27 May 2014

Jack Ginsberg Returns and I Watch Tess and Don't Look Back and Mister Roberts and Breaking the Waves

"I only know one thing: everybody in the world is an angel, Charlie Chaplin and I have seen their wings...." - From Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac.

I had to bring Jack Ginsberg (my MacBook Pro) in for repairs. He spent the night in the Apple Store hospital. I'm happy to report that Jack Ginsberg is fully recovered and in fine health now. (Jack Ginsberg is a combination of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg -- but you knew that).

Everything on my computer is fine except I lost a lot of bookmarks. Ninety per cent of those are ones I never used or would never use so the loss there was minimal. My Proust-like collection of writing is all fine. Those still unpublished novels remain in tact and ready for publication. If you happen to work for a major publishing company -- or for that matter a very tiny one -- then please drop me a line as I would like to start collecting royalties soonest. Thanking you in advance.

It was Memorial Day weekend. Last year at this time the missus and I were in Italy and ignoring the holiday all together as were on our holiday. This year will not include a trip to the European Continent unless those aforementioned royalties start pouring in. But next year is another matter. Actually all other years are different matters than the ones that precede or follow.

So like I was saying Memorial Day weekend. The kick off for Summer and barbecues and fat guys walking around in shorts sandals and long tee shirts. When I taught in the public schools this was a most joyful time as the school year was within weeks of mercifully ending and allowing us teachers a couple of months of unbridled joy. Now its quite the opposite for me as the busy time of year starts and lasts right up until public schools open up for business again. The major difference is that now I adore my job and while I look forward to weekend holidays and vacations I do not require them in order to keep my sanity. Not that I have a very firm grip on it in any case.

So you were asking me about movies and what I've watched this weekend. Or was that a hallucination or a dream or a vision or a fantasy or is this just a silly set up?

Saturday night I watched Roman Polanski's Tess (1979) for the first time since its initial theatrical release. That's 35 years if you're keeping score at home (why wouldn't you be?). I didn't remember a damn thing about so my previous viewing experience was irrelevant. Just a bit of trivia actually.

Absolutely gorgeous.

Yes the star Miss Natasha Kinski was stunning but I refer to the look of the film. It was an amazing achievement in cinematography that calls to mind Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975) made four years prior. It is full of bucolic countrysides on bright sunny days and on cloudy wet ones. Tess is a young woman who is tossed around by fate and capricious men of means. Throughout history -- and likely before -- men have jacked women around. Sure its better today but only just. Some parts of the world still engage in such practices as genital mutilation for example. Poor lovely Tess. We seem to forever be seeing her walking purposefully down the countryside of late 19th century England (though the movie was filmed in France) unless she is riding in a buggy or in one instance hopping a train. She is forever on the move determined to find....What? It's hard to say. Is it true love she wants? Is it a family and security? Is it to do the right thing at whatever cost? Tess is a principled woman to be sure but exactly what those principles are and what motivates her isn't always easy to say. There is much to wonder about and much to talk about with Tess. And meanwhile its beautiful to look at.

Don't Look Back (1967) is the D.A. Pennebaker documentary about Bob Dylan's tour of the UK two years before. I have come back around to Dylan after many decades of ignoring him inspired in large part by the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). Pennebaker has created several wonderful documentaries my favorite of which is Monterey Pop (1968) about the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.  The man knows how to film a concert. DLB made me further appreciate Dylan the musician although for Dylan the person I have considerably more mixed feelings. I am however unambiguous in my appreciation for this film. We follow Dylan from the airport to hotels to parties to backstage to on stage to limo rides and walking down the street. It's a fascinating look at an amazing time in culture both musical and otherwise. We also meet Donovan Joan Baez Alan Price and Dylan's famous manager Albert Grossman.

Mister Roberts (1955) provides -- if nothing else -- a master class in acting. Henry Fonda James Cagney and most especially in my mind Jack Lemmon give the type of performances that epitomize their brilliant careers. The cherry on top is William Powell (in his final film role) and Ward Bond (in this millionth film role of a gazillion). The movie as a whole is fantastically okay the story line straining credulity in the fashion of that era's comedies. But its a joy to watch the cast. I should qualify that by saying the lead actors. The supporting cast reminds one of what you'd see in a bad high school play. Particularly Martin Milner who was a staple on '60s TV. His performance as a shore patrol officer from Alabama makes one wonder how he ever got another part. There are stories aplenty about the making of the film what with it having had three directors starting with John Ford and Ford supposedly having sucker punched Fonda but whatever went on behind the scenes Mister Roberts is a delight on it.

Breaking the Waves (1996) is for me one of three great -- and I do mean great -- films from director Lars von Trier. (The others being Europa (1991) and Melancholia (2011).)  BTW can be seen in many different ways which in itself is an endorsement. Movies that illicit no argument or wonder or debate are too plentiful these days. Here is a film that demands of its viewers an interpretation of their own making. It is set in a very small Scottish seaside town dominated by a Calvinist church -- no bells total obedience to the bible/church/minister/elders. Anyone buried not of the faith is condemned to hell I would think that if you're stuck in a Calvinist church you know what hell is. One of the faithful is poor simple minded Bess who marries "an outsider" Jan. He works on a nearby oil rig and thus is gone for weeks at a time. She clings desperately to him. Then he is an accident is paralyzed and naturally asks her to have sex with other men and tell her all about it. This will not go well as Tess' mental state was already fragile. It is a fascinating film with a surrealistic ending. Wonderfully shot with a wonderful soundtrack. And the performances of the leads -- Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard -- are of course wonderful.

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