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

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

Kanał [1956)

I feel like this film.

Every day.

But it might as well be today.

Trudging through excrement.

There is no kindly way to put it.

War.

I do not know.

Resistance.

I do.

Give me that wedding ring.

No thing of value will perish with you.

It is hard to keep your thoughts clear in a sewer.

Surely lighting a match is unadvisable.

But we only know the Merry Christmas war.

Shitter’s full.

The miserables.

Henry Miller may have imagined it too late.

As Robert Schumann said, you must only think of a melody and write it down.

Or remember a melody that no one else has remembered.

I don’t know.

It’s hard to think down here.

With these fumes.

Starved for oxygen.

But we have a real story.

Teresa Iżewska is all but forgotten in the English-speaking world.

What a shame.

Because she conjures a dying palliative.

Don’t open your eyes, Saul.

Let me describe it to you.

There is a Bechstein piano with the left front leg missing.

Kissing the ground.

And the composer goes to work.

The focal point of our story.

Władysław Sheybal or Vladek Sheybal.

He brings the movie to life along with director Andrzej Wajda.

Yes, I fell in love with Polish films because of Popiół i diament.

And now we come to Kanał.

The sewer.  Sewers.  Dante.  Hell.

“Piano music should only be written for the Bechstein.”  –Claude Debussy

But did he say it in English?

Surely not Polish.

And so we celebrate our heroes now in our resistance.

Andreas von Bülow, for instance.

And we turn our ear to the acoustics of this torture chamber.

Thanks to Hans von Bülow.

You probably know Sheybal (if at all) as Kronsteen of From Russia with Love.

Yes, the early Bond films had credibility.  Class.

Goldfinger employed Gert Fröbe (whom I should have mentioned for his small-yet-comedic role in Mr. Arkadin).

And now we still have great actors in the Bond films…Daniel Craig (yes, I believe he’s truly special), Jesper Christensen (an acting god!), Ralph Fiennes (another holy)…even Ben Whishaw when he doesn’t have shite lines.

And who doesn’t love Léa Seydoux?

But to this formidable ensemble was added the raw sewage/faux talent of Christoph Waltz.

Likewise, John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth…these four fell far short of the mark in Spectre that Jerzy Stefan Stawiński set with Kanał.

I mention Spectre because I have been reconsidering my harsh review of it.

But, dear friends, much of my revulsion concerning Spectre remains (even after a second viewing).

On the other hand, a film literally steeped in shit (Kanał) has stood the test of time for 60 years.

ATTN:  James Bond franchise (Eon Productions), Hollywood, et al.

Stop stopping at Hitchcock.

Sam Mendes.

Your rips of The Birds and North by Northwest did not go unnoticed.

But why not delve deeper into film history?

Wanna help bring down the surveillance panopticon?

Gonna have to try a lot harder than that.

The façade won’t crumble with half-assed efforts.

Start here, perhaps.

 

-PD