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

Quantum of Solace [2008)

Early.  “Dame” Judi Dench.  Threat of extraordinary rendition.  Not cool.

Doesn’t seem to bode well.  Are we about to be served a helping of steaming-shit propaganda?

No.  Not quite.  Thank heavens!

Earlier.  Another fucking car chase.  God damn it, if I wanted to watch Top Gear I’d have stayed home with a cup of PG Tips!

But by the grace of all that’s good and right in the world (hyperbole watch), Marc Forster has done the impossible:  a good (not great) follow-up to the best Bond film of all-time.

As of 2006.

Tagged banknotes.  D. B. Cooper.  An alias.  It was 1973 when this bizarre skyjacking took place in the Pacific Northwest.  The FBI had the forethought to make a microfilm photograph of all of the ransom money turned over to Mr. Cooper.  That’s a lot of photographs in a short amount of time, don’t you think?  10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills. L.  Federal Reserve.  San Francisco.  Series 1969-C.  In a matter of hours…10,000 individual photographs?

By 2008, we doubt such modes of tracking considerably less.  And so, by hook and crook, we end up in Haiti.  This is where we first meet Olga Kurylenko.  Bolivian Intelligence.

And then the subtle subplots come in waves.  We are shown the duplicity of the CIA.  To wit, a CIA which is deceiving its partners the MI6.

It is all so very applicable to the adventures of one Ms. Victoria Nuland.  But it goes all the way back (at least) to the ouster of one Mr. Mosaddegh in 1953.  Particularly, it extends to the present allegations of U.S. military (and contractors) raping children in Colombia.  It goes to the adventures of one Mr. George Soros.  It leads right up to the ridiculous pronouncement of Venezuela as a threat to American national security.

Nisman.  Nemtsov.  Shady activities to undermine democracy in Argentina and Brazil.  Warnings from Ecuador that American intelligence is attempting to overthrow any government which does not declare fealty to the United Corporations of America.

We will eventually get to Russia…or they will get to us.

São Paulo.  Veolia Environnement.  Suez Environnement.  Water.  Drought.

We tend to view very few world events as accidents anymore (knowing what we know about history).  It was 9/11 which taught us that things aren’t always what they seem.  And as we dug deeper into declassified documents, we realized how long this charade has been going on.  And now, with immensely powerful technology at their fingertips, the most unscrupulous world leaders are in a position to stage just about anything (with a little help from the military component of their industrial complex).

I must hand it to director Forster:  though the earpieces were brilliant, it was the strains of Tosca which made the mute shootout so artful.

Another soft undercurrent:  a Special Branch bodyguard protecting a member of an international crime syndicate.  No wonder the work of intelligence agencies is so difficult!  Politicians make deals with unsavory characters and thereby endanger the safety and futures of their citizens.  Oh, sure…we are made to believe that this is all in the process of pursuing the lesser of evils, but as Mary Parker Follett said, “Authority should go with knowledge…whether it is up the line or down.”  That means that in many cases, politicians should get out of the way of the NSA, CIA, MI6, etc.

It’s a shame Strawberry Fields couldn’t remain with us longer.  At least she gets a good trip in! Her death, however, is a rather unimaginative twist on Goldfinger.  Nice try, gents.

But all is forgiven because of the Mathis death which precedes this.  When seeing the old agent dead in a dumpster from a high, circumspect vantage point, we think of Bill Buckley in Beirut and even the strange death of John P. Wheeler III.  We think of the MITRE Corporation.  We wonder about all those filthy neocon roaches that have managed to keep their clawed positions in government (Nuland). But mostly we realize that death in a dumpster is the true romanticism of being a secret agent.  This is the disconnect between reality and fiction:  James Bond will never end up dead in a dumpster.  He is, actor by actor, immortal.  Or rather, his lifespan depends on the British-American power which persists.

If the Russians were to win, we might be seeing more Stierlitz films.  Though Vyacheslav Tikhonov and Georgiy Zhzhonov are gone, that spirit would procede.

In James Bond we have the remnants of the British Empire (and the American spoils of WWII known as Hollywood).

In Quantum of Solace we again find the trend which started at least as early as the excellent License to Kill (1989):  divine insubordination.  You do not have to obey an unjust order.  An unjust law is no law at all.  St. Thomas Aquinas (from St. Augustine).  Natural law.

Jeffrey Wright displays this admirably in his portrayal of CIA agent Felix Leiter.  And of course Daniel Craig as Bond…the epitome of insubordination.  Bond can get away with it because he is that talented.  Few are these mythical supermen.

Forster manages a touchingly real moment when Craig shields and comforts Kurylenko amid the flashback flames.  It reminds us of Bond’s humanity in the egg-shell poignant scene of Casino Royale when Craig joins Eva Green beneath the interminably therapeutic cascade of a distraught shower…sitting down, fully clothed…that distant, vacant look of fear in her eyes as she shivers.

And with this we congratulate the James Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli for stringing together these two films in such a genius manner.

We end in Kazan.  Not Elia Kazan.  May God spare us the dick-measuring contest of Minuteman III and Topol-M.

-PD