Friday, July 30, 2010

Paris Journal V: The Shop on Main Street

On the Boulevard de Sébastopol in the second arrondissement of Paris is a shop window that displays unclothed mannequins de vitrine. When you think about it, it’s a shop window for people who are shopping for their shop windows. Here you can find mannequins that have plainly come out of the closet—outspokenly gay mannequins dressed up in cowboy hats or construction helmets like the Village People, and also mannequins of women who you can never have, bold Parisian women with perfect breasts whose nipples point indifferently at the longeur they have inspired. These are not like the mannequins you find in New York or Chicago or even in Vienna or London. They are very French, to the extent that they exude the delight in sexuality and in appearance that characterizes life along all the great streets of Paris—St. Michel, St. Germain, Raspail, Montparnasse, and Montorgueil (a small thoroughfare emerging at the heart of one of Paris’s most trafficked neighborhoods). A store window has to be populated by mannequins that customers can relate to. Otherwise, they won’t buy the merchandise. Though these mannequins are silent, they radiate the self-possession and almost jingoistic confidence that characterizes the French. These mannequins wear French culture on their non-existent sleeves.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Many secrets were kept from Thierry Guetta when he was growing up as the youngest child in a large French family. One of them was that his mother was dying. His obsession with film derived from his need to record so as not to miss anything. The only problem was that he knew nothing about making a film, so that when he started gaining a reputation among famous and infamous street artists for all the footage he was shooting, the result, something called Live Remote Control, was simply random footage of an almost aleatory nature, shot by what the legendary street artist Banksy describes as “someone with mental problems who happened to own a camera.” Recording the creations of these Houdinis of the art world (Shepherd Fairey, who made headlines over the appropriation of Obama’s image for the famous Hope poster, also makes a cameo), who materialize and disappear in the blink of an eye, was essential due to the evanescent nature of their creations. “Because I never made a film before and didn’t know how to stop, I kept on,” Guetta says. Exit Through the Gift Shop is not the film that Guetta made about Banksy, but instead records the history of Guetta’s obsession with the video camera and his eventual transformation into a street artist and phenomenon in his own right, named MBA, Mister Brain Wash. Banksy encourages Mister Brain Wash, while making his own film out of Guetta’s raw footage. Of Guetta’s artistic output, Banksy says during the film, “I used to encourage everyone to make art. I don’t do it so much anymore.”  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Taking a Leak

Fifty years ago, if you said, “I want to be gay,” it would have meant that you aspired to a state of happiness. Today, if someone tells you they want to be gay, it means that they are coming out of the closet. Now, the expression “I want to take a leak” is being threatened by the exigencies of modern electronic warfare carried out by digital-age mercenaries. If someone tells you they want to take a leak or informs you that something is leaking, it has nothing to do with fluids emanating from the bladder or from a pipe, it has to do with classified information being uncovered and released to an older generation of news outlets. Everyone has been wondering about the fate of objective reportage, and whether the gathering of new information will become the province of amateur bloggers who have no real experience in employing reliable sources to report stories. Though there may be some reason for consternation about the latest evolution of reporting (particularly with regard to privacy issues), the fears of amateurism may be put to rest. Where you had Woodward and Bernstein covering the Watergate scandal, now you have sophisticated hackers capable of making their way into highly classified governmental systems that an older generation of journalists didn’t even dare speculate about. As Hamlet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” First came the reporting about a US Army helicopter firing on civilians in Iraq, and now comes the WikiLeak about what is really occurring in Afghanistan. “The secret documents, released on the Internet by an organization called WikiLeaks, are a daily diary of an American led force often starved for resources and attention as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year,” the Times reported (“View is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War in Afghanistan,” NYT, 7/25/10). The information, while not surprising, is striking in its detail, but more important, this is one of the clear-cut times when history is transformative in terms of information-gathering. Everyone has been wondering what is going to happen to newspapers, and which ones will start to charge for their online editions. Balderdash—for good or bad WikiLeaks is the new journalism, with transparency (a word that has also been bandied about by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) as the lingua franca and moral high ground of both political and journalistic life. Here is how the unfolding of the current front-page story is described in the print edition of the Times piece:  “The documents—some 92,000 individual reports in all—were made available to The Times and the European news organizations by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to exposing secrets of all kinds…”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Paris Journal IV: Silence is Golden

The Musée Carnavalet in the Marais section of Paris is the Museum of the City of Paris, which is housed in the former residence of the great letter-writer Madame de Sevigny. One of the permanent exhibits is the room Marcel Proust occupied. “C’est dans son modeste lit du laine qu’il composa la plus grande partie de A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.It was in his modest wool bed that he composed the great part of The Remembrance of Things Past, reads the inscription on the wall outside the installation. The room was covered in cork at the suggestion of his friend, the Comtesse de Noailles, to ensure silence. The same décor existed in the three residences Proust occupied after the death of his parents: 102 Boulevard Haussman (1902-1919), 8 bis rue Laurent-Pichat (l919), and 44 rue Hamelin (1919-22). With its antique desk, its chest, its tiny upholstered chair, Proust’s digs resemble the small but elegant respites in the expensive boutique hotels that are ubiquitous in Paris these days. Its embroidered couch recalls Freud’s study. Proust’s cane remains, and on the wall is a picture of Proust’s father Adrian, a doctor who wore pince-nez. One floor up in the Carnavalet is a floor devoted to the French Revolution, which contains a framed copy of the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen. The first article reads: “Le but de la société est le bonheur commun.” The aim of society is the happiness of everyone—a dictum that has apparently eluded the hardened creatures who still lurk in the doorways of the infamous rue St. Denis only a few blocks away.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Paris Journal III: Horlogerie

Photo by Hallie Cohen

If you walk down the Boulevard Raspail to the tiny rue du Cherche-Midi, you will come to a bronze plaque outside a narrow storefront: Horlogerie Arvaud. The left side of the window reads Restauration de Pendules Anciens, and on the right Reparations Bijouterie Horlogerie. There are period candelabras surrounded by clocks in glass, under which is the  inscriptions Experts Pres la cour D’Appel, which is simply an elegant way of saying that the watch store does estimates. In the  window is also a scene—a dog and a dog house surrounded by rabbits—into which is nestled a gold pocket watch. Here is a world of objects, alarms clocks and a decorative time keepers, which have eluded the digital age. In Manhattan and several other large cities, there are still old fashioned typewriter stores which service Royals and Olympias and provide typewriter ribbons for the small band of luddites who have managed to avoid the world of computers. The tiny shop on the ancient Paris street similarly caters to a dwindling population who maintain ancient time pieces in timeless Left Bank apartments which have outlived wars and invasions, the Jacobins, the expulsion of Napoleon’s army from Russia, the occupation of Paris by the Nazis, whose headquarters were at the Lutetia down the street from this little piece of the past, and the succession of Republics that make France what it is today.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Paris Journal II: En Avion

The screen reads Kennebunkport, Lawrence, Fall River, Gulf of Maine. A toy plane follows a red line across the Atlantic Ocean to Paris, Nice, Algiers, the Celtic Sea, the Bay of Biscay. It is 1:26 New York time and 7:26 in Paris. Over three thousand miles have been traveled, translating to over 5,000 Kilometers. The plane heading into the sun is suddenly filled with blinding light. This is the miracle that we all take for granted. Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus is the symbolic son of Icarus, who flew too high, but is the triumph of air travel a form of hubris for which nature intermittently rises up in vengeance, in the form of  mechanical failures and terrorist incidents that humble the awesome mechanical birds? During the Pleistocene era, huge pterodactyls filled the sky. Are jets the distant relatives of these prehistoric creatures, who fell victim to the asteroid that created the  ice age out of which the early forms of man, Homo habilis and Australopithecus, would eventually rise? For all the modernity of the contraption and the way it’s taken its place in the repertoire of modern consciousness (remember the innocence of St Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince?), there is something frighteningly primitive about the way these flocks of man’s invention fill the skies. The screen in the cabin is a cartoon of defiance against the laws of gravity. Will modernity someday face the equivalent of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, now trying crimes against humanity? If it is true that laws of nature are made to be broken—and time will tell the extent to which our carbon footprint has been formed by fuel consuming conveniences like air travel—who will answer for these crimes and what will the sentence finally be?  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Paris Journal I: Airport Lounge

These days, when someone is looking for an airport, it usually just means they want to activate their Wi-Fi connection. One of the few refuges at real airports are the lounges that can be enjoyed by holding certain kinds of credit cards or upgrading to a business class ticket. A good lounge is far from the madding crowd, and frequently offers comforting snacks. For instance, the Alitalia lounge in Milan is noted for its seemingly infinite supply of nuts. The Lufthansa lounge at Kennedy didn’t have that many nuts a few years ago, but it served a rotating buffet of hot hors d’oeuvres. Open Skies and Jet Air share a lounge at Newark that is totally devoid of nuts, but potato chip friendly. There are bags of Lay's, both the classic and barbecue variety, along with a large bowl of far more substantive chips that look like they’ve been freshly cooked. The modern lounge of today, with all its ready amenities, including Wi-Fi, poses the question of why it’s actually necessary to go anywhere. If one goes to the Louvre, one is likely to be checking one’s Blackberry for emails. In today’s well equipped lounge, one can easily visit the Louvre or the Tate online, and have a far more intimate connection with the art than one might have navigating the crowds at some blockbuster, multi-media Picasso exhibit. Perhaps lounges should become destination points, since they provide the illusion of travel without the inevitable disappointments that transpire upon arrival at an actual destination. Remember Arthur Hailey’s Airport, and the Burt Lancaster movie it inspired?

Monday, July 19, 2010

World Without End

They say that by August two new relief wells will be drilled in the gulf, which will help to drain off the oil that has been polluting the waters, killing wildlife, ruining the fishing and tourist industries in the gulf states, and giving a whole sector of the American population their first experience of Armageddon. Actually, life has always been difficult. Plagues in the Middle Ages were followed by the religious ecstasy and slaughter of the Inquisition, but now the earth seems a little like Swiss cheese. In certain areas like, say, Provence or the little country of Lichtenstein, where one of the main industries is the manufacture of postage stamps, you might as well be occupying one of the holographic levels of Star Trek, as the landscape has an idyllic, pre-Adamic feeling. But if you’re a Katrina veteran or a woman seeking education in Afghanistan, only to have acid thrown in your face, you occupy the universe of Brueghel and Bosch, the two great interpreters of the grotesque. If it’s been done, it’s been said, and if it’s been said, it’s been done is an old saw that is often brought out with respect to pornography, and the same might be said of calamity. Auschwitz and Buchenwald were off the charts in terms of brutality. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the rape of Nanking, in which the Japanese army performed vivisections on their enemies—all are singular for their intentionality. Idi Amin, the savagery of the Janjaweed militias, Rwanda, the genocide of the Tutsi, the repression of the military dictatorship of Myanmar, and the raw juggernaut of Kim Jong-il’s brand of atavism—all test the extent and agency of man-made evil. Yet since the dawn of recorded time humans have been confronted with adversity. Only serendipity explains the burial of Pompeii or, most recently, the tsunamis in Southeast Asia. If a meteor hadn’t hit the earth, there wouldn’t have been an ice age, which prompted the extinction of the dinosaurs, and Australopithecus and Homo habilis, our primate ancestors, might never have survived the pterodactyls.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Hagler and Hearns, Gatti and Ward, Frazier and Ali, Foreman and Ali—great fighters and epic bouts always suggest the iconic power of the dyad. Schlink and Garga, Brecht’s two heroic protagonists in Jungle of Cities, embody the mythic power of the head-on clash between two wills—in this case in the urban setting of early-twentieth-century Chicago. Ludwig Wittgenstein threatened his fellow philosopher Karl Popper with a poker at Cambridge, but who is the classics scholar with the greatest understanding of Antonioni—the deceased William Arrowsmith of the University of Texas or the Canadian poet Anne Carson? (And what would attract classics scholars to the work of a neo-realist Italian director anyway?) The Bloods and the Crips have had a long and violent rivalry, while East Coast and West Coast rappers’ long simmering hostility resulted in the murders of the Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur. The United States and Russia were the two great rivals of the twentieth century, and the jury is still out about who will take the spotlight in the 21st. Could it be India and China fighting for the heavyweight title, with the United States watching from the VIP box as a venerated former champ? Pepsi has never been able to take the crown from Coke. Microsoft and Apple are the big rivals in the world of computers, while Google knocked out Yahoo in the first round, and Facebook took down My Space. The verdict is still out on who will win the war between AMD and Intel over microprocessors. And who was the winner between these pairs of contenders: Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Jane Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe, Truffaut and Godard, Strindberg and Ibsen? Naturally the Empire State building won out over the Chrysler (until the World Trade Center came along), as did The Museum of Modern Art over The Whitney when it came down to who would be the Maecenas of modernism. Protestant versus Catholic, Shiite versus Sunni, the Empire, the Rebel Alliance, Lenin, Trotsky, Pound, Eliot, real versus surreal—who will carry the victory torch?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lives of Our Leaders: Petraeus vs. McChrystal

General Petraeus may not be spilling the beans to Rolling Stone reporters at Paris Hotels while Europe is covered with volcanic ash (was the spewing forth of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, which looks like the nomenclature of a transcriptionist having a breakdown, a sign of nature in revolt against the effects of derivatives on a small country?), but he is not walking softly into the night. In fact, he is on the verge of walking into a hornet’s nest. The Times reported on Wednesday that Petraeus “introduced the idea of blacklisting…the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani,” which “is allied with Al Quaeda and with leaders of the Afghan Taliban branch under Mohammed Omar…” (“U.S. May Label Pakistan Militants as Terrorists,” NYT, 7/13/10). The Times described the problems Petraeus is likely to have with the Afghan leader Hamid  Karzai, “…who is pressing to reconcile with all the  insurgent groups…” and with Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence Directorate, “…which analysts say sees the Haqqami network as a way  to exercise its own leverage in Afghanistan.”  Naturally, this poses the question of what plans the disgraced General McChrystal might have had for the Haqqani network. McChrystal was a hard-fighting warrior who at the same time was trying to cement relationships with the local populace. He was averse to taking military actions that created political conflict. To this end, he was legendarily cautious about the use of air power, where Petraeus had a reputation for increasing air attacks when he took over in Iraq. Conceivably, McChrystal might have been more Solomonic in his approach to the Haqqami group, choosing a policy of inclusion and cooptation. The Petraeus doctrine may have worked in Iraq, if you think what resulted was a military success, but Afghanistan more than any other place on earth may illustrate the adage, “man plans, God laughs.” 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

True Crime

Ben Novack Jr. possessed one of the world’s largest collections of Batman objects and paraphernalia. His wife Narcisa Veliz Novack, a former stripper, is now accused of engineering his murder with the help of her brother Cristobal and two other men. Novack was found bound and gagged and bludgeoned to death in the Hilton Rye Town last summer, where he had gone for a convention. Narcisa is being accused of both leaving her husband’s suite door open and providing the pillow with which he was smothered. Novack was the son of the owner of the Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami, and his 86-year-old mother, Bernice Stempel Novack, had also died under suspicious circumstances. What we have here is a horrible crime, which also contains a bit of a jeremiad. After all, on the surface, Novack was a person of wealth and obsession who married into the underworld instead of taking the route more common to his class and background by marrying a nice Jewish girl of an equally well-to-do family, and having the kind of wedding Philip Roth described in Goodbye, Columbus. Looking at the surface details, it appears that Novack was a person of sensibility whose particular tastes (love of a superheroes) would fuel his desire to escape the seemingly narrow, safe world into which he was born. Emma Bovary committed suicide and Novack was murdered, but did they both suffer from overactive imaginations?

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right is the 21st Century Scenes from a Marriage, albeit American style. The conceit of the film, “the donor,” functions like Hickey in O’Neill’s Iceman, adding the futuristic element. This is a world where sexuality is labile, and where the complexity of sexual role-playing is rendered more futile and inane the more Cholodenko’s characters attempt to grasp and name it. Early in the movie the gay couple Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are having sex while watching a male porno flick. It’s an early contradiction, but only a harbinger of the contrarieties that will present themselves later in the film. Ironically, the power of the film is more atavistic, residing in the way the camera captures moments like the one when Annette Bening has her anagnorisis. It’s a wonderful sequence that starts with Bening and Mark Ruffalo singing Joni Mitchell in a moment of faux détente (belied by their disharmony), and ends with Bening’s recognition that she is no longer able to force feed herself and others her wine-soaked vision of family life. It is here that Cholodenko’s debt to Bergman is most obvious. The camera hugs Bening’s face to the point where it creates embarrassment in the viewer. You almost want to turn away as she is numbed by shock and the conversation continues around her—the music of the previous sequence turning to musak. The film is no longer about a gay couple who have decided to raise a family, but about all families. And that’s its power. "Things happen" is a slogan used in Twelve Step programs, and it seems particularly apt here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

From Cradle to Grave

Everyone has their day in court, actually two: birth and death. There are exceptions, but the newcomer is generally the most important person in the room, as is the old timer to whom children, friends and relatives have come to pay their last respects. However jaded or cosmopolitan we may feel after reading Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, which proposes eternal life through cybernetic revamping of dying organs, the coming into existence of a human life (no matter how great its potential for evil) and the departing of life from the body still epitomize the fundamental mystery of the universe. Another mystery of course is this: what preceded life? Scientists talk of the big bang and create ever more powerful telescopes, with mirrors capable of collecting emissions billions of light years away, from the dawn of time, yet no one is able to describe what came before the beginning, before the great event during which a microscopic bit of matter or energy ignited the expansion of the universe. One way to study the macrocosm is to study particles in the new LHC (Large Hadron Collider). Scientists hope that the huge amounts of energy produced in the collider, which in turn unleash elementary particles like Higgs bosons, can help us to understand how the universe was created. Another way to come to grips with the enigma of the macrocosm is by going to a hospital and witnessing the contractions that attend birth or the last breaths that attend death, as the body labors both to hold onto and relinquish life.

It's a Wise Child

Just before the Fourth of July weekend, the Times ran a short piece about Grigory Perelman. Grigory, otherwise known as Grisha, is the mathematics wiz— though wiz does little justice to his level of abstract genius—who proved the Poincaré conjecture, which “hypothesizes that any three-dimensional space without holes is essentially a sphere” (“A Math Problem Solver Declines a $1 Million Dollar Prize,” NYT, 7/1/10). The story was tucked away at the bottom of a page in the middle of the paper, and went on to describe how Perelman had turned down the million-dollar prize from the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, MA. Perelman had previously turned down one of math’s most coveted awards, the Fields Medal, which if you remember makes a brief appearance in Good Will Hunting. The Times went on to describe the whole fiasco around the Fields Medal: how Perelman presented his proof in 2003, and how “after a brief barnstorming tour in the United States, during which he refused interviews, Dr. Perelman returned to Russia, leaving the world’s mathematicians to pick up the pieces.” Apparently it was too much for Perelman who, the Times reported, moved in with his mother and left his position at the Steklov Mathematical Institute. Well, what is there to say? All of this is somehow reminiscent of that famous clan of prodigies, the Glass family, whose tragic members have their brief day in the sun on a radio quiz show called “It’s a Wise Child.” (Naturally, The Royal Tenenbaums owe their existence to the Glasses.)  Of course, the ultimate reclusive genius is J.D. Salinger, who left New York literary society to live a reclusive existence in Cornish, New Hampshire, just as his Russian counterpart would walk out of the spotlight, off the stage of life, many years later. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In Defense of Hesitation

So you’ve waited and waited and waited, putting off the delicious consummation of your desires, precisely because you wanted something to look forward to. Isn’t that the predicament that Kierkegaard lays out so eloquently in Diary of a Seducer, in which dispossession becomes nine tenths of the law? Zen, in both its serious and watered-down forms, teaches us to live in the now, emphasizing that we only have today, to the extent that the past is over and the future is yet to be. But who wants to live this way? Is the reality of Paris and all the things associated with it, as delineated, say, by Henry Miller in Quiet Days in Clichy, really that arresting? What is better: great sex, a great meal, a great passion, or the imagination of it? Yes, if we wait too long the woman with the enchanting cleavage sitting one carrel over in the stacks of the library is going to vanish, and you will probably never see her again. But let’s hypothesize that you get lucky, and you lock eyes with a beauty reminiscent of Mariangela Melato in Swept Away. That movie was  released in l974, before the onset of the AIDS epidemic, and in homage to those carefree times, what if you suggest a fling in the Thomas Hardy section, right next to Tess? You make your own bargain with Mephistopheles, choosing gratification with little regard for the consequences. Lo and behold, it’s not a disease you end up with, but the infection of obsession. You have opened Pandora’s box and made yourself vulnerable. Particularly if the sex is good, you will want more. You are now powerless, where before you were at no one’s mercy, living in a world of blissful anticipation. The Buddhists have one other thing right: desire is the beginning of suffering.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Spoils of Boynton

It is odd that Florida has become the retirement destination for so many older people, since all the streets in the Sunshine State are indistinguishable from each other. It’s not exactly the ideal rest stop for potential sufferers of Alzheimer’s and senile dementia. The experience of landing in West Palm Beach feels very much like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day. No sooner do you leave the grounds of some new housing development, situated on a golf course with the inevitable bougainvillea covered entrance, than you come upon its exact replica. One marvels that anyone is able to negotiate the many odd thoroughfares, with names like Military or Jog Trail, which bake in the sun and are as wide as beaches, with house numbers that seem to go on to eternity.

The early-bird special is a legendary feature of Florida life, and the prices are so reasonable that many see them as an alternative form of food stamps for the middle and upper-middle classes, whose long lives of service to society are repaid with unlimited refills of salad and Diet Coke. Coupon-cutting is an art form for Florida residents, who take workshops in these matters.  Golf carts circle for prayer and meditation meetings on the ninth hole of Robert Trent Jones courses. Preston Sturges’s Palm Beach Story features the uproarious Ale and Quail hunting club scene, in which a group of revelers is headed down south. But that Florida, the world of ‘30s romantic comedy, was another kettle of fish.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Golden Calf

If you want to gamble in New York or Connecticut, you have to go to a casino like Turning Stones, built like so many casinos on Native American land. In the case of Turning Stones, it’s the Oneida Indian Nation. The casino business has changed, even for the modest traveler who can’t afford Las Vegas, Monoco, or a private club in London.  In the old west, there were casinos with whores like Kitty from Gunsmoke, who plied her trade over the bar. Then there was the intermediate period that saw the advent of the gaudy strip, immortalized by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in their famed tome Learning From Las Vegas, where the commercial architecture of the pleasure palace, with its chrome, mirrors and exuberant kitsch, solidified the foundations of postmodernism. While Venturi’s work may have exuded a certain self-consciousness, Las Vegas, and the casinos, motels and strip shows it spawned, was lacking in any aspiration beyond the totally over-the-top pursuit of the proverbial Golden Nugget. Today, travelers coming through Las Vegas visit the Bellagio, named after the resort on Lake Como, and see Cirque du Soleil more readily than they visit the raunchy Palomino Club. Rip-offs like Turning Stones in Verona, New York (just down the road from Rome) all similarly reek of Steve Winwood’s Higher Love. The mirrors on the ceilings are gone, along with the girls. Now, tattooed warriors, overweight hausfraus and octogenarians with walkers wander the aisles of slot machines, hoping to win enough coin to cover dinner at one of the tasteful chain restaurants inspired by celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck. Going to a casino has become a family event. The 1998 film Croupier with Clive Owen portrayed a darker and more romantic aspect of the gambling experience, which few casino goers encounter today. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Wild Grass

Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad, with a screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet, was a rite-of-passage film for anyone who fell in love with European art cinema in the ‘60s. In his latest film, Wild Grass, the 88-year-old Resnais returns to the visual beauty of objects—shoes, pianos, watches, the surfaces the camera vivisects so memorably in Marienbad—but this time the notion is one of ingestion. A striking red-headed dentist named Marguerite Muir, who is also a flyer, is robbed of her purse. An older married man, George Palet, finds her wallet and in returning it to her becomes obsessed with her existence. The obsession involves memory, since he’s always been transfixed by aviation. But his desire to serve her or pay homage to her has the quality of devouring. He writes letters, phones her incessantly, and finally slashes the tires of her car in order to prevent her from going anywhere. However, when she finally relents and allows him to know her, he ends up having sex with her best friend Josepha, and finally banishes her from his house. It is almost ridiculous to compare Wild Grass to Bergman’s Persona, since the tone of the two movies is so wildly different, but there is a similar reversal upon which the drive of the whole film hinges. Palet (palette?) probes Marguerite, but it is Marguerite who, taking a cue from her profession, ultimately does the drilling.