Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

29 January 2012

Butch Cassidy

I love Sam Shepard. I don't love all of his plays, but there are some truly wonderful ones and, because of this, I love Sam Shepard. So: a movie where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid get away instead of getting killed in that shootout and where Sam Shepard plays Butch Cassidy twenty-five years later? I'm in!

The film is directed by Mateo Gil, who has written some excellent films over the years (Mar Adentro, Abre los Ojos), and is from an original screenplay by Miguel Barrios. The very fact that this is an original screenplay makes me happy, actually; it feels as though there are so few of those out there.

Blackthorn is the kind of revisionist western we're used to seeing these days, and you might say it is filled with clichés, and in a genre that is tired and old. But the thing is, Blackthorn is just so enjoyable. The film focuses on this old, tired bandit and what he knows will probably be his last adventure. Shepard is paired up  with Spanish matinee idol Eduardo Noriega (You'll recognize him. He was the star of Abre los Ojos, El Espinazo del Diablo, Plata Quemada and a whole bunch of other stuff.) and the two are enjoyable to watch together.

I'm not saying the film particularly breaks new ground. The very idea of this new world being no country for old men was explored gorgeously by the Coens, and I don't expect too many films to deal with the outdatedness of the cowboy as well as that one. But, I didn't ask this film to do that, and Blackthorn is more interested in morality than the Coens, Blackthorn is more of a meditation on living with oneself after one has done things one regrets, on how to craft a life out of loneliness, on the difference between who we love and who we are.

Blackthorn might not be your thing if you're not into westerns, and I wouldn't blame you. This one is gorgeously shot but slow-paced and more contemplative than action-packed. But if you want to watch an old legend play an even older legend in a very well made genre-film, Blackthorn is for you.

23 January 2012

Oscar Hopes

My favorite day of the year is this Tuesday, January 24th. My friend Jaime calls it my christmas morning.

That's because on Tuesday, at 8.30a, the Oscar nominations will be announced. (You can watch the announcement live here.)

Now, the reason I love this day so much is because nomination morning is all about surprises. By the time the little gold men are handed out in February, we pretty much know how it is all going to break down: who is going to go home with which little gold man can be fairly easy to predict if one has been paying attention (not always, but for the most part). But there are always surprises on nomination morning. People get snubbed. Various branches choose bizarre people to award. Actors no one has been talking about get nominated. It can be really cool.

So instead of posting predictions I would rather actually not predict who is going to get nominated and instead tell you who I'll be rooting for on Tuesday morning.

Alberto Iglesias. He has some great scores this year, and I hope he gets some recognition. Perhaps for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In general. I am definitely rooting for Gary Oldman, but also for a screenplay nomination, editing, and cinematography, as well.

A Separation. I would love it if this got a screenplay nomination as well as a foreign-language nomination.

Win Win. I really liked this picture, and a screenplay nomination would be great.

Tilda. I haven't seen her movie We Have to Talk about Kevin yet, but I love Tilda, and she didn't get a deserved nomination for last year's I Am Love.

Terrence Malick. His movie is my favorite film of the year. Heaven knows the man does not need awards or recognition in order to continue making good pictures, but I am crossing my fingers for the master anyway.

Janet McTeer. I loved her in Albert Nobbs. Here's hoping.

Michael Fassbender. They wouldn't leave him out, would they? They might. I'm crossing my fingers that they don't.

I am also hoping for one or two nominations each for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

And in general I am, of course, hoping that all of my favorite movies do well on Tuesday morning.

What do you all think?

I am so excited...

Poetry

Two films I've seen recently are more like gorgeous cinematic poems than they are anything else.

Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte is a film that approaches the idea of life itself by addressing what it means to possess life or live life, or maybe the movie is about how life and death are not really good ways of measuring what it is we actually mean when we talk about being alive.

Le Quattro Volte follows a very old goatherd as he tends his flock in a mountain village in Italy and performs the various rituals that fill out his day. Being a very old man, some of his habits are slightly peculiar, but the film follows him in silence and without apparent judgment. Often the camera simply sits and we watch the old man move about his daily existence.

Spoiler alert: the man dies at about the forty-minute mark in the film, and from there the camera follows a goat as it is born and as it learns about the world. This part was, for me, the most magical part of the movie. The baby goat discovers his universe, learns about gravity, learns about friendship. Watching this is fascinating and extremely engrossing. The little animal sees things we take for granted, and its vision is really remarkable. (Incidentally, some of these shots are just extraordinary and I have no idea how the filmmaker captured them.)

Le Quattro Volte follows a tree next. The camera sits among its branches or stares at it for extended periods. The tree is cut down and put to use in various ways in the village. This part of the movie was the part that really got me to thinking about life and death. Watching a man die is something a film can do easily, but watching a tree be put to use after it has died was something very interesting. In a way, the tree lived still. I feel as though Le Quattro Volte asked me to rethink the idea of living and the good we can do while alive – death is the end for us, sure, (Woody Allen always said he'd rather live on in his apartment than live on in people's hearts) but the effect that we have on our world does not end with us. What we do lives after us. We will be put to use when we are gone. This is comforting and challenging at the same time, and if I am having trouble expressing what I mean in words, the film does it eloquently without words.

The other poetic film I had the privilege of seeing was Abbas Kiarostami's Copie Conforme (Certified Copy). Unlike Le Quattro Volte, which had almost no dialogue at all, Copie Conforme is filled with dialogue. At first the film is a dialogue about a point of art. Isn't a copy just as much a work of art as an original? (The question seems particularly salient to theatre artists, but to be honest I don't think it that valuable of a question, mostly because I am not very interested in art with a capital a.) But it is the relationship between the film's two protagonists that is the most interesting here. And what is odd is that their relationship is not always clear in Kiarostami's film. Are the two married? Have they just met? The film seems to tell us one thing and then show us the other. It is disconcerting, certainly, but fascinating. Absolutely fascinating, in fact. And Juliette Binoche is absolutely riveting in the lead role as she speaks English, Italian, and French without skipping a beat.

At one point in Copie Conforme the conversation between the two turns to the shifts that love must take as it ages. Love is bubbly and bright, restless, breathless, hungry, when it is young, but as it ages love mellows. And as the couple speak of love that is old, the gentleman quotes a line from the Iranian poet Mehdi Akhavān Sāles. The garden of leaflessness: who dares to say that it is not beautiful?

Aside from the line's obvious power, I think the film, too, manages to meditate on love itself as it is born, as it ages, and as it very old. The film is poetic, as I say, and I can only say what I took from it, or perhaps what I mean to say is that this meditation on love as it gets older was what I wanted the film's subject to be. What I know is that I found the film engrossing and beautiful and deeply moving.

To be clear, I don't really want to recommend Le Quattro Volte or Copie Conforme to readers of this blog. If you don't like slow movies you will hate these. And if you aren't into films that don't make narrative sense, these movies are not for you. But I completely loved both of these pictures. They are easily two of my favorite films of the year, and I found many of their images and ideas absolutely unforgettable.

22 January 2012

When Great Minds Think Alike

Aaron: ...And going back to something that will be rocky just because you can is not necessarily a natural idea.
Rae: Right. And I don't want to ruin another college experience because of that. I don't want to just offer up another year of my life.


Aaron: That's a 1950s mentality. And we all know what the 1950s created.
Rae: Hahahaha. God. Truth.

Aaron: Cuba.
Rae: ...I WAS JUST GOING TO SAY THAT HOLY GOD. bahahahahhahahaha
Aaron: You were not. HAHAHA.
Rae: Aaron I swear on my life. I was like, where is he going with this? Surely not Cuba.
Aaron: No you weren't. HAHAHAHAHAHA.
Rae: AARON I HAVE NEVER LIED TO YOU AND I WILL NOT START NOW OVER CUBA.

Aaron: Chernobyl was my next one.
Rae: Oh, I'm glad you went Cuba. Chernobyl would have been, like, my 7th guess.

21 January 2012

Weekend

I really liked Andrew Haigh's Weekend – I had read other gay internet commentators say that they loved it and so I definitely wanted to check it out.


Weekend is a realistic relationship movie about two gay men who begin an intense love affair that lasts over the period of a few days. It captures so much of the way I understand my interactions with other gay men, and for my money it portrays these men in a realistic, generous, and fleshed-out way, that struck me as honest.

I didn't quite love the film. I thought it conventional in many ways, but I really enjoyed it, and I liked it a great deal. Weekend is a film that believes in love, in the ability of people to truly connect in a very short span of time, and in the power of honest, open communication. Weekend believes in love, though, not in a rom-com kind of way where we know what will happen at the end of the film and the heroes (in this case) kiss sweetly and walk into the sunset as the credits roll. Instead, Haigh's movie manages to understand baggage and the sacrifices we make for those we love, and the complications that real life places upon the notion of love conquering everything. Love does not conquer all in Weekend, and that's because it doesn't always conquer all in our real lives.

One thing that I completely loved about Weekend is its camerawork. When the two men are in public together, chatting or riding the bumper cars or on the tube, Haigh shoots them from the perspective of other people in the public place. Frequently our view of the two is slightly obstructed. Sometimes we only slightly hear what they say to one another. The effect, here, is one that communicates that these two men are always being watched. What I love about this is that gay relationships that move in the public sphere are always spectacular relationships. The men are literally always being watched by the camera, and when they are in public, they know (and we know, too) that they need to watch themselves because other people are watching them. This double watching is simply a fact of gay relationships (both male and female) and it factors into the way that these men fall in love. How can it not? Their behavior with each other is constrained by the fact that they are in public and people are watching them. It is a bold and fascinating choice for the director to make, and I appreciated it.

At any rate: it's totally worth seeing if you're a gay man. If you're not... you probably won't be into it.

20 January 2012

Furniture Music

I've been thinking about furniture music.

A dear friend of mine and I were having a conversation about his artistic work over at the American Laboratory. I had this vision of their new installation happening and the artistic director running around telling people not to listen to the words, but to keep on drinking their alcoholic beverages.

That is what furniture music is.

It's kind of an important moment in theatre history and in modernist art. I mentioned it to a colleague at work today, however, and he just looked at me blankly, so I thought I would share the story, though many of you probably have heard it before. It's an excellent one, told in Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years:

In March, 1920, the actor Pierre Bertin organized at Paul Poiret's fashionable Barbazange gallery a concert of music by les Six, songs by Stravinsky, and a play by Max Jacob. The walls were covered by a show of children's paintings entitled "Les Belles Promesses". At the start of the first intermission in the play, Bertin presented Satie's and Milhaud's new discovery: "musique d'ameublement" or furniture music.

We urgently beg you not to attach any importance to it and to act during intermission as if the music did not exist. Specially written for Max Jacob's play (always the ruffian; never a bum), it hopes to contribute to life the way a casual conversation does, or a picture in the gallery, or a chair in which one is or is not seated.

When the audiences began to get up for the break, a piano and three clarinets, placed in the four corners of the room, plus a trombone on the mezzanine, struck up what sounded like popular ditties played over and over again in close rhythmical patterns. The audience began to take seats again. Satie rushed around the gallery exhorting them to appropriate behavior. "Talk, keep on talking. And move around. Whatever you do, don't listen!"

What's so funny about this story is that, of course, this is how we listen to music now. We listen to it as background at the gym, in the elevator, during intermissions, of course, but also at the grocery, in our cars, at the bar, while we do the vacuuming. In 1920 this was not the case and Satie, as usual, was far ahead of his time. It is the extraordinary achievement of artists like Satie (I don't dare call him a dada, but couldn't I?) to make art into something to which we don't pay attention. To elevate the quotidian to the level of art by demanding that music not be listened to, by asserting, in fact, that art itself was just as important as a conversation with a friend.

18 January 2012

Best Actress 2011

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz, and the actresses who I think need the most votes are at the top.

YOON JEONG-HEE, Poetry

JULIETTE BINOCHE, Copie Conforme

CHARLIZE THERON, Young Adult

GLENN CLOSE, Albert Nobbs

MERYL STREEP, The Iron Lady

Also loved:
Brit Marling, Another Earth
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene

Related:
My Best Actress Picks for 2010
My Best Actress Picks for 2009
My Best Actress Picks for 2008
My Best Actress Picks for 2007

17 January 2012

Best Actor 2011

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz, and the actors who I think need the most votes are at the top.

GARY OLDMAN, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

DEMIÁN BICHIR, A Better Life

MICHAEL FASSBENDER, Shame

BRAD PITT, Moneyball

JEAN DUJARDIN, The Artist

Also loved:
George Clooney, The Descendants
Dominic Cooper, The Devil's Double
Matthew McConaughey, The Lincoln Lawyer

Related:
My Best Actor Picks for 2010
My Best Actor Picks for 2009
My Best Actor Picks for 2008
My Best Actor Picks for 2007

16 January 2012

Best Supporting Actor 2011

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz, and the actors who I think need the most votes are at the top.


BOBBY CANNAVALE, Win Win

CHRIS PRATT, Moneyball

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

VIGGO MORTENSEN, A Dangerous Method

KENNETH BRANAGH, My Week with Marilyn

Also loved:
Niels Arestrup, War Horse
Luke Evans, Immortals
Chris O'Dowd, Bridesmaids

Related:
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2010
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2009
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2008
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2007

Spielbergfest

I suppose that it seems logical to speak about both of Steven Spielberg's 2011 films together, and since I saw The Adventures of Tintin recently, I think I will.

If you know me even a little bit you probably know that I find Spielberg's work... there's no perfect word for it... irritating, frustrating, maddening. Something along those lines. Enervating, perhaps.

Mostly what I resent with Spielberg is the way the films manipulate the viewer, tugging insistently at the heartstrings and moving me, inexorably toward tears. I always feel rather empty after this sort of thing, but Spielberg movies almost always do it to me. War Horse is no exception, and I resented it for its almost cynical powers of manipulation.

Actually, though, War Horse is not a very good movie. It's first twenty minutes or so are shot like comedy, with saturated colors, a silly script, broad performances (including an absurdly cartoonish turn by David Thewlis, who plays Lupin in the Harry Potter franchise), and a running joke with a duck. In a way, this first segment of War Horse is a kind of children's movie, something heartwarming but not one bit serious. But, then War Horse becomes a WWI film, and the film leaves its first few characters behind in favor of the British army, Tom Hiddleston, and Benedict Cumberbatch. The film, in fact, continues to leave behind its characters. I was delighted, for example, to see David Kross in this movie, but he is only in War Horse briefly and then he, too, is left behind by the film.

In short, I rather thought War Horse was a mess. It is insistently silly and at all times spends its time begging for a suspension of disbelief that it constantly pushes to its limits and beyond. Aside from that first segment, the actors are almost uniformly wonderful: Hiddleston, Cumberbatch and Kross, of course, but also Niels Arestrup (from Un Prophète), Jeremy Irvine, Toby Kebbell, and Matt Milne. And yet... well the film is so ridiculous that it was hard even to take these very good actors seriously.

As for The Adventures of Tintin, I really liked it. First off, the animation is absolutely superb. I have decided that I pretty much love mocap, and the movie is worth seeing for the animation alone. But more than that, Tintin knows that it is a silly movie. This is a movie that expects its storyline to be silly and just runs with it. It also expects us to think that its storyline is silly. I mean by this that I think Tintin works where War Horse doesn't because Tintin treats me as though I am reasonably intelligent whereas War Horse never does. Tintin is self aware, where War Horse has no idea how silly it is being while asking us to treat it seriously.

I do have another gripe to make about these movies – both of them this time – and that is there nonsensical treatment of violence. War Horse is a film about one of the most disastrous global conflicts of all time, and yet there is no human blood shed in this film. Cumberbatch and Hiddleston attack a bivouac of German soldiers using swords and are in turn machine-gunned down by the Germans. Yet there is no blood on camera. Now, I know the film is silly, and I have already argued precisely this, but this is actually part of the problem. From the violence in War Horse, one might think that war doesn't actually hurt people and machine-gun rounds cause nothing but vague stomach pains and fainting.

But I enjoyed The Adventures of Tintin thoroughly. I found it consistently surprising. I was ahead of it occasionally, but I loved the editing and art direction, and there was some gorgeous movie-making on display. The transitions between the past and the present, the real and the imaginary, are breathtakingly achieved. Mostly, it was just so fun. And the usual Spielberg manipulation at work seemed to fit the generic conventions of the animated children's film. I didn't resent being tugged at nearly as much as I do in his films for grownups. All in all, I had a great time.

15 January 2012

Best Supporting Actress 2011

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz, and the actresses who I think need the most votes are at the top.


NICOLE BEHARIE, Shame


KATHY BURKE, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


MARY PAGE KELLER, Beginners


JANET McTEER, Albert Nobbs


BÉRÉNICE BEJO, The Artist

Also loved:
Julia Ormond, My Week with Marilyn

Related:
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2010
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2009
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2008
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2007

12 January 2012

2011 In Review

LOVED
~ ~
1. The Tree of Life
2. Shame
3. The Skin I Live In
4. In a Better World
5. A Separation
6. Moneyball
7. The Artist
8. Poetry
9. Attack the Block
10. Midnight in Paris
11. Le Quattro Volte
12. Copie Conforme (Certified Copy)
13. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

REALLY LIKED
~ ~
14. A Better Life
15. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
16. Take Shelter
17. Win Win
18. The Descendants
19. Weekend
20. The Adventures of Tintin
21. The Trip
22. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
23. Pariah
24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
25. Margin Call
Jane Eyre
Warrior
Drive

LIKED
~ ~
Albert Nobbs
We Need to Talk about Kevin
Super 8
Chico & Rita
The Lincoln Lawyer
Blackthorn
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Bridesmaids
Melancholia

W./E.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Tyrannosaur
The Mill & the Cross
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
The Three Musketeers
Young Adult
Rio

LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
Hugo
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
My Week with Marilyn
Thor
Beginners
Immortals
Rampart

 Puss in Boots
A Cat in Paris
War Horse
A Dangerous Method

The Iron Lady
The Ides of March
Another Earth


BARELY LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
The Devil's Double
In Time

Crazy, Stupid, Love.
50/50

Le Havre
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Incendies


DISLIKED
~ ~
The Darkest Hour
In Darkness
Higher Ground
J. Edgar
The Help
X-men: First Class
Captain America: the First Avenger
The Future

Anonymous
The Muppets
Kung Fu Panda 2
The Rum Diary
Beautiful Boy

Puncture

HATED
~ ~
Rango

COMPLETE AND TOTAL WASTE OF TIME
~ ~
Real Steel

08 January 2012

Loving This Song


Somebody wishing on a shooting star
Shooting star streamin' 'cross the sky
Y'know it's just a meteorite

People throwing pennies in a wishing well
Wishing well's gonna run dry
But I ain't gonna leave you tonight

Everybody talking 'bout changing the world
World ain't ever gonna change
But you can always change in front of me

I'll shuck all the oysters and you can keep the pearls
I do my shuckin' and my jivin' for free
Free
Like walkin' down the beach at night

Throw a bunch of lines out to the one you want
'Til you get it right
Sometimes you don't
Get it right
Sometimes you won't
Get it right

But when you do
It's outta sight

Sometimes you do
Get it right

07 January 2012

Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is great. Based on the famous novel by John le Carré, Tinker is a 1970s spy story that works methodically and skillfully to build suspense and deepen the development of characters. The film is directed by Tomas Alfredson, who directed the original disturbing Let the Right One In from 2008. Tinker has a similar mood to that picture, and moves – it seemed to me – at a similar pace.

I happen to rather love spy movies, but I have to admit that the Cold War as a topic strikes me as a rather tired topic (I was incredibly bored with it, for instance, in Clint Eastwood's snooze-fest J. Edgar). But I found Tinker invigorating, suspenseful, and at times deeply affecting. I think that this is probably because Tinker is less interested in the idea of A) saving the world or B) protecting "very important secrets" from the Russians or C) stopping the development of some new weapon. The past is the past. The world wasn't destroyed in the 1970s, and the only people living under capitalism these days who are terrified by Josef Stalin or Russians or even the principles of communism are easily dismissed as hysterics. Instead of a focus on these now-dated ideas (although James Bond seems still intent on fighting them), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy focuses on relationships, loyalty, betrayal, and the material effects of espionage on actual people.

I was particularly impressed by the film's treatment of violence, which is never romantic or softened. Tinker makes it clear that the secrets and betrayals in which it traffics result in blood and (literally) guts. There is no room for thinking that espionage is all just fun and games (or cloaks and daggers). And yet there's no battle of ideas here. There are no questions of who is "right" or who is "wrong." Tinker focuses in on the ways in which the spies all work together, the way they fool one another, and leave ruined lives in their wake. It's a fascinating film.

Gary Oldman is fantastic in the lead role – a legendary one once played by Sir Alec Guinness – and he is supported by an astounding array of actors including John Hurt (a favorite actor of mine), Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, and Colin Firth. I love all of these actors, and it is such a pleasure to watch them all work together. Kathy Burke is also absolutely fantastic in the film, but my favorite performance is from relative newcomer (but suddenly exploding everywhere) Benedict Cumberbatch. (That's him to the left – but how can that seriously be someone's name?) Cumberbatch plays Oldman's man on the inside. It's a great role and a nerve-wracking one. I absolutely loved him. The scenes that involve only Cumberbatch and Oldman are particularly great. The writing is excellent, and the two actors execute the sequences just perfectly.

One more note on Oldman, quickly. I know that Oldman has not historically been the Motion Picture Academy's particular cup of tea. I am not sure I understand why this is, but I know it is true. The work that he Oldman does in this film, though, is as superb of a performance that I can think of in recent years. He performs this role with all of the ease of an actor who is a master at his craft. Nothing is over done. There is not one false note in the entire performance. Surprise and contempt and despair all register on Oldman's face in the merest flickers; the character is adept at giving nothing away, but Oldman manages to portray this desire to give nothing away while also letting the audience know exactly how deeply he feels what he feels. It is really great work.

06 January 2012

Dada in the Netherlands and The Printed Head

The amazing, amazing people over at Atlas Press in the UK publish several very cool series of books. One of my favorite series is called The Printed Head. This series publishes all kinds of hard-to-get-ahold-of things like, for example, a sequence of Federico García Lorca plays that have never before been translated into English, or a sequence of poems by Symboliste poet Saint-Pol-Roux, or Jacques Rigaut's impossible-to-find "Lord Patchogue".

This series is filled with unknown and undiscovered gems. I am a little obsessed. So, when they recently published Theo van Doesburg's "What Is Dada???" I treated myself to one of the 300 copies in print.

"What Is Dada???" is phenomenal, and gives a great picture of what dada became and where dada went after its demise in Paris in the early 1920s.

As you probably know, I am in love with dada, so I found Doesburg's writings pretty wonderful. I want to share some thoughts that Doesburg includes in his list of aphorisms entitled "The Other Sight" which is included in The Printed Head text. This stuff is so cool!

From Theo van Doesburg:

Dadaism. Should a deeper meaning lurk behind "nonsense" than that of normality, then "nonsense" is not only permissible but indeed necessary. Thus shall Dadaism create new supersensible norms.

Portrait painters. [...] Drawing up an accurate formula for a face in paint has no more artistic value than a legal document has literary.

Truth and religion. They cancel each other out. One is a blossoming of life, the other the suppression of life, cause of sickness and coercion into normality. Do you love truth? Then spit poison. Love yourself? Then practise religion.

The value of abnormality. What is abnormal? That which deviates from form rusted into dogma. The denial of this norm makes new value possible. The abnormal is the prerequisite of new values.

Representation and reality. All ages created an idea of life for themselves. That is now in the past. The idea of life is creating an image for itself in us at present.

Tape-measure morality. Vegetarianism is a question of the tape-measure. Hardly a second passes when we are not feasting upon animals or being feasted upon by them. The microscope, caricature of large and small, is a material "other sight". The principle of life is completely amoral. Before every birth there is an annihilation. The morality of the tape-measure is a blind self-defence; if blood had a different colour, vegetarianism and Christianity would have had fewer adherents. By casting ourselves with all of our weakness against this morality of the tape-measure, with no other intention than keeping ourselves beyond the external exchange of forms of life, we deprive ourselves to a great extent of the opportunity to take a creative part in the universal events of life.

The bloated corpses. Every era has its vultures and jackals, which prey on the corpses of perished art, religion or culture. They gorge themselves on it and grow fat contentedly.

Dragons

I have been running around a bit like a crazy person in California – seeing friends and actually going to the theatre (I saw Fela! and loved it a couple days ago) – and I have also been trying to see movies, mostly without success. A week or so ago I caught the new David Fincher/Steven Zaillian version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Not to be confused with the Swedish version of tGwtDT directed by Niels Arden Oplev, released in the U.S. just last year.)

The opening credits are awesome, with the typical Finch touches and an awesome, pulsating, truly astounding score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Right away I was excited and pretty well hooked.

It's impossible to talk about this 2011 film, though, without comparing it to its Swedish predecessor. And, for my money, Fincher's version doesn't quite measure up to the movie it follows. Some comparisons:

Fincher's film is sexier than Oplev's... with Daniel Craig in the leading role that was pretty much a given. I liked the film in a sexier version – it was especially nice to see some heterosexual sexual activity in the film that wasn't degrading and violent and horrible (most of the film's sexual content is very violent.)

Fincher's film approaches rape slightly differently than Oplev's does. The terrible rape sequence in the center of the film was approached so humanely and terrifically in Oplev's film that I was very curious to see how Fincher would do this. But Fincher's film sees Rooney Mara as a sex object (understandably), and Fincher approaches the rape sequence in much the same way that he approaches his other sex scenes. I missed this terrifying, horrific aspect of the rape in Oplev's film. And, actually, I think the way Fincher does it leaves a bit of a plot-hole. (Not that Lisbeth's revenge on her rapist is unjustified, just that it seems less justified in Fincher's movie.)

For me, as well, the mystery-plot aspect of the story is more pronounced in Oplev's film. This may be simply because I already knew the solution to the mystery... There is no way around this, of course, because I saw Oplev's last year and I saw Fincher's this year, but I felt like there just wasn't as much mystery-solving in this new film. Who knows. My only other gripe is that I thought the villain in Fincher's film was not nearly as scary. The actor playing the villain is intentionally underplaying things, and that's fine as far as it goes, but I just wasn't has horrified or scared of him and I wasn't nearly as revolted by this film's villain as I was by Oplev's villain.

All that to say, it's still a really good film that I liked a lot. I guess... well, I am not sure why we needed this film. It's been literally just over a year since the other one was here and Fincher and Zaillian's reimagining of the plot is not different enough to really merit an entirely new movie. I sort of don't get it.

04 January 2012

The Lady of the Camellias

To me, the play to begin with when teaching the representation of sex and sexuality in the theatre is La Dame aux Camélias or Camille by Alexandre Dumas fils. The reasons for this are many.

First, Camille's plot is the basis of all hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold plots. To name only the most famous: La TraviataMoulin Rouge, Pretty Woman, and Rent all owe their plots to Camille's narrative.

Second, Camille's attitude toward sex is a complicated one. The play loves its heroine, Marguerite Gautier. She is a big ol' whore and the play has a great time sharing with the audience the pleasure of being a whore. And then, of course, the heroine must die. She is punished for her sexuality at the same time as the play itself cashes in on that sexuality. It's an extraordinary dramaturgical move that, frankly, I am not even sure Dumas fils knows he is making.

What I really love about the play, though, is Dumas fils's absolutely sparkling dialogue and wit. Take for example, the play's first scene. Marguerite enters to find the Baron de Varville (who is, basically, a whiner) waiting for her to come home, as he always does. As she enters, the Baron complains:

Varville: Is it not my fate to be always waiting for you?
Marguerite: Is it my fate never to come in without finding you here?
Varville: Is it my fault that I love you?
Marguerite: My dear friend, if I were to listen to all the people who are in love with me, I should have no time for dinner. I allow you to come here at any hour when I am at home and to wait for me whenever I am out, but if you will persist in talking of nothing but your love, I must withdraw my friendship.
Varville: And yet, Marguerite, last year at Bagnères, you did give me a little hope.
Marguerite: My dear, that was at Bagnères, when I was ill and bored; this is Paris—I am much better and not at all bored.

Later in the scene, Marguerite is told that a new character, Armand Duval – whom she has just met – visited her every day for a year when she was ill but never left his name. She calls to him across the room and uses this occasion to further beat down the Baron de Varville:

Marguerite: M. Duval, do you know what I have just been hearing? That you called to enquire after me every day when I was ill.
Armand: It is quite true.
Marguerite: Then the least I can do is thank you. Did you hear that, Varville? You never did that for me, did you?
Varville: I've only known you for a year.
Marguerite: Don't be silly. This young gentleman has only known me five minutes.

At any rate, I adore her and find the play delightful.

Whitman Whednesday

Song of Myself - §11

Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore,
Twenty-eight young men and all so friendly;
Twenty-eight years of womanly life and all so lonesome.
She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank,
She hides handsome and richly drest aft the blinds of the window.

Which of the young men does she like the best?
Ah the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.

Where are you off to lady? for I see you,
You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room.

Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather,
The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.

The beards of the young men glisten'd with wet, it ran from their long hair,
Little streams pass'd all over their bodies.
An unseen hand also pass'd over their bodies,
It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs.

The young men float on their backs, their white bellies bulge to the sun, they do not ask who seizes fast to them,
They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch,
They do not think whom they souse with spray.