06 July 2013

I Guess I Never Outgrew My Teenaged Angst -- What I Could Have Been Cassavetes The Passion and a Finn in French Cinema

If I had lived the life I'd dreamed when I was young rather than the one I deserved it probably would have gone something like this: Ivy League school where I lettered in soccer and received a PHd in comparative literature. Professor at a small liberal arts college. Published a novel at 26 that won the Pulitzer moved to New York married a gorgeous heiress feted at cocktail parities by a who's who of American letters. Long stays in Paris. Think pieces written for the New York Review of Books fluffy humor for the New Yorker an occasional screed in the Op-Ed section of the Times. A collection of short stories. A few more novels though nothing to compare to my earlier masterpiece. A drinking problem a nasty public divorce affairs with married women and fashion models. A son who committed suicide another who wrote sit coms and a daughter who edited for a fashion magazine. Occasional estrangement from both. Reconciliation with first wife but nasty public break up after a binge. Second marriage to a woman 15 years my junior with a drinking problem equal to mine. Finally another critically praised novel this one made into mediocre movie. Second divorce a move to Switzerland. Rehab. Confessional novel that is my biggest seller. Marriage to a French woman my age. Heart attack while hiking the Alps. Full recovery live in seclusion in Belgian countryside.

I'm maybe better off.

Watched a lot of Cassavetes recently. Loved loved loved Shadows (1959) and A Woman Under the Influence (1974). Really liked The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) Opening Night (1977) and Faces (1968). Thumbs down for Husbands (1970). I always start his movies reluctantly as if knowing this will be an uneasy experience. There is a sense of discomfort through much of the film feeling like I'm intruding on an unpleasant family moment. That car trip to the market that's gone array. But I'm gradually able to simultaneously distance myself emotionally from their argument and become involved in the life that surrounds them. Ultimately the story becomes compelling as it reveals truths and shared understandings of how we live and think and interact. I suppose Husbands didn't work for me because I felt distanced from these men who lived such different lives with such a different rhythm from my own. Most of Cassavetes' films have the feel of Beat Generation literature. Maybe he's the only director who could have made On the Road.

Odd person I am. While saner people were out watching fireworks on July 4th I was on the sofa watching The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) a film included among my top ten of all time. It is also one I could literally watch once a week. The face of RenĂ©e Jeanne Falconetti. There is so much joy resolve defeat acceptance wisdom loss and hope in that face. She is utterly and completely defeated. And the victor. Above her (always looming above) are the faces of her judges captors enemies. No more no less than the soulless bureaucrats of today who preside over the lives of the innocent and push papers of thick lies. The film is a triumph of style making substance. Such a wonder.

Another and very different cinematic trip to France last night with my third viewing of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre (2011). Colors and amazing set pieces. Establishing shots of simple beauty held just so. Understated performances so as not to interrupt the natural flow of a simple story. This one of basic humanity. It's interesting to see Kaurismak's very Finnish sensibilities set in and among the France and the French and how well they blend. Such a hopeful film. Such a  different wonder.

I've noticed recently how effectively we can use fiction to tell the truth be it social or political. At the same time I see how non fiction is used to tell lies and distort. People use kernels of truth to tell large lies parsing out bits of information to suit the narrative they've created (hello political commentary). One can learn a lot more about life from a good novel.

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