Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I saw my first Fellini film when I was sixteen. I forget how I found out, but I became aware that KQED, our local PBS station was going to show “Juliet of the Spirits;” perhaps the commercial intrigued me. Seeing as it was certainly nothing that my parents were interested in seeing, I watched it on my little black and white television in my room. And my world was expanded, enriched and made better for it.
I became a Fellini fan then and there and have since seen many of his films, but with this viewing of “La Strada,” one of his earlier films, I realize that I have been a fan of the surreal Fellini, the Fellini who was greatly influenced by the work of Carl Jung (as was I—yes, I was reading Jung at sixteen). I have seen and loved “The Nights of Cabiria,” “La Dolce Vita,” “8 ½,” “Juliet of the Spirits,” “Satyricon,” “Roma,” “Amarcord,” “E la nave va” and “Ginger and Fred.” But I hadn’t really watched the Neo-Realist Fellini until I watched “La Strada.”
Italian Neo-Realism concerned itself with life among the poor and working class in the decimated climate of post-war Europe in the ‘50s. And “La Strada” certainly aligns itself with those concerns. It is a story that explores a mentally challenged young woman (played quite broadly—like Charlie Chaplin, as Martin Scorcese observed—by Giulietta Masina, otherwise known as Mrs. Fellini) who is sold by her mother to an itinerant circus side show performer called Zampano (played with flexible brutality by Anthony Quinn). The resulting tragic journey has a few tender spots along the way (thanks mainly to Masina’s stubborn optimism), but ultimately this is a dark story full of regret. The full import of the fate of these characters doesn’t sink in until well after the film is over.
(As an interesting aside, I recently read a book by Joris-Karl Huysmans called À REBOURS. Huysmans started out writing in the literary genre known as Realism, championed by writers such as Balzac, Flaubert and Zola and dedicated to showing the ugly and poor, but soon grew tired of the inherent limitations of subject matter and setting. He broke with Realism and wrote À REBOURS in the literary genre of Decadence, a style that valued artifice over any kind of interest in the natural world. The Gothic novel, French Symbolist poetry, and the work of Edgar Allen Poe were major influences. So I find it very interesting that both Huysmans and Fellini broke with genres that were only invested in showing poverty and squalor—and both called Realism—and gravitated toward something more fantastical and lyrical.)
Recommend? Yes. “La Strada” won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1956.
Before I left for Tuscany two months ago, I was supposed to read UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN by Frances Mayes but I was busy with the Huysmans book À REBOURS (in case you missed it, see my review here). But I returned from my visit to Italy with the Tuscan countryside freshly imprinted onto my imagination, and read Mayes’ book with firsthand knowledge.
Part travelogue, part home remodeling chronicle, part cookbook and part prose poem ode to Tuscany, it is by turns informative, funny, touching and thought-provoking. She records the journey of finding a property in Tuscany to buy (a house that comes with the name of Bramasole, which in Italian means “to yearn for the sun”), and recounts the trials and tribulations of restoring a structure that is surely hundreds of years old. The extra-trying issues of getting permits from a government that seems to prize slowness and inefficiency, and tradesmen who take weeks off at a time for a saint’s feast day are ultimately worth it though, as she and her partner Ed transform the house into a place full of meaning and memory.
Her passages where she muses about life in Tuscany and how people live it is a bit like cultural anthropology with Mayes playing Margaret Mead, trying to figure out how the natives live and why they do what they do. Something about life in this area resonates with her though, and she begins the process of understanding and assimilating. It gives those with little or no experience of Tuscany a great introduction.
And the passages where she describes the sights and smells of the land around her are at once lovely and obviously inadequate since it is difficult to match in words the passion and intensity of something so vital and real and complex.
I especially enjoyed her thoughts on the meaning of "home" as she compares her upbringing in rural Georgia to Tuscany, and meditates on the nature of "home" itself.
Recommend? Certainly. It is light, summer reading…
Friday, June 25, 2010
I clearly see Edwardian influences in the collection mixed with the unique McQueen cut and interest in fabric technology. I like how the trouser silhouette goes from very tight and fitted to wide and loose. And the jackets that evoke a past era are fantastic.
I can't help wondering if Sarah Burton was nervous, taking over for such an innovative, creative designer. But then again, AMcQ would not have had her around if her spirit and vision were not sympatico. After seeing each of these looks and asking myself, "Does it seem like something Lee would have created," I believe the answer is "Yes."
Although separated in time (2004/1982) and place (Iraq/Israel and Lebanon), the two films provide glimpses into war and its atrocities in a very visceral, immediate way.
Winner of six Academy Awards, "The Hurt Locker" is an excellent cinéma-vérité study of a bomb squad in Iraq, circa 2004. Shot with hand held 16mm cameras, it has the feeling of a documentary but the texture of a psychological profile. To speak of this film properly, I feel I would need to write a book about the war, why we are there, the men and women fighting there and the Iraqi citizens, both innocents and insurgents. The film is connected to large, difficult issues that are not only political, but also spiritual as well. The ultimate point of the film though, as we are told, is that war is a drug... a drug that can generate an addiction. And our main character is a junkie, needing the adrenaline rush of disabling bombs and the validation his service in the squad brings him.
The Academy Award nominated "Waltz With Bashir" was an unexpected gem of a film. I was surprised to discover that it is an animated film--but certainly not a "cartoon." The animation is stark, artistic, quite dark, and looks as though it was rotoscoped. I have since learned that Israeli animator Yoni Goodman invented a new animation technique using Adobe Flash cutouts (each drawing was sliced into hundreds of pieces and moved in relation to one another). The technique renders a startling 3D effect in many scenes.
The story is a documentary about Israeli writer and director Ari Folman trying to recover lost memories of his time fighting in Lebanon. He was present for the 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps but cannot remember being there. He visits friends, fellow soldiers, psychologists and others in an attempt to piece together what he did there. The end of the film shockingly switches to actual archival footage of the aftermath of the massascres. This technique reminded me tangentially of the moment in the classic short French film "La Jetée" where the montage of still pictures is disorientingly interrupted by a tiny section of live action film. It was effective then and is still effective in "Waltz With Bashir."
Recommend? Yes, both of them.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
"In their hot, dense cores, stars are fusing light elements into the heavy ones crucial for life such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and iron. The tiny bits of unused mass left over from these thermonuclear reactions become starlight via the most famous formula in physics, Einstein’s E = mc².
On average,… each atom in our bodies has been processed through five generations of stars…knowing this curious fact can give us pride in our origins: it’s like we’re descended from royalty, only better. Our stellar legacy connects us to the universe and to each other. Like the song says, we are golden, we are stardust. All of us.”
“Your body is not solid flesh. Your body is not matter. It is energy...Your physical form is made of molecules, molecules are made of atoms, atoms are made of electrons, and electrons are made up of billions of specks of energy. Your body is a mass of scintillating specks of light, held together by your thoughts…”
--Sondra Ray, metaphysician
Xavier Chassaing's haunting and gorgeous experimental film "Scintillation" is made up of over 35,000 photographs in a mix of stop-motion and live action projection mapping.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”
Saturday, June 12, 2010
I've always loved this song and take it very seriously. Its cosmic message is transcendent.
But the video is pretty tongue-in-cheek... yet at the same time, I can assign it the same weight as the song.
Friday, June 11, 2010
I have always loved this song because it is warped and disorienting...and despite the fact that it is a "dance" song with a beat, it is a sombre affair. It's a little scary too, which is why I like it. I adore the bass tolling like a funeral bell that starts around the :24 second mark--and the confusing surge of sound that starts at the :33 and 3:11 marks. Genius.
The images really suit the music too but it's difficult to put my finger on why. Maybe it is the implied sense of violence or danger from this crowd-control-weapons demonstration for the LA Police in 1963 that fits so well with the restrained, bubbling, seething sense of the music. Something is about to happen. And it isn't good.
Even the intrusion of the near-subliminal graphics adds to the insidious nature of the piece.
Also, it looks like "o" picks up right where "b" left off!
The photos remind me of the fantastic Nine Inch Nails video for the song "The Perfect Drug," based on the work of legendary illustrator Edward Gorey.
Although translated as “Against Nature,” a better translation for À REBOURS would be “Against The Grain.” Huysmans, a Parisian with Dutch roots (hence the name), first began writing in the Naturalist style of literature, aligning himself with Emile Zola, but with the publication of À REBOURS, his tenth work, he had broken with Naturalism and became firmly entrenched in the reactionary Decadent style of literature. Closely related to the Symbolists and inspired in part by the writing of Edgar Alan Poe, Decadence came about during the fin de siècle and À REBOURS, written in 1884, is considered by some to be its first true—and ultimate—example of the genre (others give this title to the works of Baudelaire).
This novel first came to my attention in an article about a recent style phenomenon known as Dark Nostalgia. I blogged about Dark Nostalgia and this particular article in this post. So I thought I would give À REBOURS a try.
Actually a very long character study in which nothing much happens rather than a novel, À REBOURS explores the life and mind of only one man, Jean des Esseintes, an ailing and ornery loner from a faded aristocratic family. Huysmans himself called this novel a “wild and gloomy fantasy.”
After the start of the story, we soon find that our hero, des Esseintes, after a debauched life of excessive food, drink and sex, has retired from social life, finding people, on the whole, to be repellent dolts. He has pledged to live out the rest of his days in intellectual and aesthetic contemplation, far away from the grotesqueries of the world. Organized into chapters around a loose theme, we find out what he thinks of Latin literature (as well as an exhaustive survey of the history and authors of said literature), we delve into his favorite—as well as detested—art and artists, we discover his feelings on French poetry and literature, we follow his train of thought about colors (and what shades to paint the rooms of his home), we wait patiently—or not so patiently—while he relives his Jesuit education and flirts with Christ and Christianity, we suffer through his creation of an indoor garden populated with exotic, hideous—and sometimes carnivorous—plants, and we watch as he creates a “musical instrument” that plays scents instead of notes. The only real “action” in the story consists of two episodes: 1) des Esseintes comes to the conclusion that the patterns on his Oriental rugs would be even better if the patterns moved, so he buys an enormous tortoise and has its shell encrusted with precious stones, which causes the death of the poor creature and 2) des Esseintes decides to emerge from his self-imposed hermitage to visit England, but after taking a cab to the train station in the rain and having a meal near some English tourists while waiting to board, he feels that he has already visited the disgusting, soggy country of England and promptly returns home.
The book is interesting as a piece of literary history, and it is helpful to be able to place it in a context, but it's fairly dry and has little to do with any modern sensibilities or concerns. The universality is simply not there. Much is made of the "startling" language and vocabulary employed by Huysmans, but I can't find it.
In addition, des Esseintes is hardly a sympathetic character. I would be much more interested in someone who collected art, books and plants if there was a true interest and love, a passion for these things—and ultimately, an understanding and application to one’s life, an enrichment. But des Esseintes seems to collect anything odd or unusual—that is, anything that is currently not in favor by the culture at large—not because he is interested in such things, but simply for the collecting and having… the possessing, as if by merely possessing something odd or unusual, he himself would then have some sort of extra value. It is an early form of consumerism and seems very sad. None of his possessions makes des Esseintes a better person, a more likeable person, an intelligent person. He uses them to prop up his empty life and heart. The novel could be construed as a cautionary tale against indulging your every whim, but with Huysmans being very fond of such whims, it is hard to tell. Considering the Jungian idea of psychological “shadow issues,” it is not surprising that, in 1892, Huysmans sought readmittance to the Catholic Church. He devoted the rest of this life to being a devout believer, clearly as some kind of flip-side of the same coin.
As a side note, the character of des Esseintes was based in part not only on Huysmans himself, but in the greater part upon the notorious aesthete and aristocrat Robert de Montesquiou. In addition, Montesquiou also served as the model for the Baron de Charlus in Proust's À LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU (or IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME).
Recommend? No, not really.