Friday, July 31, 2020

Social Dancing

Cultivating an audience is a daunting proposition. Peter Handke wrote Offending the Audience. The title is a little like playing hard to get. Sometimes a certain hauteur can create interest, but more often it ends up leaving the performer, who would otherwise be seeking the limelight, gasping for breath like the elusive figure Buster Keaton plays in Samuel Beckett’s single cinematic work, Film. But if you're interested in making friends and influencing people and you intend to go about such a project head on, you may not find the odds turned that much more in your favor by displays of honesty and good intention. The one key thing about appealing to an audience lies in the fact that the seducer has to be genuinely interested those whose attention he or she is seeking. Instinctually no one wants to give another person the right time of day. An actor is successful when he shares his talent with those who are watching. In fact it's not only sharing but actually employing the lives of the viewers in order to create his or her role. Those who attract large followings on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are gifted with a preternatural anticipatory empathy. Social media is in fact like the old social dancing and man is a social animal.

Read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Final Solution: Prisoner's Dilemma

Generally, the state of the world is that those who have been convicted of crimes are confined while the rest of the world are free to go about their business. One of the advantages of life in an authoritarian society is that the government has the ability to lock up everyone when necessary. Thus China was able to return to normalcy quicker than other societies because of the harshness of its crackdown. In a democratic society where individual rights are trumpeted it’s much more difficult to stop people from doing what they want. If someone is willing to risk their lives, even if it affects others, they are free to do it. Thus many affluent inhabitants of large cities like New York took off to their summer places when the pandemic stuck, often bringing the coronavirus with them and thereby incurring the wrath of local residents. "The Wealthy Flee Coronavirus. The Vacation Towns Respond: Stay Away," (NYT, 3/25/20) ran a Times headline. Of course, the issue is also epitomized by those who refuse to take measles vaccines on religious grounds. When a coronavirus vaccine is developed, there will undoubtedly be people who choose to exercise their right not to take it. Will, for instance, someone who practices Christian Science refuse inoculation on the grounds of religious freedom? Are those who decline vaccines like the conscientious objectors and pacifists during the Second World War, whose refusal to fight the Nazis rested on cherished beliefs? Still at no time have the lives of the innocent and those who are serving time in penitentiaries been so conjoined by disease. In fact those who live alone have been forced into the equivalent of solitary, in which their only contact with the outside world comes through the internet, the phone or Zoom.

Read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Final Solution: Deja Vu

Covid-19 is producing a sense of déjà vu. Even the most free-spirited individuals have had their options limited. The normal span of behaviors is lessened. Common forms of communion like being comforted when you’re sick or being able to mourn the loss of a loved one in congregation with others are radically diminished. One day is no different from the last or the next when there are fewer destinations. If you’re a traveling salesman, you’re out of business. Many people who once went to jobs in offices are now working at home, where in the absence of meetings and interactions with others, it’s often difficult to differentiate the days of the week. Living during a highly contagious pandemic is also a forecast of what it’s like to be old, alone and on the verge of death when there are even fewer social contacts due to the diminishing numbers in the demographic. The condition of living in the middle of a pandemic is very much like dying itself. Those facing shelter-in-place or lockdown orders experience intimations of their own future helplessness and aloneness on a daily basis. 

Read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Final Solution: Mirandizing

Candide was the name of the famous novel about the ultimate ingenue. Of course, Voltaire’s character lived up to his name. Egged on by Pangloss, famous for his mechanical optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary, Candide exists in a state of total obliviousness to the very world around him. Ignorance is bliss goes the old saw. In modern translation read President Trump’s recent statement that increasing cases of corona were simply the result of all the testing. If it weren’t tragic, there would be something wonderful about the juggernaut of delusion that some people live by and that allows them to have a good time no matter what’s occurring in the world around them. One of the ideas that’s been propounded by some sybarites is that they can do anything they want as long as it’s a source of pleasure to them.  In a sense this is the mantra of free market capitalism, supply side economics and all those who argue against regulation whether it refers to the environment, to wearing face masks or even seat belts. Let the dust settle and human beings can get their cake and eat it too. Talk to people in all the states were the pandemic is on the rampage. Ask them if they’re enjoying their rights.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Official Story

Politics has been a powerful motivator in the history of film. Think of the famed Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) where montage and historical disquisition become interchangeable. It’s as if film got its legs from the dialectics of revolution and in the case of Luis Puenzo’s The Official Story (1985), repression. Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966) was famous for cinema verité in which non-actors played the central roles. "The medium is the message," as Marshall McCluhan said. In The Official Story, the narrative unfolds in a far subtler and in some ways more troubling way. The movie is about the awakening of political consciousness in a school teacher, Alicia Ibanez (Norma Aleandro). “Understanding history is a preparation for understanding the world,” she tells her students and when one cries out “history is written by murderers,” her first reaction is to silence the outburst. The plot centers around the fifth birthday of Alicia's adopted daughter Gaby (Analia Castro). The child had been born in l978 in the middle of the dictatorship famous for kidnapping and murdering its opponents, “the desaparecidos” or disappeared ones, as they were called. Protestors are filling the streets chanting “return all children born in captivity to their legitimate families.” When, an old friend Ana (Chunchuna Villafane) returns from Europe and starts to narrate how she was interrogated and tortured by the junta, Alicia is quizzical and annoyed. However, Alicia's world is unraveling on both an individual and social basis (the action takes place in the last year of the military dictatorship). Argentina is the home of a vibrant psychoanalytic community and Alicia's revelations including one that comes out in confession have the quality of therapeutic insights. One can't help thinking that the film's style owes something to an understanding of subliminal thought processes. The Official Story shatters appearances by bringing forth secrets that its central figure at first doesn’t want to face. Alicia’s husband Roberto (Hector Alterio), an upper class government functionary, refuses to answer any of her questions. “I don’t know who Gaby is; it’s as if nothing is real,” Alicia finally admits. Spoiler alert: the film like Greek tragedy builds to an inexorable climax in which Alicia is forced to come to terms with the fact that Gaby is "a missing mother's child." 35 years later in the era of "fake news," The Official Story remains both stylistically innovative and politically apropos.

Read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Final Solution: Newton's Third Law of Motion

Portrait of Isaac Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1689)
2021 could well turn into l984. There's a pendulum swing in ideologies. It’s gone on certainly since the Russian Revolution when the early idealism of Trotsky was turned to a dictatorship of the apparachnik, as opposed to proletariat. Max Weber coined the term “routinization of charisma.” The citation may have derived from the history of early Christianity when sects based on fervid connection with faith were replaced by churches that that institutionalized belief and created an intermediary between man and God. Parenthetically the whole story of modern liberation movements is prophesied in the history of Christianity itself with Luther’s 95 Theses protesting corrupt practices like pardons by which church hierarchies profited from the unthinking allegiance of their followers. Even as the hatred of Trump fuels the hopes for new regimes, there are glimmerings of a new era of intolerance on the left. "The Letter on Justice and Open Debate"recently published in Harper’s (7/7/20) and signed by Noam Chomsky, David Brooks and Laura Kipnis, among others, is an expression of the fear of a counter reaction on the left that ends up being as reactionary as anything that occurred during the Trump years. "When one body body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body," reads Newton’s Third Law of Motion.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Final Solution: Georgia Tech v. N.Y.U.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets' Mascot (photo: Brooke Novak)
Americans love competitive events like the Superbowl (which may end up confined to the virtual world this season). So why not have a competition between the states to see who can get the lowest coronavirus figures? Georgia Governor Brian Kemp refuses to mandate the use of masks. He’s also suing cities like Atlanta which have ("Georgia Governor Sues to End Cities Defiance on Mask Rules," NYT, 7/16/20). But if deregulation is what Kemp wants then let free market capitalism propose the cure. If Georgia has a rising infection rate, they’re going to lose revenue. There won’t be an issue about lockdowns or not. Many companies will go out of business. However, let’s say Georgians in general decide they’re tired of  losing to their Northern rivals like New York. Let’s say Kemp decides he wants to get back at Cuomo by outdoing him at his own game. The arguments about individual rights are going to stop. They’ll be social pressure for social distance. If "We’re Number #1,” becomes the new cheer, everyone is going to unite. It’s bird in hand and a chicken in every pot. The Protestant Ethic still rules the American psyche. Profit rather than morality is the great incentive. Make America great! Not really. Make Americans safe and the EU will again want their money.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Final Solution: No Moratorium on Striving

What’s particularly disconcerting is that in the middle of a pandemic, people are still striving for things. Why won’t they stop? It would be interesting to learn how many patents were issued for new inventions since February and compare that to 2019. Editors at magazines like The New Yorker which are the repository for submissions of short stories and poems for those who dream of notoriety are likely more inundated than ever. What are people to do who are socially distancing, confined to their homes and unable to do anything but dream of creating a hit that will make them famous—say like Hamilton? ("Home Alone," The East Hampton Star, 4/23/20). You’d think on the other hand that there would be a moratorium that would produce a leveling effect. The operant idea in this catastrophe-based dystopia being that human beings are all in the same boat or ark. Why not help others so that the society prevails through its current crisis? Altruism can be naturally selective as Larissa MacFarquhar points out in Strangers Drowning. On the other hand, the human psyche is locked in a slow dance with ego, in which the passion for some kind of ecstatic release or resurrection becomes the driving force, particularly in moments, like the present, when unending stress is a fact of everyday life. Yes, just when you were about to lay back thinking, this is horrible, but at least competitiveness and jealousy are on the backburner, you take a gulp when you find out that the next door neighbor has gotten a wopping advance for their coronavirus diary.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Palm Springs

Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs is a blatant Ground Hog Day rip- off. “I thought everything I will ever feel so I will never feel anything again,” says Nyles (Andy Samberg). He and Sarah (Christin Milloti) are caught in a “time loop” in which “this is today and tomorrow will be today.” Most of the action takes place at the wedding of Tala (Camila Mendes), Sarah’s younger sister whose husband to be, Abe (Tyler Hoechin), is already cheating. Palm Springs uses its futuristic conceit in the service of farce. Nyles and Sarah who fall in love want to escape the universe they’re in not only because of the nauseating déjà vu but because it’s so materialistic and fraudulent. In this sense they're a satiric trope of Winston Smith and Julia from l984 who form a bond based on trying to escape another form of tyranny.The other source of the humor will ring a bell with most viewers. The hyperbole nails the deadening routine of everyday life. The problem, as the old adage goes, you can write about boredom, but you don’t want to be boring. The same goes for movies. The art of a creating a film about unutterable repetition and entrapment lies in finding another dimension or piece of poetry that provides the cathartic release. For instance here are the last lines of Waiting for GodotVladimir: Well, shall we go? Estragon: Yes, let’s go. They do not move. Talk abou deja vu, act two ends with the same identical lines and stage direction as act one.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Milos Forman's Loves of a Blond

Milos Forman’s Loves of a Blond (1965) is a parable of depersonalization and ultimately totalitarianism. The women out number the men in the Czech town of Zruc by a ratio of 16 to 1. The factory manager determines that soldiers need to be brought in if only to keep the morale of his female workers up. There are numerous memorable vignettes which constitute the choregraphy of the film and rings are a repetitive motif. The film opens up with a scene in the dormitory occupied by all the woman workers. Andula (Hana Brejchova), the blond of the film is showing a ring she’s received from her boyfriend, Tonda (Antonin Blazejovsky) to a fellow worker who hands run up and down hers. It’s a wonderful contrast to the assembly on which the women also work with their hands. There’s eventually a welcome dance during which the wedding ring which another soldier has been trying to hide falls from his hand rolling across the floor and under the table where three women factory workers are sitting. As he crawls on his knees to find it, a glass of beer falls on his back. By the way, the music in the movie is part of the poetry. A woman guitarist with a guttural voice opens up the film with watered down Beatles. Her discordant, earpiercing strumming is trying to be something it's not. The band with its flirtatious pianist (who becomes another of Andula's loves  and tells her "you're also like guitar by Picasso") is itself a trope. Everything, in this farce, is a negotiation. The soldiers discuss what to do about the women (“I thought we’d take them somewhere make them feel good then each one takes the one he likes,”one says). The women conspire on how to parry the advances. Loves of a Blond is a socialist realist Ring Cycle with commodification replacing passion. Andula drops Toda for the pianist, Milda (Vladimir Puchoft) and the two find each other each other through another series of negotiations in which shared pain and scars become the currency of their encounter. Quid pro quos become sight gags. Andula's crotch is covered by the back of Milda's head while a fallen blind is rolled up just in time to hide his groin. The hilarious bedroom scene at the end finds Milda negotiating the blanket of the bed he shares with his aging parents, while Andula overhears the bickering from an adjacent room.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Is Context Nine-Tenths of the Law?

It used to be said about property that possession is nine tenths of the law. The same may be said about context. The world is increasingly lawless and quantum with relativity not as in Einstein but as a general philosophical context creating is own perverse categorical imperative. Is it possible to imagine an extemporaneous moral universe in which the equivalent of Night Court is being perpetually convened to determine action within a dynamic set of coordinates? Imagine decision making as a form of standup or improvisational comedy in which a constantly changing set of actions and characters are constantly being introduced into the action. The fact that human action is overdetermined only cranks up the possible permutations and combinations accorded this hyper- vigilant universe in which understanding is shifting at exponential rates. Consciousness itself regarded as the ne plus ultra of evolutionary achievements may be demoted to a lower station on the food chain, as the specter of cosmology and the multiverse input the triage of incoming philosophical emergencies.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Final Solution: The Rest Is Silence

This is not my day might be your response during one of those perfect storms that are occurring regularly considering the comorbidities of coronavirus and racial and economic inequality.  But swinging your legs off the side of the bed and declaring, this is going to be my day won't change anything. You can’t will away the weather and tropical storms have been particularly precocious this year, starting in July on the East Coast when they usually arrive in August or September. A positive attitude based on a blindness to reality is nothing more than a delusion. It would be hard to imagine victims of a nuclear attack like Hiroshima or the firebombing of Dresden taking a positive attitude. An unwarranted positive attitude is a caffeine high. For a moment you feel better, then you need another gulp until by the end of a few hours you have one of those acid stomachs that comes from drinking too much coffee. How to mitigate a complete disaster? It’s unanswerable. Little by little the survivors pick themselves up by their boot straps and begin to help  each other. And as Hamlet says, “the rest is silence.” 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Final Solution: Self-Portrait

 Rembrandt Self-Portrait (1660), The Met
Everyone naturally wishes the current worldwide pandemic would be over with. You can probably imagine the daydreaming that must be going on about some future time of egress. When will you be able to see Rembrandt’s The Night Watch  at The Rijksmuseum, Velasquez’s Portrait of Innocent X at the Palazzo Doria Pamphili or Las Meninas at the Prado? The Louvre recently opened, but not to Americans who have been barred from entering the EU. One way to deal with the cataclysmic changes that have affected and will continue to affect humanity is to treat them like the grieving over a dead or lost lover who's not coming back. Some never get over such loses and go into a state of protracted mourning in which they simply refuse to live. Others have hope beyond hope and exist for a future which actually may never be. There's something almost enviable in seeing the lucky or unlucky few (depending on your view of delusion) who're constantly buoyed by their messianic views. Then there is the esthetic approach in which you undertake to look at life as material for a work of art that’s in the process of being created (remember Kierkegaard talked about the esthetic, moral and religious stages). Everything is grist for the mill, including suffering by virtue of sickness, isolation and death. It’s all a story and without the bump in the road, the tale would be less compelling. The satisfaction comes from getting it all down on canvas or paper, though the price to be paid is the one degree of separation that occurs both in good and bad times.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Final Solution: Is Globalism Too Confining a Concept?

The globalism that was the big hope of the Obama years has given way to interplanetarianism. The notion that nations could all align against shared hazards like the greenhouse effect or coronavirus, for that matter, has not become a reality. In fact, the United States under Donald Trump has become the leader in a kind of isolationist America First policy that was one of Warren G. Harding’s campaign slogans in the l920 election. "Two Promising Place to Live, 1200 Light-Years From Earth," ran a Times headline a while back (NYT, 4/19/13). The piece actually anticipated a growing movement that’s seeking to escape disease, racial and economic inequality and environmental problems that are beyond the ken of Greta Thunberg. 1200 light-years exceed the life span of turtles (notorious for longevity) or even those who maintain a vegan diet, but there’s the possibility of a migrating civilization. The idea is to travel to a faraway carbon-based destination which is conducive to human life in a wagon train of biospheres that hold out the possibility of intergenerational as well as interplanetary travel. After all there is biblical precedent. Moses never made it to the promised land.You may get to Kepler 62f, but it’ll be nice to know the nth power of your great great great grandkids might. In the meanwhile, along the way, you’ll have a better time than all the people back on the divisive and plague-ridden earth.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive

Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) invents its own cinematic version of magical realism. In this case the stylization takes the form of shots that seem to decompose or transform right before the viewer’s eyes. There’s a recurring image of a car disappearing down a winding road counterpoised to a reverse motion of the tracks widening with a train’s arrival. The showing of Frankenstein in a rural Castillan movie house sets the tone of impending threat. What poses as entertainment is a potential nightmare and terror lurks behind the beautifully shot scenes that run through the film. Ana Torrent, the child actress who would  later appear in Carlos Saura's Cria Cuevos (1976), plays a similar role in this earlier film—as a witness. In both movies, childhood is an invidious terrain like the well into which Ana recurrently stares, haunted and always forbidding. Ana’s fears are dismissed by her older sister Isabel (Isabel Telleria), who plays dead and then like Frankenstein comes back to life. The girls’s mother Teresa (Teresa Gimpera) is almost entirely absent with the exception of a brief sequence in which she’s writing and narrating a letter to a lover. The father, Fernando (Fernando Fernan Gomez) is a beekeeper who diarizes the behavior of his swarm. Dr. Frankenstein’s contravention is to play god, but Fernando is a curious mixture since he’s an observer of nature as well as a scientist himself, toying with his own mysterious invention. Erice’s film was made during the end of the Franco era. It dramatizes the tyranny of silence and absence. Fernando’s swarm of bees represent yet another form of social organization that’s totally impervious to  human life.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Final Solution: The Bubble Effect

Little fragments of the old life appear out of nowhere. They’re like the oasis hallucinated by the feverish and thirsty traveler, evanescent bits of the past that dissolve as soon as you try to touch them. In reality, the isolation created by a highly contagious deadly disease has created a world of pods, in which small groups usually of one or two souls attempt to navigate their way from one hopefully safe space to the other. Still one hangs onto the illusory moments, a car parked beside a highway under an old oak, as the broadcasts of NPR or the BBC provide a life line to a remembered world of sanity, civility and society. Even though the voices in all probability constitute a mosaic with the whole being more than the sum of the parts (consisting of lonely broadcasters suffering their own form of technologic confinement), there’s the ineluctable feeling the radio waves beaming their signal are like the path marks of a mountain trail leading from wilderness to civilization. For a moment there’s hope. You hear the Doppler effect of sirens fading into the distance and the lowering of the pitch. You’re assured the world will continue to exist as long you’re there to perceive it.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Final Solution: One Year Later

If you keep a journal, look back at the same day, one year ago. Trump was on the road or had already dismantled the Paris climate accords and the Iran nuclear treaty and every day represented some new blow to animal species or the environment. The basic idea  was to remove the fetters of regulation (including Obamacare) and globalism. Freedom received a particularly literal interpretation, which always seemed to conveniently circumvent the notion of individual liberty as conferred by the Bill of Rights. Of course, if you were tiring of the pieties of the #MeToo movement or political correctitude, you might have secretly felt a tinge of victory from listening to the profanities ushering from the Trump’s bully pulpit, Twitter. But the fact was the world looked remarkably the same. What could be worse, to reiterate the old joke? It could happen to you. Trump hadn’t succeeded in dismantling Obamacare for one and a thriving economy covered over long festering problems. Today’s diary entry will undoubtedly tell a different story. If you had tired of Greta Thunberg’s Cassandra-like exhortations, you now saw she was speaking the truth. The pandemic was only the first of a series of catastrophes that could bring about the equivalent of a new Ice Age. Within a matter of days sturdy old New York  was foundering. What about Park Avenue with its fortresses of pre-war elegance and its renowned towers of industry leading to Grand Central and the old Viaduct. The streets were suddenly empty with many stalwart Manhattanites fleeing, as the coronavirus brought life to a standstill. Would NYC become like the set of one of the Mad Max films with modern day cowboy/survivors cruising the city in abandoned armored vehicles and tanks? It's hard to believe how fast the illusion of an organized society can become dismantled. Now with the advent of summer, tropical storms present a trilemma to the survivors who remain, hanging on like gamblers who're willing to lose everything in order to win back their gains.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Final Solution: Letting Go

Mont-Saint-Michel (photo: Ryan R. Zhao)
If you’re a believer, you don’t pray for things. However, ironically if you’re not, you’re likely to be burdened with a list of unfilled hopes and wishes which are literally burning a hole in your pocket. In fact, the believer is the one who's mostly likely not to ask for anything but maybe simply "help!" He or she's most likely to relinquish their will. Buddhists say desire is the beginning of suffering and it’s the iron grip, the juggernaut of want that the spiritual individual toys with abandoning. Of course, the prospect of losing control leads to a free fall in which it’s well-nigh impossible to predict where you'll land. In any kind of meditative practice, you entertain the idea of letting go, if only for finite periods of time. Some people go to silent retreats, where the possibility of acting is taken off the table for weeks, months and in some cases for the rest of their lives. BTW,  before you're time has come, you’d better grab a plot or drawer in a columbarium before they’re all gone. It's a seller's market. There aren't too many sale days when it comes to this type of real estate.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Final Solution: Is Mooning a Form of Social Distancing?

drawing by Martin van Maele (1905)
Does mooning qualify as a form of social distancing? Using six feet of distance as a measure, it certainly qualifies. It’s rare that an individual moons closer to six feet and when they do there's usually a protective windshield. Even though the head may be turned down towards the ground it is btw mandatory that those who moon still wear a face mask. On the plus side a picture is worth a thousand words and in the age of the corona pandemic when everyone is worried about aerosols and droplets, a sightly buttock can speak wonders without the usual afflatus (unless of course gaseous foods have been imbibed). Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. The average person who drops trou is extemporizing in an improvisational context. Besides interstates, pool parties are another place where this form of expression is easily facilitated when a bathing suit or a bikini bottom reveals an orifice that though seldom seen by the public can bear comparison to the mouth. When it’s said of someone that they have a filthy mouth it can actually means that that their talking through their ass. The president has made it clear that he doesn’t like wearing face masks, but he really should consider bending over and dropping his pants at one of his upcoming election rallies. It would be an uplifting way to convey his message to his base.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The 400 Blows

The Four Hundred Blows (1959), Les quatres cents coups, is Truffaut’s David Copperfield and the start of an autobiographical series that included Stolen Kisses (1968), Bed and Board (1970) Love on the Run (1979). It’s also inadvertently a love letter to the vanished black and white Paris of photographers like Eugene Atget. The director’s first feature is dedicated to Andre Bazin, the legendary Cahiers du Cinema editor who was a father figure to the directors of the Nouvelle Vague. Truffaut is not only telling a story but reveling in his discovery of a vocabulary. That’s what he had in common with Godard. Both regarded celluloid as a language. “The cinema is truth at 24 frames per second," Godard famously said. Dissolves, fades and wipes irradiate the film. Early on, the camera pans up at the majesty of the city of light, and the facades of its Beaux Arts exteriors then later captures its cast of characters in dramatic overhead shots. Truffaut’s romance with cinema itself was for Paris what Dziga Vertov’s l929 documentary, Man With a Movie Camera, was for Odessa, Moscow, Kharkov and Kiev. Paris Belongs to Me is ironically the title of the film that Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), the film’s rebellious adolescent and his argumentative parents rush out to see in a moment of celebration. “Il avait le fond,” "it has depth" the mother intones to her son's clueless esthetically deprived stepfather. Antoine is at war with authority. British angry young man films like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and Look Back in Anger (1959) are another point of comparison and of course the director's project was a rebellion against conventional cinema. Balzac is Antoine's hero but he's thrown out of school for plagiarizing his idol whose portrait he keeps in an altar. He runs away from home (prophetically writing to his parents “we’ll discuss all that happened later”) and becomes a thief. He’s a professional outsider, at war with the world and an adolescent version of the venerable tradition of artist criminals--though Truffaut's alter ego the young Doinel is no Genet. In the case of The 400 Blows the transgression significantly amounts to stealing a typewriter. The title of the film derives from the expression “to live a wild life.” "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth,” is the famed Picasso quote. Doinel is a liar, but his mischief is the first step in the creation of the sensibility many cineastes will one day cherish.

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Final Solution: Divina Commedia

Dante by Botticelli (1495)
Those people who have been providing essential services are in an enviable position to the extent that they’re constantly busy. A first responder doesn’t have time to question the meaning of life when he or she is tasked with saving them. Naturally it’s dangerous to be on the front lines and it’s almost laughable to look at those who put themselves in harm's way as benefiting from their position. But then there is the rest of the world, sheltering in place, sequestered and confined to their homes and waiting for the next shoe to drop. Those who've never been in danger of losing anything, including their lives, may be experiencing their first existential moment. As they stare out the windows of their cloistered environments, they will feel that life is passing them by and that they have inadvertently become artistic observers of their own world. Recusal confers a nebulous status on anyone who has retreated from everyday human contact. A primal innocence results after several degrees of separation. You begin to see things that have previously been encapsulated in preconception. Coronavirus is hell, but what circle do you occupy as you wander through this latest iteration of Dante’s Divina Commedia?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Final Solution: The Coronavirus Vaccine Sweepstakes

8 billion doses will be needed once the competition for the coronavirus ends and a company gets the patent. Then there’s going to be the logistics of how these will be administrated. Will there be those little white tents that have been used for drive-up testing,  with one on every single block in NYC for example? Will there be an army of nurses, doctors and pharmacists enlisted on a 24-hour shifts to meet the demand. Will it be a little like getting those time tickets issued by the Rijksmuseum for the recent "All the Rembrandts" exhibition? Vaccine is an issue for certain faiths. Will it be against the law to refuse inoculation? Will there be fines or even jail sentences meted out to those who refuse to comply? And then magically will civilization return to its normal routines? Will the flight you wanted to Florida or London be full? Will it be hard to get a table at Daniel as it always was. Will all seats in restaurants go back to being pushed together the way they were before there was social distancing?  In other words, will life go on as usual? Will business and relationships pick up where they have left off? Will products move right off the conveyor belt to the loading dock, as if nothing had happened—or not?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Final Solution: Biblical Time

"The Deluge" by Francis Danby (1840)
Has civilization caught up with the bible? Or can it be said than mankind is going through its first truly biblical situation--since the time of the bible that is. Naturally there was the influenza of l918 which may have killed 50 million people, and 32 million have died of AIDS and then there was the bubonic plague which ravaged Europe in the middle ages and which accounted for the Decameron, a series of tales told by survivors who had recused themselves in the hills above Florence. Pompeii and Santorini were both ravaged by volcanoes. However, the highly contagious and deadly Coronavirus has turned into a virtual tsunami--aided and abetted by the interconnectivity and globalism. No one and nothing has been spared and there have been no exceptions, though economic inequality and racism have themselves created a co-morbidity. The most advanced country on the planet, with supposedly the greatest amount of expertise and wealth, is seeing its citizens barred from entrance to EU countries. Who would have thought, but the world itself is on the tipping point with futuristic Mad Max scenarios of desolation already becoming realities? Who will want to live and work in the great cities of the world whose cultural institutions have become shuttered? Homo sapiens depend on reason and rationality. Consciousness is the great accomplishment of prehensile creatures, but what’s exacerbating the current problem and allowing for the spiking of the disease in those states which have been too precocious in reopening their economies is their failure to understand the biblical nature of the current onslaught. Technological man expects and demands an immediate cure. There's still no vaccine for AIDS or even the common cold. Is there surety one will be found for Coronavirus? The disease is something that it may be necessary to accommodate to. Periods of optimism in which one or another society seems like a safe haven may be followed by "dark ages" in which whole populations walk around with deadened eyes like characters in a zombie movie. It might not be six months, a year or even two, rather 40 years that the human race wanders in the desert before finding its promised land.