globe are working with music studios, phone makers, and artists in a sweeping effort to turn the mobile phone into a go-anywhere digital jukebox."

+ Knowing when to log off: Wired campuses may be causing information overload. "There's the real danger that one is absorbing and responding to bursts of information, rather than having time to think. What's only gradually becoming clear is not just a pragmatic drawback but an intellectual drawback to having so many trees that there's no possibility of seeing the forest." Surely this should be the point of Adbusters' Turn Off TV Week?

+ Why literature matters. "The percentage of Americans reading literature is declining. The decline in reading has consequences that go beyond literature. The significance of reading has become a persistent theme in the business world. The February issue of Wired magazine, for example, sketches a new set of mental skills and habits proper to the 21st century, aptitudes decidedly literary in character: not linear, logical, analytical talents, but the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative. When asked what kind of talents they like to see in management positions, business leaders consistently set imagination, creativity, and higher-order thinking at the top."

+ The holy war: Mac vs Dos by Umberto Eco:

"I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant.

"The Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach -- if not the kingdom of Heaven -- the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.

"DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment."

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