The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953)

Listen, stranger. Let me give you some advice, up front, free, off the record. Get the hell away from me, away from this table, away from this bar, away from this city. It’s no good here. It never was. What do I mean? I can explain it to you, but I advise against listening. It’s a dangerous story. No, you won’t hear anything that’ll get your head caved in as you make a wrong turn coming out your driveway. It’s a different kind of dangerous—a more dangerous kind. If you know what I mean.

You sure you want to stay and listen? Because I’ll tell you. All of it. Every last rotting piece of it. It’s good for me to tell it. That’s what my psychiatrist would say. You ever been to see one of those head shrinkers. Actually, never mind, kid. You just have to buy me a drink to help me get over my conscience, and I’ll talk. Talk, talk, talk. Little poisoned knives through your ear and into your heart, that’s what words are. You know, twenty years ago I had a kid just like you. A daughter. She’s off somewhere now, married, working, happy. Doesn’t keep in contact. I don’t blame her. What, a grudge? Yeah, something like that. Something exactly like that.

vlcsnap-2071077

My name? My name’s Dave Bannion. B-a-n-n-i-o-n.

Since I already said I had a daughter—that’s right, I said had. I don’t insist on keeping people past when they want to be kept. I should start by saying I also had a wife, a house, a car, and a nice, cushy job working in the police. I was a detective, with a badge and a gun. What? No, I don’t have the badge any more. About the gun? I already said I don’t have the badge any more.

Back then, my job was to keep justice, keep the status quo. That’s Latin, by the way. Why don’t you write it down? No, you don’t need a pen. Write it down in your head. Anyway, it was an easy enough job, and the pay was enough to keep us decent enough to be able to enjoy each other’s company and keep us happy. But then it all started to unravel. Maybe that’s the wrong word, there. Unravel. Because string unravels. And this wasn’t string. My life wasn’t string. My life didn’t unravel. My life cracked, like a whip. Fast and vicious and stinging.

It began run-of-the-mill. At least as far as crime runs. A suicide. A suicide by one of the higher-ups in the police department, someone I had seen once or twice but didn’t know, a man by the name of Duncan. But a suicide nevertheless. He left behind his wife, an elegant woman named Bertha. Bertha Duncan.

vlcsnap-2070964

I met this wife, now a widow, after the suicide, and what she told me made enough sense to get me to sleep at night, get me to believe the official story, get me to lay off. Duncan killed himself because he was a sick man, she said. I believed her.

But I kept digging around. Don’t ask me why, I just did. Maybe it’s intuition, maybe something else. Luck, coincidence? No, it’s not coincidence. I don’t believe in coincidence. Sometimes we make choices at fateful moments and we call those moments coincidences. But it’s not coincidence, it’s choice. You say you’re here by coincidence? You’re not, and I can tell you that much, kid. In this case, though, I kept digging because I wanted to keep digging, because I chose to keep digging. I could have stopped, but I didn’t. And I dug where you have to dig to get the real dirt. In the gutters.

Eventually, I pulled out a nice-looking piece of trash named Lucy. Or was it Faye? No, it was Lucy. Lucy, all right. Lucy as clear as day.

vlcsnap-2055116

And Lucy starts telling me that she and Duncan had been having some fun in the sun at his summer home away from home, away from his wife, if you know what I mean. Which is none of my police business, and I tell her as much. But Duncan, this Lucy tells me, wasn’t a sick man. Not sick at all. Just finished finalizing his divorce too. And there’s your clink. The official story now has a wrench stuck in it. The gears that were moving all greased up are bending out of shape. And I got a choice. Do I buy this girl’s story or do I pretend it’s rubbish and keep my hands off the whole deal even if it stinks? Well, I let off.

vlcsnap-2056550

Until this same girl, Lucy, turns up dead. Thrown from a speeding car, all bruised up and battered, cigarette burns all over. Just real worked over. Meanwhile, I try to raise a bit of a fuss about this and suddenly my superiors, ain’t that a fine word, start telling me to keep my voice down on account it’s a small city and voices carry far. Do your job, they tell me. Except my job is to do justice. And now two people are dead, things are going all fishy, and everywhere I turn I get angry glances and sweating foreheads. That’s symptoms of injustice. Your job is to follow orders, they even clarify for me, in case I had gotten mixed up in the purpose of my noble occupation. Thanks, I say, and I go home. It stinks a lot less at home if you’ve got a good home, and I’ve got a good home.

The whip’s pulled back now. I can’t see it, but it’s stretched up above my house as I’m eating dinner and talking to my wife. I spill everything to her too. I always did. Maybe it’s my conscience that’s bothering me, I don’t know. That’s what she says in not as many words. Real curt, she was. I don’t know much about those kinds of things, but I know women, and I trusted that one more than a man can trust his own shadow to show up in the morning. She reassures me. You’re doing the right thing, go with what you think is right, don’t compromise. I feel good. I feel good about digging around in garbage if it leads to something cleaner. Even if I get hassled for it.

So I don’t compromise. Very next day I go straight to the dark heart of corruption of our foul city—the honourable Mr. Lagana presiding, over his daughter’s social gathering. He’s got about ten beat cops doing rounds on his driveway too. Tax money for his own personal protection. Ain’t that funny? And funny how once you decide that something’s corrupt you know exactly where to go, too, no? Just follow your nose. Problem is everyone’s got too many flowers in their gardens. Just planting them day after day after day. A city overflowing with flowers is what we got. Red roses covering the streets, flying out of open windows. Even paint comes in flowers nowadays. And it’s all to kill the putrid smell that’s everywhere. The smell of corruption. Because no one wants to clean it up. It’s enough to cover up. We’re living in a giant cover-up born of laziness and complacency, as the dictionary calls it. At least we were back then, when I paid Mr. Lagana a visit, during his daughter’s social gathering.

vlcsnap-2072280

The visit doesn’t last long. I lose my cool, I say some things that expose a bit of the stink. And I get a beefed-up henchman loosed on me. I give him a few hooks to the side of the face and he gets the dizzies and sits down. I show myself out, thank you very much, but I’ve made my intentions public now. I’m going to dig into this mess with Duncan and Lucy and Lagana knows it. He knows more than I do too. He knows it’s a much deeper hole than just two people. And he knows he’s right at the bottom of the hole if I ever find a flash light strong enough to shine that far down.

Soon enough the harassment starts. My wife gets obscene phone calls, real nasty stuff. I know who it’s coming from, but what can I do? I’ve been bullied before, and it doesn’t work on me so I figure I stick it out. I’m out of my depth, though, this time. Yeah, this time I’m messing with too much money and too much power. And I have no one to back me up. My cop friends are telling me to cool it and the rest of the world’s staring down at its feet while it twaddles around each and every day for its turn at the water fountain. If I go down, there’s no one to mourn for me. Maybe I’ll even commit suicide, like Duncan. That’s a clean way to do it. For a bunch of dirty men they sure like their killing clean.

But they don’t do it clean. And they don’t do it to me.

vlcsnap-2054537

I’m in my daughter’s room reading her a story and my wife’s going out to the car, the bedroom window’s open and as I read the silly words in the silly book and my daughter laughs I hear the car door close and then I hear the car turn and then I see and hear the explosion. It’s over in seconds. The window shatters. I tell my daughter to keep low and I run outside to the car but I’m too late. My wife’s already dead. Already dead. “She’s on a trip,” I tell my daughter later. “Mom’s on a trip.”

This part I can’t explain to you. They’ll just be silly words to you, like a story about four bears on a picnic. So I won’t try. It doesn’t matter anyway. This part’s personal, it’s mine, it belongs to me and me only. All you need to know is that I knew I was going to hunt these men down, erase them, annihilate them. I didn’t have to do it. But I chose to. It’s like your hand. You can do anything with it, and sometimes you make fists.

Now, if you know anything about corruption, it won’t surprise you that as soon as I walked in the old police station the next morning, I was taken away to the biggest office in the building and checked for loyalty. This is the party line, the chief told me, now repeat after me. I didn’t repeat and they took my badge. Rather, I tossed it on their table, between their cups of coffee or piss or whatever they drink. But not my gun. No, not my gun. I paid for that myself.

Investigations like this take time. But I give a lot of mine and I make progress. I track down some mechanics, checking for the punks who took ten dimes to fill my car with dynamite. Problem is that even when I get somewhere where the air’s all fouled up, no one talks. That’s right, they keep quiet, mum. They’ve got to make a living, and eyes and ears and mouths, if they get opened too often, aren’t good for business, aren’t good for making livings.

vlcsnap-2059543

Maybe I understand that, maybe I don’t. Maybe if I was in their place I’d play blind. But I’m not in their place. I’m in my place. And I’m as far from blind as you can get with two eyes. I get a name. Larry. Larry who wears lots of colours. That’ll do. That’ll do just fine.

There’s a woman too. Vince Stone’s girl. Did I tell you about Vince Stone? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. He was a hood, a ruthless one-in-a-hundred goon who’d follow orders so long as he had some of his own to give too. And, like every other rotten punk in that rotten city, his orders came from Lagana.

But this girl, name of Debby Marsh, she thought she had it all figured out living it up real ritzy with Vince Stones’ dirty money. Of course, she didn’t think about the money. Left the room when the boss came in, she told me. Didn’t want to hear the truth by some accidental trick of acoustics, so she just shut the door and went out to get her legs waxed. Just cared about the clothes and the expensive life. “I been rich and I been poor,” she told me once, “and rich is better.” Not that I really blame her. They were all like that. Content to turn the other ear.

Beyond that, though, she was a real sweetheart. Real pretty, on the outside and on the in, if you know what I mean. Had a real change of heart too, after Vince Stone got a little feisty one night and introduced her pretty young face to several cups of hot coffee.

vlcsnap-2058196

Vince was like that, always looking to do some meanness to someone who couldn’t defend themselves. Especially to pretty women. Debby’s face—it got burned real bad. Or half of it. But must have been the half that lived the rich life, because after she got herself all bandaged up at the hospital she came straight to see me, in tears, mad at Vince, mad at herself, mad at life, and she wasn’t so content to turn the other ear. “I could live my life sideways,” she said, on account of half her face being scarred. Which might right well be true. Except that when you’re living sideways there’s no other ear to turn to. You have to change your whole philosophy of life.

vlcsnap-2059203

Now I got a theory about scars. Big scars, scars you can’t miss. You see, I think everyone’s scarred, somewhere, from something. Only difference is that some people got theirs on the outside and others on the inside, and the inside scars don’t show up until you get close to the people who have them, get to know them, get to love them. Me? Sure, I got mine, just like everybody else. I’m no better than the rest, other than that I exercise my free will a bit freer. And, yeah, mine aren’t on the outside. You see, no person has both kinds of scars. It’s one or the other. Real neat, like tick or tack, not tick-tack. So when that hot coffee burned up Debby’s skin, the scar got up and moved itself from the inside to the out, just like that, overnight. Bang.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking right now. But it wasn’t anything like that. There was nothing between us other than a mutual, burning hate. For Vince Stone, for Lagana, for the whole stinking lot of them, with everyone in their pocket and eating the crumbs they dropped, as if we were all children who just reached up to their knees, and licking the leather soles of their shoes for desert. Sure, a pretty dame’s a pretty dame, and I like pretty dames, but I also love my wife. Besides, hate hits a man no different than a bucket of cold water, if you know what I mean.

Do you still want me to continue? Yeah? How about I buy the next round then? I feel guilty taking your money like that. You said you were a fireman, didn’t you? No? I thought you did. Not that it matters. I’m paying for these next ones.

So, anyway, this Debby girl, half-cheerful and half-cuckoo at the best of times, now spends some days in my hotel room, just cowering in the shadows like some sort of bat caught up in the attic, just curled up and dodging all the light that comes in. On account of the eyes too. The burns made one of them real sensitive to light. I want to make her feel better, but what do I do? I don’t feel good myself. Finally, I decide to start to keep her informed about the case, passing on details, running ideas off her. I figure if she’s sticking to me, I might as well make her useful. And she soaks it all up, downs it like it’s water and she’s just come out of the desert after forty days, if you know what I mean.

The real break comes when I finally track down rainbow Larry. Turns out to be a mac named Larry Gordon. Like all the rest of the scum, he works straight out for Lagana. No surprise there. A sweet old lady identifies him for me, and then I bust into his room and put the hurt on him. Not real bad, just enough to make him talk. Around the throat. He tries some funny stuff, but he’s not much of a joker. And it doesn’t take me long to get what I need.

vlcsnap-2060424

And all the time I have my gun pointed right at his heart, at where it should be, and once he stops squawking he starts trembling and I don’t lower my gun but just keep it trained on him, right on him, my finger right over the trigger and stroking it like you stroke a woman’s hair. I know that this is the bastard that killed my wife and I swear to God I feel like letting that bullet fly right into his chest. Except I don’t. Not because I’m not like them—because I am, and so are you, and so is everybody else—but because I make the choice not to. It’s all about choice. Besides, once word gets out that rainbow Larry Gordon spilled his guts, they’ll get spilled for real by his own people, his own pack. This is what I’m thinking. And it was true. And I don’t regret it.

What did I learn? Everything. What I learned was the glass key to the iron lock on the rusted door to the whole operation. When I get back to the hotel and start remembering and putting pieces together, I realize I have enough to set loose Lagana’s white-knuckle-tight grip on the entire city, for good. And it all rests on Bertha Duncan, the dead policeman’s widow, if you remember the name. Turns out she’s on the payroll, on Lagana’s payroll. Why? Because the good cop that Duncan was, before unloading one into his brain, left enough paperwork to expose all of Denmark! Every corruption, every dirty deed that Lagana ever ordered can be traced back to him. And Lagana’s paying the greedy widow off, every week, so she keeps the paper trail all locked up, real neat, real cold. Plus, the kicker is that the old dame’s smart, and she knows the first thing Lagana would do is get rainbow Larry or Vince Stone to pay her a little visit in the early hours of the morning, if you know what I mean. So she makes this convenient arrangement. If she dies, the papers go public. If she’s alive, they stay buried along with Mr. Duncan and she takes her cut. She’d rather be rich than poor, as Debby would say.

And I’m in a rut now. I don’t know what to do. I have it all figured out, all crystal right in front of my eyes so close I can breathe on it, but I have to kill the old woman to make it work. It’s like the dominoes are all set, but I have to knock the first oner over to get the rest falling. I even drive over to her house, steeling myself, promising myself that when I get there I’ll get her to confess, make her feel right awful about what she’s done, and get her to beg me to kill her, so I can shoot her right there in her own stinking living room, the one she pretends to mourn her dead husband in every day of the week, like a little round of daily theatre for the neighbours. I tell myself that’ll make it easy. But it ain’t easy. I don’t do it.

Like I said before, life’s just a case of exercising your free will more or less than the next guy. In this particular time and place, I didn’t score so high. But Debby, she exercised her free will all the way. All the crooked way up the road to Bertha Duncan’s neatly-pruned home and through a bullet right into Bertha Duncan’s belly. That’s what I said, yeah. Debby shot Bertha Duncan. Shot her dead.

vlcsnap-2058505

Then she took her free will and her gun and brought it over to Vince Stone’s place. Just like that. I guess she had time to boil the water too, because Vince Stone got a jug full of it right in the face. Payback, real clever. But she didn’t get him good enough with the water, or else Vince Stone was more than playing at tough guy, because by the time I got there it was almost all over for darling, half-crazy Debby. She’d gone and sprawled herself on Vince Stone’s carpet with blood pouring out her stomach and a piece of led that wasn’t doing a good job keeping it in her body.

You’re asking about Vince Stone? Yeah, I took him down. Didn’t kill him, just pulled his scarred face down from the fire escape by the legs and was putting the business to his ribs when the cops came in.

vlcsnap-2053320

Do I regret not popping him? No, not too much. I regret Debby. That’s what I regret. Sure we called a doctor, but he only gave warning on the end of the line when he got there, didn’t offer any solutions for stopping the train, if you know what I mean. And I looked right at her face when she died, and I knew she was worth the whole lot of them who were still alive even though she had done wrong herself. She asked me if she was dying before she did and, knowing she was a girl who went for the cleverness more than the weepy stuff, I told her that if I told her she’d live a hundred more years she’d have thought I was fooling her. Then she died.

And I’ll tell you something else that’s important, that you should write down. Debby Marsh died sideways, exactly like she told me she wanted to live. She died with the good side of her face up.

vlcsnap-2053777

That’s how people are with their scars. Most of us live front-to-back, just like I’m looking at you now, living both with our scars and without them. We aren’t real good or real bad, just people. But then there’s people who make the choice to live sideways—it’s all about the choice, isn’t a thing we’re born or not born into, earn or don’t earn into—and they’re the special ones. Some of them live with their scar-side, people like Vince Stone and Lagana and rainbow Larry. But others, the few of them, live with their good side, like Debby Marsh.

Now, I know you’re thinking that Debby went and shot the late Mrs. Duncan in cold blood like a good person shouldn’t properly do if they want to keep on being a good person, as the vicar would say, but—but nothing!

You’ve gotten one too many drinks in me, kid. I’m starting to ramble on, real on-and-on like. Vomiting words. Maybe I’ll have a hangover tomorrow morning and it’ll be my jaw that hurts, and not my head. Am I done? Why, am I boring you with my life? Oh, I see, kid. People always want to know how things turn out.

Sure, I got my job back. Sure, Lagana and Vince Stone went to jail or the penitentiary or the cozy, comfy heated chair they reserve for some of us. I’m not sure which name matches up with which destination, though. I never followed the legal chatter along in the papers, and I was never asked to testify against the foul character or putrid activities of the men in question. As for Larry Gordon, he got the cigarette treatment, of that I’m sure. No, I don’t have any proof other than a born-again faith in the uncorrupted nature of the justice system of men like Lagana. No one gets a reprieve from the executioner in that court of law.

What’s so hard to understand, kid? I laugh about this stuff all the time now. No, not about my wife. That’s different. Like I said, I don’t talk about that. Talk is cheap, so I like to spend it on the Laganas, even the Debby Marshes, but not on anything real dear to me, see. But Vince Stone and Larry Gordon, what do I care what ever befell their blasted fates. No, kid, you’re wrong. You don’t care, either. No one cares. Do you know why? Because everyone knows it doesn’t make a camel lick’s difference in the great scheme of things.

I know Lagana’s gone, kid. But I also know he’s still here. His name’s just not Lagana any more. Maybe it’s Smith, or Fisheye Moses, or Johnson W. Brown. And just like that there’s another Vince Stone. And another Larry Gordon. And there’s a pair in each city, like a pair of shoes in each closet. And more than one pair in some. And a thousand more behind those. Only thing that changes is the names.

vlcsnap-2057378

I told you my story’s dangerous. Remember that? Well, you should have cut my head off before I finished telling it. Now you’re doomed. Doomed like everyone else. Doomed to spend your nights in bars, slamming your empty glass against the table until you’re numb enough to smell the flowers all over the streets. In here,too. Can you smell them? They smell good, don’t they? Enjoy the smell. Enjoy it, because the price for digging up the roots isn’t worth the trouble. Ain’t worth the trouble at all.

Cat in an Empty Flat

Here is my English translation of Polish poet and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Wisława Szymborska’s poem “Kot w pustym mieszkaniu”.

To die—one doesn’t do that to a cat.
For what’s a cat to do
in an empty flat.
Scale the walls.
Snuggle between furniture.
It seems nothing’s changed here,
yet it’s been rearranged.
Seems unmoved,
yet slid apart.
And in the evenings the lamp no longer flickers.

Steps heard on the stairs,
but not those.
A hand that puts fish on a plate,
Not that which put.

Something doesn’t begin
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should.
Someone’s been here and been
then suddenly vanished
and is tenaciously absent.

All closets have been peered into.
All shelves have been run.
Carpets squeezed under and checked.
Even broke the rule
and scattered papers.
What more is there to do.
Sleep and wait.

Just let him come back,
just let him show his face.
Oh, he’ll find out,
that one can’t do this to a cat.
Take a walk in his direction,
as if one didn’t care,
slowly,
on very offended paws.
And with no leaps squeaks, in the beginning.

—Wisława Szymborska
(Translation by me)

Young Eisenstein

A few years ago I read Polish poet Aleksander Wat’s My Century, a kind-of memoir edited from a series of taped conversations Wat had with the poet Czesław Miłosz in the 1960s. Something that caught my eye then:

YoungEisenstein

In 1941, after being arrested in Poland and herded from prison to prison across various Soviet-controlled territories and finally into Lubyanka in Moscow, Wat found himself in Alma Ata (now Alamaty), Kazakhstan, starving, searching for his wife and son, and in the company of mostly Russian intellectuals who helped him survive. One of these intellectuals, Viktor Shklovsky the formalist, who was especially close to Wat, hosted meetings in his room. Among infrequent guests was that most-famous of famous Soviet filmmakers:

Eisenstein used to come sometimes too, a fantastic person in a demonic sort of way. His eyes. When he looked at you, you knew you were being photographed. But he did that with his soul; it wasn’t just physical. Strange eyes—I’d never seen anything like them.

The above photo, taken from an old Polish film journal, shows a much younger Eisenstein than Wat encountered, but the eyes still seem to photograph, don’t they? I wonder if the best filmmakers experience the world at 24 frames per second, constantly directing their own lives—and the lives of those around them—as they would a script. If so, they must be meticulous about framing, editing: always trying to see everything from the best angles, making sure their lives have a good visual rhythm and flow.

The conversations were lively and Wat remembers talking about Western literature and film from the late 1930s, about which his Russian friends had little information. Communism and Stalin were neither condoned nor condemned, and it was considered impolite to go far in either direction. As for politics and history, Hitler’s war against the USSR had begun and:

They all believed the war would be won and things would change. Eisenstein showed up one or two times, no more than that. One time when Eisenstein was there the conversation was about the coming changes. There was a sort of sardonic sneer on Eisenstein’s face, that was all. I caught that sneer, or maybe I just imagined it.

Meanwhile, there was another cinematic figure who also attended these meetings in Shklovsky’s room:

shub

And there was Miss Shub, one of the founders of the avant-garde in film, Kinooka.

Esfir Shub, director and editor, worked with Dziga Vertov and is most well known for her 1927 film The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty.

A few pages later:

The atmosphere among my friends the writers was sexually charged. And there were some love affairs. Not dolce vita—there was no trace of that. It was Romantic in the Russian romantic style. But there were affairs. As for me, even though I was emaciated, a certain Miss Shub had designs on me, though none of that had had any reality for me at that time.

Wat engineers Shub shun.

Vinni-Pukh, Russia’s Winnie the Pooh

Between 1969 and 1972, Russian animator and filmmaker Fyodor Khitruk created three short films based on English author A. A. Milne’s beloved Winnie the Pooh character: Winnie Pooh (1969), Winnie Pooh Goes Visiting (1971), and Winnie Pooh and a Busy Day (1972).

The films are drawn in a different style than the well known Disney adaptations, the first of which (Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree) precedes Khitruk’s Winnie Pooh by three years. Notably, Khitruk’s backgrounds are highly stylized, sometimes in distorted perspective and vividly colourful rather than naturalistic; his characters, though easily cross-identifiable with Disney, are distinctly original; and Winnie the Pooh—in particular—has a slightly “off” personality: still cuddly, but less so, and more of a smart schemer than the innocent, yellow-furred, red-shirted “oh, bother” of the American imagination.

vlcsnap-894370

A map of the land, showing the important locations from Khitruk’s triology.

vlcsnap-894479

An early landscape shot from Winnie Pooh. Notice the flatness, the stylization of the paw prints on the winding path, and the mix of perspectives: top-down and side-view.

vlcsnap-894867

Pooh emerges from beyond the trees, singing his way down the path. Also from Winnie Pooh, this is one of the few times Khutrik creates depth.

vlcsnap-896362

A typical—but empty, because Pooh and Piglet haven’t walked into the frame yet—background. Perhaps more spare than most, it demonstrates Khitruk’s use of white as well as his expressive “messy” colouring style.

vlcsnap-895662

Some of the richest drawings are of the characters’ homes. This happens to be Pooh’s. We should be able to recognize the paw-lined path as the one from an earlier image. There’s a large keyhole on the wooden door, as well as flowers and a mushroom growing on the roof. The building is very earthy.

vlcsnap-895501

A similar style of home for Piglet, although more “grounded” in that there’s recognizable ground. Another keyhole adorns the door. On the window: two hearts, perhaps expressing Piglet’s good-natured, loving personality.

vlcsnap-895160

Now to meet the characters! Here’s Pooh—sitting under a tree, using logic to figure out that a buzzing tree means honey above. If you’re familiar with either Milne’s stories or the first Disney film, you’ll remember that Pooh eventually grabs a balloon and pretends to be a floating rain cloud in order to partake of some of that honey, which is guarded by a fearsome gang of bees.

vlcsnap-898662

Hello, Piglet. Notice the similar composition to the previous image: half the screen in white, the other in colour, the character in between.

vlcsnap-898373

Pooh and Piglet together, in one of the nicest shots of the trilogy. The characters and background come together to form an appealing whole. The greens at the top of the frame add a welcome coolness to what would otherwise be too brownish-red.

vlcsnap-898947

In Winnie Pooh Goes Visiting, we also meet Rabbit. Less angry, more dandy than in Disney, Rabbit also has a flower on the roof [of the upper part] of his house.

vlcsnap-901002

vlcsnap-901655

Completing Khitruk’s cast of characters are Eeyore and Owl, who both appear in Winnie Pooh and a Busy Day, which is twice as long as each of the first two films. Of all the characters, Eeyore is the most similar to the Eeyore most of us are used to seeing. He’s mopey, of course.

vlcsnap-898223

Still, it’s in his backgrounds that Khutrik most firmly stamps his imagination on the Pooh stories. Here, pink and blue clouds surround a red sun.

vlcsnap-898296

This hill-with-three-trees is particularly beautiful. The grass is divided into shapes of various colours and the branches look like they’re in bloom.

vlcsnap-900769

Something less characteristic is this close up on flowers. Distinct, yet keeping with Khutrik’s style. The dandelion draws the eye, but the richness is in the tangle of colours and pencil strokes behind.

vlcsnap-899645

Indoors are also drawn. In this shot, Pooh and Piglet visit Rabbit’s home in Winnie Pooh Goes Visiting.

vlcsnap-901465

And another home, though the owner will remain a mystery. The drawing is uncharacteristically dark, with few white highlights on the bed. Not ominous—even cozy—but natural, muddy, terrestrial. The textures are rougher than usual, too.

vlcsnap-900560

All good things come to an end: one of the most iconic Pooh illustrations brought to colourful life, as Pooh and Piglet walk hand-in-hand over the hill and far away. Notice the extreme stylization of the clouds, which doesn’t distract at all.

Until we meet again, Hundred Acre Wood.

Fare well.

 

How to Map an Argument

Araucaria-araucana1

This be an araucaria araucana tree, a.k.a. monkey puzzle tree

Today’s post is an attempt to use argument mapping software to help visualize and analyze an argument. The specific program I’m using is called Araucaria. It’s a free tool developed at the University of Dundee, but there are others. A spreadsheet can be used to create something similar, as can Photoshop (for something more presentable) or simply a pen and paper.

The downside of any of these methods is that the diagrams tend to get large and unruly as an argument grows more complex. The benefit is that by seeing an entire argument in distilled form we’re able to identify its strengths and weaknesses. This can help construct an argument of our own or identify where our opponent’s argument is most vulnerable to attack.

Example

Let’s create a simple situation related to movies. You and your friend are talking about African films. The conversation is chugging along, you agree on a number of points. Then you pose the question “Which national cinema in Africa is the best?” Your friend replies:

How is that even a question? It’s obvious that Egypt’s cinema is the best. They’ve made the most movies.

Diagrammed, the argument looks like:

africancinema-001

It has one premise and one conclusion. However, there is a second, unspoken but implicit, premise that we should also include in our diagram:

africancinema-003

Yet something seems off. As drawn, our diagram suggests that both premises, separately, support the conclusion. That’s wrong, so we do this:

africancinema-002

Notice that the two premises are now cumulative (which we show by selecting both arrows and then clicking on the program’s “Link” tool). Both need to be true for the conclusion to be true.

We may now create a basic strategy for defeating our friend’s argument: disprove one of his premises. But our first step may be to probe further and see how firm our friend’s ground is.

For example, we may challenge one of his premises by asking a question: “How do you know that Egypt’s cinema is the most prolific”? Questions are good because they don’t bind us to anything. In this case, they force our friend to either back up one of his premises or admit that he doesn’t know. If he doesn’t, all the better for us. But let’s say he does know, and answers:

It’s in a book by Doug Jones. But after I read that, I went on the IMDB and counted all the titles myself. He was right.

Our diagram grows:

africancinema-004

The two premises that support the conclusion (that Egyptian cinema is most prolific) are not cumulative. One reinforces the other and makes the conclusion stronger; but each, by itself, also leads to the conclusion. Hence, the arrows remain unlinked.

Let’s go on the offensive!

And create a rebuttal to the notion that Egyptian cinema is the most prolific cinema in Africa. Maybe we can make a strong case, and if we manage to convince our friend that he is wrong on this point his ultimate conclusion will also fail. We say:

Come on! Everyone knows that Nigeria makes tons of movies. Way more than Egypt. Nollywood is right up there with Bollywood and Hollywood in terms of output. And, yeah, most of that may be low quality stuff and on video, but I think it still counts as films and we have to take it into account.

So our diagram looks like:

africancinema-006

The software allows us not only to create and link premises and conclusion but also to assign “schemes” that illustrate what kind of reasoning is being used. In our case we referred to common knowledge, so we’ve chosen accordingly. Do you think our friend will admit that we are right and he is wrong? Not likely.

He will probably do what we did: question our premises (“It’s a funny kind of common knowledge if I didn’t know about it. Got any proof?”) and then rebut one of them to try to restore the flow of his original argument that we’ve so rudely disrupted. We’ll find a Wikipedia page to support our common knowledge claim, and then be faced with the following:

Actually, in that book by Doug Jones, he had a whole section on why video is not the same thing as a film and that the two shouldn’t be judged the same way. We may as well count home videos!

I’ve taken out the “scheme” and put in some ownership labels to help identify which rebuttal belongs to our friend and which is ours:

africancinema-007

Our Wikipedia page strengthens our claim that Nollywood makes more films than Egypt, but our friend has challenged our second premise (that “videos” are films) and, unfortunately, we need both premises to be true for our initial rebuttal to work. We could go on, possibly taking a look at the credibility of Doug Jones, on whose opinions our friend is rather heavily relying, but let’s admit defeat on this half of the argument and re-survey the entire situation:

africancinema-008

So back where we were, but now with “evaluation” labels to remind us of what (or rather where) to pursue the issue. The conclusion that Egyptian cinema is the most prolific may be rebuttable, but, after our initial attempt, it seems that that avenue is too much work and too well defended. Besides, we can take down the entire argument without touching that particular premise.

The premise that the most prolific cinema is the best cinema has the softer underbelly. We shall strike!

OK, fine, you’re right about Egypt making the most films, but this whole idea that quantity is quality doesn’t make sense. There are plenty of national cinemas, like the French and Japanese, that make less movies than, say, India, but their movies are on average better. They’re shown in more countries and they win more international awards. Plus, the best French and Japanese films are better than the best Indian ones. How many times has a Indian film won the Palme d’Or?

In sports, the the team that wins is the best team, not the one that competes the most times or plays the most games. The same thing here.

Thus:

africancinema-009

And so on…

Obviously, the diagram will never argue for you, but it will help you spot the good and the bad in both your own and other people’s arguments. And the act of creating the diagram, as much as the finished diagram itself, will help you grasp the structure of it. Sometimes it’s useful to realize that that long and elaborate chain of conclusions that you’ve come up with—it can be snipped right at the beginning.

(Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot)

dostoyevsky-the-idiotIn my endless fascination with punctuation, I discovered a neat detail in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot that concerns translation and the parenthesis.

Specifically, the issue concerns three uses of parentheses in two neighbouring paragraphs in a speech given by one character to another. So as not to quote a whole page of text twice, I will divide the text into two short passages.

The first translation of the first passage comes from the Penguin edition of The Idiot, translated by David McDuff:

“But how do you know what my feelings are? (Rogozhin smiled wryly again). Why, I may have never once felt remorse since that day, and yet you’ve already sent me your brotherly forgiveness.”

The second, older translation of the same passage comes from the Project Gutenberg version of the novel, translated by Eva Martin:

“What do you know about my feelings, eh?” (Rogojin laughed disagreeably.) “Here you are holding out your brotherly forgiveness to me for a thing that I have perhaps never repented of in the slightest degree.”

Although both versions contain parentheses, McDuff keeps his within the dialogue, whereas Martin sets hers visibly apart from the character’s speech by placing them between quotation marks. In both cases, however, it is clear that the information within the parentheses is not being said by the character; but, rather, is being conveyed by the narrator solely to the reader.

Things get more interesting in the next paragraph, as the same character’s speech continues.

McDuff translates the second passage as:

“Had you not raised your hand against me (which God turned away), how would I appear to you now? I mean, I did suspect you of it, the same sin, we felt the same! (And don’t frown! Oh, what are you laughing at?)

Martin translates it as:

“What should you think of me now if you had not raised your knife to me—the knife which God averted from my throat? I would have been guilty of suspecting you all the same—and you would have intended the murder all the same; therefore we should have been mutually guilty in any case. Come, don’t frown; you needn’t laugh at me, either.”

What Martin has included as the character’s actual words, McDuff treats as something more ambiguous. The parts in parentheses in McDuff’s translation could be words that are spoken, but they could also be the speaking character’s unspoken thoughts; or, if we remember by how McDuff used parentheses in the previous passage, they could be the narrator’s words to the reader.

If we do decide that the words in parentheses are the narrator’s, two differences emerge between translations. In McDuff,

  1. It is not the speaking character who states a belief in God and in divine intervention, but, instead, the narrator—an important difference.
  2. In the second set of parentheses, rather than one character speaking to another, the narrator is actually commenting, to the reader, on the speech given by the character: imploring the reader not to laugh.

I’m not sure what the passages read like in the original Russian (although I suspect Martin is the more faithful translator of the two) but what a difference a translation can make, and how rich in meaning parentheses can be!