His near stammering. With disconcerting promptness one word hid behind another. -- Maurice Blanchot, Le Dernier Homme Contact me: red3ad (at) yahoo (dot) com


Kingdom Come 

I write to a friend, I say “I hope you are writing.” What do I mean by this?-- What is this expression of faith, faithless faith... an expression, a wish that subtends a greater wish that writing can mean, will mean.
That despite my dire pronouncements, I trust... writing’s trust.

I’m tired and times, images and sounds run together, it looks like 8mm movie film; driving the backstreets of Cleveland, Grenadine’s “Speeding” is playing, the car gets stuck in the snow, there’s laughter, stations shift, lights of downtown -- suddenly we’re in the photo on the back cover of a Pere Ubu album... The Voice of the Sand, 49 Guitars & One Girl, and she quotes Jabes. Things fade in and out, turning onto the interstate, a dried leaf fluttering under the wiper blade, and the lights blur into the pavement hum...



Once upon a time. Reading The Recognitions. & the desire to write a novel. And realizing its impossibility. So too with Concrete. The Book of Disquiet. The Waves. Middlemarch.
Later, Carole Maso's Ava. Robert Pinget's Passacaglia. Reading. Re-reading.
Gertrude Stein... "Anything can be in a novel." Like cinema, it readily -- it CAN readily -- admit many things: poetry, without the special pleading of the "poetic,"; philosophy; a drawing... something scribbled in steam

assuming exile

assuming the world


Rain, and. 

Rain, and. And the desire to get on a train and head north, sit by the water, in the rain, and watch the waves come in. Put on The Carter Family's Last Victor Sessions; some of the song titles tell the story: "Dark and Stormy Weather"; "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room"; "Waves on the Sea." Read a post at Spurious earlier that contained the lines "I think I hate what goes by the name literature. And I know I hate writing." Lately, I've been muttering to myself, a sort of mantra, the phrase hatred of poetry. Except for Wednesday evening, when I had the chance to hear two friends read. (Not that friendship made the evening; the friendships began the other way around). margareta waterman wrote:
"It is the nature of the message that it cannot be proclaimed."
I thought of a large mass of people, M/multitude if you will, marching, and that phrase appearing on a banner.

Resignation. Notebook.


slow horizon 

The intimation of a mood, or book. Below the horizon, below ground: in the subway tunnel, one senses a subtle change of pressure caused by the passage of a train, as yet unheard, unseen.
As a weather system moves in, displacing air: a breeze rises, in contrast with the surrounding air, turning the leaves, exposing their undersides -- the unease that prefaces realization.


Cinema's promise 

When I was in high school, I took up running. I loved the interiority of it: I set my own limits and tested them, and while running, there was, as runners will tell you, only the road. I’m not sure if I verbalized it as such then, but it was the meditative dimension that attracted me -- the sense of constant present, the privacy / privation, the endurance. Let me simply say its non-intellectual qualities and leave it at that.
On Friday nights the local public television station aired “serious” cinema -- classics, more non-commercial or unconventional fare. (My introduction to Monty Python, by the way). One night, they screened Tony Richardson’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t really about running, but I watched it anyway. It was the first time I looked at a movie and recognized it, or its possibilities, as art. Sure, there were acknowledged classics like Citizen Kane, or anything by Hitchcock, and “films” -- invariably European -- that were advertised on the classical music station and shown at one cinema in a more affluent part of town. But there was something compelling here: an arresting black and white texture, a movie that dealt with British working class, a life with few options, petty thieving, prison... Here was a world (and a time) that was different from my own, and more than that, the way that this was less a story that went from point a to point b than a character study gave me something to think about. There was a consciousness, and artifice, to the movie; a constructedness based on camera-work and editing, a different kind of drama. From the very beginning -- that long opening shot, with Tom Courtenay’s feet pounding on the blacktop, and the voice-over starting in... It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I realized myself realizing that. It was probably about a year later that I saw The 400 Blows and compared the two. So that was the beginning of my inability to watch a movie without the wheels, or legs, as the case may be, of critique turning.
Certain themes that were drawn to my conscious attention by The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner remain to this day: the sense of self, or non-self -- using running, or writing, what have you -- as a way of transcending identity; Tom Courtenay’s act of refusal at the end. The foregrounding of structure, texture, tone...
Recalling it as I write now (it’s been a few years since I last saw it) I think about the constant, staticky background hiss of the soundtrack (it seemed to be raining almost constantly, if I recall) that I later came to love in the sound of a lot of punk and “underground” music; partly due there, no doubt, to crappy cassette tapes and cheap recording methods, but also an aesthetic choice: the rough-hewn, notebook-like quality of low-fi. I put on Low’s Secret Name disc earlier, and smiled with pleasure at that artfully dubbed-in crackle of vinyl in “I Remember.”
I don’t run any more, by the way; I started up again about eight years ago, and worked up to a couple of miles, but then my knees started troubling me. So back to cigarettes and long walks.

There are a few movies, or books, or loves -- or something small, like having a particularly good-tasting cup of coffee and a song you’ve forgetten about comes on -- experiences that remain fixed in time, and mark or change your life. One thing I always loved about going to the movies was the experience of leaving the theater: the light was overpowering, and everything looked different; sounds were sharper, alien. The street, or interior of the mall, the things you passed by all the time, so familiar that you never saw them, now seemed entirely unreal.
After the enormous success of Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey was re-released in theaters. Being in junior high, nearly obsessed with science fiction, I went. I don’t think I saw it as art, per se -- it didn’t open my eyes -- but the ending was utterly baffling to me. Many people stayed throughout the credits, hoping that there would be something extra at the end, something to somehow explain it. Older now, or going to more interesting movies (sometimes), I see this more often. Part of the crowd stays to avoid the rush to the exits, part stays to watch the credits, and a part just lingers, and I wonder if they’re bored, or not thrilled about going home, or, perhaps, hoping for something special that cinema, as an almost all-encompassing medium, promises but can’t deliver.


Annoying Things 

One has sent someone a poem (or a reply to a poem) and, after the messenger has left, thinks of a couple of words that ought to be changed.
One has sewn something in a hurry. The task seems finished, but on pulling out the needle one discovers that one forgot to knot the end of the thread. It is also annoying to find that one has sewn something back to front.
-- from the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon


Stardust Memories 

When asked about his worst nightmare, Woody Allen once responded "To wake up and find I'm Pauline Kael." I've spent enough time mocking litterateurs who seem to spend most of their time "reading" movies (I mean really: if you're seriously writing about The Matrix, wouldn't you suspect, just maybe, that you really don't have much to say?)... so file this in the Hypocrisy File, and let me follow up on some thoughts I had after watching Manhattan for the umpteenth time the other night. This post started before blogs, from a conversation with a co-worker some years ago in which I was extolling the virtues of Husbands and Wives; said co-worker: "You just say that because you're one of those 'Woody Allen can do no wrong' people." "No," I replied, “I'm not -- because I've seen A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.” (That does feature the strangely attractive Julie Hagerty; so it's not utterly graceless, but I'm not particularly inclined to see it again).

Manhattan seems to me to be the finest Allen comedy; hands down, it's simply a great Allen movie. Perfect tone -- his finest expression of his unabashed love for the city, gorgeous cinematography, Gershwin soundtrack... every element adds up, just so. Still, watching it again, it's not without a certain, albeit mild, sadness. Forget 9-11; though New York continues to exist, it no longer seems fantastic. In Manhattan, Allen sought to define an era -- the city in /as viewed from -- the 70s; it can't help but come off as a bit nostalgic now. I wonder if places like Elaine's or the Russian Tea Room really exist for anyone but tourists or movie goers; if they're purely simulacra to all but a few New Yorkers who've been going there for 30-odd years. Nostalgia is a funny thing with Woody Allen pictures; his work is so fraught with it, often self-mockingly so, that it's hard to see it for what it is. Or isn't. But that scene where Isaac, the Woody Allen character, and Diane Keaton are sitting on a bench with the Williamsburg Bridge in the background after walking around and talking all night, and "Someone to Watch Over Me" playing just slays me.

Interiors, as the first "serious" Allen movie, has garnered an unfair amount of scorn and dismissal. Admittedly, his debt to Bergman shines with bleak winter light; that’s not exactly a play on words: things seem washed out, overexposed. Color are always pastel, or muted. But the cast, the cinematography (by Sven Nykvist), the quiet, cold and clear brutal beauty of it still astonishes me.

Another Woman (1988) seems to have fallen into a hole, perhaps sucked into the critical vacuum left in the wake of Interiors. And that's a shame. A smaller picture (I have no recollection of it opening, or any critical reception), it focuses on the life of Marion Post, a philosophy professor played by Gena Rowlands, as she realizes that how she perceives her life, her self-image, and how she in turn is perceived is off-center, and ultimately hollow. Marion’s a study in repression; she examines and intellectualizes her feelings rather than experiencing them. There’s a refusal borne out of a certain inability, or deficiency of character to mourn -- but slowly, through the chance occurrence of overhearing another person expressing their despair, the mask begins to crack. The film’s suffused with a sort of barely luminous sadness of overcast skies and fallen leaves. (The cinematography, again by Nykvist, utilizes an autumnal palette). There is light at the periphery, though. The constant constraint of character that makes Interiors almost suffocating is somewhat lighter here -- in part due to a narrowing of focus onto a single subject. Some fine performances by Gene Hackman, Mia Farrow, Martha Plimpton, John Houseman -- but it's ultimately Rowlands' story and her vehicle. I used the word "smaller picture" in a non-pejorative sense: it's a smaller canvas which showcases Rowlands' acting and Allen's writing -- it's a deft piece, with, at times, a strange, dreamy quality (there are quite a few scenes with Rowlands drifting off to sleep or waking from one; she seems constantly sleep-deprived / hypnagagic throughout). It is in a certain sense, the most writerly / literary of Allen's pictures. Very quiet, very human.

Husbands and Wives, though critiqued at first for Carlo di Palma's hand-held camera-work -- and then blown away in the storm of the Allen-Farrow divorce, might very well come to stand as one of his major accomplishments. Allen’s often seen as struggling between balancing drama and comedy: here, he seems to have found just the right mix. The interwoven stories of two couples, it's essentially a dramatic work, but with enough comedic touches to leaven it. The "asides" -- documentary style interviews with the principal characters -- add a dimension to the narrative while recalling the "fake documentary" style of his earlier comedic work (notably, Take the Money and Run). The typical Allen themes -- life, death, love, love for a younger woman, New York, Bergman, Dostoevsky, etc. all come into play. It's Allen in a nutshell. And the jerky, hand-held camera-work that at first seems so estranging really does its job; it adds a voyeuristic feel to the movie while simultaneously grounding it as a constructed object, a motion picture. Somehow this put me at ease, laying bare the artifice, and allowed the willing suspension of disbelief well up and work its magic.

I started formulating this post while watching Stardust Memories a few weeks ago; I wasn’t thinking about Allen at the time -- it just happened to be on tv one night. I was amused by it on first viewing: a funny, but not too funny, take on his critics, an homage to Fellini... But now, some years later, watching the train car scene at the beginning was like seeing with fresh eyes; sure, it's a kinda campy take on Fellini -- but it's simply one hell of a great scene -- the cast of fellow passengers, the suitcase leaking sand, the pacing... Or later, the scene of fast cuts to diffferent views of Charlotte Rampling’s face, different angles, different lighting, with her asking “Am I beautiful?" again and again... You have to strip away the self-consciousness of the constantly running half-joking refrain “Make funnier movies” -- strip away part of the Allen mystique, or affect -- to realize what a great Allen movie this is. And I'd totally forgotten the way it twists around itself at the end. It's really a fine, fine piece of work.

I don't think we have the cultural or filmic memory to do Allen justice any more: his mock frustration with Mariel Hemingway's character in Manhattan for not knowing the difference between Veronica Lake and Rita Hayworth - I mean, do we really get that? Should we care?

I think about a fairly recent remark of Godard's about making films for a few thousand friends; same medium, but a very different position. JLG's dialectical, I think: not only wanting to make a point, and allude to others, but interested in establishing some sort of dialogue. Allen's old-fashioned in that he wants to entertain; ask the Big Questions, sure; perhaps invigorate, but he's really interested in fashioning a product that fewer and fewer people seem to want to want. He made small pictures before the cottage industry / culture of independent cinema; like many great artists / visionaries, he has a certain range of ideas that he works and reworks. He’s been absorbed by the culture he has an uneasy, or antipathetic, relation to: signature elements of his style have been slyly borrowed (Seinfeld) or outright stolen (Nora Ephron's movies [When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail]).

I'm a fan, obviously, but I haven't been terribly interested in seeing his new movies since, say, Mighty Aphrodite. (Only two thoughts on that: 1) Why cast Helena Bonham Carter as his wife? [A: Because he's Woody Allen and he can. I would.] and 2). Chorus: Stop being such a Cassandra. Cassandra (distraught): But I am Cassandra!] Deconstructing Harry was noteworthy for Judy Davis, and a marvelous scene of Billy Crystal as the Devil, with Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” playing in the background. Even if it's in a small way, he delivers. But it’s not difficult to dismiss him as a bit of an old fuddy-duddy. Face it -- he’s a nostalgic old man, and what he's interested in doesn't interest a whole hell of a lot of people. His work tends to deal with a privileged slice of NY intelligentsia; easy enough to satirize, and a set that gives one pause to reflect on the merits of the Cultural Revolution. But he's consistently found great actors to work for scale; used great cinematographers, and crafted a set of highly original, classic films. Any Allen movie is worthwhile for its soundtrack alone. This is my own, somewhat idiosyncratic take on him, and not an overview of his career; I won’t dispute that Crimes and Misdemeanors or Hannah and Her Sisters are fine films. Or Radio Days is without charm. And as far as Everybody Says I Love You, it’s Woody Allen’s homage to the Hollywood musical: either you accept that and let yourself go with it, or you don’t. I’m not out to convince anyone on that one.

Alright, the list...

1 & 2.)
Another Woman
Stardust Memories

Husbands and Wives

Stardust Memories: Coda 

I suppose there was a time when a "reasonably cultured" (as to the assumptions that lie therein, let's not go there. I'm quite aware of the pitfalls. Let's just glide over them for now) person would know Allen and Godard; could well run the risk of falling into that set that he so often satirizes. But now... who cares? Allen started off as an offbeat, funny filmmaker that ended up making more difficult and complex films; he took some risks and lost his audience, in part due to choices he made and in part due to people's changing demands. (More crap, please). His best work is almost surely behind him. You’ve got to admire his work ethic, though. I’d shell out some money to see something like Manhattan Murder Mystery and be entertained. Of course, I’ve shelled out money to see Resident Evil: Apocalypse to feel like a complete idiot. But I’m not going to write about how our attitude towards zombies and video games says something meaningful about our culture.
Steve Martin said a fairly interesting thing a few years ago: he was proud of Roxanne, not because it was a great movie, but because it was a pretty good movie. It didn’t aim to be art, just solid, middle-brow entertainment. For years, that was Hollywood’s stock in trade. And now -- a few years after Martin’s remark -- movies are made for a 2-4 week window; the majority of earnings are in the first week, then they’re pulled from the theaters & out on DVD in six months’ time.

JLG's path and culture are quite different; from the vantage point of 2004; aside from the fact that Allen and Godard both make movies and have been going about it in a serious way for several decades now, it'd be silly to compare the two. The JLG of Helas pour Moi is and is not the same director who made Breathless. Perhaps someday I'll write the post I'd like to write, one that may well be beyond my abilities: to address what Godard's work of the last decade means to me and how it reflects both an end to filmmaking and an opening of filmmaking: the later work as artifacts of cultural work: how they embrace philosophy, and are more cine-essays than films per se. [Hey -- Chris Marker, anyone?]

Matinees of the Living Dead 

Is it just because the zombies in Night of the Living Dead craved human flesh that, ever since, all zombies are required to? Vampires, blood, ok -- there’s some back story there. We get it. But why do re-animated corpses need to consume the living? And why do audiences need to see these corpses get their limbs hacked off, burnt, run over, blown to bits, &c., &c.? Take a look at Resident Evil: Apocalypse. (Or don’t: rent Everyone Says I Love You instead). So you have a Big Evil Corporation that creates a bio-weapon that gets out of hand, kills off people and re-animates their bodies. And we, the movie-going public, are supposed to enjoy watching them get machine-gunned into hamburger. Why? I mean, it’s not these people’s fault: they have no conscience, no decision-making capacity. They’re DEAD, for chrissakes. It’s the Ugly Megalithic Corporation that’s evil. Is this some sort of manifestation of audience self-hatred? That we, mindless drones employed by Big Evil Megalithic Corporations ourselves, or at the very least consuming their products, relax from our horizonless, deadening jobs by playing video games or paying money to see movies like Resident Evil, becoming zombies ourselves, desiring, ultimately, to see ourselves re-animated & finally nuked, put out of our misery forever?
Hey you -- reader that just said “Duh. Yeah.” Go slap yourself. Shut off your computer. Go read a book. Better yet, take a walk. Feel the leaves crackle underfoot. It's fall.


My little corner of the world 

Really must spend a little more time here and put some consideration into the links; I just added one to the Center for Book Culture; not only is the Review of Contemporary Fiction a journal that rarely induces a gag reflex, one would be hard put to find a book published by the Dalkey Archive Press that's without worth. And just skimming an interview with Claude Simon reminds me that a) I own more books by him than I have read, and b) I own too many books I haven't read. Period. Not like I frittered away an afternoon yesterday watching football, or...
Ahem. Yes. We don't talk about pop culture here, do we?

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