martes, 26 de abril de 2011

What makes European cinema so unique?

This question was recently posted in an online forum, and indicates a true desire to learn more about the current state of cinema in the world today. But perhaps the question is framed incorrectly, and that framing shows a certain ethno- or culture-centricity on the part of the questioner.

Certainly each culture’s films are unique, and in the US, people tend to view US films as the standard – and all other films produced in the varied cultures of the world as ‘everything else.’

This perspective is a good place to start, and the reason so many people ‘position’ their arguments with relation to ‘American’ (read: made in USA) films is that the factory that is Hollywood churns them out and markets them, and so many ‘smaller’ cultures take in these (from their perspective) ‘foreign’ films, accepting them too as some kind of attainable or at least desirable ‘normal’ and then growing up with the Americanisation of their native culture as a fact of life.

No one is saying “why are European films so much better than Nigerian films” because the answer is quite obvious (if you’ve seen many Nigerian films – and I don’t mean to pick on them, it’s just that almost all of them are a bit behind the curve on filmic techniques, or were when last I checked; but the Nigerian film story is a fascinating story of its own).

Over the last four decades, it is quite true that European films and US films have grown much more alike, and there are several reasons for this. One is the marketplace itself: as Europeans saw that they actually could get films shown in the US, they started looking at what ‘Americans’ watched and then kind of mimicked some of what they saw (La Femme Nikita, et al).

And on the flip side, American filmmakers (mostly producers, it is true, but some directors too) saw the great European films and bought the rights and remade them by setting them in the US, in the process altering the stories as needed to make them work in US cities with US characters. I mention producers and directors – the directors chose largely to tell their own stories (Soderberg & Traffic, for instance) while the producers were much more happy to just remake a ‘successful’ or interesting film (The Toy, My Father the Hero, Three Men & a Baby, Three Fugitives, Fathers Day, etc etc) for the money that such a film might make in the US.

It seems that people look for facile answers, and often to facile questions, which is no way to educate oneself. To say that ‘Americans’ (meaning US) will lose their jobs if the films fail is no argument of worth, since there are plenty of ‘Americans’ (meaning US) who turn out drek and lose their jobs, who turn out good films and still lose their jobs, and who turn out drek and keep their jobs.

Films are made for a variety of reasons, some of which are:  just to spend a little money keeping someone busy, to pay back a favor, to balance the terms of a contract (“Gee, Steven Soderberg, make Oceans 12 and we’ll give you the budget to make your art film”), to keep someone from being able to be available for a rival studios big film, etc etc.

And the fact that Hollywood is a very small town, a factory town, should not be lost in the shuffle. The market drives American films. The market. That is why they play it safe, that is why they remake drek, that is why they take old crap from the TV vault and make into the next hoped-for summer blockbuster, that is why they look at something and say, “Well, the original was a hit, so this will be a hit.” Many of my friends and I agree that if they were serious filmmakers, they would take a failed film from the 40s or 50s or 60s and remake it – and make it better. That is to say, they would take something that ‘could have been a contender’ and made it hit the mark.

Hollywood has always dealt in remakes – from the very first handful of movies, they were copying each other (and themselves), remaking things that were popular. One of the first films was a camera tied to the front of a train and sent down a mountain (France? Switzerland?). Then it was done in the US. Then somewhere else. One historical document is a film made from the front of a streetcar heading down Market Street just days before the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. Streams of cowboy movies, the war movies (when the film industry was used as a propaganda arm of the US government during WWI and WWII), then gangster movies, then more war movies.

In Hollywood in the first 20 years of the 1900s, they would remake the same film two or three times in a five-year period. Later, they remade the ‘Maltese Falcon’ story TWICE before they made The Maltese Falcon (what a relief that Walter Huston finally got it right). And the market is what is driving that impulse to remake movies. When you are trying to satisfy an audience, it is an extremely fine line between giving them something they are comfortable with (that is the first part of attraction – and a reason that stars are type-cast) and giving them novelty (if it’s stale or a cliché, they’ll stay away, right?). And the bean-counters are always fiscally conservative.

But be clear on one thing. No one, not in Hollywood or Bollywood or China or Europe or South America, ever goes to a moneyman and says, “I want to make a piece of crap.” And yet that kind of movie keeps getting made, doesn’t it?

No one in US says, “Those silly French, making art – let’s make drek and make a killing.”

No – what they say is this: “The major US demographic sector watching movies is 14 - 24 year old males, and those people want to see breasts, cars, exploding things, and preferably all together. If we make that and show it to them, they will buy lots and lots of popcorn and we will make our money back, and perhaps some extra money to cover that piece of crap that what’s-his-name made, trying to do art, the loony bastard.”

I think that this perspective is aptly called “a race to the bottom.”

In Europe and elsewhere, they say, “Kids will watch whatever they will watch, but we are actually educated and think real thoughts that make real sense (unlike in the US where they are told that they are thinking when they are actually repeating something they’ve heard or read in a magazine). And we have an audience to please that includes a lot of adults and women too, so let’s make this movie from the great script that Francois wrote. The kids can always watch that merde from the USA, non?”

I may be wrong, but that’s the way I’ve seen it play out...

© 2011 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.


Strange as it sounds, I really believed I knew something about the human heart, as if a few romantic comeuppances... together with a taste for opera, sufficed to give me Stendhalian credentials. – James Merrill

Is it not


We stumble

through life, each thinking

mine the lone tragedy,

this pain like none other,

none ever felt quite this way before....

thinking her heart alone

the human heart.

How young the young ...

and my own romantic comeuppances.

A girl who loved me more than


but could not cross the space

to become the woman who knew how to love

the animal I was:

In her leaving

she took that terrible absence with her

trading another absence in its place.

" che non trouvo attia – ma non che trasu."

Or another girl, this one

torn from the light

and I put her in the ground,

her family staring: a pale young man

broken on

a casket covered with roses

and roses

and my life blanketed by

the petals of her memory,

her touch,

the whispers

crushed by our own confusion

and her lust for speed.

"...e una commedia, lo so,

ma questa angoscia eterna pare!"

My second wife I

ran over with the old green pickup,

her ragged screams drowned in

the engine's high whine

back and forth

the wheels crushing her fine ribcage


and again


only in my fever dreams

tossing east to west


night after night

after night.

" alba vincera."

My younger life so operatic…

characters arranged exactly,

their exits

their entrances timed with careful


to the phrasing of this or that aria

I chose to sing.

"...mi destino in la palma de mi mano

la gitana lo leyo."


would a wife of mine ever ride

to the funeral with my mistress

holding in their laps

between them

my severed head?

© 2011 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.

miércoles, 6 de abril de 2011

Posed Perfectly in Dreams

Had some i
nterest lately in my poetry, from folks who are into a rough-diamond look at the flow of the streets and alleys of the world that surrounds us, as well as the paths of my creative reportage on the slippage and drift of our culture.

And the news is that my 1992 book Posed Perfectly in Dreams is available again after being OP for a decade and a half. The work here work that "takes risks," in the words of poet (and Blood Countess Bathory scholar) Robert Peters. Poet (and bebop verbal stylist) Michael C Ford notes that the work "coaxes onto an inside track, where eventual wreckage awaits the runaway train of our emotional lives."

cache of the printed-on-nonbleached-recycled-paper slim blue volumes was unearthed recently by one of the publishers, so no one has to go without a solid poetry fix any longer.

This book was published at what many consider the height of the poetry scene in Los Angeles, when poetry nights sprang up almost everywhere, from empty sidestreet storefronts and Valley vinyl stores to chi-chi westside nightspots peopled by the literati and glitterati of the day (and often of the minute), to readings in the runoff channel under the Sixth Street bridge and on the upper reaches of the Los Angeles City Hall.

Even the old Venice Jail became an art gallery where readings jumped off, and a few poems in this book actually describe some of the poetry events and characters from that time at the edge of the continent.

Dedications of poems are to my friends and fine poets Lee Mallory, Lisa Rafel, Tommy Swerdlow, Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, and Scott Wannberg, as well as to a few non-poets and at least one hanger-on.

All books have two pieces of laid-in artwork one by librettist/director Phillip Littell and one by respected artist Sylvia Hamilton Goulden. And the numbered copies have an extra little bonus: a poem dedicated to Wannberg bound in on a gatefold page (the poem, 'Love Story,' is not included in the trade editions).

Posed Perfectly in Dreams is now on sale, via internet only, at 15 bucks a copy for the trade edition & $30 each for the numbered and signed copies (signatures of the author, the editor, and by Andrei Rozen, the talented Russian photographer who produced the surrealish cover photo).

Author will sign and dedicate each copy. Add 3 bucks for postage. Please email to at cinesource(at) to order your autographed copy and get payment directions.

leatherback patti awoke

The spamporn poem tells the story of Leatherback Patti and Leonard Stopwatch, and how his infidelity at the gym one day causes her to take a surprising lover, affecting their life.

Every line of this poem is taken from the subject line of spam received in my email box.

Found in italic, some of the words have been altered, or words added, in only 29 of the 142 lines and 438 words of the poem.


looking for some vigorous activity,
But panting. what continuation cultivable,
miner prostitution
hegelian buddhism
tension narcosis
Proclivity to servitude

leonard stopwatch
did wakeup on feast romanesque
insensitively elemental
he wanted his
Quill in miranda
But her childish features were enlivened by a broad grin of
nonsensical pretty love

Although the usual treatment would be to place a tube, or shunt, in her
his bit needed
operating linkers
a ridiculous blur
he dubbed against it
her need, it rips
Life is a joy, enjoy your life!

he Met this skinny slut working out at the gym.
Your perfect low carb combo->
Milfs tò méét!
For talk the bluff custard:
“Hi again” -
Selena said “hi”
“whats up ?-)”
grenade romantically
“Chéck ðut these” she said,
position available.
“new schedule?”
smile in wolves and lasso
enrogue tricky working
philosophies oscillating…
how come no one asked me...?
I just found out about her
something unusual…

to leonard stopwatch
Only one thought appeared logical and probable and that was
“I never pass up a chance to get a handjob!”
So exciting
s watch so breaststroke
haunch chemistry
Make her worship you!
joy, enjoy…
therefore, here we come!
splatter soft
ascendancy eyelid
A Tough Question for
cassock, My shady past
Which drink so psychotic
smegma sorbet!

And later smoke or shortie
Love has been Set Free!
Barbie, Ken should have used these
They're waiting for you
leonard stopwatch
Re: remnant, Re: “my wife
She is the most wonderful woman in the world,
leatherback patti”

at home
leatherback patti,
a solo analyst,
shows epidermis lightweight:
“Watch this detail
you tell my content…
You never message me anymore!
Make me worship you!
Or cancel my raja”
her meaty jealousy
cubbyhole glint latitude
con tantrum
stopcock rendition…

leonard stopwatch
identifies certain
verse, or shagging
his wife,
“I’ll do the disappointed

she answers
“deceive, and separate –
don't forget to bring this along on your next date!
how come no one asked me?
sovereign, Women everywhere will love you!
Everything you are looking for
Hõrny lõcàls...
a weekend booty call
Typically, offer a
whole area.
you want to look cool with incidental intrusion,
so fly, longwinded balsam
I want her matching –
Make her worship you!
premier deleterious,
No one deserves...
Insignificance, off-key

and Ruth says, pizzicato,
“keep up the good work
so go prettily
accommodate hunches
and without any expression.
fits existence.
make fate a clothesline
about celebration…
in grave try sandpaper,
detoxify, My
activity, how we
commenced at a
Middle distance –
mind became

© 2006 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.

Her progress

-- for my secret keeper

has the day ever had so exquisite a lover?

no, only the night
could know this luminous bliss….

only the night can know my joy
to watch

her palest face
over me
(as she inclines above my life)

hovering delicately
in an ancient delirium
gazing through a mist
of desire and forgetting:

then she blushes her way
through night’s fragile sky
to fall
(often weeping)
some near and welcoming horizon

in the rosy glow
of her own bright dawn

© 2011 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.

Zero ODs during ‘Headed for the Medicine’ on the phone…

Ok, so about six years ago, I was hanging out at home when the phone rang. I’d finally tracked Zero down and left him a message on his phone, like fourteen times in about a month. Not too many times, I guess, in the big picture – I mean, the guy was a junkie and pretty busy copping and keeging. We’d sort of fallen out of touch, and now it was like eleven years later.

Zero is a genius character, and we met in rehab – my last rehab, back in 87 or 88. He’s a radical purist, meaning that he holds a viewpoint that is waaaay out there, and he won’t relent. And not just one viewpoint, not just one outrageous belief – oh, no, not Zero. He has a whole philosophy that would put most sane people right up on one ear, feet wagging at the sky and a shocked expression singing it all out loud.

Zero, during the times that we’ve been in contact, had never been able to put more than 11 days together. Of course, as soon as I dropped off his radar, he was able to get like nine years clean and sober, did a bunch of films, and got some credits on some big pictures. I never got to see that part.

But when he finally got back around to me, it was late late in the dark hours of nighttime and he was gowed out.

We spoke for a while, about this and that, kind of catching up on our lives since we’d last seen each a decade earlier. We always had these easy conversations, and they always seemed like no time at all had passed since we saw each other. I didn’t know why he stayed away when he was clean, but that was his choice. I made a joke about doing a painting of the words in block letters: “Got a missing Ø here, people.” Or maybe a pic of me with a check in my hand, surprised & disappointed, over that caption. Or not. We laughed together, and that was good.

Then Zero mentioned ‘Window of Somnus’ and I started in my seat – a classic double-take. Not Danny Thomas classic, but close. It’s a poem I wrote many years ago, probably in that rehab: a few ragged lines about the pain and loneliness of the junkie’s empty night.

“I really like it.”

“Wow, Zero, thanks for the compliment. You remembered that poem.”

“Yeah, Hakim, that was always my favorite poem. Still is.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s just a little poem about junkies, a scrap. The real deal, the puro clavo, is Tommy Swerdlow’s poem.”

“Swerdlow’s poem?”

“Yah, it’s called ‘Headed for the Medicine,’ and it’s the ultimate heroin poem. I’m still pissed at Swerdlow because he wrote it and so I’ll never be able to put a pen to paper about heroin again. He owns the turf – and there’s really nothing left to write after he got through with it.”

“Who’s Swerdlow, man?”

“Brilliant writer I once knew. And, of course, a junkie. For all I know, he may be dead by now. You know, junkie’s always wind up dead.”

“Yeah. That’s true, man.”

“But he still wrote a great poem.”

By now, Zero was slurring, probably drooling on the phone – his voice coming through the wires sounded like it would crack into shards. “Wow. I’d like to hear it, Hakim.”

So I opened my computer and found the poem and started a command performance for a loaded ǜber-Deutsche tacato over phone lines stretching 400 miles into the long tunnel of night. I hadn’t read in a long time, and I was rusty at first, twigs cracking, but after a few lines I found my rhythm and I was back in the saddle, grooving.

I got about halfway through ‘Headed for the Medicine’ – the part about “I am Buddha, I am barnstorm, I am anything for the team” – when I hear a great thump at the other end of the phone. I stop, shocked as the sound of a handset spinning on a bare wooden floor tickles my ear.


“Zero, you there, man?”

I whistle into the phone, trying to attract his attention. Nothing. I debate what I should do: call another friend of mine (who doesn’t even know Zero) and send him over there? Yah, sure, if only I had an address. Call the cops and send them to his house (without an address)? They could trace the number, but they’d take so long he’d be gone anyway if he were truly out. And if he weren’t truly out, then they’d just lock him up and he’d have me to thank for it. Not that he’d thank me, you understand. Although, knowing this guy, he just might.

I finally hang up, stunned that I might’ve overdosed Zero on poetry. I mean, that isn’t what I mean, exactly – it’s just that, as loaded as he was, he might have gone over the edge at hearing this poem, because I swear I’ve had guys look crooked at me, one eyelid half-mast with their chins on their chests, even if they haven’t had anything for years, when I read this poem. Hell, sometimes I feel loaded just from reading the damn thing. Yah, it’s good.

Just my luck, just the friggin luck to have killed my junkie pal after not seeing him for years. And long distance – with poetry.

So I’m contemplating the weird symmetry of that one when my phone rings.


“Hey.” The voice is creaky, the rattling of brittle newsprint. “You didn’t call anyone, didja?”

“No, man. I figured they’d have taken so long, you’d be dead by the time they got there.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Good. Now where were you? Something about barnstorming?”

And so I finish the poem for him. And then I ring off, hoping that Zero finds the strength or the hope or the exhaustion or the something to get himself out of the long trainwreck of the life he’d been leading.

Zero, come back, man. Find your way back. We miss you, buddy.

© 2011 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.

Photo: Fair use.


He sleeps with the gun

tied to his wrist at night

so it’s always at hand.

His 'pleasant' dreams

and nightmares

are unaffected

by the metal

warmed to the touch.

It isn't because he fears for his life --

oh yes, there’s that,


in this filthy abandoned building

huddled in torn blanket and peacoat

he's surrounded

by cutthroats junkies whores and thieves

who'd steal his gun

if he didn't tie it down.

© 2011 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.


In the moonlight

in the iron-fenced courtyard

six men stand

like scattered statues:

the moon bathes them blue

in funereal mists.

Silently they face each direction

as if alone.

Six steles waiting,

each a watchful epitaph


Perhaps the police will come:

these monuments slide

soundless into shadows.

Perhaps I will come,

dragging the anchor of my pain:

then one of the statues

will move,

his dead eyes approaching me

at the edge of my prison’s bars.

Only in that yard

is my freedom found.

Here, just beyond,


in rose-tipped agony,

damp bills clutched

in trembling claw.

Between the bars I thrust it now.

"Que quieres?"

"Una pieza de chiva – veinte."

Un veloz cambio

y las sombras indigas

me consumen.

~ for John Bocanegra

© 2011 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.


While the knots of 5 rubber throats are calling to me

my life rushed forward like a piston

forceful, unerring.

Time surges me before it


the wash of comfort

as I get down

into the heart’s even tempo:

the world recedes

twinkling lights and city echoes

fading back

leaving me in warmth

of the emptiness

around me.

My hands are lead

eyelids sliding down

and in the background

the insistent scrape

of a soupspoon

digging my grave.

~ for Shannon

© 2011 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.