Monday, February 29, 2016

The Colour of Gold

Another year, another Michael Keaton movie wins Best Picture at the Oscars. How did this happen? Michael Keaton, whose highest profile films were Tim Burton movies and 80s comedies, whose career declined into direct to DVD movies--suddenly he has the Midas touch. How foolish I was to predict Mad Max: Fury Road would win, that movie didn't have Michael Keaton at all.

I have to say, this is the most entertained by an Oscars ceremony I've been in years. It was like a ballet of awkwardness. You can smell it in the just about unanimous praise Chris Rock has received for hosting. How weird is that, just in itself? People have taken to complaining that no matter who hosts or how good a job they do they'll inevitably take abuse in every review the next day. I guess the way to the Academy's heart is calling it racist, point blank.

Every moment was packed with tension as people nervously tried to decide what was appropriate to laugh at or groan at, very often cheers and laughter came at the most awkward times, like when Leonardo DiCaprio, in his oddly flat, droning acceptance speech, started talking about how horribly humans have messed up the planet. It sounded like people were applauding climate change for a moment. I had a weird feeling that neither DiCaprio or the audience could quite hear what he was saying.

That was the win everyone saw coming. Only Heath Ledger was more of a shoe-in. DiCaprio is a great actor. I didn't see The Revenant but he certainly deserves recognition for What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Shutter Island, and The Departed. I was tremendously happy to see Ennio Morricone win even though that was also clearly an "owed" win. He didn't even compose a complete score for Hateful Eight and it's hardly the best of his career, as good as it is.

I was happy Mad Max won so many awards. I guess it was an ode to Mad Max that the pit orchestra played winners off-stage with "Ride of the Valkyries", due to all the references to Norse mythology in the movie. Though I was nursing a theory that there was a hidden Nazi agenda at this year's Oscars. Let me show you the pieces:

1. My German friend Ada recently told me that "88" is code for "Heil Hitler". This was the 88th Academy Awards.

2. All the nominees were white.

3. Dave Grohl performed "Blackbird" during the in memoriam, a song written by Paul McCartney about black civil rights battles in the 60s.

4. The Nazis loved Wagner (who composed "Ride of the Valkyries").

5. The audience cheered when Chris Rock called them racists.

Okay, I'm kidding, of course. Probably.

So after the show I watched Spotlight, a movie I hadn't even heard of before last night. It's good. Not as good as Mad Max: Fury Road. Hell, it's not as good as my favourite movie of last year, Crimson Peak, which not only wasn't nominated for costumes or production design--two categories where it was head and shoulders superior--it wasn't even shown in the clips of a million lousy movies no-one saw. Spotlight wasn't a contender for Best Costume though I was struck by how everyone in the movie managed to coordinate their neck ties well with their shirts and coats.

It's a very simple film. It's all adults in offices in office attire the whole movie. Mark Ruffalo has a conspicuously "Oscar Clip" scene where he screams about paedophile priests which was indeed used as a clip at the Oscars. Despite the subject matter, which has curiously drawn praise from the Catholic church which, publicly, anyway, has been eager to admit and atone for its sins, the movie is really about journalism.

We get to meet Cardinal Law (Len Cariou), the highest level Church official involved in the cover ups in Boston, and we see a few priests briefly but the movie doesn't spend any time examining priests, Catholicism, or really the feelings of individual believers. The movie is a procedural, an interesting portrayal of the basic ins and outs of doing a piece of investigative journalism. Mike (Ruffalo) has trouble getting to see a lawyer named Garabedian (Stanley Tuccy) who has sealed documents which reveal the names of priests guilty of abuse. This is despite the fact that Garabedian wants to help the journalists expose the story--it's just that he's worried the Church is watching him so he has to tip off Mike on the sly that the sealed documents are made public as part of a motion, technically. It's nice to see Tucci's talent put to better use than it is in the Transformers movies as he sits down and explains to Mike the interesting legalistic labyrinth they must traverse from opposite ends.

We meet a few of the victims but mostly the focus is on the journalist and how a journalist deals with meeting victims like this, what rules of confidentiality they need to follow, than on the experience of being a victim of sexual assault. One of the journalists, Sacha (Rachel McAdams), confronts a priest who bizarrely explains that there's an important distinction about the assaults he perpetrated because he never really enjoyed committing these crimes. The movie stops short of exploring this fertile psychological territory because it's not within the scope of the story the film sets out to tell. Which is part of what makes this just an okay film and not really a great one. Ambition like that tends to scare away Oscar voters, anyway, at least for the first twenty or thirty years of your career.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Blonde Beard

Finally, at long last, I got around to watching 2015's The Martian last night. At least now I'll have seen it before its fate is decided at the Oscars. It turns out it's a really good movie. Well, I expected it to be good based on how my friends talked about it, plus it's a Ridley Scott movie written by Drew Goddard. It's so nice when Scott has a good screenwriter on board, it happens all too rarely. We can thank our lucky star that producer Simon Kinberg didn't write it. Otherwise we might not have had this tightly put together plot brought to life with natural and funny dialogue combined with Ridley Scott's usual brilliance for visuals.

I don't know why it took me so long to see it, maybe it was the lacklustre Comic Con panel which I didn't even mention seeing in my Con reports last year. It was actually the NASA/The Martian/Adam Nimoy combo panel. I mainly went to see it because the NASA panel in 2014 had been so great with several of the top brass from NASA as well as Buzz Aldrin appearing. 2015's panel had more low level workers who didn't have anything particular to announce or insights to share and their time was cut short anyway by a producer from The Martian giving canned sales spiel and Adam Nimoy awkwardly trying to make plugging his documentary about his father, Leonard, sound like it was a natural inclusion with the other two topics.

The Martian has a great cast but in a way it was a cast that needed to be overcome, too. Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon, as many have pointed out, both starred in Interstellar in very similar roles. Also, on a minor point, this movie has Sean Bean in a scene where people talk about Lord of the Rings and no-one mentions the Boromir in the room.

But the story does overcome the potentially distracting parts largely because of a rather endearing, sincere enthusiasm. Everyone's excited about the possibilities, everyone is eager to work on the details of this problem in front of them. It's not a movie about people being gung ho and having personal issues that distract them or motivate them. I really loved that--we don't hear about Mark's (Damon) ex-wife or his great love, his problem is all about growing potatoes on Mars. Jeff Daniels' problem is balancing the big picture of insuring NASA's survival with PR and actually saving Mark; the different team members at Mission Control played by Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Sean Bean are all focused on finding a way to send a supply ship to Mark or coming up with different strategies for getting him back or reconfiguring the machines he has on hand to extend his survival. The movie assumes all this is interesting and it's right, damn it.

We need a lot more movies like this. This is the first film more or less about a real world space programme I can remember seeing where it was actually all about the excitement of working out the science of space travel. Not Marooned, not Apollo 13 really had this. The only other examples I can think of are individual episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Of course, people have debated the scientific accuracy of the film. There was an effort to be scientifically accurate and experts seem to have been mostly satisfied. I'm obviously not qualified to comment but one thing that really bugged me was the lights in the helmets.

You don't see these on real astronaut helmets for the simple reason that they'd compromise the vision of the person wearing the helmet. This is why you don't drive a car at night with all the lights on inside the car. It's obviously done so the audience can see the actors' faces but in a movie like this it'd be nice if realism won out. I'm glad to say the lights inside the helmets seem to disappear as the movie goes on.

The movie features a really lovely use of David Bowie's "Starman".

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Spring is Hear, I See

This was one of the legion of butterflies I saw yesterday who were out in force because spring seems to have abruptly started here. All kinds of flowers were suddenly in bloom yesterday.

This one was outside my sister and brother-in-law's apartment. One tip I can give about photographing butterflies--if you startle one so it flies off, for some reason I've noticed they almost always come back to the same spot a moment later, even if you haven't moved. As though this particular flower is just too good to say no to, whatever the peril.

Saturday is when I usually talk about Doctor Who but once again I've had no time for it this week. Hopefully to-day I'll finally finish moving stuff to my new apartment and I can get back to drawing, thereby giving me opportunity to listen to Doctor Who audio plays. To-night I'm also hoping to finally see a movie at the cinema. Or maybe I'll stay in and try to catch up on Oscar films. The only Best Picture nominee I've seen is Mad Max: Fury Road. I suspect it'll win, too. No, I don't need to see the other movies to know who'll win, I need hardly remind anyone now that it's not about the quality of the film, need I? Fury Road seems to have all the momentum--the other major awards it's won, the fact that director George Miller has been around a long time and has won Academy Awards for a vastly different film (Babe) which he didn't direct. This, like DiCaprio's likely win for Revenant, would make Fury Road Miller's "due" win. At least I can say Fury Road is actually a good movie. Who knows? Maybe that'll actually give it an edge.

Twitter Sonnet #845

A nose of saxophone will hold the pin.
Old baskets strain will the Easter grenades.
Misattributed cigars burn the bin.
The wind would speak on tape at parades.
Delayed the grape mislead the car's chassis.
A rolling stone also won't gather peat.
The bones of trees were frozen and glassy.
From globes of brain the hat forgot the feet.
Reflection caught the bluer thought at home.
The safest nest was blocked with deadeyed strops.
A bowsprit sail obscures where we may roam.
And hides the screaming merman traffic cops.
The square within the face has no statue.
A certain tree produced the false cashew.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Difficult--as Easy--to Know

If a woman is beautiful, what else is there to know? The acquaintances of Adriana don't bother to learn much else in 1965's I Knew Her Well (Io la conoscevo bene), an Italian Neorealist film by Antonio Pietrangeli that follows in the footsteps of La Dolce Vita in its subject matter and visual style but follows a more conventional structure. Its fascination with its star, though, is infectious and the viewer is compelled to contemplate human nature in the form of one pretty, shallow, and naive would-be starlet.

We meet Adriana (Stefania Sandrelli) in a state in which we'll see her many times throughout the film--half naked but with the most important bits concealed. She's so innocent and comfortable in her home town, she runs home clutching her bikini top to her chest and asks a street vendor to tie it for her.

We see her skinny dipping later and twice we see her lounging about with only a towel but we never really see her naked. The tease is titillating, of course. I have two, diverging thoughts about what this might do to the viewer's perspective. One is that it may help bring the viewer into Adriana's perspective in that she sees herself as a glamorous star for whom the camera always dutifully shoots around the embarrassing bits. But it also puts distance between the audience and her perspective--when bits of an actor or actress are concealed for the purposes of morality even while the character is alone it inevitably draws the viewer outside the perspective of the character and even outside the movie itself.

Yet it's the artificial isolation of Adriana's mind that is the central issue for her character. She has only superficial interest in the people around her even as she thrives on their adoration. A police officer questions her about a man who skipped out on her, leaving her with a hotel bill, but learning that he's a criminal does nothing to eclipse her impression of him as being "funny", a night's plaything.

A traffic accident early in the film where a cyclist is killed seems to draw little reaction from her though clutching her companion's hand seems to imply she is vaguely troubled at the incident.

There are many scenes of her dancing at home alone, staring at her own feet as she walks. There are many scenes of her looking in mirrors and the film establishes rather well that she is the at centre of her affections.

Franco Nero has a small role as a garage attendant who falls for her too. She's happy to add his affections to the pile but all the eggs of her affection are ultimately in her own basket. Her beauty and her simple-mindedness stand in the way of making her altogether repulsive. Even so, the terrible effect when her bubble is finally burst comes somehow like a revelation.

The film is beautifully shot and takes great advantage of its star and Rome, its location.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Month for Artifice

Creative paralysis produced by childhood trauma may be cured by a pretty girl under the cherry blossoms. That's the opening argument for last season's new anime Your Lie in April (四月は君の嘘), a story about the creative process involved in music recitals. The best thing about this series from studio A-1 Pictures is its character designs and animation though its ideas on the mechanics of artistic inspiration and motivation, couched in a relatively cheap high school melodrama, are interesting. Maybe just for the fact that an anime series would choose to discuss them.

It's heavy on the Neon Genesis Evangelion influence with the shy and inhibited protagonist, Arima (Natsuki Hanae), starring in several scenes that feel like downright recreations of the massively influential Gainax anime from the 90s, including Arima telling himself not to run away, compulsively talking about himself in disparaging terms, and having visions of himself and his mother taunting him.

The fixation on Arima's mother issues replace Shinji's father issues--if Arima's father is even mentioned I haven't heard it yet, though I am only eleven episodes in. Of course, Shinji in Evangelion had plenty of issues with his mother considering he spends part of the series dealing with his sexual attraction and affection for his mother's clone. Arima's mother, who has been dead for some years after suffering for a long time from a debilitating illness, was a relentless task master who used verbal abuse to turn Arima into a pianist who could recite Chopin with mechanical perfection.

Arima wins every competition until one day he freezes up at the keys, bringing us to the start of the series where he encounters the beautiful Kaori Miyazono (Risa Taneda), playing a melodica with a group of children in the park under a gentle rain of pale pink petals. Due to a typical anime misunderstanding, Arima accidentally takes a picture while the wind causes Kaori's skirt to flip up. We don't see what Arima sees, the show thereby announcing to the viewer the level of fan service to be expected in the rest of the series. It's a slightly odd courtesy moment, the show saying that it's going to be serious, please look for wank material elsewhere, by using a scene of ludicrous happenstance that breaks perspective from its protagonist.

Kaori is a violinist known at recital competitions as a free spirit who invariably resists adhering to the score in her performances, infuriating the judges with her insistence on personal expression when it's supposed to all be about reproducing the composer's work. Which makes me ask, why is she playing at recitals? Why not play on street corners or in venues where people expect experimentation? I don't know much about the Japanese music scene but I find it hard to believe that these recitals are the only way for young musicians to play for an audience.

Of course, she's the tantalising opposite of Arima who was broken under the pressure to perfectly produce the works of composers. She pressures him into providing piano accompaniment for her at competitions and then bullies him into performing at piano recitals again by himself.

When she wacks him on the head with a flute or yells at him for slacking off, I think we're meant to take it as an aspect of her pretty, goofy, free-spirited charm but I found the similarity to the abuse from Arima's mother hard to ignore. I don't know if the parallel is intended or not, assuming it is makes the show more interesting.

I thought of The Red Shoes where Moira Shearer and Marius Goring argue over the creative process, where Shearer's character says concentrating so much on the mechanics of dancing eclipses any possibility of her entertaining romantic thoughts about clouds and birds during the performance while Goring's character argues that such a spirit ought to overwhelm the artist. Your Lie in April certainly seems in sympathy with Goring as we see flowers appear when Arima and Kaori are really in the zone on stage in much the way we see clouds and birds take the place of Shearer and her fellow dancers on stage in The Red Shoes' famous ballet sequence. Martin Scorsese thought this was too over the top, I can imagine what he'd think of Your Lie in April. But there's a sweetness about the anime that is nice to dream about even if I don't think it quite reflects the feeling I get at my most satisfying creative moments.

The Evangelion-esque moments where Arima is overwhelmed and the sounds of the piano are distorted for him are a bit better. The weakest aspect of the show is its pedestrian high school anime melodrama with Arima continually assuming that Kaori is in love with his best friend with absolutely no evidence to support this and her constantly spending time with Arima. And, in a melodramatic device known around the world, Kaori is of course dying from a terminal illness meaning this special ray of light is ephemeral and etcetera. Though this makes her resemble Arima's mother even more.

Twitter Sonnet #844

A hook could sing from nets we'd left in ice.
A wide and blackened eye repeats on air.
Embedded in the sucking ash, the rice
When threshed emerged as dust and nothing rare.
The twisted green marked out the dryad branch.
In dust indistinguishable from street,
A side-car wanderer stood, watched and blanched.
The thorns divorced from limb yet held the beat.
The beakers dropped through stairs forgot a test;
It waits in peeling paint, acrylic jewels
In flakes, the piles bringing coats unrest,
Reminds electric souls who make the rules.
A slice in generous clear prison webs
Conducts the fingered light as daytime ebbs.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The X-Files: Abstract

And so, The X-Files once again rides off into hiatus--look, there it goes. Did you miss it? I'm not surprised with the way the finale of the six episode tenth season rocketed by with plot points blurred over each other leaving the impression of a passing subway car painted with X-Files advertisements.

Like a few other episodes this season, "My Struggle II" feels like a rough outline as Chris Carter moves to one waypoint to another in a mad dash to put every plot point on screen resulting in, as Caitlin pointed out, Scully making some pretty ridiculous leaps of logic. Worse than that, though, is the loss of atmosphere that was so crucial to what made the show work in its original incarnation. The second X-Files movie had plenty of atmosphere to spare which makes me wonder again what on Earth happened to Chris Carter between then and now.

Fox has reportedly ordered another season based on the ratings success of this one, hopefully there'll be more episodes in it for the show to properly find its footing. I couldn't help thinking of how hard David Lynch fought for a budget that would allow the upcoming season of Twin Peaks to have nearly twenty episodes. Considering that as a network show The X-Files ought to have a much bigger budget from the outset compared to Twin Peaks, which will be airing on Showtime, one wonders if one or more parties were being lazy, greedy, or just unwise behind the scenes.

I did find myself actually kind of liking Einstein in the episode though Miller remains basically a Red Shirt. And the two of them together continue to feel odd, like they're so conspicuously there for a backdoor pilot for an X-Files: The Next Generation that it's too absurd to actually be true. I think the only thing that would satisfy me is if they ended up being psychic projections, apparitions of Mulder and Scully's unconscious.

Thinking back, I think there was an intent to play off anti-vaxxer paranoia somewhere in last night's finale, which might be a good idea for a genuine episode at some point.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Lens for Coronets, Lavender, Lions, Christ, and Archaeologists

The man who shot this image, the cinematographer for the first three Indiana Jones movies, Douglas Slocombe, died yesterday at 103 in London. In fact, 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was Slocombe's final film, an achievement at the end of a long career that included some of the finest films of British cinema from the macabre comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets to what Christopher Lee called the best written Hammer horror film he ever starred in, 1961's Taste of Fear.

Slocombe's black and white films have the expert use of high contrast that distinguishes many of the greatest cinematographers working before the 1970s. His colour films, which in addition to the Indiana Jones films also includes Jesus Christ Superstar and The Lion in Winter, show his ability to make make similar colours work together in striking ways and more clearly display his ability to unobtrusively use shine.

Look at Anthony Hopkin's face at 1:59, bright white contours at the front and subtly red, glowing darkness at the sides while Katharine Hepburn is evenly lit right in front of him, showing his extreme mood and her relative calm. Slocombe pulled off what must have been incredibly complicated setups and used them for expression.

Here he helps show off Alastair Sim's cluttered flat in 1947's Hue and Cry so that it's not a meaningless riot of shapes or an obtrusive collection of silhouettes but a cosily eccentric home that reflects the personality of its owner.

In the 1958 film noir Tread Softly Stranger he made the already gorgeous Diana Dors even more alluring, emphasising the mysterious and possibly treacherous motives of her character.

His incredible and long career came to an end due to problems with his eye sight. His absence explains why Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn't really look like an Indiana Jones film. But he's left us with a truly beautiful and varied body of work.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Mind in the Image of the Mind

"I am Marlene and Marlene is me." Josef von Sternberg is quoted as saying this about Marlene Dietrich, star of his early great, successful films, widely considered his best. When Marlene Dietrich was asked about this quote, she was not offended, stating that it was the truth.

Throughout the history of cinema, there have been pairings of director and muse that seem to transcend the simple relationship of a director who happens to often work with the same actors. It's not simply the case of a director and star becoming lovers. Akira Kurosawa married Yoko Yaguchi, the star of one of his early films, and she never appeared in one of his movies again. Certainly compatibility in marriage does not imply a compatible creative relationship. The director and actor are both artists, both responsible for creative decisions in a film. As an artform, film is filled with strong personalities and in a sense it's a miracle that such inherently collaborative projects come off at all. Though directing and acting are different creative endeavours. One might say the director is the more Apollonian and the actor is the more Dionysian artist. Even if the actor is not a method actor, the process of putting oneself physically into the artwork is more Dionysian than the inevitably more detached orchestration involved in directing, however intimate the material may be for a director. An actor, therefore, is a kind of avatar for the director. His or her creative decisions become the director's creative decisions. It's a creative intimacy that one would think unlikely to live beyond the individual film. But even working on many films together does not seem to imply the director/muse relationship apparent in Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg's collaborations. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have made quite a few movies now in a wide variety of genres and subject matters yet it's hard to imagine Scorsese saying, "I am Leonardo and Leonardo is me."

To-day I thought I'd present a list of directors and actors who've had this kind of remarkable relationship.

Charles Chaplin and Edna Purviance

Chaplin had love affairs with nearly all of his leading ladies but Edna Purviance is distinguished for many reasons. She was one of the first women to star in movies he directed--she was the leading woman in his first full length feature, The Kid--and she was the star of the first and, until his final film, A Countess from Hong Kong, only feature film in which he did not star, 1923's A Woman of Paris. She's also one of the few women with whom his break up was amicable and they not only remained friends until her death but she remained on his payroll and made small appearances in his films. So there was attraction as well as mutual respect.

David Lynch and Laura Dern

I can't help thinking the relationship between these two is somehow related to the fact that they look kind of similar. Lynch has worked multiple times with several women--Isabella Rossalini appeared in two of his films and they had a romantic relationship. Naomi Watts has worked with him more than once. But Laura Dern is the only woman to have a starring role in three of his films and now she's said to have been cast in the upcoming new season of Twin Peaks. Her first two roles for Lynch seem to embody two different kinds of innocence--as Sandy in Blue Velvet, she's a conventional impression of innocence, the "girl next door" type that Dern's inimitably natural performance gives a genuine quality, showing that Lynch genuinely loves these kinds of characters that many have erroneously accused him of presenting ironically. And that may be the key to why he likes her so much, she always comes off as natural. She brought an equal sense of innocence to the sex crazed Lula from Wild at Heart, delivering completely without any hint of self-consciousness a performance where she desperately eats a candy necklace while longing for her absent lover or tells a story about her cousin who put cockroaches in his underwear.

Lynch has hosted events for Transcendental Meditation with Dern and he publicly campaigned for her to get an Oscar for the latest film they made together, INLAND EMPIRE, in which she stars as a sort of sane version of Norma Desmond. Or rather, her knack for making any lines seem natural takes us into the interior head space of the Sunset Boulevard character and her madness becomes a more personal portrait of the symbiosis of human beings and dreams.

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Cocteau didn't make many films but Marais was in all but one of them. Marais was also Cocteau's lover and one can say the rather handsome Marais was Cocteau's ideal of beauty. Yet Cocteau's most famous film is Bele et la Bete in which Marais' face is covered by fur, whiskers, and fangs so that he could play a beast. Many--including Marlene Dietrich--have remarked how much more attractive the beast is through personality than Marais when he shows up in human form at the end of the film. There was more than lust in Cocteau's compulsion to continually cast his lover and in Orphee, where Marais plays an obsessive artist, Cocteau uses the actor to comment on the process of an auteur. One could perhaps say that Marais is Cocteau's avatar in this film but even if that wasn't what Cocteau intended there is an inevitable intimacy between the director and a star he casts to portray the creative process.

Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara

We don't know if these ever had a romantic relationship. Neither of them ever married, Hara was known as "The Eternal Virgin" and Ozu was living with his mother when he died. Hara appeared in films for many directors and in several for Mikio Naruse. But she is most often associated with Ozu with whom she made the masterpieces Late Spring and Tokyo Story. When Ozu died in 1963, Hara retired from acting and public life until her death last year.

Ozu's films are about family and his two greatest films seem to look with suspicion on the act of marrying and moving away from home. Late Spring and Early Autumn, both starring Hara, seem to regard marriage as a betrayal of a purer relationship between parents and offspring or between siblings. When she retired, Hara said she'd hated being an actress so her retirement coinciding with Ozu's death seems to imply that she sacrificed her happiness in order to help him create his films about the treachery of finding love outside the family. If these two were in love, it would have been based on a rapport that would never have allowed them to acknowledge it. This peculiar tension may in some degree explain the natural brilliance of their work together as this tension naturally overflowed onto the screen, bringing satisfying complexity to the argument.

Jean Luc Godard and Anna Karina

Godard's wife and almost invariably the star of his best regarded films, the New Wave pictures he made in the 60s, Anna Karina's place in Godard's heart and art bore the influence of other director and muse relationships as her crying as she watches Carl Dreyer's Joan d'Arc in Vivre sa vie demonstrates. In Truffaut's Jules et Jim, the two male characters discussing the perfect aesthetic virtues of a woman's face before finding them in Jeanne Moreau's character might be seen as fictional versions of Godard and Truffaut for the fact that Moreau and Karina both had the kind of lips idolised by Jules and Jim. For the purportedly work obsessed Godard, the fact that he loved Karina as a person must have been secondary to the fact that she fit the perfect mould. Fortunately, she's also a very good actress and seems to have been able to embody a wide variety of roles for him, from the innocent girl in Bande a part to the enigmatic agent in Alphavile.

I wonder if I should really include this pair since she supposedly divorced him for his obsession with work though lately I see she's been appearing at special events to discuss the films she made with him. Perhaps it's more important to include this pair because it shows the critic turned director Godard recognised this director/muse relationship and tried to create it in a way perhaps more self-consciously than had ever been done before.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Lyrics of Sunday Night Target

At last, I can post blog entries from home. And look, I'm already taking it for granted, this is the latest I've posted an entry in days. I blame all the long lines I encountered unexpectedly this evening. I guess everyone likes to shop at the Trader Joe's and Target in Mission Valley on Sunday nights. Everyone certainly looked comfortable. In Target, I saw three women and their two little girls in swimsuits, each wrapped in a white towel, even the little girls had tiny, kid sized towels. As far as I know, there are no swimming pools in proximity. The white towels say "hotel" but I don't think there's a hotel in walking distance. Did everyone just get out of the pool and climb into the car? They seemed so at ease. Maybe I'm the prude that thinks it's weird.

Hey, I guess it's pretty hackneyed to say rap music kind of sucks but . . . rap music generally kind of sucks. Well, I do like Nicki Minaj. And Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. And M.I.A. M.I.A. actually has some decent lyrics. I mention it because twice in parking lots to-day I was treated to blasting music and my initial thought was, "Oh, nice, some young people are listening to The Clash," before realising it was some inarticulate guy saying angry things over a recording of a Clash song.

I do think I miss the point. The Clash and other punk groups were certainly about attitude at least in part. And jeez, early punk artists certainly didn't have a reputation for crafting melody. But evidently they made something that lasted well enough for people to be riding their coat tails now.

Last semester in the class I took on John Milton the professor, Peter Herman, mentioned hearing a Kanye West song that sampled Nina Simone's version of "Strange Fruit". He mentioned it as evidence of Kanye West's lack of talent, or maybe downright stupidity, as the sample is used for an incredibly trite song about West and his girlfriend. Looking at the lyrics now, I can definitely see Professor Herman's point.

These bitches surroundin' me
All want somethin' out me
Then they talk about me
Would be lost without me
We could've been somebody
Thought you'd be different 'bout it
Now I know you not it
So let's get on with it

When The Sex Pistols covered "My Way", it was a send up of the arrogance and self-importance inherent in the song, a take down of the kind of ego that sees itself as having a kind of majesty for supposedly doing everything without reference to others. Kanye West took a song about people failing to see slaves as fellow human beings and turned it into a song to serve his ego. Modern rap isn't the new punk. It's the new Paul Anka.

Twitter Sonnet #843

Electric dreams at home evade the droid.
The techs as sheep disperse on idle roads.
The silent diamonds pass through asphalt void.
It's just the feet you see for pride of Rhodes.
When fortune called and spun in modem space
A brace of coats were guided down the hall.
At wrist a cuff link pinned the copy ace.
Confused, the autumn hand began to fall.
The gath'ring Skittles leaden rain.
Bows melted thick across the granite brow.
A last unsold island engorged with grain
Consumed the man who bought the stainless plough.
The sap of time is long and not so sweet.
Seconds can stretch as far as they can beat.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Squirrel's Game

Basically no time for Doctor Who this week. I've sort of been watching Terror of the Zygons and Mawdryn Undead in bits and pieces. I was curious to watch the latter again because I always thought I missed the bit in the episode where we learn Turlough is an alien because I was surprised when it started being mentioned as a known fact in later episodes. In the first episode of Mawdryn Undead he still just seems like a relatively normal, if remarkably arrogant, university student. His desire to leave Earth he mentions a few times sound more like a human quirk than the desires of an alien. He's one of my favourite companions either way, certainly vying with Jamie for the status of best male companion. Turlough is a coward and a bit of jerk but Mark Strickson's performance gives him an odd dignity that makes it seem rather nature when he does something like save Peri's life. His flaws, his desire to slink back into safety, effectively create tension and you watch him wondering which part of his nature will win out. Adric was the guy we were supposed to like but didn't because he's a snot, Turlough is the guy we're not supposed to like but do because he's a snot. Sometimes you just can't predict these things.

It's no wonder I've had no time for Doctor Who, I've been so busy this past week. And I still only have internet in fits and starts at my apartment. A technician is coming to-morrow. For now, I'm at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf down the street. I guess I'm lucky there is one so nearby which is always mostly empty because it has practically no parking and it's at the corner of a busy intersection.

I need to get back to moving stuff to-day so here are some recent photos of squirrels and things I've taken.

Friday, February 19, 2016

People Revealed and Places Changed

It's been quite a few years since I read To Kill a Mockingbird. I've watched the movie more recently, though not more recently than five or six years. Nevertheless I remember several aspects of the story rather clearly which I think speaks to the accomplishment of author Harper Lee whose death was announced to-day. I had a biology teacher in high school named Cunningham and I was always tempted to greet him with, "Hey, Mr. Cunningham. I said, 'hey'!" And what a nice scene that is, where little Scout does something so simple that she reminds the mob it's made up of individual human beings with names and personalities. In a moment, she reminds them how absurd it is that the people reflected in her eyes would want to murder a man.

Of course, most people think of Atticus Finch when they think of To Kill a Mockingbird, and with good reason. It's rare for pacifism to be portrayed so lovingly. Particularly nowadays where every hero or superhero has to be a badass or a smartass. Atticus isn't just Lee's endorsement of the principle of non-violence, of care in discourse, and reason before retribution. She shows how really beautiful it can be; particularly in a world that can be quite ugly.

I haven't read the recently released Go Set a Watchman. Maybe I will at some point but like many people I have suspicions about the legitimacy of its publication. I think there's at least an 80% chance it was published against her will or without her fully cognisant knowledge. I don't like reading works by authors that the authors don't want me to read. I'd agree there's an anthropological interest in the idea. We might indeed learn something valuable if some poetry by James I were discovered and read even if he never wanted these poems read. Looking at earlier drafts of an artist's works can reveal interesting things about their process and reveal something more about their intentions in the choices they made and in things they rejected. But knowledge of these things inevitably alters the impression of the work itself for that very reason. Sometimes insight isn't a good thing when it might narrow the scope of the work. This was J.R.R. Tolkien's complaint against allegory, that it narrows the possibilities of a work of art. When an author permits "behind the scenes" information to be published, that's part of the art as it's part of the expression. When talking about jazz, people talk about how the notes that aren't played are as important as those that are. The mind's unfulfilled expectation of a note is part of what shapes the mind's reaction to the piece as a whole.

I used to go to great pains to explain this kind of thing when introducing a David Lynch film to someone. Lynch uses silence so that he can punctuate it with sound. It's particularly evident in the first act of Lost Highway. The compulsion of the average viewer is to fill up every moment, to squeeze in every piece of trivia, rather than allow themselves to feel the tension. Though fortunately I think the legacy of the short song called To Kill a Mockingbird drowns out anything else. The simplicity of its statement on human nature is just too eloquent.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Revenge Served Warm

What do cheerleaders really do? Would it really make any difference if football players didn't have girls in short skirts jumping around nearby? To find out, I watched 1976's Revenge of the Cheerleaders which answered my questions with hazy affection. This badly edited film with loitering performances gathers some beautiful women who were apparently asked to look happy and naked.

Really, the most remarkable thing going on in this film is how happy and relaxed all these high school students are. Everyone just hangs around, has sex, smokes, or aimlessly wanders.

Here Gail (Jerii Woods) and Sesame (Patrice Rohmer) wander the woods wearing only identical merkins before they're frisked by a police officer. Sesame--even her name says "open"--seems to have the hardest time of the group keeping her top on. Mainly she seems to like David Hasselhoff, who probably thinks this is the lowest point of his career.

But all the cheerleaders like to sleep around, something that has earned the high school the reputation of having a "morality problem", which is aimed to be solved by merging the school with its cross town rival, Lincoln. Which figures into a completely nonsensical scheme by some hastily sketched middle aged businessmen types to make a mall or something.

Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith appears in the film as one of the cheerleaders, her status in exploitation films securing her a role despite being visibly very pregnant.

This movie has a kind of bad editing you just don't see anymore thanks to computers. It's like watching undersea creatures the way scenes begin or end with people dumbly smiling or fumfering around before abruptly launching into dialogue that seems like it was improvised by people who've received generous anaesthetic. Which it probably was.

Mostly people don't talk at all. There's a phony vigour in the sex and the sports but mostly everyone floats along through the movie, not letting the plot get them too excited one way or the other. It's more like an aquarium than a movie. I guess the cheerleaders do effect some kind of revenge; at one point they seem really happy while the businessmen seem upset.

Twitter Sonnet #842

The modem mind reboots too often late.
As night advanced beyond the ken of hair
The head was capped in poor analogue pate.
A careful ticket slipped beneath the stair.
A brief reminder of a little case:
Too small to hold a coat or all your pants,
Instead, you'll find your files, pens, and mace.
And maybe sandwiches covered with ants.
The chaff was perched atop the weather vane.
A flake of oat has fallen by the bowl.
A comb combined the hair and bristled mane.
An icy tip betrays the bergy whole.
A ragged coat outnumbered rich wardrobes.
You'll find escape pods inside the snow globes.