Showing posts with label boys. Show all posts
Showing posts with label boys. Show all posts


The Ineluctable Bond of Two Boys Broken: Movie Review of Close (2022)

In this post, I write a spoiler-y review of the 2022 Belgian film Close. This review is meant for after viewing the film.
Image Credit: Diaphana Films
Close Garners Accolades on the Film Prize Circuit
Have you recently watched the Belgian film Close (2022), directed by Lukas Dhont and starring two incredible young actors, Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele? The movie was highly acclaimed, nominated for an Academy Award, and won the prestigious Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival. The story is a tragic one about two boys. Having read multiple stories of queer, questioning, and gay young people killed or dying of unsuspecting causes, I went into the film with skepticism. For example, I loved the novel Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne — but, again, it is a story of a young, bright, young person who dies because of hatred and homophobia. But I digress — in this story of two young boys who live in a small Flemish town near the flower fields of Brabant, the story is more about adolescent male friendship than anything else. 
I Did Harbor Some Assumptions (I Confess)
        After watching the trailer, I confess I assumed that the blonde-haired boy, Leo (played by Dambrine), was the more fragile of the two. He appears smaller, in contrast, to Remi (played by De Wael), even though in real life, the former is several years older than the latter, and during filming, De Wael had to wear platform shoes to appear taller than Dambrine. And in an interesting backstory, Lukas Dhont discovered Dambrine on a train, conversing with friends, and asked him to audition for the part — which he did. All of this to say, while my original assumption was wrong, the film is very much about the character of Leo, both in his friendship with Remi, which only takes up less than half the film, and the micro-steps that follow the boys' breakup.
The Exposition of a Boys' Friendship 
       The movie portrays two thirteen-year-old boys with an unbreakable bond. They are kindred spirits, and their connection is unexplainable. A beautiful scene sets up the friends' bond where Leo, as they both cannot sleep on a summer evening, tells Remi a story about a gecko and its colors. Remi lights up as Leo tells the story, and the camera is positioned intimately close to the two. Film trumps other forms of narrative works where the body, the face, can tell a story, and I was drawn into the ease of their facial expressions and how comfortable the two adolescents are in each other's presence. Leo, in this scene, is portrayed as a poetic and sensitive soul, and his monologue foreshadows what will come. I thought Remi would reject Leo, but it was the reverse. 
        Their friendship is exposed to the public eye of their peers. Once they start going to a new school, the other kids make note of the boys' friendship and ask if they are a couple. Despite their kindred and beautiful connection, the question "Are you together?" is enough to put a blunt edge between the two kids' bond. In my head, I thought Leo took it to heart and had a more difficult time dealing with that. But actually, in the movie, Leo is more riled up about the accusation and pushes Remi, the other boy, away. The two boys detonate internally, each in their own unique way, and a gulf begins to split between them. It is in this splitting apart that the film attempts to explore.
An Inexplicable Event Happens. 
         There is a field trip, and Remi is not there. The kids go to the ocean and return, and Leo discovers that Remi has committed suicide. Leo runs frantically, heaving, and arrives at Remi's house, but no one is home, and he sees the door to the bathroom has been busted open. And he knows. In a scene earlier in the movie, Remi was in the bathroom and wouldn't come out, and the mother kept banging on the door. It was after Leo and Remi had a fight. It is evident now. As Leo stares into the window of the empty house, Remi is no longer here. And this is where the story becomes not one of a beautiful friendship but a story of a piece missing, of Leo's tortured journey. And Remi's mother — it was the mother who discovered her son. And when Leo discovers that Remi was in the bathroom when he committed suicide, he internalizes it as his fault.
         Leo goes through the motions. He silently attends his friend's funeral. Leo's emotional journey is acute and raw as he tries to find solace in his older brother and silently deals with his feelings at hockey practice and in class. Leo's guilt and sense of responsibility for Remi's death are palpable, and it is painful to watch a child suffer in such a way. He has to listen as other kids talk superficially about Remi. One boy mentions that Remi seemed happy, but Leo breaks the silence and questions whether the boy really knew. "Was he happy? did you know?" Leo asks and storms out of the room. A counselor comes to talk to the middle school class, but the guilt on Leo takes a toll on him. He befriends another boy on his hockey team, but their friendship differs from his friendship with Remi. Leo finds ways to confront or be with Remi's mother, who is also obviously dealing with her grief. And in this part, the story feels fragile and raw — because, as a viewer, I did not know who would break first, Leo or the mother.
The Question of "Why?"
        The film raises several questions, such as why Leo was not kinder to Remi, why Remi did not seek help from his loving parents, and why it all ended horrifically. Leo is so shaken by it viscerally, but he is still so young that he cannot verbalize his feelings. Remi is dead, and that reality is painful enough, but Leo also holds on to this feeling that he is responsible for his friend's death. A child should not have to go through this type of suffering, right? However, the director slowly turns the viewer's attention to Leo and his struggle to deal with his friend's death without providing easy answers to the "why" of it. The film culminates in an inevitable confrontation between Remi's mother and Leo, which provides a sense of closure, but not resolution. The scene is in the woods, the trees serving as a backdrop of both characters' pain — a place set away from the real world of school, family, and home. Without giving away too many details, this is how the film ends.
Closing Remarks
        The movie's personal and emotional performance from the cast is remarkable, and the actors spent a lot of time together processing the story's magnitude. The film's title, "Close," hits home, portraying the story of two boys who cling to each other. I could identify with the boys — as I, too, had close friendships growing up, and I think this is a phenomenon that many young men experience. Leo and Remi express their feelings about society's bias about close male friendships when girls at lunch call out the boys' friendship, but they first retort, "Well, what about girls? You can have a girly friendship," and no one says anything. The worst crime a society can commit is snuffing out love between two people. I felt like Leo and Remi hold an ineluctable bond that is intense, loving, and special. It is not a gay story, specifically, but one of love, friendship, and the dissolution of those bonds. And it is that dissolution that cries out to heaven for justice.
       I finished the movie visibly shaken. I had not felt this emotionally challenged by a movie about love and connections lost since the 2017 film Call Me By Your NameAs a viewer, one can bring their own emotions and experiences to the film, and "Close" explores the complexities of friendship, guilt, and grief, especially among young boys. It sheds light on toxic masculinity, its impact on society, and the intensity of friendships at a young age. Overall, "Close" is a poignant film that leaves a lasting impact and is a deserving nominee for an Academy Award.
Stray Observations
  • The film boasts the debut of the two actors Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele.
  • The working title was "We Two Boys Together Clinging," which is the title of a poem by Walt Whitman, which inspired the work of artist David Hockney.
  • The film reflects Belgium's linguistic diversity, with French and Flemish spoken due to the country's small size and the presence of Dutch, Flemish, French, English, and German in daily conversation.
  • The small Flemish town where the film is shot is called Wetteren in East Flanders.
  • I lived in Belgium for over a year as a student at K.U.L. in Leuven.
Close (2022)
Diaphana Distribution
Directed by Lukas Dhont
Starring Eden Dambrine, Gustav De Waele, Léa Drucker, and Émilie Dequenne
Original Screenplay by Lukas Dhont and Angelo Tijssens.


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, A Monster Calls, 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.


Are Philosophers Inspired by the Figure of the Child?

In this post, I discuss one of my favorite topics: how have thinkers, writers, and philosophers been inspired by the figure of the child?

I am stuck on this topic of the child as a figure of philosophical thought or inspiration. The question writ large is this: how can the child be both a muse and tabula rasa? In other words, how can the child be a figure of inspiration, yet at the same time, not capable of the label philosopher? The philosopher, artist, thinker, writer, goes to the child for their inspiration, but the paradox is this: the child is seldom seen as a locus of philosophical import. How can it be both? Both muse and empty of content? We call the child innocence but what we mean is empty, according to Kincaid. And i agree. The label of innocence creates a bind. A problem. Innocence maintains the status of muse but creates a problem by which the child is only able to miraculously appear through nostalgia and leaves whence she came. William Blake trumpets the child as a muse. Blake writes of a poet/piper in the introductory verse of the Songs of Innocence who is visited by a child on a cloud who commands him to write: "Piper sit thee down and write / In a book that all may read." Is the child merely an apparition for the romantic poet? Notice it is the poet and not the lofty nude boy cherub who puts words onto paper. How can it be that the child inspires the poet to write but is bereft of his own song?
I can name three famous instances where a child appears in the margins of the history of philosophy. In Plato’s Meno, Socrates employs a slave child to demonstrate to Meno that learning is recollection. Meno assures Socrates that the boy has no previous knowledge of geometry. The question is if the child has no prior knowledge of geometry can she still learn it? Socrates asks the slave boy questions. He does not supply him with answers as if his mind were an empty vessel. Socrates is notorious for asserting that we come upon the quest for knowledge at an instance of nothing. We know nothing. Nothing is a starting point. Just by the guidance of a question, the slave boy is able to come up with the solution to the problem of halving a square. Plato does not indicate the child's age. I would guess he is no older than sixteen. No younger than seven. Is it a coincidence that Socrates uses him as an example? To use a child to illustrate a philosophical point suggests something about the status of a child. In this case a slave child. To be a slave and a child at the time of Socrates was to be afforded little political privilege. Neither the child or the slave were properly thought of as citizens of the state. Philosophy is adult business. Citizen business. So to demonstrate the boy's ability to know, to recollect knowledge, as a priori to learning itself, is to present the child as exemplar, but still leaves us to question the concept of child as philosopher.
Nietzsche famously invokes the figure child in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in tandem with the lion and the camel, as the third stage in the metamorphosis of philosophical progress.
Augustine in the Confessions opens a random selection of sacred scripture whereby he is inspired by Saint Paul’s words to put on the person of Christ and rid himself of wanton desires. When the child enters the scene of philosophical history she becomes an example, as we can see in Socrates’s use of the boy, or as metaphor for something “new” and “fresh” as in Nietzsche. Or simply inspiration as in Augustine’s anecdotal story of his conversion.
For the most part children are excluded from the annals of Western Philosophy in the main along with discussions of sex, the body, and anything related to our finitude. Philosophers in the main have traditionally been more fond of loftier topics such as mind, reason, and clear and distinct ideas. Children are far from such sophisticated concepts being as they are undeveloped intellectually. While we can grant the child her own special status as philosopher who has not heard a child ask why? it is still fairly common to assume philosophy is meant for grown-ups. The long-standing view of children is that they are extensions of adults. Thomas Hobbes excludes the child as having the status of person in the Leviathan. Along with madmen and fools, the child is a brute beast, with no claim to the law or sovereignty. For Hobbes, the child is not a person. According to Phillip Aries, the concept of the child as independent from an adult only recently became adopted in the West in the nineteenth century. For centuries children were seen as diminutive versions of adults. Homunculi. The great modern revelation, it is said, is that children embody a consciousness that is temporally defined and authentic to childhood itself. How far have we come from Hobbes? But how uneasy it is for us to ask the child muse to speak her own voice. Children grow up. They become adults. And it is usually adults who provide the child's voice. The word "infant" means "without voice." The Romantic view of childhood, as seen in the Blake poems, and also with Rousseau, privileged the child as possessing a unique access to experience that becomes lost after the emergence of puberty. What Freud would later call the stage of latency, the period after infancy leading up to adolescence, becomes a period in the development of the human person infused with a new sense of interest and curiosity. Jean-Jacques Rousseau breaks the silence and places the figure of the child front and center, but he too retains a nostalgia for something lost. We vacillate, I conjecture, from positing the child as an empty slate to embodying all truths, but in each event, we are foreclosed to the child qua child.


Aesthetic Thursday: Boy in a Striped Sweater

Amedeo Modigliani, Boy in a Striped Sweater, 1918, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Visually Similar Images Generated by Google Image Search
Oil on canvas
H. 36, W. 21-1/2 inches (91.5 x 54.5 cm.)


Why One Should Not Teach Roman Numerals to Satmar Hasidic Jewish Boys

On that time I taught a lesson on Roman Numerals to a classroom of Satmar Hasidic children in Brooklyn.
image credit: Greig Roselli
The Romans Dominated Israel Two Thousand Years Ago, but What Does that Have to Do with Teaching Roman Numerals? 
    The boys enjoyed the lesson on Roman Numerals. After forty minutes, the class was decoding X, XCC, MDC, MMXI, and MCMXCVIII.
     Feeling accomplished, Mr. Roselli slept well that night, having been liberated from the usual anxiety that comes from an unsuccessful teaching day at the Yeshiva. Unruly boys and orthodox rules made the Satmar school in Brooklyn a world within a world. Mr. Roselli knew a bad day at the Yeshiva. His first day, he wrote the lower case letter "t" on the board, and since it too much resembles the cruciform shape, was outrightly chastised by his pupils. "The 't'! The 't'! The 't'!" they cried in unison.
     Coming down the stairs, Mr. Roselli exclaimed to another secular teacher who also taught Math, "They crucified me."  The co-teacher said simply, "They didn't tell you not to do that on the first day's meeting?"
There were other incidents (and other things you should not teach). 
     For example, we were not allowed to individually single out the kids. "Don't count the kids," Rabbi Teitelbaum said. "No counting." Check. "No short sleeve shirts." Check. "No bible stories." No religion. "No politics. No women. No sex. Just teach the curriculum." Check.
     It felt like an especial feat to teach class Roman Numerals without a flop-ending. Shlomo, leaving class, said, "Thank you, teacher."
     Arriving at school on the following afternoon, however, the actions of the previous day of teaching bore its inclement outcome.
Called into Mr. Schermerhorn's Office
     "Roselli," said Mr. Schermerhorn from inside his nondescript office next to the teachers' mailboxes. He was an unnecessarily stern and brittle man who appeared to have had clocked too many hours in the New York City Public School system. His hair was a fragile grey "Come to my office for a minute, won't you?"
     Feeling the worst after having felt so proud, Mr. Roselli let himself into Mr. Schemerhorn's office.

Here is the Gist of the Conversation With the Yeshiva's Assistant Principle:
"What were you teaching your class yesterday?"
"Roman Numerals."
"Roman Numerals?"
"Yes, Roman Numerals."
"We don't pay you to teach off the curriculum, Roselli. We pay you to teach the book. Nothing more nothing less. Don't get too creative or we'll get parents calling."
"But, Roman Numeral are in the book, Mr. Schemerhorn."
"Do you want me to receive a call from a parent asking why their son is learning Roman Numerals?"

I didn't answer. Schermerhorn was not a Satmar. It was easy to tell. Schermerhorn was a man without joy. The Satmars are normally a joyous bunch. Despite their strict religious rules.
"We pay you to teach the curriculum. I don't want to have to explain to a parent or to  Rabbi Teitelbaum. Are we clear?" 
"Yes. Don't teach Roman Numerals."
"And turn in your lesson plans on time."
"We want a good teacher better and a better teacher best." 
"That's true." 
"Is that all?" 
"Yes, that's all Roselli. Get to class."
Feeling Dejected Who Are You To Turn To?
After school that day feeling puzzled and slightly dejected, Mr. Roselli asked his co-teacher, "Are we not allowed to teach Roman Numerals to the kids?"
"I've never heard that one." 
"Schermerhorn just told me not to." 
"Did he tell you not teach off the official curriculum?"
"Yeah, he did. And he gave me that better good best teacher shtick."
"Maybe because the Romans tortured enslaved the Jews? Haven't you read about Roman imperialism?"
"Yeah, maybe that is it."
"Wouldn't it been funny if Schermerhorn had said, 'Roselli. Stop torturing the kids with Roman Numerals. I want you teaching them the cardinal numbers, not the Roman numbers.' That would have been fucking hilarious, don't you think?"

"Yeah what if he had said, 'Roselli, since we pay you to teach the curriculum, goddammit, I want you —' and at this point, he bangs a ruler on the desk -- "to teach the goddamn curriculum.'"
"Yes, Mr. Schemerhorn, of course!"
If you liked this story, read more from the book Things I Shouldn't Have Said and Other Faux Pas.


Photograph: After School in Williamsburg

Boys walk on the street after school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Satmar Hasidic Jewish schoolboys walk home after school in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
image credit: Greig Roselli © 2010


Essay: How to be Generative Without Having Kids

Learn how my Uncle gave me his set of matchbox cars to me when I was young and how this influenced my understanding of passing something down from one generation to the next.
image credit: Tilt-Shift Photography
   When I was a boy my uncle gave me his complete set of diecast matchbox cars.
   There is a photograph of me as a toddler hanging on to our family coffee table, grinning in the flashlight of the camera’s aim, illuminated – darkening the background where you can see strewn on the carpet a multitudinous display of diecast cars. Not only did my uncle give me his entire set of matchbox cars but he and my aunt would take me on Saturdays to the flea market to scout out hidden diecast cars buried underneath piles and piles of junk. I was especially in love with the Matchbox brand, which started out in England as the Lesney company in the 1940s as a cheap way to sell toys to children during the war. I had Hot Wheels too. And I liked Corgi's models. But, my heart, in the end, was stuck on Matchbox.
    Visiting the flea market was a big deal. My aunt sold fashion for porcelain dolls. When she and my uncle frequented the flea market stalls, they were looking for deals on doll fashions. My aunt instructed me on the first day I tagged along to help them pick out fabrics. "Don't touch anything," she told me. She put her arms behind her back and turned around to show me, saying, "this is how you walk. Hold on to your arm so you can catch it if it tries to grab something on the shelf." She was right. The flea market stalls were filled with items that screamed "tangible!" The musty smelling curtains and chain-smoking clerks, ogling collectors handling precious prints of Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe's and 1950s Hugh Hefner Playboys were for me, a boy's wonderland. I obeyed my aunt, though, and tried not to touch. Besides, I had no interest in handling thin veined china or opaque Depression-era glass. I wanted the toys. While my aunt and uncle felt and measured lacy fabrics, I would look for cigar boxes and glass cases filled with diecast cars, hoping to find the prized Matchbox models that would add to my collection.


Is It a Good Idea to Do the Traditional Date?

Rule #1: don't read weird shit on a first date.
Wow. Times have changed.
A recent New York Times article quoted an 1860 personals ad, of a man in want of a wife:
“The advertiser, a successful young business man of good education, polite manners and agreeable address, having recently amassed a fortune and safely invested the same, wishes to meet with a young lady or widow."
A woman in want of a husband read:
“A young lady, rather good looking, and of good address, desires the acquaintance of a gentleman of wealth (none other need apply), with a view to matrimony.”
Wow. Very direct. No co-habitation. No confusion about which gender holds the bank account and which gender wants the bank account. And no confusion about gender either.

And that was for straight people.

In 1860 gay men were not posting personals in the New York Times. Maybe they were getting hot and heavy on the battlefield, but I am sure the documentation for that is somewhere buried deep in the Civil War record books. I'm not sure what they were doing, but read this article from BNAP and email me.

Anyway. I digress.
Today things are not so simple. We live in tough economic times but people want their contacts to be sexy, not frugal. Whether you are gay, straight, queer, bi, transgendered, or curious, dating is a messy game. At least in 1860 you knew what you were getting into: eventual matrimony. In 2010, it's anyone's guess what our motives really are. First of all, you have to stop to think, who really dates anymore anyway? When you just want a date, the whole scene can be a bit tricky. Who pays what? Do you hold the door open? What is the modicum of respect required? Do you kiss on a first date? Do you make out? Do you go all the way? How specific are you supposed to be? How vague?

Is it all about getting into each other's pants?
While men may think only with their nether regions, women think with their nether regions too. Getting into each other's pants is somewhere on the horizon, but the rules of engagement are not always so clear. If you're a single parent, you tend to be blackballed more than if you were married. Plenty of guys go on dating sites and eliminate 99 percent of the dating pool. I knew a guy who was in his 50s and he would only date blond-hair blue-eyed intelligent women in the 18-30 range. Guys tend to look down on girls "who put out" but do not expect girls to judge their promiscuous desires. Gay guys are branded as promiscuous (or are they?), skipping the dating scene altogether, and heading for the bedroom. Or the broom closet. But this is all changing, it seems. More guys are getting into the dating scene. I'm not sure if it is a victory of the far right, but sexual liberation and "free love" seem to be losing out, and monogamy and paying for the meal seem to be cashing in.

While Justin Templet over at the Maroon wrote an amusing piece on the possible benefits of shacking up on the first date, most people, gay and straight, tend to consider sex on a first date as a good ride, but a death knell to a future relationship.

Fuck revolution. And getting stoned. It seems we may be going back to the 1860s after all.

What's a guy to do? I was born in the wrong century, I guess. Or decade.

So, I decided to post a personal ad the other day and try this whole dating thing to see what it was really all about. I didn't even know gay men COULD date. I thought all we did was sit around and watch True Blood. Or the Big C. Or watch that damn Liza Minelli concert re-run on Showtime.

I geared up my writing chops and fired out a résumé of sorts:
A gentleman with aspirations for collegiate studies (but no employment) seeks like-minded chap to eat an ice cream in Times Square and check out that new Angelina Jolie flick.


Poem + Image: "Lane"

girls in a gay bar
hold his hand
on the dance floor

image credit: detail of Rembrandt's painting, The Jewish Bride snapped by koe2moe

PDF Copy for Printing


In Memoriam: Mo

I taught a boy named Mo. He was fourteen years old when he died. This post is in his memory.
Mo is a fourteen year old boy.
A young man in our theater troupe died a year ago today. We called him "Mo". But his real is Mohammed Charlot. He was fourteen years old. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This page serves as a memory to him. The photograph was taken before he went on stage as Arthur in our high school production of Sword in the Stone.


Photo: A Portrait by Casey

A photograph of Greig Roselli when he was about ten years old.
A family member took this photo of me when I was younger (c. the 1990s). Maybe I was ten years old? I still have the photograph. So here is a copy of it (after it went through the scanner).


Fiction Excerpt: Copy of a Novel Theme

I can remember him simply. We were sitting in the sand pits near the river; it was hot that day. He had let his hands rest on a rotten log for too long and red ants had bitten him. I was lucky the neighbor had something to soothe the itch; still, a smiling satyr, although replete suburbanite, full of questions, insistent in his resolve to wrest from me the magnificent solutions, the impossible answers, the raison d’etre of a human life, because he heard me talking about the inexplicable haunting of a man found dead in his car — of asphyxiation; turned on the ignition and let the engine run, attached a pipe to the exhaust, went through the trunk and wrapped it around through the back seat. A jogger had found his corpse days later. No one had noticed him missing. They were used to his threats of death. Why did he do it? I don’t know; I guess he wanted to die in a peaceful place … It’s hard, I thought to myself, to talk to him about this, not because I know the facticity of death, but because I don’t want him — I turn to see him — to die;  so impossible for this stone smoothed boy pregnant with vim, with generosity and ardor, as if talking about decay will somehow mollify an already implacable course into the imaginary.

Pray for the dead man, I say; pray for his family and friends.  He didn’t want to die but he had no other way out.
Extracted from "A novel I have yet to write"
image credit: Greig Roselli


Movie Review: Adaptation of a Children's Classic Now on DVD

Whoop. Woot. Rawrr. Claw. Battle. Rumpus. Fantastical beasts. An omnipotent little boy. A busy mother. A boat. Feed me. Let the wild rumpus start!

Where the Wild Things Are is out on DVD.
I remember vividly as a child reading Sendak’s book. The potent image in my mind is Max’s whiskers. And the almost excessive use of dark, black lines to form the outline of the bodies, the monsters, and the jungle-like setting. I appreciate Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the story and Karen O’s soundtrack. The film is true to the heart of the story. I recently saw the film Synecdoche, New York and realized that Jonze and Kaufmann are similar artists. Perhaps we forget that Kaufmann and Jonze are in similar camps. Both directors understand an adaptation of a book or a story for the film is not the same as a retelling of the story. The film of the Wild Things is not the book. It is something different. For example, in the film, Max is 
swallowed alive by one of the wild things as an act of protection but as well as a projection of the Freudian id. But its difference does not offend the original heart of Sendak’s story. The simple message of a boy's journey from raw emotion to belonging, the meal was still hot, is still intact. A must see. The film is in the spirit of “Let the Wild Rumpus Start!


Anatomy of a Scene: Au Revoir Les Enfants (Scene 20)

Movie Still - Au Revoir Les Enfants (1989)
In Louis Mallé's haunting autobiographical film, Au Revoir Les Enfants (1989), figures come out of the Northern European mist as if half-dead, draped in dark shrouds of black. The setting is not Auschwitz or the Western front, but a small Catholic boarding school outside of Paris, Winter 1944, months before the fall of the Third Reich. Mallé's focus is not the battlefield nor is it the concentration camp, but rather, he focuses his exploration on the effects of racism and evil on the lives of young French adolescents boys holed up in a confined space, apart from their upper-class parents. The school's headmaster, Father Jean, has decided to matriculate three new students at the start of the Winter term. What no one knows is that the three new students are in fact Jewish stowaways, hidden by the school to save their lives. In this scene (scene 20 according to Mallé's screenplay): students are marching to the public baths for their periodic soapy wash. The scene is a mixture of everyday rituals of boarding school life, similar to other scenes in the film, of the boys sleeping, praying, going to class, playing war games, playing the piano, taking tests. The "normal," almost painterly scenes are punctuated by news from the war zone: talk of hatred against Jews, the Resistance, French collaborators with the Germans, and the impending intimidation enforced by the conquering Germans. Rations are scarce. Even the wealthy schoolboys suffer; their only allowance is jam and sugar which they exchange for cigarettes. France is occupied by Germany but the Resistance is rumbling. News of German defeat on the Russian front has been circulating.


The Problem of the "Innocent Child" (Thanks, James R. Kincaid)

Shirly Temple 
image credit: movieactors
The notion of the “innocent child” is a powerful narrative in the West, so much so, we forget it is even a narrative to begin with. The Romantic child (boy or girl) historically has been around since the Greeks, immortalized by Sappho and also the Greek epigramists. This image of the child, unmediated and innocent is typical of the poetry of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and William Wordsworth’s child of spontaneous, overflowing emotion in the “Prelude” but also, the image, at least partly, of Thomas Mann’s Tadzio in Death in Venice and Nietzsche’s Romantic depiction of the child as the pure child and bringer of a new philosophy in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But, it was Jean Jacques Rousseau who made the claim that the child exists a priori in a state of innocence “in nature” which in time, through puberty, is corrupted a posteriori by the mediating forces of “society.” Rousseau famously advised nannies to allow children to wear loose-fitting clothes (or no clothes at all) so they would not be constricted by anything other than their unmediated innocence. Rousseau wrote controversially that children are not inflicted with Original Sin but are born innately innocent and pure. He made the then radical claim that Original Sin is an erroneous doctrine. Taint is not inherent on the soul of a newborn, but, the soul becomes corrupted by a misguided society. For Rousseau, the innate innocence of the child must be preserved through careful education. Education is what maintains innocence along with the child’s developing consciousness. For Rousseau, then, there is a general suspicion of nurture. In Rousseau’s Romantic (and I use this word purposefully, and critically) political vision, the good state is inscribed within a social contract that works to protect and preserve the inherent goodness of children.  It is an unguided introduction to society that corrupts the child and separates it from nature, thus distancing the child from an original innocence, its true and unfettered state.
One of my favorite cultural critics who explored further the idea of innate innocence is James Kincaid. He wrote a book called  Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting. In this book he argues once "adults" name the child innocent, such naming empties the child of a meaningful signifier. "Innocence," then, becomes a metaphor for an empty container, a blank face, devoid of substance which can be filled in by the adult’s desires. The innocent child is the “present” child — the ubiquitous Shirley Temple — who by being shed of experience, of sexuality, is in fact made to be molested. It seems in the West we are at odds with the binary of erotic/innocence. We cannot seem to reconcile ourselves with this strange pairing. Kincaid argues that the very construct of "innocence" is paradoxically warped to mean "protection" against experience but also, simultaneously, a disavowal of the child as inherently erotic. He uses some great examples from popular culture: the Home Alone kid: both cute, cunning, but utterly innocent. Shirley Temple, of course. Jean Bennet Ramsey. Poor thing. She was made both to be erotic and innocent. You can't have your cake and eat it too, kids.
I guess we could blame it on our Judeo-Christian heritage but, it does not take long to look into "recent" history: just look at the Genesis account of Adam and Eve (or at least how it has been interpreted). We were once innocent, until some dame messed things up for us. We were happy naked and in union with God. We got knowledge and now we're screwed. Seen from the view of the Fall, we've been trying to get back to the garden ever since (thanks Joni Mitchell). What a perfect scapegoat is the child (and the woman). They look kinda cute: a perfect face to throw all of our hopes and insipid wishes for innocence on them - poor, innocent creatures! So what has been created as a sort of compromise?! Well, adolescence of course. At first we were happy with merely the child/adult dyad, with the emphasis on the adult. It could be argued that the only truly human being in the West for thousands of years was the blue-eyed, blond hair man. The child? Not even considered as subject. The supposed invention of the child, as distinct from the adult, apparently is an eighteenth century invention that did not exist even as recent as the Middle Ages, according to the cultural historian Philip Ariès in his book, Centuries of Childhood. So, we go ahead and create the child three hundred years ago and then, to add insult to injury, create the adolescent. An even further blurring of the lines. It is no wonder that we are wee bit confused. But, that is fodder for another discussion.
The Good Son: the duality is brought out ad absurdam in the film, The Good Son (1993) also starring the kid from Home Alone, in a complete role reversal. From cutesy kid to serial killer. Mark, a boy of about nine or ten, played by Elijah Wood is sent to stay with his Uncle and Aunt in Maine after the death of his mother.  He quickly learns that his cousin Henry (Culkin) is in fact evil. He shoots dogs, wears a spooky paper-maché mask, drowns his brother, almost kills his sister, and attempts to push his mother over a dangerous precipice.  The movie, with cute child actors to boot, is almost certainly playing on the innocence/experience duality, the virtuous, innocent boy versus the abject opposite, an evil child, with no apparent explanation to why he does the cruelty he does — and why, no one, except Mark, Elijah Wood’s character, realizes his evilness. It is as if the child has to be either completely one or the other: any venture into the gray is taboo.
    Mark, the good child, is all-knowing and incredibly intuitive.  When his mother dies in the first scene, he is literally committed to the belief that she will not leave him, and, almost immediately, transfers the mother image to his aunt, as if he knows this must be the case.  We do not agree with his logic, perhaps, but we cheer his innocent intuition and allow it to endear him to ourselves, thus creating a convenient matrix to explain the Mother/Aunt Son/Nephew bonding.
    The evil child is also all-knowing and incredibly intuitive, but he uses his “gifts” to curse, convince people to fly, smoke cigarettes (the epitome of evil?) — and we are made to revel in this only as a ploy to convince us that he really ought to die!  Both boys, consequently, are inverses of each other: Culkin is blonde, blue-eyed and light, the other, Wood, is brown-haired, blue-eyed and darker complexion. In the movie’s final scene, as James Kincaid brilliantly observed (and I am ashamed to say I have capitalized on his argument), the mother dangles both boys from a Maine precipice in the hopes of saving both children, ostensibly her sons.  Her strength is not enough to hoist both children up, so she has to let one of them go to save the other or risk losing both.  What would you do?  Do you destroy the good child or the evil child?  As James Kincaid notes, audiences cheered when she destroyed the evil child (159-60) and we thought nothing of it, deeply satisfied she did the deed. It is as if the film is stating not quite subtly, we can now wash our hands of the problem once and for all.  We have saved the good child from obliteration and we somehow seem sated by this fact.

Is there an alternative narrative? I wonder, is there a narrative out there that does not fall into this duality Rousseau set up for us so long ago? Is there a way out? In the present narrative, the child is discarded (like the Wild Child of Averyon) or is the child beatified (the child of innocence)? Kincaid suggests at the end of his book that to free ourselves from the current narrative we must free ourselves from suspicion, from repression, from nonsensical legalities and the like that threaten to blind us from the child qua child. Stay tuned. Peace.


Short Story: Car Keys

… the nonsense of men is called business; the nonsense of boys, though exactly alike, is punished by those same men: and no one pities either boys or men.
– Augustine of Hippo
Measuring my life by how many times I locked keys in the car would be appropriate because I have done it since I was a kid. One vivid memory was at my brother’s soccer game, eleven years old. I had gone back to get something out of the family car, a book or somesuch, and no sooner had I slammed the door shut that it hit me like a panic — I had locked the damn keys in the car. Now, remember I was a kid. I stood still for a few seconds, my mind racing inside, the thud of the slammed door still thudding in my chest.
It had happened -- locked keys in the car -- but I wanted to make sure it really had happened. I jostled the door. Realization. Reluctance … a quiver … it had happened. I could see the keys positioned comfortably on my dad’s vinyl seat. Shit. I started to pace, indecisively; I surmised if I paced long enough I would either
1.) disappear or
2.) the car door would miraculously unlock itself and all would be put right. Nothing like that happened. I wiped my hands on my shorts. Checked my pockets. I tried all the doors a second time to see if one of them would open. A large lump in the gut of me; the feeling of swinging on a tire, a tingling that tintinnabulates in your groin.
If only I could move mountains, I thought to myself. Like Jesus. Only weeks ago I had convinced my buddy Jeremy Accuri that I could uproot our family White Oak. The familial quercus alba that my mom had planted to measure out the life of the Roselli family, I wanted to aggressively uproot. When Mom had planted the tree, it was a youngster; by now it is either mowed down or handsome. But I can remember Jeremy Accuri and me invoking God’s aid for about an hour to no avail. If only I had faith the size of a mustard seed, I thought to myself. I was really disappointed, not that I thought that I could really do it, but I expected something would happen. A manifestation. An epiphany. But no epiphanies, so Jeremy and I went to his house to eat ham sandwiches his mom had made. I can remember how amazed his mother was that I ate everything on my plate. twice. If only she knew how defeated I felt.
And empty.

The emptiness I felt in not being able to uproot our tree was less than the despair I felt in locking my parents’ keys in the Ford. It would not have been so bad if they hadn’t told me, “Don’t lock the keys in the car, Greig.” I had done just what they had told me not to do. Maybe if I had been an adult it would have been different because no one would have had to know, only the lock smith whom I would have called up to come over, maybe exchange a few words; heard his consolation, mitigated any humiliation because I could pay him, say, fifty dollars and it would be done with; or I could have been a responsible adult and signed up for AAA road side service as a part of my insurance plan. But as a kid, I was helpless, at the mercy of my parents’ seeming authoritarian judgment. I was powerless, not only by a locked door, but by own ineptitude to do anything to change my state of affairs, as useless as a jailbird.
I scraped the gravel with my shoes, again. After much consultation with myself, God, and the ground, I finally approached them. I could see my mother’s festive back, "Go Chargers," stenciled in red. Mom and Dad were lined up on the Chargers’ side of the field, belting out affirmations, curses. It didn’t make a difference, just as long as they yelled. I saw my little brother Nicholas strutting around the field like Pélé. He looked so comfortable and at ease in his world, compared to my own self-inflicted dismal plight. Even if I hadn't locked the keys in the car, I didn't see myself as graceful as Nick; I hated sports. The only time I was on the soccer team was age 8; the coach told us to be aggressive and I never forgot the word. Aggressive. Aggressive. I had an inchoate idea of what the word meant: mean, rough, not reading a book. He had us in a huddle, "You boys gotta be more aggressive!" I felt like he was looking straight at me: the boy who preferred to pick through the crimson clover patch by the goal post. Our soccer shorts were like two lollipop colored paper bags filled with air, strung around our puny legs. We bared our chests through a V-neck cotton shirt, about as much bravado as you can get from a pack of pre-pubescent boys. A fury of boys. And me. Furious in my own way; I even brought a book to read, once. How did I manage that? Dad yelling, "Keep your eye on the ball!" and Grandma not minding if I read entries to her out loud from my dictionary, as long as the team was on the other side of the field. I couldn't understand the point of the useless fumbling, so I kept on reading.
After a game we were standing around the merry-go-around. The dust in the air swirling around in nonsensical motes. A bigger kid appeared from nowhere. “Lemme see that book.” “No,” I said. “Come on,” he said and took my book. “No,” I said, “Give it back”. “I’m just gonna look at it. Geez. Get a grip. pussy.” Johnny, with thicker legs than mine, interjected, “Yeah, Greig, just let him look at it; he ain’t gonna hurt it.” I eased up and said sure; I wanted the book back, though. He read from my book. But not the real words. “And Greig eats pussy. Says so here. And weenies and boogers and ass wipes. Man. This is good shit.” Hahhhahhhh. Thay all laughed. Spat on the floor; looked like blood clots on the concrete. And just like that the bigger kid tore the book in shreds and deposited the pieces, like confetti, over the playground, the husk of the book sprawled on the ground like an emasculated man; its flesh swirling in the dust. “Don’t like your book, sorry,” and he laughed. Then they were gone, the bullies, as quickly as they had come. Alone again, I gathered up the pieces I could find, sat down, and tried to put the pages back together. My hands shaking, I tried to calm down. The other children in the playground comforted me after the bigger kids had left, laughing. Sitting cross-legged, a boy my age told me not to worry about it; I could get another book. By this time, ten or twelve other kids had gathered around me to see what was wrong – why was Greig so sad? – I had gained some composure, got up, as if nothing had happened, stuffed pieces of the book into my soccer shorts (maybe I could save a few words) and to no one in particular, I said thank you. We played in the crimson clover patch until it was time to go home.

But this time, with no keys, I couldn't escape to the crimson clover patch. There wasn't a book available to swallow up my problem, to outline how to get out of locking one's keys in the car. I began to feel really horrible. I remembered with acrid humiliation that one time at Jeremy Accuri's we were playing in the empty lot next to his house – filled with cans, nails, rotted pieces of wood. On the edge of the Mississippi. The interstate humming. His little sister tagging along. The neighbor too. Josh. I forget his last name. He was skinny and punctuated by a raggedy set of tears in his clothes, torn holes in his torso and thigh. Suffering from a cold, he coughed at us as we played, snot pasted to his cleft. I don’t know what triggered inside of me my coach’s mantra to be aggressive, but in the middle of hide-and-go-seek, I hurled a rusty, empty can of USDA peaches right at him; hit him square in the forehead. Blood was everywhere. Jeremy couldn’t believe it; ran to tell his mom. His sister screamed. Josh stood still for a minute. I thought he was going to topple over, dead. But he lunged towards me, angry. When he caught me in a grapple he couldn’t do anything except bear hug me to the ground; I pushed him off and we both walked to the house, both of us sniffling. In shock, not believing my own aggression, I was horrified that I had hurt him so badly. Blood was smeared on his head. Jeremy’s mom saw I was upset and told me everything was going to be all right. “Do you need a hug?” she asked me and I said, “Yeah, I think so.” And I tipped toed to clutch her broadly for a second then let go naturally. I was relieved that the adults seemed nonplussed. Josh went to the hospital. Got stitches. They didn’t call my mother. I never saw Josh again, on purpose. If I saw him on the playground, I avoided him. I didn’t even go back to Jeremy’s house after that. I was afraid of seeing them again; fearful they would remember the day I broke open a kid’s head.


When I finally told them I had locked the keys in the car, it was as if I had thrown a rusty can at my dad’s head or -- I couldn't quite tell from Dad's contorted gesture - they didn’t understand me. Mom mumbled something; She wanted to hit me. She had told Dad before, “I feel like I want to hit him sometimes,” and Dad leapt from his lawn chair and yelled at me louder than the other parents’ cheers. Everyone turned to look at us briefly, but the excitement of the game eventually won over, so it was just Dad and myself. Dad was a big man, so I remember his puffed up red face and bulging nub; he didn’t hit me, but he dragged me by my head to the car – to see for himself the nasty reality. When he finally released his hand my head cooled a bit and I felt relieved and dizzy.

The parking lot spun around like a top; I couldn’t quite tell if I had exited reality or not. My dad became a caricature of himself, a cartoon swimming in circles with rage. I remember he was bloated with fury and mean, red all over with blotches of yellow and green. He was talking out loud, saying, “I told you not to lock the keys in the car, didn’t I? Do you have any idea how much it costs to pop this lock? Huh?” He banged on the red door. A loud thud. He banged again. The prospect of getting a coat hanger to fish for the lock was unbearable to him, so he eventually had to call a locksmith. When Mom arrived on the scene she merely glared and folded her arms like a sentry, lips pursed, eyes meaner than a basilisk. “I can’t believe this, Anthony,” she whispered, but staring at me, intently. She didn’t mean it, I don’t think, but she said, “I’m never taking those bastards anywhere ever again.” Dead forever was any future bestowal of responsibility. And my brothers by default. They would never trust me again. I wanted to challenge them raw until nothing was left. I had forgotten that one summer Mom had forgotten Amanda in the car for about an hour while she talked to Aunt Evelyn, until finally someone asked “Where’s Daphne?” They finally found her. There she was, stuck in the back seat of the car where Mom had left her; still asleep, but trapped. And then there was the urban legend I had heard about of a dad who uncharacteristically was supposed to drop his baby off at daycare before he went to work, but forgot to do it, parked his car in the company garage on a hot day and left her there to bake; found her dead at the end of the work day; didn’t even realize she had been there the whole time, silenced. What goes through a man’s head after such a horrible thing? Does he ever recover? Is he ever forgiven? A memory never goes away, completely. It’s embodied, like a renegade bullet lodged in a man’s stomach. You need a surgeon with antiseptic instruments to cut it out from the flesh. Then with stitches you can begin to recover.
I don’t think you can escape from the ravages of childhood.
For some reason or other, I never recovered; never could keep things in the right place. I can count five other times I locked keys in the car after that soccer incident. Once in a supermarket parking lot in 1996. Another at a drugstore a few months later. And to my chagrin, because someone had to fish for the lock with a coat hanger, in front of church in 1997. Another time in front of Veronica’s house last year. And again at home a few weeks ago. To retell them would be prosaic, if not repetitive. Suffice it to say, that first mishap left a scar on my psyche, which probably left me numb and disillusioned to my own self-worth, much less my confidence in the suburban patriotism surrounding soccer games. But there is something deeper. I went further inside of myself. After that day, instead of joining everyone else at the sidelines to cheer for my brother, I sought solace by walking in the woods behind the fields. I pretended it was Narnia, past the lamppost. This did not do well for my reputation though, because I would get lost in my own thoughts and dreams and by the time I had left Narnia the game had long been finished. Mom never called the cops on me, but she was furious. It happened so many times I think they just calculated I would eventually show up. The last car in the parking lot to leave. “How would you like it if I left without you? What if I had called the police?” Mom would say with her arms folded, tightly. I didn’t know how to answer her, “Where were you?” invectives so I usually just stood there feeling guilty, honestly not knowing where all the time had gone and feeling sorry that mom and dad had to worry about me so much. “I dunno. I wuz reading, I guess,” I would mumble. I wasn’t lying because there was the proof: a big fat ochre sci-fi yarn in my arms; my own name scrawled on the frontispiece. The car ride home was silent and bitter and I went to bed early.

One summer afternoon we had just watched that Bette Midler tearjerker that had just come out on VHS which we could play on a VCR checked out from the library, a momentous black box affixed with a manila pocket stamped: 5 JUL ‘82. Something moved inside me after the movie. The gods heard my muses. I was outside in the yard; I was ten. I remember it was hot and humid and everyone was inside but I stayed outside feeling emotional after having just watched Beaches. I lifted my arms up in the air and I was yelling, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty I’m free at last!” There is a scene in the film when Bette and her roommate shout out loud, “free at last free at last thank god almighty I’m free at last”. Something about not doing what her father said. She feels liberated. I really didn’t understand all the adult complexities of the scene being only ten, but something about her energy struck a chord in my little heart. So, I shouted just like her. All my frustrations. All my inarticulate sufferings. Learning to love. Myself. Being me. Which never felt so difficult before. But now. Free at last. Free at last. I must of been out there for God knows how long, but I was alone, everyone else in the midst of their own routines. But for me the yard was my world, around that tree; my dad’s neatly trimmed yard, fertilized. Mom’s sun tea heating on the air conditioner. It will be ready by dinner, I thought. Then the epiphany. A manifestation. I felt it on my head. The flap of bird’s wings. The holy spirit. On my head. I heard the chirp and the frantic rush of wings. The holy spirit had landed on my head. The gods had heard me. I ran into the house and the goddamn bird held on. “Mom Mom Mom. The holy spirit landed on my head.” I yelled and yelled and the bird still hung on. A parakeet. It finally yanked itself out of my hair, flew around the room and landed back on my tousled head. We decided to keep it and named it Pretty Boy. A few months later we found sterile eggs in her cage but didn’t change her name. She died after six years; a faithful bird, very quiet and low maintenance. And believe it or not, the story still circulates around the family about me and that bird. And the white oak. And the Chargers. And picking crimson clovers. And Maggie at the zoo, Lavern in the store, the dimpled red dots on Faith’s face … stories circulate.

Recently, I took Zach to the bookstore and Lorie freaked because we didn’t make it back in time. She did call the cops. After all those years of disappearing no one ever called the police on me; no search parties scouted me out. And I have been lost many times. I chortle at the absurdity of keys and time, of lateness and wrong turns. After all those years of disappearing no one ever called the police on me; no search parties scouted me out. And I have been lost many times. Three times in the woods (Maggie saved me); once at the mall; once at school; once at the spillway and five times in my own room (don’t ask). If only I could be so lucky to have a search party.