30 January 2013

When I Taught Middle School

I crashed into the classroom. Clanging, clanking, kalumphing. I cluttered the class with my words that piled up into the noise that rambled through the room as the young minds dawdled and dabbled somewhat into what I was saying but stopped at times to prolong their adolescence with mind games and trivial natterings about Yusef and Tina and that dude from the other school as they pondered pixies and the resultant dust. So strong.

So strong was the melody they whacked in those brains of fertile earth dust. I passed out paper and pleaded for perfection though willing to settle -- most gladly -- for seconds of silence and faux efforts to do assignments of radiant tedium as the day broke silently over the prodigious Berkeley Hills and minions sighed at my efforts.

“Can I use a pen to do this?” Tom asked. Snickers.

“Yes. Any other questions?” Hoping of course not so that I could indulge my whimsies as they busied their bee like brains with the twaddle I’d given. Oh Corinthians of understanding. Bow slowly to me so that I may make it through this period and sidle up to the next. Text. Read and decide. Or feed and deride. Just don’t fight, my classroom of idiots and savants.

Students finished too soon and the mental fidgeting was cacophonous. Plan B in inaction. Textbook. Pages. Read. Discuss. Questions on board. Groups. I play the role of the wandering monitor (wondering monitor?). Check in. Nod approval. Their voices spit out nonsense with no stuff -- where gone the days of stuff and nonsense, off somewhere with the sound and fury that signified everything, no doubt -- shout. Those rascals race their mouths until the bell rings. I bide their time. More nodding. More shushing. More re-directing. More contemplation. Why here, now, me? When did I go wrong? The riches I had promised myself as a youth are nowhere to be found. I -- internally -- laugh bitterly as they call out to me. Make this easy. Make this fun. Make this challenging. Make this go away. I am off in dreamland as the dismissal bell echoes its happy song through the classroom, in the halls and to the heavens (more than one heaven?).

Heavens me!

Another group shuffles into the classroom. Glum. Dumb. Resigned. My happy smile is pure fakery. Bakery dither dee doo.

I greet and meat. I assign. They tumble to the work blathering this and that and that and this and more of this then more of that.

Incinerated. The gaseous bellows of the young howlers poured through the room as I beseeched for quiet in lieu of this riot. Theft of decency was rampant as the foul spewings spewed and desks scraped against brains at once deadened by television and hot wired by sugar. The bleatings blathered and so I gathered the thoughts that did forsake them. Soon the lesson I did compel though try as they might they could not repel. The students of prudence held aloft their banners of matriculation as they grasped for freedom for their generation.

The causes of the Civil War. Spoken in a room that duplicated the sounds of Gettysburg. Carnage the same too. Mere madness caused me sadness as papers were passed as was gas. I tried in stentorian pronouncements to make clear their bad behaviors denouncements. Still they railed.

The curious did listen their pates a glisten. I intoned as the bored groaned and the latter day mighty mights phoned. Laughs.

Hands were raised with questions. There were answers proffered and ignored. More and more grew bored. If it was 1971 again I would be happily trodding the streets, long hair swaying feeling the oats of my youth and ready for anything. I would be looking for love and a way to get high and a soccer game and a friend and adventure. But it was over 30 years later and so....This scruffy lot besieged my brain and I delicately maneuvered from angry child to depressed child to manic child to future Rhodes Scholar to ordinary kid and I did I or did I not offer a clever lesson on the causes of the Civil War. A thousand times yes.

So to the end of the class when another group came in ad infinitum. Item, sight em. How I blight em. On until lunch and munch munch munch and say, how am I doin?

28 January 2013

The Promise of Tomrrow

Tomorrow is Tuesday the 29th of January.

My alarm will go off at precisely 5:42 am. I will sit up. Perhaps my wife will rub or pat my back for a few seconds. Then I will shower and shave. I will prepare my lunch then eat breakfast while reading the news on the internet. I will eventually get up from the computer and return to the bedroom where I will sit on the edge of the bed sipping my tea. I will be laying against my wife who will speak lovingly to me as I grunt and groan. Then I will stand in front of the heater as I dress. I will brush my teeth and stand for inspection in front of my wife. She will probably have to straighten my collar. I will kiss her goodbye and walk out the door. Eight minutes later I will be getting into a stranger's car at the casual car pool pick up spot. During the car ride I will play Words with Friends on my iPhone. If I'm lucky the car radio will be tuned to an NPR station. If I'm not lucky it will be tuned to an obnoxious AM station with long loud commercials. Dropped in San Francisco I will walk a few blocks to where I catch the trolley car. I will read and listen to music on my iPod. I will get off at the end of the line in Fisherman's Wharf and walk two blocks to the school where I teach ESL to students from all over the world most of whom are in their early 20s. I will exchange greetings and humorous asides with co workers. I will make photocopies. At 8:15 my first class will begin.

Tomorrow is Tuesday the 29th of January.

I will have a series of pleasant interactions. I will break students into groups. I will talk to classes as a whole. I will correct mispronunciations. I will assign work. I will explain grammar points. I will make silly jokes and bask in the laughter of my students. I will exchange warm greetings with some and polite greetings with others. I will admire most for their intelligence and perseverance. I will note how cute or beautiful or handsome or well dressed some are. They may again note my professional attire which always includes a tie. I will appreciate the mutual admiration society I am in with many of my students. I will also enjoy more conversations with colleagues some of whom will be jocular or silly and some may touch upon the arts or sports or important issues of the day.

Tomorrow is Tuesday the 29th of January.

I will eat lunch. I will grade papers and plan the next days lessons. I will walk along the beach. I will return to school and teach another class. I will make my way home again via the trolley but this time taking BART to the East Bay. I will arrive at home around the same time as my wife. We will chat. we will dine. I might watch something on TV. I might listen to music. I might read. I might study Italian. I might write for awhile. I might wash the dishes. I will probably go to bed around ten and read until I can't keep my eyes open.

Tomorrow is Tuesday the 29th of January and it will be a good day.

26 January 2013

A Post Wherein the Author Writes About the Problems of Happiness -- A Guy on the Subway -- Writing Henry V -- Heidegger -- and the Perils of Walking Down Urban Sidewalks -- Among Other Things

The critique was that it sounded like I was angry. The critique was of something I had written. There was a problem with the critique. It suggested that sounding angry was a bad thing. I had wanted to sound angry. I wanted to because I was. It's not unlike when someone is visiting a city or country and is told they look like a tourist. What. You're supposed to pretend to be a native wherever you go?

There is a -- I've quite suddenly changed the subject -- a certain level of discomfort that can come as a result of being happy and having about as much in life as you could possibly ask for. I am currently saddled with a job I love a wife I adore and children I am proud of. Notwithstanding a persistent headache that has been plaguing me these past few days my health is quite good. I am surrounded by great films music and books. One learns in life that all the beauty and wonder and joy and delightfulness can vanish in an instant. This headache could be a brain tumor. Oily rags could assemble in our basement setting off an inferno. A cataclysmic earthquake could strike. But for now I'm living with contentment. Satisfaction is not always conducive to creativity to self discovery or to enlightenment. But there are a reservoir of memories I can tap....

There's been a lot of pain. Some physical but the overwhelming majority mental and emotional. No pain no gain. Suffering makes for spiritual strength and great stories to tell. Go tell it on the mountain or a hill or a knoll. You've had a tragic loss or an affliction of addiction or been wronged and by golly you've got an automatic voice and vehicle to exclaim the pain and touch upon some of life's hard truths. Go get em.

Yesterday one co-worker told another that a student of his kept saying that she was "queer for" things that she really liked. Second co-worker said that it was not okay to say you are "queer for" something unless you are gay. Absent being homosexual using the word queer in any way shape or form is -- as she put it -- offensive. Yes it is. Queer is just one of the many words we should not say unless we are cloaked by membership in a particular group. Lest we offend. Offending is offensive and should be avoided at all costs. Be very very careful which words you use. Limit your vocabulary to words that will not offend people of color or the old or the gay or the infirm or the -- I love this one -- mentally challenged. The next thing you say could hurt someone's feelings. We are all very sensitive. Sticks and stones are not alone in causing hurt in the 21st century. Mind your words carefully.

There's something I need to get off my chest: the play Henry V -- most often attributed to William Shakespeare was in fact composed by yours truly. Never mind that performances of it and its publication well pre date my birth I wrote the damn thing "once more into the breach" and all. I'm asking for a leap of faith of here. After all in Bergman's Fanny and Alexander (1982) there is a scene in which the titular characters are rescued from the evil bishop and they are at once upstairs and in a large chest downstairs being secreted away. (See photo above but only if you want to.) No one questions that. Right? So trust me on this. I wrote the damn play. I'm not asking for any credit on it nor residuals nor anything of the sort. Just an occasional acknowledgement would be nice. Cheers.

There was a guy on the subway two days ago pushing his belongings -- several full backpacks prominent -- on a broken down old wheelchair. He wore raggedy old clothes and looked like he needed a shave a bath and years worth of psychiatric treatment. You know the type. At one point I looked up from my book as we whizzed through the tunnel under the San Francisco Bay and noted that he was wearing his baseball cap over his face. Given his general appearance this was neither objectionable nor out of character. His hat remained over his face for at least ten minutes. Personally I applaud anyone original enough to wear their headgear in such a fashion.

Headgear. Close enough to Heidegger as in Martin as in the noted German philosopher who wrote about and title Being and Time. Are they the same thing? What is time but....

But there was a particularly annoying group of Evangelicals occupying a corner of Berkeley's famed Telegraph Avenue area today. They had a horrible guitarist and singer fouling the air and some burly fellows passing out brochures -- just as Jesus intended. I walked between two of the behemoths for Christ as quickly as possible without breaking into a sprint and said: "don't hand me anything." One blustered: "do you know where you go when you die?" To which I quipped: "to a place where no one tries to hand me anything while I'm walking down the street." Actually I'm quite certain that in any afterlife we may enjoy (or suffer - you know you could go where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth) there is no leafletting. There are no well meaning young adults asking if we have "a minute for the environment." There is no one asking us for spare change (poor blighters -- them at least I feel empathy for well, except the younger ones who seem hale and hearty, them not so much).  Imagine strolling down the boulevard without fear of being accosted maybe even no bicyclists or joggers or skateboards either. Just other folks walking. What would that be like? Heaven I suppose.

23 January 2013

The Impossibility of the Moment

"Angel came down from heaven yesterday 
stayed with me long enough to rescue me 
And she told me a story yesterday 
about the sweet love between the moon and the deep blue sea 
Then she spread her wings high over me 
she said she's goin' now, come back tomorrow 
And I said, "Fly on my sweet angel, fly on through the sky 
Fly on my sweet angel tomorrow I'm gonna be by your side" 

-From Angel as sung by Rod Stewart and Jimi Hendrix

I have looked into her face and seen love.

When the anger came and our words were thrown with wild abandon and some of them stuck and we felt our bodies grow rigid and hard and mean. When our tempers slipped and fell and slid across the floor and a little of our dignity went with it. Those ugly moments resonated for days with tinctures of shame and residues of resentment and shared pain. But faded at last. On to what is what we are and the wonderful sense of eternity that true love provides and the wisdom and truth of it all. Back in our arms as we were are physically and bless us. Again

An addict is a person who convinces himself (or herself -- of course) that a moment of pleasure can be repeated and enriched and made to enrapture for hours and days on end. That magic glow of the newborn high will and can and then must endure and we will know bliss as it gets better and better and better. But then it starts eating us alive. Nothing. Not even the perfection of a child's sincere smile. Is anything but temporal. It all goes and goes and we wonder at the brevity of our joy. The addict recovers  by recognizing that each moment is its own.

Denial of reality. There is a game we play in which we pretend that certain things never did, don't now, nor ever will, happen. We are not that ugly part of us. There is none of those uncomfortable realities that we dare not face. Go away pain. Let me subsume myself in false warm glows as if real radiance came from a heat lamp. Nothing. The void is in a closet behind boxes of memories and can be kept there. All around the shallow mind there are reminders of loss and tragedy and hurt. These only need be glimpsed at and acknowledged. Fight the ones you can. Accept the others.

Joy. So often it is found by finding and excepting who we are. The finding out can be hard but the acceptance....rewarding illuminating enlightening and ultimately fulfilling.

I find the crispness of Hemingway's writing those short declarative wonderfully simple sentences so moving. Finding simplicity is complex in our world and yet a great thrilling reward of soaring heights and dizzy nights and dazzling lights. He makes it look easy. People say. Describing maybe Willie Mays or Charlie Chaplin or Rodin.

I enjoyed last weekend a film called Make Way For Tomorrow (1937) directed by Leo McCarey. It was an inspiration for Ozu's classic Tokyo Story (1953). An old couple (Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore) must give up their home and are thus shuffled among their five now middle aged children. The children and their spouses range from sympathetic to totally put out. We get old we get annoying. We get old we get wise. We get old we get in the way. We get out we get useless. We get interesting we get dull we get. Get. It seems a depressing story but like any illumination of life it is not. Especially given McCarey's deft hand and wonderful performances. There is a wisdom and a certain beauty to this story because it steers away from maudlin sentimentality. It is piquant and kind and truthful and gentle. Mostly it wasn't trying too hard. Here is a horrible flaw in so many films: taking the simple and making a meal out of it. Some stories call out for whistles and bells and doo dads used appropriately. But others need the makers to back away and trust in the characters and the script. McCarey did that here. Just as Ozu did.

Meanwhile in the news there are guns and there is anger and there is slaughter and there is ignorance and there is hope. Always hope for those incremental changes that push us toward much much better days. We will leap ahead another two steps and walk most of it back. But not all. Feel better.

15 January 2013

My Commute Home and Two Consecutive Days of Smiles

San Francisco is bereft of tourists these mid January days. This made for a near empty trolley car as I left work in the Fisherman's Wharf area. Nice. I buried my head in an Alan Furst novel -- high end junk writing pre WWII spy novels set in Europe fun stuff and a break from real history or Joyce or Pynchon or the like -- and listened to Eric Burdon and The Animals Greatest Hits on my iPod.

Then a Mexican chap sat in front of me. He'd slathered himself in aftershave and it was an odor much offensive for being so overdone. Happening to look back before getting off I noted that I'd been riding on the bald white man express. Several shaved heads glowed under the lights. Odd. Travel in bunches they do.

Walked purposely to BART and the subway ride back to East Bay. Here I was on the pretty blonde girl express. Much better. One with a slight and sexy overbite was draped all over a nattily attired lad. Two others were sisters and helped keep each other upright as they rode standing in mid packed train. A fourth sat sullenly glowering at whatever texts she was getting. There were also two older blondes. One was about 100 trying to appear 20. Bad move grandma. I'm blonde too but a guy so I don't count.

I stood reading about foreign correspondents in Prague just after the Nazi occupation. The writing is exceptional for spy stuff and historically accurate evocative of time and place. I read one helluva lot about Nazis both fictional and non and hate them to pieces. But lordy they make for good reading both fictional and non. Compelling if awful characters. Awww.

There was one grade A jerk on the train (not me!) who kept his backpack on and he seemed to be carrying a baby grand piano in it. Grandma blonde asked him to take it off and complained that it was hitting her and he paid no mind. I commented that he didn't care. He glared at me for a second but said nothing and did nothing. Kind of illustrated how civilized society can be. This guy is a real outlier in terms of commuters 95% of whom are considerate and when need be thoughtful.

Got home to the cat complaining loudly probably about the heater having been off or there being no lobster in her food dish. The mail was of no great interest and the wife wasn't home yet. I do hate coming home to an empty house. I was alone with my laptop and jazz on the stereo (Miles Davis Kind of Blue) for a good quarter hour before my beloved entered and again I smiled.

14 January 2013

Lunch with the Boys and Other Fine Things

Had lunch with two workmates today.  Let's call them Ezekiel and Colfax (not their real names their real names are totally different like Ed and Bob or Sam and David or Roy and Cory -- ya know more ordinary.)

Sandwiches. Except Colfax had already had lunch so just had coffee and a roll though the place specializes in the most awesome sandwiches you've ever had on fresh sourdough so the coffee isn't so good as Colfax found out much to his dismay. See Colfax was just along for the ride the real intention of the lunch being me kind of paying Ezekiel back for a favor which I won't reveal but involves reading something of mine and making suggestions that will turn this something into a literally masterwork that will make me fabulously rich and famous and turn the literary world on its ear though come to think of it I don't know that the literary world has an ear. 

Did I mention the sandwiches? Really good. 

We talked.

They asked me about my time as a middle school teacher which I kind of look back on now as if it was time served though I did get paid so not so much like prison. Anyway prisons are more organized and structured than middle schools and deal in a nicer clientele. I'm just kidding -- no I'm not I'm being serious. Middle school is way worse than prison. Not really. 

As if.

We also talked about music which was cool because they're both musicians and Colfax (not his real name -- or is it? I could have just totally thrown you a curve. Just google Colfax Soil and see....gotchya) is even a professional and just works at the school because like a lot of artists he can't quite afford to quit his day job. I think that Ezekiel plays just for fun but I've heard him on the flute and he's good.

Miles Davis. Neil Young. Bill Evans. Freddie Mercury. Paul Simon (he's kind of dickish it was revealed). Were a few names that came up. Later a ribald story about Steven Tyler was told. He of Aerosmith and later American's Got Voice Talented Idols.

There was no talk of sports because Ezekiel and Colfax don't follow them. I found this pleasurable. Too many sports conversations do nothing. I find it increasingly difficult to have a discussion about sports that isn't lame uninteresting and just a regurgitation of what someone wrote on the internet. Or a recitation of numbers. Blah blah blah. 

So no sports.

Movies didn't really come up which was okay although I've had some pleasant discussions with both chaps about films before and doubtless will again. 

We did talk about girls because this is what guys do from puberty until they are buried or cremated. There is nothing wrong with this and so much that is normal. We are all three of us married and happily so.  Our states of marital bliss are no way effected by and in no way effect our desire to talk about females. Guys talk a lot and its harmless and fun and I've said that before.

We returned to school and taught more young people from across the globe to speak English. 

I later came home and watched last night's Downton Abbey with my missus. We had recorded it last night but not watched it owing to being tired from a fun weekend not that its' any of our business and shame on you for asking.

I listened to some Miles Davis and read about Diane Arbus and speculated on how wonderful it is to live in a world in which we have recordings of Davis playing trumpet and can look at Arbus' photographs and chuckle thinking about Monty Python or the Marx Brothers or even watch them. It's also a world with The Beatles, Ansel Adams, Woody Allen, Botticelli  and Hemingway -- how cool is that? -- and some really good sandwiches.

Enjoyed lunch and most of the last 24 hours. 

I am now smiling.

07 January 2013

Not Seeing Ideas When They are All Around and Within and Not Even the Most Important Thing

My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle. - D. H. Lawrence.
A chap said to me that movies have to be about ideas.


I thought about the film I referenced in my last post, Elevator to the Gallows (1958). The scenes of Jeanne Moreau walking the streets of Paris at night with the strains of Miles Davis in the background. Was this a barren wasteland bereft of ideas? Or was this an example of cinema at its most beautiful with the perfection of mood?

Imagine dismissing the cello because it has no ideas. Imagine ignoring a scenic vista because it makes no intellectual argument. Imagine turning ones back on the ethereal beauty of Cocteau's La belle et la bête (1946) because it lacked a significant argument.

Intellectuals are right to seek new truths and strong statements in works of philosophy in novels and even in theater. But to disregard a film that is all about evoking emotion and touching our deeper self is to deny one of the great powers of art.

Hmmm watching a film as one reads a book with no spatial sense no angles but no effort to imagine. And to not feel? Quelle tristesse!

The movie in question was Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009). Of all the movies to assert has no ideas! A movie in which the director/writer makes a a revenge fantasy in order to promote a greater point -- as Jelani Cobb of the New Yorker put it -- "a larger point about the universal nature of heroism."

I offer this from David Bordwell co-proprietitor of the website Observations on Film Art: "nearly every scene is an interrogation. This entails that someone in authority (Landa, Aldo, Hitler, the Germans who question Archie’s accent in the tavern, Zoller) is trying to pry information out of someone else. Intimidation through interrogation gives every scene an urgent shape. Now Tarantino’s digressions (three daughters, rats and squirrels, a card game, the correct pronunciation of Italian) don’t read as self-indulgence, but rather as feints in a confidence game...." And this: "There is cinema that asks you to empathize with its characters. Then there is cinema that aims to thrill you with a cascade of vivid moments. There is How Green Was My Valley (1941) and Citizen Kane (1941). I think that Tarantino’s films mostly tilt to the vivid-moment pole, seeking to win us through their immediate verve, the way film noir and the musical and the action movie often do."

Tarantino is a fearless and manic film maker whose Pulp Fiction was not only one of the few bright spots of 90s cinema but set important trends in stylized post modern story telling. He subsequently lost his way with the overkill (no pun intended) of the Kill Bill films but the verve was back and then some with Inglourious Basterds. While not quite as poetic his latest -- Django Unchained -- is another fulfillment of a promise to make modern classics.

Of course there are ideas in Inglorious Basterds (not that we need them). Plenty. Questions are asked about our perceptions and uses of history and the audacious notion of re-writing it for artistic purposes. Ahh and revenge fulfillment as is also carried on in Django. Instead of robbing the hangman as Hitler did we see him blown to bits; just as Django blows away so many overseers. There is a visceral satisfaction there for those of us who've lived through endless renderings of the brutality of slavery and the holocaust. A curative. There are even moral questions and perforce intellectual ones asked by both films.

Tarantino's films are rich stews in dialogue tension action character and bravura style. It was said best in a comment left by Tudor Queen after my Django post -- he is sui generis.

As Camus said: "an intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself." Meanwhile we watch Tarantino. C'est Magnifique!

06 January 2013

Four Films Four Million Messages and Then Some

Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity. -- Herman Melville.

Visions I have seen. Now part of who I am. My conscious mind grappling with unconscious desires. The love of beauty and the beauty of love. I have seen....

Jeanne Moreau in Elevator to the Gallows (1958). Louis Malle's first film a richly gorgeous noir though on a higher plain. With Moreau hauntingly stunning roaming the streets of Paris looking and wandering as the best laid plans go awry. The Miles Davis soundtrack accompanies her meanderings. Soulful. Is this a film about the impossibility of perfection? The mad way the muddled way of life disrupts our perfect dreams hopes wishes fantasies. Left grasping for what should have alit on our open palm.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday (1940). Snappy slappy happy dialogue that positively sings. Oh it rings. Fast talk. Patter. And so smart. So many stories in one. There is the politics of it of course for one. But really the love between these two people. Their compatibility. How wonderfully wise they are and so damn street smart and sensitive to the rhythms of the world they embrace. Attuned is what they are. Gracefully savvy. They need want each other and together make more than a couple but a team as all great duos do. A team of ten twenty. Unbeatable even in loss but here they win.

That said mad woman in Vincere (2009) Ida Dressler captured by the oh wow! Giovanna Mezzogiorno. She believes herself to be the rightful wife and co parent of no one less than Mussolini (yeah that one).  Their passion early in the film is of the unbridled kind that films so often get all wrong but this is so right. Ms. Mezzogiorno plays Dressler as a driven crazy groping hungry sensual woman who takes stubborn determination to the nth degree and well well beyond. No quit all insanely self assured that her rightful place is right smack dab next to Il Duce. A story of how obsession in the face of reality can -- when bathed with love -- can end so badly. So sadly.

Passion of Anna (1969) from the singular Ingmar Bergman is of course about many peoples passions. How maddening it is to be trying to cope with all the complications life throws our way and then there is love and relationships mixed in. Oh my. Our isolation. It can be so easy to escape to within deep in ourselves and thus so easily avoid others and actually experiencing life through someone else's eyes for the brief moments possible. Never to know another view. Then someone is let into our world as we step into theirs and....There is the clutching passion. There is pulling back. There is confusion and remorse and its a wonder that thinking people can stay in a relationship. And here they are on an island where innocent animals are being butchered and one lonely man blamed and....But Bergman with cinema photographer Sven Nykvist tell it so beautifully.

02 January 2013

Oh Heavens! That Gate's About to Bust


Used to be that New Year's Day was for being depressed and hungover watching bowl games in which teams I didn't like defeated teams I didn't care about. Yesterday I had a massive headache as if at least part of my body wanted to relive the old days. The rest of me was fine and not at all hungover owing to my being abstemious.  These days I generally eschew watching football except for the real kind they play in England and other parts of the world. And so today I watched my favorite British footballers, Arsenal, battle to a one all draw with Southampton. That was it for me and sports for the day.

I tittered at twitter. I body surfed the web and was sucked momentarily out to the sea of ennui that comes from idle interneting. I dabbled unsuccessfully at chores the best of which was planning the France/Italy trip the missus and I are taking in May. But a sizable chunk of my first day of 2013 was taken up by my first ever viewing of Heaven's Gate (1980). All three hours and thirty nine minutes of it.

I paused a few times to stretch my legs get a bite to eat and yell at the stupid cat who couldn't decide whether she wanted to be in the house or out stalking mice. During one of my earlier breaks I went to Amazon.com and added the new Criterion edition of Heaven's Gate to my wish list in hopes that I get it for my birthday (hints all around).

So yes. I liked it a lot.

Of course the film has a notorious history having brought down a studio and destroyed a brilliant young directing career. It cost a J.P. Morgan like fortune to make and critics were not initially wowed (in that they hated it) and audiences stayed away in droves. This is as much as I knew about Heaven's Gate for decades aside from Christopher Walken and Kris Kristofferson being in it and being set in the range wars of 1890s Wyoming. In recent months I have become increasingly aware that an increasing number of film enthusiasts have increasingly warmed to it and increasingly there have been those who have called it a masterpiece. Increase.

Much of the reassessment came after a director's cut release at the Venice and New York film festivals last Fall followed by the Criterion release two months ago. Of course Heaven's Gate's first  reviews were based on the butchered version then released to theaters. They were also negatively influenced by the stories of director Michael Cimino's wretched excess during production including astronomical cost overruns. To be charitable Cimino's behavior during filming was eccentric and uneconomical. Perhaps a more even handed assessment is that he went bat shit. But that's a story I'm not well enough versed in to detail. The book Final Cut by Steven Bach evidently details the whole story. Goddamn it I guess I need to read that book now too.

The Heaven's Gate I watched yesterday is in the great tradition of American historical fiction story telling. Epic. In its sweep and intent Heaven's Gate is as rich bawdy brash unapologetic and outsized and ambitious and bloody as America itself. There is an unflinching and focused eye on the very rough and tumble and murderous and ugly forming of the continental United States. It is also one of the most gorgeous films I've ever laid eyes on. Scenic backdrops like Glacier National Park in Montana have a little something to do with that.

Cimino likes grandeur. As his previous film  -- Deer Hunter (1978) which won the best picture Oscar and made him a hot enough property that he could call his own shots -- demonstrated he's not averse to long scenes of pomp circumstance and dance. One of his idols a fella by the name of John Ford also loved these types of long pauses in his action films but Cimino took them to a new level. Some feel these scenes are drawn out. Well not me.

I really liked pretty much every frame of Heaven's Gate. I loved the attention to detail the minimalist dialogue the well drawn characters and the manner in which the camera held certain shots just a tick longer than you'd expect. I loved the fearlessness of it. No bloody wonder it took a studio down with it. No wonder it was reviled and mocked and avoided. It ate itself. A victim of its director's excesses. How symbolic that a story of this nature detailing greed and unbridled hatred and perversions of justice would wreak so much havoc itself. Yet here it is over 30 years later and it is alive and well in a new form and is as vibrant and meaningful as the best of Ford and Tarantino. In fact I'd argue that there is a bit of Heaven's Gate in Tarantino's last two films (Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained -- if you don't know) but with less seriousness and more dialogue.

Heaven's Gate also features scenes at a Harvard graduation and on a yacht off Newport. It has a mean as bad whiskey Sam Waterston and a young Jeff Bridges and old Joseph Cotten and a luscious Isabelle Huppert and a perpetually drunk philosophizing John Hurt.




Made for a New Year's Day well spent and the headache is gone and I really need to get to the gym and thank you for reading this far......Hug?