Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Movie Set (Common Theme: Oscar Winners, Especially Foreign Category)

These are all pretty good. I confess to being a benevolent judge, and am heavily influenced by my sense of how difficult it is to produce something which can be generally said not to be a failure even on mechanical grounds alone.

The Official Story--(1985)

From Argentina, won the Oscar for best foreign language movie in its year. It is about a politically naive, or at least willfully oblivious history professor married to a right wing businessman who discovers that their adopted daughter is likely the biological child of a communist agitator/leader shot during the country's infamous "Dirty War" of the late 1970s and early 1980s. I admit that I know virtually nothing about this war. The internet reference sites describe it as a near decade-long period of state-sponsored violence against the citizenry, presumably concentrated on the political opponents of the ruling regime. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people are estimated to have been killed. The movie, all of whose characters have recently lived through this upheaval, is serious and adult in tone. Conversations, relationships, political beliefs, professions, eating, dress, are engaged with an impressive, even almost unnerving, purposefulness. Characters are brusque, direct, knowing, competent, composed, and full of conviction. Even the main female character who is nagged by doubts and whose naivete is shattered during the course of the movie was an accomplished and put together professional, if politically and socially too submissive to the influence of her husband.

To an American sensibility the depth of conviction of the filmmaker's leftist/Communist sympathies is practically breathtaking. Hollywood people, however left wing they are supposed to be, have never been able to muster up this degree of heartfelt and unconditional hatred of the wealthy bourgeoisie, let alone the 0.1% or whatever precise stratum qualifies one as one of the truly rich. There is one scene where the plodding and increasingly successful businessman has Sunday lunch with his father and brother, socialists who cling to the woefully outdated small family concern that has no hope of being competitive in the modern international economy that even in the 80s was beginning to be recognized by more astute people. In the course of a political argument that becomes heated the successful brother calls them both out as losers and lays out for them how capitalism and the modern world works, how they would be foraging for roots and living in hovels without people like him, how he creates more economic value before lunch they have done in the last 40 years, and in general the rest of the standard argument that we have heard countless times from Republican party media and politicans over the last 30 years. Having had it deeply impressed on me that no one, no matter what they do, will ever be conceded to have won a political or economic argument in opposition to the core principals of capitalist enterprise on the merits of his case by anyone in a position of real authority, my impression of the scene was that while the socialist relatives might have been more endearing humans, the businessman had effectively demolished them, and demonstrated his strength, seriousness of purpose, and superiority over them to the extent that they, and the audience, must confess as much, at least when confronted by thriving capitalists of similar power and ambition. It was not until much later in the movie that I realized that we were actually supposed to hate the businessman, and that his speech, far from being conceived by the director as containing any force of truth, was intended to be despised for its grasping and petty conception of human affairs.

I gather that the characters in the movie represent a fairly privileged and elite class--even the professors and high school teachers work in more intellectually rigorous schools that most middle class Americans will ever have been exposed to--but the picture of Argentine society as depicted here looks more sophisticated and interesting at the ground, day to day level than ours does.

Madame Rosa (1977)

French, won the foreign language best picture Oscar in its year. It stars French cinema legend Simone Signoret, whom, incredibly I am seeing for the absolute first time, in one of her most acclaimed roles. Despite all of this that it has going for it the movie does not appear to be presently available on DVD, so I had to dredge up a copy on videotape. Simone Signoret is a retired prostitute (and Auschwitz survivor) who lives by taking in the children of active practitioners of her former occupation that they cannot, or don't want to, take care of themselves. They are supposed to send Madame Rosa money for this. The movie is about her relations with these children, one in particular, as well as the household's general relation to the bohemian-multicultural-immigrant neighborhood where they live. It is characteristic of its era and nation of origin: pretty original conception, good plot/character development through the first half of the film, retrospectively attractive cityscapes and people--the Parisian neighborhood where Madame Rosa lives is a little run down but vibrant and still recognisably connected with the French cultural tradition, and French people below middle age in the 1970s always strike me as being extraordinarily healthy looking even with the ridiculous fashions of the time. It is somewhat marred by a unsatisfying Godardesque ending that is also endemic to the period. I used to presume that these endings, being obviously symbolic of something, were possibly profound, and that my inability to make any sense of them was a tremendous loss of life-quality to me. I suspect now that they may be merely intended to be challenging or illustrate a quality of nihilism which is only pleasing, as well as accessible to, people of exceptionally refined intellects. I would still like to be such an intellect, and qualify myself for inclusion into a more desirable segment of society, of course, though I no longer believe that dutifully straining my wheezing brain for another 20 years to try to figure out the meaning of this class of inscrutable ending is an especially productive use of that organ.

Simone Signoret in her younger days. She was a commanding presence on the screen even in her dotage, but I was curious to see what the vintage version looked like. Not surprisingly, very like what I take to be the average attractive Frenchwoman's idealized self-image. Will have to get around to seeing some of her old movies.

The French Connection (1971)

Won Oscar for regular Best Picture in its year. I had never seen it, though it is certainly one of the iconic movies of its time, which time being my early childhood is one whose attitudes have effected an especial influence on my development. For a long time the combination of the 1970s, drug dealers, car chases (there is a very celebrated car chase scene in the film) and Gene Hackman, while not wholly turning me off from seeing it, did not encourage me to make a special point of doing so either. So I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it is--and as with The Godfather, fun is really the right word for the experience, despite the circumstance that the movie is filled with all manner of violence and blood and criminal activity--when I finally saw it.

It is very similar to The Godfather, which of course came out the next year (and also won the Best Picture Oscar) in the formula of its success. Besides the highly stylized killing, the plot has the same kind of classic construction that for whatever reason had a brief revival in the early 1970s and then largely vanished again, although Steven Spielberg I must say has maintained something of this talent even up to the present, which is doubtless one of the secrets of his continued success. The individual scenes, many of them become classics in themselves (the car chase scene lives up to the hype; it is legitimately thrilling, probably not least because such a scenario, indeed most of the scenarios in the movie, would be impossible to even conceive of with contemporary communications and surveillance technology in play) are highly vivid either in action, setting or dialogue and always clearly build further on what the viewer knows to be going on in the movie and continually move the story in the direction of the climax. This sounds elementary, but hardly anyone active in mainstream filmmaking seems to have a sense of how to do this, let alone with any mild interjection of vigor. Also, again like The Godfather, there is a certain amount of sardonic humor even in murder scenes that can be irresistible--the part where the French hitman after gunning down the Marseille cop in the hallway of his apartment in cold blood breaks off a piece of his victim's fresh baguette to snack on on his way out of the building comes immediately to mind.

As noted in a previous post, I've lately become more interested in the era around when this film was made ('68-'74 or so, which also happens to be the time right when I was born) than I had been previously. Indeed, for most of my life, it had been one of the periods of the 20th century I was least interested in. This disinterest was perhaps because the media focus on this era has always been on the extreme political and social turmoils and movements that defined it, which usually being depicted in broad and sweeping images never captured my imagination. It may also have been because the time, much of it my own childhood, struck me as not a particularly good one to be a child in. It also did not strike me in my 20s as a great time to have been in one's 20s, though the people who were that age, as people always do, certainly liked it well enough. It does strike me now however as not a bad time to have been a 40 year old man. The economy up until '73 was strong--you pretty much had to assault your boss with a baseball bat or embezzle money to lose your job--you weren't expected to do a lot of housework apart from mowing the lawn and simple repairs, you could still drink and smoke anywhere you wanted and not be the only person doing so, there seemed to be more leeway as far as flirting with women went, not that I would have been able to do that anyway, but the knowledge that some such possibility existed might have added a certain excitement to the day to day prospect of existence. Of course at the time all of this would have seemed so unremarkable that it would not have been any relief of depression anyway.

The city looks great in this movie too, even when it is supposed to be shabby and/or dingy. There seem to be so many interesting things for regular people to do, whereas the sense is that now this is not the case, that Manhattan at least is wholly the province of mega-millionaires and even nightclub life is become wholly organized around their status games. Against this backdrop, 1970-era New York suddenly looks less chilly than we remember it, though I know one must be wary against being taken in by appearances.

This is Arlene Farber as Angie Boca, the girlfriend of the small time middleman trying to make his first big score on the French drug deal. I thought Angie Boca was pretty sexy (she often disguised herself in blonde wigs as a 22-year old) and was taken with the idea of her for several days after watching the movie. I even posted on my Facebook status that "Angie Boca is the real dream NYC girlfriend", which observation alas garnered no responses, not even a like.

William Friedkin, the director, followed up this, which I believe was his first feature, with the Exorcist, after which he attempted a remake of the great 1950s French film Wages of Fear which proved disastrous, and after which his career never really recovered. He was evidently so arrogant and obnoxious in the period where he was successful, not least towards film studio executives, that many took pleasure in his downfall. I listened to his commentary on the film and he is obviously pretty intelligent, with some sense of humor, as well as at times rather self-deprecating. Probably he was on his best behavior.

Hud (1963)

Did not win the Oscar for Best Picture in its year. In fact, it was not even nominated, which, especially as foreign language films don't seem to have been under any consideration at that time, seems almost a travesty now. While '62 saw a number of big time classics hit the screen, '63 was kind of a wide open year for the awards. There was no dominant English-language film casting a shadow over the rest of the field (Foreign-wise, I know 8 1/2 and Jules and Jim at least came out in '63; I can't remember anything else offhand). The winner was Tom Jones, which is sometimes listed among the worst Best Picture winners, and is detested by lots of serious film watchers. I have written elsewhere that I actually like it, though today at least I am pretty sure I would have voted for Hud over it for the Academy Award. I haven't seen any of that year's other nominees, but none of them stand out to me as anything highly regarded as great movies today: America, America, Cleopatra, How the West Was Won, and Lilies of the Field. Anyway, Hud is a real American movie with a lot of poignancy, it's from the tail end of the old days before the general personality of the country underwent the dramatic change that still informs it to a certain extent today, it's got Paul Newman in his prime years as a star taking on a role that requires him to play a rather small and unsympathetic man, it's got Texas in its full epic grandeur mode that Larry McMurtry, who wrote the source novel for this movie as well as that for The Last Picture Show, which has a very similar atmosphere to this, seems to have been able to tap into so well. There's a lot to like.

While the idea of the traditional rural Midwest in the collective national as well as international imagination seems to grow ever fainter, Texas seems to have retained something of that mythology of the remote place set amidst the vast open spaces, distant from population centers or other significant physical contact with the wider mainstream culture at all. The idea seduces you with the promise of its purity, you can feel the landscape and the tumbleweeds rolling down the main street of the town, uncorrupted by extreme postmodern developments, though you can still get Coca-Cola and toothpaste at the 1950sish drugstore. Professional cynics think it's a lie, just as they doubtless think the quaint New England village motif is a lie. They are not, not wholly however, at least if you have the imaginiative power to see them.

I haven't said much about the actual movie. It's heavy on the midcentury Freudian-type themes, the conflicts between fathers and sons, sibling rivalry, the mysteries and deep significances of female sexuality. We largely avoid these themes altogether in our generation, as well as the one behind us; such relationships as we do manage to have seem to be small by the traditional standards of the humanistic tradition, and do not involve a very substantial engagement with the question of how to live. I didn't take much from the story, which struck me as a framework in which to express more sweeping general themes--the dying of old ways of life, the ever more elusive quest to attain fully realized manhood, the (supposedly) elusive depths both of female desirability and desire--in a picturesque setting, with exquisite-looking people. I usually try to take things on their own terms, and I have a certain degree of sympathy with these terms, so I liked it well enough.

I do not want to go on a long aside about Paul Newman's sideline of above average food products (I just had his raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing tonight and I think it has a temporarily positive effect on the sharpness of my thinking), but I do think that the emphasis on the labels on how all the proceeds go to charity is illustrative of the broad change in our society's attitudes towards wealth over the last 30 years, which younger people will never have known and a lot of older people claim to have no memory of. Nowadays if a celebrity opens a clothing line or a fine wine division it is regarded a savvy move promoting the brand or whatever, and no one expects the entrepreneur to give the money to charity. This would not have been the case in the mid-80s, which if I remember correctly is when the Newman products first appeared. People like my grandparents, whom it should be noted were Archie Bunkeresque welfare-hating Republicans, would have somehow thought it bad form for a presumably already very rich celebrity to be able to muscle in by virtue of his name recognition on a lucrative but traditionally unglamorous market. Frankly it is difficult now to try to remember or conceive what the rationale against Newman's making himself a pile of money was, because nobody thinks this way anymore, but obviously Newman himself had something of a similar mindset, because customers were assured right from the start that any money earned from the sales of his salad dressing and salsa would not be going directly to him.

I had a Contemporary Bonus as well, but I think I will save that for another post, as we are already over a week on this one.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Anatomy of Melancholy III

The Anatomy of Melancholy II was a weak post, with little elaboration or personal input on my part, so I am going to take up III straightway as a corrective to that barren effort.

Fairy sightings: "Pauli, in his description of the city of Barcino in Spain, relates how they have been familiarly seen near that town, about fountains and hills." There is lots of stuff like this throughout the book.

"...prodigies frequently occur at the deaths of illustrious men...as in the Lateran Church in Rome, the Popes' deaths are foretold by Sylvester's tomb." The tomb of Sylvester II (999-1003) is still marked by a memorial, which dates from 1910, in this church. According to this informative web page with regard to relics, this monument "is said to 'cry' before a pope dies (its marble becomes moist)."

"Men's miseries, calamities, and ruins are the devil's banqueting dishes."--Lactantius. To be honest, the ideas at work in most of these quotations are at such a remove from my usual thought processes that I am hard put to say much of anything about them. As they are so different and imaginative after a fashion however, I like to have such expressions around me to a degree.

Stories of possession: "A nun did eat a lettuce without grace or signing it with the sign of the cross, and instantly possessed...Durand...relates that he saw a wench possessed in Bononia with two devils, by eating an unhallowed pomegranate, as she did afterwards confess, when she was cured by exorcisms." Bononia appears to be the Roman name for several different cities, including Bologna, Italy, Boulogne-Sur-Mer, France, Vidin, Bulgaria and Banostor, Serbia. I am guessing Durand was referring the one in France. Burton is obviously fascinated by any incident or story which introduces to human life some element outside of ordinary existence, the cause both of the interest and the invention I suspect he would take to be Melancholy. The section on palm-reading and astrology went over my head because I was unfamiliar with and could not get a good grasp of the terms.

Witches are said to have carnal copulation with the devil, after which their brains are crazed. The devil of course being the ultimate bad-boy alpha male.

"...in all ages there should be (as there usually is) once in six hundred years a transmigration of nations, to amend and purify their blood, as we alter seed upon our land...to alter for good our complexions, which were much defaced with hereditary infirmities, which by our lust and intemperance we have contracted." Well, here we are. Burton was looking for the Northern Goths and Vandals, innocuous, and free from riot and diseases, to come and reinvigorate the faltering stock of mainstream Europe. There is a lot of circulation of peoples in our time of course. I am not sure yet which carry the freshest and most vigorous reinforcements of blood however. I don't think it is supposed to be people like however, and indeed, I am almost certainly a double-barreled transmitter of the melancholy gene.

"...if a drunken man gets a child, it will never likely have a good brain, as Gellius argues..." I love to think of myself as a drunken man--it would give some texture and the possibility of unpredictability to my existence--but I really have not been one in a long time, and compared to serious drinkers, never.

The chapter on Bad Diet as a cause of melancholy is one of my favorites in the whole book, as numerous of my favorite foods, and the damage they do to one's body and mind, are investigated at length. For example: "Carp is a fish of which I do not know what to determine. Franciscus Bonsuetus accounts it a muddy fish. Hippolytus Salvianus, in his book de piscium natura et praeparatione, which was printed at Rome in folio, 1554, with most elegant pictures, esteems carp no better than a slimy, watery meat." They eat a lot of carp in the Czech Republic, especially fried--it is even the traditional Christmas dinner. There are ponds stocked with them all over the country. For home dining the custom is to bring home a live one--and they are rather large fish--as we do with lobster, and have it swim around in the bathtub until dinner time, at which one kills it by clubbing it in the head with a mallet. My impression is that having this huge fish swimming around in your tub makes it less of a bother to beat it to death, if one is queasy about such things, by the same principle that one doesn't have a problem setting traps for or setting loose a cat to feast on the mice that share one's abode. You are highly motivated to get it out of there.

"Among herbs to be eaten I find gourds, cucumbers, cole-worts, melons, disallowed, but especially cabbage." What? Cabbage is bad too? here is a poem, translated from Plautus:

"Like other cooks I do not supper dress,
That put whole meadows into a platter,
And make no better of their guests than beeves,
With herbs and grass to feed them fatter."

Another translated poem, from an author called Crato, on the black Bohemian beer of middle Europe:

"Nothing comes in so thick,
Nothing goes out so thin,
It must needs follow then
The dregs are left within."

"Venus omitted produceth like effects...some from bashfulness abstained from venery , and thereupon became very heavy and dull; and some others that were very timorous, melancholy, and beyond all measure sad. Oribasius...speaks of some, 'that if they do not use carnal copulation, are continually troubled with heaviness and headache; and some in the same case by intermission of it'...Villanovanus...saith. he 'knew many monks and widows grievously troubled with melancholy, and that from this sole cause'."

"Felix Plater, in the first book of his observations, tells a story of an ancient gentleman in Alsatia, that 'married a young wife, and was not able to pay his debts in that kind for a long time together, by reason of his several infirmities: but she, because of this inhibition of Venus, fell into a horrible fury, and desired every one that came to see her, by words, looks, and gestures, to have to do with her..." Among the charms of Burton is that he writes as if he is talking to himself, oblivious to any kind of outside audience, which has the effect for the reader who can find some commonality with him of having a greater intimacy than is usual. It also has the effect of making all of the incidents and reactions that appear in the book seem as if they could happen to anybody at any time, and in an atmosphere of exalted intelligence such as is extremely rare in real life but is strongly desired by the most desperate readers.

We move on to another favorite chapter, that on Bad Air. This sentence regarding the effects of heat is nothing I can really gloss on, but it is the sort of sweeping anecdote packed illustration of a facet of human experience that gives a lot of pleasure, (even where it depicts things that are actually extremely unpleasant): "At Aden in Arabia, as Lodovicus Vertomannus relates in his travels, they keep their markets in the night, to avoid extremity of heat; and in Ormus (located in what is now southeastern Iran, on the Persian Gulf), like cattle in a pasture, people of all sorts lie up to the chin in water all day long. At Braga in Portugal, Burgos in Castile, Messina in Sicily, all over Spain and Italy, their streets are most part narrow, to avoid the sunbeams. The Turks wear great turbans, to refract the sunbeams; and much inconvenience that hot air of Bantam in Java yields to our men that sojourn there for traffic; where it is so hot, 'that they that are sick of the pox lie commonly bleaching in the sun, to dry up their sores'."

We are reminded that cold air is almost as bad as hot however, and the list of places condemned for having air both cold and bad is too long to fruitfully include in the post here. Lithuania was among those locales singled out however, a very rare reference in literature to the land of 25% of my ancestors. If you follow food trends at all, you have probably observed that the Mediterrenean diet, especially favored by persons with ancestral roots in those countries, wins a good deal of approval. Unfortunately the Baltic Diet favored by my generations of my people--centered around whitefish, sausage products, heavy breads, beer by the hogshead, cabbage, potatoes, cream sauces, etc--does not seem likely to be embraced by the global foodie community any time soon. Which is kind of a shame.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Anatomy of Melancholy II

Countries free from melancholy according to Burton: "Italy in the time of Augustus, now in China(?), now in many other flourishing kingdoms of Europe." The defining characteristics of these happy countries are obedience to God, a state of peace, quiet wealth, a well-tilled countryside, many fair-built and populous cities, and, "as old Cato said, the people are neat, polite and terse." I would not qualify to be a citizen of such a place.

"...he that teacheth the King of Macedon, teacheth all his subjects."--Antigonus. I liked this in the moment. I am going to skip writing out the Latin where it is appropriate in these quotations for the time being.

"Where they be generally riotous and contentious, where there be many discords, many laws, many lawsuits, many lawyers, and many physicians, it is a manifest sign of a distempered, melancholy state, as Plato long since maintained..."

Further regarding lawyers, quoting Sesellius ("a famous civilian sometime in Paris"): "...he must be fee'd still, or else he is as mute as a fish, better open an oyster without a knife." I should note that the style of the book is that once a topic such as the venality of lawyers is opened, Burton runs with it for many pages, relates about 50 pertinent quotations and episodes, mostly from obscure Latin authors, and exhausts the subject as thoroughly as he can without losing the vigor of his narrative. His approving readership must really love this.

Burton felt that Ireland was allowed to lie uncivilized too long: "...it would turn to the dishonour of our nation, to suffer it to lie so long waste."

He considered Edward III (r. 1327-77) to be England's most renowned king.

To give a further indication of the book's rambling nature, there is a long recount of all of the major irrigation and canal projects going back to antiquity--unnavigable rivers being a sign of barbarism and thus to Burton a source of melancholy--that takes up several pages, still in the introduction.

He suggests a number of rules for lawyers that are intended to promote justice and de-emphasize financial interest, of which my favorite is that "all causes shall be pleaded suppresso nomine, the parties' names concealed, if some circumstances do not otherwise require."

He was hard on debtors too: "A bankrupt shall be publicly shamed, and he that cannot pay his debts, if by riot or negligence he hath been impoverished, shall be for a twelvemonth imprisoned; if in that space his creditors be not satisfied, he shall be hanged." I admit I could never figure out how seriously one was supposed to take these proscriptions, many of which were of a violent severity that we would find appalling if uttered by a gentleman-scholar of our own age.

At page 124, I noted that my book (I had the edition featured in the 1st picture above), was already dirty, and the main body of the treatise still had not started yet. Though it did begin immediately thereafter.

After a long litany of the woes of human existence, we are reminded that, "...and the latter end of the world, as Paul foretold, is still like to be the worst."

The number of bones in the human body was evidently still unknown at this time, popular estimates according to Burton being 304, 307 and 313.

As this point I was up to around page 150, where I noted that neither Shakespeare nor Spenser nor Chaucer nor any other English poet had yet been quoted, or even mentioned. I remember that Shakespeare and Spenser were eventually alluded to, which I doubtless commented on when these occurred, though it was still not more than a couple of references in the entirety of the Anatomy.

" 'Fear and sorrow' make it differ from madness; 'without a cause' is lastly inserted, to specify it from all other ordinary passions of 'fear and sorrow'." Definition of melancholy.

During a catalogue of various tyrants and other highly placed people who were known to have been punished by God for their wicked actions while still in life, there was a reference to Tiridates, an Armenian king, who as retribution for violating some holy nuns, was deprived of his wits. At the time I guess I thought everybody loved the idea of nun violations, since it is a theme that seems to come up a lot. But of course they wouldn't.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Senso (1954)

I needed a break from all the modern movies I have been seeing--to say nothing of the general atmosphere of contemporary life--so I got this, which has many distinctions, among which is that it seems to have attained the status of a classic without quite being universally acclaimed as a particularly great movie. It was, as sometimes happened, exactly what I was looking for however. It has a great director--Luchino Visconti--and it is well-made, and elegant, but most importantly it is able by enough authentic touches and details to credibly conjure up another world, one that was already fading pretty rapidly in 1954, and which now is scarcely psychically accessible to us at all; one feels in seeing this that later variations on similar themes were not depicted with the really knowing accuracy, that of spirit. I refer of course to the world of old aristocratic Europe, or at least the residue of it, and not the British version of it either that is most familiar to us in the anglosphere, but that of the realms huddled around the Alps, where the traditional lands of the Teuton and the Latin and the Slav come into collision, the Catholic heart of the continent. Visconti was a product of the last flourishing of this culture, as was the star actress Alidi Valli, for whom I cannot find an adjective that accurately represents the responses which her mere existence on the screen arouse in me. She is routinely described, especially by modern critics, as "cold", is said never to smile, et cetera. Look, she is beyond any necessity of smiling; for all intents and purposes of conventional magazine criticism, the woman is nearly perfect. She is also, as it were, the embodiment of a world that is mainly dead, which persona also precludes the propensity for smiling. If genetic manipulation were to prove capable of producing persons of this type on a consistent basis, it would have no more enthusiastic advocate than I. I suspect it cannot, however. A being like Alida Valli is the result of centuries of deep human culture that I don't think can be replicated in the current conditions either of actual life or the laboratory.

Alida Valli is obviously in my personal pantheon of favorite female movie stars.

This movie was formerly known in English by the title of The Wanton Contessa, but especially with Italian movies and other art-products, such as the best-selling records of the blind and supposedly (according to the music snobs) terrible singer Andrea Bocelli, the trend in recent years has been to go with the Italian titles, at least if they are simple. It is a period piece, set in 1866 during the uprising of Italian nationalists against Austria, which at the time controlled much of northern Italy, including the Veneto. I do not remember seeing an Italian period piece before, at least that was so convincing in terms of attitudes, manners and the like. I have not seen the movie of the classic book The Leopard, also directed by Visconti, which is set in roughly the same time period as this and is generally supposed to be the greater movie of the two. The climactic scene where the dissolute lieutenant coolly lays bare to the contessa how their whole affair was a fraud on his part to extract money and services from her, mixed in with lamentations about the way the world--their world--was passing away, and how neither of them would be fit nor have much interest to live in the new one, followed by the scene where my dreamboat the Contessa Serpieri nearly as coolly condemns the man she loves to death as revenge for his betrayal, were thrillingly beautiful to me as an education in the meaning of living and being human under the auspices of civilization, as was so much of the film, which begins of course in the legendary Venetian opera house La Fenice during a performance of Il Trovatore. All of which one can argue means nothing to me except to say, within the bounds of this story there are standards, of propriety, of manners, of expression, of beauty, which must not be trangressed, and which have nothing to do with being a nice or decent or well-meaning person. I really need a shot of that into my system once in a while.

I have been loosely following the We Are the 99% page and the Occupy Wall Street movement. I support them insofar as it is obvious that some major changes in the economic and structure of the country are inevitable, and I would like the concerns of people outside the power elite to have some influence on the nature those changes take, and political activism, though I have never engaged in it due to a lack of absolute confidence in the merits of what I believe at any given time, is effective when carried out on a large scale:

1. The Distresses of Middle-Aged People, Whose Situations are in Many Instances Truly Dire, Seem to be Causing Young People to Panic More than is Probably Necessary. If you are 25 and don't have a ton of extraneous issues, your bleak-looking financial/career situation should improve, or your present penury at least should take on a much different character, over the next 40 years. I admit I am naive but common sense seems to suggest that if everybody, or a critical mass of the important actors in a generation, has a terrible credit score and unpayable loans, that, seeing as society still has to carry on somehow, the problems represented by these circumstances will out of necessity either be resolved or cease to carry the same importance that they supposedly do now. I could have made a sign in 1995 detailing woeful financial circumstances and a lack of grand career prospects similar to a lot of those on the 99% website. I know the kids today have been more ambitious and competitive from an earlier age than people generally were in my generation, and so I guess they are more aware of what is happening to them as far as being shut off from any kind of good professional track at an early age, which I didn't really figure out until I was around 35.

I didn't have health insurance either until I got married and my wife told me I needed to get it, mainly for her sake. I did not think it likely that I was going to develop any medical problem that would rack up 10s of thousands of dollars in bills that would also involve not dying, and while this may have been stupid, even today I am 41, probably more than halfway through life, and, while I have insurance now, have still never required medical attention that cost more than $300. All of which leads to my next observation on the 99ers...

2. I can't believe how many people in their 20s have serious health problems. Obviously some people have conditions that are unpreventable, cancer being the most obvious, but if you're in your 20s or 30s and you have some kind of dubious disability or just chronic health problems, I don't know, that sets off red flags in a lot of people's minds.

I do advise keeping up with going to the dentist though as much as you can. My wife, who understands a great deal about the most essential practicalities of life that escaped me at least, impressed this upon me before I had let my teeth go unattended too long, and I am much obliged for that wisdom now.

3. I was wondering if prostitution/stripping was making any inroads among the former middle class due to the economic crisis. Apparently the answer is yes. My 1st thought of course, as it always is, was I'm missing all the action again, but that is really just me taking a little psychic indulgence into my fantasies of the steamy underworld where people have relations with other people that are primarily or almost purely carnal, and understood to be such. I used to be really obsessed with other peoples' sex lives, if I could imagine them to have one; even people I was not attracted to, overweight cashiers at Rite-Aid and the like, I would think, someone is taking or has taken this person to bed, what kind of a person is it, what did he do to get her to say yes and so on. Even looking at the laments of the 99ers, for such of the women who are good-looking my visceral response is, 'but at least you're hot'--because to me, being sexually desirable is one of the two or three, and easily the most common, be-alls and end-alls of existence, and I imagine that having this quality somehow renders all other aspects of life, including a comparative lack of money, irrelevant. But I know rationally this is not how life really is. Really, this development was probably inevitable. There are too many reasonably attractive young women walking around with children, terrible finances and dim prospects of marriage, along with, one presumes, still a fairly sizable population of men with disposable income who are most keen on sexual activity but are not able to get the quality or quantity they would like by means of their personal charms and attractions alone...I have seen some commentaries to the effect that the number of people who claim to have taken to prostituting themselves or stripping are exaggerating, but I am not sure--at a certain level of society, which includes an ever growing percentage of the population, and is still, apparently, blissfully a long way from the world in which most journalist types inhabit, the income potential in such pursuits is considerably higher enough than such other jobs as are available--if there be any at all--that they will be seriously considered or taken up by lots of people more than eminently qualified for the work.

4. I am glad that the student loan fiasco looks like it is coming to come to a head soon. Having five children, people often helpfully point to me that "you have to educate them all", which though it makes it sound as if they suspected I might be planning to gleefully spring a bunch of people in a state of subhuman ignorance onto an unsuspecting society, what they really mean of course is, "I hope you aren't expecting other people, i.e. me, to pay their way for you". I am optimistic over the long term, and I believe it possible in 10 years, when my oldest boys would be of age to go to college, and likely in 16-18, when the turn of the two youngest comes up, that the system will have been reformed to some resemblance of sense again, one way or the other. That is not to say college will become affordable again, or that it will be accessible to anyone who is not of the very best quality of intellect, but a lot of the sources of the negativity that seems to be currently overwhelming much of the public perception of whether what most people are doing between ages 18 and 25 is doing them any good at all will be addressed. In this climate, and when I hear the way other people talk about college and so on, whether they attended it or not, I increasingly have to regard my own college experience, which seemed perfectly normal and reasonable to me at the time, as a great privilege...but I have another post in the works somewhere down the line about all this.

My main points here are: the current levels of student loan debt are so ludicrous relative to the incomes of the people who have them, including people who actually have good jobs, that they are obviously never going to be paid back, regardless of how horrible the consequences will be to the economy. If you are in your 20s I have to believe this is going to be a short-term crisis that will not still be crippling people 20 and 30 years down the line. Adjustments will be made. As regards college costs...and taxes, and the mentality of businesspeople, and credit scores...I am going to save those for future consideration so I can post this.