Post no. 3 from Guest Blogger Rachel Levitsky

Notes on Thoughts on Confinement #3

Poetics of Speed

What is a blog and how do you do it? I had a plan and now find myself surprised to be without internet so I can’t get into facebook to check on my list of bleaker 70s movies and where is the Melanie lyric? But I was talking about confinement and there was a thought about the body in the interface, and my anxiety to not meet the fact of speed, of easy speech, and what if I forget my lines? I’ve been fixated on a notion of the poetics of speed and how badly, truly I fail at this, how disappointing I often feel when I’m looked upon to speak and cannot. I’m amazed at Eileen Myles’ ability to rise when she’s looked to, and speak/testify to the injustice, even suggest something new. When I see something bad I begin to grunt, because I find I must say something, yet when I turn my grunts into slow speech or writing it hardly gets any better, I’m accused of being negative, of getting in the way, my mental meandering generally unrecognizable. (Are there not multiple languages and can’t we all be talking at once?)

Both Gertrude Stein (“Composition as Explanation”) and Paul Virilio (Speed and Politics) recognize the 20th Century as the one in which turns in military strategy (of the 19th Century) become the rhythm by which everything turns in the 20th, i.e. the masses militarized into a constantly roaming shooting machine, through cities, across continents and over oceans, deployed in total eternal war, whose civilian arm is the affordable automobile. Stein makes the point well that military advances are always a hundred years behind and so does Virilio, citing Carl Von Clausewitz as the 19th century engineer of the strategy that would serve the bourgeois cause toward domination of the proletariat—by the method of uproot, displace, keep them moving.

“In order to know one must always go back” (Stein, Lectures “Plays”)

Besides using the above spin as a statement/complaint against speed pressure, besides pointing out its relation to confinement–as my friend Rick Karr points out in his PBS special: the internet too is a highway upon which we move as directed, paying toll collectors along the way–I would like to use it as an opportunity to acknowledge some movies from the 1970’s (and a few from the 60’s) which perhaps theorized the present tense of our ‘dromological progress.’

“Let’s make no mistake; whether it’s the drop-outs, the beat generation, automobile drivers, migrant workers, tourists, Olympic champions or travel agents, the military industrial democracies have made every social category, without distinction , into unknown soldiers of the order of speeds…” (Virilio 136).

In the mid 1970’s (I was born in 1963) I began to feel that something was going on and that I was going to miss it…like the waft of bread from a bakery whose load has already been trucked away. I could smell it, but I could not see it. Based on that sensation, I built a nostalgia for an imagined time of resistance to domination—and responded quickly to any opportunities I had to join radical collective action in my sphere. And then in the 1990’s I stopped…to write poems and make connection to other people writing poems. This too felt like a potential, but different, means of resisting, by joining in imaginative activity with others, and in building a viable counter-culture. My imagined late 1960’s, early 1970’s life—the one that I had just missed–was one which (in my imagination) expressed idealism, connection, advancement of thought, the sense of possibility.

So it came as a surprise to me when I returned to the movies of my youth and found my lover to be correct when he said that they always end worse than they began, offering an even bleaker picture of the world.  This is not our expectation of the movies we watch today, which all seem to end with a joyous wedding.

I don’t have the facebook list or the internet so I have to speak to the ones that are fresh in my mind. Spoiler alert! Some movies and their endings: Dog Day Afternoon (end with the cops shooting Sal in cold blood), The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 (original version), Soylent Green (“Soylent Green is People!”), Death Wish (kids keep being cold blooded criminals, the vigilante architect keeps killing kids), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (we know how it goes, and that it is 1969 but can’t resist, Burt Bacharach soundtrack and all) 2 Lane Blacktop (ends with the love object taking off with some guy and the film reel, it’s image of the lonesome drivers, catching fire), and my most recent favorite, and one that has truly haunted me since watching it on ‘instant watch’ – George Lukas’ first film, the beautiful, high design THX:1138 (filmed in then spanking clean and space age state of the art BART stations). THX 1138 ends with THX (pronounced ‘thicks’) climbing out of the structure, circumventing his first attempt at escape into the inescapable hell of the superstructure (see dromological progress), pushing up the manhole, standing up on the OUTSIDE, only to be silhouetted by a skin melting, melting sun.

Not hopeful, these films take as their  premise that everything is all fucked up, the system has us all by the balls and our options are only ever diminishing. What I find remarkable is how willing, how spunky and resistant the characters are, knowing the system is bigger than them and will eventually do them in. One of my favorite lines of all times is Al Pacino playing the queer bank robber Sonny Wortzik (aka John Wojtowicz) negotiating hostage release with the cops saying “Kiss me. When I’m being fucked, I like to be kissed a lot.”* Rather than making good with the system that has the better of them, they do their own thing.  They don’t act against the system in order to beat it, they resist because they still can. Which is maybe as ‘outside’ as it gets.


*For John Wojtowiczs’s dramatization of the story see “The Third Memory” by Pierre Huyghe

The internet is working, I’m about to send this to Stacy but quickly, here are some bleak 1970’s movies my ‘friends’ on facebook offered:

*Note: Dystopia or not, things are always getting worse.

McCabe & Mrs Miller

Taxi Driver

The Wicker Man

Fox and His Friends

Don’t Look Now

Beneath the Planet of the Apes



The Stepford Wives

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Kaufman version)

(And it’s 1968, but it seems like an important precedent): Night of the Living Dead

The Conversation

Killer of Sheep


Night Moves

Blow Up

Picnic at Hanging Rock

The Champion

Five Easy Pieces

Two Lane Blacktop

Vanishing Point

The Exorcist  (no kidding: my father took me to see this when it came out, I was 9)

Apocalypse Now

The Last Picture Show

The Night Porter

The Kremlin Letter

The Friends of Eddie Coyle


The Last Tango in Paris


Nashville (“the ending appears bright but this Altman” says PSJ who offered this one)

Boesman & Lena

Mean Streets

Saturday Night Fever

Jesus Christ Superstar

Star Wars


Panic in Needle Park

“the first Godfather film? What about King of Comedy, the ending of which is at least weird, if not bleak?”


A Woman Under the Influence


Ali or Fear Eats the Soul

The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant

Alice in the Cities

Oh, and here is the Melanie:

“We were so close, there was no room

We bled inside each other’s wounds

We all had caught the same disease

And we all sang the songs of peace.”

YOURS in struggle,