Seymour: An Introduction [2014)

Big gigantic balls.

It took Ethan Hawke.

Whom I formerly mistook for a hack.

To not even dabble in détournement.

But rather.

Straight-up.

Call it.

Seymour:  An Introduction

After Salinger.

But let me dispel all uncertainly early on.

This film, directed by Ethan Hawke, is a masterpiece.

The premise seemed interesting.

On Netflix.

“This should,” I thought, “be an easy one to jettison after a few painful minutes of shabby mise-en-scène…[after ignoring it on my ‘list’ for quite some time]”

And though there is no Liszt (ha!), Ethan Hawke tells one of the most touching stories I’ve ever seen.

Yes, that is the correct verbiage.

In the synesthesia of cinema.

It is the story of Seymour Bernstein (and not, as the title might lead one to believe, that of Seymour Glass).

Seymour did not become the supernova which his fellow Bernstein (Leonard) became.

No, Seymour Bernstein stepped away from the stage early.

As in, curtailed his career.

As a performer.

A pianist.

[but always a son–a man]

And so what makes Ethan Hawke’s film particularly special for me is the synergy created from two colliding ideas of great power:  music and anxiety.

Ah, to perform…

It’s hard (really, very fucking hard) for me to recall the good times which make me sad.

Those would be my four short years as a professional music performer.

[three of which coincided with a parallel mini-career as a studio (recording) musician]

Why did I step away?

To paraphrase Bogart in The Big Sleep, I must rank pretty high on insubordination.

I’m a rebel.

And though I pray that I never follow in the darker footsteps of Phil Spector, I was very much in what one would term popular or pop music.

But it wasn’t from a lack of training.

My bachelor’s degree, from an esteemed institution, is almost exclusively due to courses in Western classical music.

Though I am but an amateur pianist compared to Mr. Bernstein, I have a deep appreciation for what he is doing all throughout this film.

As a trained music theorist (my specialization).

And a trained composer (the activity to which I dedicated the bulk of my undergraduate hours).

But there is something more.

Seymour:  An Introduction is very much about hard work.

About craft.

What I’m doing right now.

What you are reading.

It is my craft.

Now.

Music has flown…like a fleeting bird.

And I have had to transpose my urge to create from “EveryGoodBoyDoesFine” by way of copious vicissitudes to “PleaseExcuseMyDearAuntSally” and other far-afield mnemonic devices.

Yes, dear friends…I identify with Ethan Hawke’s struggle.

And it is painful to watch him.

But he has redeemed himself with this film.

Through great doubt we travel…

What the fuck am I doing in business school?

Does my acting mean anything whatsoever to ME anymore?

To weave it, my problems were/are different than those of Mr. Hawke.

He is standing on the stage…[places, everyone]…on the X where I wish I was.

Directing a film.

You need a producer.

An “executive” producer.

You need a law firm.

Legal counsel.

[for all those archival clips you want to interpolate]

Yes…there is a long list of credited individuals at the culmination of Seymour:  An Introduction.

It doesn’t just say “Ethan Hawke”.

Those are the realities of film.

Godard has illustrated it as a process of check-writing.

$50 here.  [more like]  $3,000 here.

And again.  And again.

But it is obvious this was a project of love for Ethan Hawke.

And it worked.

Mr. Bernstein is 89 and still (apparently) teaches at NYU.

And what a gifted soul!

Ah…

This documentary reminded me of so many beautiful, important things!

It all moves too fast…

The pictures with Nadia Boulanger…

But Korea sticks.

At the front lines.

As jaw-dropping as Messiaen in his prison camp.

But let me speak to the choir now…

Friends of Deutsche Grammophon et al..

It’s important.

That extra dot.

To point out.

No pun intended.

A service.

PRACTICE in front of your audience (Warhol advised).

Dear Messrs,

[and scholarly, epicurean (?) womenfolk]

We have, in these minutes, footage of the great Glenn Gould.

We learn the chair.

How low.

Carry out folded.

Like a shabby parcel of manuscripts.

But Mr. Bernstein gives us the cinderblocks.

And while it is scary (Glenn Gould) in its proficiency.

The ear of God.

We get an even greater surprise.

Yes, most startling.

Clifford Curzon.

And the passion of a boy from Islington.

Precision.

Snap!

Unfurling arpeggios effortlessly.

While the baritone fingers surface the melody.

Just breathing above the water’s surface.

Curzon.

Those glasses.

We fall in love.

1977.

Year after I was born.

By 17 days.

Seymour Bernstein’s eight-year career was over.

As a public performer.

Debuting with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (!) a Brazilian piano concerto in world premiere (the 2nd by Villa-Lobos).

1969-1977

Double my career 🙂

[in more ways than one, I’m sure]

But as an astute student in the film observes, it was many thousands of hours (of practice and other dedicatory acts) to get to that point.

Mr. Bernstein didn’t sit down with the CSO and sightread the Villa-Lobos concerto.

It wasn’t his first time playing.

And so it comes back to work.

And anxiety.

& music.

Seymour Bernstein:  God bless you for knowing the quadrivium.

That MUSIC was one of the four higher liberal arts.

For the ancient Greeks.

Along with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

What isn’t mentioned is that in which I am currently dabbling.

[dabbling my ass off]

The trivium.

Those “lower” three of the liberal arts.

Grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

And the liberal arts…in opposition to the practical arts.

[the latter being such as medicine…or architecture]

{Footnotes to be provided when hell freezes over}

And so I heartily recommend you watch this documentary.

Appreciate the importance of music.

See Abraham ready to sacrifice Isaac.

[he will laugh!]

Because God gives back.

Even though Mr. Bernstein doesn’t believe.

It makes no difference to me.

I am but human.

And I have a right.

To believe.

In God.

In music.

He just disappeared.

One last concert.

At the YMCA.

Knowing when to end.

When the notes fade.

And if on a good piano,

they almost seem to swell first.

As if by magic…

-PD

Filmistaan [2013)

I consider it an auspicious sign that my survey of Indian cinema begins in earnest with the masterpiece Filmistaan.

Do not mistake this piece of cinema for a half-baked idea.

Do not even attempt to lower it by calling it a comedy.

And not least, do not think only of India.

I wanted to come up with a catchy pigeonhole.

Indian Subcontinent.

The Subcontinent.

But I have too much respect for the great traditions of Bollywood (and Lollywood) to do such a thing.

And so this is very much an Indian film.

India.

And it is very much a comedy.

So funny!

But it is touching in a way to which few films can ever aspire.

Filmistaan, like Roberto Benigni’s magnum opus La vita è bella, takes on a very serious subject with the best weapon of all:  humor.

But instead of the Holocaust, we get the Partition.

And yet, Filmistaan is not some laborious period piece.

[leave that to the artless Spielbergs]

No, our film addresses the tension between India and Pakistan in the most deft, feather-light manner imaginable.

And for this we have to thank a new auteur on the world stage:  Nitin Kakkar.

I say “new” because Mr. Kakkar has not been graced with the honor of his own Wikipedia page in English yet.

Well, he is wholly deserving of that honor (based on Filmistaan alone).

But Mr. Kakkar had to have magical actors to pull this off.

Luckily for him, he did!

Sharib Hashmi is undoubtedly the star of this picture.

His performance as Sunny goes from the highest highs of emotion to the lowest lows.

It is truly remarkable.

Mr. Hashmi is about one month older than me.

40 years old.

Perhaps that’s why I identified with his youthful optimism and passionate devotion to cinema.

But to understand our film, we must first locate Rajasthan on a map.

It is the biggest state in India.

It is northwest.

And it borders Pakistan.

To understand Rajasthan, we must comprehend the Thar Desert.

Most of the Thar Desert is in Rajasthan, but it extends somewhat into Pakistan.

These are all important details in understanding our film.

Rajasthan is arid.

Like the American Southwest, it’s a good place to get lost…or kidnapped.

But friends are to be found in the most unlikely places.

And the friendship of shared interest, such as two cinema devotees, knows no borders.

For Mr. Hashmi, the brilliance of his performance depends on the artful support he receives from fellow-actor Inaamulhaq.

But let’s examine the divide between India and Pakistan for a moment.

It is a fact that a man from Peshawar (if he speaks Urdu) can communicate with a man from Delhi (if he speaks Hindi).

Peshawar, of course, is in Pakistan.

Indeed, it’s so far into Pakistan that it’s almost in Afghanistan.

Delhi, of course, is in India.

It is in the north-central part of the country.

It is, further, not essential that the two talkers hypothesized above be men.

The salient detail is that Hindi and Urdu are essentially the same language (in their spoken forms).

This is vital to understanding Filmistaan.

But continuing, the two languages could not look more different once they are written down.

[Which is to say, the two hypothesized men might be at loggerheads were they forced to communicate with pen and paper]

Urdu looks similar to its written forebear Farsi (the language of Iran) [which is itself a descendent of Arabic script].

To put it quite simply, a neophyte like myself would probably have a difficult time telling the difference between Urdu, Persian (Farsi), and Arabic.

Hindi is in the wholly different Devanagari script.

You will not confuse written Urdu and Hindi.

It’s at least as obvious as Picasso to Pollock (if not Warhol to Rembrandt).

But enough analogies.

Why should you watch Filmistaan?

Well, for one…it’s currently on Netflix.

Yes, ever since I have joined the streaming service, I have ventured to be a more “worthwhile” film critic by giving you relatively-spoiler-free reviews of current titles to be found on the U.S. version of the site.

But that’s only the beginning.

Yes, there are wonderful performances from Kumud Mishra and Gopal Dutt (as well as a plethora of fine supporting actors).

But the real reason is that Filmistaan expresses the sublime.

The context is terrorism.

The context is border tension.

Indeed, on the Indian Subcontinent, the context is two nuclear states.

Pakistan and India.

But the context goes back.

To Jinnah and Nehru.

And the threads bind.

Cricket.  Cinema.  Music.

There is an excellent example in Filmistaan which illustrates the situation.

Dilip Kumar.

Now 94 years old.

Like my hypothetical man from earlier, born in Peshawar.

Then a part of “Pre-Independence India”.

Now a part of Pakistan.

Bordering Afghanistan.

In Filmistaan, Inaamulhaq knows him as Sir Yusuf.

Sunny knows him as Dilip.

Dilip Kumar was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in Peshawar in 1922.

Sir Yusuf.

Dilip Kumar.

Same person.

It’s like the World Wars.

fenêtre in French

das Fenster in German

window.

/\

fenêtre /\ Fenster

But when you look through a window (or a border), everything can look backwards.

You’re so close, in reality.

But you’re reading the word as if in a mirror.

Nitin Kakkar directed a masterpiece with Filmistaan because he put his heart and soul into evoking peace.

There are no winners in a nuclear war.

And peace is a rare commodity on the world stage.

Geopolitics…

But we must reach out that hand.

And shake it.

I congratulate Nitin Kakkar and Sharib Hashmi for their dedication.

It is evident.

Though I speak neither Hindi nor Urdu, I was able to watch.

And understand.

I needed the subtitles.

But sublime emotions may be mutually intelligible across cultures.

What a film!

-PD

Salinger [2013)

I read every book J.D. Salinger ever wrote.

This was, of course, due to The Catcher in the Rye.

If my memory serves me, it was the first book I ever enjoyed reading.

The first book that ever made me laugh.

[what a concept!]

And so I made it through the other three books published during the author’s lifetime.

None of them made the same impression upon me as had Catcher, yet I knew this was a special, special writer.

One story did, however, stick with me for unrelated reasons.

That story was “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”.

And the connection was Richard Manuel (of The Band)…who died in a similar way (and in Florida, near enough in my mind…city notwithstanding) to the protagonist of that haunting little tale.

But I am not obsessed with J.D. Salinger.

Indeed, I had not given thought to him in quite some time.

His writing affected me deeply, but it was not the kind of stuff that I wished to revisit.

Once was enough.

But still…

Perhaps his greatest work…was his strange, mysterious life.

THAT is what fascinated me!

Long after the books ended.

In my literary pantheon, there is one very small category which holds but two authors:  Salinger and Pynchon.

The recluses.

And so, in the final estimation, Salinger was the consummate artist.

A genius of public relations as much as a weaver of phrases.

Well, dear friends…if you relate to any of the above, then you absolutely must see the documentary Salinger.

What is particularly fascinating is that our author was in counterintelligence.

Yes, by this I mean to infer that Salinger’s self-imposed exile was very much a calculated move from the mind of a trained spook (for lack of a better word).

But there’s more to the story…

Salinger likewise was a soldier.

World War II.

Voluntary.

From D-Day through V-E Day.

299 days (as director Shane Salerno makes wonderfully clear).

But if this has not piqued your curiosity about this mammoth of 20th-century literature, consider the pithy, icy story of how Salinger was jilted, while at war (!), to the benefit of an Englishman [wait for it] living in America…

Yes, his girlfriend married Charlie Chaplin.

While J.D. was seeing men die in France and Germany to push back and defeat the Nazis.

And the cherry on top of that bitter sundae?

His erstwhile girlfriend was the daughter of America’s only Nobel-prize-winning dramatist:  Eugene O’Neill.

This is the kind of stuff any documentarian would drool over.

But likewise, portraying the delicate enigma of Salinger is a task which could have resulted in crumbling failure with any faux pas (in its literal sense).

Shane Salerno (any relation to Nadja…Sonnenberg?) crafted a thoroughly engrossing document of Salinger’s richly-fabriced life.

But the coup comes at the end (and it is not too much of a spoiler to reveal this).

Salinger appears to be the primary source (if Wikipedia is to be even marginally trusted) concerning the forthcoming publication of Salinger’s fruits of reclusion.

We have a timetable:  2015-2020.

40% has come and gone.

You know, I never thought I’d live to see the day when a “new” Salinger book hit the shelves.

And I won’t believe it till I see it.

But one thing is for sure:  I’m buying.

Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Salinger.

He passed away in 2010.

What a special gift he had!

What joy he shared with the world!!

It was the real thing.

The masses, after all, CAN (in the final estimation) tell the difference between shit and Shinola.

And to all the critics who ever panned J.D. out of jealousy, a big “Fuck you” is in order.

One more thing…

This review is dedicated to all those who travelled up to Cornish, New Hampshire hoping to catch a glimpse of the man…

All those who left a note…

All those whose pleas fell on deaf ears…

I know your dedication.

My hero is Jean-Luc Godard.

I know.

I know letters.

I know the long-distance call.

My Cornish, New Hampshire just happens to be Rolle, Switzerland.

But I know.

And I want to make this very clear.

You are not dupes.

You had the open hearts to dream.

And you let an author into your lives.

Perhaps J.D. Salinger was incapable of expressing his gratitude for all of you.

Perhaps out of some kind of self-hate.

But I’m bold enough to speak for the man.

He loves you.

Always did.

Always will.

Else, he never would have given you Holden in the first place.

-PD

Forrest Gump [1994)

We watch films to learn.

To learn about ourselves.

And this one brings me back to a very special time in my life.

With the people I cherish most.

My parents.

Today, I graduated with my MBA degree.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Because I had no business knowledge when I started.

But here I am.

I worked and worked…and I made the best grades that any student could make.

For two years.

And now it is a blessing to relax and enjoy a film like this.

Near the end of my degree, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

I had to have my appendix removed three weeks before the end.

And when I left the hospital, I worked and worked…even harder than before…because I was behind.

It was difficult just to get out of bed.

But I stuck it out.

I wanted to do the best.

Once you get used to giving it your all, it’s hard to settle for mediocrity.

But I tell you…

It was a lot of stress.

I went into the hospital just two days after our election.

I was in the hospital for two days.

And that election was stressful.

But now we come to a time when simplicity should rule.

We can think of Forrest Gump on that bus bench in Savannah, Georgia.

Imagine those hot summers.

Remember the times we passed through there.

Both literally and mentally.

This film almost starts off too simple.

It disarms us with its sparse trappings.

And though I can’t really get behind Alan Silvestri’s little “feather” melody, the feather is an effective motif which sublimely sums up the story as a whole.

Forrest starts awkward.

He’s always awkward.

The Internet seems to be in consensus (not always a good sign) that Andy Warhol had an 86 IQ.

Forrest Gump has a 75 IQ in our film.

But he’s a wonderful person.

As Howard Gardner has written, there are “multiple intelligences”.

But God sends Forrest a gift…on that first day on the school bus:  Jenny.

We find out what love and encouragement can do.

It can bring out the hidden potential in all of us.

But God sends Forrest another gift…on the army bus:  Bubba.

And so Forrest has someone to lean on in Vietnam.

And Bubba has a friend too.

They get each other through hell on earth.

It’s funny how Forrest endears himself to even the most bitter people…like Lieutenant Dan, who has lost both of his legs below the knees as a result of injuries sustained in battle.

Forrest just keeps on being himself.

Because he knows he literally can’t be any other person.

Most striking are all the adventures Forrest has.

Things that just wouldn’t have made sense–wouldn’t have sounded possible, if they’d been written down beforehand.

And that rings very true for me.

I’ve held many positions.

Been in many situations.

And to look back on it all is to fathom a collection of events which are truly surreal (especially when taken collectively).

Perhaps we all live on the bayou for some period of time.

But there’s something about this movie which compels me to thank God for His blessings upon me.

Many times (but especially, recently) when I thought I couldn’t keep going, I would pray.

And I would receive comfort knowing that God was listening.

I am thankful for my life.

So thankful for the blessings I have!

To be here with my parents.

But Forrest Gump is about more than all this.

It’s also about love.  And loneliness.

We see true love.  Dedication.

And we see the sadness which comes when we are left alone to think of our love far from us.

Highs and lows.

It may be a saccharine movie, but it’s accurate in that life keeps giving us surprises.

Each of us could fill a book with all we’ve seen and felt and heard.

Each of our stories is worthy of a movie.

So I must thank director Robert Zemeckis for having the guts to be simple.

And I have so many things to thank Tom Hanks for (above and beyond his wonderful performance in this movie).

But this film, for me, hinges on Robin Wright’s role.  And she does not disappoint.

Love is everywhere in the movies.

But not always around when we need it most.

And yet, we know that Forrest would give us good advice on the matter.

To just keep going.

See what the next day brings.

Be positive.

And do the best you can.

-PD

The Conversation [1974)

By 1974, TITANPOINTE was complete.

Which brings us to Francis Ford Coppola for the first time.

spoo SPOOK!

Where AT&T is LITHIUM.

Briefly dominating Drudge Report.

And then gone.

“Up on the twenty-ninth floor
Up on the twenty-ninth floor”

Four locks.  And an alarm.  A bottle of wine.

No phone.  Happy 44th birthday.

Not happy about this.

Gene Hackman in this masterpiece.

From Antonioni we got Blowup eight years previous.

But this time it is all about getting a fat sound.

SIGINT.

Is it?

It is a love for one’s work.

Like Gregg Popovich.

Hoosiers.

Gene Hackman.

But scarier.  Like 33 Thomas Street.

SMPTE for the devil…seems.

Grasshopper.

Must have a mix.  Phasing.

Louder.  In phase.

Knock.  Out of phase.

Urgently.  For young Teri Garr.

It doesn’t work.

This work.

It bleeds you of life electricity.

Spooking yourself.

On the trolley.

Snapping synapse line.  Electrical cable overhead.

And power down.  Stuck.  To think.  In silhouette.

Producing hit intelligence.

But not really thinking too much about the consumers.

Until the cris de coeur.

Or crise cardiaque.

When you are the only one between groundbreaking intel and the world at large.

And you are hearing it (“getting” it) for the first time.

When your job becomes an obsession.

Because of a dedication to excellence.

His famous gray plastic raincoat.

We think Manfred Eicher.  And François Musy.

Long nights going through the takes.

Full take.

All tape.

Whispering “conscience”…in that Swiss French we know so well.

Gently coated with cigars.

Shirley Feeney is here.

Cindy Williams.

But no Laverne.

The opening take so slow.

New Orleans jazz in many reverbed permutations.

Slightly shifting like Debussy’s clouds.

Or the light on Monet’s haystacks.

Operationally triangulated.

In a sonic crosshairs.

Most satisfying is the breaking up.

The broken telegraph gibberish of the rhythmic signal skating on intelligibility.

As if he’s heading to 26 Federal Plaza.

But it’s more corporate espionage.

Risk management.

Counterintelligence.

A masterpiece of sound film.

Which emphasizes that which is usually an afterthought.

Sonic activity.

Signaling intelligence.

We wait to decode the universe on our doorstep.

 

-PD

 

 

The Imitation Game [2014)

When I started this site, I focused a considerable bit on “spy spoofs” (which I cheekily filed under “espionage”).

But now we return to espionage in a more serious tenor.

Cryptography, to be exact.

Keep in mind, signals must first be intercepted before they can be decrypted.

Encryption–>Key–>Decryption.

Cipher, rather than code.

[or something like that]

And this story of Alan Turing hits all the right settings of the heart.

Indeed, the seeming Asperger’s case Turing makes a particularly prescient observation in this film.

Namely, that deciphering secret messages is very much like linguistic deconstruction.

Or even like its predecessor, structural linguistics.

Finnegans Wake, by my reading, is largely a sensual text of transgression written in a sort of code language which can only be decoded by a sort of Freudian mechanism inherent in minds similarly repressed by circumstances such as censorship.

There were things which James Joyce could not just come right out and say.

Else he would have ended up like Oscar Wilde (or Alan Turing himself) [though Joyce was pretty evidently heterosexual in excelsis].

And so The Imitation Game is a very fine film indeed about Bletchley Park (and, by extension, its successor the GCHQ).

It makes one reconsider that great piece of British classical music the “Enigma Variations” by Elgar.

Perhaps it was Edward’s premonition.

That a homosexual savant would save many lives through dogged determination to solve what was arguably the ultimate puzzle of its time.

Enigma.  James Bond fans will know it as the Lektor Decoder (a sort of substitution…a cipher…le chiffre…a metonym if not a MacGuffin).

“the article appears to be genuine” [stop]

“go ahead with purchase” [stop]

Smooth jazz on the weather channel…heil Hitler.

It’s true.

In Nazi Germany one was to begin and end even every phone call with “Heil Hitler!”.

Stupidity has its drawbacks.

Donald Trump has been skewered roundly by nearly every globalist publication on the planet, but there is power in the words, “You’re fired.”

Turing very soon realized that breaking the Enigma code was not a job for linguists.

It was purely mathematics, applied with imagination.

One of the most crucial actors in this film, Alex Lawther, plays what might be referred to as Boy With Apple.

There is something befitting of the “agony columns” mentioned by Simon Singh in his tome The Code Book about Turing’s backstory.

In the grown-up Alan Turing, we see the affection that man can have for machine…much like a struggling record producer naming his tape machine.

In the rotors there is music…and plenty of calibration to be done.

But the machine must be allowed to work.

And we must help the machine along by giving it hints on those entities which are “safe to ignore” (a sort of semiotics of limiting the fried pursuit of completism).

Love, as it turns out, sinks the Nazis.

Because even among the rank-and-file (or, perhaps, especially among them) there was a humanity which was not snuffed out.

It’s not because Hitler was a vegetarian who loved his dog.

The machine becomes predictive.

Because we tread the same path daily.

In some way.

In most ways.

Few of us are psychogeographical drifters–few bebop our infinitely-unique situations.

And even Coltrane has some signature licks.

Some runs.

Mystical fingerings.  Scriabin arpeggiated.

Then come statistics.

And megadeath notebooks seem less cynical.

Its the same discipline which made W. Edwards Deming a saint in Japan as he resurrected their economy.

The blowback was the quality revolution.

The next in that manga pantheon perhaps Carlos Ghosn.

Yes, we Trump voters are morons.  No doubt.

You must hide the victories among losses.

Where the chess player comes in.

Hugh Alexander.

Twice.

“You could be my enemy/I guess there’s still time”

Or is it NME?

“I’ve got a pi-an-o/I can’t find the C”

Or is it sea?

I salute thee, old ocean.  A quote by Lautreamont.

Or is it Ducasse?

Perhaps it’s why Ezra Pound was institutionalized.

On the grounds of the future Department of Homeland Security?

St. Elizabeths.  Washington, D.C.

When he spilled the beans about the Federal Reserve “System” to Eustace Mullins.

Finnegans.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley share a truly touching moment of love.

A passion of minds.

Platonic.  Immortal.

But the breaking is IX.  “Nimrod”…

That austere moment of British greatness.

One of only a handful of UK classical strains which really matter.

Sinopoli does it nicely.  With the Philharmonia.

Only a moron like me would vote for Trump.

To suffer for one’s art.

To turn off the lights and watch the machine come to life.

A miracle of whirligigs and glowing vacuum tubes.

Director Morten Tyldum expresses this ineffable humming solitude in the seventh art.

Cinema.

This dedication.

Dedicated.

And this love.

Which leads both telegraph operator and polymath to tap out the letters of their beloved.

Forever.

 

-PD

La Belle et la Bête [1946)

We return to old wounds.

First tastes.

Last glimpses.

I told her, but she did not believe me.  Belle.

And I have rejected several metric tons of noise to be a dedicated son.

Asks for a single rose.

Saved by a fire beneath a sturdy mantle in the cold countryside.

One of the first French films I saw.  Maybe the very first.

Where my eyes were open.

King Lear and filial piety and the prodigal.

But daughters who are pure.  Rare.

1001 nights.  The same question.

The persistence of memory.

We must visit.  We must move.  We must be there.

Magic mirrors before Skype or Facetime.

Back when coups involved messengers on horses.

It should be Cupid firing the arrows.

And not chess against Deep Blue.

Folger’s instant karma.

Here’s your svelte reward.

And your big fat penalty.

It would be nice.

To finish my penance.

And in these tests to feel the peace of Mother Teresa.

That we can call on a saint and ask translation.

Guidance.

We don’t need the whole fairy tale.

Mostly the arms with candelabras and the blinking statues.

 

-PD

Ljubavni slučaj ili tragedija službenice P.T.T. [1967)

Something draws me to Eastern Europe.  I blame Romania.  Thank you Romania!  Yes, there was something about the ambiance which director Cristian Mungiu conjured up in 2007’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile) which has stayed with me for a long time.

Really, it’s a rather mundane part.  Near the top of the film.  The goddess Anamaria Marinca traipses down the hall to find some soap…and cigarettes.  The scene is a college dormitory in communist Romania (pre-December 1989).  Girls in one room chat about beauty products.  There seems to be a good bit of bartering going on.  Marinca is mainly uninterested.  Looking for a certain kind of soap (if I remember correctly).  On the way back to her room she stops off at the room of a foreign student (non-Romanian) who sells cigarettes and gum and stuff.  The whole film she is searching for Kent cigarettes (a few mentions of this brand).  Not surprisingly, there are no Kents to be had in the dorm.  She settles for something else.  Perhaps.  I don’t know.

She stops and admires some kittens which someone has taken in.

It is astonishingly real.  On par with Roberto Rossellini.

Indeed, it might be said that all New Waves (from the nouvelle vague to the Romanian New Wave) have their birth in the neorealist films of Rossellini.

But Mungiu added a new wrinkle.

Marinca.  [The goddess of whom I spoke.]

Marinca is unglamorous.  No one is glamorous in 4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile.  We get the impression that it is the waning days of Ceaușescu’s reign.

Times are tough.  The policies of the state haven’t worked out so well.  It bears some resemblance to a prison.  Material items take the place of money (reminiscent of cigarettes as currency in jails).

What I have yet to define in this article is “goddess”.  What do I mean by that?

Well, I’m glad you asked!  Marinca (particularly in this film) is a goddess to me because she represents the opposite of the typical American woman in the year 2015.  Her beauty is her soul.  Her beauty is her loyalty to her roommate and friend Găbița.  Her beauty is her dedication to acting.  She is completely immersed in her unglamorous role…and it is eye-watering.

I have mentioned a similar impression (which further solidified my admiration for Romanian films) I got from watching Dorotheea Petre in The Way I Spent the End of the World (Cum mi-am petrecut sfârşitul lumii).  This masterpiece by director Cătălin Mitulescu preceded Mungiu’s Palme d’Or-winning film by about a year (2006).  I was again struck by another goddess of film (Petre) who, with the help of her auteur, created a character also in direct opposition to the meretricious, vacuous ideal of American womanhood in the 21st century.

And so it is that we finally come to the film under consideration:  Душан Макавејев‘s Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator.  Dušan Makavejev is Serbian.  Out of deference to his country I have listed his name in Cyrillic script.  Likewise, the title of the film (at the top) is in Serbo-Croatian.  It is a grey area about which I am not completely informed.  Suffice it to say that Croatia seems to generally use Roman letters (as opposed to the Serbian usage of Cyrillic).  It is a bit like the distinction (and writing differences) between Urdu and Hindi [which I have heard described as essentially the same language, but with two different writing systems].

I prefaced this article on Ljubavni slučaj ili tragedija službenice P.T.T. with my own backstory concerning Eastern European cinema because it is relevant to my approach going forward.

Before coming to this, my first Yugoslav (1967) film, I opened up the can of worms which is Czech cinema by reviewing Closely Watched Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky).  Jiří Menzel’s sexually-charged film poem from the previous year (1966) was a major revelation for me.  And so it is that Dušan Makavejev’s bittersweet confection shares more than just a communist framing with Menzel’s aforementioned erotic portrait.

Yes, Ljubavni slučaj ili tragedija službenice P.T.T. is about our old film-school standbys:  sex and death.  I can never combine those two words (in the context of film) without remembering the ridiculously funny scene of Jim Morrison at UCLA screening his student film in Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991). 

The fictional Morrison, then, would be trying to hop on a nonfictional bandwagon represented by the likes of Menzel and Makavejev.  Morrison’s time at UCLA (1964-1965) not only coincided with the staggered births of “new waves” around the world (particularly in Europe), but also occurred while Morrison’s father (US Navy Rear Admiral [RADM] George Stephen Morrison) was the commanding officer of a carrier division involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Jim Morrison lived fast.  Entered UCLA in 1964.  Graduated with an undergraduate degree in film in 1965.  Was dead by 1971.  But those years in between…  It’s no wonder Jim had an Oedipal complex (evident in the song “The End” [1966/1967]) when considering his father was involved in false-flagging the U.S. into a suicidal war against communism.  What a disgrace…

No, the real hero in the family was not RADM Morrison, but rather Jim.  He turned on the dream-switches of so many kids.  To put it quite bluntly, he was part of the counterculture in America which caused kids to start giving a fuck about the world and politics and geopolitics and confirmed charades (frauds, shams, etc.) like the Gulf of Tonkin “incident”.  Such a sanitary and slippery word:  incident.

It fits perfectly, in that there was no incident.

But while Morrison the Younger had gone off into Brechtian pop-rock, Serbian director Makavejev was busy making Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator.  It is equally stunning, for its medium, as “The End”.

Sex needs beauty.  A really luscious film like this needed Ева Рас (Eva Ras).  She is a bit like Jitka Zelenohorská’s character in Closely Watched Trains…mischievous, bewitching…  But there is one great difference between Ras and Zelenohorska:  Ras is a blond.

Though our film is in black and white, it is clear that Ras’ silky hair is rather fair (a detail which would not have escaped Hitchcock).  It must be said, however, that Makavejev did not give in to the easy femme fatale portrayal when it came to filming Ras.  Izabela (Ras) is a complex individual.  The film tells us that she is Hungarian.  She is different…other.  She needs sex.  She is passionate.

All the same, her portrayal by Ras is poetic and tender.  Really, what we are seeing here is a tentative feminism expressed by Makavejev which would become a thundering symphony of women’s liberation in Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. 

And it is good.  It is good for men to see these types of films.  We men idolize and reify women in the West, but we don’t often enough stop to really observe the trials of womankind.

In the best spirit of socialism, this film has something for everyone…men, women…ok, maybe not children.

Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator is really an intense film.  If you have seen (and made it through) Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (a film I, incidentally, once made the mistake of showing at a party), then you’ll be alright.  For those faint of heart (I generally fall into that category), there are a couple of rough moments in this film (in the context of criminology).

In all, I am very proud and happy to have seen my first Serbian movie.  As a resident of San Antonio (and fan of the San Antonio Spurs), I feel it gives me a better glimpse into the life of one of my favorite basketball players Бобан Марјановић (Boban Marjanović).  I highly recommend this film…and Go Spurs Go 🙂

 

-PD

Letter to Jane [1972)

Fucking goddamned brilliant.

It is not surprise.  An exclamation without an exclamation point.

It is a reaffirmation.

That Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, in 1972, could dismantle the entire system imposing ill upon the world.

If their critique was not inclusive enough to include the shortcomings of communism, we must forgive them somewhat.

It really doesn’t matter that this film operates in a Chris Marker manner.

It was the right form to address a picture.  In fact, the spirit is much more akin to Antonioni’s Blow-Up.

The ontology of the image.

André Bazin.

This is the world from which Godard and Gorin emerge.

But the key touchstone may indeed be, as the filmmakers say, Uncle Bertolt.

Brecht.

Truth simple.  Telling the truth difficult.

Dziga Vertov.

Lenin.

It is a revelation to hear Godard speaking English.

Yes, there are no subtitles here (unless, perhaps, you are French and don’t understand English).

That makes this an especially important film for the English-speaking world.  Like British Sounds.

But most importantly this film encourages intellectual scrutiny of mass media.

Scrutiny of photographs.  Scrutiny of captions.  Scrutiny of context.

I think, therefore I am.

This is the acting default which we are told emerged (with sound) in the 1930s of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Beware of pity (advises Stefan Zweig).

A town without pity.  Gene Pitney.  Pithy.

No filmmaker has been more bold, in every way, than Jean-Luc Godard.

But his collaborators deserve their due for standing by him.

Gorin.  Anne-Marie Miéville.

So many ways to be bold…

To show the futility of 3-D.  Actually, to show how mundane superheroes are.

Just one aspect in the latest installment of brilliance (Adieu au langage).

His latest, Letter to Jane, Histoire(s) du cinema

They all smash to bits flailing failures like San Andreas.

It’s as if the master is saying, “Just think for a minute.”

But the master, JLG, dove into thought and grabbed handfuls of paradoxes.

That is the true artist.

That is the eternal man.

It makes me a bit emotional.

What dedication!

From Roxy the dog all the way back to Michel Poiccard.

It is hard to focus on just one episode in this immense body of work.

That said, the true message of Godard is elusive because his fame (and infamy) overshadow the meaning conveyed.

But his work says…carry on.

-PD