It has been too long since Molly died, and I’ve moved into a for real house and got a new pup. So to break my long spell I updated my About Me page. What do you think? Any suggestions?
It has been too long since Molly died, and I’ve moved into a for real house and got a new pup. So to break my long spell I updated my About Me page. What do you think? Any suggestions?
“Could you leave everything behind and start life all over again? Choose one thing and be faithful to it? Make it the reason for your existence?” The character of Guido Anselmi asks of Claudia Cardinale. The glowingly young and beautiful Claudia answers by asking him if he could. He has no answer.
8 1/2 AKA Otto e Mezzo, dir. Federico Fellini, 1963 is a film about a filmmaker without a film and without answers. Guido spends most of the film at a spa under the pretense of working on a new film, as he attempts to make sense of his life, while besieged by the questions and demands his producer, crew, actresses, critics, his mistress and his wife. Haunted by memories and dreams of his childhood, blending his fantasy and escapism with reality, Guido must confront the fact that he has, in fact, no answers at all, while discovering that he still has something to give.
I recently watched the wonderful Criterion Collection Blu-ray of this old, personal favorite. Certainly I had never seen such a beautiful copy in my life, which was a revelation in itself. But more importantly, somehow, this man’s tale resonated with me more now than it ever has.
8 1/2 is a film that anticipates every criticism you may have of it. Through Guido’s own expressions of self-doubt, the words of the ensemble cast, but most especially through the character of The Critic that Guido has hired to help him with his new film — 8 1/2 knows it is a selfish film, a sentimental, romanticized version of a man’s life. The film, and Guido himself, are well aware that Guido objectifies human beings — especially women — that he expects to be able to hide behind fantastic imagery, a beautiful soundtrack (by Nino Rota, also of The Godfather), and a cool suit and pair of shades. Guido lies, cheats and literally dances his way through the throngs of his troubles and the very real human beings that his selfishness and self-doubt affects. But in the end, as Guido comes to face the truth of his situation and own up to his lies and deceits (his affairs, his lack of a film, his inner-doubts and demons) we as the viewer find pity for him and our own imperfect selves.
The film is full of images of cleanliness, new beginnings and escape, personified by Guido’s fantasies of the young Claudia. While set at a spa (from Latin sanum per aqua – health through water) Guido pursues his dreams of escaping the messy reality of his life. Meanwhile, his crew and producer fret over the cost of the gigantic space-ship they are constructing for the non-existent film, in which Guido imagines the human race will escape a post-atomic Earth in search of a new Eden.
When Guido’s producer forces him to attend a press-conference to announce the film before the hulking and unfinished rocket-ship, he must confront the truth. His panic causes him to seek refuge under a table and fantasize, or not, that he’s put a bullet through his head. But as he gets in his car afterwards, it is clear that he has come clean last. The film is cancelled. And finally — having accepted his role in the human drama and as director again — the entire film’s cast gathers as he directs them in a dance, holding hands, in a circle.
He confesses to his lovely, yet embittered wife (Anouk Amiee), “Luisa, I feel I’ve been freed…Everything is confused again, as it was before. But this confusion is me.” And he is able to join with her and the rest in the dance again. There may be no answers, but he’s begun again in honesty.
Behind these sunglasses, this confusion is me.
There’d be days like these. Also, nobody told me that adults could get mono. I’ve slept for a week straight. A sleep of oblivion. I am the sleeping dead.
This is that Lenten time of year when we are forced to reflect upon ourselves, but how does one reflect through fever-sweat dreams? My Time is my most precious commodity. But what can I do with Time when I’ve lost why that is so precious? My mental capacity. I cannot think. If I cannot think, I am not…I am not myself at any rate.
All of this upsets me more because of the momentum I had built up in my writing. Gone. I have flashes of thoughts that disappear into a drugged fog. People talk at me, I can’t form a response. I can’t even watch movies.
All I can do is sit here with the soundtrack to Barry Lyndon, watch the snow and rain. There’s a cat on my lap. My dog sleeps. And but for a flute, all is silent.
Instead of only binge-watching TV series this winter, I have been watching a ton of movies. Which is great. That’s one of the things winter is for right? I got a whole new living room simply in preparation for this winter. I wanted to get snowed in and watch some movies. Score!
Actually, I wondered when BF and I went shopping for TVs if his choice weren’t a bit in the gauche, over-sized way. I’m glad I decided to trust him on that. If you love movies, get a big frickin TV! Duh me.
Anyhow, every time I get a bigger TV, I have to rewatch everything ever again. Well the big ones: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lawrence of Arabia, The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions, Star Wars, Citizen Kane, you get the, uh, picture. And WOW! It’s like seeing the film again for the first time, but better.
You can see all of these wonderful things going on that you maybe never noticed or forgot. I spent a lot of The Shining finding continuity errors in Shelley Duvall’s cigarette, while simultaneously registering the full shock of that vision of horror unfold in all its steadi-cam glory. Watching Kane, I really felt how large and looming a presence the character of Charles Kane truly is. Orson Welles is always shot from below. Or in giant extreme close-ups of his face. The end when he’s looming over Joseph Cotton felt so intimidating in the newspaper room. Xanadu felt vast and empty. And I could just cry over being able to really appreciate the depth of field thing…
Movies are just meant to be on a big screen. That sounds like a tautology, but when I was a kid I was watching pan and scan VHS copies of Star Wars! So this is a big deal. Yes, I did have the opportunity of seeing several re-releases and smaller venue showings of some amazing movies, and of course I remember the agony of the wait between Lord of the Rings movies. But, for most of my life, I’ve experienced some of the best films ever all wrong. Finally I can appreciate the films they were meant to be.
The sound helped too. I finally got to feel that shock-wave of Sauron’s destruction in the prologue of Fellowship of the Ring again. Yeeesss. I was giggling at how cool the Star Wars sound effects truly are. And 2001 has awesome sound design! I never knew this! Blew my mind to hear it properly . . . for the first time! It’s sad that I didn’t know this. But now I got to experience it. I’m just grateful. It’s like touching god for a film geek.
Personally, I think TV ruined film for a long time. Visually and technically marvelous films gave way to smaller, less imaginative films due to the technological limitations of home entertainment. But now that just about anyone can appreciate the true intention of films with stunning audio/visual at home, that has effected new movies. Since Interstellar, The Martian, Inside Out, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Mad Max: Fury Road can be appreciated just as well, if not in some manner better, on a TV screen, I’d imagine that has an effect on what movies are getting made. Can’t hurt Star Wars. Heck, they could just re-release the Original Trilogy WITHOUT the later “special” effects added over the years. I’d buy that along with just about everyone.
But it’s not only spectacle films that benefit, necessarily. Although, that’s definitely happening. Movies with careful cinematography and craft will benefit as well. I’d rather see Woody Allen’s Manhattan in all that glorious black and white on a large screen. Not to mention that score! Birdman, Ex Machina give me this vibe.
Hey, movies are what they are because of the format in which they’re meant to be viewed: BIG and LOUD. That’s why MGM made so much money off of Gone with the Wind. It’s huge and colorful with swelling music and dramatic dialogue delivery. There’s a ton to look at and take it. It’s gorgeous and thrilling, big and loud. You know if you don’t dig that sort of thing, you probably don’t like movies.
Heading into February, I still have a long list of films to watch and re-watch. I gotta through my guys Fellini and Kurosawa. I’m actually really looking forward to one of my personal (and I’m not sure why!) films, Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Ok, I love it because it’s perfect. Everything is perfect. The casting, the tone, the cadence, the production design, the music… the lighting. And I like what it has to say. It also makes me really root for the French Revolution to hurry up and happen.
Anyhow, what have you guys been watching or planning to watch? Now’s the time!
One of my many nerd-denominations is Sherlockian. I owe an existential debt to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When I got to third grade, I had run out of Nancy Drew stories, so I started reading Sherlock Holmes. I sat there with the dictionary my Dad gave me and looked up the words I didn’t understand. I didn’t get it all, but I did so well on my language testing that my teacher announced it to the whole class. Then everyone laughed at me, and I comforted myself that some day I’d be just like Sherlock Holmes, and they would all still be stupid. (Hey, I was in 3rd grade! Leave me alone.) Anyhow, Sherlock Holmes is a great nerd mentor. He confirmed my belief in the beauty and power of a curious human mind. He taught me that magic is something awesome you just don’t understand…yet.
Sherlock Holmes adventures unfold like a magic trick. Usually they begin with Holmes whiny and pissy because he’s got nothing to do and the world is stupid and he hates how dull everything ever is. And then there’s Watson getting irritated because he’s trying to read the paper. So he jumps in and starts challenging Holmes. Into this bickering, the plot appears in the form of a messenger or a lady or some strange person. While Watson listens patiently to the inciting incident, Holmes just sits there until he hears some bit that is just slightly odd, “outre” was his phrase. Then we follow Watson follow Holmes on the adventure. In the end, Holmes gives Watson the “need to know” for a cunning plan. Excitement ensues, and then everyone asks Holmes “How did you ever…?” And Holmes’ intellectual vanity overwhelms him so he explains how he figured out who-dunnit. Then everyone, except our lovely Watson, is like “Oh! That was easy.” Poor Holmes goes home and plays some lonely violin, while Watson takes the girl to dinner.
So, for most of the story, you are Watson. You don’t see what Holmes is seeing, you simply see him, through Watson, doing his thing. So when the reveal happens, you feel Watson’s wonder at the “magic” of his friend. And it’s not cheap magic. The magic of Holmes is the magic of watching the beauty and splendor of the workings of a human mind. And a great and creative mind too. I’ll take that sort of magic as much and as often as I can. It’s the most wondrous thing that I know of in the Universe, and that’s a pretty big and wondrous place.
So what? Well, I get asked a lot about my thoughts on spirituality especially in relation to my creativity, and a lot of folks are shocked that I can find all the magic and meaning and inspiration I could ever want in just life, the Universe and everything. In the mysteries big and small. Holmes took cases because they tickled his curiosity, and he read a world of import and significance into scratches on watches, in a person’s shoes, in types of soil. He was infinitely fascinated by his world. And so am I. What more could anyone want than to be alive and have a brain capable of observing, learning and reflecting on this amazing world full of infinite expressions of Universal laws?
To me the magic of Holmes also reflects the magic of a Mozart or Newton or Michelangelo or Shakespeare, of great generals and leaders, of people who use their investigation of the world and its workings to discover, imagine and create. This world is so full, as Holmes observed “No ghosts need apply.” There’s just so much out there that really exists. And it’s all awesome. This Watson thanks Holmes for turning her on to that magic. And to everyone out there making awesome from the world, thanks. “My blushes, Watson!”
“The Cosmos is also within us. We are made of star stuff. And we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan
Memoirs of a Traveler: In the Beginning
by, Jessica Lakis
Chapter 1: I Slept and Am Awoken
The midday sun assaulted my eyelids. They submitted and shut. The sun burrowed through them into my brain. I think the beer at The Drunken Barleyman must have been stronger last night. Maybe I if I just slept…
The elbow of Mec, my esteemed colleague, in my ribs, “The contract! Where is it?” I felt his spit in my ear.
I blindly laid my hand out on the table in front, put my hand on the document, passed it to him, stuck my hands into my waistband, and tried again.
“And the precedent! Keep your eyes open! If you at least pretended to be interested in your work you’d get on better, you know.”
His concern was always touching. I couldn’t ever ask him to stop. Gods forbid I should stop someone from doing what makes them happy. I pried my eyes open enough to be struck blind, but managed to again supply Mec with the documents.
The day was hot, and the morning’s cases were typical — contractual disputes over property or marriage, but usually both. But Mec was a predator. He pounced on each as fresh prey to feed his ambition and reputation. I suppose I admired that. He could care so much about something so small. That’s most likely why I worked for him. He also knew my habits, and he paid.
This morning the object of the hunt was some poor sod-tiller. The man probably didn’t know his seal from the King’s. But he relented before Mec’s attack. He identified the seal on the contract as his own. Fines were settled. The farmer shuffled out of the courtyard with his head down.
Mec wedged his body onto the bench next to mine. “Excellent breakfast!” Evidently onions. “Now the feast!”
“Feast?” I asked. I pitied his fleshy palms for being so rigorously submitted to the moist contact of one another. I saved no pity for my own flesh, to which he painfully transferred some of that red and sweat via my back.
“The Foreigner, Jackal! The Foreigner!” I’m not really sure how I had acquired the appellation of “Jackal.” I’ve born other names, I took this one indifferently. That was my name then.
The Foreigner, defended by Mec, was charged with what you’d call treason. Being Mec’s researcher, among other things, it had been my job to run about the City finding the truth of the Foreigner’s character. His crime amounted to being a member of a Northern Tribe during a time of general anxiety within the City regarding that clan. During such times, officials were prone to offer incentives to good citizens for information regarding plots and conspiracies to help focus the distress of the people. Such was the case of the Foreigner.
Afternoon cases promised dismemberment, disfigurement, or public shaming at the least. Today’s promised death. I prepared for a large crowd.
Mec prepared himself with more vigorous fat, sweaty hand rubbing. I was actually a little surprised that the wittnesses against the Foreigner dared losing a limb again. I guess liars also have bar debts. Maybe more than others. I imagined Mec was considering how to best hack them up for the offering. Which chop first and where. He was a crude butcher, but effective with guidance.
The stench of bloodlust. The citizens began to choke the baking courtyard. I looked up and traced the flowering vines along the lintels. Not much hope of shade from the Sun of the Immutable Law in them.
Following one of these tangles of green and life down, I found Her. High. High above me in the benches opposite my low table.
Separate. Apart. Beyond. Her face, no it was her entire self, focused into a beam of intense concern and honest pity. And that soft strong light focused on the figure now presented to the Court. The Foreigner. I hated him.
A time of paranoia. A time of threats within and without. An old way of life has been discarded in favor of a new world of new ideas, sacred and profane. Burning convictions, resentment, plots, a controversial leader, terror and Holy War. Being on the wrong side of the state is ruin, and the wrong side of your faith, damnation. A time of darkness and confusion desperate for a light.
Welcome to Elizabethan England. The treacherous world inhabited by William Shakespeare. The man who reinvented a nation on the edge of destruction.
“You can take away cricket, you can lose the last night of the Proms, you can even lose an empire, but if you lose Shakespeare — as far as I’m concerned — there is no England anymore.” Declares historian Simon Schama in the opening of his series Shakespeare and Us.
This two-part BBC series (available on Curiosity Stream) places us in the fraught world of Shakespeare. A time when the Pope had granted a ticket to paradise to whoever would kill the “bastard” and Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. Barely a generation after her father Henry VIII had made his separation with Rome, his son had smashed the ancient stained-glass windows of the churches, and his first daughter had attempted to reinstate the old religion through terror; Elizabeth replaced the worship of the Virgin Mary with the cult of the Virgin Queen. Meanwhile, her spies instituted a security state to stave off rebellion from within, as the Catholic monarchs of Europe eyed her crown from abroad.
If ever Joseph Campbell’s insistence that all ages need their unifying myth were true, then Shakespeare’s was such an age. And he had a powerful new means to communicate his vision: the stage. The subject he chose was England herself. The time, the Wars of the Roses, the bloody civil wars over the crown of England. And by turning those exhausting slog-fests of names and dates into exciting drama, unforgettable characters and thrilling action, he created a new vision of England. One that the English have relied upon through the centuries, whether during the Blitz or to this day.
But for the heroic patriotism of the cry “For Harry, England and St. George!” Shakespeare’s vision was not one of blind nationalism nor of cynical criticism. Instead he used his history plays “to hold a mirror up” to his own times. To reveal both the heroes and the villains, the high and the low, the centers of power and the landscape of the sceptred isle in its honest glory.
With infinite compassion, Shakespeare laid before his audiences themselves, their land, their leaders. A vision as wide, gentle yet crude, loving and base, comic and tragic, as all-encompassing as old Jack Falstaff himself. And, in doing so, he created an idea that could touch all of England’s people, caution its leaders and comment on his times.
We live in times like Shakespeare’s. A similar moment. The old myths of our nation may be dead, but they haunt us daily in the victim’s of mass shootings by the disaffected and deranged who cling desperately to an older vision of the world. They’re in our desire to protect both our selves, our nation and our liberty. Present in our fear of war, of our neighbors and nations, of immigrants, of pretenders, of tyrants, of our past, of this ever-changing world.
Our national dialogue has devolved into two choirs endlessly preaching to themselves. The only interaction between the two camps of this new civil war exist online in nasty Facebook memes and hateful comments, and in confrontations between the armed and unarmed on our streets.
Everyone deplores the chaos, cries out for it to end. But we don’t know how to even begin.
In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell warned about the chaos of a culture without a unifying myth. Shakespeare responded to the hero’s “call to adventure”, traversed the “dark forest”, faced the dragon and returned with a boon to mankind. Today we must all respond to this call. We must all be heroes.
We must search for the raw materials from which to reconstruct our myth of America, liberty, fraternity and equality, the West, the world. Learn to transform our hatreds and fears into understanding and empowerment. Discover how to use that great force of communication of our day, the internet, as Shakespeare used the stage.
Whether the subject be in space, or fantasy, modern drama, our own history or a combination, I am unsure. But I am certain we all need to look for that thing that will the hold the mirror up to ourselves, to allow us all to laugh and weep and thrill and, finally, to heal.
That other “Great” man of England, King Alfred said, “In prosperity a man is often puffed up with pride, whereas tribulations chasten and humble him…In the midst of prosperity the mind is elated…in hardship he is forced to reflect on himself, even though he be unwilling.”
In this time of hardship, no matter how unwilling or afraid, we must force ourselves to reflect, to accept the hero’s call like Shakespeare. And we must do it in the manner of Shakespeare: with exacting honesty, unflagging commitment and all-soothing compassion. We must use our new great medium as Shakespeare used his stage, to spread what our reflection teaches us. The time of the “Great Man” who changes history may be past, but today, with the internet, we can all be great. Billions of heroes, billions of great people, singing their portion of a great song of a great people.
What will your verse be?
I love the term “curse-bless.” I think I first read it in a Dylan Thomas poem. And there’s no better way to describe being from Philadelphia than as a curse-blessing. I call it “The Rocky Syndrome.”
Philly is a great town to learn the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: “All life is suffering.” Sandwiched between our nation’s capital and the inimitable New York City, Philadelphia must struggle to define itself. A struggle that often manifests in the town’s well-publicized “addy-tood.” And I’ve spent my life struggling to reconcile myself to it.
Part historical treasure, part post-industrial collection of neighborhoods and failed factories; travel where I will I find two names associated with the place: Ben Franklin and Rocky Balboa. But everyone mentions Rocky first.
And I can’t blame them. Rocky is a truly great film that transcends culture and language to touch people on a gut level of existence. And while the language-crossing may be down to Rocky’s own struggle with English, who can’t help but feel like and for Rocky?
The film itself is a series of body-blows, and it all comes down to one man’s ability to take those blows and remain standing at the end. He loses the fight, but earns his own respect. Two hours of pain and struggle for one moment of glory and release. Like life. A lot like life in Philadelphia.
Rocky, like every “filu’fian,” is obsessed with being a “bum.” In case you don’t listen to sport radio, that’s what Philly fans call their teams or players whenever they stop living up to their potential. When they lose heart they become a bum.
No one likes a bum. No one wants to be a bum. Rocky shows us how not to be a bum. And there’s no better place to learn that most difficult of lessons than in Philly. And yet it’s so easy to slip into.
Philly’s a tough, gritty, depressing town. For all the advertisement, unless you’re in medicine or pharmaceuticals, it’s a great place to become a bum or, if you’re ambitious, get out of. And even if you do, it’ll haunt you, well, Rocky will.
You can learn to enunciate, you can even do well for yourself — go back in the ring against your personal Apollo Creed or Clubber Lang — but deep down inside you wonder if you haven’t lost heart. . . if you have, indeed, still wound up a bum.
Like the curse-blessing he is, Rocky himself shows us the way out. Think of Rocky’s training compared to Apollo Creed’s. Rocky gets up, puts on his Chuck Taylor’s and old grey sweats and drinks raw eggs before he goes out to run the Art Museum steps. It’s about doing what you can with what you have at hand, not the spiff accessories of success.
It’s also about loving Adrian. About taking the girl in the glasses out ice-skating after hours. About telling her that she’s beautiful until she believes it. It’s when she loves you even though you may lose.
Nobody is guaranteed some big win in life. But if we can have the heart to take the punches, to fall and get back up and to be standing when that final bell rings, we don’t have to be bums. As much as it pains me, here’s one Philadelphia intellectual whose glad to claim Rocky. And now I’m going to go beat up a side of beef…