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

 

 

Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail