#50. The Blue Angel (1930)

The Blue Angel focuses on a teacher whose students are always trying to humiliate him, or get him in trouble, and it reminded me of a substitute I often had in middle school, his name was Mr. Lee, and Mr. Lee showed up to school in a taxi, which you don’t often see in Miami, and he always wore short-sleeved plaid shirts that he tucked into khakis. He carried around a briefcase that only ever had a newspaper and his lunch inside  it and his accent was light enough that he was coherent, and we understood his pleas for mercy, but thick enough to make his anger amusing. When he called us monsters it sounded like “maw-stahs.” We made him cry once. It was sobering to see that happen, and it might have been the first time I saw an adult cry, but I don’t know how bad we really felt. It makes me sad now because he was a nice guy, just trying to do his job, while my friends and I were pubescent vermin who didn’t understand anything about struggle or dignity or anything. Also, having worked as a substitute myself at this point, I understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that shit.

blue angel toast
Von Sternberg’s portrait feels so similar to life in the way our teacher-hero goes from proud to dejected, and then proud again, and then defiant and rapturous and brave — before humility and shame strike him down again. It isn’t a perfect arc.

It came full circle. What stands out tallest in my memory of those two years working as a substitute teacher are the repeated encounters I had with one particularly awful kid. His name was Goro. And Goro — no joke — remains to this day the worst person I’ve ever met. Not a “troublemaker,” as other teachers called him, not just “disturbed” — or I mean yes he was both of those things, very much, but the words don’t do him justice. You don’t just call Everest “big.” And you don’t just call Goro “troubled.” Words pale before Goro — whose conception I imagine taking place when a semen-covered machete was thrown into a sewer; nine months later, in some dark morning hour, a manhole cover was lifted gently from below. A homuncular and slackjawed boything crawled fetid and shitmeared from the open drain to go loping barefoot into the night, and to subsist for years thereafter in a K-Mart ceiling, nourished on Busch Lite and Skittles and a shapeless pleasure in the suffering of others. Waiting. Waiting for high school.

I hated this fucking kid so much. He was blonde and loud and his nose was bulbous like a longtime drunk, his mouth always glowing with spit, and he walked with this palms-back troglodytic gait, hateful, looking around every room as though hungry for something to ruin. I don’t think I ever saw him with his mouth closed. He once leaned into the face of a girl with Down syndrome, right in front of me, and told her he was gonna beat the shit out of her. I told a teacher about him once, a lady who knew him pretty well, and she was like, “Yeah, there’s been talk of sending him to another school,” which I can only hope is on the fucking sun, because this kid, God save us, is concentrated Tropicana evil, strong and remorseless and bored.

blue angel clown

Anyway. I was thinking about Goro a lot while watching The Blue Angel — which is the second movie on this list by Josef von Sternberg, the first having been Docks of New York, and so even though I can’t, on the basis of these two movies, say that I’ve got a solid understanding of the artist himself, of his style and interests, I’m nonetheless prepared to say, on the basis of just these two, that von Sternberg is a storyteller who’s much more interested in characters than he is in plot, even story, endeared by the troubled and lukewarm waters of middle-aged romance, and I’m also prepared to conclude that the man is very smart, and talented, and that he is my friend.


  • Goro. No, dude, that name can’t be real. People don’t just name children like that, foreseeing that they will turn shitty.
    When you go back to making videos as well you should consider making one about being a teacher. Not that I want to hear about kids that redefined stupidity. Or fun bits from exams. No no no. I have you in mind. It could be a little like therapy for you. Also, I do want to hear those funny bits.


    • No, dude, it’s real. Exempli gratia, Reality Winner. The habit of fanciful naming displayed by tweakers & other injudicious parent-types are widely known to public school teachers & substitutes. I once taught a Snowflake. (Worse are private schools, especially males in WASP country: Traugott? Winthrop? Pericles?—the fuck? Every other one is a Nathaniel.)
      Goro is a little different. Not meth, not New England: it’s clearly a bored simulation programmer naming a non-person character (thus foreseeably shitty) after his or her favorite multi-limbed Shokan, what the kids call a glitch in the matrix. I know, I know, not a falsifiable hypothesis. But we’ll all—all of us—be weirded out when we run into a Kintaro or Sheeva in the next three months.
      (Sorry for the glut of hyperlinks, Alex.)


      • Quite alright, Frip, it’s a pleasure as always. Thanks again for having a look! And yeah, the names get strange.


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