Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Benefits To A Wife For Being Nice To Her Husband

December 15, 2012

  Anne Boleyn

  This is three steps from being original, but I found it so touching that I could not but pass it on.  Not original because I didn’t do the research, haven’t read the book, and did not conduct the interview.  Heard Terry Gross discussing Man Booker Prize winning historical novel Bringing Up The Bodies with author Hilary Mantel.

  This is the second in a series of three books set during the time of Henry VIII in 16th century England.  The first concluded with the demise of Thomas More because he opposed Henry’s move to split with the Church of Rome in order to facilitate his trading Catherine of Aragon in for a newer model – Anne Boleyn.

  As you might know, a relationship with Henry doesn’t turn out all that well for Anne either.  But in the interview I learned that it wasn’t because Ms Boleyn wasn’t able to produce a male heir as I’ve long thought and most fiction holds.  Author Mantel says: “I think it is a great mistake to regard these women as victims.”

  The power that accrued to a Queen of England created a far larger sphere of influence than existed for other women of the era. And both Catherine and Anne were very intelligent, strong, political, and clever. “They are really strong; they are really involved.  They’re deeply drawn into the political process, and they’re actors in it…agents of their own fate.”

  Henry divorced his first wife for her inability to bear a son, he didn’t kill her.  Anne Boleyn didn’t have a son, but her fate was different because her activities led Henry to believe that she had become a diplomatic liability and perhaps involved in a plot on his life.  She had to be executed.

  The benefit to Anne for apparently not having made ice cold Henry’s heart?  Glad you remembered to ask.  He ordered for her the most expeditious manner by which to leave this world and enter the next – a horizontal swing of a broadsword through her erect neck as opposed to a chopping block and a grunting axe man.  The former was thought to be more humane. 

  “But she will kneel.  She must be informed of this.  There is no block, as you see.  She must kneel upright and not move.  If she is steady, it will be done in a moment; if not, she will be cut to pieces… Between one beat of the heart and the next, it is done.  She knows nothing.  She is in eternity.”   

  Ms Boleyn would have been blindfolded and the executioner (of renowned talent and brought all the way from Calais, by the way) approached  silently in slippered feet from an unexpected angle.  Nice guy that king Henry, really.  He could have had her burned or hanged, let alone dispatched with an axe.  I’ll admit though that one does wonder what of his qualities most attracted wives three through six.

*Interested in the last thoughts of anther wife’s head?  Go to post of May 20, 2011

**Photo above of Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn in “The Other Boleyn Girl” in which she goes to the block for failing to produce a male heir…

It’s Your Move Antonius Block

April 6, 2012


  Know how your best ideas, your strokes of genius, never come when hailed, but when you’re doing something else?  Well there’s an interesting new book about that phenomenon titled Imagine – How Creativity Works  by Jonah Leher. And no surprise, to me anyway, that it brought to mind something, uh, weird.

  In the book Leher recounts the random events that led to the coining of the Nike slogan “Just Do It” and you’ll not find it surprising that the story hasn’t joined waffle irons in the annals of Nike lore.  It has more to do with a scythe than a swoosh.

  Turns out that the dude tasked with the development of a crisp and pithy turn of phrase had earlier in the day been discussing a new book by Norman Mailer – The Executioner’s Song – about the tortured and torturing life of Gary Gilmore which ended with death by firing squad.  Gilmore’s last words were: “Let’s do it.”  See?

  OK.  Not long ago, but long enough, wife and I were in the throes of a heated unpleasant argument.  Can’t remember what it concerned, but do that it had been protracted and had accompanied us through the evening news and into bed.  We’d not yet perfected that don’t go to bed mad thing.

  Anyway, we paused for a moment as our eyes adjusted to the moonlight beaming in through a window.  At the exact moment we reengaged, a bat that had somehow found its way in and flown up the steps rounded the corner into our room.  Gave the phrase “sound of wings” a whole new meaning.

  We both went silent and looked at each other for a moment.  There was no question in either of our minds that rectification of that sort of situation was more part of my job description than hers, but we both got up.  Not though without considerable trepidation.

  It flew back down the stairs and we followed.  I located a couple tennis racquets while wife kept track of the creepy creature.  It flew into oldest daughter’s empty bedroom.  I followed and wife closed the door behind us.  Thing hung upside down from short curtains at the top of the window.

  After a quick flick to the floor, I trapped it on the carpet.  Wife slid a piece of construction paper underneath which I hoped wouldn’t tear as I applied pressure with my hand.  Hard against the strings, it writhed an awful dance macabre while squealing just within the range of perception.  Released at the front door it disappeared into the night.

  Shaken by what we’d conjured up, we looked at each other and spoke not one word more that night.   Tossed and turned for quite a while before falling off and into an incredible dream with a Bergman flic – The Seventh Seal – as the setting.  Max Von Sydow playing knight Antonius Block challenges Death to a game of chess and a chance at a reprieve.  Block jostles the chessboard prompting death to say “You won’t get off that easily”. 

  Death replaced the pieces as they’d been and they played on to his victory, but Block’s real purpose had been to distract Death and prevent him from spotting husband Jof (me) who had seen Death and wife Mia (my roommate) who thinks Jof is nuts.  At the film’s end Jof watches Death lead Block and others away.

               I see them, Mia! I see them! Over there against 
               the dark, stormy sky. They are all there. The 
               smith and Lisa and the knight and Raval and 
               Jons and Skat. And Death, the severe master, 
               invites them to dance. He tells them to hold 
               each other's hands and then they must tread the 
               dance in a long row. And first goes the master 
               with his scythe and hourglass, but Skat dangles 
               at the end with his lyre. They dance away from 
               the dawn and it's a solemn dance towards the 
               dark lands, while the rain washes their faces 
               and cleans the salt of the tears from their 

He is silent. He lowers his hand. His son, MIKAEL 
(played by our dog Sauger), has listened to his words.  
Now, he crawls up to MIA and sits down in her lap. 

               You with your visions and dreams.

    How could I make this up?

Pocket of the Groove

April 22, 2011

  Ok.  I’m continuing with my attempt to learn how to play the guitar and enjoy it immensely even though I’ve yet to play anything through without a fat fingered mistake.  It’s amazing how absorbing practice can be.  Just a few notes in, and even the most acute of the day’s existential crises have dissolved.

  Just now trying to find my way through “Scarborough Fair” familiar to me (and you maybe) courtesy of the Simon And Garfunkel cover on their 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.  For me, their rendition was even more important to the 1968 film The Graduate than their “Mrs. Robinson” for the former’s telling of a wonderfully mysterious tale of courtship. 

  It is an old English ballad.  Some say it arose in the time of the plague and that the refrain: “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” refers to an herb bundle used to mask the then pervasive odor of death. 

  Of also Mrs. Robinson perhaps.  It would take something pretty powerful to gain the willing hand of a fair young maiden with the mother of whom the suitor had also slept.  And indeed that collection of herbs held ancient pagan esteem for their power to arouse and attract. 

Love imposes impossible tasks,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Though not more than any heart asks,
And I must know she’s a true love of mine.

  The music itself is interesting for this here novice to play around with.  The first two notes are the same, but the first is a half note and the second a quarter note which means that the first is held twice as long as the second. 

  One obviously doesn’t watch a clock so what is interesting is the different emotional impact of even slight variations in duration.  As luck would have it, Paul Simon was quoted in an article about working with just that in this week’s NYT Tuesday Science section:

  “The stopping of sounds and rhythms, it’s really important, because, you know, how can I miss you unless you’re gone?  If you just keep the thing going like a loop, eventually it loses its power.”

  “My brain is working that way – it’s dividing up everything.  I really have a certain sense of where the pocket of the groove is, and I know when you have to reinforce it and I know when you want to leave it.”

  Well, his is a sensibility to which one can only aspire.

*Interesting to note that Mike Nichols, director of The Graduate, originally wanted Robert Redford for the role that launched Dustin Hoffman’s career.  Shortly into a screen test with Redford he realized that he needed someone else.  “The Graduate only works if it’s a 21-year-old going on 16, who’s sexually insecure.  Well, Redford is this… classic sexual matinee idol…”  From NPR’s Morning Edition Broadcast 12/9/02

Anthropology of the Wild West

January 7, 2011

  About halfway through Silverado the Kevin Kline character, Paden, takes interest in Rosanna Arquette’s Hannah whose husband had just been killed:

He acted bravely out there, Hannah. 
Just bad luck his getting hit.  Could
have been any one of us.
I don’t believe in luck.  I know what
Conrad was like. Don’t tell me what you
think I want to hear.
Never will again.
We got married just before this trip,
so we could come out here and try
the land.  It’s hard to find a man
willing to take on a life like that.
Love isn’t the only important thing.

    The Kevin Costner character gives Paden a hard time: “Jeez, her old man ain’t even cold yet” as they ride off for action and adventure leaving Hannah and the other settlers to make their way.  After the passage of some time, their paths cross again.  Hannah asks Paden to admire her land:

…Mine starts right over there.  It’s all I’ve
ever wanted.  Pretty land isn’t it?
And a pretty lady.
A lot of men have told me that.  Maybe it’s true.
I guess some women are slow to believe it.
Believe it.
They’re drawn to me by that.  But it never lasts.
Because they don’t like what I want.
What’s that?
I want to build something, make things grow.
That takes hard work – a lifetime of it.
That’s not why men come to a pretty woman.

  Well, maybe not right off.  Both parties would agree, however reluctantly on the part of the men, that it is good for the woman to be wary.  Which makes the above exchange an interesting study in anthropology.

  Recent research shows that the nature of the environment bifurcates the decision path of a woman’s choice in mates.  “Whenever a woman has to choose a mate, she must decide whether to place a premium on the hunk’s choicer genes or the wimp’s love and care.”* 

  In other words: “It’d be great if Dad would stick around (and not beat me), but if he doesn’t, how likely is his/our baby to survive?”

  Turns out that the more disgusting, depraved, and/or difficult the environment the higher up the hunk scale woman are likely to chose.  Hmm. Guess I’m gonna tell myself that it was lucky that I did the last part of my courtin’ in a relatively rugged neck of the woods…

  Just like Hannah and Paden.  At the end of the movie as they stand side by side friend Emmett says:

You might make a farmer yet.
I’ve got a job.

  As he puts his arm against the post, and his coat is drawn back to reveal the shiny sheriff’s badge on his vest.  Thus, not likely to ever be the “yes honey” type or care much for yard work Paden seems about to be invited into the gene pool. After evaluating her experience and circumstance Hannah chose not to make the same mistake twice.

*Economist: 12/11/10   


Out of Africa Honeychile

November 19, 2010


  The score of Out of Africa won one of the film’s seven Academy Awards.  Composer John Barry did a masterful job at conveying what biographer Judith Thurman called the melancholy elegiac “clear darkness” of Karen Blixen’s story.

  Director Sydney Pollack originally intended to incorporate a background of East African sounds and tribal rhythms.  What a different film it would have been.  Barry was unconvinced: “Sydney, it’s not about Africa, it takes place in Africa, but it’s seen through two people who are madly in love with each other.  It’s really their story”.

  Though four-fifths of the book is a non-chronological take of the people and places of early twentieth century Africa from the point of view of a European visitor, the film does largely follow the relationship of Ms. Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatten.

  The pair did enjoy each other’s company and shared attitude and sensibility about life as expats in the Kenyan bush.  Finch-Hatten quoted Coleridge: “He prayeth well that loveth well both man and bird and beast”*.  Blixen wrote: “Here at long last one was in a position not to give a damn for conventions, here was a new kind of freedom which until then one had only found in dreams”.    

  The big ‘however’ though is that the emotional tone of both the book and film is hauntingly numb.  With third person knowledge this should be no surprise.  Blixen’s father hanged himself when she was quite young.  Her husband was unfaithful from early on and gave her syphilis.  Finch-Hatten refused to marry her even though he was her partner through at least one miscarriage.  Finch-Hatten died an accidental death.  (Only the last of these events is mentioned in Blixen’s book.

  The high point of the film (and perhaps the book) in every sense is when Finch-Hatten takes Blixen aloft in his Gypsy Moth biplane.  She called it “the most transporting pleasure of my life on the farm”.  Pollack and Barry collude to engender that feeling in us.  Upon her return to earth, several of Ms. Blixen’s Kikuyu colleagues ask if she’d had a glimpse of God way there high up above the clouds.  Oh how we wish for her that she had.

  Having seen the film several times and had my heartstrings plucked by the score alone, I was amazed – no shocked – to find that, among many other projects, Barry was responsible for the music of James Bond, from Dr. No through The Living Daylights.  Incredible for one person to be able to transmute the affect of both those two extremes.

  Thinking about that I realized that Out of Africa and the Bond series look at stuff of similar essence from the point of view of a woman in the first case and a man in the second.  The similarities between Denys Finch-Hatten and 007 are relatively obvious.  Both shoot first and ask questions later.  If at all.

  It is more interesting to consider just how kindred are the spirits of Ms Blixen and, say, Bond woman #1, Honeychile Rider.  Ms. Rider was born to a colonial family in Jamaica.  She was orphaned at an early age and raped not long thereafter.  She was beautiful, intelligent, and very independent.     

  Ladies Blixen and Rider would have enjoyed each other’s company – to the sorrow of Msrs Finch-Hatten and Bond…

*This would also be Finch-Hatten’s epitaph.

**It would be interesting to see if a technical analysis of the scores of the two films would yield a reflectivity similar to that of their emotional tones.

Wake Up!

November 5, 2010


  The picture above is Study After Velasquez’ Pope Innocent X by Francis Bacon.  The one just below* is a shot of lead character Hannibal Lecter from the film Silence of the Lambs directed by Jonathan Demme.  I think that the similarity of the two images is striking. 

  Demme’s an art collector (though most well known for his Haitian stuff) and had to have been aware of Bacon’s oeuvre.  The cell in the Memphis courthouse is certainly not an exact transcription of the painting’s motif and could have been done subliminally or even completely by accident.  But, as someone once said “ mediocre artists borrow, great artists steal”.

  The arrangement of the prominent vertical brushstrokes in the Bacon work has the same visual impact and conveys a similar carnal apprehension as do the bars of the cell in the flic.  Both characters pervade beyond any limitation.  Like nightmares.

  Bacon said that he “had nothing against popes” and simply found their garb to be uniquely suitable for the colors with which he was then working.  Sure seems disingenuous to me.  He painted forty some in the series and the power of the images suggest otherwise.  Even though screaming heads appear throughout his body of work, they’re a fungible conceit.  It would be easy to impute certain recent horrific revelations and wonder about the possibility of the cathexis of earlier manifestations through Bacon’s brush.

  At any rate, the two images project – to me at least – horror from nearly opposite perspectives.  Bacon’s pope nearly empties himself in sanctimonious rage while Dr. Lecter speaks with the quiet confidence only available to a psychopath.  The former just barely obscures the abyss with his robes and incantations while the latter revels from its depths.  Bacon’s pope is like an exploding star while in Lecter Demme and Hopkins conjure up a black hole.

*Unfortunately, this is the scene, but not the shot I had in mind when I cobbled these thoughts together.  Those who’ve seen the film will remember the shinning cupola shaped cell assembled in a Tennessee courthouse for the sole purpose of containing Dr. Lecter.  There is drapery, furniture, and a comfortable chair.  Next time notice how it recalls the Bacon picture.

An Unplanned Allegory

June 4, 2010

  Smoking is nasty, dirty, and deadly.  I know that all too well.  I’ve tried it though and have been in the sway of its allure for many years.  In fact, I was in a cigar smoking club while in kindergarten.  We lived near a farm and a friend whose father always had a box of stogies on his desk would purloin a few and meet the rest of us in Farmer D’s apple orchard.

  I was the only one who could finish one.  Maybe that’s why I’m the shortest in the family.  I smoked a pipe for a while and tried cigarettes.  Thankfully, nothing stuck.  My favorite part was fidgeting with the paraphernalia – lighters and all.  I became quite proficient at rolling my own, but, uh, that’s another story.

  What is interesting to me now is how cigarette smoking is portrayed in modern cinema.  The actual act, I mean.  Next time you’re watching a movie and someone has a butt in hand notice carefully what happens when it gets to a mouth.  You will almost certainly witness a very poor bit of business no matter between whose even Oscar winning fingers it is held.

  Anyone can be cool, graceful, tremulous, or whatever’s appropriate to the role from pack through ignition.  However, lips once pursed, chest has to raise as lungs fill or it looks fake and taints the whole dang flic.  99% of the time you get the feeling that the actor either is worried about his/her own health or else is stealthily furthering his/her own antismoking campaign.   

 What would be the right thing to do?   Faithfully portray the character, as imagined by its creator, to the best of one’s ability or ask for a rewrite?  The solution I’ve just described is a compromise that I’m surprised to see condoned by today’s top talent.

  When this issue comes to mind, I’m drawn back to the opening sequence of The Client in which a young boy sneaks a couple cigarettes from his mother, goes into the woods with his brother, and they light up.  Looks real to me and the sequence conveys more about those two characters than dialogue ever could.

  The tragedy though is that Brad Renfro won awards for his portrayal of the older brother, but died of an overdose at age twenty-five.  Perhaps the bright lights were more than he could handle, but I wonder if instead that the long draw at age ten evidenced a naïve slipping of his skin to such a degree that it could not be made snug again once shooting stopped.      

At Least It’s A Start

April 30, 2010


  Ever see “Un Chien Andalou”, the film Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali released in 1929?  It epitomizes one sort of surrealism in that the scenes make no real sense and in fact seem like a hyper real dream sequence.  No meaning I guess but what might be given up to psychoanalysis which is a scary thought given what follows.

  The opening montage is one of the most disturbing in all of cinema.  I found it on YouTube, but chose not to import it here.  The photo above is from the first bit and I’ll tell you that the other hand holds a straight razor.  To also know in advance (if you chose to seek it out) that in the next few frames is a dead donkey stand-in will effect  no comfort.

  I thought of this yesterday when I read that a new music video by Sri Lankan M.I.A. was sensored from YouTube.  Son had taken me to it the previous evening.  It is by Romain Gavras, the son of the maker of award winning overtly politically themed films (“Z” most famously) Costa Gavras. 

  The video by Gavras fils employs graphic violence to convey it’s message, but you know you’re watching a movie.  The raw technique employed by the eighty years older segment bypasses your intellect.

You’ve been warned.  Me, I’d have allowed the former to continue to play and will forever try to repress my big screen memory of the latter.

  I shave with a straight razor.  Taking it against the strop (and occasionally a stone) somehow sets an early rhythm for the day.  But more important is the sort of early edge it puts on my consciousness.  Ya sorta gotta pay attention.  Dreams left behind and matinal ruminations bypassed, I’m reminded that the moment present is all there is.

  And forget soon after, but at least it’s a start.

*Un Chien Andalou translates from the French as “An Andalusian Dog”.  And if you don’t know what the Andalusian Peninsula is you had better figure it out before our paths next cross.

**Interesting that both leading actors from the Bunuel flic took their own lives.  The woman by self immolation…

***The obvious didacticism blunts the effect of the violence of the Gavras video which, upon reflection, is the case of at least several of his father’s films as well. 

****Didacticism aside, Gavras pere’s films get their point across.  His “Missing” (1982), which was about Les Disaparecidos in Pinochet’s Chile, led to a $150 million lawsuit by the real counterpart to the fictionalized US ambassador to that country.  It was dismissed.  And though Pinochet died without having been convicted, he was forced to weave in and out of legal processes for the last decades of his life.  And star of the movie Jack Lemmon died of natural causes.

*****The M.I.A. video can be found on her website:

Sursum Corda

March 12, 2010

  Like De Tocqueville, the fact that director Peter Weir hails from another land gives him objectivity toward our county that one born in the USA would not have.  His take, in the film “Witness”, has the sacred and profane of America revolving around each other like a binary star system.  Violence and purity orbit around their common center of gravity like a black hole and bright star.  When gas spins off from one to the other bad shit happens.

  Early in the film a young wide-eyed Amish boy witnesses a horrific murder in the restroom of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.  With his assistance, Detective John Book uncovers sordid high level police corruption and gets seriously wounded in the process.  Their escape from urban grit takes them to an Amish community in rural Lancaster County.

  At the edge of death, Book recovers under the care of the wary Amish and is soon asked to work off his debt.  He puts on a tool belt and enters a stream of men and women flowing toward a barn raising for a newly married couple.

  Weir once said that his goal in filmmaking was to evoke as deep an emotional response as can great music.  In this segment, the music and motion combine to far far more than the sum of the parts.  They conjure up the image (in this mind anyway) of peasants raising Chartres from the fields of France up toward heaven, souls all aflutter. 

  Indeed, this part of the film could even be read as the last stage of Book’s recovery – a near death experience.  Under an incredibly beautiful soft white light men work serenely together, knowingly pass hammer or beam or refreshment on to the next, unasked.  Women draw from the bounty of the communal acreage to create a sumptuous shared repast. 

  Unfortunately (for Book), the music stops, dirty cops appear, Satan gets his due, and Book falls off his cloud back to earth.  It’s not his time yet and he has to leave.  We’re dang pleased he got to visit though and will forever be moved by the memory.*

*Amazing, isn’t it that the language spoken in the clip doesn’t  really affect its impact?  (Though I’ll admit if I can find it in English, I’ll switch…)


January 22, 2010


  The only thing I remember, well the first thing that comes to mind I guess, about Mrs. Nichol’s sixth grade music class is the way she’d draw a circle on the blackboard and make me stand there with my nose in it for most of the period.  I mean who cared about Saint Saens, whole notes, or the fact that Anton Dvorak had actually been in Iowa?

  The only interesting thing I recall was listening to her describe her husband’s malaria.  He’d been in the Navy during WWII.  I never’d heard of anything you couldn’t shake. Anyway, I didn’t like music, the circle didn’t work, and I became intimately familiar with every corner of the principal’s office. 

  The sounds of the sixties perked up my ears, but being a-political and an emotional nitwit nothing found more than passing resonance.  I began to wake up in college – I’m probably not alone in having had an epiphany in front of Disney’s Fantasia.  The Beethoven’s Sixth segment was to my mind what Kool-Aid was for the Dead. 

  All of a sudden I had an incredibly eclectic taste in music and an incipient thirst for understanding.  What is it?  It’s got to be more than epiphenomenal…  Everybody has at least a little rhythm.  Why is it so great to hear Gene Kelly “Singing in the Rain” by the produce at the grocery store when the mini-sprinklers go on?  Wasn’t that a wonderful movie?  Can’t you just see him twirling about the lamppost, drenched?

  Long determined to launch a serious investigation, I didn’t have a clue about how to begin until wife fixed me up with guitar lessons recently.  Month into it now and I’m fascinated.  I can read a few notes, make annoyingly recognizable sounds, and am amazed at the mind state that’s induced.

  The first lessons were a bit awkward for sure.  I’m easily three times as old as most of the students in the facility.  Years older than most of the parents reading People Magazine in the lobby as a matter of fact.  But after practicing a little bit every day I have begun to feel like I did the first time fiddling with buttons on a shirt that was not my own…

   What’s up with the elephants?  In February of 2007 on the radio program “Speaking of Faith” was a segment with acoustic biologist Katy Payne.  It is going to be rebroadcast Sunday.  You should listen.  Or visit the site:  Her descriptions of whales composing complex songs are incredible.  Her stories of emotional networks maintained between and among elephants miles apart are enthralling. 

  She’s a Quaker working at the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell.  “I see my responsibility as being to listen.  My church is outdoors.  And I must say that if I could ask these animals that I like so much if there’s anything equivalent to what we speak of as being faith, I would love to do that.  We just don’t know.”

  “Many animals make sounds, everything from crickets to humans to whales.  Birds, of course.  Frogs.  And these sounds, in the case of animals, are thought of in relation to reproduction and courtship.  In humans, although they may serve exactly the same function, they’re thought of in relation to aesthetics.  And one of the aspects of my work has been to say, ‘Look, we don’t have to have two languages for this.’