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.

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