Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rambo vs. Rimbaud

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Can you guess which important cultural icon — film character John Rambo (due back in theatres this month in his fourth film) or nineteenth-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud — each of the following ten phrases describes?

•Joined the army

•Sent to Southeast Asia, grew disillusioned

•Dealt in rifles and other weapons

•Had longtime homosexual affair with Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine

•Injured by gunshot from man he had trusted

•Attacked by communist soldiers

•Shocked local bourgeoisie with his shabby dress and long hair

•Suffered emotional instability

•Spent time as an impoverished drifter

•Achieved happiness for a while through immersion in non-Western culture

All right, it’s sort of a trick question — all these descriptions apply to both men (except for the affair with Paul Verlaine). But speaking of poetry, I have long been bothered by the names given to the Rambo movies, and the impending fourth installment only makes matters worse. See if you can detect a problem or two with the naming system of these films:

First Blood

Rambo: First Blood Part II

Rambo III


So by my count, there have been two films called Rambo and a film called Rambo III despite there never having technically been a Rambo II — and the whole series being sequels to a film called First Blood. That bothers me (as does William Powell becoming the presumed Thin Man after the first of those, in which the title clearly referred to another character).

I was even more bothered by the idiot couple who sat in front of me when I saw the third Rambo film (which was a big mistake, I know — I haven’t liked any of them except possibly the first), the woman seemingly genuinely worried that Rambo would be killed by the Soviet helicopter gunship near the end, despite the fact that we’d already seen him slaughter untold legions of communist soldiers without much trouble — and her husband or boyfriend attempting to reassure her with the rude and overbroad comment, “The star never dies, asshole!” Something sort of pulpy and Sunset Boulevard about that comment.

At least they talked less than the elderly women who sat in front of me during the 1988 film The Bear (from the same country as Monsieur Rimbaud). Those two had to confer incessantly in order to follow the plot, which was about a little bear who lives in the woods (and does not talk) and just encounters some hunters and other animals and typical bear-situations. (“Did the little bear do that?” “No, no, I think the big bear did that!”) The only time the old ladies got quiet was during the one scene that I think actually called for some analysis (but was presumably beyond their skills) — when the bear ate psychedelic mushrooms in the woods and had a weird trip involving visions of giant butterflies. That shut ’em up.

The best shot in the whole film, by the way, which should be discussed in filmmaking classes, was a shot from an impossible point of view situated at the base of a small collection of upright bullets sitting on a rock near one of the hunters, pointing up at a star-filled night sky, making them all look unmistakably like nuclear missiles. Kudos to director Jean-Jacques Annaud on that one.

And now, one verse of Rimbaud, dedicated — just to make it all the more French — to a beautiful, special lady currently looking forward to a new gig and a trip to Paris:

The Sun, the hearth of affection and life,
Pours burning love on the delighted earth,
And when you lie down in the valley, you can smell
How the earth is nubile and very full-blooded;
How its huge breast, heaved up by a soul,
Is, like God, made of love, and, like woman, of flesh,
And that it contains, big with sap and with sunlight,
The vast pullulation of all embryos!

You know, that last line reminds me a little of the Goat with a Thousand Young from H.P. Lovecraft, but more on him next month. (The whole thing also reminds me a bit of perhaps my favorite 80s song, Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up,” which I really have to do in karaoke one day.)

On a less romantic note, this is the first entry on written on commission, so by all means let me know what other topics I should address, as long as you pay first. Some, they will call me a whore, but all the world she is a whore, yes? I tell you this, though — never the principles do I compromise. Always, to the God, to the government, I say no. To the science, to the capitalism, to the little Tin-Tin picture books, I say oui.


Todd Seavey said...

Nice. Very, very nice.

Xine said...

I must add that 1985 was the year that both *Rambo: First Blood Part II* and Van Morrison’s song “Tore Down à la Rimbaud” were released. I heard it often on the radio in Portland, and Morrison’s very correct French pronunciation of “Rimbaud” had me wondering why the fuck he had composed a song in honor of a Sylvester Stallone character.

Brain said...

Rimbaud reached notoriety in a Paris recovering from their crushing defeat at the hands the Prussians. I don’t think Rimbaud participated in the Commune.

Todd Seavey said...

My admittedly cursory research (by which I mean, the Wikipedia entry) suggests he was at least involved with _a_ commune and _may_ have been beaten by “communard soldiers” at one point.

Rambo, however, definitely did not participate in a commune — and despite feeling “sold out” by the U.S. after Nam, killed more and more communist soldiers in the sequel films. In the fourth (out in two weeks), by the way, he’ll reportedly fight the Burmese government to rescue monks, which is marvelously timely, even if the monks in question are apparently Christian ones.

I probably won’t see it, though (and have seen surprisingly little in the way of advertising for it, though that one poster with a drawing of his face is admittedly all over the city).

AJ said...

Rimbaud to Southeast Asia, when? Unless you are counting him leaving in the smaller geographical area mapped of that time.

Todd Seavey said...

In 1876 he traveled in Jakarta, Indonesia.