FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Asking For Whom the Bell Tolls

by DAVID Ker THOMSON

Seeing gurneys of babies trundled through the chiaroscuro of old black-and-white footage at the start of Scott Noble’s Human Resources, the gurneys in the tunnels of God only knows what kind of institution, the viewer does well to brace herself for the coming onslaught.

The piano accompaniment is not so much music as it is the hammering of wires in the industrial mode, a harbinger of doom.  And as it turns out, there is nothing in the film to save us from its earliest suggestion of menace.  Not the reassurance that the institution is a hospital rather than a death camp, not the good-natured and wacky antics of the scientist donning a fierce mask to impress Little Albert the plucky human baby in a famous set of experiments, not a single routine bell of work or school by which we recognize ourselves as modern subjects.  Not one of these scenes can silence the tolling bell of modernity as it calls out to us across a century of darkness and names us as we sit, not quite cowering, before the flitframes of Human Resources, our faces backlit by our computer screens like so many ancients clustered around a faggot fire at the center of the night.

Perhaps we have seen some or most of these images before.  They lurk in the sensorium as a subliminal archive of what it is we know collectively—but Noble’s synthesis cracks the code of their proper arrangement.  This is the order in which they need to be seen, these are the appropriate experts interviewed and brought to the film with just the right finesse of juxtaposition.  Appreciating Noble’s relentlessly inquisitorial talent as a film-maker is like the moment when you first realize that a piano is not a plucked-string instrument but an instrument of percussion.  Listen and learn.  Noble’s skill is at such an exalted level that the wise viewer might well hold something in reserve, a suspicion that anything this good, eliciting these sorts of responses from us, might possess its own dark behaviourist powers.  Glad we might be to have such a mage as Noble on our side.

While I was a grad student at Princeton, I went to Duke University for a couple of years to hang out in classes with Fred Jameson, the theorist and critic of modernism.  It took me a while to get up to speed.  Human Resources is the film I wish I had been able to see before sitting in on Jameson’s lectures on Fordism, Taylorism, and the whole shtick of capital and Western civ in the 20th-century industrial mode, and what that portends for culture and for the 21st century.

Is Human Resources a masterpiece?  To know this, you’d have to answer the old zen conundrums, like whether a truckload of dead babies is worse than the possibly-less unsettling notion of a live one eating its way up from the bottom.  I advise viewing the first half of Human Resources in the educative mode, learning the ropes of that skein of modernity that has held us so resourcefully to our tasks as good worker bees and advocates of box-style public education.  I advise viewing the second half of the film with the willingness to weep that is the corollary of modernist inquiry.  Unless you weep, you may be damaged by this film.  It answers the significant events of the last century the way a glass answers the implicit questions of a man who peers into its reflective surface—point for point.  It corresponds, in short, to reality.  Perhaps this is what we mean when we say that a work is a piece of the master.

Human Resources, by Scott Noble.  Viewer discretion, and love, advised.

DAVID Ker THOMSON is a once-and-future prof at the University of Toronto.  He teaches in the Language and Thinking Program at Bard College.  dave.thomson@utoronto.ca

 

 

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail