Sunday, June 24, 2007


I bought the entire set of American “Cracker” programs because there was more show per dollar than any other option: it was cheap. I mean, I wasn’t hoping for anything as satisfactory as the BBC “Cracker” and wasn’t particularly looking forward to all this stuff about LA crime, though I’m a bit of a Pastorelli fan. Still, it poses an interesting question since some of the episodes use the same script as the BBC with only slight changes because of the now American context. The scripts have the same gripping dilemmas, the Cracker figures them out through the same clues, the other actors are all strong, but the essential difference is simply inescapable: in what way can an Italian guy functioning in LA ever convince anyone that he’s suffering? How does he make us know that he drinks, gambles and fools around because he’s tipping on the edge of an existential void, the kind that that the Irish have known for centuries. Pastorelli comes off as justifiably in agony about as well as I come off as a Very Worried Trojan woman. The whole setup lacks gravitas. It becomes just more crazy Hollywood stuff.

But there are a few episodes that are written for the American version, most notably about a man born as an intersexual person who steals a baby. This is written by a woman and the context is Hispanic, people still locked into the unforgiving Catholic context of Mexico where they celebrate the Day of the Dead in a rather Irish way. What if the American Cracker had been given a bit of Mafia background?

The “conceit” of all these BBC mysteries is that, as the Jungians say, the “wound” of the psychologist allows the unbearable pain of psychopaths to get into his soul -- NOT his mind, his SOUL. This is true of the BBC “Cracker,” “Touching Evil”, and “Wire in the Blood.” It’s probably too flip to say that since LA has no soul, it cannot possibly replicate the Jungian anquished empathy of a person who sees not psychological problems so much as spiritual problems that institutional religion fails to address. This genre is psychologist-as-priest-replacement, which swaps the inscrutable nature of life addressed by a dedicated liturgical adept who can offer absolution with instead the intractable nature of a suffering man with no institutional context or rationale, much less desire to get better -- just “understand.” But the suffering man can’t be in a situation of hedonism and narcissism, no matter how much self-knowledge he shows, if society itself endorses his wickedness. Our society says to Fitz’s family, “Get over it. You’re not that special.” Irish society, esp. at the time the original scripts were written, said, “Family is as precious as God, as close to the Holy as you can come. Your sin is beyond redemption. You will suffer in Hell.” This is the same handicap of shallowness that made the Robson Green vehicle called “Take Me” so tedious. The kids were smarter and more resourceful than their parents.

I did NOT know until I looked at just now that Pastorelli had died of a drug overdose shortly after the end of this series. Seeing that, I Googled Pastorelli further and discovered that this man truly DID have demons. His girl friend was shot in the head in his home and he was the prime suspect. His heroin overdose might have been deliberate. This was a man for whom acting via the Method might have been just a bit too close to the bone, may have woken things in his gut that he hardly dared show, might have endangered his Soul. What comes off as lack of connection might have been a self-protective wall.

Another possibility is that the director realized that his “Cracker” was actually a “Crackee,” and might blow up on him, endangering the whole production. Better to low-ball it. The police evidently were thinking along the same lines, classifying Pastorelli as only a “person of interest” in the murder until after his death. Do such labyrinthine situations happen anywhere but Hollywood? (Answer: yes, in my experience, on Indian reservations and therefore, I suspect, anywhere that behavior is more than a little bit out of control, without context.)

Probably even as I write, someone somewhere is writing a script about Pastorelli as Cracker being played by Pastorelli the addict and killer. It will probably be easy to sell.

The worst thing about these “psycho/psychologist” stories is that they lead us to believe that human behavior is fathomable but only by gifted, exceptional persons. I would suggest that most mothers could see something is wrong with a person not their own child -- at least most of the time. Mothers and wives usually can’t act on it: challenge, test, expose. They can only withdraw, avoid. No one wants to be shot in the head.

I’m reading “Running with the Bulls,” Valerie Hemingway’s memoir that tries to explain Ernest Hemingway and his youngest son as they head over the bison-killing cliff into depression, madness and oblivion -- probably genetic at heart. She repeats over and over that she took the best interpretation of what she saw, that she had too much at stake to do any whistle-blowing, that she felt it was her duty to be optimistic and to believe the nuns (Irish!) who said anything could be achieved if one wanted it enough and prayed hard enough. But her mother gave her different advice. Mary Hemingway saw the danger but had the same reasons not to take decisive action until afterwards. I understand very well from my own life.

But why are so many voyeuristic about it? Do we imagine that by watching crime Crackers we will become astute enough to protect ourselves? Know what to do? Or do we like to imagine what it is like to be the nutcase, the one who took revenge? I have not seen the movie in which Pastorelli plays a killer. They say it is very good. Maybe I don’t want to see it.

Or maybe I do. Is there a writer anywhere who doesn’t think of his/herself as a bit of a Cracker? Is there a critic or reader who doesn’t think s/he can crack the author?


Whisky Prajer said...

re: voyeurism, I think the impulse for most people is somewhat akin to the one that prompts them to get on board a roller coaster: it's going to be scary as hell, but you'll (probably) find yourself safe as houses when it's all done. But there are also those of us who read/watch these things because we have in some way survived something similar, and we're just looking for a little company, and some further clue as to how to deal with the memories.

Re: Cracker, I've only seen the British version, but I wonder if an LA version mightn't have worked if the protagonist had been black? I realize I'm assuming someone in TV-land would be willing to take an enormous risk (a black protagonist, for starters. But an existentially tormented one to boot? Not bloody likely). But could you imagine what a plumb role that could be? Of course, "Cracker" in this context has some very unfortunate connotations. Still, you could certainly work with it.

Mary said...

The American Cracker has a black cop who takes a prominent role, but he's more of a Colin Powell type than a cynical but perceptive contrast. Interesting idea, though.

Actually, I think that the idea of a person who is fatally flawed or damaged but immensely empathetic works best by starting from scratch: could be a woman recovering from insanity (like that series about a woman who has visions) or-- here's a twist -- a South Vietnamese veteran who has been terribly tortured...

Prairie Mary