28 August 2011

Sometimes Just a Notion is Great, Especially in Art

There was a day spent at a beach that felt all pink. It looked that way too. There were puffy white clouds with pinkish tints and pink cherubs running about worrying their Moms to death. The waves crashed against the breakers sending up a pink hued froth. Seagulls swooped for crumbs and swallowed them down their pink mouths. Kisses were stolen and responded to with giggles and playful slaps and return smooches that all felt as pink as the day. It was just like that and I can't tell you why. It just was.

I was talking to a friend one day and said that perhaps there's someone living in Belgium who, if he were born in the States could have been the greatest quarterback ever. I added that maybe there was someone born in the 16th century who if he had been born 600 years later would have become a more renowned basketball player than Michael Jordan. My friend said how that with such and so considerations, and because of this and that and the other and due to other arcane factors, my supposition just didn't hold water.

In other words he got all literal on me. Soaked in facts and details and science he was being realistic. Yawn. I very much would want a doctor who was about to perform surgery on me to maintain a similar philosophy to work. Mathematical certainty has a very important place in our society. Such rigor is essential in many fields. But it can sure screw up a good story. Or haven't you ever heard the words: "that would never happen." But it did. Right there in Dickens' David Copperfield there were all manner of events and coincidences that defy the laws of probability. Despite or perhaps because of this, Copperfield is great literature, great art and great fun.

I do not use logic nor do I parse when experiencing art, especially perhaps films. One of my favorite movies of all time in Antonino's L'Eclisse (1962). I loved it from my first viewing and yet had not a clue what the director was saying. Nor did I care. Later viewings would sort that out, I just felt good seeing it.

Felt good seeing it. Why? Why describe a kiss or an orange sherbet? 

Yes, there is a point at which you express why something is so wonderful. But never strain yourself. Please!

I recently read Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion and by God I could find you some themes there. But I'd druther not. Really, I just liked the words and the characters and the way people talked and a lot of what they said felt real. I related to Lee Stamper in a lot of ways in others I didn't. The book was a fabulous time. It was one of those deals where afterward everything else I picked up to read seemed amateurish. I then watched the film version, released in 1970, which I'd seen previously, a lifetime ago. 

Guess what I did? 

I didn't compare the two. I just watched the film and thought it was good in a whole different way. Hell, you get to see Henry Fonda and Paul Newman occupying space in the same movie. Beat that! There was also a lot of the Oregon coastal countryside. I've spent a lot of time there and can attest to its beauty. Nice seeing it with a story occupying it's trees and rivers and such. I wasn't gaga over the film or anything but I sure enjoyed the time I spent looking at it. Instead of letting it's omissions from the book get under my skin, I felt glad to be reminded of the novel.  

I'm all in favor of general themes, feelings, impressions and suggestions. They're more sensual than the cold hard facts. 

A movie has got to feel good. So does a novel. You knew that about music, I'm sure. People will love a song well before learning the lyrics. Dissect it later, if at all. Movie, same thing.

All too often movies are released for the sole purpose of making money. They're pretty obvious. They have formulas. They are cynical. They don't feel good. Least not to some of us. I think they feel good to a whole lot of people because they fit those comfortable formulas. They don't push or prod or ask us any questions. Sometimes they try really hard to be liked and don't have an identity. Movies should have identities. (It just occurred to me that some people are like that. They lose their real selves to be popular. And perhaps they even are popular at a superficial level. But they lose whoever it is they are and we miss the unique experience of getting to know them. We meet their veneer and are impressed at their dazzling ability to make small talk.)

I think I've said all I've got to say on this topic for now. I don't have a space or word limit for my posts. This is really nice because I can write just a little bit or go on and on and on as I see fit. Anyway, the length of any writing should be just enough to say what needs be said. Ya know, what feels right.

20 August 2011

I Think I Write, I Write About Thinking I Think About Writing and Black Swan is Prominent in the Ensuing Words


It all begins with a single word. And it's your choice. Every time.

I walked down to the local high end bookstore but it smacked of desperation. So I barely browsed before making my way back home.

Earlier I'd watched Black Swan (2010) which I'd previously seen in theaters right after it's release. I wrote about back it then and I have kindly linked this sentence to that post. Neither oldest daughter nor the wife would watch Black Swan with me. I couldn't even dig up the cat, who you think would at least give it a chance, but I guess she too had heard things.....Maybe I should ask them all why they don't want to ever see it. Maybe not. The little woman generally likes the same type of films I do. (Given that she is taller than I am, if she is in fact the little woman I must be the tiny man.)

I just had a thought....There, it passed.

But seriously, what if this post is some reader's introduction to my blog. They'd likely never come back. Actually that wouldn't make them any different then all the other poor saps who've chanced upon my musings. Amusing.

At one point in the Black Swan there's a knock at the door and Barbara Hershey says: "Who could that be?" That's a question that is posed far more often in films and on television than it is in...well, I was going to say "real life" but I hate referring to anything as "real life" as much as I do calling any part of our existence the "real world." It's all real. People in college are always being told about going out into the "real world" as if a university is the set of some Disney film and they're Peter Pan or Tinker Bell. It's all real, I tell ya, every second.

Obsessed characters often make for terrific films. As in Black Swan. Or Zodiac (2007) or Vertigo (1958) or JFK (1991). After all who wants to watch a film starring a perfectly happy well balanced individual who manages work, family and a hobby in perfect harmony? Obsessive personalities are often creative geniuses, or great athletes or detectives or of course total lunatics. In films you can have a combination genius and lunatic for a most heady brew. It has been said that there is a fine line between genius and insanity. I suppose. But there is just as fine line between raving mediocrity and insanity. Hell no, there isn't, there's no line at all.

I liked Black Swan again. I made the choice going into viewing number two that I wasn't going to look for meaning in it. Sometimes some people (me for instance) spend too much time analyzing a film. The experience derived from spending the hour and forty minutes should suffice. If you find your mind continually drifting back to the movie, I'd say that's a very good thing indeed. But you needn't force it. That is making artificial the organic experience of cinema. I was sitting in a theater once and a person behind me asked the gent she was with what he had thought of Dreamgirls (2006). He replied: "I don't know I haven't finished deconstructing it yet." Oh my, was all I could think. Oh my, oh my.

Darren Aronofsky directed Black Swan. He's a man whose film I'd not seen until last December. Having now viewed them all, I am a fan. If you're reading this Darren -- and why wouldn't you be -- I'm sure that sentence has made it all worthwhile.  He does not rely on half measures to tell stories. But he never crosses the line that do so many directors who subsume the story within their own ego or technical mastery. Peter Jackson comes to mind. He's the bloke who took the King Kong story and turned into a video game for 14 year olds.

Natalie Portman won the Best Actress Oscar for Black Swan. I thought Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone (2010) was far more deserving, but whenever someone has been known to put in a lot of training and weight reduction or gain into a role they get serious extra credit with the academy.

Again I was really impressed with Mila Kunis. (That's of pic of her in the film to the left of this sentence.) Besides being a real dish she's a damn good actress and did as much as possible with her role. My ex celebrity crush Winona Ryder got a lot of mileage out of her role as the washed up ballet star too. And since I'm saying such nice things about performers.... Vincent Cassel was (please feel free to insert your own laudatory adjective).

It's foggy, breezy and cool outside (inside there is no breeze or fog and the temperature is quite comfortable). I find this weather condusive to reading, film watching, writing and chasing my poor beleagured wife around the house. It's also nice for drinking tea and feeling quite all right about the world which I do right now. I'm not doing summersaults or popping champage corks, but the world seems a nice enough place to live in. What a wonderful alternative to say Venus or Neptune, neither of which serve ice cream or show movies or have soccer games or Mila Kunis.

Ya know, I just can't figure out whether words are vastly overrated or underrated. Hmm.

15 August 2011

Separating Justice and Law in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

There's a starman waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet usBut he thinks he'd blow our mindsThere's a starman waiting in the skyHe's told us not to blow itCause he knows it's all worthwhile- From Starman by David Bowie

Justice is a concept, really. The law can be written and defined and debated but justice is an ideal that is not always served by enacting or enforcing laws. Some people get away with murder, literally and figuratively. This makes us ache. Some people will employ extra legal measures before or after the fact. It's a slippery slope when individuals "take the law into their own hands." Those hands become dirty. Sometimes.

Eighteenth and 19th century Americans saw themselves as good people bringing civilization to a savage land. This was at the heart of Manifest Destiny and the "taming" of the West. They made the same law that they brought. They defined and enforced it. Yet curiously and clearly justice was not always served. The history of America's western expansion is, as the cliche goes, written in blood. Fair enough, but the blood of so many innocents and on so many occasions done within the law and well outside any concept of justice.

There's a movie that does a superior job of exploring this whole idea. It was directed by John Ford and is called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Yes it's a good old western starring John Wayne and James Stewart with a supporting cast including Strother Martin, Lee Van Cleef and Andy Devine, none a stranger to the genre. It also features Lee Marvin as the title character. He is walking, talking evil, right down to his whip and six gun.

But this is a film that has deep meanings and I do not refer merely to the famous "print the legend" line or its explanations. 

Stewart plays the lawyer, Ransom Stoddard, who moves out West with high and noble ideals but a stunning naivete about life in the territories. He reckons that law trumps violence and criminals and should be the basis for correcting injustice. But the law can't and won't get its hands on Valance who reeks havoc at will, often in service of rich land owners who are trying to stymie statehood for their own gain. There there is Tom Doniphan (Wayne) who is as good a man as Stoddard but ten times tougher. He has no illusions about the capacity of the law to serve justice in the face of Valance and his ilk.

What we have here is a fascinating dichotomy. At stake is the struggle between the rule of law and frontier justice. One is the basis of a civilized society and the child of high ideals. The other claims reality on its side, it has its principle the idea of fighting fire with fire. Stoddard and Doniphan are allies concurrent with being bitter enemies and rivals. They are very different sides to the coin of the realm. Oh yes, they are also in love with the same girl (Vera Miles).

One could read ambiguity into the resolution of this film. But that supposes a full color world in which all answers come in black and white. When we meet him years later, the man of the law is a former Senator, Governor, Ambassador to England and now again is a Senator. He's long been married to the girl. But what propelled him to this lofty status? Was it his erudition and grasp of the law? They helped. But it is the gunning down of an evil man that set his course. Ironically, a slaying he did not actually commit.
The man of the gun has died forgotten and as the movie begins and ends, is in a simple wood coffin, stripped even of his boots.

What are we to take from this story? Well as with any other tale we are at liberty to see what we choose. Certainly TMWSLV is widely open to interpretation. For many it's just a ripping good yarn from the Old West, replete with colorful characters. I wrote about it as such three years ago.  But for those looking for deeper meanings they are there. The ascendancy of the lawyer over the gunmen as the closing of the frontier is evident, as is the enduring power of myth. There is certainly a serious question raised about how the West, or for that matter, any wilds are won. The point of a gun? The rule of law? The victory of justice no matter the method? Certainly many answers lie in between the questions.

The great man said: justice delayed is justice denied. And he said this in the name of fighting unjust laws. So perhaps it really comes down to morality and seeing to the primacy of a group conscience over the tyranny of the minority.

It's not just another old Western, is it?

07 August 2011

Trippin' With Some Far Out Cats -- Kesey and Isherwood in Documentaries

Love lost, such a cost,
Give me things
that don't get lost.
Like a coin that won't get tossed
Rolling home to you.
From 'Old Man' by Neil Young

A long strange trip. Life is. We hold these memories to be self evident that all people are created and then up and die some day and yes...so it goes. Papa there it is.

Yesterday was documentary day for me in that I saw two of them. One in the theater one off Netflix Instant. Both in the instant theater of my mind, man. One was a recent release being seen by me for the first time. T'other was a film I saw when it hit theaters -- bam! -- three years ago. Second go round, this was, brother. Very different stories but both centered around a favorite author...of mine!


Magic Trip (FAR OUT!!) is about the incredible journey of the Merry Pranksters. You've got to understand that the Sixties (PEACE) did not begin on January 1, 1960 any more than your adulthood starts on the day of your 18th birthday. Arbitrary stuff I can do without. Out with. See the Fifties didn't end until Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. Till then it was Leave it Beaver America. There was a brief purgatory for the era thing until early '64 when The Beatles (YEAH YEAH YEAH) hit American shores -- bam! -- and a few months later when the Pranksters hit the road, going all Jack Kerouac on America's ass. (TRIPPIN'!)

The Pranksters were led by author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion). Kesey in turn was led by LSD and that trip was part of the Prankster trip because taking LSD is called taking a trip. Or dropping acid. Work with me here people.

The Pranksters were all about.....uh, something, I'm sure. Maybe love, acceptance. Nahhhhhhhhhhh!!! More like freedom. Enlightenment. Grooving (GROOVY!) on love and life and all the wonders of doin' your own thing and to hell with corporate button downed Amerika and all that jazz.

Magic Trip uses a teensy bit of the 40 hours of footage shot -- bam! -- on the Prankster trip and a little bit of their audio recordings which were not in sync with the film -- damn it all. The Pranksters were on this converted school bus that they painted all psychedelic and named Further (like, what else are you going to call it and say have I finally found my voice?). The Pranksters included a bunch of people you likely never heard of unless you read The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. Except of course for Kesey and the man who manically drove the bus east, Neal Cassady. Yeah the one and the same who was the inspiration for the character of Dean Moriarty in On the Road. That was one wild ride, I mean being Cassady. Being around Cassady. Hell's bells watching him is a ride and half. He was known to take hits -- bam! -- of speed now and again and again and again. And brother he could and would and did talk and talk and talk and it was like so totally rapid fire and stream of or really river of consciousness and went all over the map and under it and in it and you get the picture sure.

So the documentary shows footage and you hear later interviews of the Pransketers and see other scenes of America circa the early Sixties when all these changes were exploding -- bam! -- all the hell over the culture that would have reverberations that are still reverberating. So cool. And you do know they really popularized the whole acid dropping (that's taking LSD, you square) thing along with Timothy Leary who was -- dig this -- too straight laced for them. So in some of the movie you see them on acid and how do you convey that? They did a really good job, take it from my mind (it's such a mind mind that has me searching for my heart of old and I'm getting gold or words to the effect).

Yeah I liked the movie. What's not to like? This was the era that defined so many of us  of the baby boom -- --boom! -- and made us what we aren't today. Defining moments and all that rock and roll and protests and peace movements and liberation fronts and love and awakenings and long hair and sex (mmmmmmmmm).

Then last night it was Chris and Don. A Love Story(2008) which the love story of my life who is my wife had not seen but like I said I had. This centers around the love between two men (Gay maybe?) Don Bachardy the still living artist and Christopher Isherwood the late great author. First time I saw the film in question I'd never read anything of his. In the past six months I've pretty much poured through every novel he penned. Yes, I'm a fan. So this time maybe I appreciated the movie a tad more, but just a tad. Really the love story is what's all about and to a lesser extent the amazing lives they led and the people (My God the PEOPLE!!) they met and hung out with. If you're interested you might check out what I wrote about the film after I first saw it. But actually I liked it more the second time because it's so damn good. Gooooood.

This time I really tripped off the fact (you ever trip off facts?) that this is movie that some of those sexual bigots who claim a God hates some his children because they lay with people of their own gender, that those assh*les should see this. Is it not love? Not the Newt Gingrich get divorced twice and cheat on your wife on her death bed kind of love but the kind with real commitment and honesty and caring for one another kind of love. You watch this and you still hate these people or their love and you are one f*cked up person. Seriously.

Other thing: this is a superbly constructed documentary. One of the best.

Isherwood and Kesey. Kesey and Isherwood. Writers extraordinaire. Very different lives and milieus and backgrounds and tastes. Vive la difference. I don't get liking just one type of anything. Gimme genres aplenty. Types and styles. Give me Isherwood and Kesey and I'll have some F Scott and Dostoevsky and how about some Kerouac and if you don't mind a bit of Flaubert. Don't forget my poetry too. Ginsberg, Eliot, Neruda, Giovanni please. Cheers.

Point is....Oh do I really need a point? It was just a lovely day. More exposure to great minds and that I don't mind. Off doing their own things. Committed to their art and all and by God aren't we glad to have reminders of why all the pain and suffering is endurable for the moments of artistic vision, truth and clarity. Bam!