15 March 2012

Mid March Night's Dream

"It's all living no matter how we do it and it's all real life. Don't let anyone tell you any different." - So said a drifter I once met.

"One thing I liked about panic attacks, especially the really bad ones, is that they let me know that I was alive. There's no more clarity that you are living being than psychological terror from within." - This according to a dude I knew.

So what happened last night was I went for a walk and somehow went back to the 1950s. I was still in Berkeley and in the same part of town, it was just 55 years earlier. I stumbled around feeling drunk even though I haven't had a pop in decades. But the real point is that I'm suddenly in the past. Jeez. I figured there had to be a reason for this. The cosmos meant for something to happen. Who time travels without purpose?

Turns out I was right.

I'm walking down this street, quiet residential, streetlights dim just groovin' on the old cars and other stuff peculiar to the time, when I hear loud conversation. My bearings are still off so I can't exactly get where its coming from. I can tell its a bunch of guys and they're quite animated and that I'm meant to be there. Obviously, I've got to find them which isn't so easy to do when you've suddenly realized you've defied physics and all other known sciences. I'm eventually drawn to this little path that's between two houses. I follow it for like 20 yards as the voices become louder. There's this cottage sitting there as if dropped into a backyard. Plop! The lights are all on and the front door is open. I stroll in like I own the place.

There are five guys sitting around, two on a sofa, one on a chair one on the floor and one who's standing. So make it four guys sitting around, one standing around. They look up like they've been expecting me. I'm immediately handed a beer. They're all drinking and smoking and I can see that they have smoked pot too. There's a bag of it in the middle of the floor. I sit right on down, again, as if I own the place. It's all happened so fast I feel like I haven't had a thought in days. Just doin', ya know? But there I am. There they are and they carry on talking a mile a minute seemingly all at once. So cool.

I settle back and sip the beer from this long necked bottle. Kinda not cool because I don't drink no more owing to having drank a lot, a lot, a lot for a long time but hey, this is an unusual circumstance and there's a certain go with the flow happening here.

My God! One of these guys is Kerouac. Hits me like a punch in the eye or some such metaphor, I dunno. He's gesturing and talking heatedly (but with a smile) right the hell at someone though I can't figure about what. You can tell he's quite drunk but also quite capable of handling himself no matter the amount of booze currently coursing through his veins. Sitting next to him on the floor with this big beaming grin is clearly, I could see it all at once, Neal Cassady, or Dean Moriarity if we're livin' in On the Road, you dig.

It's hard to accept that Cassady is just watching Kerouac talk and not yakking a mile a  minute hisself which is what I would have expected having seen him in Magic Trip. Maybe no speed today.

Who else? I wonder. Suddenly this other dude comes into focus. My favorite poet. Allen Ginsberg is on the sofa looking all Buddha wise and content, not drinking a beer but it looks like maybe wine. The guy next to him must be his long time lover Peter Orlovsky who looks kinda bored but maybe just  for that one second. The fifth guy is someone I don't recognize. He looks about 25, tall, handsome, kind of softened sensitive rugged. The kind of guy my wife would have liked before she met me and lost her mind to how all out outrageously different and charming I am. Whoever he is, he's laughing a lot and looks like the happiest guy on the planet.

I still can't make out what Kerouac is saying. I look around some more. There's cluttered ash trays and a turntable playing a beat up Chet Baker LP. There's a big ass cat walking around like he's thinking: "what the hell, man?" There's two paintings on the wall, one is a very amateurish portrait of a young woman and maybe her daughter. The other is landscape with a fisherman in deep background in a river. The paintings go together like custard and pickles. There's a kitchen off to one side and I can tell it's a mess. There's an impossibly small hallway that looks like it leads to the head and maybe a bedroom or two.

I wish I could tell what Keroauc was saying but it seems beyond me. Kind of like this is all I meant to get. Just the visuals. But it also seems like I'm here by invitation only. How? Why? Whatever, man I just gotta go with it and not question. I look at everybody real close like I'm studying them. They're oblivious to me except you know good and well they know I'm there. I finally start picking out words Kerouac is saying, which is kinda cool but I can tell not really the point of me bein' there. Whatever, I'm enjoying every second when....

"You gotta go, man," Kerouac turned his head and looked right at me when he said it. Part of me screams: "but I just got here, man!" in this Dennis Hopper voice, but another part says, yeah I figured this wasn't meant to last.

I put down my beer and get up to go. Ginsberg gives me this big smile and a "thanks!" like I guess he's thanking me for reading and digging his poetry. I dunno. Cassady stands up and pats me on the back and I still can't believe he hasn't said nothin' the whole time I've been there. Kerouac doesn't look up at me, which to tell you the truth kind of hurts. I go out the door and breath in deeply before heading up the path. As I get to the street I hear someone running behind me. I turn. It's Kerouac. He sticks out a hand and we shake. "You're the lucky one, ya know." He says it with a smile but I can tell it hurts him personally. I start to ask what he means but he gives my shoulder a squeeze and then lopes back to the cottage. I turn to face the street and wham! here I am at this computer with a mug of tea in my right hand.

“I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.” - Jack Kerouac.

11 March 2012

Reality is What Happens When You're Busy Making Other Plans -- Neo Realism, Ripley & None of that Jazz

No no.

Years ago I knew someone who'd just had a dream realized as he'd been accepted into the air force. He'd always wanted to fly planes. The day before he was to leave for the air force he was riding his motorcycle and a drunk driver ran into him. He was in the hospital for months. By the time he was released there were still more back surgeries and more hospital stays. The chance at flying was gone. He became addicted to painkillers. After a few years of pain and drugs, drugs and pain he hanged himself. Or hung himself. Either way he was just as dead. We're supposed to find meaning in such things and believe that everything happens for a reason. Yeah it does.

Only 40% of Americans believe in evolution. No idea how many believe in gravity. Many state legislatures are considering bills that would require schools to teach creationism. Don't know if similar bills would be put forward requiring schools to teach the idea that Zeus is really the ruler of all gods.

Today I watched La Terra Trema (1948) a movie set in and starring a Sicilian fishing village and its inhabitants. Luchino Visconti, a co founder of Italian neo realism and a man of a million strongly held opinions, directed.

This is a film about defeat. About the seeming impossibility of those born poor to work their way past subsistence living. If you didn't know that Visconti was a communist, La Terra Trema would be a giveaway. Evil comes in the form of the wholesalers who following the dictum of never giving a sucker an even break. The fisherman are at their mercy and to rebel is to invite a resounding defeat that serves to illuminate the daily defeat of being the working poor.

La Terra Trema centers around one family and their noble effort to defy the wholesalers and make it on their own. In many countries at many times this would be the happy story of young capitalists succeeding through hard work and ingenuity. But this a film from the Italy of the late 40 and early 50s. All it takes is one intervention from mother nature to leave our heroes beaten and ultimately humiliated. So it went.

Even at nearly two and half hours, with nary a scenery chewing big star in site and despite the sad fate awaiting the family, this is a wonderful film to watch from beginning to end.

(Side note: it would be wonderful if the Criteria Collection would get a hold of La Terra and do a restoration. The current print does not begin to do the film justice.)

Yesterday I watched The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) for the first time since its theatrical release. I'm glad I gave it another look as its got much to recommend it including some fine nuanced performances from Matt Damon in the title role and other cast members such as Jude Law, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett as Marge (Gwynth Paltrow was, I believe, a casting mistake.) The story is a compelling one, being about a sociopath who really just wants to be loved and later to become his new best friend. But the screenplay and direction of Anthony Minghella were solidly mediocre. Too much of the dialogue was pedestrian and the cinema photography was unworthy of the settings (mostly Italy) and the story itself. The late Mr. Minghella brought as much verve and style as does Ron Howard. Which is to say, none.

Damon's performance from 13 years ago suggestged a young actor on the cusp of stardom and some serious work in really good films. Clearly he has opted for stardom, all too often prancing about Jason Bourne and all too seldom sinking his teeth into a role like Mark Whitacre in The Informant! (2009).

His portrayal of the complex Ripley (from the Patricia Highsmith's novels) is immediately beguiling. We are at once repulsed and seduced by the duplicitous Ripley, who only wants...What? Everything, perhaps? He is calculating, he is spontaneous, he is naive, he is ahead of everyone. We root for him and then are shocked by him. The heartbreaking murder of his last victim, over which he sobs while committing it, is an indelible screen moment.

Alain Delon had taken on the same role in Rene Clement's Purple Noon (1960) nearly 40 years before. Which I viewed for the first time last weekend. Comparisons between the two films seem mandatory but I'll nonetheless forgo the ritual. They are such different interpretations with Delon bringing a different sensibility to the Ripley character. Purple Noon suffered from a tacked on ending meant to appease audiences but really for the benefit of prudish film execs. Along the way Purple Noon is actually more pulse pounding than the Damon version. It also created a much different relationship between Tom and Marge.

Both films suggest the manner in which an amoral person can ingratiate himself into all manner of circumstance, taking advantage of people as he goes. Sort of like many of our political creatures.

These sort of people live in this line from Sylvia Plath: Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.

And there it is. Death, tragedy, defeat. The impossibility of succeeding in all ways. But we live in a world where canned peaches taste good. So there.