National Lampoon’s Vacation [1983)

Hello, dear friends ūüôā

Perhaps you thought I was dead?

I certainly FELT dead…off and on.

And so hopefully this is a true return.

Many months.

Stops and starts.

I was reminded just tonight of the appendectomy I had one year ago.

What a blessing to have received urgent medical care.

But I never would have known at that particular time (upon my first and only self-directed trip to an emergency room) that my appendix needed attention had it not been for my anxiety.

Horrible anxiety.

Debilitating.

I sought medical help for extraordinarily high anxiety.

And the prognosis?

“You need to have your appendix removed.” ūüôā

Not exactly what I was hoping to hear.

But I made it through.

My first and only surgery.

Praise God.

And I powered through.

If you will remember, it was a mere three weeks before my graduation with an MBA.

Three more weeks I had to push.

Fresh out of the hospital.

I had to hunker down each day and research.

Study.

Write.

Churn out papers.

PowerPoint presentations.

Research solar power.

Water purification.

The Maghreb.

Sert√£o.

Sanhedrin.

Sahara.

MENA.

Middle East and North Africa.

Not to be confused with Mena, Arkansas (sniffy woe).

Presentations.

Transhumanism.

Ivan Raszl (well, not yet).

How Hillary ripped off her campaign insignia:

transhumanism

Neither here nor there.

But suffice to say Ray Kurzweil.  Jeremy Rifkin.  Zoltan Istvan.

Bad dudes.

And by this calculus a commodius vicus back to Elon Musk and environs.

Yes, I am back.

Back to that blabbering drivel.

That dithering dithyrambic style you know and love.

And I am fighting.

Not just anxiety, but drug addiction.

Prescription medicine.

It’s what happens when we max out our dosages.

We take as prescribed (more or less).

We take the right amount.

But the “as needed” turns into “needed all the time”.

And so I have been blessed to recently receive psychological help.

For anxiety.

Not my first time (big surprise), but the first time I’ve had a real counselor.

Someone who cares.

Someone who’s qualified.

Someone who gives a shit.

Someone with the chops to help me attack anxiety.

My cousin died.

It scared the shit out of me.

43.

Heart attack.

Three years older than me.

Fuck.

Yeah…

And then I magically was prescribed heart medicine.

On top of cholesterol medicine.

Real fucking fun.

All of this shit freaked me out pretty heavily.

The death of my cousin was a supremely shocking occurrence.

Was I next?

Was I going to wake up and find myself dead???

Well, fear not, dear friends.

Yes.

During the course of my therapy, my shrink deduced that I was indeed addicted to multiple medications.

I didn’t really realize my addiction for what it was.

I knew I was tethered to my medicines, but I had no perspective on the matter.

And so we started slow.

Hey. ¬†How ’bout not taking that third of a sleeping pill to relax…hours before bedtime, fuckface?

Ok.

And hey. ¬†How ’bout you get to bedtime and maybe you only take half a sleeping pill?

Sleep.

Sleep was the first fix.

You gotta have a bedtime.

Be your own army sergeant.

Pick your time.

A “lights out” time.

And stick to it.

Every damn night.

Midnight.

Lights out.

It took awhile.

I wanted to remain with the world.

Wanted to stay up-to-date.

On the off chance that some kind word would make my soul bloom.

And set an alarm, you lazy moron ūüôā

8 a.m.

Ok.

Better than TWO P.M. ūüôā

Set that fucking thing.

And WAKE UP.

You’re tired?

Too fucking bad.

Now what???

You stay awake for the next 16 hours, that’s what!

So when midnight rolls around again, you’re pretty tired.

But you get a second wind.

So you push it.

And you gradually rack up weeks of 6 hours.

6 1/2 hours.

On average.

But the goal is 8.

Not 7.  Not 9.

8.

After WEEKS of this shit, this finally settled into a cradle.

A groove.

The string settled on the nut.

Or the bridge.

Notch.

Sleep.  Nutrition.  Exercise.

The “holy trinity” of psychological health.

I had been an insomniac for decades.

A pro musician.

Starting gigs at 1 a.m. in New Orleans.

Fucking crazy.

But now I have an MBA.

And I need to straighten the fuck up.

Sleep came.

Slowly.

Tired as fuck.

Torturous.

But you gotta FORCE YOURSELF to stay awake.

Every damn day.

Finally, these past few days I am getting 8 hours.

Was it a month of sleep deprivation?

Six weeks?

Probably.

But it was worth it.

A hard-earned victory.

Nutrition.

Fine.

Eat boring.

Eat country vittles.

Be good.

Eat your fruits and vegetables.

Don’t go for the dozen glazed donuts.

Or raspberry jelly donuts.

I know you can eat a whole dozen glazed by yourself.

But don’t fucking do it.

It’s nasty.

Disgusting.

You don’t need to be in that mindset.

And exercise.

First thing in the morning.

Walk.

Hey. ¬†How ’bout you double your exercise amount, dipshit?

Ok.

Walk in the evening too.

Twice a day.

And how ’bout STANDING UP when you feel a panic attack coming on.

Yeah, that’s right: ¬†get out of bed.

Get on your feet.

Don’t ball up into the fetal position.

Don’t hide your head under the covers.

Don’t wait for the panic attack to pass.

No more being a bitch to benzodiazepines.

Time to breathe.

Big breath in.

Throw back those shoulders.

Chest out.

Tighten the butt.

Lower back.

Stand up straight.

Hold it.

For God.  For country.

Like a Marine.

Salute.

At attention.

Pop that breastbone.

Tension.

Pops sternum.

I’m not dead.

I’m a crazy motherfucker, but I’m not dead.

And my crazy?  A lust for life.

A return.

“You can always come back/but you can’t come back all the way”

Yeah.

It is sheer folly to try.

But it is “life or no life”.

I am blowing the harp.

I am singing.

I am playing the country blues.

I become real acquainted with Robert Johnson.

‘Cept I already tried to sell my soul.

Years ago.

And God forgave me.

Because Jesus short-circuits the wrath of God.

So now I am onto an opioid drawdown.

Tapering.

Returning to a dosage I last mastered 7 years ago (and no time since).

So it soothed my brain to go back to this movie.

A sheer masterpiece:

National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Dana Barron makes me happy ūüôā

Reminds me of love.

When we were in high school.

And the rare God miracle of falling in love with a girl from a couple streets over.

That miracle.

Those tie-dyed times.

Long since dusty and moth-eaten.

Let’s start with the aw-kward Family Truckster.

Metallic pea ūüôā

The green latrine.

Not an auspicious start.

vacation1

“You’re gonna see a sign that says, ‘Rib Tips'” ūüôā

This was Trump era.

Think Melania.

Christie Brinkley.

But nothing is better than Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie ūüôā

Quaid owns this role.

Drives it into the ground.

Slam dunks it.

The laconic redneck.

Piss-perfect.

“Vicki, can I help you with that Kool-Aid…please.”

“REAL…tomato ketchup, Eddie???”

And the white shoes which act as time machine and talisman.

Future past.

From another century.

Something that’s crossed over.

Houellebecq.

But I got new respect for law enforcement.

And I got huge respect for American military.

Military City USA.

San Antonio.

Here we are.

And these crazy times of FBI.

Las Vegas.

What do you want to believe?

I have turned off the medium which slapped me daily with the message.

I don’t give a fuck about the FBI.

I don’t give a fuck about the CIA.

A useful bit of wisdom at times.

Nay, I am not even really following politics at the moment.

Fuck it.

Fuck these people.

A bunch of losers.

But, regardless: ¬†I don’t have the extra capacity…the patience.

I gotta get myself healthy.

So fuck it.

FBI, do your job.

CIA, stop being such bastards.

I don’t know.

Is that fair?

Which is to say, I’m a nobody. ¬†A nothing.

But at least I know that.

And I can crawl from beneath my rock and give thanks to God.

I can give thanks that nobody has whacked me.

“50 yards…”

Aunt Edna on the roof ūüôā

In the fucking rain.

Yep.

That is a rich scenario.

“I thought you were going to tell me your were in the CIA.”

“What, me??? ¬†No…not anymore. ¬†A long time ago. ¬†I don’t really like to talk about it.”

Beverly D’Angelo is really good.

Anthony Michael Hall is solid.

But Chevy Chase really ties the room together ūüôā

AND RANDY QUAID.

God…

Harold Ramis directed a rather perfect picture here.

No shame.

This is fine filmmaking indeed.

 

-PD

 

Yang Tidak Dibicarakan Ketika Membicarakan Cinta [2013)

By the grace of God I bring you this film review tonight.

Last night I was not feeling well enough to write.

And so I am happy to give you my first review of an Indonesian film.

It is a wonderful piece of cinema and is available on Netflix in the U.S. currently as¬†What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love.

I will just say this.

Any film which includes a character sneezing his glass eye out of his head is ok by me.

Which is to say, this is a pretty strange film.

But it is not strange in an uptight, contrived, David Lynch sort of way.

Perhaps it is the basic situation which makes this film quixotic.

The bulk of the “action” takes place at a “special” school (as it is called in the subtitles).

The beautiful young people at this school all struggle with visual impairment.

There is, however, one very important character who is sighted yet cannot hear.

[We will get to him in due time]

When I tried to watch this film last night, I was not feeling very well (as mentioned previously).

And so in my debilitating moments of bubbling, dull panic I was trying to first situate this film culturally.

There was some blurb about a Dutch film fund.

And the real bit of text at the head of the film which threw me off the scent:  a reference to the Busan film fund.

Knowing Busan, I figured, “Great! ¬†I am watching a South Korean film.”

I felt somewhat comfortable marginally knowing the cinema tradition in which I had just entered.

But as I saw women and young girls in Muslim garb, I began to question.

Indeed, even on tonight’s complete viewing, it was only 3/4 of the way through the film that I realized I was watching an Indonesian production.

Call me stupid.

Fine.

But this is not a cinema (nor a language) with which I have any experience.

It was only when I saw Jakarta on the side of a bus that I felt fairly confident where the story had been set.

So yes, this is an Indonesian film in Indonesian (or dare I say Malay).

The scope and breadth of this language is not altogether clear to me, but it seems that Indonesian is a “register” (in linguistic terms) of Malay.

Being the dunce that I am, “register” seems an awful lot like “dialect”, but I’m sure most linguists would roundly dismiss this generalization.

Perhaps “jargon” is a better synonym for “register”.

In any case, Malay (of one type or another) is spoken by about 290 million people worldwide.

But we will stick to the term Indonesian (as per the language).

Our whole film is in that language (except for one line in Javanese).

Javanese, unlike Indonesian, is not a form of Malay.

It is quite distinct.

But on to the movie!

First we must pay our respects to the highly-talented director:  Mouly Surya.

Based on a cursory search, this would be Mr. Surya (Mouly being far more common as a male name).

Ah…but thank God for research!

Our director, in fact, is MS. Surya.

She is a 36-year-old native of Jakarta.

But really, male or female, this is an obvious work of cinematic art.

What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love¬†isn’t perfect, but it’s frighteningly close.

Which isn’t to say it’s frightening.

It’s not.

But it’s a film which sneaks up on you.

Cineastes may be familiar with the term “slow cinema” which has been bandied about here and there especially in recent years.

There may be some of that here…like when the character Diana combs her hair exactly 100 times.

[I was sure she was going to stop at 88…that number being good luck in Southeast Asian cultures]

Indeed, we are with the character for a seemingly interminable session of hair-brushing at her “boudoir”.

However, that is one of the few times where the “slow cinema” idea has our film run astray temporarily.

Other uses of the technique (an extreme of Deleuze’s “time-image”?) are quite effective and evoke the loneliness of sightless life.

Granted, no two lives are the same.

But the Indonesia pictured in our film is not an economic wonderland.

Quite the opposite.

It is a rather humble school in which students have very basic accommodations.

And as is so often the case, economic struggles exacerbate and compound coexisting problems.

But don’t get me wrong: ¬†it appears that the students portrayed actually have it very lucky in the context of their nation (all things considered).

Arguably the star of the film is Karina Salim.

Her situation is one of ballet lessons…and a doting mother.

That said, her roommate has a family which is struggling economically.

It is a strange juxtaposition.

But let’s focus on Ms. Salim.

Her acting is really fantastic.

Whether she is blind in real life, I know not.

But her portrayal of the character Diana is in the great tradition of pathos which touched on the works of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

The French adjective pathétique.

In English, we (if I may speak for us English speakers) tend to regard pathétique as descriptive of poetic pathos.

Deep expression.

And that is exactly what Karina Salim exhibits in her delicate acting throughout this film.

Her character, Diana, is right on the cusp of womanhood.

And in a very moving set of sequences, we see her quietly preparing her underwear for the week.

The moment of her first menstruation is a cause for secret celebration.

Indeed, she shares this ascent to adulthood with only her mother…on a joyous little phone call which we overhear.

Which brings us to culture.

We almost feel embarrassed knowing this intimate detail of character Diana’s life.

But American films are so much more explicit in so many ways.

Perhaps we are shocked because the reality of womanhood is rarely addressed in Hollywood movies.

And so we see that Hollywood still has taboos.

In this age in which anything goes, honest depiction of mundane-yet-visceral life realities (such as menstruation) are all but absent (save from a film like Carrie [1976]).

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this particular kind of honesty about femininity onscreen.

But what the hell do I know? ¬†I’m a dude.

So let’s back to the film.

While Ayushita is very good as Diana’s roommate, it is really Nicholas Saputra who is the other star of this film.

His character is a deaf punk rocker.

[Let that one sink in for a second]

Every day he has a different shirt.

The Sex Pistols.  Led Zeppelin (?!?).  The Clash.  Joan Jett.

He definitely has the best hairstyle in the film.

[A strange zig-zag bleach job which I’ve never seen previously]

His character Edo is a social engineer par excellence.

Yes, there is some trickery in this film.

But it is not malicious.

Or if it begins as malicious, it is transformed into something quite beautiful.

[think Amélie]

But here’s where things get really strange.

There is really no decorous way of putting this, but there are a few characters in this film which pop up from time to time…AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHO THEY ARE!

There is a rather tasteless meme going back generations that all Chinese people look the same to a Westerner.

[And, perhaps, all Brits (for instance) look the same to a Chinese person]

But, again, there are some characters in this film which seem to be playing out some subplot which escaped me completely.

Indeed, I have so rarely seen anything like it that I can only associate my confusion with that felt by so many in relation to the surreal Howard Hawks narrative in The Big Sleep.

Granted, in our film this is a very minor element.

But it is still disorienting.

Was there some series of edits which mangled this film?

Can I really not tell one Indonesian person from another?

I don’t know.

You’ll have to see it for yourself.

And explain to me exactly what is going on.

For instance, does the blind character Andhika somehow learn how to drive a Vespa around town?

And is he cheating on Diana?

Or is Diana cheating on herself?

Are there two Dianas?

Again, a few scenes completely lost me.

But they do not ruin the general continuity of this film.

If anything, they add a mercurial charm to the whole affair.

And so I wholeheartedly recommend this film which portrays a side of life on which many of us are completely uninformed.

Visual impairment. ¬†Braille. ¬†Hearing impairment. ¬†The difficulty of asking a clerk at 7-Eleven, “what kind of cigarettes do girls buy” in sign language.

And there is beauty in this world.

The appreciation for just a glimmer of sight (however blurry).

And yet, the difficulty of EVERY SINGLE TASK.

Most of all, this is a love story.

Two love stories (at least).

[not counting the extraneous players which pop up here and there]

But it is a very, VERY unique love story.

For me, it is an incredibly moving film because of the acting of Karina Salim and also Anggun Priambodo (who plays Andhika).

So take an adventure to Jakarta. ¬†Capital of Indonesia. ¬†World’s fourth-most-populous country.

While Indonesia is approximately 87% Muslim, this film portrays a diversity of religious devotion.

Indeed, while one student prays, another listens to a radio play (as one would have heard in the days of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes [1939-1946]).

Indeed, this scene of overlap…with religion in the background (the praying student) and learning in the foreground (listening to a lesson? ¬†or just a bit of entertainment for the girls who live at this school?) is one of the most fascinating from a visual and cultural perspective.

I cannot pretend to know what is going on in all of the footage.

And so an expert on education for the visually impaired in Indonesia would perhaps be able to elucidate some of the more esoteric aspects of this film.

In the meantime, enjoy!

-PD

◊ó◊™◊ē◊†◊Ē ◊ě◊†◊ô◊ô◊® [2015)

[WEDDING DOLL (2015)]

This may be the most important film I’ve ever reviewed.

And it also may be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen.

Cinema challenges us to drop our prejudices.

And so, this is the first Israeli film in Hebrew I’ve ever written about.

We must give each side their chance.

And we must stop seeing each other as “sides”.

To the best of my pathetic ability, I am going to attempt to describe a work of cinematic art that I have no right to enjoy.

Wedding Doll is a film which may change your opinions of Israelis.

I must keep my mind very focused to do it justice.

Because our aim is art.

My aim.

Our aim is beauty.

And my main aim is love.

We learn from our peers and our forebears what is right and cool.

We take on archetypes.

We try them on like hats.

Or like dresses.

And we feel comfortable in these metaphorical garments.

Because someone has blazed the path before us.

But the great humans take a step on their own.

If I take faltering steps, then I give the glory to God who has guided me even in such meager efforts.

Let me tell you about this film which celebrates harmony in our tearstained world.

First of all is due all credit to the director:  Nitzan Gilady.

His direction is on par with the great Kiarostami.

But it is equally on par with the great Ingmar Bergman.

It is that good!

Our story takes place in the Negev Desert.

And it behooves us out of an abundance of humanity to place the Negev in a new perspective.

This film does just that.

We see the Makhtesh Ramon.

A crater caused by water erosion.

Unique to Israel and Egypt.

And Makhtesh Ramon (makhtesh meaning “mortar grinder” in Hebrew…as in mortar and pestle) is the perfect analogy for this film.

In a mortar, things are ground up and crushed by the pestle.

Useful, lifesaving things like medicine.

But for the characters in our film, their circumstances are crushing them.

And like in life, some substances will be healing…and some poison.

Perhaps God is the great pharmacist.

I believe that to be so.

But let it be known:  there is not a single mention of God in this film.

And that is fine.

Because God speaks through his creation.

Let me please tell you about the wonderful actors who make this film sheer magic.

Above all is the astounding, stupendous, beautiful genius Moran Rosenblatt.

Her character, Hagit, is 24.

She is obsessed with getting married.

But she is also “special”.

It is a sad story.

She was apparently the victim of a head or neck injury at a young age.

At the hands of childhood bullies (it is intimated).

So she is developmentally disabled.

I hope I have worded it the right way.

Because no person deserves more deference than this character.

Rosenblatt makes her come alive as the most joyous, glowing human being imaginable.

But sadness is all around.

Hagit has unreasonable expectations of life.

Considering her situation.

Especially regarding employment.

And I can certainly understand.

She has a dream.

Her wedding dolls made out of toilet paper are miniature works of art, but she longs to be a fashion designer and work in a bridal shop.

As is the case with every human, we often cannot see our own limitations.

We push.  We dream.

And sometimes we are crushed by the cold reality of a world which doesn’t understand.

But one guy understands.

And he is Hagit’s coworker at a factory.

With just two employees.

A toilet paper factory in Israel.

What could have been maudlin in the hands of a lesser director is transformed into pure poetry by Nitzan Gilady.

But he needed the genius of Moran Rosenblatt.

And she needed help.

Roy Assaf is wonderful as Omri.

Omri watches out for Hagit the best he can.

He has good intentions.

Perhaps he is not perfect, but he brings Hagit so much happiness.

And yet his best efforts are unsustainable.

Only God can perform miracles.

Fortunately for Hagit, she has a mother who would go to the ends of the Earth for her.

Assi Levy plays her mother, Sara.

This is a lady who cleans rooms at a local hotel.

A very small town.

In the desert.

And a lady who sits by the washing machines and hot dryers perhaps in the basement of the same hotel.

Washing bedsheets and blankets and towels.

Sara devotes her whole life to her disabled daughter.

[the father is not around]

Hagit is simply not able to be on her own.

As much as Hagit wants that, the world is too cruel.

And Sara knows this.

She is protective of her little flower Hagit because her daughter is so kindhearted that she makes an easy target for unsavory individuals.

I will not tell you the plot twists.

I’ve probably said too much (to paraphrase Michael Stipe).

But this film is a masterpiece.

It is currently available on Netflix in the U.S. as Wedding Doll.

I have done my best to preserve the Hebrew title at the top.

If it is not visible, I apologize for the website template limitations.

My words cannot adequately do justice to the brilliance of this film.

And thus I will just leave you with its title.

◊ó◊™◊ē◊†◊Ē ◊ě◊†◊ô◊ô◊®

-PD

Norteado [2009)

This may be the hardest film I’ve ever had to review.

And that’s the beauty of cinema.

Movies can challenge the way we think.

They can show us a perspective we’ve never seen.

This particular masterpiece (and I mean it) comes from my neighbors to the south.

Mexico.

Director Rigoberto Perezcano strikes all the right chords here.

In these days of division, we must humble ourselves before God.

That is my direction to myself.

I must humble myself.

Because there are struggles I cannot realistically imagine.

Could you cross a desert?

Me…I don’t think so.

Humble before God.

It must be the Sonoran Desert.

Harold Torres.

All the way from Oaxaca.

The acting is perfect.

In the bus station.

But things get real in the desert.

The Tijuana moods of Mingus.

Loneliness of Alicia Laguna.

Desperation of Sonia Couoh.

And every day the trabajo of Harold Torres.

La frontera.

Border fence.

Dreams.

But mostly misery.

This could have been a very bad film, but director Perezcano knows exactly when Debussy must enter and exit.

Perhaps he saw Atonement.

But it doesn’t matter.

Because¬†Northless¬†(its title on Netflix) is twice as good as Joe Wright’s 2007 effort.

But don’t underestimate the presence of¬†Luis C√°rdenas.

That mustache…

It is really hard to sum up this film.

Perhaps: ¬†if you think you have it bad, walk a mile in Harold Torres’ shoes.

I’m simply at a loss for words.

Never before has a La-Z-Boy made me cry.

And so I salute my neighbors to the south.

Mexico.

May we all prosper with love in each interaction.

May God’s grace and mercy be upon us.

-PD

Amadeus [1984)

In these waning hours of Christmas, I give you…

a fucking masterpiece.

Indeed, I regret that I cannot express myself at this time without resort to expletive, but this film by¬†MiloŇ° Forman is truly bone-chilling.

And it is especially so for me:  a former composer.

Oh, there is always still time.

To set pencil to paper (or pen, if [like Mozart], you make no mistakes).

And so we shall take under consideration the director’s cut of Amadeus¬†as our subject.

This later, R-rated version is from 2002 and adds 20 minutes to this magnum opus.

Yes, dear friends…we shall consider many things.

The uncanny embodiment of Tom Hulce.

The deft, dastardly thespian skills of F. Murray Abraham.

And even the indispensably aghast facial expressions of Richard Frank.

You might wonder why I have chosen this film to honor God on this day rather than a movie like Ernest Saves Christmas.

I will let you ponder that one for a moment.

But in the meanwhile, we shall press onwards with the young Salieri.

Please remember the pious of Western classical music.

J.S. Bach.

Antonio Vivaldi.

Haydn.  Handel.

Ok, perhaps not so much the latter.

Because he too, like Mozart, was a man of the world.

Of the earth.

A joyful sinner.

A composer with a dirty mouth.

Yes, there are miracles in this film.

Too many to count.

Salieri’s father choking on a fishbone.

For starters.

But let us consider the whole city of Vienna a miracle on assumption.

Wien.

A city in which one could dial the number 1507 and receive an A (435 Hz) with which to tune an instrument.

We have long appreciated this bit of trivia from scholar Norman Lloyd.

It has always endeared Vienna to our hearts.

A place where [it must] music flows through every pipe and connects the city in divine harmony.

But that time period for which we yearn…that “common practice” period is just the era in which Mozart is plopped down with his hilarious little giggle.

Jeffrey Jones is magnificent as the judicious statesman the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.

Which brings us back to Christmas.

A child was born.  To a woman by the Holy Spirit.

Yet the child had an earthly father:  Joseph II (not to be confused with the Old Testament Joseph).

Mozart was a child.

Childish.

A hellion.

Yet I would choose him over Shakespeare and Einstein when it comes to true genius.

I had heard it.

With my own ears.

In my days of getting my bachelor’s of music in music theory and composition.

I had heard that Symphony #39.  I played it.

I was inside the music.

And it is like none other.

I had discovered the ingenious counterpoint in Mozart’s Symphony #41.

What lightness!  What architecture!

What a vision of the beyond…

It takes memory to succeed.

And we guard our memories.

But it takes observation to create memories.

An eye.  An ear (in the case of Mozart).

Yes, Mozart’s prowess for hearing something once and then playing it back or either writing out all the parts (if a mixed ensemble) is legendary.

His fame grew with these stunts.

His novelty tours with father Leopold and sister Nannerl (not pictured).

I had at least one Harvard/Stanford-trained Dr. of music warn me about the historical inaccuracies in this film.

But this is Hollywood.

Of course there will be changes.

And yet, it is an incredibly moving picture.

To borrow a programmatic description from Richard Strauss, this film becomes (for much of it) a symphonia domestica.

Which, let me just say, happens to grace us with the presence of genius beauty:  Elizabeth Berridge.

But always in life (even into the bubble of music) creeps in business.

Economics.

Finances.

Debt.

Mozart was gifted with a once-in-humanity talent, yet he did not have the self-marketing skills to always position his talent at the best place in the market.

Meanwhile, Signor Salieri activates a little psychological warfare (captured by¬†Forman’s camera lit by little gaslights all around…).

And so it is machinations versus manifestations of God’s glory.

The story is rich.

That a composer might write his own Requiem mass…and that the writing of that mass might just kill him.

We know how cursed the 9th symphony became after Beethoven (Bruckner,¬†DvoŇô√°k, Mahler, Schubert…).

Musicians are subject to powerful forces which attack their necessary imaginations.

Superstitions.

Salieri’s character proves that those closest to us are not necessarily to be trusted. ¬†His disingenuous psyop has Mozart working himself to death.

And that is a scary thing.

To push and push and push.

And yet, who will be remembered?

The expert in psychological warfare?

Or the symphonist?

Times have changed, but it is still the creator who has the benefit of creating goods.

Super-warriors aren’t even creating bads. ¬†They are creating nothing.

But, it might be argued, that they are doing the most good in this world which no longer appreciates the music of its heritage.

Yes, European classical music is on life-support.

But we return to Mozart, who is in not-much-better condition.

Part of me longs for the treatment of Ingmar Bergman in his underappreciated film version of Trollflöjten (The Magic Flute in Swedish).

But¬†MiloŇ° Forman does everything else right.

The scene in which Mozart and Salieri are working on the Requiem is masterful!

And still…Mozart doesn’t realize that his greatest enemy is posing as a friend to help him compose his own death from exhaustion.

It’s only when they’re throwing the lime on you that you get real perspective.

But by that point, you’re wrapped up.

It is thus a fitting Christmas story…that hatred and jealously are futile.

And that a naive genius had the keys to the musical kingdom.

For his 35 short years on Earth.

Perhaps Mozart was not a pious man, but Salieri (who burned his own crucifix in the fireplace) consistently recognized the voice of God in Mozart’s music.

I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season and that your hearts will be filled with melodies which could make the heavens weep.

-PD

Vredens Dag [1943)

Quarante-et-un.  Quarante-deux.

Quarante trois.

Goddamn, life is sad.

This is not a film to be watched once.

And not a film for young minds (though the pearly Lisbeth Movin gausses gossamer every vignette).

Form ever follows function.  So sayeth Louis Sullivan.

Your gauss is as good as mien.

Meshes of the afternoon blur her tearstained smile.

Movin’ on up, now.

In evolution.  Function ever following form.

Invocation vs. induction.

Carl Friedrich’s magnetic flux density.

88 miles-per-hour for all us schmucks out there.

Who is crazier:

the witches or the witch hunt?

The conspirators or the conspiracy theorists?

Myths overlaid like handiwork upon reality.

So that all of life is misunderstood.

Religion.

Not a theory, but a story.

A hall-of-mirrors lens.

Same.

17th century.

By my watch.

What century you got?

The witch craze.

The accusation frenzy.

Hysteria.  Wisteria.  Listeria.

Meanwhile, there was a fucking war going on.

Day of Wrath.  Dies irae.  Rachmaninov obsessed with the downward spiral.

Televised executions.

The Houellebecq method of citation.

Tag and seek.

Luddites invading Fort Meade.

Digital grinders.  And grindermen.

That USJFCOM found an enemy at a propitious time.

Inviting Christensen down from Harvard Business School to disrupt.

From Häxan through the Swedish.

Most everything passes through Denmark here.

The last executioner.

The founder (with a Grinder man) of neuro-linguistic programming who was charged with murder.

Age differences in relationships.  [Aha!  A sesame seed!!]

Pagans.  Odin.  Wednesday.

Hair parted right down the middle like John Waters’ mustache migrated due north (prove that you’re not a robot).

Professional videogame player?!?¬† Where’s the market for that…

And, of course, The Gambia.  No industrial light nor magic there.

White white white.

White man say all good thing come from him.

White man invent every innovation.

White man naturally attracted to white woman.

A Victoria’s Secret Angel with leprosy.¬† Yowzah!

Norwegian jazz.  A bit like Utah jazz.

But, most of all, yodelers!

Which is how I got on this string.

The grave importance of string theory.

Because her needlepoint tells a story.

A mother walking hand-in-hand with a son.

But the mother is the younger one.

The two mothers.

One a goddess of archetype.

The other a bored housewife.

You actually have to go back to 1590 for this kind of boredom.

But it comes alive.  Kiss.

Thanks to Dreyer.  A true auteur.  A true Danish genius.

Anna Svierkier acts her flabby behind off.

Thorkild Roose looks like Hume Cronyn in Brewster’s Millions (1985).

Such sad perfection from Sigrid Neiiendam.

It is not the hero role for Preben Lerdorff Rye.

No Ordet, this.

He might be stuck in the bog.  Or he might have gone around the bog.

It’s like a bad porno.

But Movin is a star on the order of Adrianna Nicole.

The Blue Bunny.

Brown is the Warmest Color.

Somebody please cast Adrianna Suplick in something.

Suplick?  Movin.  [Golly.]

Which is to say that Lisbeth Movin fills up the screen like a supernova.

Collapsing.¬† Prolapsing.¬† Yikes…

Her husband cofounded the works at Hellerup.

Ketchup.

Godspeed you b!ack emperor tomato

Spells ALM.  And nobody thought code.

Fearsome beauty of genius.

 

-PD

 

 

Election [1999)

Life really sucks sometimes.

You try to do the right thing.

You try to do a good thing.

And you mess up somehow.

Films, then, are a great comfort when they can show us lives more fucked up than our own.

I must say early on:  this is a great film!

A great, great film!

Maybe I heard about it long ago.

In one ear and out the other.

And what brought me to visit this piece of cinema at this particular time?

That is a long, complex story which (mercifully) pales in comparison to the misadventures presented in Election.

Alexander Payne turned in a masterpiece here.

He had approximately the resources which a Nicholas Ray would have had.

And, presumably, the same pressures to somehow connect with teen audiences.

But make no mistake (as our woeful president is so wont to repeat):  Election is an extremely smart film.

Matthew Broderick is stellar as high school teacher Jim McAllister.

Reese Witherspoon is really damned good in this flick as well.

It’s a comedy, but there are tears.

There are a couple of actors who really bring this one home with their small roles.

Mark Harelik is essential to the story.

He plays a poor, pathetic bastard who’s hopelessly clueless.¬† I can relate.

Dave Novotny (Harelik) really sets things in motion.

Truth be told, all of the characters in this film make poor choices.

That’s what makes it real.

It’s hard to judge some of these people.¬† Any of these people.¬† All of them.

That’s what director Payne makes so masterfully clear.

What’s the difference between ethics and morals?

The first to answer might have the least idea.

Election is very much a film about America.

Payne uses a trite camera trick to express something truly sublime.

Dolly up.  Way up.  Crane shot.  God perspective.  Hearing the selfish prayers of a motley bunch.

Most lovable is Jessica Campbell.¬† She is the lesbian rebel whose short-lived student government campaign parallels that of Monty Brewster’s “None of the Above” run in Brewster’s Millions (1985).

Campbell’s character Tammy has a soul.¬† She is the gem of this picture.

But we see so much true soul from Matthew Broderick as well (and true acting talent).

In case you were wondering, only Chris Klein’s prayer rings true.¬† It’s hilarious.¬† But it has heart.

Klein’s initial campaign speech is a coup of non-acting.¬† Frankly brilliant!

And, as I intimated earlier, even Witherspoon has soul.

Her character might be ostensibly soulless, but it’s there.

Sitting on the school bus.  And crying before a Valium and milk.

Ms. Witherspoon is brilliant as the villain.

But she’s only the villain because the story is told from the perspective of Broderick’s character (more or less).

The narrative voiceover must have really been en vogue in 1999 (the same year as the whisper-happy American Beauty).

And though these films be seemingly ignorant of the master of the medium (whisper king Jean-Luc Godard), they are still cinema.

I would venture to guess that Election is the better of the two films (or at least the one most able to handle the scrutiny of accolades).

Which is to say, Election might not be a terribly well-known film, but it deserves to be widely seen and appreciated.

 

-PD

La B√™te Humaine [1938)

This might be the most depressing film of all time.

And that’s not nothing.

I seem to remember.  Thurston Moore.

A Rolling Stone review of Lou Reed’s album Berlin.

The fucked-up kids will always search out these masterpieces.

Because they are forbidden.

Like the strange death of James Forrestal.

The first U.S. Secretary of Defense.

But let’s back to cinema.¬† [sic]

Let’s active.

Trains.

I often dream of trains.

Such an important part of my lineage.

Whether there were drunkards or not, I have no idea.

But train men there were many in my family.

Enough.

We think it’s gonna be like La Roue of Abel Gance.

That 273-minute behemoth.

But it’s only the trappings which match.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are more perceptive than I.

But I couldn’t have seen this ending coming in a million years.

Like the Maginot Line being overrun.

This was 1938.  Jean Renoir.

Madness.  Madness.

On the precipice of World War II.

Not history.

But present.

It must be ever present.

We must be terrified of history.

And to each of us is given a special area to study.

I long labored in the musical mines.  Studying birdsongs.

But one day I escaped my cage.

And I lived to see the blowout.

Jericho, Kentucky.

But now I am given over to film.

Because I am too old to be a rock star.

“My face is finished/My body’s gone”

It would be a miracle of spectacle for me to be relevant again in the most venal of concert halls.

And so we move on to opera.  Silent film.  Quail eggs.

Madness vs. madness.

When magazine was a store.

And journal was a newspaper.

When was that?

The false-friends attack of language.  Cognates.  Faux.

Gripping his steam engine.  A night without sleep.

La Bête Humaine.  The human beast.  Monster.

Fighting it.  Fighting it.

The banality of evil had already suffused Europe by 1938.

And so we live with a corpse throughout most of this film.

Pocket watch.  Wallet full of dough.

But Simone Simon is already flirting her way to destiny.

Der m√ľde Tod.

Femme fatale.  Serial.  Concatenation of sickly sweet roles.

Roles.

Jean Gabin.

Here’s to you, my friend!

And Julien Carette.  Always sucking on that cigarette.

We begin to covet the boring comfort of his life.

Living from one cigarette to the next.

Vive le tabac!

Piss-poor English Wikipedia will not tell you that Monsieur Carette was an integral part of Renoir’s masterpiece La R√®gle du jeu.¬† Not, that is, if you are looking at his page.

And so, dear reader, I am here to make those connections for you.

Perhaps they will mean nothing.

Perhaps they will mean everything.

Let me just say this…

La Bête Humaine was an extremely brave film to make in 1938.

More Hitchcock than anything Hitch had made up till that point.

Ahead of its time, yes.

But most particularly…symptomatic of that age of anxiety.

 

-PD

 

Au Hasard Balthazar [1966)

If life has no meaning, then do not continue to the next sentence.

Thank you.

For those of you still reading.

You must excuse my reliance on 1/3rd of the trivium (to the detriment of the remainder).

It must be rhetoric which I employ.

Like a donkey.

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

But for those of us in poverty and misery.

How do we express our futile existences?

By affirming their meanings.

Their meaningfulness.

You have not worked your whole life for nothing.

You worked to survive.

But you survived for others.

You loved.  You cared.

You were curious.

Too curious to let the human race go.

And so, slow and easy does it goes [sic]…the autumn of your years.

Perhaps.

Another spring.

Hope.  Eternal.

Robert Bresson slips a note under our door.

A key.

At first viewing it is dull.  Ugly.

Like a donkey.

Yes.

But Bresson knew Beethoven.  Concision of expression.

Economy of means.

It is no wonder that we hear Schubert throughout this film.

And no wonder that Schubert is Philip Glass’ favorite composer.

Those ostinati.  Figured bass.

Even simpler than Alberti.

More like a rail fence transposition.

Or a Caesar shift cipher.

Ostinato.  Obstinate.

Like the donkey.

But I have patiently borne the humiliation.

I am still a youthful beast of burden.

And yet I know my hooves.

I am a genius.

A four-legged mathematician.

Give me three digits…and a single digit.

And I multiply.

I fecundate the field with feathery flowers.

Four digits.

Do I hear five?

With a memory like an elephant.

A stare like a tiger.

And a harangue like a polar bear.

But look how he shivers.

The donkey.

So humble as to not say a word.

Perhaps it was the wisdom of salt.

Salt of the earth.

A wise ass.

Yes, forever in trouble.  With my pride.

Getting kicked in the rump.

But these are really nasty assaults.

The other side of James Dean.

François Lafarge as Gérard is a real asshole.

Not enough love at home.

Feels a need to punch donkeys.

[pause]

Quite literally…the world comes to life through Bresson’s filmmaking.

Prostitutes pop up.

Pimps prance and preen.

But here we have “merely” sexual assault.

A first step in losing the ability to feel anything.

Numb.

And we have rape (through allusion, of course).

Gérard toots his horn.

Literally.

The other side of the James Dean coin.

The underside of Jean-Paul Belmondo.

A disproportionate riposte courtesy of the one filmmaker with the balls to be simple.

So simple.

On first glance it is nothing.

A donkey.

But live a few years.

And then revisit.

It is a novel.

It contains everything.

We can’t catch it because it doesn’t pop out at us in color.

One way would be to say that no one has ever looked more sad on screen than Anne Wiazemsky here.

Before Godard.

Perhaps a first conversation.

A nervousness.

It was through Wiazemsky that Bresson told this tale.

To teach the New Wave.

They hadn’t learned all the lessons yet.

He wasn’t done speaking.

The quiet tone of an old man…

I want to tell you more more more.

But this is best secret.

To appreciate the simple things.

Before they are gone.

The patient animals.

So gentle in their existence.

Not presuming.

Not running.  Not hustling.

The pack-animals.

We know this look.

In cats.  In dogs.

This wisdom.

We laugh at their carefree insolence.

But they have shown the way.

Such resilience!

Such love…

And we are taken in.

Our hearts are melted.

Yes.

Few moments in cinema feel more lonely than the end of Au Hasard Balthazar.

It is almost unbearable.

The quiet dignity of humanity being shamed.

How could we ever forget our love.

For even a second.

When we rub two sticks together at such an eyelevel perspective, the meaning of life is very clear.

But unutterable.

 

-PD

Amarcord [1973)

This film contains everything.

As in, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

It is truly vast like the sky full of pebble stars.

There is no translation for Federico Fellini’s masterpiece Amarcord other than “I remember”.

Ah, good God:  memory!

I immediately think of George Stevens’ paean to family I Remember Mama (1948) and, of course, the king of memory Marcel Proust.

But this is Italy, not France.¬† And Remembrance of Things Past is a “bad” translation.¬† More accurate is In Search of Lost Time.

And that is exactly what Fellini is doing here.

Trying to reclaim the past.

Remember this?  Remember that?

It is, I am guessing, a conversation with himself.

A rumination.

It is a small town (or at least it feels that way).

And we have everything.

A blind accordionist straight out of Tom Waits’ dreams.

A femme fatale by the name of Gradisca (“take what you want”).¬† [Played by Magali No√ęl.]

We miss the translation now and then.  Perhaps the Romagnol dialect?

That explains our title Amarcord.

I remember.

“Jadis, si je me souviens bien…”

A season in hell.

From hell.

And yet a season of beauty as well.

Uncle Teo (Uncle Uncle) says it best…up a tree…over and over and over and over again:

Voglio una donna!

Voglio una donna!

[like John Lennon writhing in pain on “Mother” or “Cold Turkey”]

Voglio una donna!

“I want a woman!”

Each incantation different.

The 42-year-old Teo up a tree…on a day out in the country…on leave from the asylum.

And a dwarf nun makes it all better.

It’s not what you think.

When you look at the cover for the film, is says SEX SEX SEX.

Sure, there’s sex.

But it’s very matter-of-fact.

This isn’t a film with gratuitous nudity (only one brief nude scene).

Sex is woven into the film.

It’s alright to talk about sex.¬† 1973.¬† Italy.

Fellini is a big shot by now.

It is art.  It is life.  It is artistic expression.

Everyone is portrayed lovingly.  Everyone is subjected to the same pimple-precise criticism.

Films don’t get any more real than this.

HOWEVER…

Fellini introduces an element of magical realism here and there.¬† [The magic is due in no small part to Nino Rota’s shimmering soundtrack.]

Sure, it serves as a bit of a distancing technique (Brecht?)…a defense mechanism, perhaps.

This material is too raw; too personal.

It is TOO sad!  One has to laugh because of how sad it is.

And that is the tragicomedy which lived on in the great Roberto Benigni’s comedies and the grand-slam of na√Įvet√©:¬† Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso.

And so, to understand these latter-day…saints(?)…we must examine the old masters.¬† We must get used to saying Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (the real title)…because cinema is barely a hundred years old, really.¬† And so, we must look to Fellini as akin to Giotto.

Pros-pet-ti-va!

We get so many perspectives here…

It’s one of the few times AMPAS has gotten something right.¬† This film.¬† Oscar for Best Foreign Language.¬† 1974.¬† Look at the list.¬† Lots of misses.

Back to Amarcord.

Beauty goes away.  The big fish in the small pond.

But the blind accordion player endures.

Vulpina (Josiane Tanzilli) the nymphomaniac fleshes out the family portrait.

Ah ah ah…

It’s no use.

This film is all about detail.

There is no use recounting the endless assortment of fascinating characters who make this thing go.

You will just have to see it for yourself.

For all of its pithy naturalism, it is really a touching film.

Fellini gets every little detail right.  Such a formidable picture!

 

-PD