28 September 2013

Yak Yak Yak The Art of Conversation

There's a chap at work who doesn't so much talk to co workers as pontificate. Much of what he says comes in long speeches usually fact based with strong tinctures of opinion. There's typically not much to disagree with when he ascends his soapbox but it is nonetheless unpleasant to be exposed to someone who turns conversations into personal sermons. There is something terribly off putting about a person who feels he's doing the world a great favor by bloviating on topics both recent and historical. I've noticed others peel away when he starts in but usually one poor sap is left behind to nod and mumble until the blowhard's trap mercifully shuts.

I have another co worker who I've tried very much to like and and chat with and we have in fact had many conversations that I've enjoyed. However he has a tendency to turn a how-was-your-weekend question into an opportunity to share excruciating detail about matters too mundane to care about. Some people not only think the trivial matters of their life are interesting to one and all but are oblivious to the fact that they are rambling on for 90% of any given conversation. Conversations are supposed to be dialogues between two or more people and should never be dominated by anyone who has not either just scaled Mt. Everest or arrested Whitey Bulger.

There was for a time at my job someone who everyone liked even those of us who also despised him. He was what some people would call "a character." A unique individual with a colorful manner a rich sense of humor and an easy charm. But I've never met anyone so self possessed. Ever. Period. When he was in a room all conversation flowed through him. When he left a room people were free to share in a conversation of their own making with everyone an equal partner. I recall one instance in which three of us were engaged in a nice chat and then Mr. Ego walked in. Seeing no way to access our conversation he finally said to the one of us "dude, check out this trailer" and showed him a you tube video of a forthcoming film. He killed our conversation deader than a mackerel.

Talking to another person isn't easy but it shouldn't be hard. It's meant to be a shared experience. Granted if one person needs to vent or share an extraordinary event or has an area of expertise that will help illuminate then sure they should  hold forth. For a bit. But we need to honor one another by listening. We all want to be listened to and so its incumbent upon us to return the favor. Of course this requires an awareness that many people don't possess. During a conversation try asking yourself if what your saying is interesting to anyone else or if it is something you really need to say. If a relationship of some length is ending then feel free to bare your soul provided of course that the listener is close enough to you to care. Meanwhile the details of your nasty cold or your obnoxious neighbor or the new goldfish you bought may be things you want to severely edit for brevity.

Talking is an area where I've shown massive improvement over the past few years. As a teacher I am forever conscious of not boring those souls who enter my classroom. This was a gargantuan task when I taught middle school but as an ESL teacher of young adults it is a reasonable assignment to give oneself. I apply the same principal of boredom avoidance in conversations. This is best done by sharing relevant information or insights and doing so succinctly. You also have more latitude to talk if you are being funny (a speciality of mine) or have a story to tell. I also remind myself to stop and listen and allow the person equal time if not more.

I spent a great number of years among drunks having been one myself at the time. People who are inebriated or high on other substances are particularly prone to rambling diatribes. While some people can remain quite articulate while in an altered state of consciousness the vast majority of folks who mix drugs or alcohol with conversation are slurring bores not averse to submitting enormous lies as cold hard facts. I was sure guilty. I don't know how many people heard me claim that I'd met Paul McCartney's aunt in a Liverpool pub. For some reason when I told the very true story of scoring the winning goal in a state championship soccer game I appended the account with the falsehood that I followed the goal scoring celebration by flipping off the opposing fans. And if any of you reading this ever heard me say that I disarmed a gunman I'm sorry but it never happened. Stop the presses on the book you were writing.

Of course one must realize that people still lie even when stone cold sober though the instances are far more infrequent and generally harmless. People are more commonly guilty of exaggeration which is usually a victimless crime. Really though are our lives --  or at the very least our observations -- should be interesting enough that we needn't resort to prevarications. And if your life is really so terribly mundane and you are totally incapable of offering a meaningful insight (believe me this applies to large swath of people many of whom chatter on incessantly) have the good sense to shut up about it. Listening is polite. Not talking is also an option. An exchange of "how you doing?" "pretty good and you?" "fine thanks" followed by carrying on with non verbal tasks is perfectly fine. Save talking for when you have a something to say.

I close with this. At the workplace earlier this week I overhead snippets of a conversation which included one person saying "I'm a Cancer so I like to cook." I always think it wonderful that people don't confine themselves to a world with science and empirical facts and rational thinking. It's such a delight when people decide that the alignment of the stars at the time of their birth has played a role in determining the type of person they are. It makes about as much sense as believing that an invisible entity in the "heavens" is guiding us and protecting us although he lets some of die from cancer or in car accidents or by random gunfire. The people on planet Earth -- you couldn't make some of this shit up.

22 September 2013

Thoughts at the End of a Saturday That are Posted at the Beginning of a Sunday

I saw pictures today. Of people who I hadn't seen in years. The pictures were taken today and posted on the internet. The people are older and looked it for the most part. They are not the same as I remember them. I have googled ex girlfriends and have been shocked to see that they are older looking now then when I knew them literally decades ago. I am sometimes quite stupid.

We drove youngest daughter to college today. UC Davis is about 80 miles from here. I'm proud of my baby but miss her already. She called and said its weird to be in her new home. She was lonely and having to get used to new surroundings. She'll be fine. So will I. We'll all be fine. One way or the other. There's no choice but to eventually be fine. You at least have to look at it that way. If you don't what are you left with? Sadness I guess. Screw that.

I'm so excited. I'm quite late to the party but I've started watching Breaking Bad. Yeah I know. Just before the series ends. I've watched the first six episodes in four days. I'm loving it and look forward to another month or so of watching and enjoying until I catch up with everyone else who has watched and enjoyed. Aforementioned youngest daughter among them. Maybe I'll write about the show sometime. Maybe not. Can't say.

We got some rain today. Needed it. I like rain. Some people don't. I guess they like deserts. I guess they don't mind droughts. I guess water is offensive to them. I guess I'll never understand people who don't like rain. Seems silly to me. When rain ends the air is cleaner and smells nice and grass and plants are greener and the water supply is replenished. Plus when the rain is coming down it makes a pretty sound.

Approximately 82 people a day are killed by gunfire in the US. And yet people worry about terrorism. Are willing to yield civil liberties to feel safe from terrorism. But trying to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental problems is seen as a threat to our constitutional rights. People can be such idiots. They really can.

I complain about people a lot but I have met many who I like and a few I love. People can be pretty cool. There are many in entertainment sports literature and the like who have provided a lot of entertainment for us all. There are also people who have invented or fine tuned things to make life more comfortable and enjoyable. There have been political and philosophical leaders who have improved the lot of people in general. And there have been people in medicine and science who've developed cures and treatments for ailments. But there are also people who are just really nice. People who are not famous or considered important but contribute to our planet and are fun or interesting to talk to. I like them.

I'm reading John Updike right now. There is a certain conventionality about his writing as there is with many Ivy League educated authors. It's like they're insiders. Quite different are the outsiders like Kerouac and Pynchon and to go back even further Joyce. There's nothing particularly wrong or right with either style. It's like different genres. The main function of a novel should be to tell a story. To tell it well. To create interesting characters. To allow the reader to find ideas and thus be able to think. I don't like writers to be preachy or obvious. I want them to tell stories in a way that allows me to find meaning. Same with film directors. Let us figure it out. Otherwise you're just producing a political pamphlet. And who needs that. Am I right?

Bill Moyers did a long interview with Robert Reich this week in which the central topic was income inequality. It's growing like mad in the U.S. The richest 440 people in this country have more money than the bottom 150 million. This is why I'm a socialist. But Reich was actually optimistic that there would be a change like with the Progressive Era and the New Deal. Hope he's right.

I'm teaching my students (ESL international school students from all over the world) prepositions. Do you have any idea how hard it is for them to get when to put prepositions and when not to and where and which ones. There's so damn many of them. By for to at in on under between across from. Etc. It's okay. They just have to be patient with themselves. That can be difficult. I constantly have to tell students to relax that they're not going to be fluent over night. Or over week. That's not a thing is it? I mean over week. Could be though.

I should go to bed. I'm going to test my recently injured achilles tendon (just a strain I think) with a good long run tomorrow. Or not. If it acts up its back to the stationary bike. I love to run. Cleans out my brain. Enriches my soul. And the endorphin high. Killer diller. Tomorrow -- which it already actually is -- should be okay. Will be. Today -- which is now tomorrow -- was okay. I'll take it.

14 September 2013

The Deafening Roar of Berman's The Silence

I grew up among Finns. I remember some of the women who ranged in age from their late twenties to early forties. They had what I later came to consider an innocuous beauty. They were tall blonde perfectly clean looking women with light tans. These were healthy women with a serious nature but a ready smile. Good drinkers decent cooks and undoubtedly skilled lovers. But even as a child I sensed a certain vacuity. I could never figure out what they were about or if they had any vision or original ideas. There was something cookie cutter about them and even as I grew into and beyond adolescence they did nothing much to stir my loins. They were like an army of aunts to be appreciated and respected.

The co-stars of Ingmar Bergman's The Silence (1963) Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom are physical prototypes of these women. The same firm and handsome women smart and coy but oddly uninteresting. Until that is we see them in private.

What I failed to realize as a lad was that these Finnish women were putting on a culturally imbedded public performance bereft of emotion. All sleek lines and unmannered cordiality. The truth was that at home either alone or with husbands or lovers they let their hair down. Literally and figuratively.

Thulin and Lindblom are characters whose hair is down. Way down. There are still no over the top theatrics. There is no flamboyance. That would be contrary to their natures. But we see the older sister Ester (Thulin) dying -- really the ultimate performance of one's life. And we see younger sister   Anna (Lindblom) seducing a stranger. There ya go.

We also meet Anna's Johan (Jorgen Lindstrom) a very nordic if bookish looking lad of about nine. He is a toy-pistol-toting wanderer full of love and curiosity. Most of his meandering is in the large seemingly vacant hotel which provides the setting for most of The Silence. Besides our three central characters we meet an elderly porter who speaks not a word of Swedish -- nor do the visitors speak whatever the deuce his language is supposed to be -- and a company of vaudevillian dwarves. Of course. If there are to be no other guests than surely there must be a company of dwarves and Spanish speakers at that.

Did I mention that whatever country they're in -- Eastern European? -- seems to be preparing for war? Tanks and a sense of impending conflict lurk just outside.

The weather is sultry. The film seems to sweat.

Death and sex and coldness in hot weather and the threat of war and young boy and and old man and the desperate groping grasping hungry nature of life interrupted by ennui and stultifying conditions and the anger and hatred and love and wonder that mix together into the brew of life that we sup on so earnestly or carelessly or thoughtlessly or purposefully. We do.

The sisters love/hate each other like siblings often do. Most of us really hate and love those close to us. We generally lean one way or the other but that pendulum can swing baby.

The Silence was made around the same time as Antonioni's trilogy of alienation. The Silence recalls some of the same sense of beautiful people leading empty lives making there way down corridors or streets and through bedrooms not sure what they're looking for or if indeed there is anything to be found. So alone whether with or without other people.

Anna is cruel to her dying sister. She makes sure Ester catches her "in the act" with the waiter. It's punishment. Anna tells her:  "You always harp on your principles and drone on about how important everything is. But it's all just hot air. You know why? I'll tell you. Everything centers around your ego. You can't live without feeling superior. That's the truth. Everything has to be desperately important and meaningful... and goodness knows what." Its not the only time a Bergman character has taken someone to task for being principled and supposedly superior. It is an oddly common criticism -- the perception that someone thinks well of themselves and holds to certain standards and consequently thinks themself superior.

I didn't much like The Silence the first time I saw it. I gave it a second shot and quite liked it. After my third viewing I thought it revelatory. It's the type of film in which so much happens when seemingly nothing is happening on screen. And there is such richness in those odd or confusing moments. It has great spaces in which to explore and create and ponder. I like that in a film.

It has also served to give a new life and meaning to people who I so carelessly classified as empty vessels. I'd like to go back and revisit those Finnish women of my childhood get to know them and understand them and appreciate that there were roiling cauldrons of life boiling within them. They were multi -ayered people too.

It was never just me.

09 September 2013

Nine Lists of Nine for 9/9

In honor of today being September 9 (9/9)  I present nine film lists of nine items each. In all cases I have been sure to include only films that I have seen and that bear my stamp of approval -- which means I think they're good. When I asked a German friend if he thought this was a good idea he said "nein, nein!" But I'm doing it anyway.

Nine Cary Grant Comedies
1. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
2. His Girl Friday (1940)
3. Holiday (1938)
4. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
5. I Was A Male War Bride (1949)
6. My Favorite Wife (1940)
7. Monkey Business (1952)
8. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
9. Topper (1937)

Nine Films With Important Meal Scenes
1. Big Night (1996)
2. Fanny and Alexander (1982)
3. Animal House (1978)
4. The Searchers (1956)
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
6. Amarcord (1973)
7. The Exterminating Angel (1962)
8. Django Unchained (2012)
9. Modern Times (1936)

Nine Movies with the Name of a City in the Title
1. Midnight in Paris (2011)
2. Casablanca (1942)
3. Tokyo Story (1953)
4. Shanghai Express (1932)
5. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
6. Rome, Open City (1945)
7. Fargo (1996)
8. Passage to Marsellies (1944)
9. In Bruges (2008)

Nine Movies With That Were Followed by Bad Sequels
1. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
2. Arthur (1981)
3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
4. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
5. Batman (1989)
6. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
7. Jaws (1975)
8. Topper (1937)
9. Rocky (1976)

Nine Movies With a Color in the Title
1. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
2. Reds (1981)
3. The Blue Angel (1930)
4. Purple Noon (1960)
5. The White Sheik (1952)
6. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
7. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
8. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
9. Jackie Brown (1997)

Nine Films With Drug or Alcohol Abusers
1. Half Nelson (2006)
2. Requiem For a Dream (2000)
3. Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
4. The Lost Weekend (1945)
5. Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
6. The Man With the Golden Arm (1955)
7. Blue Jasmine (2013)
8. Stagecoach (1939)
9. Lenny (1974)

Nine Films With Train Scenes
1. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
2. The General (1926)
3. Europa (1991)
4. Dr. No (1962)
5. The Train (1964)
6. Shanghai Express (1932)
7. Twentieth Century (1934)
8. Some Like it Hot (1959)
9. The 39 Steps (1935)

Nine Great Silent Films
1. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
2. Safety Last (1923)
3. The Gold Rush (1925)
4. Diary of a Lost Girl (1929)
5. Sunrise (1927)
6. The Big Parade (1925)
7. The General (1926)
8. The Lodger (1927)
9. What Price Glory (1926)

Nine Great Films Featuring Past or Future Sit Com Stars
1. To Be Or Not To Be (1942) Jack Benny
2. The Last Picture Show (1971) Cybill Sheperd
3. Stage Door (1937) Lucille Ball
4. 12 Angry Men  (1957) Jack Klugman
5. From Here to Eternity (1953) Ernest Borgnine
6. A Face in the Crowd  (1957) Andy Griffith
7. Aviator (2004) Alec Baldwin
8. The Hustler (1961) Jackie Gleason
9. Pulp Fiction (1994) John Travolta

03 September 2013

Lloyd Wins Dad's Approval - Wings is a Fine War Pic - Hitchcock's First Great Film and Chaplin's Brilliant Take on Der Fuhrer

I was the caretaker of my dreams
I danced to the tune of your laughter
I lived the perdition of yesterday's ecstasy
And still
Still I am here with this blog trying to defy the norms
(Oh yes and sometimes I write about films. Kazowie!)

I watched some films and wondered if they were watching me back. Like maybe they've got their eye on me. I can't explain it but I can sure feel it. Wonderful things films are. They can set are minds at ease or get them working furiously or mine our minds for mindfulness. They can devilishly bedevil us. But can they watch us from another dimension? 

Harold Lloyd is The Kid Brother (1927) fighting villains chasing the girl trying to earn the love and respect of dad the sheriff and his older brothers. That's a reality for a lot of sons. Wanting dad's approval (and daughters too). I've been a son and I am a dad. In one role you try to please in the other you try to show your pleasure. Lloyd had to bring in the bad guy to win pop's admiration. That's a tough go for a bespeckled lad of less than average build. But in the silent comedy world our heroes win the day no matter their size and best of all provide us with chuckles aplenty. Oh yes he may also get the girl (whatayou think?). It's not my favorite Lloyd but he made so many good ones that's hardly a slight.

Wings (1927) was the first Oscar Best Picture winner. It was a crowd pleaser then and still is. It set the precedent for the academy awarding the best pic Oscar to to a film that was not the best picture Sunrise was). Still it has nice moments most of which are in the air. It is a World War I aviator movie with a love story a story of brotherhood and friendship and it has a bit of Shakespearean tragedy to its melodramatic ending. But mostly its entertaining fun from director William Wellman who had been a flyer during the Great War. He was later to direct some of our greatest pre code films some outstanding westerns and WWII movies. Clara Bow is in Wings. Her life began and ended sadly but she left behind some good work as this film evidences.

Blackmail (1929) was shown recently at the PFA as part of their series of nine newly restored Alfred Hitchcock silents. It was my favorite. I had previously seen the talkie version of the same film which cannot hold a candle to this one. (Candle holding is difficult for intimate objects.) An attempted rape becomes a murder although at worst a manslaughter if viewed objectively and through modern eyes. Our heroine (Marie Ault who is wunderbar ) has a police detective boyfriend who is put on the case. Meanwhile a dastardly criminal has evidence of her role and threatens -- what else? -- blackmail!  From the director who was to go on to make some of the greatest films of the 20th century, Blackmail is -- for me -- easily one of his ten best. He was no novice at this point. This was film number 11 and his stride had been hit. Great stuff.

The Great Dictator (1940). This is a stunning movie to look back on. My god the brilliance of Charlie Chaplin to make this film when Hitler was not just in power but at his greatest glory. Of course Chaplin said he'd never have made it had he known just how bloody awful the Nazis were. We are fortunate that he was ignorant of the facts (while it is tragic that so many in power were either similarly ignorant or chose to ignore). In the nearly 75 years since no one -- no one -- has done a better job of satirizing lampooning and skewering Hitler. To do at that time and to evoke such genuine laughter is as much a testimony to Chaplin as you can come up with. And that speech at the end? You know the one the Little Tramp assumes the dictator's place on the podium and delivers an impassioned speech for humanity and against everything the evil tyrant stands for? That one. It has at times seemed hokey, overly long and repetitive to me. No more. We could use a little more of its sentiments today.

There have been other films that I've watched recently. But. Maybe I didn't care for one and don't like writing about movies I don't like. Maybe I have already written about the film. Maybe I have nothing much to say about the film. Maybe I am suffering from dengue fever or cholera or yellow jack or amoebic dysentery or dropsy or diphtheria or lockjaw or typhus or scurvy and so can't write more. Who knows?

02 September 2013

Mr. Lazy's Labor Day Post

Strange day. For the first time in months I had a lazy day. Very. Greatest exertion was a two block walk to Peet's with the missus where I got a latte. Watched three movies two of which were quite short one quite long. Read a bit from Updike’s first Rabbit book.

Played a lot of Words With Friends and kept up and caught up with all the web pages I frequent -- notably twitter. Also googled some past acquaintances. No great revelations on that front. It’s a devil of thing finding people with common names. Then a lot of folks have left few traces on the web. I have left many traces and am the only person in the world whose name is Richard Hourula so am quite easy to find. Maybe you just googled me. Here I am. My email address is listed so drop me a line. Unless you’re one of the few people in my life who I found particularly odious -- hello L. Udell -- I’ll respond and do so quite quickly. 

I’m that way. I can’t relax if there’s a personal email requiring a response that’s been sitting in my inbox for several days. There are many people who’ve I’ve written to who seem to receive emails and instantly forget that they ever arrived and that there are questions awaiting answers within them. For all my faults (and there are volumes of them) I do reply in a timely fashion. I’m also quite punctual. I hate keeping people waiting and I hate the notion of boring people and am mindful of how my part of a conversation is being received. I’m careful not to drone on or to touch upon topics that will not interest the listener. This is not always easy and I’ve certainly failed at times but I do pride myself on being self aware about such things.

One reason for my lethargy today is that I’ve worked the past 12 weeks without a break and that includes a commute that is frankly starting to wear on me. Summer at my place of employment is the most difficult time of year. Quite a contrast to my middle school teaching career when Summers were free of labor. Until two years ago I hadn’t worked in the Summer since my last Summer school gig in 1990. So I’ve been working hard and working out hard and had a few bouts of insomnia of late and there you have a recipe for someone who could stand a day of loafing. 

I’ll also be sure to add to this blog in the coming days of my much needed vacation. Sharing thought, insights and strong opinions on films I’ve viewed lately. The Hitchcock silents series at the PFA is over and I enjoyed that. Watched silents from other directors today.

Okay so all this pecking away at the keyboard has plum wore me out. It’s a few more pages of reading then off to bed for this lad. I know this wasn’t my most riveting post but I needed to do it and figure that sharing it with the world won’t do anyone any harm. I applaud your persistence in reading this far.