Jul 6, 2014

Le Petit Amour (Kung Fu Masters!)

Jane Birkin and Mathieu Demy Le Petit Amour (Kung Fu Masters!), Dir. Agnès Varda (1988)

I recently saw Le Petit Amour (Kung Fu Masters!) (1988), directed by Agnès Varda, on Mubi. I am familiar with her most famous work, Jacquot de Nantes, and her exquisite short documentary films.

The movie tells the story of Mary-Jane, a recently divorced older woman (Jane Birkin) who unwittingly falls in love with her daughter's (Charlotte Gainsbourg) younger teenage classmate, Julien (Mathieu Demy). In real life, Demy is Varda's son, and Gainsbourg is Birkin's daughter. Birkin conceived the story, and Varda wrote it (also it is quite the cinematic family-affair, considering the real-life relationships among Varda, Demy, and the Birkin clan).


The plot concerns a taboo subject of intergenerational love, but I thought the film was redeemed (and Roger Ebert agrees) by its ability to capture feelings without the use of overwrought words, or a display of gratuitous sex. While the story is fantasy-driven, it touches upon the feeling of passionate love and how it can come upon you when you least expect it.


The film taps into the fears and anxieties of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, which becomes a political subtext underlying the main characters' search for sexual expression. The movie is understated in its emotional playfulness. Julien watches Mary-Jane sing to her younger daughter Lou (Lou Doillon), and we see in the boy's hazel eyes a glimmer of desire. Mary-Jane acts on his desire, and insinuates herself into Julien's life. Demy does not force the role of Julien, and Varda manages to treat the two's subsequent love affair with sensitivity, recognizing it is doomed from the start.


I liked the expert insertion of Mary-Jane's inner dialogue, coupled with Julien acting out his feelings through his bold behavior. Each is caught in their own fantasy, and one sequence in particular on an island off the coast of England, seems straight out of a Grimm's fairy tale (no intrusion from the outside world). Mary-Jane wonders "Do all women fall in love with a boy, or just those without sons?" and Julien plays out his adolescent fantasy through an arcade video game. A Kung-Fu master fights wizards and goblins to save the damsel in distress, Sylvia.


At the end of the movie reality eventually crashes through, and Mary-Jane picks up the pieces. The movie ends with a jarring scene of Julien telling his schoolmates how he got laid by an older woman, puffing on a cigarette, putting on a thin veneer of machismo. He's grown tired of her, while his older lover is still awash in the memories of the affair. 


The movie does not map well onto the current sexual politics. I saw someone on Mubi's message boards decry the movie for being traumatic and triggering. I'm not sure if we have become either blasé or intolerant of difficult subjects, but while the movie is touching and beautiful, today's pragmatic audience will not have much of a stomach for its forays into forbidden love.


Jun 17, 2014

Bacchus/Silenus Statuette from the Hill Collection

Attributed to Adriaen de Vries, Bacchus/Silenus, c.1579-80, bronze, 89.5 cm, private collection, USA, photograph by Maggie Nimkin.

Visited the Frick Collection on Sunday, the last day the museum exhibited bronze statuettes collected by Janine and J. Tomilson Hill.

Jun 6, 2014

June Journey On A Thirty Day Metrocard

Home is Sunset Park, Brooklyn
1. From Home to Herald Square / 34th Street via the Sixth Avenue Express.
2. From 47/50th Street to Home via the Sixth Avenue Express.
3. From Home to Carrol Gardens via the Fourth Ave Line and the Culver Viaduct.
4. From Prospect Ave. to Home via the Fourth Avenue Local.
5. From Home to Brooklyn's Chinatown via the B11 bus.
6. From 8th Ave. in Brooklyn to Home via the Sea Beach Line and the Fourth Avenue Local.
7. From Home to Bay Ridge via the Fourth Avenue Local.
8. From Bay Ridge to Home via the B63 bus.
9. From Home to Grand Central Station via the Fourth Avenue and Lexington Avenue Lines (with an out-of-service connexion on Metro-North's Harlem line to Golden's Bridge). Note: Because of construction on weekends the Fourth Avenue Local has been rerouted along the Manhattan Bridge.
10. From Golden's Bridge to Grand Central Station with connexion to the New York City Subway via the Lexington Avenue Express and Fourth Avenue Lines to Home.
11. From Home to Herald Square / 34th Street via the Sixth Avenue Express.
12. From Bryant Park to the Bronx Library Center via the Sixth Avenue Express to the Grand Concourse.
13. From the Bronx to Home (via the Sixth Avenue Line).
14. From Home to the Bronx via the Sixth Avenue Express.
15. From the Bronx to Home via the Sixth Avenue Local.
16. From Home to NYU via the Sixth Avenue Express.
17. From Second Avenue to Fort Green/BAM via the Culver and Nassau Lines.
18. From BAM/Atlantic Ave. to Home via the Fourth Avenue Local.
19. From Home to Madison Square Park/23rd Street via the Broadway Line.
20. From 23rd Street to 57th Street via the Sixth Avenue Local.
21. From Home to Atlantic Ave./Barclay Center via the Fourth Avenue Local.
22. From Atlantic Ave./Barclay Center to Home via the Fourth Avenue Local.
23. From Home to 36th Avenue (Queens) via the Broadway Line.
24. From 36th Avenue (Queens) to Home via the Broadway Line.
25. From Home to the Bronx via the Sixth Avenue Express..
26. From the Bronx to Broadway/Lafayette via the Sixth Avenue Express.
27. From Grand Street to Home via the Christy Street Connection.
28. From Home to the Bronx via the Sixth Avenue Express..
29. From the Bronx via the Grandconcourse Line to Union Street along the Fourth Avenue Local.
30. From Union Street to Home via the Fourth Avenue Local.
31. From Home to 8th Street/NYU via the Broadway Line.
32. From Union Square to 53rd Street/5th Avenue via the Lexington Avenue Line and 53rd Street Tunnel.
33. From 47-50th Street Rockefeller Center to Home via the Sixth Avenue Express.
34. From Home to 86th Street via the Lexington Avenue Line.
35. From 79th Street to Astor Place via the Lexington Avenue Line.
36. From Chambers Street to Home via the Nassau Line and Fourth Avenue Local.
37. From Home to 47/50th Street via the Sixth Avenue Express.
38. From 47/50th Street to Delancey/Essex Street via the Sixth Avenue Line and Christy Street Connection.
39. From Grand Street to Home via the Sixth Avenue Express.
40. From Home to Canal Street via the Broadway Line.
41. From Spring Street on the Eight Avenue Line with a transfer to the Canarsie Line to Union Square.
42. From Union Square on the Canarsie Line to Spring Street on the Eight Avenue Local.
43. From West Fourth to 47/50th Street via the Sixth Avenue Express. 
44. From 47/50th Street to Home via the Sixth Avenue Express.
45. From Home to the Bronx via the Grand Concourse and Sixth Avenue Express.
46. From the Bronx to Columbus Circle via the Sixth Avenue Line. 
47. From Columbus Circle to Grand Street via the Sixth Avenue Line.
48. From Canal Street to Home via the Broadway Line.
49. From Home to 8th Street/NYU via the Broadway Line.
50. From Union Square to 51st Street via the Lexington Avenue Local.
51. From 47/50th Street to Home via the Sixth Avenue Express.
52. From Home to 49th Street via the Broadway Line.
53. From 47/50th Street to Home via the Sixth Avenue Express.
54. From Home to 34th Street Herald Square via the Sixth Avenue Express.
55. From 34th Street Herald Square to the Bronx via the Sixth Avenue Local.
56. From the Bronx to Home.
The end of June 2014 Metrocard.

May 27, 2014

A Taste of Honey (1961)

Jo (Rita Tushingham) in A Taste of Honey (1961)
I've always been a sucker for kitchen sink drama. Maybe I was first smitten by Streetcar Named Desire, the Louisiana-Southern version of the genre — and I have always had a penchant for working class stories.


Fantastic! It's both queer and interracial!


A Taste for Honey (1961) is a fantastic! addition to the tradition — it boasts both a gay character (Oh My!) and interracial romance (Oh Gee!). And I am pretty sure the Smith's song "This Night Has Opened My Eyes" shares an aesthetic family resemblance. The plot offers nothing new in terms of what we're used to seeing on the big screen, and maybe I have seen enough movies from the 1960s to think that A Taste For Honey does not capture my attention because of its capacity to take on controversial topics. Charles Silver likened the protagonist Jo to Antoine Doinel from Truffaut's auteurist masterpiece. And while I did see the film first in Silver's Auteurist History of Film exhibition at MoMA (full disclosure), I tend to agree with this assessment. Tony Richardson's adaptation of Shelagh Delaney's play takes full advantage of Jo's (Rita Tushingham) soulful eyes beaten down by the soft ideology of work (which is why I say the song resembles the Smith's song). Could she have been a poet? The movie ends on an ambiguous note. Jo, replete with child, welcomes in her ousted mother Helen (Dora Bryan) inadvertently saying goodbye to Geoffrey (Murray Melvin), the titular gay boy. The ending shot of the little boy giving Jo the sparkler is touching, and I wondered at the movie's close if Geoffrey would return to be a gay uncle or if Jimmy (Paul Danquah) would ever show up again.


Mother Daughter Sister Lover


The movie leaves us with the question of Helen and Jo's fate. The mother and daughter pair share a strained intimacy, and we're left to wonder what it would be like if Jo had been able to move on without her. In an earlier scene, Helen bathes in the tub and tells her daughter she is now a married woman (which we suspect is probably her sixteenth proposal). The scene shows the relationship between the two women, while comfortable standing in the bathroom while her mother bathes (a form of intimacy), it is apparent that Helen will never be able to give the maternal care that Jo deserves. And when Jo becomes pregnant, and her mother has run off to live with her new husband Peter (a drunk), Jo cobbles together her own version of family with Geoffrey and fantasizes about her "dark prince" Jimmy. I liked the movie's careful way of showing us Jo with Jimmy, her first love, then Jo rebuffed by Helen, and then Jo thinking that she might be able to build something authentic with Geoffrey. It becomes clear that the Jo and Geoffrey story was a substitute for something else. For Jo, it was a desire to be cared for, and maybe for Geoffrey it was a need to be accepted. He was kicked out of his own apartment for sleeping with a man (was it rent controlled?) and when he moves in with Jo, he quickly takes on the role of the mother figure, even obtaining a fake baby to help Jo learn the rudimentary skills of motherhood. It's not surprising Jo throws the baby to the ground, and while we can probably guess the source of Jo's anger, we also realize (and maybe she does too) that motherhood will be foisted upon her no matter if she wants it or not and this pattern has had a long history, not only with her mother, but a powerful narrative that tells women that motherhood is natural and should be accepted. Helen is loathe to tell Jo of her biological father, except that they share the same eyes, and he was a simple man. This codes for Jo that her father was a half-wit, and her mother, even though she may have loved her father for an afternoon, the relationship did not sustain a family.

End of Innocence

The movie is bookended with images of childhood innocence, the first with Jo playing sport on the school playground, and the soundtrack of children singing "The big ship sails on the alley, alley, oh!" The movie ends with the same song, and we are lighted upon Jo's face one last time. Jo throughout the movie vacillates between child and scared adult. Rita Tushingham plays Jo with zest and innocence, for example, in an earlier scene where she pantomimes her teacher, and remarkably scared and curious when she feels her baby kick inside of her belly (and remember, this movie was made long before Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner had their moment in Juno). If Charles Silver is right, we can compare the two endings. In the Truffaut film Antoine is captured in a still shot on the beach which I still think is the most affective ending in cinematic history. We know Antoine's story because Truffaut regales us with many more sequels to follow. For Jo, we are left to imagine her story. And this I think is satisfactory.

Apr 18, 2014

From Adjunct Teacher to Typewriter

image source: videotron
Not having a job changes you.

You have to think differently when you're finding ways to carve out a life through words. For a long time I wrote so that I could discover myself. Once I discovered myself, I wrote so that I could discover other people. Then my writing became something I did when I was not teaching. Now that I am not teaching, it is as if I have been catapulted back to that original locus of creativity.

You have to think differently to make money as a writer. You can't think, OK, I make this much money a month, and I need to budget accordingly. No, you have to think, how much do I have to work this month? It's a paradigm shift for me. I feel both exhilarated and terrified.

The first time I made money as a writer was when I was twenty-seven years old. I won one hundred dollars in a poetry contest. I never cashed the cheque. I lost it in a gay bar in New Orleans.

Apr 6, 2014

Life is a Book

Life is a Book

"This book catalogues the lovely art collection of a museum in Munich." — at Washington Square Park.
Image Credit: Lisa Helfrich

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