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Month: June 2009

Dislocation at Noon at Midnight

Dislocation at Noon at Midnight

Last Year at Marienbad. Directed by Alain Resnais. 1961
Last Year at Marienbad. Directed by Alain Resnais. 1961

Gothic, surrealist, stately, slow . . . . haunting and bee-zarrr, Last Year in Marienbad is a classic French film that will mystify and intrigue, or drive you right up a wall. And those walls are sumptuous.

The film is set perhaps in what was once called Czechoslovakia. We don’t really know, because we’re never really sure if we’re in the present, in the past, in an invented past or present. Resnais does give verbal, musical and visual clues that shift the time, but as the film progresses, we trust those clues less and less. Is it all in the mind of X, the narrator? Is he actually talking to A, the woman he claims he met in the spa town Marienbad last year? Does her lover or her husband or her Svengali, M, pull all the strings?

Three characters, no names. X (Giorgio Albertazzi), A (Delphine Seyrig) and M (Sacha … Click to continue . . .

Why We Hide From the Truth

Why We Hide From the Truth

Ari Folman, director. David Polonsky, art director. 2008
Ari Folman, director. David Polonsky, art director. 2008

Waltz With Bashir is a stunning, profoundly moving animated documentary about war, memory loss, vengeance and guilt. It is based on true stories and memories gathered by the director, focusing on his own time as a soldier during the Lebanon War. It is his personal journey to recover hidden memories, to uncover exactly what he did, where he was, and what his role might have been in Beirut, cerca 1982.

I had no idea, going into the film, that an animated feature could be so powerful. Its slow pace at times proved deceptive, and the final shift into live action, archival footage from the time of the Sabra-Shatila massacres crushes the viewer.

What is most important about this film is that it puts the lie to the idea that war is glorious, noble, filled with heroes and heroism as a matter of course. While many recent films have painted war in a … Click to continue . . .

The Artist Might Hesitate

The Artist Might Hesitate

Only Four Colors Left

 

Clumsy painting of the Self must turn
Into itself and away from vague
Proclamations and generalities
Concerning what it means to live and die

But who would know what we
What I face going into the landscape
Again and again?
Like bitter birds waiting for the scraps
And arthritic hands in the park

Who knows how the snow stops
Coming and coming pushing cars off the road
Or mixing polarities with gray
gray air?

Mine is the issue of the landscape
Not the pattern
It is the slant and the break and the wisdom
Of hills becoming mountains becoming
Slopes
        Valleys
                   Gorges
Sneaking near fault lines
Spraying the open mind with replicas
As contours of itself

For itself

My landscape is not what it used to be in the streets
Of the edge-cities
And the homes with books
Tables chairs windows looking
Seething to keep ties to real sources
Like the forest for the trees … Click to continue . . .

Travel, Travail, Temptation

Travel, Travail, Temptation

The Harvesters, by Pieter Bruegel. 1565
The Harvesters, by Pieter Bruegel. 1565

John Abel’s comments about Mark Twain’s non-fiction work got me to thinkin’. A dangerous thing, for sure. I thought about the miles Twain must have traveled, first up and down the Mississippi, then, when famous, around the world. And I thought about Tess, Hardy’s Tess, and how she might have traveled within Wessex some 15 to 25 miles in one direction or another, probably never going much beyond a radius of 25 miles or so.

. . . . Through beautiful meadows and across ancient hills, to her destiny, but her destiny was not too far from the place she was born. Hardy creates a big world for her, with extensive inner horizons, but she walked almost everywhere she went, rarely was granted even so much as a ride on a horse or in a carriage. Her world must have been quite large for her. To us, in the 21st century, with our … Click to continue . . .

Bloomsday 2009

Bloomsday 2009

Cover, 1922
Cover, 1922

Another year past, and we’re here again. June 16th. Bloomsday. The day to celebrate James Joyce’s book about a day in the life in 1904 that was kinda important to him.

It points back in time to Homer, back in time to various modes of English, back in time to that day in 1904, and ahead in time for thousands of scholars who have labored to understand it and its myriad sources.

Ulysses was meant to be read aloud, so we can chew on each word. It was meant to be heard, so we can sing with each paragraph. Listen to each sentence, carefully, so we can dance inside our ears. May your celebration be cerebral, merry, filled with joy and song, and may it involve a little reading, here and there, too.

(A great site for Bloomsday activities, and Joyce in general, can be found by clicking here)

Here’s an excerpt from Episode 9, Scylla and Click to continue . . .

The Great American Novel

The Great American Novel

Jacket for The Great Gatsby. Cerca 1925
Jacket for The Great Gatsby. Cerca 1925

Personally, I have no horse in this race. But I am interested in discussions regarding the best of the best. Not that any of them are definitive, or even particularly enlightening. They do, however, seem to spark interesting dialogue.

A friend of mine sent along an online article about a panel discussion on the topic of Great American Novel. The Cultural Center of Cape Cod recently had a battle of the books, with five English teachers guiding the debate, and some one hundred people in the audience.

Some excerpts from the article:

“Moby Dick” had the home court advantage according to Rick Porteus, who teaches at Dennis Yarmouth High School. “Two months ago the Massachusetts state legislature voted ‘Moby Dick’ the epic of Massachusetts,” he said.

Porteus discussed the connections “Moby Dick” has to the Cape and Islands, including the story of the Essex, a Nantucket whaling ship that was sunk by a … Click to continue . . .

Venus Sleeps

Venus Sleeps

The Sleeping Venus, by Giorgione. 1510
The Sleeping Venus, by Giorgione. 1510

 The loss of art and the wonder of its survival. Giorgione (1477-1510) left us less than ten paintings that can be attributed to him with certainty, or something close to that. The Sleeping Venus is one of them, though even this great work of art was finished by Titian, not Giorgione, who died before its completion. The subject, an erotically charged, reclining female nude, was revolutionary for its time, though earlier cultures had far less angst when it came to portraying similar subject matter. In many ways, we lag behind them still.

Restoration. Of the soul, of treasures left to us, passed down by geniuses, madmen and saints. Restoration of the golden age that came before, that never was, the goddesses and gods and heroes who once walked the earth, larger than life, bigger than the average dream, but dreamed of by humans larger than life in their own way. Stunning artists, obsessed with … Click to continue . . .

Multiplicity, Faith and History

Multiplicity, Faith and History

Mendut Temple, Central Java, Indonesia. Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata
Mendut Temple, Central Java, Indonesia. Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata

Pascal said:

“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.”

He was thinking about the heavens, the stars, galaxies, night. He said in another pensée:

“For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either.”

I imagine most of us have these feelings from time to time. The immensity of the universe dwarfing us, subduing us, making us feel more than alone. Devastatingly alone.

But the reverse can occur, as well as all of the points in between. As in, think about history, think about the billions of forms of expression from age to age, culture to culture, nation to nation. Think about the collective as well as the individual. Expression, art, words, thoughts, music. It teems. It’s electrified. The variance, the variety, the near cacophony of different … Click to continue . . .