Forget the earth or the sun as the center of the universe. The anthropic principle puts life at the center. The universe appears fine-tuned for life. If gravity were just slightly stronger, stars would compress tightly and burn out after a few million years rather than billions. Ergo, life would never have a chance to evolve.
Life might not have originated on Earth but rather was seeded with ancient microbes that bombarded the planet billions of years ago, an idea called Panspermia (Greek for seeds everywhere.) Therefore we are aliens.*
Excerpted from David Siegel Bernstein’s Blockbuster Science
Ari Aster’s Midsommer is that rarest of things – a film that refuses to let you be. It is more than a film, a story, a collection of images and sounds, but a place in which you are immersed, to find something real.
Yes, Midsommer is a film with the trappings of horror – ominous music, jump scare tactics, the standard group of unwitting fools and more than enough gruesome imagery – none of which are my thing. No. I don’t like horror.
These elements are rarely implemented in predicable fashion. Rather than focusing on the gruesome images, although there are moments, the atmosphere is the thing.
It boils down to the simplest of questions: What exactly am I watching here ? What the hell is this? What does any of this mean?
It’s not just the captivating imagery, the brooding pace, the sharply rendered dialogue, but the moments dappled into something else, an essential to which there seems no answer.
The thing is that you are here, simply and wildly so, what the beat guys said, that raw repetitive thing. You think you belong here and you do. You came to this place and were ready for it or not at all. On the edge of knowing. That is all there could possibly be. Almost there. Virile. All of that in you. One long impossible note.
And you think there should be more – because in all of that might be ahead and has been seen by you, by you!, the sheer cliffs, the little kids, everything tiny, remembering a mistake, lost, incredibly, delightfully so, and not in a memory, not a precise known thing, cherished, forgotten, that thing so exquisite as it must be known, there, waiting – and it isn’t.
And so there is that, the king of the universe in the hallway, flames coming out like they should, no understanding for the what or why of it, that nightmare you slip into and live in, there, acting like you are half sleep and probably are. And how did you get to that? Meandering, fine and easy. That is what you say and almost think at the end of it.
All the young kids who are starting out want to do crazy things with the camera. It’s useless. The simplest continuity is the most efficient: a shot and then a reverse shot. You must spend more time with the actors and the dialogue than with the camera. Anybody can think up a difficult camera move, but very few can manage to retain the same feeling between a long shot and a close-up, to keep up the quality of the emotion. (From Scott Eyman’s Print the Legend, 273)
The New York Times has certainly gone to town on the current state of cinema, with no less than three film heavyweights – Martin Scorsese, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, weighing in. As thoughtful as they might have tried to attend the issue, they missed the mark, focusing almost solely on the emptiness of the superhero genre and franchises of Star Wars, Disney et al., when great filmmaking goes far beyond that. Mr. Scorsese’s latest release, The Irishman, represents this problem as much as anything – films that sacrifice content for style.
There are four basics to a great film – visuals, sound, narrative and message. Exemplars include Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God (1973), The Coen’s No Country for Old Men (2005) and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless (2017), all of which deliver a poignant message through story, images and music and only grow in dimension with repeated viewing.
The celebrated films of 2019 – such as Todd Phillips’ Joker, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Bong Joo-ho’s Parasite – fall well short of greatness because the story is meandering and incomplete. They, like the Hollywood franchises and Scorsese’s The Irishman, go so heavily in on style that the viewer just wants everybody to die so the film will finally end.
The best films of 2019 include Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, The Safdis’ Uncut Gems and Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, none of which are actually memorable, but at least they try to tell a story.
Fear not, just one year ago, there were three superlative films – Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters, Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma – offering everything, including story and images and message. 2020 might get us back on track.
I’m not going to try so damn hard to make other people happy. That’s my resolution for 2020. How do you like that? I’m not going to make the effort for the people that don’t deserve it. The truth is that I don’t like any people that much. That’s what it comes down to. Give me a serval or a dog any day. Whatever the race, creed or gender, people are all the same, always needing, always wanting, more, more, more, a bunch of babies.
The more they have, they uglier they are, the more they think they know, the more they believe their little consciousness to be somehow superior, more aware, more real. The opposite is the more the truth – the less self-awareness, the better, the less conscious, the more real. The worst thing of all is their idiotic smiles. No, that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing of all is making resolutions that no one ever keeps. That’s the worst lie. I’m going to be a better person. This time I’m really going to try.
I figured everything out last night when we were drunk on the fire escape. I figured out what I was doing with my life, pretty much all of that, better than my therapist ever could. It was crystal clear. Everything was like that – my purpose, my fuck-ups, my dreams, my relationships. It was all like a story that I had written. I knew it all.
I remember my hand against the railing, the glass in my palm, the scotch tilted perfectly. That was when I told you about my writing, how it didn’t matter if I was published. It was the writing that mattered, being in the moment, conceiving of those things that made perfect sense, that when I went back to them, would make me see everything exactly how I wanted. I had written that thing just like I had wanted, as I had intended, even more than that. Like Apollo’s death. And getting resurrected.
And then we talked about my work, meticulous about everything, doing everything the best I could, working with people that do their work, but saying nothing and just doing the work, and deciding that I would need to decide when to stop and find something else, as fulfilled as it may have been, if it ever was, knowing that I was helping others figure out who they were, that there was an end to that. And this might be it.
And then the obvious stuff, the things that I had never really thought about but now I knew – like making the cream cheese for the icing, fixing the camera shutter, refilling the lighter, buying the right presents and not doing anything at all, just being silent. That’s when I was really listening to you. That was the best part of it, because you knew more than me about all of this. Your glass was empty by then and you didn’t seem to care. And I just wanted more and insisted on crawling back through the window to find the bottle empty. I didn’t feel so clear after that. I just knew that I known everything that I would ever know in those few moments and would have to let the nausea now pass.
I’m almost ready to write. The document is up. Computer is charged. But first the fridge needs to be cleaned up a little – throw a few old things out, a bit of consolidating too. We need to place an order – juice, fruit, cheese.
We need crackers. And sliced almonds. My god, we are out of chia seeds. There was a book I was supposed to get – about the science in blockbuster films. I have to look that up. And underwear. I need to overhaul my undergarments. Mack Weedon is expensive. But I like them. I have to clean up my cupboard. Too many old t-shirts. Nothing is stacked right. Two plants need re-potting. I have to order bigger pots.
There is a stain on the wall. I have to clean that. The blender needs to be probably scrubbed too. And I have to print my train ticket. And the ticket for the Yo La Tango show, which I now can’t find. No receipt. No email. Nothing. Where is it? But I have to get back to writing. It’s now. Now is that time. Except maybe one more thing.
There are couple of things I have been thinking about before I get into the real first draft of Mina, the final installment of the Cx Trilogy.
First of all, Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was a surprise. I am not a fan of his work, especially his depictions of violence and tedious storytelling methods; however the second half of the film worked well. That said, Tarantino’s misogyny comes through with a vengeance in the end. His hate for women is terrifying not only in its graphic nature, but more worrying, how it is embraced by the public.
Second, I don’t think writer’s block really exists. It’s just hard getting going at times. That’s called inertia. All I have to do is move the rock forward. That’s it. Once I get going, there will be no stopping it.