Film: The A-Z of Separating People from Their Money
Director: Hermann Vaske
A blond man wearing fringed leather and riding a galloping horse is met by a band of Apaches; one dismounts with him and takes his hand, calling him “my brother.” The Indian tells the blond man that he’s heard a great ball of fire will soon be making its way toward them. The blond man says he was just coming to warn him of this. How did he know? The Indian takes out a newspaper whose headline announces the construction of a railway across the desert.
It’s a German advertisement for a prominent daily paper. It’s a scene that sticks in your head, replaying again and again, and it might just be enough to persuade you to buy that paper.
This artsy documentary, full of cameos with brilliant and exciting people, bejeweled with stylised blurry sixties technicolour scenes, narrated by the late Dennis Hopper in possibly the best acting he’s ever done, is nearly three hours long and at times difficult. But not to worry; I’m here to tell you what It’s about.
In a series of clips and short interviews structured on the alphabet (“H” is for Hollywood, “J” is for jealousy, “P” is for propaganda, and so on) we learn that to separate people from their money one must suck out pieces of their souls as well.
Why? Well, it appears that we humans are so tightly connected with our wherewithal that to be persuaded to use it to purchase anything beyond the most basic elements of survival we must experience threats to our security, freedom, tranquility, imagination, creativity, taste, self-esteem, integrity, and many other accoutrements of our humanity. We can also be tricked into experiencing positive sensations about something that may not be that good for us.
Capitalism isn’t about you tilling a field and trading your extra potatoes to me for a pair of winter boots. It’s about me persuading you to give up more of your potatoes in exchange for my boots, either by convincing you that my boots are worth more potatoes or that one pair of my boots is simply not enough for you. That’s where advertising takes over.
The advertisers? goal is to get you to part with your extra cash. And once That’s gone their role is to stir up longings so powerful that You’re willing to go into debt, or even go without some of the necessities of life, to own the sizzle of that steak they’re proffering. No matter how much love Joe Camel, Ronald McDonald, and Tony the Tiger seem to be exuding, It’s more about helping them than helping you. (If you don’t believe me, take a hard look at what they’re trying to sell you.)
Now you know. But don’t think this means you shouldn’t watch the film, which is kind of like sitting around for hours figuring out what’s wrong with the world in the company of your smartest friends. It’s a long, drawn out affair, but It’s also one of the most mentally stimulating explorations out there, forcing you to examine materialism, globalisation, greed, the profit motive, and where you stand in the whirlwind of marketing strategies.
Film award magnet Hermann Vaske is known for taking on ambitious projects of social commentary and cultural deconstruction in which he draws clever sound bites from iconic personages. Without being dogmatic he lets us explore important ideas by pulling personal opinions from the mouths of those we adore?David Bowie, David Lynch, Malcolm McLaren, et al?as well as by staging the most interesting little vignettes and giving Dennis Hopper some amazing monologues.
The film is presented from an almost brutally masculine point of view (director Joe Pytka’s capitalist observations are particularly heartless), and it would grate if this weren’t actually the best way to present the cold, obscene, amoral, and cynical reality of the world of advertising.
The A-Z is a remake of the TV series that came out it 1998 (which is why everyone looks so young) but that the director has tweaked and prodded to make more filmlike, more all-of-a-piece, and it works well as such, if a trifle lengthy. I can’t seem to find out why Vaske decided to rerelease this material now, but I have a hunch that, back in the day, the film didn’t quite get the attention it deserved and that Vaske recognised that we’re living in a world far more likely to understand and act on the message.
Hopper begins the film by saying that everything we use has a dollar value. But, if anything, the film points in the opposite direction, suggesting that perhaps our time, our freedom, our essential originality, and our very humanity, are pearls beyond price.
The A-Z of Separating People from Their Money manifests six of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing.
– It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
– It poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence.
– It stimulates my mind.
– It harmoniously unites art with social action, saving me from both seclusion in an ivory tower and slavery to someone else’s political agenda.
– It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
– It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.
Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.