Thursday, October 31, 2013

Monday Morning Live

CNN reported on a telekinesis stunt engineered by he producers of the new version of Carrie. A young girl goes berserk in a coffee shop. "Up against the wall motherfucker" is a good expression for the powers she unleashes. It’s Candid Camera and Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds, a put on which caused mass panic, rolled into one--since the customers have not been forewarned that the girl and her victim are both actors. A similar stunt, this time taking place in a beauty shop, was engineered by the producers of the television remake of the The Exorcist. CNN then went on to document a spate of other videos used to create buzz, including one in which a murder is taking place in an elevator, with bystanders looking on in disbelief. What does the average person do when confronted by a murderer or someone with telekinetic powers? The answer is that they usually freeze up. The videos are hysterical, but they replay the sad story of our contemporary world in which outrageous atrocities occur and the crowd simply gawks, grows paralyzed or simply walks away. The mock elevator murder was particularly unsettling since it brought back Kitty Genovese, the young Queens woman who was stabbed to death back in l964 and whose screams for help were met with inaction. After the humor of these staged events has past, we are reminded that  paranormal happenings are a good description of what is going on in Syria, in Egypt, in Somalia, in North Korea—to name just a few examples of very public bludgeonings from which the rest of the world often turns its head.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mama Didn’t Lie

Jan Bradley
Here is a passage from “Dante: The Most Vivid Version,” a review essay by Robert Pogue Harrison (The New York Review of Books, 10/24/13) devoted to two recent translations of Dante (one of Dante’s Inferno by Mary Jo Bang and the other of The Divine Comedy by Clive James) and Dan Brown’s latest thriller Inferno : “The great metaphysical doctrine underlying The Divine Comedy is that time is engendered by motion. Like the medieval scholastic tradition in which he was steeped, Dante subscribed to Plato’s notion that time, in its cosmological determinations, is ‘a moving image of eternity.’ He subscribed furthermore to the Platonic and Aristotelian notion that the truest image of eternity in the material world is the circular motions of the heavens. Thus in Dante’s Paradiso, the heavenly spheres revolve in perfect circles around the ‘unmoved Mover,’ namely God.” In addition to being a professor of literature at Stanford, Robert Pogue Harrison, according to Wikipedia, is also a rock musician, who plays the lead guitar for a band named Glass Wave. This may explain why his locutions about time and eternity, which might be best compared to music, are so catchy. Like “Blue Moon,” or “Duke of Earl,”  you can’t get them out of your head. Here is another one by a long forgotten recording artist of the 60’s named Jan Bradley, which you may also find difficult to get out of your head. It’s called “Mama Didn’t Lie.” Listen to it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

He Gave Prague Castle the Bird

Michal Cizek/Agence France-Presse-Getty Images
Life is Elsewhere is the title of a novel by the Czech, novelist, dissident and pornosopher Milan Kundera, The title was taken from an expression graffittied on Paris walls during the '68 riots, which coincided with the soon to be repressed Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. Now the former Czechoslovakia is made up of The Czech Republic and Slovakia and though both are free of the Communist party, they are not, in the opinion of a whole new generation of artists and dissidents free of corruption. Materialism of the undialectical sort brings is own form of oppression. The Times ran a story about the Czech artist David Cerny who is literally pointing his finger at the ruling party of Czech president Milos Zeman (“Angrty at Prague, Artist Ensures He’s Understood,” NYT 10/21/13). “He installed on the Vlatava River a 30-foot-high, plastic purple hand with a raised middle finger…that points directly at Prague Castle.”  Cerny, in general, according to the Times, doesn’t pull his punches “depicting Germany as a network of motorways resembling a swastika” and “displaying a caricature of a former Czech president inside an enormous fiberglass rear end.” Jonathan Franzen recently published a volume of essays by and commentary on the great l9th century satirist and editor of Die Fackel (“The Torch”), Karl Kraus, The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus. Kraus excoriated the foibles of Viennese society (“psychoanalysis is that mental illness for which it regards itself as therapy” is one of  his gems). Vienna is only a stone’s throw from Prague and one wonders if Kraus’s spirit doesn’t live on in Mr. Cerny’s freewheeling attacks.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Camille Claudel l915

In one section of Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel l915, currently playing at Film Forum, her brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent), the famous Catholic poet, playwright and mystic, describes how Rimbaud’s Les illuminations and Une saison en enfer actually helped open his mind to God. Rimbaud famously talked about “le dereglement de tous les sens,” "the derangement of the senses" and what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. He explains that his sister Camille (Juliette Binoche) is too sensitive a soul to withstand the powerful effect of such imaginative sorties on her mind. It is, by the way, unclear who is more insane Camille or Paul whose rationale for committing his sister to the Catholic asylum where she eventually spends most of her life (the film takes place over a few days during the second year of her confinement), constitutes its own form of derangement. Creativity, faith and insanity are the subjects of this portrait of the artist who had been Rodin’s mistress. Curiously Dumont’s film has little to say about Camille’s talent as a sculptress, which is like double jeopardy since she is silenced yet again. In the asylum, Camille also cooks her own food, since she’s afraid of being poisoned--though the movie is no Like Water For Chocolate. From the point of view of content, the association between rehabilitation and faith takes on an almost contemporaneous interest, due to the recovery movement where the belief in a God of one’s understanding is now considered part of the cure—an idea that is still unthinkable to most secular practitioners of psychiatry and psychopharmacology. Camille complains constantly of the harshness of her treatment and of how unbearable it is for her to be confined in an institution filled with gnarled creatures whose loud incoherent cries echo through the halls (Dumont’s apparently used real inmates from mental institutions  as part of the cast). Unfortunately Camille Claudel l915 often achieves its empathetic response by duplicating the very boredom and hopelessness that its central figure is seeking to escape. The severity is enough to drive you nuts. Bresson’s subject was also confinement, but the minimalism he subjects his viewers to results in a transcendence that's missing from Dumont’s work. It should be noted that an early scene of Camille being washed in a bathtub  recalls David’s The Death of Marat.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Touch of Sin or the Turin Horse

You may reconsider your views on gun control after seeing Jia Zhangke’s parable of modern China A Touch of Sin. It’s as if you gave Stockman, the crusading doctor of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum. At least that’s how the film starts. Dahai  (Wu Jiang), a local crusader against corruption (who bears some resemblance to Ai Weiwei), walks around with a blood splattered face after he rids his world of corruption. Nietzsche purportedly came upon the site of a horse being beaten on the streets of Turin and was so traumatized that he never wrote again. Zhangke is plainly drawn to thugs and violence as a metaphor for the violence of the broken social contract that is contemporary China, but also because of its esthetic possibilities. Blood runs throughout the movie like the drip in a Pollock. The director recapitulates this famous scene from Nietzsche, albeit to a different end. After Dahai kills the horse beater, the horse is seen wandering confusedly, pulling its empty cart, not knowing what to do without its sadistic driver. It’s not clear exactly what Zhangke’s trying to say in this scene, but the idea of the beating occurs again and again throughout the movie. Dahai is beaten by the thugs hired by a corrupt local businessman and is mockingly referred to as Mr. Golf (after the golf club with which this is accomplished) by the locals). A young woman who works as a receptionist in a sauna is beaten by two customers and a young worker in one of the huge industrial campuses that populate the movie (the kind that manufactures parts for Apple in Chengdu) throws himself off a balcony to avoid having to carry out a beating. In works like Threepenny Opera, Brecht used thugs and criminals to make his political points and not all Zhangke’s avengers are driven by morality. The movie opens up with the murder of a group of axe wielding thugs, by Zhou San (Wang Baoqiang), a thief who is no Robin Hood. If anything the amorality of much of the violence becomes the harder pill to swallow. And yet curiously despite the knives and clubs and guns, ATouch of Sin is no action movie. In fact there are scenes, right out of early Antonioni, where the camera lingers on the irresolvable psycho-social predicaments of his characters and nothing much happens at all.