Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Happytime Murders (dir. Brian Henson) Is Brilliant, Hilarious, and Deep.

The Happytime Murders was written by Todd Berger (as well as Dee Austin Robertson). The writing is superb. Over and over I heard things I wasn't expecting, instead of the cliches I've come to expect from movies. I laughed out loud--cackled and howled with laughter--many times. But the funny scenes were only one part of this film's achievement.

There's also the social politics dimension of a movie in which being a Puppet in a majority "meat -sack" world is like being Black in America. It's easy to dismiss this metaphor as heavy-handed in the film, but that would be to overlook the richness of what Todd Berger shows us about marginalization, prejudice, and systemic oppression, as the people with skin and flesh abuse the people with felt and fluff.

The Happytime Murders was directed by Brian Henson----whose parents were THE Jim Henson and Jane Henson, the puppeteering couple who invented the Muppets during their careers at Sesame Street. Jim Henson was at the heart of Sesame Street's unique feel, its visual idiom; it gave us the experience of seeing puppets behave as if they have souls. A great work of art.

And then... as the years went by, what began as a TV show for kids remained a TV show for kids, onto which there was soon built a mighty brand, with vast merchandising and global reach. To be clear: Sesame Workshop is a wonderful institution, whose work has expanded to include creating Muppets and storylines tuned specifically to the psychological needs of children with various kinds of traumas, losses, and stressors. But that's not the point.

The point is, Brian Henson's whole life has been lived in an environment saturated with the ethos of Sesame Street. I suppose a lot of his life is always already  coated with his father's genius. Sesame St. is a children's show; its ethos always is, and always must be, wholesome, innocent, and enchanted. The bowl of cereal Brian Henson ate as a kid was paid for by his dad's art, the Muppets, within Sesame Street. What would it be like to grow up inside that? And to see, as you grow, the franchise/company/brand grow too, outpacing you as it brings in millions of dollars year after year. How cloying it must be, how fraught, and how frustrating: to be forever surrounded by the culture of children's TV, especially in the form of the celebrated artistic work-product of one's own Oedipal rival. Making this film, The Happytime Murders, did for Brian Henson something like what making Wild Strawberries did for Ingmar Bergman: a working-through of the film-maker's relationship to his own father. In making this dirty film---it is trashy, violent (though bloodless!), hardscrabble-noir---with its depictions of puppet semen and coroners cleaning up puppets' murders, Brian Henson cleanses himself of the ethos of Jim Henson's invented world. That ethos is great for kids. But for a person trying to grow into being his own man (an individuated adult of 20 or 30 or 40, etc. ), the sweet-sweetness-world of Sesame Street must feel like an endless overdose of sugar. In The Happytime Murders, sugar is evil, a debilitating drug, like heroin.

Freud taught that there are only two mature defenses available to the psyche: humor, and sublimation. This film has lots of hilarious lines and scenes. But the main course is the massive sublimation of envy, competition, Oedipal aggression and resentment, filial love and admiration for his father, and who knows what else. It gets transmuted into an artwork that uses the father's unique kind of puppetry to tell a completely different kind of story, diametrically opposed to the sunshine-and-rainbows world of kids' TV. That world must meet children where they are, by providing an innocent little world, one with sorrows and misfortunes, but without evil or death or sex. So here is The Happytime Murders, full of sex and death and the evil of (prejudice against puppets, yes, and) the villainess, who turns out to have been motivated by unprocessed trauma, not just some arbitrary badness that comes with being the bad guy in the story. I love this movie.

Note: All the psychological interpretations and claims I make in this movie review are purely speculative. Not only have I never had any contact with Mr. Henson, I haven't read a single interview with him, nor any reviews of The Happytime Murders

Monday, August 21, 2017

Why Children Love The Guinness Book of World Records

Children love the Guinness Book of World Records because it helps them to orient themselves in this world which is still relatively new to them. What better way to get a handle on things, than to learn the extremes between which all other cases occur? So, how tall is the tallest man? I will have to contend with no taller man than he. How short is the shortest man? I need to know. Fastest vehicle? Heaviest meteorite? If I can slake my curiosity with information on the fastest, the heaviest, the biggest, the smallest, and all the other superlatives that come to mind, then I’ll have a better idea of the parameters of just what I can anticipate out there. And if I want to distinguish myself by setting a record of my own, what are the numbers I need to beat? This, too, the GBOWR can answer.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Aristotle on Happiness

“Happiness is not amusement; it is good activity.” 
---Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics (a book he wrote for his son, Nichomacheos)

At first sight this may seem difficult to reconcile with the two familiar psychoanalytic insights that the best adult work has a quality of serious play (Winnicott), and children’s play has the quality of serious work (Klein). But Aristotle’s category of “amusement” pertains precisely to that non-creative type of play which does not achieve a work-like seriousness. A particular type of existentially hazardous naïveté sponsors the defensive attempt to become a happy person on the basis of mere amusement. It may be that some cultures make us more vulnerable to this class of error than others; as a manic defense, it is unlikely to arise in a milieu that has achieved the depressive position: a tragic sense of life, accepting as inevitable some degree of mental pain and circumstantial difficulty. Such acceptance would require a degree of humility before the fates, as it were; a non-omnipotent understanding and acknowledgment of the reality principle (that we are never in complete control of our own affairs). Disneyland, “the happiest place on earth” exemplifies the misery of standardized utopian amusement, a monument to the “pursuit of happiness” untrammeled by the tasks of generativity (Aristotle’s “good activity”). This is consistent with a manic defense (Altman) that secures the benefits of the paranoid-schizoid position, protecting the patient from the grave reparative work of the depressive position. It also fits Freud’s general view of American culture as chronically trapped within the pleasure principle (Freud), and the qualified pessimism with which he shaped the disciplinary culture of psychoanalysis to its limited therapeutic ambition: “to turn neurotic misery into ordinary unhappiness” (Freud). 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tragedy, Hamlet, and Luther

Here's the video of a lecture on Hamlet that I gave on October 8, 2016 at the New Center for Psychoanalysis, where I'm a doctoral candidate. It's a reading of my essay "Tragedy, Hamlet, and Luther," which was published in 2002 in Forschungen zur Frühen Neuzeit, Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main. As I read, I periodically stop to clarify a point or add to it. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

My essay on Bergman's "Wild Strawberries: the Failure of Sublimation and the Fate of Pain" has been published in American Imago

Bergman's "Wild Strawberries: the Failure of Sublimation and the Fate of Pain" has been published in American Imago, an important psychoanalytic journal. I feel proud to be included in such a venerable publication.

The film WILD STRAWBERRIES can be seen on YouTube, at the moment.

Here is YouTube's link for The Phantom Carriage, an earlier film made by Victor David Sjöström to which Bergman's Wild Strawberries owes much of its spiritual character. Sjöström plays Isak Borg in Bergman's film.

Friday, June 3, 2016

First Vocal Recital (in memory of David Bowie) by Jamey Hecht 5-28-16

This is the video from my first recital, which took place on May 28th at the Church in Ocean Park, in Santa Monica, CA. My vocal teacher and coach is David Benesty. The concert was dedicated to the memory of the great David Bowie, two of whose songs I performed near the end of the program.
Here are translations of the four pieces I sang in French, German, and Italian (click to enlarge, so that the whole is visible):