FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Asking For Whom the Bell Tolls

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:
September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of the Anthropocene
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster Rolls on Into Year Two
Rajan Menon
Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: a Saudi-American War of Terror
Russell Mokhiber
Nick Brana Says Dems Will Again Deny Sanders Presidential Nomination
Nicholas Levis
Three Lessons of Occupy Wall Street, With a Fair Dose of Memory
Steve Martinot
The Constitutionality of Homeless Encampments
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The Aftershocks of the Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt
Jesse Jackson
By Enforcing Climate Change Denial, Trump Puts Us All in Peril
George Wuerthner
Coyote Killing is Counter Productive
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail