Jun 3, 2017

I Wish I Were the Camera's Eye


A straphanger waits for a train at the 36th Street subway station in Brooklyn.
A straphanger is focused on his phone as he waits for a subway train in New York City
I wish I were the camera's eye. I would watch the world the way a film camera surveys its filmic world.

I would be a rare film, one that danced when it surveyed the world, but rarely seen, not distributed like a Hollywood classic.

I am a fan of the long take. Maybe it is because I admire the way some filmmakers are able to capture a moment for as long it can last.

I'd be the eye on a Max Ophul's film watching Madame wind a staircase. Or, I'd be the eye in Raiders of the Lost Ark, inventorying lost treasures.

I imagine the camera's eye is lonely and I'll admit I don't agree well with loneliness - who does? - but every once in awhile I just want to zoom out and take on what the philosopher's call "The God's Eye View."

I'd catch myself in a frame shot - kind of like what happens when I dream. I see myself in the corner of my eye. It's me. In my own dream.


Location:Brooklyn, NY

May 11, 2017

A Monster Calls (2016) - Movie Review

Production still from "A Monster Calls" (Focus Features)
A boy learns to face his fears (© Focus Features)
Wanna see a movie that gives us a twenty-first-century version of a Grimm's fairy tale?

In the book Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim lays out a psychological argument that fairy tales are useful in helping young children understand adult fears. Fairy tales are couched in childlike verse, but beneath the surface lies deeper, troubling psychological truths.

For example, why is every stepmother in fairy tales evil? Well, according to Bettelheim it is because it is all about the fear children have that our parents don't love us. But. This is too much to bear for the children, so the storyteller replaces this fear with a substitute - the stepmother.

In J.A. Bayona's fantasy flick, the logic works similarly. However, the metaphor is not as thickly veiled. There are no evil stepmothers; but, there is a strident grandmother (Sigourney Weaver).

The story, based on a novel of the same name by Patrick Ness, centers on a young boy named Conor (played sensitively by Louis MacDougall), a waifish boy attuned to the visual arts but prone to being bullied at school. He is dealing with the impending tragedy of his mother's death. 

While his family seemingly falls apart all around him, Conor falls deeper and deeper into a sullen depression. In one scene, he destroys his grandmother's sitting room, tearing the furniture apart. The boy is distraught and anger is an easy anodyne.

In order to help Conor deal with the reality of his grief, every night around midnight an anthropomorphic yew tree monster voiced by Liam Neeson) uproots itself from a nearby cemetery to dole out three fairy tales to the lad. The tales - à la Bettelheim - are meant to help the young boy deal with the very real fear of his mother's death.

That's all fine and dandy. There are lots of films and books that help children deal with the reality of death - take My Girl and Bridge to Terabithia as potent examples.

A Monster Calls is a little different because the plots rend open a deeper and more destructive fear. The inevitable death of Conor's mother also triggers within Conor a kind of death drive. The yew tree monster's stories are meant to help the boy realize his own wish to die and to counteract this drive with a life-giving "yes" living.

So it's intense material. I won't go into the content of the tales - but suffice it to say the film's visuals are stunning and I think the movie succeeds in driving home its central psychological thesis.

I am not one to censor films; however, I would caution against viewing this film with young children. I think the deeper themes of destruction and not-so-subtle hints about suicidal ideation should give parents pause. However, if parents know the content of the film deals with these themes, it could prove to be an enriching experience for both child and adult.

If Bettelheim is right, then fairy tales are meant to ease the more horrific facts of life - death, murder, suicide, decay, entropy and estimated taxes - and, thus; films just may be our twenty-first-century version of sixteenth century Grimm's fairy tales.

A Monster Calls (2016)
Focus Features
Directed by J.A. Bayonna
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, and Lewis McaDougall
Written by Patrick Ness (Screenplay) and based on his book.

May 8, 2017

Bird Bath / Zongzi Lady



The video is of birds in a fountain in Lower Manhattan - near the Museum of Jewish Heritage and New York Harbor.

The audio is from a street vendor on Grand and Chrystie Street in Manhattan selling her portions of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo (Zong Zi (粽子)).

May 7, 2017

Greig Wakes Up After Reading the Last Chapter of The Sound and the Fury

Greig Roselli Signed Selfie
Discovering filters late in the game, I am all agog.


Do you ever wake up with an intense dream that fills your morning with a rather bizarre metaphysical tone about it? I know - I studied philosophy - so I am not sure if I am alone - but I have a hunch that most of us have had this experience - if not once - then quite possibly a hundred times, even more. 

It goes like this. It is a particular kind of dream. I wake up and I seized by a memory from my childhood. I am in the backseat of the car on the way to swimming practice. Or I am a kindergartner turned around in my chair looking at mom in the back of the classroom. Or I am being stung by honeybees on a Summer vacation to Pass Christian, Mississippi.

The memory has a connection to the dream but it is not the content. The memory springs from the dream. The dream is often abstract. A silhouette of a man. An empty room that needs to be swept. I wake up and I am seized by the memory. What follows next is melancholy. I become so sad because the memories seem so far away from the current moment. Who was that person sitting in the back seat of the car? I can remember myself in the car but I cannot occupy the self of that person - of that other individual who is me but because either it was so long ago I cannot rewind the moment - or that I have become so different from that kid on his way to swimming practice that I can only archive the memory rather than inhabit it.

What follows the memory is a sharp intonation of mortality. I realize that I will die and I am again saddened by the passage of time. I know. It sounds morose. And it is cliché to say - "We're going to die." But I think when you feel your mortality in the morning after you wake up from this kind of memory sensation it heightens the feeling. It is more intense.

What follows is I think about how I am alive right now with many other people who are alive who share my timeline. People who were born at the same time as me; also, those people who were already alive and I have merely joined in - late for the party. Or, those who have recently joined us here on earth to have cake.

It's like the whole human race is a collection of dim lights that go on and off slowly - seen from above it would look like a slow-motion version of an air traffic controller's control board. As each light brims into existence, its light glows slowly to a fierce yellow then dissipates. But other lights are also coming in and out of existence. Once the light is gone it is gone forever. And there is not much variation - except the duration - because one light may brighten longer than another. 

It's probably because I have spent the weekend reading Faulkner. Like at the end of The Sound and the Fury, Luster takes Benjy on a furious ride around the Compton plantation on the family's horse and buggy - but very fast and in the direction Benjy is not used to taking. When Luster goes left - instead of right - Benjy groans and moans - roars! - and there is a horrific sense of the order of the world turned over. Of course, order is restored in the end and the world becomes "serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place."

It's like how at school kids always sit in the same place at lunch. Or how a broken clock can send a sharp sense of anxiety even in the most sensible of person. Or the feeling of dread when someone walks across the street and is almost hit by a careening bicycle. Composure is rattled. Like my morning awakenings. But with time everything regains composure and I am once again enveloped in the rhythm of the turning world.

Quote About Boredom by a Fictional Anthropological Personification

“Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom."
- Death in The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Death in movie version of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather
Production still from the Hogfather (2006)

May 2, 2017

Dramatic Interpretation: "Uninterrupted Consciousness Of Myself" from Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions

Who would have thought a spanking would have sparked a revolution? In this Eighteenth Century biographical classic, the birth of the coming-of-age narrative finds its place in this sensuous tale of a boy's "first uninterrupted consciousness of himself" in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophical biography Confessions (1786).




Apr 30, 2017

Dramatic Interpretation - "Dixie Dawn's Birthday Party" an Excerpt from Lewis Nordan's Novel Music of the Swamp


It’s Summer in Arrow Catcher, Mississippi and Sugar Mecklin is invited to Dixie Dawn’s birthday party - but the thing is she and her family are the pariahs of this white-trash town and no one shows up but our brave protagonist Sugar - in this rollicking farcical dark comedy by American author Lewis Nordan . . .

Apr 23, 2017

Selfie in the Subway

West Fourth Street Station New York City
Roto-Scope Style Selfie at West Fourth Street Station, Manhattan
So. I was exploring the city the other day. I took off from the 45th Street Station in Brooklyn. It's my home station. The one I depart from most often. For the commute, for everything. It's my everything station. Lulz. And by the way, there are two entrances,  one on the west side of the avenue and the other on the east side.

Did you know the station is not deep? - in fact, it is like many subway stations in New York City built according to the cut-and-cover method of subway infrastructure building. It is crazy to think that construction on this segment of the subway system underneath Fourth Avenue started in 1906. It took a couple of decades to complete the final project but now - today! - you have a one-ticket ride from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to Forest Hills in Queens.

On this particular excursion, I, a straphanger with a 30-day MetroCard, took the Sixth Avenue bound express train at 36th Street and ended up at West Fourth Street station in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Hence the selfie - notice the rotoscope-style photograph. I noticed Facebook added cool animation layovers to supplement the iPhone's camera function.

Hence this selfie that makes me way younger than I actually am.

Which made me reflect on modernity.

Not really.

But I did watch a disturbing video about youth: Baby Shark. Has modernity really taken us this far where youth has been relegated to the use of violence as the only means to "be woke"?

It reminds me of a quote from Flannery O'Connor - and I am paraphrasing - where she says the reason she includes violence in her short stories is that she realizes that violence is the most potent way to get people's attention.

In other news: I ate a colossal ham sandwich entitled "The Bomb" at a deli near Ditmars Boulevard in Queens.

If you squint, you can barely make out my wrinkles.

Feb 28, 2017

Adult/Teenager Banter in Manchester by the Sea

Production still from Manchester by the Sea (© 2016 Amazon Studios)
Nephew Patrick and Uncle Eddie squabble in Manchester by the Sea © 2016 Amazon Studios
I must admit one film that slipped by me was Manchester by the Sea - produced by Amazon Studios and a contender in the 2016 awards season. 

The movie is good and it has lots of witty examples of adult/teenager banter. I can see why it won an award at the Oscars for its writing.


Underneath the banter between Casey Affleck's character and his on-screen nephew, lies a serious and moving story. However, it's a hilarious movie even though it is about a man who is wracked with guilt over the accidental death of his three children and who is now faced with the prospect of raising his teenaged nephew. For example, the conversations between Patrick, the nephew, who just lost his father, and his Uncle Eddie (Casey Affleck) are well-written and funny. A recurring string of dialogue is the nephew's hilarious pointed questions that undermine his Uncle's crotchety humanism - and poke fun at his complete lack of social aplomb. 

At one point a stranger overhears the two arguing. He says something critical - like, "Good parenting," and Uncle Eddie - as he does throughout this movie when he perceives a slight to his character - goes ballistic and Patrick tries to defuse the situation and then, hilariously, whips around and says "Uncle Eddie, are you fundamentally unsound?" and, later, "Are you brain damaged?"

Here is another funny exchange - but this time it is Uncle Eddie. He tells Patrick that "if you're going to freak out every time that you see a frozen chicken I think we should go to the hospital."

#funny 

Feb 7, 2017

Notes on a Tuesday Evening After Instructing the Pupils


Chalkboard inside Greig Roselli's classroom

At the end of the school day, most kids shuffle to their locker, collect wallets, purses, slung-over-the-shoulder book bags, and whatever else they've deigned to take home with them on a weekday afternoon. At the end of the school day, teachers make last minute conversations, shuffle to the copier and churn out dittos (that's what we used to call those things), input grades, drink a cup of coffee and then head out the double door into oh-so-beautiful reality.

Or. Sometimes teachers bolt. Taking a breath, needing space between teacher and student, teacher and teacher, it is sometimes necessary to do the after bell plunge.

Today I bolted with a fellow teacher compatriot. We took solace on the local train back to our prospective boroughs (and burrows). I was dressed very dapper today. Normally I am presenting a six (or seven) o'clock shadow, my tie a bit untied, and the color scheme on my body jarring - to say the least. Did I tell you that yesterday I wore a shockingly yellow paisley tie on top of a red checkered shirt - complete with a professorial coat that seemed to have forgotten its trip to the laundromat? I am not sure if I should blame my slovenly father or my very exquisitely dressed mother, but I have chosen to not really take seriously the concept of "professionally dressed."

Anyway. I digress. I have thirty research papers to grade - ranging from topics such Yankee Doodle Dandy and Bowling (the students chose their topics - those lusty scholars of learning!) - and instead of doing just that, grading, I am finding solace on my blog. And I have my wardrobe laid out for tomorrow - at least I'll look dapper again tomorrow. 

Here's a shout out to all those educators out there: you do you. And do clothes make the man?

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