Archive for May, 2011
So many 19th Century photographic subjects clenched up before the camera that their pictures are portraits of resistance, making me appreciate that much more the ones who let something of themselves hang out:
In a move showing that it isn’t completely worthless yet, The New York Times website has a blog post up by, er, Some Guy, about Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Mathew Brady’s studio in May 1861. The resulting photographs may be short on emotional impact but they show Uncle Abe in a variety of poses which, taken together, give such a strong sense of being in the same room with the man that it’s a little unnerving. My favorite pic is like one of those old 3-D baseball cards which shows, depending on how you hold it, either the man whose steely principle would hold the Union together or else the famous joker about to demonstrate “the rocking jollity of laughter”:
Of course the Times, being the Times, believes in the jollity of laughter, too. About this picture
Some Guy has this to say: “He was perhaps reflecting on the great message to the American people that he was in the act of writing, which would be released on July 4. It is impossible to know, precisely, which problem he was thinking about—he had more than his share.” Yeah, that’s great, thanks for typing that. When anyone can plainly see he was thinking “It’s Suntory time…”
Two impressive videos about Malick’s The New World by “autochthonous88”. (Make sure the annotations are turned on for the first one; that video was also slow in loading the first time I played it. If it’s slow for you, just let it load completely and then play it—it’s a lot more effective without the stop-and-start crap.)
I forget if it was Hawks or Faulkner who said they had trouble figuring out how pharaohs talked, but the solution presented here—to merely trim the fat from writings of the time and have your characters say that—seems as good as any to me. Especially when it fits everything else in your movie so well…
“Elephant in particular was a reaction to the press about Columbine. I thought there would be a dramatic way to investigate the motives of the two kids who killed their fellow students. It’s still perceived as improper—a drama about an event like that is seen as sensationalistic or making money off a tragedy, but Time magazine writing about it is not perceived that way. I find it interesting, the different rules that apply to journalism and drama, even though journalism has become more and more about entertainment, and entertainment has become more and more about journalism.”
– Gus Van Sant (to the Times, no less)
“When I was young, they made movies for old people. Now that I’m old, they make movies for young people. I’m a double loser.” – Thom Andersen
To this I can only add “Hah!”, but at least one great thing comes from watching “movies for old people” when you’re still a kid: you become privy to secrets which you otherwise wouldn’t learn for years. I’m not talking plushies or cucumbers here. I’m talking about such arcane and sensitive matters as how to bum a cigarette off a stranger, how to maximize one’s pleasure in a barroom, how to swear, and how a woman expresses interest in a man using nothing but her eyes. Adult movies provided entrée to a world which kids usually get to experience only as murmurs through a bedroom wall. It was a world which I was expected to join someday, and the mysterious conduct I observed in Vertigo, The Lost Weekend, The Man with the Golden Arm, and even Can-Can all provided hints of what was out there, even if they also were the only thing that made that perennial paternal put-off—“You’ll understand when you get older”—at all credible. While it was easy to understand that those goons broke Fast Eddie’s thumbs because he was a playground cheater, the precise ins and outs of Paul Newman and Piper Laurie’s relationship in The Hustler eluded me but good.
This is all by way of saying that I hope somewhere this weekend some kid, while Mom and Dad are looking the other way, will pop their Netflix copy of Blue Valentine into the DVD player and get a glimpse of things which will make both more and less sense to him with every passing year. With its grungy, unsparing look at two anti-heroic nobodies and the breakup of their marriage, it’s a type of fare our malls don’t see too often. Parts of it feel forced and derivative—the largest IOU has the words “John Cassavetes” written on it in big block letters—but it really is an old-fashioned, honest-to-god Adult Movie. Just the kind of thing that would make your mother say, “Come on, kids, it’s time to get ready for bed…”
EW.com, where I spend all my time when I’m not Googling Pippa Middleton pictures, has a clip—er, make that an exclusive (and non-spoilery) clip—from Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which is set to premiere at Cannes in a couple of weeks. The upside is that it reeks of that “remembered quality” that’s at the heart of Malick’s work. I’ve seen Days of Heaven too many times to actually sit through it again, but I’m still fascinated by its conflation of personal and national memory, and the tendency of both to soften and deemphasize bad experiences in favor of happy, self-flattering ones. The potential downside is, sad to say, the look of the thing, which calls to mind Ben Chaplin’s perfume-ad flashbacks in The Thin Red Line, with another Eternal Feminine archetype whirling around in a thin cotton dress and—hey, suddenly I feel like losing a memory. I also wish Malick would just one time cast a normal looking guy-dude in a starring role. Outside of Sheen in Badlands, where someone with a claim on James Dean’s looks was called for by the story, his male stars always seem picked (and then filmed) with too wide an eye for their prettiness. I’m not saying Terrence Malick is gay or anything—or maybe I am, who the hell knows?—but when I think of all the actors who could’ve brought to the part of Captain John Smith something more than musky earnestness, well, it’s a kind of a big deal.
I swear, sometimes living in America and trying to keep up with all its babble and discourse is like having four kids and two full-time jobs. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about the news of Osama bin Laden’s death was its absolute crystalline clarity—some of our guys broke into his house and put him down like a rabid dog, and you just can’t get much more basic than that. But then came the fog of peace, and in less than a week the waters were muddied again:
- College kids who barely remember 9/11 got toasted and made fools out of themselves, causing old farts and fuddy-duddies like me to choke a little bit on our own vomit.
- The administration had to dial back its initial account of the raid, offering a second version so at variance with the suddenly non-operative first statement, and which in itself raised so many additional questions about what happened, that one came away wondering what either version was based on.
- America started giving Pakistanis the stink-eye for either shielding bin Laden, if they knew he was there, or for being too stupid to live, if they didn’t.
- Native American groups objected to the brain-fart selection of “Geronimo” as a codename for bin Laden and/or the operation.
- A debate about whether the death photo should be made public threatened to overwhelm all other aspects of the raid until Obama tersely announced that he would not authorize its release.
- Another debate—this one a true exercise in egg-heady pointlessness—erupted over the raid’s legality.
- The inevitable Sarah Palin flap broke out when she accused Obama of “pussyfooting”, all of about six seconds after he shot Lex Luthor in the middle of his face.
- A second photo—the instantly iconic Sit Room pic—raised its own sidebar issues, to wit: Wow, somebody showed human emotion—what’s up with that? Hillary, perhaps eager to undercut any “fairer sex” bullshit, maintains she was only having an allergy attack. Considering the circumstances, I wouldn’t care if she was trying to see how many Milk Duds she could cram into her mouth.
- Along those same lines a flotilla of psychological theories trying to explain the “meaning” of the raid sailed through the media, with the words “catharsis” and “closure” repeated so many times that one might think bin Laden’s death actually signals the end of grief.
- The New York Times, in its Science section no less, ran a good-sized article about how the SEALs were accompanied by a bomb-sniffing, terrorist-detecting, parachuting Super Soldier Dog. Traces of pretty much everything that’s terrible about the Times nowadays can be found in the single sentence “Little is known about what may be the nation’s most courageous dog”—a line that must be swelling Borges’ ghost with envy.
- And to absolutely nobody’s surprise, the fright-wingers went into full-blown nutjob mode, insisting, among other things, that: torture—yes, wonderful, yummy torture—deserves all the credit for finding bin Laden; Obama staged the raid “now” to cut off speculation about the authenticity of his birth certificate; there’s no actual proof that Osama is actually dead (or at least that he was killed when and where Obama says he was); and that while Obama showed weakness by not tying bin Laden’s body to a humvee and dragging it around Ground Zero for a few hours, he showed hubris by using too many personal pronouns in his Mayday announcement. As is so often the case, the absolute nuttiest, most completely batshit alternate-reality theory was lodged at Atlas Shrugs, where Pam Geller and her fellow Cuckoo Nesters argued that the raid was actually a Fletcher Knebel novel come to life.
In light of all this, it’s nice to have at least one clear thought to wrap our minds around as everything else tips over into nonsense. Barack Obama and I have our differences but there’s one thing I gotta hand to the man: when he wants to, he has a knack for saying things in a way that makes them permanently said, and his latest display of this talent was also one of his best. Discussing with 60 Minutes his decision to deep-six the corpse photo, he explained, “The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again”. To which I can only say: Wow. Pithy and concrete, that little sentence packs into a few very serious words the done-deal finality of Abbottabad, the physical absence left behind by any man’s death, and the rock-bottom meaning of what life is all about. “We don’t need to spike the football,” which comes from the same interview, is good in its way, too, mostly because it frames a fragile and important moral issue in terms any American Christian ought to understand. But that other line…Brother. That ain’t just poetic. It’s proverbial.
Nautilus Island’s hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer
is first selectman in our village;
she’s in her dotage.
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria’s century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.
The season’s ill—
we’ve lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.
And now our fairy
decorator brightens his shop for fall;
his fishnet’s filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl;
there is no money in his work,
he’d rather marry.
One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town…
My mind’s not right.
A car radio bleats,
“Love, O careless Love…” I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat…
I myself am hell;
only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.
I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air—
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.