Movies: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
TV: Club de Cuervos (season one)
Aguirre, the Wrath of God
This is the 1972 classic Herzog movie about a group of doomed Spanish explorers searching for El Dorado.
I felt nervous going into this movie, because it means *so much* to my friends that I respect the most about film. I figured I'd like it, but I suspected I wouldn't like it "enough".
And that's more or less where I ended up with it. It's interesting that, this week, I finished watching a TV season that celebrates a forceful, charismatic dude leading a group to ruin, and glosses over all the consequences of how that usually goes. Because this film is the opposite of that: it has the same situation, with a leader with wild visions of impossible riches running roughshod over anyone who would speak against him.
But here, we don't look away from the consequences. Indeed, you can argue that the whole movie is just staring, unflinchingly, at the consequences. It goes slowly enough, at least at first, that you can see every little step of the process. And their world is claustrophobic enough — either trapped on their boat floating down the river, or hemmed in on all sides by a hostile jungle — that there's nowhere to cut away to. All you can see is this one cluster of would-be conquistadors getting put through an inexorable meat grinder.
Aguirre takes control of the scouting party. Aguirre wants to press ahead to El Dorado. Aguirre wants everyone who opposes him killed. And, in due time, the Indians take care of the rest. And, all the while, nobody in the group is strong enough to stop him.
My first impression of Herzog is that he's the person who keeps your gaze fixed on the thing you want to look away from, because what he's showing you is important. It's like he's showing us how every project you've ever been on goes horribly wrong, but stripped down to its barest essentials, so you can see exactly how things fall apart.
I wish I could say I loved this movie — as it is, I've still got a ways to go before I can properly appreciate art cinema like this. But I am glad I watched it. I appreciated its deliberation, and attention to setting, and its impeccable delivery of its theme. Few films deliver such a heavy sense of doom so patiently, and with so little apparent effort.
And you definitely won't mistake this for the work of any other director.
If anything, it reminded me how samey modern popular movies are, and how I need to 'get out' a bit more and see new things.
As for Aguirre, I'm sure I will come back to it, and I'm sure it will have more to say to me.
Club de Cuervos (season one)
This is the 2015 netflix series about a pair of siblings who take over a beloved soccer team after the owner (their father) dies. I was watching it in Spanish, so I may not have a ton of comments about it.
This was certainly better than La Casa de Papel, the netflix heist show I gave up on about three episodes in. Whereas that show was too by-the-numbers to hold my interest, Club de Cuervos seems more inventive and lively. It's starting with a concept I haven't seen before: two siblings inheriting a massive sports franchise and trying not to manage it into the ground.
Like Friday Night Lights, the use a single sports team as the center of a much larger community. We follow the staff, we follow the players, we follow the extended family, we follow the press. We even see some of the fans in the town of Nuevo Toledo (industry of note: a large soap factory). The show is good at casually spinning off multiple plotlines with all these different groups of people.
But whereas FNL is a drama about the struggling underclass in small-town America, Club de Cuervos is an unabashed soap-opera comedy. It's all about throwing Chava, the worst possible manager, at the beloved team and watching the sparks fly. There is a paternity dispute. There are secret business schemes from a shadowy "super-agent". Photos of sex and drugs in a flashy nightclub get leaked to the press. That sort of thing.
It's fun. They keep the pace up, they keep the drama spinning, and it feels like they took a few notes from Arrested Development about how to use false documents and running gags to quickly build out a setting. They're good at finding exciting moves for each of their simultaneous storylines, ending on exciting twists, and maintaining the tension.
In the end, most of the things that bugged me about the show weren't really the show's fault.
For example, our hero is Chava, the 29-year-old son of the late patriarch. He's spent a dissolute life, more or less stumbling from one club to another, and co-inheriting the team is his first real, grown-up responsibility. And he throws himself into the task, ignoring the advice of his staff, his (far, far more competent) sister, and his team, restructuring the organization to go after big-name stars.
And I get it. I get what they're *trying* to do here. He's the edgy underdog that we identify with, who's approaching things in a new, refreshing, and different way, and so he's at odds with the stodgy old establishment. And, over time, he gets a journey where he gains maturity and wisdom without losing the fresh innovation he brought to this world. It's a classic trope.
But here we are in 2020, in a world that's run and ruined by mediocre failsons.
Here we are with an entrenched aristocracy coddling its talentless progeny into all the positions of power. Here we are in a world where the "charismatic dude who ignores competent, experienced women" fucks up *everything*, from politics to business to the arts. So when I watch this show, I'm weirded out that the show wants me to take Chava's side. It's more like, no, I want Chava to be buried in a shallow grave in the desert about three episodes in.
When his sister — the "hypercompetent woman who's studied for this gig her whole life" — actually scores a victory, the show practically screams "BUT AT WHAT COST?" Shortly afterwards, her husband takes her aside and says (more or less) "Congratulations. But remember: you don't have to be this kind of person to get what you want." And I'm thinking, "What kind of person? The kind of person who finally knocks a piece of ignorant, petulant deadwood out of the way? Because ma'am you can be that kind of person for the rest of your god-given days."
And it's strange, because in many ways the show's heart is in the right place. It feels like it's reaching for empathy, and for punching up instead of down, but like it's undercutting itself at the same time. It lampshades the egregious sexism that puts Chava in charge of the team in the first place, but then indulges in the idea that his sister is 'no fun' for being smarter, and more experienced, and telling Chava he's full of shit. The show includes a transexual character, and makes her warm and friendly, only to use her for a sort of "bed trick" plot move with the team manager. They make a team member 'pansexual', and put Chava firmly on the side of "who that man loves is his own business", but then they imply that the pansexual is into children, and also acts pretty rapey.
I didn't feel angry with the show so much as a little sorry for it. I'd cringe, and I'd think to myself, I know what they were going for, but they aren't quite hitting the target.¹ I could still find plenty to enjoy in the show: it's funny, it's well-produced, it's well-acted, and they do a great job building out Nuevo Toledo from episode to episode.
But here in 2020, when a new 'greatest show of all time' crops up every other week, it's okay if you don't make time for Club de Cuervos.
For next week: </i>I'm currently watching the TV shows The Mandalorian, The Good Place, and Watchmen. I'm also watching Burning. I'm now readingWitch Hat Atelier and Indistractable, and listening to an audiocourse about writing creative nonfiction.
¹ I'm sure if I weren't a straight white dude, I'd feel angrier about it.