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

Vi är bäst! [2013)

IF you want to see a bogus, bollocks feminist film, watch Free the Nipple.

But if you want to see the real thing…a really empowering, touching story, then check out We Are the Best!

IT’s in Swedish.

So you’ll have to use your brain.

And your eyes.

Unless you speak Swedish.

But it will be well worth your time.

Vi är bäst! isn’t trite acting from a bunch of pseudo-provocateurs who just want to take their shirts off.

Nej.

This is the story of three 13-year-old girls.

None of them fit in.

Everyone tells them they’re ugly.

One of them is ostracized for being a Christian.

[now THAT’S punk!]

But it’s the story of three girls who come together and do the greatest thing possible:  form a band.

Music!!!

And let me just say this:  the acting is fucking fantastic!

Mira Barkhammer plays Bobo.

For me, she is the star of the film.

She is the outcast of the outcasts.

No make up.

No cool haircut.

She’s searching for her identity.

But she’s so smart.  So truly unique!

She wears these little wire-rim glasses.

From one perspective, this film is her search for what’s behind the mirror.

Director Lukas Moodysson made a masterpiece here.

Bobo…

The name…

I think of Boris Diaw.

The whole scenario is aw-kward.

But so beautifully so!

And yet Bobo is not perfect.

Far from it.

It’s a team effort.

And teams, especially when they are ad hoc and organic, are inherently dysfunctional.

The actress who puts the dys in dysfunction here is Mira Grosin.

But she too is so wonderful in this film!

She is the inspiration.

The first one out on the limb.

The rebel.

The loudmouth.

She inspires her other two bandmates to fly their freak flags high.

But the most enigmatic is Liv LeMoyne:  the Christian.

Director Moodysson is so deft in his handling of this dynamic.

LeMoyne’s character [Hedvig] has long, beautiful blond hair.

[At this point it is appropriate to address a strange form of class relations in Sweden:  hair color.]

When I used to think of Sweden (which I did rarely), I would imagine everyone as a blond.

Perhaps the American vision of Sweden is a socialist paradise of blond bikini models.

At the very least, blondness seems to be the defining characteristic in the American popular imagination regarding Sweden (as far as I can tell).

This isn’t a scientific study, you understand…

But it is important to point this out.

The snottiest (in the stuck up, snobbish sense) characters in this film are mostly blonds.

The little girls who call Bobo and Klara [Grosin] ugly.

It is really heartbreaking.

These two BRUNETTE girls endure such humiliation throughout this film.

And so it’s no wonder that they want to start a PUNK BAND!

But they can’t play.

Like, not at all…

Their first halting efforts are in the vein of The Shaggs.

No, worse.

And that’s where the Christian comes in.

Hedvig is an accomplished classical guitarist.

It is, indeed, much like the story of Garth Hudson’s joining The Band.

Lessons.

So to speak.

Bobo and Klara are astounded at Hedvig’s talent.

They lament that they’ll never be as good as their gifted new friend.

But Hedvig is all encouragement.

It is [pardon the expression] a match made in heaven.

And so three misfits (for different reasons) band together (literally) and take on the cock rock ridiculousness of bullies like youth-center-rehearsal-room-“stars” Iron Fist.

The message is astounding.

I haven’t seen a film which does such honor to the idea of feminism since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

But there’s no ulterior motive here.

This isn’t a George Soros production.

This is the real thing.

Just three young people (who happen to be female) wanting to make some noise in their world.

And we see how beautiful punk music is.

IT’s a catharsis.

Like Sonic Youth.

And we remember the true geniuses of the genre (like my hero, the late Alan Vega).

But we also remember the maxim:  “three chords and the truth”.

Hedvig’s got the chords.

[Ah…harmony!  What a concept!!!]

But Klara has the attitude.

And Bobo has the intellect.

They learn from each other.

“Here.  Stay on this note.  Good.  Now move to this note.”

“Punk is about rebellion.  It’s not about the school talent show.  We’ve got to keep going.  It’s a fight.”

“You really need to change your hair.  Do something fun!  Express yourself!  Cut loose!”

Those are my translations of action, not dialogue.

But I can’t stress enough how great these three actresses are in this film.

Mira Barkhammer in particular is a prodigy.

But, as in the story, the trio is inseparable.

And for this kind of cohesion, we have but one place to look in thanks:  the auteur.

-PD

Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present [2012)

As the world collapses, we have a few choices.

We always have these choices.

We seek truth.

And we endure.

We rebel.

And we find our communities.

As I write, America is in deep turmoil.

Boiling like a witch’s cauldron (some might say).

Perhaps I have written about it before…my ancestor…who was hung in Salem, Massachusetts for being a witch.

My relative, Susannah Martin.

Hung in 1692.

And if you are combing social media (like I am), you are likely to hear about Marina Abramović.

Let me start by saying that this is a beautiful woman.  A beautiful human being.

A genius.

But today’s context…a WikiLeaks email…a dinner invitation to Tony Podesta from Marina.

And specifically, the term “Spirit Cooking”.

I must preface by saying that there are other concurrent rumors abounding regarding Hillary Clinton.  The connection above is, incidentally, that Tony is the brother of John Podesta:  Hillary’s campaign chairman.

But back to these rumors.

I have not checked my phone in a couple of hours.

Anything could have happened.

Because it seems that SOMETHING (or 650,000 things) on Anthony Weiner’s laptop turned the stomachs of NYPD’s Special Victims Unit.

But again, there has (so far) been a mass media blackout regarding what is assumed.

It appears that there may be a massive pedophilia sting going on which directly relates to Hillary Clinton.  Furthermore, the evidence is pointing to possible child trafficking (in conjunction with said pedophilia).

We’re hearing lots of things here in America.

That there are incriminating photos of Bill and Hillary Clinton (and perhaps Huma Abedin as well) on the confiscated laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner.

Huma Abedin forwarded 650,000 emails to that computer.

From what I have read, this story could break at any moment.

As I said, I have not checked the news in a couple of hours.

But citizen patriots are all over these leads.

And so you can see how “Spirit Cooking” has been construed to be part of this vast conspiracy.

There is indeed a conspiracy.

But what role does Marina Abramović play in it?

I have no idea.

It would be sheer conjecture for me to venture a guess.

But a couple seconds of research reveals the bizarre video shot in 1997.

A recipe.  “Fresh breast milk.”  “Fresh sperm.”

This is what Abramović paints on a wall with a bloody-looking substance.

The recipe is to “mix” the aforementioned ingredients.

Correction, it reads “sperm milk.”

You can see why a casual observer might find this “recipe” concerning.

The next painting on the 1997 video is of the phrase “With a sharp knife cut deeply into the middle finger of your left hand.  Eat the pain.”

This phrase needs some explanation.

As evident from watching this 2012 documentary about Abramović, knives and cutting have been a significant element of her art.

She is an artist.

But indeed, she has likewise been drawn to the pentagram (both cutting it into her belly with a razor blade during one performance and lying in the middle of a giant flaming pentagram which surrounds her in another performance art piece).

She is a performance artist.

Think Joseph Beuys.

A third panel from the 1997 video reads “Fresh morning urine sprinkle over nightmare dreams.”

You can see how one might mistake such recipes for witchcraft.

But we must ask, might they possibly be?

Tony Podesta was ostensibly asking his brother John whether he wanted to come participate in some kind of ritualistic dinner.

Just how much was it faux-Satanism (or paganism) and how much was it real deal bizzaro shit?

This is where the child sex ring (if the rumors are true) potentially frames this “dinner” as perhaps more than just a Black Sabbath unplugged concert over a bottle of red wine.

The next panel of 1997:  “Spin around until you lose consciousness.  Try to eat all the questions of the day.”

Hell…that sounds like Hillary’s campaign!  Teetering off the curb on 9/11 (just as her campaign is listing)…and “eating questions”–trying to squelch doubts (and voices).

And here’s where art becomes hypocritical.

Again, to watch the 1997 video (as a non-artist) would be to see what is seemingly some kind of occult ritual.  The “paint” mixture appears to be real blood (animal?) in addition to possibly entrails and feces.

It is extreme art.

The video (1997) is in Italian (shot in Italy) except when Abramović breaks into English.

But she seems to utter the word alchimia (alchemy).

Again, the artist (no surprise) has a fascination with the occult (at the very least).

Back to that first panel about the breast milk and sperm…

It continues with “Drink on earthquake nights.”

And over a doorway (?) there is more “blood” with the words “Spirit Cooking.”

So we must ask, is this what the Podesta brothers were up to?

Incidentally, the email referred to earlier was actually an invitation for John Podesta’s wife Mary to come to the “Spirit Cooking” dinner.

Or!  It was to John (the recipient) with a lazy add-on question ending reading “Mary?”.

So then it looks like perhaps John and Mary were invited to spend an evening with brother Tony and Ms. Abramović.

As some on Twitter have noticed (apparently), the 1997 video ends with (literally) a dark crystal…a “mineral pillow” which is supposed to transmit energy to the person whose head is placed against it.

The video (1997) appears to have been shot at Studio Stefania Miscetti in Rome.

Other artists who have done “installations” there include Yoko Ono and (similar to Abramović’s style in this piece) Hermann Nitsch.

Art is not a crime.

Unless it’s real blood from say, for instance, a murdered child.

There’s no evidence of that in Abramović’s 1997 installation, but it is EXTREMELY DISTURBING to contemplate the possibility that the Clintons were running a child trafficking ring for pedophiles.

Again, as I’ve said, those details are just rumors at this point.

But a significant amount of circumstantial evidence (Jeffrey Epstein and the Lolita Express) gives credence to the possibility that the Clintons (both of whom flew on sex offender Epstein’s jet many times [Lolita Express]) were indeed up to something unspeakably sinister.

There’s also the Hillary connection to Laura Silsby (who was convicted of child trafficking in Haiti).  The charges against Silsby and others were “abduction and criminal conspiracy” (carrying a possible 15-year sentence in Haiti).  This is also courtesy of WikiLeaks.

Laura Silsby may be an excellent woman who was caught up in a misunderstanding.

Marina Abramović is an amazing artist.  I hope to God she is not in some kind of criminal circle with the Clintons.

But the NYPD sure seems interested in Weiner’s laptop.  The stories I have been reading point to something HUGE involving the Clintons.

But I must say…the film Marina Abramović:  The Artist is Present is a masterpiece.

This lady is a true artist.

A Serbian.  A beautiful feminist.

The film recounts Abramović’s three-month test of endurance at MoMA in New York City.

Abramović may very well be an innocent bystander in an otherwise slimy criminal investigation.

I see no evil in the heart of Marina Abramović.

I see immense wickedness in the heart of Hillary Clinton.

I think it is quite possible that Abramović’s occult fascination is merely part of her exploration as an artist.  No one gets hurt in her art.  She only hurts herself.  Like Iggy Pop.

The scary thing would be to imagine the possibility that a criminal network like the Clintons had taken artful concepts of simulation and affected them as reality.

Those who sat across from Abramović at The Artist is Present included James Franco (shown), Lou Reed (not shown), and Björk (also not shown).

Apparently Lady Gaga showed up.  [I couldn’t care less.]

One final point…

The sense of temporality which Abramović affected with this piece bears a striking resemblance to the prolonged gaze of which Ingmar Bergman’s camera was so fond.

Great minds think alike 🙂

So there you go, world.

An assessment of the lovely Marina Abramović from an ardent Trump supporter.

Try to process that one!

 

-PD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monsieur Verdoux [1947)

Being unwanted is a powerful feeling.

A life devoted to a profession, and then (poof!)…

But aging is a powerful experience even when separated from an event of displacement.

Let me clarify:

Aging can make one vulnerable.

We are only all too aware that we aren’t as handsome or as beautiful as we once were.

We are made aware of this decline by way of “the spectacle” (to borrow an idea from Guy Debord).

Sure, we can read it in the glances of everyone we meet, but we must realize that those eyes have glanced upon the ideal.  Those eyes are connected to minds.  Those minds have been imprinted like microchips.

With what?  “The tyranny of good looks…” to quote the brilliant Marilyn Yalom.

The quote comes from her excellent volume How the French Invented Love (2012).  Yes, this nonfiction tome is only too relevant to the subject at hand:  Charlie Chaplin’s bizarre Monsieur Verdoux.

This one won’t have you laughing yourself into the aisle.  Not till the back nine (at the earliest).

Charles Chaplin was a rebel.  When it worked, the world loved him.  When it didn’t?  Ah-la-la…  No one can be completely spared the wrath of the public.

A quick glance at the ever-reliable Wikipedia [cough cough] tells us that Monsieur Verdoux fared better in Europe than in America.

Quickly perusing the section marked “Reception” we might come to the conclusion that audiences in the United States did not “get” this film.

So then did we merely have a cultural barrier (and its opposite) in operation as far as world reception?

I think not.  I think that Europe’s humor was forever changed by the World Wars.  Coming just two years after the second ended, this film was a litmus test.  What could be found funny in this cruel new world?

The entire world had lost its innocence.

And so the comedian was forced to make do with the sordid rubble.

It is not spoiling much to tell you that in this film Chaplin plays a serial killer.  The idea apparently originated with Orson Welles, but the treatment was no doubt a full Chaplin adaption.

Yes, it is shocking.  A bit.  Nowadays.  But then?!?  It must have been much more scandalous.

This was the first time Chaplin took to the screen in a feature film without relying to any extent upon the Little Tramp character.  It was a brave departure!

What I find most fascinating about this film is that the fictional Verdoux, like the real-life Hitler, was a vegetarian and animal lover.

Ah!  However…Verdoux was based on a real killer:  Henri Désiré Landru.

They share the same first name (and a rhyming last):

Henri Verdoux?

Henri Landru.

They also share a profession:  used furniture merchant.

It is not clear to me (without further research) whether the vegetarian/animal lover aspects were inventions of Chaplin or not.

I’m guessing they were.

In any case, they are effective reminders about the intricacy of human personalities.

Schindler’s List comes down to us as a hack film because it lacks life.  That is the message I get from reading Godard’s critique of Spielberg.  What is more, Godard seems to lament (mourn) the lack of video footage shot within German concentration camps during WWII.

Some have construed this as holocaust denial.

I don’t think that is the point.

However, Godard’s presentation of his argument brings with it a certain amount of skepticism.  Put simply, his question seems to be (in my own words), “How could the Germans be so technologically advanced (particularly in film and motion picture equipment) yet fail to shoot any footage within the camps?”

What comes down to us today is footage of said camps’ “liberations”…  Indeed, Hollywood directors were tasked with making propaganda of the hideous findings (George Stevens comes to mind) [not that they needed much help there].

And so why have I made this detour?  Simply to illustrate that the human brain is smarter than Hollywood assumes it is.

Spielberg is not a great director.  He’s merely a rich director.

Chaplin was a great director.  Monsieur Verdoux was largely a failure in the United States.

To come back to Guy Debord (and I paraphrase heavily in translation from the French), “Reality has been turned on its head…”

The spectacle reigns supreme.  Who cares if it’s true?  Even better than the real thing.  That is the message of Debord’s La Société du spectacle (published in 1967).  And that message is relevant to Monsieur Verdoux.

Perhaps it was the Letterists (of which Debord was a member)…perhaps it was the Situationists (of which Debord was the guiding light)…one of these groups boycotted Chaplin when he arrived in France.

Ah, I have found it.  Indeed.  1952.  It was the Letterists.  Their screed pamphlet called Chaplin a “con artist of sentiments”.  [translation by Len Bracken]

Indeed, that is just the role Chaplin took up five years previous in our film Monsieur Verdoux.  It is also part of the argument which Godard has made against Spielberg.

As much as I love Debord (one of my three favorite writers), I have to disagree with his early (pre-Situationist) position against Chaplin.  Godard would likely disagree with Debord and the Letterists on this matter as well (judging from the abundance of Chaplin films referenced in his magnum opus Histoire(s) du cinema).  But I must agree with Godard regarding Spielberg.  It does no honor to the memory of Holocaust victims nor survivors to give the sad event the “Hollywood touch”.

Godard has (along with most of humanity) been called anti-Semitic.  I don’t believe that to be the case regarding the most important director to have lived.  A single glance is not enough to absorb what Jean-Luc is saying in any of his films (not to mention writings or interviews).

Ah, but now I am far off-track.  I have left Verdoux in the dust.

But that is alright.

Perhaps the measure of a film’s greatness is how much it makes us think?

 

-PD