Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Rome Journal: Time Is Out of Joint

Canova and Penone    FLevy

Lautreamont famously defined beauty as "the chance encounter of an umbrella and sewing machine on an operating table." "Time Is Out of Joint" is the current exhibit at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea. The exhibit is made up of items from the museum's permanent collection which the curators characterize as “plastic temporality that behaves like a Higgs Boson." Juxtaposition is the method but surrealism is too narrow a way to describe the organizing principle which at its best acts to expand rather than nail any obvious polarities (the meaning of the title quote from Hamlet is discountenanced by an observation from Derrida almost as soon as it's introduced). Coubet's "La Vague" lies across the entranceway from  Morandi's "Le bagnanti." However, one of the more majestic plays is between Antonio Canovas’s "Ercole e Lica" an imposing 18th century work and Guiseppe Penone's "Spoglia d’ore Su spine d’acacia." What's the possible connection between a neoclassical sculpture and a painting made from the thorns of an Acacia tree? On the surface not all that much--though that may be the point. The show starts by defying chronology and ends by pressing its own quantum theory of art history. The conceptual artist John Baldessari teaching a plant the alphabet by repeating “N” ad nauseam is matchless. Guilio Aristide Sartorio's  “Diana di Eleso a gil schiave" (1899) is sui generis, tilting it hat to the Pre-Rapaelites while anticipating surrealism in an academic style reminiscent of Gerome.

read "Rome Journal: Theory of Value" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Monday, January 30, 2023

Are Esthetic Values Noumenal or The Emperor's New Clothes

La Cicciolina (photo: Certo Xornal)

There are lots of factors that conspire to create reputations in the art world. All unhappy families are different in different ways applies to the alternate universe of the literary world. Firstly, there is the aura or charisma around a person because of their life or mythology then a very complicated process which involves monetization. It’s like insider trading A gallerist starts to get word around their stable. If they’re good at what they do, they make some sales at not bad prices. Once the gallerist creates a mark, (however small), the snowball effect take place since supply starts to challenge demand. At the point where the figurative neurons begin to cross their synapses, critics begin to intellectualize about the sensibility that has made x, y or z artist attractive. This stage is perhaps the most mysterious and crucial. Criticism is generally thought to involve esthetics, but as far as the visual arts are concerned, it’s also a peripatetic phenomenon resulting from a mixture of osmosis and reportage. This process is facilitated by a canny artist like Jeff Koons, the former husband of the porn star (and later politician) La Cicciolina. Many of his works are about commodification itself. Raw talent is like one of the Kepler planets orbiting stars 1200 light years from earth. You need the talent and there are outsider artists like Henry Darger whose works were simply discovered, but these are significant because of their exceptionalism. It's not to say that reputations have little to do with genius. Just the reverse, but a career in the artistic or literary world requires more than just talent.

read "Is Beauty a Grecian Urn or a Blond?" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

and listen to "This Old Heart of Mine" by the Isley Brothers

Friday, January 27, 2023

Rome Journal: Chow!

The Man in the High Castle envisioned a parallel universe where the Axis powers won the Second World War. But say you applied the same conceit to the current world order. China is Near is a film by Marco Bellochio. Say the Chinese invaded Italy rather than Taiwan--whose acquisition, for Xi Jinping, is a fait accompli that doesn’t even require an invasion. Invading Taiwan would be an admission it was a separate country. Ah but Italy is different. The first thing the Chinese are going to do when they land at Fiumicino is to change “ciao” to “chow.” “Ciao" has always been a hard word for Americans to spell so they too will welcome a change in the spelling of the familiar salutation. Chow is like chow mein and chow mein is like Spaghetti Bolognese two dishes that constitute mixed marriages. Just as there's Chinese and Chinese-American food (the latter symbolized by the #1 combination plate, chow mein, fried rice and egg roll), there's Italian and Italian-American food. Another favored Italian-American dish is your veal parm hero. Lots of Americans come to Italy equipped with little books of phrases which include grazie, prego, arrivederci (as in Roma) and "ciao!" The average American pronounces this last like the meow of a cat, chi ow, when the transliteration is really “chow.” Why not go for it? To the conquerer goes the spoils. The Normans invaded England in 1066 and voila. The bad news is China's a threat, the good news, no one will ever mispronounce “ciao” again.

read "The DSM--Goodreads**" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen to "Tell It Like It Is"by Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville and Gregg Allman

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Rome Journal: Eternity

Paris is the City of Light and Rome has the misnomer of being The Eternal City. Cities are organic like bodies and snowflakes, no two of which are alike. The corpus of the city is always changing as is its sensibility and those of its inhabitants. This may explain why political and psychological theories are often so inadequate. Psychoanalysis was a creature of its time, which is to say turn of the century Vienna and while the Rat Man or Dora might be recognizable personalities, any psychodynamic theory inevitably has to be unto itself or of its time. The art is to take what you can use and disregard the rest. Rome today is a shadow of the representation that appears in the films of neorealists like Visconti, Rossellini, Pasolini, Antonioni and Fellini. You might be an Italophile until you step off the plane at Fiumicino, finding yourself aghast at the site of a world you barely recognize, still less want to inhabit. Roman Holiday, Light in the Piazza and Three Coins in a Fountain are three American films of the 50s and 60s which essentially present a Rome of the imagination which in fact never existed and was a product of Hollywood and the Marshall Plan. Heraclitus and the Milesians believed that the world was in a state of constant flux. Essentially nothing is the same. Rome two seconds ago is not the Rome of this very moment. Naturally, this is true of every culture, but despite the astonishing pastness which every inhabitant and visitor of the city experiences, there's an ineffable quality of transience that particularly infuses Roman life--sites notwithstanding. Romans speak in a machine gun staccato. You may think you know something about Rome, but the fact is it’s likely changing right before your eyes.

read "Rome Journal: The EUR" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Roadrunner" by Junior Walker & the Allstars

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Rome Journal: Pasolini pittore


"Autoritratto con Fiori in nova" by Pier Paolo Pasolini

“Pasolini pittore” at the Galleria D’Arte Moderna, like "Tutto e Santo" (at the MAXXI, Galeria di Arte Antica and Barberini) commemorates the l00th anniversary of Pasolini's birth. The exhibit documents the influence of pictorial composition on the famed director's work. Painting was a medium of expression for him even before writing. “Lo leggo poco dipingo molta in comenso” ("I read little and painted more in the beginning"), he said about his early years growing up in Casarsa della Delizia in the Friuli region. Pasolini and his good friend Fabio Mauri both studied with Roberto Longhi in Bologna. Naturally it would be words and then cinema that became Pasolini's favored mediums of expression, but the early portraits, exhibited in the current show created a palette; both his novels Ragazza di Vita and Una Vita Violente and his early Roman trilogy Accatone, Mamma Roma and La Ricolta drew from his paintings. "Autoritrato con fiori in nova” (1947) 
Is an iconic self portrait epitomizing Pasolini's interest in both self-portraiture and self/conception. Though the surrealist elements may have been uncharacteristic, it should be noted that Pasolini also counted a Man Ray in his personal collection (which also included Warhol) and is represented in the show. The director's early interest in
 painting infuses all his movies. The beginning of Mamma Roma is da Vinci's The Last Supper. Mantegna's "Lamentation of Christ" is cited in another key part of the movie.You might say that specific frames of his movies started as paintings only to become tableaux vivants in their cinematic form.

read "Pier Paolo Pasolini's 'Mamma Roma," An Iconography" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Rome Journal: A Hearse Pulls Up to Glorioso

                                   photo: FLevy
A Mercedes hearse pulled up on the Viale Gloriso, a cul-de-sac which leads to an auspicious set of steps  New Yorkers are more inured to the old Cadillac hearses. A brand new Mercedes hearse is almost too styish for its mordant task. There was no coffin in the hearse, which attracted the attention of onlookers sitting outside  the narrow bistro, abutting a store selling bespoke sneakers. Was the hearse there to pick up a body or was the driver simply cruising through the neighborhood after finishing a job? Pretty soon the presence of the hearse became normalized. As no body was forthcoming, life soon returned to normal. The owner of the Tabacchi at the corner of Glorioso and Dandolo, which is always crowded due to its size, sits behind the kind of bullet proof window that you find in pawn shops or short stay motels back in the States. Along with the cigarettes, lottery tickes and bus passes that such vest-pocket stores specialize in, the padrone seems to do a brisk business in crucifixes. If the hearse had been come to pick up a body, the grieving family might have availed themselves of the kind of religious items that come in handy during times of crisis. The owner of the Tabacchi wore thick glasses and seldom looked up from his cash register, but the crosses gave him a beatific air. As a customer handed over a 20 Euro bill for their purchase, they knew they were dealing with someone who had said their Hail Marys and would hence fork up the correct change. If the hearse driver smoked, he might have picked up a pack of the popular MS brand of smokes on his way to his next funeral.

read "Died Young" by Francis Levy, The Brooklyn Rail

and listen to "Function at the Junction" by Shorty Long

Monday, January 23, 2023

Rome Journal: Empire

Edward Gibbon by Joshua Reynolds

Vladimir Putin has a nostalgia for Imperial Russia—the Russia of Peter the Great. But where did the idea of empire, as an aspiration, emanate from. In ancient Greece, there were the Peloponnisian Wars which derived from the isthmus of that name, but the landgrab was intramural and primarily between Athens and Sparta. Justinian led the Byzantine Empire which eventually became the province of Kamel Atataturk. Russia is the largest country in terms of land mass and the U.S.S.R is a powerful magnet, some might say a black hole, that quickly acquired many satellites including Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine and Chechnya. The Third Reich or “realm” derived from the claim that Germany’s rights went back to Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire in 800. But it's the Roman Empire, the thousand years of Rome that's left the most indelible imprint on the historical imagination. Hard to beat the l000 years of Rome. Why empire to begin with? To fill the coffers of the few? To gratify the need for a greater cause? To feel benighted by God in a crusade? Is empire itself merely an expression of the hubris, the stuff from which the dramatic form of tragedy would derive? Shelly’s “Ozymandias” addressed the vanity of human wishes. However, are the ruins of Rome a concession to anything but time itself? The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is the six volume work by Edward Gibbon devoted to this very question. And BTW, what are ruins? In Rome, the ruins of the past evince a sublimity and beauty that's a power in itself.

read "Iraqistan" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Young Americans" by David Bowie


Friday, January 20, 2023

Rome Journal: ATAC

There’s a genius behind a scrim, a Wizard who creates the bus routes of Rome. Unlike New York, which exists on a grid, Rome has all kinds of cul-de-sacs and winding roads deriving from ancient paths like the Via Aurelia (constructed in 241 B.C by Gaius Aurelius Cotta) and The Via Appia Antica. You might require an artificial intelligence to understand the complexity but many of the stops like those of the vaporetto in Venice have been around far longer than the computer. If you want an analogy, you might describe Rome’s bus lines as neurons crossing the distance between synapses in the brain, with the more intricate routes branching out like dendrites and axons. There are some major buses lines like the 44 and the 75 which are tantamount to international flights that go between major hubs, in this case the Piazza Venezia, and the train station at Termini, but there are l00s of other lines, the moons orbiting planets, in far away galaxies. The 118 and the 870, for instance, bring passengers up, down and  around the Janiculum Hill. Remember those old movies in which operators personally took calls and plugged them into a central switchboard. Google Maps has succeeded in taming the unruly giant known as the ATAC. Your device will tell you that the bus in question is due in ten minutes or arriving ten minutes late and you can also look up at the electronic ETA sign now installed at every stop. Satellite systems which create maps from thousands of miles away, are wonder drugs--particularly for Roman straphangers whose perception of transit might once have been similar to the sighting of the Madonna  by two saintly children  in La Dolce Vita.

read "Rome Journal: The 75" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Freeway of Love" by Aretha Franklin

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Rome Journal: Lungotevere Testaccio


You cross the Tiber from Trastevere to Testaccio. Passing the "Lungotevere di Testaccio" sign, you notice an uptick in the frequency of graffitti. It all comes out in the wash goes the expression. Here the laundry hangs from the windows. You take a right on Benjamino Franklin. The relatively deserted streets evolve into a teeming market where the crowds shop for fish and meat, vegetables and clothes while those who have finished sit down to eat in front of concessions selling pizza pasta and even vegan specialties. Nuts candies and fruit bedeck another stall. You've been to many markets like this in Paris, Rome, Barcelona and even Santiago. The particular neighborhoods imprinted with their distinct sensibilities distinguish these mini worlds. On the way down one of the many staircases that lead from the Via Carini in Monteverdi to the mercato in Testaccio you realize you’re walking on a face that’s been painted on steps. Across from the Testaccio market is the Mattatoio, the former abattoir which is one of Rome's most important examples of "industrial archeology" and now an exhibition space where the work of the photographer William Klein and the cinematographer, Jonas Mekas are on display.

read "Chaim Soutine: Flesh" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Rome Journal: The Ruling Class

Where is the ruling class? Where are the Agnellis and their Lamborghinis? Many travelers come to Italy looking for a lost sense of glamour that probably never existed and which they gleaned from Fellini films of the 60s which they'd seen as impressionable teenagers. Where are the decadent Italian aristocrats out of central casting at Cine Citta? Perhaps you’ll find the insouciant aristocrat, the model for the role Gabriele Ferzetti played in L’Avventura, coming from a tryst at a fashionable Roman hotel or better yet one of the Aeolian Islands off Sicily where Lea Masari disappeared in that movie. During one UN General Assembly Berlusconi skipped off to Messegue di Melezzole Toscolano, a health spa in the Umbrian town of Terni. Marcello Mastroianni famously haunted the Via Veneto in La Dolce Vita. Movies La Grande Belezza still paint a picture of an extravagant lifestyle.The gesturing and devil-may-care quality evinced by Italians who at least don’t seem to give a hoot about anything which gets in the way of their pleasures gives the delusory impression of a tsunami of leisure time aspiration--belied by the reality of daily routine.The disenchantment of modern life with its intrinsic discountenancing of magic has affected Italy like everywhere else. "Hypocrite lecteur mon semblable mon frere"—that’s who you're likely to see coming at you on the Via del Corso, the street filled with fashionable shops and boutiques.

read The Great Beauty by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to the theme from La Dolce Vita by Nino Rota

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Rome Journal: Arte Liberata-1937-47 at the Scuderie

 Vincenzo Maria Coronelli's "Mappo Mondo" (FLevy)

"Arte Liberata-1937-47 at the Scuderie del Quirinale is Open City meetsThe Great Dictator. There's one great moment in the exhibit where, in a Pirandelloesque turn, a majestic antique globe, Vincenzo Maria Cornonelli's 17th century "Mappo Mondo," stands in front of a film in which the self-same object is pilfered by the Nazis. The show records the furious struggle to save the works of Piero della Francesca, Luca Signotrelli and countless other greats from being stolen or destroyed, artistic "casualties of war," as it were. Leni Riefenstahl's 1936 Olympia turned "The Discobolus" into a key piece of fascist iconography. The sculpture was the start of a project that would create a museum built by Albert Speer and devoted to Hitler and his esthetic, at 
Linz. On the one side was Hitler's Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring, an aristocrat whose Ubermenschlichkeit was expressed in his grandiose design to collect (aka steal) Italian art. On the other were the cadre of "art partisans" who set out to save a trove of works which constituted their nation's identity. If this mission seems nebulous or even gratuitous, when human life was at stake, one only has to look to the current war in Ukraine (a fight over a heritage and language as well as territory) to understand the stakes. The collection of treasures currently on exhibit is itself a testament to the success of the fine arts "resistance" in defending their cause. 

read "The Good Dictator" by Francis Levy, The Screaming Pope

and listen to "If You Don't Know Me By Now" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

Monday, January 16, 2023

Rome Journal: De Nile

                                   photo: FLevy

“Il mio modo di vedere le cose tavolta e ingenuo un po infantile ma sincereo come i bambini della scalinata di Viale Glorioso”—Sergio Leone. (“My way of seeing thigs is sometimes childish, a bit infantile, but sincere. Just like the kids of the Viale Glorioso steps." This plaque appears on the wall of Via Glorioso right before the steps leading up to Via Danolo which runs into Via Trente Aprile and on to the top of the Janiculum Hill.  One comes to Rome to recover a carefree spirit, iconically exhibited in the classic Italianate hand gestures. Does that explain why no one is wearing masks even amidst another outbreak of the latest Omicron variant? Italy was a country which suffered from Delta with cities like Bergamo especially hard hit. However, the collective memory of Romans appears to be short You wouldn’t know that coronavirus exists--even when the president, Sergio Matarella, is infected, as he currently is. If anything the inhabitants of the Eternal City are giving new meaning to carpe diem, living for today, not thinking about tomorrow. Even the most cautious visitor may fall victim to an insouciance that's more infectious than any virus. How would the persona played by Marcello Mastroianni, the embodiment of  the devil-may-care spirit deal with the current state of disease and war? "Denial is not a river in Egypt" goes the old expression, but it’s certainly a city in Italy.

read "Rome Journal: When in Rome" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "The Way You Do the Things You Do"by the Temptations

Friday, January 13, 2023

Rome Journal: The Future of Italian Futurism

photograph: Hallie Cohen
The obelisk at the front of Stadio Olimpico begs the question of provenance. It’s disconcerting to read the words “Mussolini,” but is the millenarian futurism exuded by both iterations of the project (it was originally built in l937 and called the Stadio Cipressi and expanded for the l960 olympics) a product of fascism or a deeper futuristic proclivity deriving from the monumental and classical aspiration in Italian architecture and design? Marinetti, who wrote the “Manifesto of Futurism” was a fascist and the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana in the EUR is held up as an example of Mussolini architecture. However, the arches that deck the façade of the building also pay homage to the Greek and Roman world. "Italian Futurism 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe was the title of a 2014 exhibition at the Guggenheim. "Chaos and Classicism: Art in Italy, France and Germany" was the title of a 2011 show also at the Guggenheim, dealing with the nostalgia for idealized forms which characterized the art and architecture of the fascist period. 

read "Rome Journal: the EUR" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Tristan and Isolde, Prelude"by Richard Wagner

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Rome Journal: Donkey Talk

Jerzy Skolimowski’s Eis playing at the Cinema Farnese, the art movie house near the Campo de Fiori. The film, which is in Polish, has been dubbed into Italian in lieu of having subtitles. If you see Steven Spielberg’s The Fablemans in Romeyou’ll most likely be seeing a dubbed version, though some movie theaters also show it with Italian subtitles. While dubbing from the Polish produces essentially two degrees of separation for the English-speaking viewer, the confusion is ameliorated by the fact that it’s all Greek to the main character who happens to be a donkey. EO is the perfect Polish movie to see in Italy (for an English-speaking moviegoer) to the extent that there’s almost no dialogue at all—apart from the cooing of the young woman who has taken EO under her “wing.” You may not understand either Polish or Italian but neither does the movie’s star. Skolimowski’s film tips its hat to Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthasar (1966), a movie about a donkey. Of course, the animal rights movement has grown in the intervening years (EO even benefits from a demonstration against the brutalization of captive creatures). To make matters more complicated, Isabelle Huppert’s cameo appearance, in which she breaks a number of dishes, is in French, but that’s what makes for horse races.

read "Why Big German Words Like Vergangenbangenheit Carry Weight" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Monkey Time" by Major Lance

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

What If Former Presidents Held Onto the Nuclear Briefcase?

nuclear briefcase ( photo: MarcusBurns l977)

Now that classified documents have been found in Joe Biden’s office, pundits are having a field day trying to determine how many  constitute an actual crime. Donald Trump secreted away scores  including his private correspondence with Kim Jong-un. Democrats will inevitably argue that top secret documents are cheaper by the pound—or more guilty. But what if nothing is secret anymore? Nixon started the ball rolling by recording everything and too bad there weren’t cell phones during JFK’s time or he would certainly have sent his friends nude photos of Marilyn Monroe. But with Israeli spyware that can get inside any phone, what is there left to hide? But let’s talk about the "nuclear briefcase" or "nuclear football" that can unleash Armageddon. What if Trump had taken that to Mar-A-Lago? Or a better question is, how did it get down there? By Air Force One or another carrier like Delta, which flies regularly to Florida? Imagine a cabal of Secret Service agents waiting at PBI for a modest black bag to appear on the carousel? What if it didn't show up? What if it mistakenly got on a Russia flight to Sheremetyevo?  SCI, H bomb secrets—now that presidents can take everything anywhere, it will become more imperative than ever that they hold on to their luggage tags.

read "The Final Solution: How to Title the Film" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugar Hill Gang

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Rome Journal: Francesca Woodman

 Il Museo del Louvre (photo: Hallie Cohen)

Il Museo del Louvre in heart of Rome’s Jewish ghetto has nothing to do with the Louvre, nor is it a museum. Rather it’s a  "Liberia Galleria" specializing in artistic and primarily cinematic artistic erotica. You will find Ilona Staller, otherwise known as La Cicciolina, amongst the nudes on the wall. Naturally a photo of Pasolini stands like the Christ figure in the church of transgressive art. It’s really a tiny cramped space with both photos and books that have passed the test of time. In the background a curator can be heard fulminating against capitalism. If you’re willing to risk the narrow winding metal staircase that shakes with each step, you’ll come to an exhibit devoted to Francesca Woodman. Woodman was a prodigiously talented photographer and child of two well-known artists who took her life by jumping out of a window in1981, at the age of 22. Woodman’s palette was primarily herself, in the nude. It’s appropriate that this precious show, which also includes some nude portraits of her by the photographer Stephan Brigidi, should be in Rome since Italy was a place where Woodman spent her formative years. Like Eva Hesse, an artist who also died at a young age, her posthumous work created a mythology despite the fact that the acceptance she sought from both in the world of fashion photography and from institutions like the NEA eluded her. It has, in fact, been said that the disappointments of her young life contributed to her death--though attempts to seek existential causes for the pathologies of those suffering from deep depression inevitably fall short of the mark. In an odd way the irony that attends the grandiosity of this exhibit space's name is a fitting resting place for Francesca Woodman's legacy. 

read "Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950-1980" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Bird on a Wire" by Tim Hardin

Monday, January 9, 2023

Rome Journal: Pier Paolo Pasolini. Tutto e Santo

"Sade for Sade's Sake" by Paul Chan (photo: FLevy)

"Pier Paolo Pasolini Tutto e Santo" (Everything is Sacred) embraces the socio-erotic legacy of the famed director's work, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Pasolini’s death still remains a mystery. Was he murdered by a street hustler or was his stabbing a political assassination like that of Caesar in 44 BC? The current exhibit at the Maxxi is a series of homages to Pasolini. The collective known as "Claire Fontaine" (created by Fulvio Carnevale and James Thornhill) expropriates George W. Bush’s “They Hate Us For Our Freedom” in an incendiary word sculpture made from match sticks. Fabio Mauri’s "Oscuramento" includes 29 wax figures comprising Mussolini's final Grand Council of Fascism on July 24, 1943.The orgiastic silhouettes of Paul Chan's “Sade for Sade's Sake," evoke the horrific mise en scene of Salo. The blazing headlights of Elisabetta's Benassi's "Alfa Romeo GT veloce," which recreates the car Pasolini drove on the night of his death, exemplifies the paradoxes of a figure who fully drank of the pleasures afforded by the very world he repudiated.

read "Rome Journal: Piazza Tommaso di Cristoforis" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to Nina Rota's score for La Dolce Vita

Friday, January 6, 2023

Rome Journal: Confessions of a Film Buff

off shoot Via Appia Antica (photo: FLevy)

Take the Via Appia Antica. It’s approachable with the 118 bus. If you don’t have a bus pass you’ll take a cab to the Catacombs of St. Sebastián thinking it’s a way to get into the Parco regionale de l'Appia antica. You'd read on a site that Pasolini had filmed La Ricotta (1963) there, not realizing that the park at 4580 hectares is the second largest urban park in Europe.  As in some absurdist play, there’s lots of land and no way in. Checking further you find a hint. You’re getting closer coming to the Via della Cafferella. It’s a bike path. The good thing is you’re off the Appia Antica which has no shoulder. Trying to negotiate this highway is a little like walking on some interstate and hoping you won’t get hit by a truck. You may have had the experience after getting a flat and trying to make it from the highway to an exit where there’s a gas station. But you’ve nevertheless survived providing you can get back to “land” before it grows dark. You might never have been one for bikes, but you look enviously at the cyclists as they smugly pass you by. BTW Orson Welles, fresh from The Trial (1962), plays the director in this film which is an indictment of capitalist exploitation.You try to make it all work and you think maybe this is what it’s like to suffer on your way back to the Minerve, The luxury hotel in back of the Pantheon where you will take a hot bath. 

read "Rome Journal: Pier Pasolini's Mamma Roma is An Iconography" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the trailer of Erotomania

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Rome Journal: What Season Do You Identify With?

American Academy "Under My Thumb" (photo: FLevy)

In New York, the onslaught of winter with biting cold whipping across black ice is betokened by the dead evergreens, wrapped in plastic, which line the streets. Rome doesn’t accede so readily to the end of The Nativity. Christmas lights are everywhere well into January which together with the comparatively mild climate can create a disconcerting feeling of discombobulation or timelessness. You don’t know if Spring is coming early or a late Indian summer is leaving Christmas yet to come. While January on the East coast of America usually signals a dark gray period of hibernation, Rome’s seasonality is ambivalent. There's a beauty to being neither here nor there in this age of ambiguous pronouns--when the question of identity itself is continually up for grabs. Ancient Rome, of course, tested the limits of sexuality before anyone ever contemplated a sexual revolution.Whatever generalizations might be made about Italian manners and mores, there’s a labile feeling in Rome during the early weeks of winter. Visitors to Rome may not only begin to question what season it is, but what sex they choose to identify as, in a world historically rich with proclivity.

read "Sperm Count: Speaking of Erections" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" by The Four Seasons

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Samuel Beckett and The Twilight Zone

Thinking is a dangerous activity--and one of the themes that emerges from watching The Twilight Zone New Year's marathon. Cogitating can make things happen or it can result in them disappearing, as Dennis Weaver warns in “Shadow Play” (episode #62) where he's a condemned man--who warns the DA that if he dies he’ll take the world with him. Conversely, in episode #36, “A World of His Own,” Keenan Wynn is a playwright whose creations come to life. Episode #63, “The Mind and the Matter” introduces Shelly Berman as a harried commuter who gets what he wants or doesn’t want when he wishes the whole world were like him. Esse est Percipti, “to be is to be perceived,” said Bishop Berkeley. Samuel Beckett used it as the epigraph for his one movie, Film, starring Buster Keaton. Film would have made a great Twilight Zone, if Rod Serling had hired the absurdist playwright to undertake the adaptation.

read "Died Young" by Francis Levy, The Brooklyn Rail

and listen to "Bernadette by The Four Tops

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Choosing Horses

from "Choosing Horses" by Lisa Hanawalt

Remember the theme song of Mister Ed. “A Horse is a Horse of course/ Of course.”  The Cartoon and Puzzles edition of The New Yorker which features a crossword by Joon Pahk providentially called “Pattern Recognition,” also showcases a comic strip entitled “Choosing Horses” by Lisa Hanawalt, a producer of Netflick’s Bojack Horseman. What's it about horses which makes them even more amenable to “personification” than dogs or chimps? If you’ve grown up near horse farms you know the competition to get kids into good stables is almost as keen as that for a New York Private School. Undoubtedly many private school students enjoy the best stables. If you're competitive enough to get into Brearley, you’re ready for a world which is one big barnyard anyway. In the comic strip at hand, the artist's avatar uses horses to account for her “childless adulthood." One frame reads “Plus, having kids would ruin my favorite activities…cursing and gossiping.” The  succeeding bubbles show a childless couple discussing their predicament. “Did you know you CAN’T gossip around kids? Because they repeat everything you @#$ing say?" “That’s horrible @#$ing horrible!” “The delicate social fabric woven from shit-talk means NOTHING to them.” Besides being funny, the strip deals with loss. “Losing a horse is intense. It’s the loss not only of a pet, but a partner.” The change of tone might be otherwise disconcerting, if the cartoon form were not as elastic as Popeye’s famous muscle. Comics also possess a certain legerdemain. Hanawalt’s horses may be drawn or painted, but they allow for the willing suspension of disbelief in a way that's not characteristic of most photos of "Secretariat." There's another great strip in the issue “Picturing the Cove Inn” by Seth. Here the subject is a high school student’s part-time job at the kind of restaurant that employs all the local kids. It’s both sui generis in its Zoom-like Hollywood Squares format and utterly believable to anyone who’s ever worked at the local fish joint.

read "What's Not Funny?" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Monday, January 2, 2023

Obtuse Hypotenuse

Einstein 1921 (photo: Ferdinand Schmatzer)

"God" is a famous "semordnilap," a fact that agnostics and atheists revel in. A semordnilap differs from a palindrome in that the reversal produces a new word, "dog" and "god," versus "tot." "Semordilap" is an example of itself since spelled backwards it’s naturally "palindromes." How wonderful when the world fits together. Dark matter, dark energy, light traveling at 186,000 per second pi 3.414…the Pythagorean theorem that the square of two sides of a right triangle is the equivalent of the square of the hypotenuse and naturally Einstein’s famed Relativity equation. Why is Absolute Zero, zero degrees Kelvin -273.15C? Is it possible to see all these relations and conclude that nothing means anything and that the order of nature is not the result of a "dog?" The teleological or eschatological question is that of the first cause. If you say that the Big Bang created the universe as it’s known approximately 13.8 billion ago, what came before? Must one ultimately reconsider one’s view of time which, if it were actually warped, as Einstein said, might turn back on itself rather than parading forwards on a continuum where the shortest distance between two points is still a straight line? In this ether before time and space? Was there  consciousness? Could thought exist without subjectivity? "Desserts” and “stressed” is a famous "semordnilap."- “Civic,” and “madam” are oft-cited palindromes. Are these just coincidences? How does one account for all the cool little juxtapositions one finds in language and nature? One thing is certain when a parking space is available right in front of one’s destination, it’s not an example of either a "dog" or a "god" listening to your prayers.

read "Pet Buddha" by Francis Levy, Vol.1 Brooklyn

and watch the trailer for Erotomania