Monday, January 22, 2018

Trying a New Feature

On my other blog I started doing a monthly update a few years ago, mainly a record of what books I happen to be reading, in order to increase somewhat the number and frequency of posts there. I thought I would try something similar here, fifteen days or so apart. The idea here was that I would just write about something about the days themselves, in the hope of opening up my mostly stifled mind and get it thinking or at least seeming more alive again. What one wants, of course, is for other minds to emerge that are receptive to the produce of one's own, and that one can be receptive to mentally in turn, which is an experience I have not had in a very long time. What material is there to work with though. I will start by going over my day yesterday, which was the 21st, the scheduled day for this report:

Woke up at 6am to take my 14 year old to a swim meet in White River Junction, Vermont, about an hour away. I don't mind this drive during the daytime, it is in fact quite calm and reassuring, and I always going to Vermont, even just over the border it is quainter and less up to date than New Hampshire. I have a hard time maintaining conversation with my older children now, the teenagers, they are not exactly sullen but they seem content to be mostly quiet. I feel I should be imparting all kinds of advice and information to them about such things as I have any knowledge about, yet I don't seem to be able to do much of this. I think, for example, that I know more than or as much about colleges, in terms of how good they are/how smart the students at them are (and this seems the most important thing to me), than most people do, yet I have not begun to expostulate on my theory of all of this yet, whereas at Christmas other relatives quite freely and naturally began to tell my oldest (a sophomore in high school) that it was time to start preparing for the process, and to ask him whether he wanted to stay in the area, what he wanted to study, whether he had any places he was interested in, which I hadn't begun to think of introducing yet, because I felt I didn't have a clear enough idea yet of how advanced or talented a student he was yet. On the other hand these other people have a clearer understanding that the questions they asked better mirror the way life actually plays out if one is to be a part of it. I am nearly fifty and I am still trying to figure out where exactly I slot in in the intelligence hierarchy, what useful talents I might have had and which would have been fruitful for me to pursue, etc. So I suppose it is possible my helpfulness in this whole process for my children might not be of any great extent.

Swimming is not a sport that is in my background, plus I have many children involved in endless sports and activities, so I am not as intense at the swim meets as many of the other parents are. Track, basketball, baseball of course are all sports I have played or followed so I have more of a sense of what a good time is, how good the coaching is, and so on. The atmosphere at the pools is probably good for my sanity, getting to rub elbows with adults (i.e. the other parents) who mostly have something on the ball though they tend to come off as haughty in their strident and efficient success (swimming is ridiculously expensive compared to other sports), though it is very warm in most of the venues where the pools are and this makes me drowsy.

My son finished 4th and 5th in the events he was entered in, though he did not lower his time in his best event, which he needs to do by 2 seconds in order to qualify for some regional mega-meet in Massachusetts. He didn't want to linger around Vermont at all as he might have done in the old days, so we came home and were back by noon. My wife wanted to take the four younger children to the park to sled and ice skate. Originally I was going to rest at home but she decided she needed help so I went along to. The main park in our town actually has a historic marker which I stopped to read for the first time. The land was donated by one of the founders of the American Express Company. Another historical figure with associations to the park, though he was not named on the state sign, was hockey legend and alpha male Princeton classmate and alleged idol of F Scott Fitzgerald Hobey Baker, who founded a hockey tournament on the park's pond during his time at St Paul's Prep School that is still revived annually.

Then I went home and watched the end of the Patriots winning the AFC Championship game and then watched the Philadelphia Eagles, my childhood team which I supposed I must say, given the amount of time and thought I gave to them over the course of many years, I at one time at least loved as much as one loves any entity outside one's self, also advance to the Super Bowl, which they have still never won. This certainly looks like the best Eagles team of my lifetime....

I will stop now. This wasn't the worst thing I've ever written, I don't think.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Some Songs

I haven't done a song post in a while. "Lacking wit or originality" anymore as the expression goes, I offer with complete earnestness some of the tunes I have been firing up of late in idle moments.

Vance Joy--"Riptide"

I'll even start with a relatively contemporary one (2013). My eight year old son started taking guitar lessons last year, and this was the first song he learned to play that was recognizable. He has moved on from this and is actually pretty good for his age, but I have developed a fondness for this song whenever I hear it in the grocery store or somewhere. Indeed I have come to think it's a great pop song, and I hear very little recent music that appeals at all. I like the retro style of the video as well.

Hugo Winterhalter--"Canadian Sunset"

Having paid some tribute to the current decade though, I have to retreat right away all the way back to 1954. The much-loved radio station I used to listen to on my drives around the old and lonely roads of New Hampshire before the entirety of its listenership with the exception of me finally died off was very strong in the neglected area of popular 50s era instrumentals, none of which I ever managed to learn the names of apart from a few movie themes. Even on satellite radio I cannot find a station that reliably plays these numbers. This one overall being my favorite I was able to track it down on the internet despite not knowing the title by trial and error. It evokes numerous images and memories for me, including my grandparents, lunch at old-fashioned roadside inns, the day after a snowstorm when the sun shines so brilliantly, the days when my oldest boys were little before they went to school and we went on day trips all over our area. A highly sentimental song.

Pat Boone--"Moody River"

Pat is a smarmy dork, but along with "Love Letters in the Sand", this belongs to my personal List of Shame, consisting of songs by crummy singers that I have always liked, though in the instance of the two Boone songs and the next one, I genuinely did not realize that the songs were performed by these inferior artists until I was past 40 years old! This also reminds me a lot of my grandparents, mainly of their dining room, into which the flicker and sounds of their television, which was always on, would eternally faintly penetrate from the adjacent living room with the sounds of programming such as this.

The Monkees--"A Little Bit You, A Little Bit Me"

Written by Neil Diamond as well for bonus schmaltz points, but a very catchy song. The Monkees were one of those seemingly random phenomena that my father despised so vehemently that there was no question of ever admitting any aspect of their existence to have any possible redeeming quality whatsoever. This particular song somehow escaped my attention as being theirs until it turned up as part of the soundtrack on the video yearbook one of my children's class put out.

Billy Joel--"Rosalinda's Eyes"

This one I knew all along was a Billy Joel song, so I have no excuse. I heard it at Rite Aid one afternoon when it was pitch dark at 4:30 and thought, this isn't that bad of a song, really. And this video is pretty cheerful.

Buddy Holly--"True Love Ways"

My current favorite Buddy Holly song. Wistful late 50s vintage Americana. Makes me think of leaning against a kitchen sink in front of a closed blind drinking a class of milk late at night after getting home from my last date with Phyllis before she called it off. Deep stuff.

Bob Welch--"Ebony Eyes"

Another forgotten song that seemed pretty great to me when I listened to it again, at least the first few times. Our society doesn't seem to be producing a lot of guys like Bob Welch, whether for good or ill. I would wager that he committed what would now be considered sexual harassment at some point in his life, though blissfully unaware of the fact, and thought of his actions as a "move" or something of that sort. The quality of the video is not great, but I recognize some of those late 70s type women whose mantra was something like "live fully in the moment now, become angry later". I don't know, the party looks fun comparative to what we can hope for in the present.

Jo Stafford--"Try to Remember the Kind of September"

Tribute video featuring the truly delectable Jeanne Crain and many of her wonderful underrated movies (Margie is an especial favorite). I don't necessarily want to be taken back, but I don't want to be taken completely away either.

Andy Williams--"Can't Get Used to Losing You"

Just because...To be honest there will be probably never be a hit song like this again.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

End of Year Post (Includes Personal Update of Sorts)

I was laid up for a week in the middle of December with a kidney stone, which I still have, but I had a stent put in about 2 weeks ago that it is keeping me from being in pain while my system gets cleaned out. As it is likely too big to pass on its own, I am going to have to have another procedure soon to get it out but hopefully the recovery from that will be fairly quick. Between the four days of pain before I had the stent put in and four days I had to spend attached to a catheter afterwards I was pretty depressed at the beginning of last week. However after a couple of sluggish days even once I got the catheter out I have been feeling more like myself again. While I don't like allowing myself to get into the clutches of the medical system, and they took the opportunity of my presenting myself to them to draw blood and run a bunch of tests on me, there was good news in that apart from the stone I appear to be pretty healthy. One of my remaining goals in my life as a nominal member of the downwardly mobile former white middle class is to live long enough not to contribute to the in some quarters celebrated decline in life expectancy that has become a signature characteristic of this group, so I am (cautiously) happy about this apparent state of affairs.

As this was the first time in my life that I have had any problem requiring real medical intervention, as I noted above, it had a depressing effect. It was not a terribly serious problem, but it effectively took a week of my life from me, insofar as I wasn't able to drive or go out or eat or drink very much, and while I could read a little, the discomfort I was made it difficult to derive much enjoyment from it. While the days when I had the catheter in were not as painful as what had come before, it was difficult to move around and while I won't say that was worse than being in pain, in that stage I was at least thrashing about and I couldn't concentrate as much on how depressed I was. When I was in bed with the catheter I was looking at photo albums of myself when my children were younger and we were at the beach and going on trips and eating and drinking and I thought "there is my old life, when I was healthy and strong, before I had this thing attached to me", as if all the happy part of my life were over and I would never be able to leave the house or do anything enjoyable again. It certainly made the prospect of getting prematurely sick or terribly old much more vivid and terrifying than it was previously. Even for a few days after I got the catheter out and being able to return to my routine, which I thought would energize me, I still felt rather flat and out of it. At that point I hadn't done much to take part in the Christmas season, and I didn't know if my mood would allow me to enjoy anything very much. But this week I have felt much better and have in fact been unusually happy, which kinds of mood swings are not uncommon with me anyway. I don't even care about the bill anymore. If it takes three years to pay it off so be it. I always want to be a good little dog of course and honor all my debts but I have had to learn to accept some limits with regard to how dogged I am in these responsibilities so as to not impinge too much on my actual life you know.

Three days before I went to the hospital was my 20th wedding anniversary, which was a lovely day. My beautiful wife even took off from work to hang out with me. We drove up to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with our 2 year old (everybody else being in school) and had lunch at a venerable restaurant that has been in the same family since the 1950s and retains much of the atmosphere of those bygone days, which makes it a favorite of mine. Being both a weekday and well off-season for vacationers, there weren't many people there, but one of the perks of spending the winter up here is getting to go to popular places, assuming that they stay open, when they are quiet and calm.

I was given percoset to take to manage my kidney stone pain before they could get the stent put in. As this was my first experience taking an official opioid I was mildly concerned about developing an addiction that eventually spiraled into the ruination of my left and a premature death of the sort that I imagine would be amusing to my imaginary social rivals. While it did do an admirable job, once it kicked in, of dulling the force of my pain (I was scrupulous about not taking it more frequently than at the recommended 4-6 hour intervals), once the pain went away I felt no desire to take it any more. One interesting note I have about it is that I happened to be reading a late Henry James novel (The Awkward Age, fwiw) when this all hit and of course this was impossible to try to read before I got the medication. However when the percocet did take effect, as I had nothing else to do, I did find for an interval everything to be so slowed down and calm that I was able to read this somewhat excruciatingly dense and subtle book with much more penetration and less distraction than I was in the more normal state in which I tried to read the book before and after the period in which I was drugged. So in addition to controlling pain, one other useful function of opioids at least seems to be as an aid in reading Henry James novels.

Percoset also tends to induce a fairly heavy sleep, and when I was taking it I had the most drawn out and boring dreams I have ever had in my life. There was one where I was in a department store walking around a long table on which various customers had set down piles of purchases and I was taking an inventory of the piles: one green shirt, one red skirt, one washcloth with Pac-Man on it, etc. And I literally went through this process like 18 times! In another one I had an airplane I was flying in broke apart as it entered a hanger and the passengers were left floating in the air on individually numbered planks that were attracted to velcro magnets bearing corresponding numbers that were held up by numerous Africans standing on high platforms inside the hangar. As my plank, which was #34, drifted in the direction of the platform, it was apparent that the velcro on magnet 34 was worn off and the attraction was not working, meaning that my plank was going to crash at an inconvenient angle into the edifice towards which it was moving. I was shouting at the Africans that the magnet wasn't working and for them to help pull me up onto the platform as I approached it, but no one seemed to hear or understand me and I woke up just as I was about to crash into the tower...

I didn't have any new Christmas videos that I liked enough to put up this year, and we are always three days past anyway, so I guess I will skip it.

This is probably the last posting I will be making here this year, bringing my total for 2017 on this blog to a whopping 11 (I did manage to make 30 posts on my other site, which is a record for it), the eighth straight year that my post total has declined here. I have to think this will be the nadir, and next year I can manage to get that total up again somewhat. I hope so anyway.  

Friday, November 17, 2017

Other Topical Matters

I do wish I could write these posts earlier in the day, when my mind is fresher and sunnier, and I think more reasonable, than it is at night. But I can't.

I have kept out of commenting on the sexual harassment mania, which I don't consider myself as having much to do with anyway. I'd be happy enough if other guys would stop doing it, not because I am so virtuous, but because I am worried that for some men these harassing-type acts, which I am incapable of even mildly trying to engage in, kind of work, or at least have worked in the past, in the sense of achieving, or getting a lot closer to achieving what they want than men who are subject to the same lusts but are constrained to be appropriate and inoffensive on every occasion. Obviously the idea is that with very few and very special exceptions, the run of men should never even be thinking about these things in any work or ordinary social environment, especially ones that are supposed to be professional and serious. People presenting themselves as reasonable and enlightened seem to think this is a completely reasonable expectation to have, as are the base principles on which it has to be constructed. If this is not entirely right, it is obvious that under strong enough social pressure and coercion most people will outwardly at least conform to the expected behavior. Most people I am sure have always considered me to be a completely sexless and vitally dead person, if mostly an inoffensive one. Yet today even I was at the grocery store and when a woman I found attractive passed in front of me my brain as if involuntary launched into the intro to a 1970s disco song.

I caught myself fairly quickly and thought of this post I was working on and all of the scandals and how the juvenile, entitled mentality I was indulging in was the very scourge all the better people were so up in arms about and I suppressed the beat. At the same time I really do believe that the reasons I have never reached full adult emotional maturity, developed gravitas, was unable to or uninterested in pursuing a career with the necessary doggedness, all relate in some way to my never having been daring or aggressive in the pursuit of erotic desires.  Though I probably wouldn't bother doing it at my age now, there have been numerous occasions over the years where I wondered if I shouldn't be taking testosterone supplements or other drugs to increase my aggression, capacity for envelope-pushing, and all-around combativeness, qualities that, since I did not have them and was rarely able to get what I wanted not merely with women but in every important and contested area of life, seemed desirable to me.

I was almost certainly warped in these matters by the environment in which I grew up in the 1970s. I never witnessed anything explicitly sexual or, god forbid, was the subject of any abuse myself, but I certainly developed a sense, mostly from my father and his friends, that men who were brash and bright and alive enough were constant objects of feminine desire, and later on I suppose implicitly active participants in the great sensual arena. The scandalous thing to current sensibilities is that these men were all high school teachers. Several of them, including my father, ending up marrying or cohabitating with much younger former students, at least for a time. But this happened near the end. All through my childhood we constantly had my father's female students over at our house, frequently as baby sitters, but often for socializing. He was still pretty young at the time, as he is only 21 years or so older than I am, but he was married, and the talk with some of these girls struck me even as a young boy as pretty sophisticated and suggestive, much more so than anything I would have seen on television, and certainly more charged than any conversations he had with my mother, who was not a lively talker and endured these gatherings (which often included the other lecherous teachers and occasionally even a bright male student or two who my father liked) rather blankly. Many years after the fact it was suggested to me that the reason my father had rather suddenly moved to Maine in the mid-80s was spurred by a situation of this type that was no longer found tolerable, which I had been too self-absorbed to consider at the time, if I had even cared about it. By the early 90s he got out of teaching altogether and pursued several other careers with some success, as he has always been an energetic and forceful man, if many people would not consider him a decent or moral one. In temperament he actually has quite a bit in common with Trump, albeit obviously on a smaller scale.

It is now Friday night and I have to publish what I have. I have another tidbit to write about in relation to these cases but maybe I will address that in a shorter post. It involves one of the women who has come forward with allegations (one of the milder cases, for sure) who grew up in my neighborhood and went to my elementary school, and how what I know of how she and her family operated even 35-40 years ago colors my interpretation of her story, even though the guy accused was clearly in the wrong as far as it goes. Still, when I heard the name and read the accompanying story, it was not without a little eyeroll too. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Robert E Lee and Others

While I am not angry about the Confederate statues being taken down, I am not exultant about it either. The responses I have upon each new episode of desecration indicates that I would prefer on the whole that some of them remain standing. It is true that they belong more to the Old America, in which the Civil War was an outsizedly meaningful event in the formation of the national character and mythology, than to the one that is coming into being, but if you are one of those people who retains a strong identification with that old bad America in spite of all its deficiencies, these memorials can have an arresting and even eerily alive quality. I recall when I was in Atlanta, a city that does not have a lot of visible reminders of its pre-1970s self, I was wandering over the grounds of the state house and found half buried among bushes a stone with a memorial on it to a veteran of the Confederacy who later become a judge and had a distinguished career in politics lasting into the 1910s at least. It was pointedly noted at the end of the testimonial that this gentleman was the embodiment of the spirit of the Old South, at which point, if you didn't know it before, you knew this was a very, very bad man, racist to the core, complacent in the face of injustice and all the rest of it, yet to me there was a certain force emanating from this old bronze plate that was more powerful than that of the perfectly pleasant and prosperous modern city I had spent the previous several hours walking around in. The scale of the war, of the death and destruction, the absolute and seemingly necessary quality of it and the acceptance of this as a fact largely on both sides during and for many years afterwards are circumstances that I cannot dismiss that easily, even admitting that the perpetuation of race-based slavery was a motivation for some portion of the most dogged of the fighters. Yet in the aftermath these were largely welcomed back by the men they had fought against as fellow Americans, and several of their leaders admitted more or less by the same to the pantheon of American heroes. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans in the Bronx, for example, an artifact of the early to mid 20th century (i.e. it figured prominently in the reference books of my childhood) that still exists, albeit in a neglected state, enshrined Robert E Lee as early as 1900 and Stonewall Jackson as late as 1955 (though the Hall has been largely forgotten since the 1970s, someone alerted New York governor Andrew Cuomo to the presence of the busts of the two Confederates there, which he has duly ordered removed, though I cannot tell if this order has been carried out yet).

Robert E Lee himself of course by 1950 had famously come to be considered by much of the establishment and book publishing class to be one of the most outstanding Americans of all time. Digging through some of my favorite childhood books that I have saved confirms that I and the many others who have weighed in on this were not deceived. Here is the opening paragraph of the Lee entry from the 1968 edition of the Illustrated World Encyclopedia, from which I have taken the reading list I record on my other blog:

"Robert Edward Lee is ranked among the greatest generals. He was one of the best-loved and respected men in American history. During the Civil War he commanded the Confederate army. Though defeated, he became a symbol of the highest courage and devotion."

Most of the books adopt a similar tone. If it were more convenient for me I would do a more extensive inventory of these testimonials, which are almost stupefying to read in the current environment. Here is another snippet from the IWE article, on the immediate aftermath of the surrender at Appomattox:

"When Lee returned from this historic meeting, his men met him with tears in their eyes. They all wanted to touch the hand of their beloved leader, and many men petted Traveller, Lee's big gray horse, which had been with him through the long and terrible years of the war."

While I know I am supposed to take a story like this and dismiss it as sentimental bull---t, even assuming there is as much as 10% in it that is remotely true, there is probably nothing more emotional, in the subdued post-cathartic sense, than the end of a massive war. People today--and I will even limit this to people whose backgrounds are somewhat similar to my own, since perhaps it is not reasonable to expect others to be moved by such scenes from American history--seem to me to be emotional in a histrionical sort of way, but not sentimental, and stories like this don't make much of an impression on them. The salient points that I absorbed about Robert E Lee in the course of my childhood go about as follows:

1. He was the greatest student in the history of West Point and was still held in reverence there as recently as the 1980s, in spite of the now oft-recited circumstance that he earned his greatest renown as the leader of an army opposed to the United States. I always had the impression that down to that time he had been the only cadet to graduate from the Academy without a single demerit, though there seems to be some dispute about that now.

2. His abilities and leadership in own time were as universally acknowledged and admired by significant men as those of almost anyone in recorded history. Most of the extant legends indicate that the men who served under him were unusually devoted to him even in defeat, and even when it was obvious that defeat was inevitable.

3. Though he is criticized endlessly by internet historians especially for his generalship skills, the consensus of him that I grew up with was that his was the most gifted military mind that this country had yet produced.

4. He was admired, in a similar manner to George Washington, with whom his life had many parallels, for his patrician bearing and manners. This is run down now because the social position and way of life out of which this arose is so bound up with slavery.

There are probably other things, but I'm going to end this post and move on. Maybe I will come back to it at some point. After all, I can't pretend that I am doing anything more than writing down musings and trying to get through this part of my life, if I ever get through it.

On the whole I am not persuaded that many of the qualities for which Lee was admired were not in fact admirable, and certainly I don't think he comes off terribly unfavorably in comparison with most contemporary leaders and powerful people. I do believe these latter are genuinely against slavery as a social institution, not that that is a particularly risky or otherwise inconvenient position to hold in present society.

For all their faults, the old books seem to have the intention, at least where the likes of me are concerned, of wanting their readers to grow up to be somewhat strong and successful men, the future backbone of a great and proud nation. Whatever role the correctors of the historical record envision people like me fulfilling in the future, it is clearly not as rousing or inspiring as this.

I couldn't even get to Stonewall Jackson, who was an interesting case himself. He was renowned for a piety that seems to have approached biblical intensity, yet he was a master of the arts of war. Of course the link between fanatical religious belief and a talent for military endeavors has a long history, one that seems to be underappreciated among the modern educated classes. The professed hatred of these people that has become fashionable I guess seems to be heartfelt enough in some cases. I should like to have it, since it appears to be empowering in those who do have it, but I don't seem to be able to be pushed to such an extreme position if I haven't started on that way from an early age.

I am going to try to get something up every Friday at least, even if it is only a fragment... 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Playing Some Catch Up

Needless to say I've fallen way behind on recording the movies I've seen. Some of these go back to the beginning of the year. I've got twenty-five of them that I haven't written about. I'll be keeping these very short, hopefully honest, which shouldn't  much of a challenge since I won't have remembered many details by this time.

The Last Days of Pompeii (1935)

I am prejudiced in favor of almost anything halfway decent from this time, so I enjoyed it as far as that goes. It was produced by Merian Cooper of King Kong fame. Cooper was a dynamic man of action more than an aesthete, and the film takes on this general character. In the credits it claims to be "inspired by" the famous Bulwer-Lytton novel, which I have not read, though apparently it has a completely different plot. While I believe the book features some early Christians as major characters, this movie is set mostly during the time of Christ, which of course pre-dated the famous Vesuvius eruption by about 50 years, tying the stories together by having a man who encountered Jesus while young be settled as a rich old man in Pompeii at the time of the disaster. As a production the movie is a little clunky and forced anyway, and all of this rather fantastic far-fetchedness is not done in a way that holds together. The always entertaining Basil Rathbone appears here as Pontius Pilate.
Good enough for fans of 1930s Hollywood, but I would not call it a classic.

Rebecca (1940)

It won the Oscar for best picture, the only movie directed by Alf Hitchcock (in I believe his first Hollywood effort) to do so, featuring a comparatively young Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, though all of this is incidental. It is famously not a typical Hitchcock picture--he was under some restraint by the studio at this time--and while a well-regarded classic, it seems to be ranked outside his most essential films by the experts, and the same critique is often applied to Olivier too. I had never seen it before, but it has all of the kinds of things I like with regard to dialogue, setting, faces, sensibility, general intelligence, etc, which I recognized within about five minutes. It's easily my favorite movie since Stolen Kisses.

Raging Bull (1980)

I had seen this a couple of times before, though I'm pretty sure the last time was when I was in college, which was a long time ago, so it seemed like a good opportunity to revisit it when it came up. I'm not a huge Scorcese fan, mainly for reasons that have little to do with the quality of his movies, the better of which I usually concede are decent enough. His characters tend to be completely unrelatable to me, to the point of striking me as probably having advanced forms of various mental illnesses, a pattern which runs through movie after movie after movie. The other reason is that he turns up on a lot of these DVDs I get on the commentary track or some other of the special features, and I don't enjoy him or find what he has to say particularly interesting. He goes on too much for my taste about the lens being used or the panning and so on, a little bit of which is informative, but there is no humor or sense of mischief such as I like to leaven the technical presentation.

But this has nothing to do specifically with Raging Bull, which I think holds up pretty well as a work of cinema art. As far as deriving a thought exercise from the movie, I suppose the obvious question is, What are we supposed to think of LaMotta? He is possessed of a kind of demonic force that is relatively rare even among the more violent subcultures in America, which is the entire source of interest in him. Early on he is able to at least temporarily impose enough discipline on himself to become a top ranked prizefighter, yet he seems to give up even on this as he gets older, and has more need of it. He demonstrates an obnoxiously low level of intelligence, however I think we are supposed to feel a little sorry for him for this as such things are not ultimately one's one fault. He causes an awful lot of havoc however, and the people around him don't really seem to get much in return.

California Solo (2012)

I've adopted a new system for picking movies which is not completely an improvement, though it allows more opportunity for more recent films and others that may not have attained the highest rankings. For every title generated by the new system, which is a much more random process, I match it with one attained via the old system, to ensure that I still have a steady supply of the classics that I like.

California Solo, a recent production of modest distinction, is thus one of the first movies of this "new" type to appear in my lists. It features the actor Robert Carlyle, who appeared in the late 90s indie hits Trainspotting and The Full Monty. Here he is playing a former minor member of a moderately acclaimed 80s era British rock band who now lives in California doing agricultural labor, making music-related podcasts, and drinking a lot. He's also divorced and has a teenage American daughter whom he barely knows; and he is also facing deportation back to the U.K. because he gets arrested for drunk driving. While he has a certain amount of British rocker charm, his life is in the mess it's in because he drinks so much that no one can really help him. I suppose that is the most interesting part of the movie, I have rarely seen a depiction of alcoholism that is so thorough and illustrative of the pitiful state that it reduces a man to. A lot of movies that are supposed to feature the bleak side of alcoholism still induce me to want to join in and imagine that I could carry off that lifestyle if I put my mind to it. But this character I knew was beyond anything I would be able to pull off at this point of my life. I can't go that far, not that I want to obviously, but some people have compulsions to be so extreme in everything, their souls are so volatile. My soul seems to be entirely bland in that regard.
I think there was supposed to be a message for us about immigrants here because it's a fairly relatable Scotsman who is being put through the grinder with police, lawyers, and all the rest of it, and perhaps we'll be sympathetic to his desire to stay and equate that with the plights of people who aren't white and/or English-speaking and move or fortify our personal take on this issue. I tend to be of the mindset that seemed to me to be prevalent when I was growing up that if any individual country decided that they didn't want any particular foreign national camping out on their territory indefinitely that there was always a risk of deportation. Obviously the sentient part of the world has moved on from this way of thinking about the matter.

The Tree of the Wooden Clogs (1978)

Italian epic from the heroic era of European filmmaking. I had seen this a few years back on a poor quality VHS tape and written a post about it. In addition to the dark print on the much smaller television I had at that time, I seem to have been distracted on that occasion and not taken much away from the viewing. In the meantime I kept the movie saved in my Netflix queue along with about thirty other DVDs whose statuses are perpetually "availability unknown". However, as occasionally happens, one of these elusive discs will suddenly become available and turn up in my mailbox, in this instance the Criterion Collection release. So I had to see it again.

Of course my experience was much better this second time. I was evidently in a more relaxed state of mind, which helped, and the bigger screen and clearer print brought out much more of its grandeur and depth than I had been able to perceive the first time. There is a very well known scene in which a pig is slaughtered, and there was another episode again involving an animal, a diseased cow that has to be put down. As this cow is the only one that the family, who was exceptionally poor, owned, and they cannot sell the meat or anything due to its being diseased, it represents years worth of financial devastation. It would be hard to concoct a "pitch" of this movie describing what it's about, it's an accumulation of small incidents or strokes of ill or good luck that given the narrowness and rigidity of this world determine the courses or nature of people's lives. One boy is identified by the local priest as intelligent and is given the opportunity to go to school. A woman's husband dies and she has to take in laundry to support herself. Meanwhile the local lord of course has access to books and newspapers and even a record player on which he listens to recordings of Caruso while his peasants lead the same lives their forbears have led for hundreds of years, and this all taking place, as I noted in the earlier post, perhaps within the lifetime of the filmmakers themselves, or at least their parents, as the director (Ermanno Olmi) was born in 1931. He is still alive, by the way.


The Red Shoes (1948)
Much-loved Powell and Pressburger film about a ballet troupe and the artistic process intended as an infusion of beauty and color into a still dreary postwar England. There is a lot about it that I like, though I did not have the same response to it as I did to the earlier The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp by the same duo, which I thought was pretty much a masterpiece. However this does star favorite of this blog (and of Powell and Pressburger) Anton Walbrook as the ultra sophisticated and exacting director of the ballet company, and an English redhead (seemingly another P & P staple), Moira Shearer, who, I had not realized, was a real ballerina of some renown, as the unknown dancer who persuades the master Walbrook that she has what it take to dance the lead in his company. There are some pretty hard observations on the demands and sacrifices necessary to lead the life of the true artist, though these probably apply almost equally to being a true businessman, or a true scientist, or true tech innovator, or ace high school student, or almost anything requiring true excellence. Whether true art still occupies an elevated position relative to these in anyone's mind I am not sure.

There is of course the incongruity of the brilliant young composer and the brilliant young dancer in the film both being standard issue born and bred English people, given that these are arts in the English are not traditionally recognized as having a culture of greatness in, and even the English composers who have achieved some degree of fame (Britten, Vaughn Williams, Walton) I tend to think of as somewhat stodgy, respectable establishment types--sort of like the professor at the beginning of the Red Shoes who cribs from his student's work for his new composition--rather than the more fiery, intense younger men identified with this art on the continent. However, I find the optimism expressed by attributing the possibility of attaining great and noble heights where they have not traditionally been considered to have been reached to one's own people, as the phrase goes, to be admirable. This particular sort of confidence is not consistent with most peoples across the ages.


Iron Man 3 (2013)

Another selection by my new system, I figured that these movies were hits so they must have some kind of appeal, or fun to them, so I wasn't opposed to seeing it. I couldn't understand this at all, it made absolutely no sense to me. All the technology and machines that were constantly introduced were way over my head, explained in an impenetrable foreign language. I lost the plot about fifteen minutes in, around the point at which any resemblance to life on Planet Earth as I have always experienced it departed from the movie. If this is at all representative the mental world the mass of the population comfortably inhabits nowadays it no wonder I am so isolated and incapable of understanding anybody. Good God. Look at the cast they got for this thing. Gwyneth Paltrow? Not that I ever liked her particularly, but I thought she wanted to be a snob. Don Cheadle is in this too. I know, money, money, money. Not too many people in America can win a real following doing the kinds of movies I like, But some can.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Ancient Literature Review: John Dryden--"To the Pious Memory of the Accomplished Young Lady Mrs Anne Killigrew"

The original idea when I read this poem nearly concurrently several months ago with the two recent works I just wrote about was that this would be a companion piece to the other one. I don't remember the intention now, but it was not to try to purposefully beat down the newer books by contrasting them with an old classical English poem. Believe it or not over the years I have come to feel bad, even guilty that I usually only like older things. I don't know why I should respond to them, since I have no more really to do with them than I do with all the wonders and glories of modern life that I don't relate to, for which reason I actually have a certain respect for them. The advantage an author like Dryden has with me is that I associate him with nostalgia for the time when all this literature was exciting and seemed to offer hope and promise everything else. Anyway, at the time I wanted to write something about this poem, but I don't remember what it was now.

The beautiful Anne Killigrew

The occasion of this ode of course is the death of a young lady otherwise of little interest to history. My only marginal comment on it is "amusing and fun". Yes, well it is those things. Are you telling me that such sequences as

"Whatever happy region is thy place,
Cease thy celestial song a little space;
Though wilt have time enough for hymns divine,
Since heaven's eternal year is thine."

when you consider that he is addressing a dead person, are not funny? Maybe they aren't. I laugh at inappropriate and poorly understood things a lot . How about this comment on one of Miss Killigrew's paintings, crowded with satyrs, flocks of sheep, Roman ruins and other trappings of the Classical world:

"So strange a concourse ne'ver was seen before
But when the peopled ark the whole creation bore."

How about this one, on a portrait the dead lady had executed on King James II:

"The scene then changed: with bold erected look
Our martial king the sight with reverence strook;
For, not content to express his outward part,
Her hand called out the image of his heart:"

I have written about Dryden and the decline of his reputation and influence over the centuries before, one of the reasons for this being the frequently absurd and consequently hilarious effect he has when writing about somber topics. His writing abounded in exuberance and bombast, which I have a taste for when done in a somewhat clever style. And perhaps there is some value in being familiar with this type of literature in one's youth, it does enhance the perception and color one's experiences in a generally positive way for a time. But there seems to be a limit to the period when it has this value if one is not moving in some positive direction oneself. If you are moving as your force these works can move with you in a kind of parallel or complement, but when you are not then the books will take on that air of stagnation and deadness, for you at least and for the people you would extol them to.

"Now all those charms, that blooming grace,
The well-proportioned shape, and beauteous face,
Shall never more be seen by mortal eyes:
In earth the much-lamented virgin lies!"