Showing posts with label films. Show all posts
Showing posts with label films. Show all posts

14.11.11

Movie Review: Love Story

A capsule review on fragility and loss in Love Story (1970) with a special nod to love in libraries.
Ryan O'Neil and Allie McGraw in Arther Hiller's Love Story (1970) 


Yes, I must say, love that begins in a library is a trope we find in Music Man or in the fantasy of bookish nerds, so we naturally equate it with Cinderella syndrome  the woman patiently waiting for her man to appear from behind the stacks. In the 1970 Arthur Hiller film, Love Story, Allie McGraw and Ryan O’Neil butt heads at a library circulation desk; hardly the madame librarian named Marianne, or some ethereal intellectual fantasy. Ryan O’Neil, a Harvard jock, deemed “preppie” by his inimical counterpart, the black-haired brilliant musician sprung from humble Bostonian roots. The two make for a nice compare and contrast (as far as romances go). In the scene, shot in the interior of the library at Radcliffe, O’Neil attempts to check out The Waning of the Middle Ages. “Do you have your own library?” she asks, goading him, revealing the difference (at least to the viewer) between the sexes at ivy league American schools. Harvard is gendered as male: more books, more knowledge, more opportunity. Why should a man march into a woman’s space demanding their knowledge when he has his own, and more? The two argue. She wants to play. He just wants a book. The heart and spunk of the intellectual romantic comedy is born. The tropes are obvious. And we see the two soon-to-be-lovers as distinct yet compatible. The jock likes the girl’s toughness and rebellious approach. She likes his body, as she playfully says, and perhaps notices he is not put-off by her intellectual affronts. The psychology is laid out in pieces in the movie. He comes from privileged New England wealth but disdains his background. She has pulled herself up by her bootstraps and wears her intellectual and musical acumen like a badge. 

Allie McGraw projects beauty in this movie and the ability to engage in playful rapporté  not quite a femme fatale, however, since beneath her brilliance lies a fragility that marks the film and gestures towards its intrinsic theme, namely the fragile nature of relationships thwarted by circumstances often beyond our control. Despite their outward differences, the two come together because of a shared sameness. The movie takes turn portraying Ryan O’Neil’s character as vulnerable, for example when his father shows up unexpectedly at a Harvard hockey match and Allie McGraw’s character is there to support him, to hold him up. On the way to visit his parents, Ryan O’Neil eases her apprehensions about the visit. Of course, the movie is set up to be about the oscillation between loneliness and fragility. The opening shot, if I recall, is the former Harvard jock looking out onto an empty ice skating rink in Central Park. We as viewers do not know the significance of this scene until much later when we learn that our intractable, confident heroine has contracted leukemia. Preppie skates the rink in solitude while she looks on from the bleachers, both aware of the fragility of their soon to be broken apart bond. The editors chose to superimpose Allie McGraw’s image over that of Ryan O’Neil as he skates. For me, this was unnecessary for I think it dismisses the impact of the loss to come. We are reminded of the playful moments of their relationship earlier in the film: for example when both make snow angels and build a snow fort at Harvard. Director Arthur Hiller mentions in a documentary on the film, that this scene was serendipitous in that there was a record snowfall that day, but he decided to film anyway. Since he had made it clear he wanted Allie McGraw and Ryan O’Neil to portray what lovers do when they are new in love, he just had them play naturally in the snow. Here we see the two without words, without intellectual sparring, or agonizing over class difference. It is in other scenes that we see the intellectual difference between the two. She is graceful and brilliant in music and he is stalwart in achieving success cut off from the breast milk of his rich upbringing. The movie would be mediocre if we knew from the outset that our heroine will die. We only know this later; and, we can then feel for their loss. We are meant to project our own emotions and our own memories of love and love lost onto our formal lovers on screen. Perhaps this is why the movie was so popular, nominated for seven academy awards  not to forget the original score that is transcendent in its tonal representation of love and loss. I don’t think Love Story is a great film, but I do feel it would have been a lesser film if not for the work of our two stars who truly embody on screen the give and take of living with one another, the give and take, ease and struggle, life and loss, separation and link of conversation and togetherness.

17.3.11

Book Review - Pursuits of Happiness: A Short Response

Stanley Cavell in his book Pursuits of Happiness writes about remarriage comedies in movies made after the advent of talkies (1934-1949). Cavell's list is as follows: The Lady Eve (1941), It Happened One Night (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Adam’s Rib (1949), and The Awful Truth (1937).

19.2.11

The Awful Truth: Cary Grant and Irene Dunne

In this post, I write about Carey Grant and Irene Dunne's performance in the movie The Awful Truth.
With "the holiday in his eye," Stanley Cavell quotes Emerson on Carey Grant's performance in The Awful Truth: "he is fit to stand the gaze of millions."
Carey Grant in the Hollywood
film "The Awful Truth"
A high class married couple (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) break up after a dispute on marital fidelity. After each tries their luck with a different lover the two come to terms with the "awful truth."

The comedy carries the basic plot structure of the romantic comedy. Boy meets Girl. Breakup. Hijinks. Come back together. Transformed. The End. But in certain movies from the 1930s, just after the advent of talkies, several films made during or just after the Great Depression dealt with a slight twist on the romantic comedy: the remarriage plot. The difference is both stars are already married and through a break-up and coming back together (after they realize they're "just the same, but different") both boy and girl learn to grow up together, as Cavell has pointed out in his deft review of 1930s comedies of remarriage, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage.

The Awful Truth (1937) Directed by Leo McCarey. Written by Viña DelmarArthur RichmanStarring Cary Grant, Irene Dunne,  Ralph Bellamy, Cecil Cunnigham, Esther Dale.

15.1.11

Movie Review: The Time That Remains

The Time That Remains is Elia Suleiman's autobiographical account of his Palestinian family in Nazareth who lived under the post-1948 sovereignty of Israel.
A movie review
The Time That Remains (Al Zaman Al Baqi) (2009)
Director: Elia Suleiman
Starring: Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Zuhair Abu Hanna, Samar Tanus, Ayman Espanioli, Shafika Bajjali

The Time That Remains is Elia Suleiman's autobiographical account of his Palestinian family in Nazareth who lived under the post-1948 sovereignty of Israel. The film opens with the events that led Nazareth to surrender to Israeli forces in 1948. An Iraqi soldier runs through the streets of Nazareth after the Arabs surrender. White sheets of paper rain down from the sky announcing the details of the Israeli/Arab armistice. Fuad (played by a handsome Saleh Bakri), who we later learn is Elia Suleiman's father, is suspected of distributing arms to Arab fighters during the war and is tortured.

29.7.10

Luis Buñuel on Film and the Subconscious

To commemorate Luis Buñuel's death in 1983, here is an evocative piece he wrote about film and the subconscious:

In the hands of a free spirit the film is a magnificent and dangerous weapon. It is the superlative medium through which to express the world of thought, feeling, and instinct. The creative handling of film images is such that, among all means of human expression, its way of functioning is most reminiscent of the work of the mind during sleep. A film is like an involuntary imitation of a dream. Brunius points out how the darkness that slowly settles over a movie theater is equivalent to the act of closing the eyes. Then, on the screen, as within the human being, the nocturnal voyage into the unconscious begins. The device of fading allows images to appear and disappear as in a dream; time and space become more flexible, shrinking and expanding at will; chronological order and the relative values of time duration no longer correspond to reality; cyclical action can last a few minutes or several centuries; shifts from slow motion to accelerated motion heighten the impact of each.

The  cinema seems to have been invented to express the life of the subconscious, the roots of which penetrate poetry so deeply.
From Elements of Film by Lee R. Bobker, HBJ 1974. 



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22.7.10

Movie Jot: A Vincent Gallo Film You Most Likely Won't Finish

The Brown Bunny (2003) 
A paean to the road trip, bad fellatio, and gross men is enough to make you stop watching this brilliant, albeit disturbing, film directed by Vincent Gallo and starring Vincent Gallo, with Chloë Sevigny.

27.5.10

Movie Review: World's Greatest Dad

Read a movie review by Greig Roselli about Bobcat Goldwaithe's dark comedy World's Greatest Dad (2009).
Two scenes are striking in Bobcat Goldwaithe's World's Greatest Dad (2009). THE FIRST is the scene where Lance Clayton, a beleaguered middle-age writer-cum-high school poetry teacher (Robin Williams) finds his strangled son, dead in his bedroom. The scene is doubly jarring for the viewer because, one, the first fifteen minutes of the film deliberately sets you up to despise the kid (Daryl Sabara, played with an acute douchebag factor). Kyle curses like a sailor, looks at scat porn, calls girls at school whores, proudly glorifies his own insouciant stupidity, uses his dad and his best friend Andrew to his own benefit, and is pretty much openly non-repentant about his deeds -- to the point of rebuffing every ounce of care his dad, Lance, has to offer.
     Second, is the cause of the boy's death (basically he dies via auto-eroticism). Go figure. Goldwaithe goes through extensive pains to make sure you absolutely hate this kid -- but at the same time -- when he is found in his bedroom, despite the embarrassing circumstances -- the viewer feels for Lance and the grief over his dull, insipid son. Even a douchebag son's death elicits authentic catharsis. Wow. I don't think I've seen this in cinema in a long time. I think this is partly due to Williams' engaging performance. Williams is an actor who can make you identify with the absurd. Think of The Night Listener, for example (which has eerie parallels to this film). The entirely silent soliloquy of finding the dead boy, checking to see if he is alive, releasing him from his makeshift noose, and mourning over his dead body was a genuine cathartic moment.

19.3.10

Libraries and Librarians in Film

EW did a thing on 18 movies with libraries, but I thought I'd add to the mix with just 3:
Citizen Kane
The Library Matron
The librarian grants access to a journalist to read the diary of Charles Foster Kane's guardian William Thatcher.
Citizen Kane (1941)
William Thatcher's diary in the famous Citizen Kane library scene
A stern-looking librarian leads a reporter into a cell containing a diary by Charles Foster Kane's guardian William Thatcher that may give him leads to the infamous newspaper magnate's sudden death. The journalist in the film plays the part of the dogged researcher who seeks out every possible avenue to sort out why did Kane spout out before he died, "Rosebud." He arrives at a fortress (or what appears to be a prison) that turns out to be an imposing archive. Granting permission to the journalist to peruse Thatcher's diary, The librarian tells him he can only read pages 83-142 and that he must leave the library premise by 4:40 sharp. I watched Citizen Kane for the first time with a librarian and she was quick to point out how librarians are erroneously depicted in popular culture as stern "guardians of the stacks." The mantra, it seems, is "the book shan't leave my sight!" I chuckle because the Kane library scene is sometimes true. I knew a librarian who went to the grocery store one afternoon and saw a patron in line and instead of telling her hello demanded to know why she had not turned in her overdue library book. True story. Anyway, I still consider this scene the quintessential library scene in film history even though it stereotypes librarians as "sole proprietors" of knowledge, I still love it. I think I was mesmerized by Greg Toland's brilliant cinematography: the way the light shines from above, illuminating the manuscript on the spare table, the way the camera makes you feel trapped inside the library walls, chained to nothing but a book. Then the camera focuses on a page in Thatcher's diary, I first encountered Mr. Kane in 1871." The book morphs into a flashback scene of little Charlie Kane playing in the snow with his sled. It's a stark effective scene as well as a metaphor for the increasing mystery of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane's mysterious life.


Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The Library Know-it-All
Obi-Wan Kenobi scours the library databases in the Jedi library but to no avail.

Obi-Wan is surprised that not even the library has it!  
Obi-Wan Kenobi goes to the library to look for a planet in the star database in the Jedi Archives.  Obi-Wan has the right information but cannot find the planet. The librarian insists the planet does not exist because it does not appear in the star charts where it is supposed to be located. If it is not in the database, then it does not exist, the librarian remarks. Coincidentally, I was with the same librarian I saw Citizen Kane with when I saw this movie and she pointed this out to me with the same chagrin on her face as she did when she pointed out the Kane librarian trope. The Star Wars librarian is another variation of the Kane librarian: not only does the knowledge not appear in the record, if the knowledge is not in the record then it does not exist. So, does that mean if I do not have a birth certificate I do not exist? I become a tad bit nervous when librarians began messing with my existential priorities. The flip slide is the student researching a term paper: "I cannot find anything on my topic." It doesn't exist? Even Obi-Wan knows that; in case you were wondering, it was the Sith who smudged the planet from the star charts to hide their nefarious plans to create a clone army. So it just goes to show you, if it is not in the database, and it is supposed to be there, someone bad took it out, like a Sith Lord.    

Ghostbusters
The Library Catalog Haunted by a Ghost

I ain't afraid of no ghosts
The Ghostbusters stumble upon a ghostly specter in the stacks.
 If you thought an archive powered by the Force was cool, what about a card catalog haunted by a slimy ghoul? Ghostbusters has a fun opening sequence that features none other than the famous New York Public Library (although the interior shots were filmed in a library in California). I like the part when the green slime emits from the card catalog. Priceless shot!

EXTRA! EXTRA! See my post on the library scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

6.3.10

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!

I Have No Idea What To Call This Rant

“I ate it, knowing the rabbit had sacrificed itself for me.  It had made me a gift of meat.” Maxine Hong Kingston.
    In an ironic turn of events in the film Iris – about the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch (who has, consequently has had a few things to say about education) – stares at a television screen of Tony Blair repeating, “education, education, education,” unable, in her final stage of dementia, to put coherent thoughts together (not that Blair was coherent in this scene, but that is another matter). Murdoch's life long career of dazzling prose diminished, in the end, to a babbling baby. I recently saw the film, and read excerpts from her husband John Bayley's memoir. Murdoch was a philosopher and a poet. She eloquently wrote about education, as not making a person happy, but allowing a person to see how they are happy. I liked the film because it depicted the life of a person dedicated to learning, who tragically loses her deposit of learning due to Alzheimer's. Iris lived in her mind; She lost her treasure. John Bayley believed even though the disease had ravaged his wife of her memory, there was still something "clear" and "pure" insider of her mind. He supplies her with a pen and notebook paper, in case she gets an inspiration to write.

Education – you might not know – literally means “to lead out,” like guiding a child by the hand as she learns to walk. “To lead out,” then, is a fair starting off point to explore education.  For isn’t this what education really is – in both the formal sense of the word – the institution of education – and also in the less formal, the organic sense, the leading that comes from within, not necessarily from without.  Just as learning to walk is an education in the literal sense of the word – from guiding your legs across the coffee table for support or swimming out into the deep end without a warm adult body at your side is education – so is the formal discipline of reading, writing and arithmetic a leading out as well – the problem (if you want to call it that) is to think these two concepts together.  Education as both something lived and something learned. The art is to put them together. To live and to learn.
    Thinking of two spheres of education – the education, as someone once put it – of life – and the education from books, “book learnin'” are convenient ways to think about education.    Education is for the elite?  Or can you learn everything you need to know from “life”.  I work with a man who claims he doesn’t need an education.  He told me, “I wouldn’t tell a kid this, but I wouldn’t go back and get an education.  I have no regrets about having no education.  Books – I don’t remember books – but life, I remember life.”  He was resentful that he didn’t pass the CDL exam to drive a truck.  He had been grandfathered in – as he put it – forty years ago when he first drove a truck for Camel Express (“Humpin’ to please” was their motto).  Now for him to get a job he’d have to pass that test.  “Now you tellin’ me that I can drive a truck better than anybody’s business but because I can’t pass the paper test I can’t do it?  Put a man with degrees in that truck and let me see him do it.  That don’t make no sense.”   The things we do to prove that we are competent.  That we fit in and can be considered productive members of society are tightly constructed by power and the roles we have been assigned.
    I am surrounded by this language.  This is the language of people who do not see real value in education.  People I know and live with put value in what you can do, not what you can say.  “I want to see what you can do,” a boss may say.  Words are good for human development and public relations – but work – that don’t got nothing to do with work.  The most popular question after what is your name is what do you do?  What goes in the inner life of the mind is considered not so important.  Down here in the south we are interested in the trajectories of hurricanes, the date of deer hunting season and mardi gras.  Which is interesting considering the South has produced some of the best writers the world has ever known.
    I have been described by people as a “dreamer,” “having an eidetic imagination,” “space cadet”, “lost in the clouds,” “self-absorbed,” “head in the clouds,” and “not in touch with the obvious,”  People – when they catch me thinking have remarked, “What are you doing?” or mimicking a space alien spacecraft have sing-songed, “Do Do Do Do Do – Earth to Greig”.  The one about having an eidetic imagination was said by my shrink.  The education of the mind – at least in my provincial experience – is not encouraged – instead, we much rather people who can do stuff.  Sure – we love a writer – just not when he’s writing.  We don’t mind philosophy.  We just don’t want to hear it.  Give it to me straight.  Not complicated.  I don’t want to hurt my head.
    But what is so terribly wrong about being lost in one’s head? I mean, what bad stuff can possibly happen from thinking too much? Reading too much? Don’t read into it. But why not? What is reading into it going to do? Make you think? God forbid. Just enjoy the movie. Well, I am enjoying it. I do think too much, as my mother pointed out once - and mothers always know.
    My mother gave me a beautiful paperweight for Christmas one year.  It is in the shape of a bird with a long glass tapered tail and heavy opaque body with a pocket of air trapped inside like bubbles.  Without counting the cost I immediately began to wonder out loud what this present could possibly mean.  I had the suspicion that this gift had to be symbolic of something and as I began to theorize to my mother a possible interpretation of the gift. I looked up and saw the expression on my mom’s face.  I had hurt her feelings.  I immediately stopped talking and changed the subject; thanked her for the gift.  But, I knew her feelings were still hurt.  I don’t blame her.  It was just a gift.  That was her only rejoinder after my long analysis, “Greig, it’s only a gift.  I thought it would look good in your room”.
    Now I realize that I was not wrong in analyzing the gift.  I had no intention of hurting her feelings or undermining the generosity she bestowed on me in the object of the glass bird paperweight.  But my mind could not put down the image of the bird suggesting that I impose meaning on it. For isn’t this what we do? Impose meaning? We are really good at it.  We itch to find meaning in everything we see and do.  We are not satisfied that a cup is just a cup.  It has to be something, an implication of something else. But, alas, I guess a cup is sometimes a cup.  (In the back of my mind I am resisting that notion)
    Later on, I called Mom on the phone to apologize about the bird paperweight incident.  Once I asked for forgiveness it freed her up to voice her feelings about the subject in a way that was beneficial for the both of us.  She realized that I had some sensitivity and was not really trying to hurt her feelings.  I realized that sometimes it is just best to say you’re sorry and move on.  Just the other day I was visiting her at her house.  She has twelve oak trees in her yard that she is very proud of as if she planted them herself.  When we came back to her house after Hurricane Katrina to survey the damage, the one thing she was worried about were her trees.  Her trees were safe.  Actually she sustained minimal damage on her property and recently installed an above ground swimming pool on her property – mainly for my niece to paddle around when my brother and his wife come to visit.  She was cleaning the pool when I saw her and I brought up the paperweight again.  This time in the sense of shared interests.  As Mom waded in the pool, removing a bottom layer of collected grime, I opened myself up to her.  I brought up the paperweight because I wanted her to know that this is how I think.  This is how I perceive the world and I resented – even though I did not verbalize it – this lack of understanding from her because she is very similar.  The only difference is education.  I am more educated.  I’ve got more sheepskins.  Mom is a surgical technician; she works for a neurosurgeon.  She preps patients for surgery, makes sure everything is copasetic before the surgeon comes in to perform.  She hands him the surgical tools necessary to cut into the skull and makes sure the folds of skin stay where they are, ready with a suction tube in case too much blood gushes.
    I can’t do any of that.  I can barely change the tire on a bicycle.  If you would put me in that operating room I would most certainly cause death – or even worse, cause a malpractice suit that would have me to the neck in legal fees.   I admire my mom and her ability to perform professionally in the operating room.  She has been working for the same neurosurgeon for twenty years, as well as on and off with other doctors through the years, but she has proved herself to be reliable and focused and very good at what she does.  She prides herself in how well she has done – although she is modest – I know for a fact she makes more money than my father did in the electrical engineering business. In fact, I don’t know much about what my father did growing up.  I do know that it was a small source of bitterness between the two of them because I remember my father saying once – after my parents had split – that he should get to claim me as a dependent because mom made more money.  Maybe he felt a little bit less successful than her.  My parents split up and my father retired.  But mom still works.
    I realized talking to mom at the pool that mom is analytical just like me.  She loves to interpret what’s going on and has a very shrewd mind.  She’s just been insecure for most of her life, so that part of her personality does not come out at first.  It surprises me that she got involved in fundamentalism when she was younger but I think the movement fueled into her need to be accepted. Richard Rodriguez talks about not being accepted by family once you are “educated.” But then again, Henry Adams wrote about being educated at Harvard but not learning anything. I am okay with being like Iris Murdoch. I can learn all kinds of stuff, and in the end, act like a baby.

Movie Review: Club Silencio Scene "Llorando" Muholland Drive

Mulholland Drive by David Lynch is one reason why I increasingly favor film as a superior art form.
"Llorando" 
why you must see Lynch


A superb film depiction of the blurry divide between dream and reality:
      Mulholland Drive by David Lynch is one reason why I increasingly favor film as a superior art form. In this scene, a singer at Club Silencio (Rebekah Del Rio) sings "Lllorando," a turning point in the film's plot. The scene is a dividing line between the character Diane/Betty's dream world, and her awake world. When you see Betty's face, her tears, she realizes all has been a dream - the shocking intrusion of reality into her constructed fantasy world - and her coming to grips with her complicity in the murder of her unrequited lover and femme fatale Rita. When I watch this scene all the painful memories of past loves comes rushing into my body and I choke up. Notice at the end. The final sequence is important. The singer collapses (the dream has ended) but her voice remains (the fantasy persists). Both women cry. Diane/Betty reaches into her purse and pulls out the blue box; the blue box is the film's MacGuffin; the hidden object we desire to learn its meaning, but in the end rather meaningless. Similar to most dreams, I guess. The scene reminds me of a person who goes to bed with serious guilt in their heart; uses dreams to escape their guilt, but in the end, the dream collapses on itself and reveals nothing in the end, no salve to take away the irreparable act. The film is tragic in the end. I don't want to reveal too much ... you just gotta see this film.
Credits:
"Club Silencio"
Muholland Drive (2001) directed by David Lynch.
Laura Harring
Naomi Watts
Rebekah Del Rio

4.3.10

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.

28.2.10

Excerpt from My Book of Essays Inspired by New Orleans and New York: "Turning Over a New Leafs [sic]"

Read the rest of the book here.
Setting a crate of laundry on top of the washing machine, I told my landlord, who happened to be standing at the doorway, "I'm turning over a new leafs - I mean, leaf -hah hah, I can't spell." He was doing his Sunday laundry chores as well, convivial as ever, and we were chatting about getting stuff done, the usual small talk between landlord and tenant. My landlord is a 40 something single man who runs his own non-profit; he has light brown hair, average build, and a pleasant smile. We barely see each other; mostly our meetings are necessitated by my late rent checks.

28.1.10

Movie Review: An Anarchist's Guide to "Teenage Angst"

Guest Post By Airplane


Movie Still - Teenage Angst (2008) 
With beauty and material wealth, The German 4 has the vehicle upon which they can explore their hedonistic nature. It is almost an imperative of those supposedly blessed with such genes and economic excess to sink in the Bacchanalian pool. Hedonism, in this case, most certainly answers to a big Other, especially when one has been obstructed which creates the complexity of the plot: Punishing those who disrupt the adult swim. Even if it's one of your own. The Big Other demands we keep appearances and maintain the order.

The Boarding School serves as Superego and their hidden Dacha as the Id. The Superego is meticulously maintained. Large but filled with an unshakable void which creates tense moments. The bodies seen in the seats are far much fewer than the possibility, most likely emphasizing what kind of extravagance attends. The Id, on the other hand, is messy, lit with the seducing red lights, and filled with accumulated junk from the outside. It is out of order, which fits the behavior. In the school, the men are distanced in the discussion. Far apart. At the Dacha they are close, hinting severe homo-eroticism, planning their future as kings and treating each other as ersatz subjects to practice their future tyranny (the first example is Bogatsch barking like a dog, while two other members spank him on the ass). Their interaction is a non-sexual orgy of Roman Empire lows.

The power from the beginning is established as being in the hands of Dyrbusch in the group. The sycophancy of Bogatsch is seen in the dog barking scene. He accepts the position without question. Once Leibnitz prevents Bogatsch from performing rape on Vaneska, his hedonistic excess receives no release and thus he is threatened. The punishment seems light at first, a slap and his eventual apology but the movie escalates to Salo-like proportions: bondage, punching, to sexual humiliation/rape with Stumer at odds at this paradox of where his allegiance in the power structure lies. At the top with Dyrbusch, or at the bottom, professing his mercy for Leibnitz. But Leibnitz fully accepts his position of masochistic pride and brushes off rebellious ideas from Stumer, the only one left questioning the rising tide of violence. Is this not what we question daily from the civilized point of view? Countries doing things, you are part of it, see injustice, and sit idly by because society imposes the group above all else? The country, the state above all else? Their punishment is internal, as these things such as betrayal must be dealt with behind closed doors only within the realm of the Id. We don't even see the bruises until the Mentor lifts the shirt of Leibnitz who finally sees the brutality of what occurs in the unchecked rooms of the excess-power teenager.

The violence in Leibnitz grows from a childish plea for "momma" into a deathly blow to their mentor, where his attitude is of repentance. We too deal with this transference of authority powers to inner angst to outer destruction. Lack of freedoms bursting out into rebellion jeopardy with other forms of law. Those with the lack (economic, phallic, social) raging against others to replace it in violent mediums. You see that Leibnitz has flashbacks of his prior tortures and unwanted touches when the mentor is seen doing the same thing. The mentor's aid is mistranslated and is met with consequence. Such is fate. Innocent victims in the chaotic path of authority's bale movements.

Airplane, otherwise known as Chancellor Karla, is a digital and sound artist who currently lives in the District of Columbia.

23.12.09

Waiting for a Movie


Plush seat.
cup holder.
Lights turned on.
When will it be dark?
Restlessness grows.
Mind meanders.
Practice prayer.
Impatient.

9.11.09

Gilgamesh and the Search for Meaning in a, "I love you, man!" kind of way

My colleague and friend, Bonnie, asked me a rhetorical question once when I worked at the public library, “Who, Greig, would want on their epitaph, ‘He cleaned her dishes well'?"
My dishes are not clean. But, I want to be remembered for more than just washing my dinnerware well.

Unclean cups, dirty knives and forks, an unsealed peanut butter jar, torn packets of splenda and granules of instant coffee are splayed as objets d’art.

Waking up this morning thinking about Gilgamesh and that scene at the end of Superbad when Seth and Evan exclaim to each other, "I love you man!" I take solace in Bonnie's aphorism. 


I can explain the significance between the two. I really can.

At the end of Gilgamesh, the hero has his epiphany. He knows he cannot uncover the elixir of immortality even though he swam to the depths of the sea. Having stayed awake for an interminable amount of time our hero is consoled by the fact that he WILL live forever, not by a potion or a magical plant, but by his cultural deeds. Immortality is what you receive from society (if you are lucky). I take comfort in this epic anecdote.

Now, how do I relate all of this to pedagogy  and oh yeah, to Superbad?

Over the summer my ninth grade English class read the epic for their mandated summer reading project. When you are thirteen — as my students are — you probably seldom ponder death and you for damn sure are convinced that wisdom DOES not come from an ancient tome. Leave that to Lady Gadget  or is it Inspector GaGa?

I am not sure if they liked it or “got it,” but several of them, including parents, were quick to point out that the sexuality in the book was ripe, and “inappropriate reading material” for high school — at least I was not pulled into a disciplinary hearing for distributing inappropriate material to freshman.
Kids and adults miss the point. Do I need to teach the obvious truth that fiction is fueled by desire?

For me, it is a moot point.

Get over it.

Immortality gained by deeds is a fertile topic. Folks fail to catch the heart of Gilgamesh and instead focus on the lust (Shamhat, the prostitute being one example). People who complain to me are similar to those who get hot and bothered because The Catcher in the Rye has swear words. Controversy is everyone’s favorite past time anyway. Innuendo must be banned so it will be given a reason to be read. If it were not banned then people would say, "oh that is bland." Banning it gives us impetus to actually pick up the book and read it. It's some kind of whack reverse psychology that I have little patience for.

Gilgamesh could easily populate the world with greedy Calibans but he knows in of itself this is not the ticket to eternal life. The story is not about brute sex. The story is similar to Superbad: it is about friendship and the pain of loss. Seth has to give up Evan just as Gilgamesh has to give up Enkidu.

In the story, Gilgamesh — like Achilles mourning Patroclus — is unconsoled by the death of his best friend Enkidu. Mortality strikes him at the heel and pains him for the first time. Since Gilgamesh is a king and somewhat related to the divine, he has never brushed past death until his friend’s death opens a wound in his psyche and he ponders his transience for the first time. Gilgamesh is a king, half-god, civilized and blessed with superhuman powers — but the love of the wild man Enkidu forces him to reconsider his life. All of this — life on earth — cannot give him immortality. Enkidu’s death makes him stabbingly aware of his limitations. The death forces him to think beyond himself — and to not base decisions on his own prowess — immortality comes from accomplishment — not born out of pride but through cultural achievement.

Gilgamesh is like the privileged son of a wealthy entrepreneur who has never had to fight for anything in his life. One day he loses something. Something he cannot regain. It is in this loss that he realizes that there are values irretrievable. Most accomplishments are for naught. The only true lasting legacy is greatness. The question becomes not “Will I live forever?” but, “Who will remember me?”

My students groan at the repetition and seeming irrelevance of an ancient oral tale. Most think Gilgamesh and Enkidu are gay. In their homophobic worldview, two men can never really LOVE each other — GROSS! — but, that is a discussion for another post (which will be how loving the same sex is not necessarily the same as being gay) but, we have a good discussion about deeds and achieving immortality — that love, no matter the gender — we are not talking about who’s hot and who’s not, people — can embolden us, change us, scare us.