Monthly Archives: December 2015
Ice Friday: Luis Bunuel’s “Last Sigh”
Luis Bunuel’s memoir My Last Sigh offers reflections on art, politics and idle dreams:
One day on New York, in the 1940’s, my good friend Juan Negrin, the son of a former Republican Prime Minister, and his wife, the actress Rosia Diaz, and I came up with the notion of opening a bar called the Cannonball. It was to be the most expensive bar in the world, and would stock only the most expensive beverages imported from the four corners of the earth. We planned an intimate bar, ten tables maximum, very comfortable and decorated with impeccable taste. An antique cannon at the door, complete with powder and wick, would be fired, night or day, each time a client spent a thousand dollars. Of course, we never managed to realize this seductive and thoroughly undemocratic enterprise, but we thought it amusing to imagine your ordinary wage earner in the neighboring apartment building, awakened at four in the morning by the boom of the cannon, turning to his wife next to him in bed and saying: “Another bastard coughing up a thousand bucks!”
Another Scene Gone: “Paint”
My current project is the second part of a screenplay trilogy focusing on a college student, Davis who, in this deleted scene argues, badly with his university radio station colleagues:
Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die plays in the background over the lounge speakers in the radio station.
LAURA: Ellen’s show is called Synesthesia. You know what that is? (To ELLEN) Kandinsky painted music, right? Different senses coming together. You should open your show with something like that.
ELLEN nods earnestly.
DAVIS: I wrote this play in second year.
ELLEN: A play?
DAVIS: Well, it was more like a philosophy paper. ELLEN: About Kandinsky?
DAVIS: Nietzsche’s Ubbermesh.
ARTHUR: It’s Uber-mench. Uber. Use the ‘U’. And mench, like bench.
DAVIS (Trying to ignore ARTHUR): There was this painting in it, Garicault’s Raft of the Medusa.
ARTHUR: Christ, Davis, do you know any words? (Gesticulating to LAURA like a frustrated clown) It’s Gericault. The ‘g’ is soft. Repeat after me: Gericault. LAURA: I have a question for you, Davis.
DAVIS: I can hardly wait.
LAURA: What are you going to do about the dead air?
DAVIS: What dead…?
DAVIS looks up and wheels around, suddenly realizing that Live and Let Die, the song on his radio show, is about to end. He sprints around the corner, slides into a filing cabinet and bangs into the door, only realizing now that it is locked. The song ends.
“The Martian”: Vacuous in Space
The idea behind Ridley Scott’s The Martian could be intriguing: What if someone were to be stranded alone on a distant planet? As unoriginal as the premise is – a sci-fi staple often used countless Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits episodes – it still has the potential of the vast unknown. However that potential is quickly wasted in The Martian as it can never rise above a tedious salute to American ingenuity, what eventually becomes a mind-numbingly extended episode of MacGyver.
The script is an abomination, the Chief of NASA actually saying “…if nothing goes wrong” right before…something goes wrong. Character development is non-existent, and not a single word is invested into the psychology of being abandoned in space, excepting the long zoom-ins of everyone becoming more empathetic. It’s astounding that $108 million can be dumped into such a meaningless and vacuous project, and then go on to earn close to $600 million; Ridley Scott hoodwinked us again. Which makes me wonder when his Alien/Blade Runner credentials will finally run out.
Mikhail Kalatozov’s “The Cranes Are Flying”
Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying is a remarkable piece of film-making. Made in 1957, Mikhail Kalatozov guides the camera in perpetual flight, rising, drifting, gliding along with the story, leading the characters through their dreams and lives. As melo-dramatic as the narrative may be, the technical elements, the self-awareness of the camera and the theory of film-making, all of it before France’s Nouveau Vague, are astonishing, like a supreme being playing with a camera and showing us simpletons just what is possible. Cinema not only as art, but of our very dreams.
Notes from the Margins: Republicans and Bunnies
A few notes from the margins, semi-blog-worthy, and so put together in this morass:
Liars, Cheaters and Ignoramuses: The Republicans are doomed to go down in history for childish stupidity. While they may not be a species of themselves, they remain a bitter reflection of our world, a breed of astounding ignorance who no longer deserve the laughs.
Silly Old Upper Canada College: The main building at Toronto’s richest and oldest all-boys school, Upper Canada College, is as imposing as ever – wide stone staircase, red brick wings, iconic tower – the halls as long and echoing and the students as privileged.But something has changed. There were females in the building, actual women, not students, but teachers and administrators. And they were in charge. A much better place than yesteryear, without a doubt.
Helvetius Porn: The doctrine of Claude Helvetius is fundamental and clear: as human’s faculties may be reduced to physical sensation, we are motivated solely by the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure.
Yes, it’s all about feeling good, finding the sunniest possible spot, drink in hand, and staying in that as long as possible. In other words, there is no freedom of choice between good and evil and no such thing as absolute right.
Ice Friday: Thordarson’s “The Stones Speak”
Thorbergur Thordarson’s vivid memoir The Stones Speak recalls his childhood days spent in a remote Icelandic hamlet:
Large boulders stood here and there on the slopes. They appeared to be lifeless rocks if you just gave them a momentary glance. But if you stared at them for a little while, it was if they gained life and a soul of their own and quite personal features that reminded you of people. Some of them had looked out over the communities below in these peaceful poses for decades, others for long centuries, and it seemed to me that they knew everything that had befallen the folks below. I had great respect for these children of the Creator and I never peed on them or pooped behind them. I didn’t dare to, anyway, because of the hidden people
Great Aunt Ida Remembers: A Darker Side
Great Aunt Ida’s memoirs focus on her childhood in the late1900s: These days would now be thought of as the dark ages by the present generation – when young girls of gentle birth were not allowed the freedom of conduct which they have today. Most telling is her language, simply offered, reflecting insidious racism: …where the darkeys singing in the harvest fields, the village church sounding faint and sweet on the quiet air of a Sabbath morning.She goes on to relate a terribly revealing anecdote: The brother was known to everyone as Tommy did fine cabinet work, but they seemed to move so silently and unobtrusively through life; there was a story that Tommy had been wild as a lad and when he was out one night carousing with some other boys of his own age – it may have been Halloween – but anyhow a stone thrown by someone crashed through the window of a negro’s cottage and killed a baby asleep in a cradle. No one ever knew who threw the stone, for the guilty one never told, but in a very few weeks Tommy’s dark brown hair had turned snowy white. Having heard the story, he was of course an interesting figure to us – though he was now a middle aged man.
Great Aunt Ida Remembers
My Great Aunt Ida wrote down her memories, dating back to her childhood in Maryland during the late 19th Century:
I have thought many times since my hair has grown grey and so many things that have been so important to me have seemed to lose their importance with the passing years, that I would go back home and visit the scenes of my childhood, make a sentimental journey, as it were, to all the places that are so indelibly stamped on my memory……the guinea hens roosting in the cedar trees late in the fall and being very noisy first before a storm: the bees buzzing among the roses and the holly hocks all through the long summer…..the great oak trees that sheltered the spring where water was always so cool and clear: the back lane that led out to the dirt road and the huge cherry trees…She somberly concludes her brief reflections with thoughts on her days living in 1940s New York:
When I am wearing a thick coat in April in New York and feeling resentful over the late spring, my mind invariably travel back home and I feel again the soft air, smell the fragrance of the blossoms on those far away hills – it is a very real sensation – one that I have loved and kept close in my heart for a long time and like many beautiful things – it is better to keep put away – for fear it might be lost or shattered.
Ice Friday: Franz Kafka’s “The Trial”
Whenever you think you have it bad, read Kafka to realize how much worse things could be:
Once more the odious courtesies began, the first handed the knife across K. to the second who handed it across K. back again to the first. K. now perceived clearly that he was supposed to seize the knife himself, as it traveled from hand to hand above him, and plunge it into his own breast. But he did not do so, he merely turned his head, which was still free to move, and gazed around him. He could not completely rise to the occasion, he could not relieve the officers of all their tasks; the responsibility for this last failure of his lay with him who had not left him the remnant of strength necessary for the deed. His glance fell on the top story of the house adjoining the quarry. With a flicker as of a light going up, the casements of a window there suddenly flew open; a human figure, faint and insubstantial at a distance and that height, loomed abruptly far forward and stretched both arms still further. Who was it? A friend? A good man? Someone who sympathized? Someone who wanted to help? Was it one person only? Or was it mankind? Was help at hand? Were there arguments in his favor that had been overlooked? Of course there must be. Logic is doubtless unshakable, but it cannot stand a man who wants to go on living. Where was the Judge whom he had never seen? Where was the high Court to which he had never penetrated? He raised his hands and spread out all of his fingers. But the hands of one of the partners was already at K.’s throat, while the other thrust the knife deep into his heart and turned it there twice. With failing eyes, K. could still see the two of them immediately before him, cheek leaning against cheek, watching the final act. “Like a dog!” he said; it was as if the shame of it must outlive him.*
(The end of Franz Kafka’s The Trial)