Monday, July 31, 2017


It's astonishing how well Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966), currently being revived at Film Forum, holds up after 50 years. There’s practically nothing dated about it and it’s lead figure Thomas, the photographer, famously played by David Hemmings even talks on a proto-cell phone. The movie derives from a Julio Cortazar short story and the subject is narrative and the meaning in which experience is encapsulated. Like Thomas, Antonioni is a photographer too and he famously told Rothko “Your paintings are like my films--they're about nothing...with precision.”  Antonioni was prescient and his movie has the stamp of postmodernism. Has a murder occurred or is it a piece of artifice like the mimes, playing tennis, who bookend the movie? There’s almost a tone of exhilaration in Thomas’s voice when he tells his agent, Ron (Peter Bowles) “Somebody was trying to kill somebody in the park.” Amidst the superficiality and materialism of the 60’s London in which Thomas gallivants around town in a Rolls Royce convertible, sexually assaulting models like Verushka, reality is the only commodity in short supply. The chief characteristic of Jane, the femme fatale played by Vanessa Redgrave is her evanescence. One of Thomas’s friends is an abstractionist whose works he attempts to parse much the way he does the photos of  the purported crime scene and there are wonderful symbols and leitmotifs peppering  the film which act like Macguffins in a classic mystery. The propeller discovered in an antique shop is one, along wtth the rushing sound of wind through trees and the clicking of the camera that constitute the soundtrack over which the photographic images are "blown up." Violence appears amidst silence and the noisiest scenes like the famous one in which two would-be models rip off each other's clothes exemplifies a form of nomadic spiritual chaos masking as innocent play.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Why Life Isn't Fair

Have you ever thought about how unfair it is that people who are reprobates, that those who are unfaithful, who lie and cheat, end up being more happy than you are? And how does one deal with hedonism as a philosophy? By definition hedonists prioritize pleasure and seek it even when it leaves a path of destruction its wake. Consequences are something that few hedonists care about. Meanwhile the average Joe or Jill who’s going about their daily business, guiltily repressing desires may not be exulting in the senses like their less inhibited colleague. “Conscience doth makes cowards of us all,” says Hamlet. Well not all. Hamlet is wrong. Conscience doesn’t bother those whose bloods register a low empathy level. It would be nice to think there's justice in the universe, but you’re probably more likely to find poetic justice in poetry than in life. The bad person who's totally selfish may  declaim his sorrow at hurting others while going on to say that he or she has no regrets in having done exactly what they wanted to do. While the so-called good person who has stopped his or herself from the little acts of larceny that make up the life of the sensualist may die alone and miserable at having thrown away lost opportunities for oblivion. In any case that’s the one thing that the man or woman or conscience and the pleasure seeker have in common. They both will end up in the same place, oblivion, unless of course you believe there's a God, making final judgments about who's going to heaven or hell.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Austin Journal: Barton Springs Revisited

watercolor by Hallie Cohen
Remember the famous Thomas Eakins painting, “The Swimming Hole?” Go to Barton Springs in Austin on a hot day in July with the thermometer soaring to 102 and you’ll find the effect of the classic of American art on a grand scale. The Springs is a pond abutted by hilly grasslands on both its sides. Because it’s fed by underground water, it's always refreshingly cold, no matter how hot the city becomes. On a recent weekend the Springs was the only show in town, an oasis from the heat that created a public spectacle, in which a cross section of local humanity found a respite from sizzling sidewalks. There were hundreds of men, women and children, reflecting Austin’s cosmopolitan geographic, participating in a spectacle that might be termed a public idyll. A shallow section was devoted to small children, then in the middle was a diving board in which a diva wearing a winged costume received an ovation after doing a backflip. Further down was a long open expanse affording a magnitude that no normal municipal pool  could approximate. The Springs is both grand yet remarkably intimate and peaceful.  It’s a recreation area that feels like one of those magical little hideaways that you come upon in a hidden glade. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Austin Journal: The Bat Cave

photograph by Hallie Cohen
There is a bat cave under the Congress Avenue Bridge which runs over Lady Bird Lake in Austin. On a summer’s night crowds wait at dusk along the banks of the river, as a few remaining kayaks and paddle boats make their way downstream. In the distance are the Hyatt, Radisson and Four Seasons Hotels which loom over Gotham. When the sun sets just enough and the light is right, the bats emerge to the cheers of the throngs and they keep
coming. The amount of bats that have been hibernating is what's so astonishing. It’s not hundreds but thousands and they fill the sky like biblical locusts. There's a strange sense of familiarity, almost déjà vu that you feel even if you have not seen the dark explosion which fills air and there’s a desire to call out the names of your favorite superheroes or Hollywood stars who played them (like Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne). But what's even more telling is the collective sense of awe created by the almost unimaginable and seemingly unending outpouring of creatures all liberated at once by the coming of night. The crowds of spectators exploding with cheers at the appearance of the bats is something like a standing ovation at a great theatrical or operatic event.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


If it hadn’t been a movie, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk could have been a painting in the style of Picasso’s "Guernica" or Goya’s series  of prints, "The Disasters of War." It’s also a triptych like Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, seeing Dunkirk form the land, the sea and the air. Like a painting it works sychronistically, giving more a simultaneous feel for the desperation of a defeated army than introducing some kind of Hollywood style narrative where dramatic snapshots lead to a romantic conclusion in which everything is tied together is a neat catharsis. There’s no central character in Dunkirk, no Private Ryan if you will. There’s also something Shakespearean about the whole set up. Seeing the soldiers on the beach at Dunkirk, a recurring motif in the movie, is a little like Henry wandering in disguise amongst the knots of soldiers on the field at Agincourt. Nolan moves effortlessly between high and lo, civilian (Mark Rylance) and military (Kenneth Branagh). Actually the very first scene sets the tone. A young British soldier is inundated by broadsides dropped by the Germans. He’s then fired upon.  His fellow soldiers die around him. The scene doesn’t skip a beat. It’s the way tragedies happen, without explanation or hesitation. It’s similar to what happens out at sea where in one of the films most unforgettable scenes the water literally goes on fire. From the beginning and despite all the action, the movie’s impressionistic style makes you wonder when the plot is going to begin and that’s just the point. Churchill famously asked to get back 30,000 men and got 300,000, a huge retreat that turned into a victory.