Skip to main content
Report this ad

Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" Perfectly Limns The Zeitgeist of America

Barney Frank and the rest of the congressional Democrats have completely capitulated to Wall St. due to major campaign donations, according to such rah-rah sis-boom-BAH! pro-capitalist capitalist rags like Business Week.  The mainstream business press that caters to just plain folks is wringing its hands over the dismal prospects of meaningful regulation financial regulation. President Obama's handpicked boss of the Securities & Exchange Comission, who was going to investigate all 10,000 money managers to stamp out malfeasance, has now said the SEC is only going to investigate a random 138. A laugher.

Two months ago, my lawyer was on Fox Business Network pointing out two months ago how the Obama reform agenda was a farce, what with Rahm Emmanuel the eminence grise of the Administration. Rahm learned his bones on the trading desk at Goldman Sachs when my lawyer, then the Veep at Prudential Bache, was being sacked for blowing the whistle on the shakedown of traders for campaign contributions. Coming up with the lolly was the price of doing business.

Fifteen years ago, when I was wriging about government finances and first told my friends that America was a vast Ponzi scheme, they wouldn't listen. Now, they refuse to listen now to this equation: the U.S. = the late U.S.S.R. Both are characterized by economic statistics peddled to the masses that essentially are meaningless; both are out-of-control kleptocracy being raped by an overclass that sees the end and is trying like hell to feather their own nest. American constitutional government is a farce.

Charlie Chaplin said life in close-up is a tragedy, but in a long-shot is a comedy. The farce soon will give way to tragedy. But who will notice? Who can afford to? Our consciousness will zoom out to the long-shot.

Watch Michael Mann's 2009 movie Public Enemies to get a sense of the zeitgeist (movies are very good at capturing the spirit of the times as they are mytho-poetic and deal with dreams). It is a film completely shorn of any conventional morality, in its story, plot or the physical execution of the moving picture (mise en scene, perhaps?). In fact, it has NO morality at all. It's execution as a picture is as morally clumsy as its exposition and "drama" as it has really no controlling intelligence whatsoever, aside from providing heat (rather than light). And in that, it is a perfect American film of 2009.

This is not a generation that embraced Stanley Kubrick and then Woody Allen, laden down with a baggage train filled with pseudo-intellecutal profoundities. Like U.S. Grant and Wm. Tecumseh Sherman in the War of the Rebellion, this generation has ditched the supply lines and gone on the attack, placing a premium on (emotional) violence. Brute force. 

Michael Mann's Public Enemies explicitly equates regulators/regualtion of the animal spirits of the market with fascism and portrays regulators as completely ineffectual, but for when they revert to extralegal means (torture, assassination). This is naive, as correctly, the FBI is tasked to commit its crimes, and does so on demand.

The animal spirts of the market, Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, are portrayed in an adolescent rehash of the James Dean-Teenager-as-Christ American myth -- the gangster as movie star. This is not Lawrence Tierney's Dillinger of 1945, an ur-Brando ready to erupt into senseless violence at any minute -- hard, cold, leonine, relentless. This Dillinger as metrosexual movie star preening on screen. At one point, you expect Johnny to make like Maria in West Side Story and start singing:

"I feel pretty/Oh, so pretty,/I feel pretty and witty and bright!/And I pity/Any girl who isn't me tonight."

He's better looking than Marion Cotillard, the gal who plays his main squeeze. Cotillard is the French actress who brought home the iron for the Fifth Republic playing Yves Montand's old partner, what's 'er name.

Bertolt Brecht wasn't the first artist to portray capitalists as gangsters, or to equate gangsters with capitalism, but he is the one that comes most readily to mind (ARTURO UI -- except BB had it wrong -- it wasn't resistable), but Mann is no Brecht. The gangster/capitalist/thief who rapes society is glamorized in a way not seen since Howard Hawks' Scarface (though not as effectively as that classic).

Essentially, there is no way out. You can quote me.

Well, except death. Death and taxes. So what else is new? People live in the present and the future rather than the past as they have to. They have to adapt to the temperature as it is rising, just like frogs in the proverbial boiling pot of water. (Which brings us back to a consideration of Michael Mann's potboiler: Public Enemies.)

Everything that was old and accepted wisdom will be wiped out. The railroads ran the U.S. and its lawyers dominated the Supreme Court (in seats and influence) for three-quarters of a century after the American Civil War. Now, you can plaster your walls with their bonds. General Motors has lived and thrived, nearly died, been resurrected, and died once more. The computer software collossus Mircosoft finds itself under siege by Google.

As the denizens of the planet Tralfamadore say, "So it goes."

And you should go to the nearest video store and rent Michael Mann's Public Enemies.


  • Emylou Lewis 5 years ago


    Third culture kids examiner
    Seattle stay-at-home moms examiner

  • Dimples O'Hollorahan 5 years ago

    REDS (1981) Memorable quotes:

    (EU)GENE O'NEIL: Jack (John Reed) dreams that he can hustle the American working man, who's one dream is that he could be rich enough not to work, into a revolution led by *his* party.

Report this ad