The Big Short: Documentary Fiction

The Big Short is as close to a documentary as a mainstream fiction film can be. We know how feature films often borrow documentary devices to add a touch of realism to their appeal. Dr. Strangelove used hand held cameras for the scenes when the military tries to retake the army base that Jack the Ripper has cordoned off so he can protect his precious bodily fluids from Soviet poisoning, for example, but seldom has an entire fiction film relied so heavily on the documentary tradition to tell its story. Not only is The Big Short based on real people and real events, as historical narratives often are, it utilizes the direct to camera voice of authority as Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), one of the instigators of the strategy at the heart of the film of betting against the ever-rising price of bundled mortgages, confides to us about what he and others are up to. It utilizes cut aways to real life people who were part and parcel of the debacle from Hank Paulsen, intoning how solid it all is as it begins to crumble, to Lance Armstrong, as a metaphorical example of lying and deception at work in every field of American life. It turns to tongue in cheek “experts” to explain the exotic CDOs and other derivates that fueled the bubble, experts like Anthony Bourdain who compares the bundling of mortgages into various tranches to making a fish stew from left overs.
The film has plenty of laughs, painful though they are, when we see, for example, the burly tattooed husband who hangs on to his rented house in an abandoned Florida development, hoping the landlord will finally pay the mortgage, only to have the two Wall Street investigators, working for the fantastic Steve Carell, jump away from a snapping alligator (metaphor anyone?), and for the tattooed guy to be in the background of a much later shot packing up and moving out, done in by other people’s greed.
Our government, from President Obama on down–and it’s way way down once we get to the financial team that ignored,stone walled,and ultimately bailed out the corrupt bad guys who took as much as they could as dishonestly as they could–never looked so depraved and bereft of either awareness of the consequences of short term actions or of basic decency. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins and it has an amazing corrosive effect on the souls of those who pursue it. The Greed of Wall Street displays epic proportions, with the aid of a financial team in Washington under Bush and Obama, pushing to make banking as much a wild west game show as any other “free and open” market. The men, and they are all men, who stand up against it and bet against it, profiting from the folly no one else could see, are our heroes here. Not particularly ethical or principled heroes but a darn sight more heroic in their determination to call a bubble a bubble than the Big Boy Pied Pipers and the legion of Wall Street lemmings who followed them over the cliff. As Vennett tells us at the end, 100s went to jail, major penalties were imposed–oops, no; just kidding! He had it right. It could all happen again and neither Wall Street or our government seems to give a good gosh darn.

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Once There Was Job, Now There Is Jobs

Alex Gibney’s doc on Steve Jobs set a high standard and Danny Boyle’s fictional take, Steve Jobs, is way, way below that mark. The screenplay is idiotic, to use one of the less jargony words in critical parlance: it’s three acts, all the same. 1 and 2 are product launches that fail and 3 is the iMac, Jobs’ first real big success since the Apple II, which he hates, despite the fact that it keeps Apple afloat, apparently because he had little to do with it, not that he has much to do with any other product other than being an abusive perfectionist that everyone tolerates for entirely unclear reasons.
The dialogue is fast, smart and unbelievable. Characters snap at each other as if they just have to wait long enough for the other person to speak before they can race ahead to their next piece of prepared monologue. No one seems to actually listen to anyone. It’s all pre-scripted and scenes are like a run through, which is what the 20 minutues before the launch motif of this baldly 3 act film actually is. Kate Winslett hustles people in and out of Jobs’ Presence, citing how many minutes of the count down to Launch remain, and offering some words of seldom heard wisdom to Jobs. Characters then parade in and have their little confrontations, from a nearly deranged wife and needy daughter whom Jobs treats like dirt he’s never seen before and doesn’t want to see again, to colleagues who all try to get him to see his feet of clay in one way or another, to no avail. Jobs steams ahead on his fully scripted and totally predetermined course. Sorkin could not have written a flatter more annoying character if he were dealing with the Hell’s Angels or ISIS.
Of course there is a hint of redemption at the end: the iMac will be a huge hit, and we all know that success is all that counts. Plus, plus Steve Jobs shows a litttle tenderness to his now teenage daughter, after blowing up that someone else stepped in to pay her tuition to Harvard, as if he never would have failed to do so (despite the fact that he just did exactly that). Many liberties seem to be taken with his personaal life and many dubious parts of his business practices never appear–that’s what’s convenient about the 3 launch structure; Sorkin and Boyle can just throw the same characters in front of him three times and overlook anything they want to overlook. It’s a biopic without the bio; it’s a stage play without the climax; it’s a dog that can go back into the kennel and stay there. Unlike Gibney’s doc and unlike the great granddaddy of the biopic, Citizen Kane, Steve Jobs has no bark, no bite and very little of anything to chew on at all. What price success is as old a question as capitalist greed, if not human nature, but Sorkin and Boyle have nothing new to say, not this time around.

Boulder Bound: The End of the Road

Some thoughts:

  • The adrenaline thrill of the journey exceeds the soporific effect of arrival.
  • That's the Rockies back there and the university in the foreground.

    That’s the Rockies back there and UC Boulder  in the foreground: close but not the same.

    Familiar scene: the surging to and fro on the hour.

    Familiar scene: the surging to and fro on the hour.

    Some confuse matriculation with mastication.

    Some confuse matriculation with mastication.

  • No matter how extremely remote the station or town, gas and food are cheaper than in California: we’re being taken for a ride out here.
  • Boulder, like Santa Cruz, Berkeley or other college towns is a cut above the average but with the same mix of university people, boutiques, gourmet bistroes and cheap eateries, chain and box stores, and more than a few tourists. The sense of artifice is always in the air.
  • Lest we forget. Boulder is the western terminus of the great plains that begin back at the Mississippi River.

    Lest we forget. Boulder is the western terminus of the great plains that begin back at the Mississippi River.

    And some roads aren't even blacktop as they head toward that great mountain barrier.

    And some roads aren’t even blacktop as they head toward that great mountain barrier to the west.

  • Our two lane blacktops are in better condition than our freeways.
  • A shut down suger mill. TheBoulder area teems with huge, low lying, high tech factories, the new crop that this vast land supports.

    A shut down suger mill. The Boulder area teems with huge, low lying, high tech factories, the new crop that this vast land supports.

    In a Boulder bookstore. on the left anatomy, a reminder of my brief but happy medical training, and on the right: movies!

    In a Boulder bookstore. on the left: anatomy, a reminder of my brief but happy medical training, and on the right: movies!

  • I can drive almost 2000 miles without TV of any kind, but can’t go a day without wi-fi.
  • GPS is a luxury; maps work. I relied on them entirely.
  • Backroads are majestic and magical; freeways are like never leaving home.
  • The most horrific bump was on a freeway just miles out of San Francisco. I discovered, on arrival, thanks to another driver telling me, that my tail lights were all out. I found the light assemblies on both sides had been jarred out of their receptacles, fallen down into the trunk well and were useless–maybe for the entire trip! I may have driven to Boulder without tail or brake lights the entire way.
  • Travelers depend on the kindness of strangers and I was never let down. It isn’t the obsequious sort of attention that the tourist trade creates, not on the backroads; it’s more a genuine openness and curiosity about those who come from other places.
  • A definite beauty surrounds this place. It's not all malls and tourists and shopping centers, and not only a major university at all.

    A definite beauty surrounds this place. It’s not all malls and tourists and shopping centers, and not only a major university at all. Much awaits discovery.

    Heading out of town for a brief escape into the Rockies.

    Heading out of town for a brief escape into the Rockies.

    Gem Lake. In Rocky Mtn Natl Park. About 7000 feet high at the end of a steep, demanding trail. Reward enough.

    Gem Lake. In Rocky Mtn Natl Park. About 7000 feet high at the end of a steep, demanding trail. Reward enough.

    In December I return to San Francisco, on different roads, ahead, I hope, of the winter snows.

Boulder Bound: Day 8 (Romance of the Road and Paleo Diet)

For Victoria: the one I left behind, for now.

Beyond the motel window dawn breaks on the final day.

Beyond the motel window dawn breaks on the final day. What will it bring?

At first, it’s the same; here Mt. Antero looms at 14,276 feet, way above my head.

The shape of Antero reminded me of Mt. kilimanjaro, which I climbed long ago, and of the links of past and present and if travel were a passage way between them.

The shape of Antero reminded me of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, long ago, of the links of past and present and if travel were a passage way between them.

What is this idea of the road and its romance? Freedom, escape, wandering, discovery, journeys both internal and beyond. Celebrating the impromtu and improvised, the unfamiliar and mysterious. John Ford knew the road warrior, and the seeker, didn’t belong: they were too driven or restless to settle down, amd John Wayne watches the closing door exclude him at journey’s end in The Searchers.

The two lane blacktop gives way to the concrete freeway and a familiar, crowded world: Denver, 30 miles to Boulder.

The two lane blacktop gives way to the concrete freeway and a familiar, crowded world: Denver, 30 miles to Boulder.

I feel tired, exhilerated, awakened and exhausted. We’re told we’re social animals but how so? As bands of roving gatherers or clusters of city and town folk?

Paleo diets return us the days of hunters and gathers but maybe not their intimate relation with the spirit world.

Entering Boulder, street lights and other amenities. The mountains just beyond.

Entering Boulder, street lights and other amenities. Rain. The mountains just beyond.

I am a settled one, basically. But with a thirst for something more. Community and place are where intimacy with and commitment to others flourish. Wandering and travel brings a sharper focus to an inner need for something else. Settlements sustain and have for millenia. And when they don’t, when I feel the need to seek and discover something beyond the settlement door, I hear the romance of the road beckon.

The Univeristy of Colorado at Boulder: numbers galore. Small testimony to the tension between the one and the many.

The Univeristy of Colorado at Boulder: numbers galore. Small testimony to the tension between the one and the many.

Freud realized that we paid a heavy price sexually for the retraints civilization imposes on our inherent polymorphous perversity. I wonder if it doesn’t exact a cost spiritually as well.

I take my car to a car wash to clear away the residue of the long road taken.

I take my car to a car wash to clear away the residue of the long road taken.

Near my new residence. Wash, clean up, cleanse.

Near my new residence. Wash, clean up, cleanse.

Spiritual seekers have often been wanderers, entering the wilderness, undertaking journeys and quests. Be it Jesus or the Buddha, or so many other saints and gurus, it strikes me that the seeker seeks something profoundly personal and spiritual and that it is the followers who settle for a religion they can sink into more stable soil.

A pamphlet in the car wash waiting area. A shock. And reminder of what our settled ways produce as suffering and loss, along with the dramatics of helping those who lose their way.

A pamphlet in the car wash waiting area. A shock. And reminder of what our settled ways produce as suffering and loss, along with the dramatics of helping the casualities of a failed community.

I have arrived. I need to settle down, settle in, maybe just settle. And wonder if this is where I need to rediscover that spiritual quality so much more evident on the road.

My car emerges, clean. And what I write and what I see diverge most strikingly in this final post from the road.

My car emerges, clean. And what I write and what I see, text and image, diverge most strikingly in this final post from the road. Why?

Boulder Bound Day 7 (Prices We Pay)

Today will take me from 9300 feet above sea level down to 7700 feet, in the little, historic town of Salida, CO. But it begins in Silverton, which I discover has come up with a great way to make intersections safe economically:

Put a post with 4 stop signs on it in the .iddle of the intersection.

Put a post with 4 stop signs on it in the middle of the intersection.

That’s one street away from Main St, but Silverton is a small town and tourists don’t use this street.

The “million dollar” road to Ouray winds through the high mountains, often without guard rails or passing lanes, but that is not unusual for backroad travel. It’s the precipitous drops of many thousand feet just inches from the roadway that are.

Roads still seem to disappear into impossible barriers.

Roads still seem to disappear into impossible barriers.

Ingenuity knows no limits. If you can't stop the slide, you can tell it where to go.

Ingenuity knows no limits. If you can’t stop the slide, you can tell it where to go.

Mining despoiled the landscape but gave a growing nation the raw materials it needed. Now it seems to be the chain stores, strip malls, and big box guys that do the despoiling, giving us the products we want, but always at a price. I rediscover this part of our culture--absent since Yosemite--in Montrose, a mountain town that both mining and tourism have abandoned.

Mining despoiled the landscape but gave a growing nation the raw materials it needed. The price was paid in lives as well as landscape. Now it seems to be the chain stores, strip malls, and big box guys that do the despoiling, giving us the products we want, but always at a price. I rediscover this part of our culture–absent since Yosemite–in Montrose, a mountain town that both mining and tourism have abandoned.

But outside town the desert and the mountain hillsides have given way to pastures in this high valley.

But outside town the desert and the mountain hillsides have given way to pastures in this high valley.

Meals, always meals, and the ubiquitous burgers and fries, steaks and chops. But every town has its secret alternatives. And in Gunnison I find a Tibetan restaurant that fuels me up for the remaining drive.

Saag chicken and naan bread in the Rockies.

Saag chicken and naan bread in the Rockies.

Salida seems a great place, with a more diverse economy and a lively downtown. I find a modest motel that is across the street from the aquatic center, fed, as it surely ought to be, by hot spring water.

The swimming lanes were open and the water warm. A couple and I debated why Union Jacks proliferated in downtown, until someone told us a British rock band was coming soon.

The swimming lanes were open and the water warm. A couple and I debated why Union Jacks proliferated in downtown, until someone told us a British rock band was coming soon.

Downtown fronts a river at the foot of the surrounding hills. I ate outside in the cooling mountain air.

Downtown fronts a river at the foot of the surrounding hills. I ate outside in the cooling mountain air.

After eating I went into the bar to watch the San Francisco Giants play a game. The patrons gave the game little heed but the bar had a lively, friendly tone that made me think this wouldn’t be a bad place to live.

The Giants would have won if Buster Posey's hit, with two out in the last inning, had gone just two feet further for a home run. But it didn't.

The Giants would have won if Buster Posey’s hit, with two out in the last inning, had gone just two feet further for a home run. But it didn’t.

Tomorrow it’s on to Boulder and a faculty reception that will start the new academic year.

Boulder Bound Day 6: Rocky Mtn highs

Durango retains its Victorian roots, plays them up actually, even if there is wi-fi and flat screen TVs in every room.

The library at the General Palmer hotel in Durango, the old west lives on.

The library at the General Palmer hotel in Durango, the old west lives on.

On the road, it’s clear I’m in a new landscape: higher, more pine and fir, even some rain. And below, at a mere 9300 feet, I get a glimpse of Silverton (it’s between the trees down there):

Mountain roads make photos difficult, as do the trees. Silverton was purely a mining town, everyone here served the miners.

Mountain roads make photos difficult, as do the trees.
Silverton was purely a mining town, everyone here served the miners. 9300 feet and the mines were on slopes above that! It’s easy to feel out of breath.

Now everyone here serves the visitors. Three groups of us: visitors who come to see someone they know; travelers who are en route to a destination, real or imaginary, and perhaps a change of life, and tourists for whom the sites are the destinations and what’s sought is some form of “insider” (been there, heard that, seen this) knowledge to take home. I fluctuate between traveler and tourist.

Even the cast iron trash receptacles do their part to add a note of history to the scene.

Even the cast iron trash receptacles do their part to add a note of history to the scene.

Mike is our guide for a silver mine tour. He says, Hundreds of gallons of water flow out of here every minute and I ask if it's clean. Are you from the EPA he asks? If you are there'll be one less person going back up, and I say, That's the last place I'd want to work. I thnk he believes me because I make it back up.

Mike is our guide for a silver mine tour. He says, Hundreds of gallons of water flow out of here every minute and I ask if it’s clean. Are you from the EPA, he asks? If you are there’ll be one less person going back up, and I say, That’s the last place I’d want to work. I thnk he believes me because I make it back up.

There's a museum too.

There’s a museum too.

Not a cell phone but it strikes me that the 19th C had its own amazing technologies, more on a macro than a micro scale.

Not a cell phone but it strikes me that the 19th C had its own amazing technologies, more on a macro than a micro scale.

My first camera was a belows model like this one. 8 or 12 shots to a roll.

My first camera was a belows model like this one. 8 or 12 shots to a roll.

The dynamite makers on the boxes, Atlast and Dupont, are where my uncle worked, in Delaware, but he did accounting not dynamiting.

The dynamite makers on the boxes, Ajax and Dupont, are where my uncle worked, in Delaware, in the 50s and 60s, but he did accounting not dynamiting.

Silverton is the terminus for the train from Durango, still running on narrow gauge tracks but bring tourists instead of miners and supplies.

The valley is small and the train butts up against the surrounding mountains.

The valley is small and the train butts up against the surrounding mountains.

This feller's smoked too many of those cigarettes: his complexio'is all gone to hell.

This fella’s smoked too many of those cigarettes: his complexio’is all gone to hell.

I stayed at another Victorian hotel, the Wyman. It had something like 25 foot high ceilings along with the wi-fi and the flat screen TV.

My hotel for the night, on main street.

My hotel for the night, on main street.

Miners loved their chess games, when they weren't doing 12 hours in the mine or drifting into the saloons for an after dinner beverage.

Miners loved their chess games, when they weren’t doing 12 hours in the mine or drifting into the saloons for an after dinner beverage.

These fellows were heading my way, but it looked a little bouncy up there so I aimed my car toward Boulder one more time.

These fellows were heading my way, but it looked a little bouncy up there so I aimed my car toward Boulder one more time.

 

Boulder Bound Day 5: Mesa Verde and Beyond

Goulding's at Monument Valley. I had the last room on the right.

Goulding’s at Monument Valley. I had the last room on the right.

Amost time to go, but first a quick little workout with the Duke:

There's even a JohnWayne cabin to see but I let this copy of a kitschy painting speak for itself; it's by the treadmill in the workout room

There’s even a JohnWayne cabin to see but I let this copy of a kitschy painting speak for itself; it’s by the treadmill in the workout room

A final farewell to monuments: the Mexican hat stone.

How this ever happened I'll never know.

How this ever happened I’ll never know.

The road calls and it ain’t the freeway.  Headed to Durango and mountain country.

First 25 mph curve showed up 2 miles in advance; this one was just half a mile from the turn.

First 25 mph curve showed up 2 miles in advance; this one was just half a mile from the turn.

Two land blacktop blues. I get to see the loss and ruin that go along with the small town, rustic way of life.

Two land blacktop blues. I get to see the loss and ruin that go along with the small town, rustic way of life.

It’s hotter today so I have to suspend the Drive the Temperature rule: was 93-98 most of the time.

And it's not all that uncommon. This is the world that box stores and freeways, with all their pluses, took away.

And it’s not all that uncommon. This is the world that box stores and freeways, with all their pluses, took away.

Still chasing mountains too and everytime a range looms up ahead the road finds a way to snake around them. But it’s changing. The landscape has more pynon and juniper now and isn’t quite the desert it has been for so long.

Praise the Lord for Thailand. Second time I’ve found Thai food and it won out over burgers and fried chicken both times: fresh, tasty, healthy. Plus the Thai ice coffee is great for the road.

Not too impressive looking. In Cortez, CO but the food was excellent.

Not too impressive looking. In Cortez, CO but the food was excellent.

I’m getting near Durango but detour to Mesa Verde National Park where there are some of the most elaborate pueblo ruins in the country. 20 miles into the park I find one of the many villages that are  preserved.

Tucked below the top of the mesa and still in good condition.

Tucked below the top of the mesa and still in good condition.

Some dwelliings were 3 stories with kivas too.

Some dwelliings were 3 stories with kivas too.

Soon Durango looms before me. A right turn and I’m at my destination:

One of two grand ole hotels in Durango.

One of two grand ole hotels in Durango.The

The call of the cow won out yesterday and I’ve done penance with oatmeal for breakfast and today I find Jean Pierre’s bakery and restaurant and have the delicious coq au vin:

Very tasy. Chatted with couple next to me. He was trying to get back with his ex-wife, worried about his daughter who graduated and was living at home, lost, and changes to Durango. He was with a woman. His ex-wife. She started to read a book as he continued talking with me.

Very tasty coq au vin. Chatted with couple next to me. He was trying to get back with his ex-wife, worried about his daughter who graduated and was living at home, lost, and changes to Durango. He was with a woman. His ex-wife. She started to read a book as he continued talking with me.

Saturday night in Durango and Main St got blocked off and folks got their dancing shoes out.

Boots are the thing to wear.  I had shoes and they were getting worn.

Boots are the thing to wear. I had shoes and they were getting worn.

i didn't even wear these for my hikes but it's off the grid and the freeway and there's a lot of dust out there.

i didn’t even wear these for my hikes but it’s off the grid and the freeway and there’s a lot of dust out there.

The country music boys did a great cover of Johnny Cash  among other things.

They set up right by the ole time train station and kicked up some lively tunes.

They set up right by the ole time train station and kicked up some lively tunes.

Music  went on into the evening and the sky was saying the sun wanted to turn in for the night, sending its soft pink kiss good night.

Tomorrow it's on to Silverton.

Tomorrow it’s on to Silverton.