Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Duke Sex Dream


(Don't worry, the sex does not involve me, and it is only implied anyway).

I had a dream a few days ago where I was visiting the famous and in some ways infamous Duke University in North Carolina, a place to which I have never been. No reason of course for my presence there was given, nor can I think of anything that had particularly happened the previous day that would have called this institution to the attention of my subconscious. I was exactly the person, the same age, same personality, same station, as I am in life, so I had no professional or social excuse to be there, and if a rich and good-looking student of a harsh temperament had desired to question and insult my being there I would have been hard put to defend myself. However at the beginning I was all alone with a couple of Gothic buildings, a lawn that looked like a golf course that was being watered by sprinklers, and a wooden groundskeeper's lodge set at the edge of a small group of trees, in the shade of which I was standing, somewhat nervously hoping to avoid getting challenged and ridiculed by sexy rich people, of whom I am obviously completely terrified, though I try to keep a lid on this fear in my ordinary life. At length a rather gruff old-timer--mid to late 60s, completely bald, much-wrinkled head, neither muscular nor obese, wearing a polo shirt the color of broccoli--came out of the groundskeeper's chalet and motioned that I was to come with him to be shown around. We went into the lodge and I saw a couple of richly furnished and decorated rooms, one a library, the other more of a lounge or ballroom--it had expensive chairs and carpeting and chandeliers and wallpaper, but no books--such as someone like me at least would expect to find at any old college that thought highly of itself. After this we went upstairs to tour some more rooms, windowless rooms that were dimly lit only by large flat screen televisions, beer signs and lava lamps. We had entered upon the living quarters of various athletes; these athletes were at home; they had company; and my guide was leading me right through them, apparently oblivious to the presence of their inhabitants and the private nature of the activities they were engaged in. I was naturally too abashed to look back at the people we had intruded upon after an initial glimpse, so I did not see much. There was a form like a contented man, but one who exuded latent physical energy lying prone on a sofa, probably reveling in the contemplation of his personal awesomeness--that's what I would be doing if I were such a person--fortunately not facing me, and either beside or above him a thin female, visible from the waist up from the back only, with perfectly groomed hair, was frantically covering her naked breasts, which I could not see anyway, with a blanket. Upon going into a second room I encountered an essentially identical scene--the hair coloring of the frantic and bare-backed thin young woman may have been slightly different, but its grooming was equally impeccable--at which point the strain on my nerves must have become too great, for I had to rouse myself out of the dream.

While this dream doubtless reveals a number of unhealthy trends at work in my current state of mind, I thought that a number of things about it were curious:

The first is the alignment of my actual age and station with that of my dream self. For many years in my 20s and 30s this was not the case--I was always five to ten years younger, or at least doing things I had done when I was five to ten years younger, in dreams. I continued to have dreams that I was playing on the high school basketball team, and contributing much more than I had done when I had actually been in school,   until I was around 28. Usually in the middle of these dreams I would be overtaken by some sense that it was not legal for me to be playing, that something was wrong, though I could never quite express what it was and it also seemed that nobody else was aware of my secret except me. For about about ten years after I finished college I would dream that I had started over as a freshman and was going through all the coursework again, even though in this instance I knew I had done the whole thing before and was certain that someone in the faculty or administration had to know this too. In this I was also doing much better work the second time through. My dreams often found me reading War and Peace, which for me at least was one of the emotional high points and transitional guideposts of those years. I often seemed in the course of one of these dreams to race through a year or two's worth of readings and other activities--I also checked my mailbox and went to the library to read the newspaper frequently, as I had done in real life, during which intervals often an entire semester would pass--but I never made it all the way to a second graduation. War and Peace, which was the book you read over the summer before your senior year, was the farthest I would get.

I also used to have Prague dreams a lot for 6 or 7 years after I left there. All of these stopped around the time I was 33 or 34, which coincides with my children being born and a sharp reduction in my hours of sleep. I rarely have any dreams that I remember anymore.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Getting Back to the Good Stuff


For a little while anyway.

Dr Strangelove (1964)



I had seen this I believe twice before, but it had been ten years at least since the last viewing, I hadn't made any record of it here, and I am fond of the movie, so I decided to see it again.

Many commentators note that a lot of the jokes, especially the more famous ones, lose impact on repeated viewings. I did notice something of this--perhaps age has something to do with it also--but it isn't like my affection for the movie was ever based on a selection of quotable but evidently insubstantial and transient lines.

I do suspect that the main appeal of this for me now, as it is with most of these old films that I like, is as a nostalgia piece, of which Dr Strangelove is an especially potent artifact for me. While it is true that film dates from six years before I was born, the world it depicts, its images, many of its attitudes, are more familiar to me, or at least resonate more with me, than almost everything about current existence, in which I almost never feel really at home. I will try to express what I mean by this below.

I wrote recently that my ten year old wanted a typewriter for Christmas. After poking around online I found someone near me who was selling a pale blue 1970s vintage Smith-Corona Coronet for $40, which is a good price for a working typewriter. It seemed beautiful to me when I beheld it, and even though I had not banged on this kind of machine for 25 years certain of the various idiosyncrasies of handling it that have been lying utterly dormant during the whole of that time returned to me within a few moments. In brief, given this antique instrument to play with, I had the opportunity to feel almost competent to perform some adult activity for a few moments. Movies from the 1960s especially often have a similar effect on me because the details and objects and even the geography in them are within the range of my knowledge and sense of what the world is properly like. I have noted elsewhere that even 1960s depictions of sex seem more natural and to make more sense to me than most of what has developed in that realm--both in films and real life--since.  Dr Strangelove is full of both little and big instances like this. To begin with the whole struggle of the Cold War, with the United States and Soviet Union as mortal enemies and the threat of nuclear annihilation always hovering somewhere in the back of one's consciousness was a dominant fact of the first 20 years of my life that suddenly evaporated into nothing. It is odd to say that returning to days when that state of mind prevailed as a cinematic tourist is comforting, and I don't think that is the right word anyway; but it does seem normal. The movie also conveys an idea of the physical earth, as least in the northern hemisphere, as vast, cold, mostly barren, alien to refined human sensibility but also exciting in a masculine measuring-oneself-against-nature kind of way that I am in tune with, an idea that also had strong roots in the far flung military activities required by the Cold War and also with the Space Age. Even though outrageous, the characters as human types do not seem to me as remote as almost anyone either in or portrayed by media or the arts today. This has to be illusory, and the result of my just not feeling able to trust anyone in contemporary society, or always being wary of whatever agenda it is they want to push. The agendas of people who are dead or superannuated are less threatening to me, not least perhaps because enough time has passed to identify anything that would strike me as really insincere or incoherent or sinister about them, which I cannot seem to effectively do with contemporaries...

Yes, so I hope you get the idea. I didn't pick up much insight from the bonus materials. There were two tidbits I found of mild interest. The first is mainly for those who are obsessed by dates. Dr Strangelove was supposed to be released on November 22, 1963, but the date was moved back to January of '64 due to the Kennedy assassination. The second was a story, probably apocryphal, that when Ronald Reagan arrived at the White House upon his inauguration as President, he inquired of various aides where the War Room was, having apparently gotten the idea from this movie that such a place actually existed, which, however, is not the case.

Along this same general theme of nostalgia and my mental image of what the universe is like, the opening sequence remains one of my favorites of all time.


Shane (1952)

Most of the reference books have it listed as 1953, though the copyright date on the movie itself is '52, which is why I am going with that.


I never watched Westerns as a young person. I don't know why, I suppose somewhere along the line I got the idea that they weren't very interesting. As a result just about the entire genre is unknown to me. But maybe I am ready for it now, or at least for the better specimens of it, because I liked this. It is emotionally appealing. While it is a cliche to say that Westerns have classic story structures, in the case of Shane at least there is more than a little truth in it. In the execution of the key scenes there is a deliberation that allows the viewer to ponder the particular drama that is unfolding and to savor it, without being gratuitous. The director was George Stevens, who had had another triumph the previous year with A Place in the Sun, which I wrote about here a couple of years ago, as well as several other well-regarded films. I would rate Shane above A Place in the Sun, which I also like, but not as much--Shane hits a number of high points and seems to me to attain nearer to perfection with regard to what it is trying to do. I don't think it is inherently a great story in bare form, but there was a meaningful story in it that the filmmakers hit upon and were able to bring out.

The cast featured several name actors in prominent roles whom I had not, however, seen before. Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur especially, but also Jack Palance, who was kind of a kooky but somewhat engaging old guy who was always on television when I was a kid, as a young man. All of these people have a certain appeal to them that I think was used to good advantage in the movie.

The Quiet Man (1952)


All right, this movie. Where to begin? I saw it some years ago and, like a lot of people, did not get why it would ever be supposed objectively great. I still think that absent the considerable backstory and the magnitude of the beloved personalities involved in the production that this would not have attained to classic status; and while I think it perhaps can pass as a work of art of a kind, I do not think it is of any very profound kind. That asserted, I do have some greater appreciation of the fact that in this instance the magnitude of the personalities is indeed important, that the film does have a beauty and energy about it that is decidedly unique, and that, especially as I enter the nostalgia phase of my life, it is highly charming.

The movie was a pet project of John Ford, the legendary director whom my various inquiries into the matter have begun to persuade is more widely considered the greatest American director of all time than anybody else. I was astonished to find out that he grew up on turf with which I am very familiar, being born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine and growing up on Munjoy Hill in Portland. He graduated from Portland High School (this was the other public high school in Portland, and the mortal enemy of my school), yet at least from 1986-89 when I lived there he seemed to be forgotten in his hometown, for I never had any idea that he was from there until this past year. At far as Portland celebrities go, he is really at least as big as Longfellow and Robert Peary, and much bigger than Judd Nelson, Linda Lavin, Annie Proulx and whoever else we can lay claim to. This guy is a titan in the history of cinema. He is our Fellini or Kurasawa.

I had the impression from somewhere that one of the reasons usually given for John Ford's successful development into a significant artist compared against the pygmies of the present day is that instead of watching television and throwing away years of his life going to college he obtained a varied experience of life and people while working on ships and construction sites and getting into bar fights and having affairs with girls from the wrong side of the tracks and that sort of thing, but the reality is much more prosaic and logical; he moved to Hollywood, where his older brother already was established in the fledgling movie industry, when he was 20, and began working on film sets, spending those crucial years of one's early twenties, when no process seems overly daunting given a thorough enough immersion in its operation, learning about how movies were made. In those heady days when demand for film production was increasing exponentially and technical skill in the art was largely the province of the young and rambunctious generation, Ford was made a director of quickie silent films (most of which , however, are are lost--only 10 of the estimated 60 silent movies Ford made survive today) at the age of 23. None of this is giving any particular insight about John Ford yet, but I am still in the process of gathering my impressions about him; perhaps by the 7th or 8th film I will have some insight into what is really going on with him.

The Quiet Man is also famous for John Wayne's branching out from his standard cowboy/war hero role to a more domestic part. We haven't seen much of John Wayne on this list. I am not sure what my opinion of him is yet. His persona obviously is his most important quality as a star but does he really earn it, really carry it off? I'm not convinced. He seems to take himself, or his image of himself, awfully seriously, more than I am used to at this point. He's also almost utterly humorless. I realize he was embodying an image of manhood that was much admired and aspired to at the time, and it was almost certainly a better model than whatever sad examples we are expected to emulate, but at this particular point in time there is something really foreign about it...

John Wayne is one of the three great celebrities of the 1940s and 50s whose body type and history pretty much mirrors mine from age 20 to 42 certainly, and is probably predictive of it going forward, the other two being Ted Williams and Charles de Gaulle. Modern day big shots have personal trainers and dieticians--or are otherwise extremely disciplined--all of which largely prevents their physiques from developing in a manner parallel to my own.

Maureen O'Hara, a healthy looking redhead, and native of Ireland, who frequently worked with John Wayne and John Ford, is the female lead here. Her character requires some mild Taming of the Shrew type treatment due to her predictable temper, but John Wayne obviously is up to that challenge. There was an interview with Maureen O'Hara in the extra materials in which she stressed the serious old-world training in the art of acting she received at the Abbey Theatre school, adding that no European movie actress got her start by being spotted sitting at a lunch counter. I wonder who that barb was aimed at.

I think the over the top Irish stereotypes that fill the movie are entertaining, silly as they are, because they are the kinds of things that a conscientious artist or intellectual would be so concerned about avoiding today. That sort of thing was of course rampant at the time, and it turns up again in another movie more or less contemporary which will be discussed in the next set, where I plan to go into it with more detail.

A woman I went to college with claimed that her grandfather had been the inspiration for the character of the Quiet Man. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but there is no obvious reason to believe it was not at least a family legend, since I doubt many people even at our school were familiar with either the story or the film. I certainly wasn't.

You could hardly have made an Irish movie from 1940-1955 without having a part for Barry Fitzgerald, who appears in his third picture, and really his first in a supporting role, of those I have written about on the site--the others were And Then There Were None and The Naked City, and this gets him into the first tier of the Bourgeois Surrender Movie Star Hall of Fame. Sterling Hayden (The Asphalt Jungle, The Godfather, and Dr Strangelove, also secured his spot with today's reviews.


I will do a brief post next on a couple of leftover matters not related to movies that I was going to stick in here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Wisconsin 3


1. The Garden Under the Blazing Sun, Again.


2. Little Wagon Provided By Our Hosts.


Child #4 had broken his leg in May and had just begun walking again, with a tremendous limp, which prompted our innkeeper to produce this cart for going around the garden trails in. He did not stay in the cart very long however and ending up walking most of the way, being more discomfited by the heat than by his injury.

3. Group Photo of Boys, Cooksville, Wisconsin, 7/2012


It is not always so harmonious as this picture makes it appear, of course, but right now they are really best friends for the most part. They play and sleep and do everything together almost all the time. I do not want to make the obvious prediction and lament that it will not always be so, because maybe it won't be, in every case at least. I don't have a great feel yet for what kind of attitude to the family any of them are likely to develop in adolescence and adulthood. Even by age ten I already felt a great desire to be away from my parents and be alone all the time--I did not have any brothers--and even today though I know it is irrational and petty I hold them responsible enough for my lack of social popularity, my total lack of any talents that would allow me entry into one of the more dynamic sectors of society, and my inability to ever focus on and progress in a serious adult career that I cannot bring myself to behave around them with more than a cold cordiality, and if my wife did not insist on this as my duty I do not think I would speak or have any contact with them at all; certainly I would seek none out. I don't detect any signs of that sort of attitude in these children yet, but I hope I will not be surprised if they should develop such later on. Still, not to be maudlin, but when I bought a ticket for the 580 million dollar lottery drawing my oldest son was concerned that we would win and we would have to move out of our house and he would have to leave his school ('but your new school would instill in you the qualities of casual superiority and domination that will drive your less fortunate social competitors insane with envy', I tried to remonstrate, but he did not get it). This is the same child who wants a manual typewriter for Christmas, so there is truly reason to worry that being raised by me is setting him up for unpleasant disappointments when he gets out somewhat amongst the thrash and brawl of the world, and I think it likely he will make it out there at some point.

4. Wisconsin Has a Distinctive and Well-Situated State Capitol


State capitols are a recurrent theme with us. Children like recurrent themes. We live in one of these cities, and we went to school in another one, so this was a natural one to adopt. There are still quite a few that we have yet to visit in-depth despite literally walking past them on numerous occasions (Boston, Montepelier) or  passing frequently through the towns (Trenton, Harrisburg).

5. Horseplay in the Main Rotunda.


Wisconsin's capitol building is huge. They have their Supreme Court in there as well as the State Library and  several other governmental departments (the historical society?) that have separate homes in other states. The inside is the usual classic marbled and mildly ornate Victorian era U.S. capitol building, though this one has especially attractive antiquated light fixtures and signs.

6. State Street, Outside a Sports-Type Bar That Literary Types Probably Don't Frequent.


State Street connects the capitol building with the University of Wisconsin, to which we walked down and hung out for a while in the Union. Never having attended a regular University of any substantial size, let alone a sports and research colossus like this one, I am always fascinated to visit--just sitting on one of couches near a bathroom I saw three or four academics who exuded 'major league intellectual development' pass through and meet up with graduate students or junior colleagues, very often attractive and driven-looking young women, to take up whatever serious study they were collaborating on. This is all most heady stuff for me of course, so after letting me have a gander at a few commanding intellectuals and Big 10 co-eds and other college people my wife wisely nudged us back again towards the real world.

7. Another View Back up State Street Towards the Capitol


State Street is kind of a big deal in Madison I guess, for tourists anyway. It is not very big, compared to what a similar district would be in a major city, though I liked it. It has a lot of bars and cafes and college type shops, and the kind of shops that I guess appeal to the bohemian/college educated demographic. There were one or two fairly large used book stores that I would have liked to peek into. Unfortunately with so many children I could not actually go into any of these places, but they are the kinds of things that hopefully, I will live long enough and have enough time to do again someday.

8. The Great Windmill of Cooksville


The whole place is attractively laid out. I found the whole are of South Central Wisconsin to be aesthetically pleasant. Obviously there are Wal-Marts and strip malls in places and parking garages in the cities and so on, but only a small part of the geography there is blighted in this way. For the most part, as I noted in an earlier post, it does not look all that different from what it would have looked like 50 or 60 years ago. Maybe some of the smaller towns would have been more bustling, but even these did not look so badly off as some of their counterparts in upstate New York and Pennsylvania.

9. Hitting the Road Out of Wisconsin


This is one place I really don't know if I will ever get back to. It would be nice to be able to skewer that whole region of the country a la Evelyn Waugh or even a third rate hack New York writer and say "Good riddance" and have all of the sneering people in our haute literary intelligentsia nod approvingly at my taste and sensibility, but unfortunately I actually liked it there, and I cannot summon up that necessary feeling of revulsion for geographically inferior locales that the would-be second and third rank urban intellectual needs to be able to produce in such instances.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wisconsin 2


I'm going to do two short posts in a row to get the rest of the Wisconsin pictures out of the way. 

1. Amusement in Wisconsin Dells


We spent most of the second day at Devil's Lake State Park in Baraboo, in the central part of the state, about an hour to 75 minutes from our home base. As it is the most popular of all the Wisconsin State Parks as well as I believe the oldest, it has something of an iconic status there. The lake was similar to the kinds of places we go to at home and unfortunately it was 99 degrees so it was too hot to hike, especially with two babies in backpacks and a five year old, but I still enjoyed it, as I am interested in what people and doing things are like in different places. The beach and picnic area were a lot bigger and much more crowded than you would see in most similar places in New Hampshire or Vermont. The park store sold beer (of the Budweiser/Miller variety) and people were drinking it right out in public all over the place, which I liked, as it reminded me of being in Europe. Usually if you carry a couple of beers into a park in New Hampshire and drink them subtly away from the main paths and without making a spectacle of yourself nobody will harass you but technically I don't think you are supposed to have them. Wisconsin people seem to largely contain whatever rowdiness they indulge in within their private group, and tend not to be confrontational towards strangers, so it was an easy place for me to hang out.

2. Mirror Maze at the Dells


The guys missed going to the Mirror Maze in Tennessee I guess. Wisconsin Dells was about a half-hour up the road from the park and it is a fairly infamous tourist hell/amusement mecca akin to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge so we took the children there for a couple of hours because of course these kinds of outrageous places with block upon block of over the top amusements are exciting to them.

3. A Last Wisconsin Dells Picture


4. More Dramatic Prairieland, Seen From Car.


I thought the landscape was quite beautiful and striking there. It had not rained in something like 2 months when we were there and these clouds hovered teasingly over the parched landscape for several hours before  finally letting out about a ten minute shower, which didn't do much. The next day however, there was a quite heavy storm in the afternoon and evening which lasted three or four hours that was much welcomed by the local populus.

5. Next Morning, In the Yard Behind Our Rented Historic Farmhouse


I had wanted to find some kind of moderately placed cabin or old style family accomodation such as we had stayed in in Alabama and Tennessee and I was having a hard time, partly because I started so late in the season and partly because there were not a lot of places like that in the area I wanted to stay in (around Madison) as I guess that is not a big area for tourism. But I found this place on a site called VRBO.com and it sounded too good to be true, being an entire house, old (but with completely up-to-date renovations and furnishings) and quite inexpensive, especially by the standards of the northeast. But it was for real, and even in late June there was still a four day block of dates open in mid-July. So it was quite a stroke of luck that we ended up staying here.

6. Background Patio. We Didn't Hang Out Much Out Here Because It Was Still 99 Degrees Every Day.


Mercifully the house had air conditioning. The owners of this house lived in the barn, which had also been most attractively renovated, across the yard. The gentleman was a minister of some kind, I cannot remember the denomination--I don't think it was Lutheran--I believe retired, as he looked to be at least 70. His wife was quite a bit younger, probably somewhere in her 50s. I needed to replace one of my tires, and the man was extremely helpful, and found a place where I could get a decent used one for $40 without getting the usual hassle about I needed to replace all my other ones too. He even went out to the place with me. There was a prominent poster up advertising an upcoming tobacco festival that was sponsored by a cigarette company and all of that, which he stared at rather intently for several minutes so that I thought he was going to be roused to anger and go off on a long declamation about this event, which old people sometimes will do out of nowhere when something agitates them. However after taking in all of the information he merely stepped back and told me that tobacco was the main crop in that part of the state and quite a big deal and how worrisome the ongoing drought was and so on. The bit about tobacco growing being prominent in the area surprised me, but after that I paid closer attention to all the farms we were driving by and indeed it was so.

7. View From the Backyard "Prairie" of the House, Barn and Weathervane.


There is another picture of the weathervane in the next group. It was an awesome weathervane. Nobody in New England seems to have anything like it. I don't know why.

8. Flower Identification is Not My Strong Suit


The minister's wife (I did not find out what her profession was--she was a little more businesslike than her husband--or I assure you I would refer to her by her own position). had carefully arranged this wild looking and very beautiful garden over about a fifteen year period; she admitted that we were seeing it in something close to its perfectly realized condition. I don't usually go in much for vegetation pictures, but these seem quite vivid and interesting, set off against the totally parched grass and something in the effect makes you feel how hot it was. It's a telling picture.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Two Weeks Worth of Wasted Writing


This article was recently linked to from a Facebook account affiliated with my alma mater--which itself usually sticks to lighter topics--and several things in it, and as well in the discussion among our own alumni commentators, caught my attention.

The article is about another article, written by a former student at Amherst College and published in that school's newspaper, about the writer's having been raped by another student in a dorm room, and the college's inadequate response to it. We are informed that the rapist's friends were standing outside the door laughing while he committed his offense, and that 'an underground fraternity...printed T-shirts featuring a cartoon of a bruised, bikini-clad woman roasting like a pig over an open fire'. Allusions were also made in the original article to 'multiple serial rapists, men who raped more than five girls' at the school over the last fifteen years, who despite their crimes being apparently well known, were, it is implied, allowed to continue at the school with a modicum of inconvenience.

My initial reaction, predictably, was surprise, not that so much that rapes were taking place on a college campus, even at a place like Amherst, but that the culture there--especially in the part of the country where I live the school is regarded as one of those occupying a plane of human existence that is incomprehensible to people who have not ascended to that level--should in any of its parts take such a low and artless tone. I also at first glance had the impression that this was all the doing of those usual suspects, jocks,  lacrosse players especially, and this also surprised me because Amherst's athletic program competes at about the lowest level possible and I wouldn't have imagined their players to think of themselves as extra- entitled or superior as a result of their prowess as their counterparts at Duke or The University of Virginia; but on reading the article more carefully, I found no indication that the men involved were in fact athletes. (Still, I think it probable that they were, as the author of the piece indicated that she was an athlete, and female athletes, if they like men, seem to me to be especially inclined to party with male athletes or jock types as opposed to intellectuals of a less aggressive and physically dominant nature, whom I would assume would constitute some significant part of the male student body at a school like Amherst). With regard to the college's handling of the case, they obviously were not comforting or reassuring to the traumatized woman in the least, though it sounds like most of the administrators the author dealt with at least were women, and the president of the college was even a scholar in feminist and gender theory: i.e., the sort of person one would expect to be more than usually sensitive to this issue and eager both to identify and make an example of the perpetrator  and to eradicate all aspects of the social environment that may have encouraged such behavior. As far as I can make out, the opinion of the original writer, and ensuing that of most of the respectable portion of the broader public, seems to be that even if the school had no legal grounds to expel or seek prosecution against the alleged rapist, that it could have expressed more vehement outrage and support for women who are victims of these sorts of circumstances, and taken more forceful steps to show the obnoxious frat crowd that their attitudes and conduct towards the same were not going to be tolerated on campus any longer.

Did I imagine that this sort of thing never happened at my school? Perhaps one does imagine so much of the time, but periodically you will hear whispers, or louder assertions, that such incidents have taken place; sometimes there is even police involvement. My instinctive reaction to all of these, particularly the last, were never what I am pretty sure conventional wisdom would say they ought to have been--if not anger and arousal to ostracize and demand the expulsion from the community of the perpetrator than at least contrition and humility at my own abetment of such crimes by thinking of women as sex objects in my meek but still dark heart, or whatever other general offenses are legion in the run of men of my type. No. They were, in short: 1. hope that whatever happened had not technically been a criminal act. 2. hope that whatever atmosphere or direct expression of feminine anger that could plausibly be aimed at me and hinder my own social interests, feeble as those were, would blow over before too many precious weeks of what remained in the school year (these things always seemed to happen or come out in the spring) had passed by. 3. In certain instances, and obviously assuming #1, I would not exactly feel jealousy toward the man in the case, but I would wonder about his habits and if in his general history this inclination towards forcefulness and perhaps inducing and then taking more advantage of confusion or indecisiveness on the part of the other party than strict propriety would deem acceptable had not in some way served him better in all areas of his life than my approach, whatever it was, was serving me. #2 and #3 are morally disgraceful--my moral upbringing was obviously weak, and my instincts in that realm of life are not especially strong even now--though I have internalized the idea that when it comes to writing at least, one should attempt to tell the truth. One of our alumni commentators on this article, a woman, not from my era (I would guess 6-8 years older just based on something in her overall tone but I really don't know) speaking with regard to sexual assault rather than rape, asserted  that whenever she posed to a group of women from our school the question of whether they had been sexually assaulted while students, a majority would usually say that they had been. That proportion I suppose surprised me somewhat, though if the definition of sexual assault (one was not given) is broad enough to encompass any kind of unwanted physical approach, such as ill-advised attempts at hugging, kissing, groping, etc, that while unpleasant are in many cases probably easily forestalled, I can grasp that it is likely true. If it refers to more violent behaviors, aggressive attacks where no indication has been given of such being welcome, throwing women down on beds and jumping on them, etc I admit that would surprise me more. Even though these techniques, or variations of them, are not unknown in movies or literature, and are often praised when done right for bringing some edge and danger to the work, most men sense that they themselves are not going to be able to bring them off, and therefore refrain from attempting them.

Or maybe not. How big of a fool does one have to be in order that any such statistic confirming the general awfulness of male treatment towards women, especially in upper middle class settings, would be a surprise to him? The problem is this. I am pretty certain that the overwhelming majority of men not from an underclass background--myself included--not only truly believe they have never done anything that would merit the name of criminal sexual assault, let alone rape, but are convinced that the opportunity to commit such offenses, however much they might even feel the slightest twinge from time to time to do so, is more limited for them than it has ever been in human history. How many times in my own life have I found myself alone in a room, or even a semi-private corner of a room, with a female for whom I might have harbored seriously ungentlemanly intentions? It does not seem like very many, and I suspect most men would consider themselves to have had little better fortune--though given that something like 80% of men get some action at some point by their 25th birthday obviously this sense of a dearth of opportunity is in no way absolute; and doubtless there are many who have used even those few occasions to commit an assault of one kind or another. The other possibility of course is that an identifiable small minority of men are perpetrating all these crimes on a majority of the female population at certain exclusive colleges, which to the, for lack of a better phrase, hardcore beta male community, does not focus their attention on the vileness of the behavior so much as to, as ever, invoke the question of "Why are these guys getting so many opportunities to indulge in it?" When you're a proven loser in the erotic arena even if a girl is sitting next to you on a bed in a room in which you are alone at 2 a.m. on Saturday night after 6 hours of drinking, if she is fully clothed and not attacking you or openly beckoning you to attack her, successful consummation of any kind of seduction still seems to be a long way off; multiple things involving the application of skills you do not have and rarely have had occasion to practice still have to go right. Unlike your rivals with their misogynistic T-shirts, you cannot clearly envision what you have to do to attain whatever end it is you desire, or ever have full confidence that if matters come to an extreme point that you will be ready to perform at adequate strength. Most commentary with regard to rape and sexual assault seems to assume that it is easy, practically first nature, for a man to inflict, and perhaps among men deeply accustomed to violence this is true, but this would seem to describe a fairly small minority of the males on a modern day elite or semi-elite college campus. But I guess I underestimate the aggression latent even in apparently meek and spiritless undergraduates.

In any event the majority of these high-profile incidents anyway, as far as the male is concerned, seem to involve men who compared to most of their gender peers are more aggressively sexual, experienced and used to impressing upon women in a kind of unambiguous confusion that sex will be the predominant factor in such relations as they choose to undertake with him, and every second of his time that he permits you to monopolize you are to understand as a tacit acknowledgement of that fact. In the world of sex and courtship there are truly two types of men; men for whom women know and acknowledge that engagment in sexual relations is non-negotiable beyond a certain point of niceties, usually reached sooner rather than later; and men who never force any such idea to enter anyone's mind. Very few men in the second category past about age 18 or 19 can ever move into the first. I certainly could not. And certainly at some basic level they hate the date-rapers nearly as bitterly as women do, while also knowing that they need to be more like them, not to be egregiously criminal but to take risks and go after what they want with a little aggression and a little calm fortitude at least a few times in their wretched lives. This is why many men, I think, who are honest with themselves do not get as worked up in these cases as perhaps they ought to. They do not see themselves necessarily but they see something of themselves that they can hardly despise but in most instances never gained a proper mastery over one way or the other. In my own youth I was perfectly inoffensive, unsensual, in public I was careful to suppress such little energies and petty enthusiasms as I had, I would not/could not engage with all but a miniscule number of women as anything resembling a normal healthy young male human being such as they would have wished me to have been, and what good did that do? There is a real sickness in my soul, and I think a lot of that is the result of suppressing so much physical energy and desire when I was young to the point where I could never be naturally exuberant or comfortable in any physical space with other people, and it only seems to grow worse as I get older.

I've spent two weeks on this topic and I do not know what the hell I think of it. In short it is something like--rape is obviously bad, sexual assault is admittedly bad, but underdeveloped male sensualism, especially in the absence of serious intellectual qualities, is also kind of bad in its own way but how do you present it as such?...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Movies 1972-90 (Is the H.S. Class of '90 America's Great Forgotten Cohort?)


I thought this was my second set of reviews within these exact years, but the other one was 1972-91.

None of these movies are going to rank among my all-time favorites so I am going to try to dispatch of them in a few strokes.

Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)


Well-made, but I found it a little overlong and perhaps a bit stiff. I am beginning to wonder too if the story/source material is perhaps not as great as it seems to promise and that I at least want it to be. I have encountered the story or a variation of it several times now and have never really been able to get into it (I have not undertaken to read the play in French yet, which I think I could still do and get something of the sense of its quality, so I will hold off on a final judgement until I at least attempt that). The premise is good enough, I think, as a starting point, but in execution it comes out rather thin, not fleshed out enough. The two other main characters besides Cyrano are little more than ciphers, and Cyrano's incapacity to present himself as a candidate for love on account of his nose is too inconsistent with his fame and established persona as a literally superior man in the realms of both arms and letters to be believable. However I respect that the story  has been a French classic for 150 years and that it obviously says something to them that resonates. I cannot quite get at what that is however.

Gerard DePardieu's presence in the title role is a plus. Not that someone else could not have done it competently (I'm sure many have done it more competently), but he is the Frank Sinatra or Alec Guinness of modern French cinema, and it seems like he should do a version of as any many classic roles in the national tradition as he can.

The Verdict (1982)


I had never seen this, though I remember it got a lot of hype when it came out. Paul Newman, the experts said, was a shoo-in to finally win the Oscar that had theretofore eluded him (that year's best actor award was won by Ben Kingsley, for Gandhi, which I have not seen but which is talked of with almost breathtaking disrespect by everyone associated with the other top films of that year). It was a gritty courthouse drama, all in all a very serious movie. I was twelve at the time, so none of this made me particularly interested in seeing it, and in fact I had probably not thought about since that time, such oblivion had it fallen into as far as I was concerned, that I was rather shocked when it came up on my list. It would not have meant anything to me in 1982 either that the film was directed by the already venerable Sidney Lumet. Indeed, it does not mean all that much to me today, as the only other picture of his I have seen was his 1962 adaptation of Long Day's Journey Into Night, which was outstanding. Oh, and the screenplay was the work of David Mamet, who would only have been 34 at the time but had seemingly already long won over the esteem and trust of the titanic Hollywood veterans involved with the film. This of course would not have meant anything to me in seventh grade either.

So is it any good? Well, I don't love it, in spite of the persuasive arguments made in its favor in various commentaries about the high level of professionalism and skill that went into making it. It is set in Boston, and much of it was shot there, which provides some interest to me, though it sounds like a considerable amount of the interiors were actually done in New York. I have always found Paul Newman to be a likable star, and I was excited to see that the great James Mason, whom I thought had been already dead by 1982 (he died in 1984, and in fact went on to appear in eight more movies after this one), in a prominent role. I might have been a little more excited by the presence of 60s megababe Charlotte Rampling if her part had been a little less thankless; in '82 it seems, writers were still sorting through what female liberation exactly portended. Probably they still are, but I think the track that it is on at least may be a little less shrouded than it was 30 years ago. The best thing in the whole movie is probably the actor Milo O'Shea's (he played Leopold Bloom in the 1967 Ulysses movie) hairstyle; unfortunately I can't find any good pictures of it to steal.

So what are the problems? Right now I think the movie is passing through the artistic version of a midlife crisis, where everything about it feels ever so slightly dated but it is not old or established enough in what it represents to be a classic. As I have noted elsewhere, I am not a big fan of courtroom dramas, perhaps because I am from the in-between class that is both terrified of lawyers and judges and of being mistaken by the same for one of the ranks of lowlifes from which most defendants are drawn. I did like the depiction of James Mason's modern super-professional cutthroat law firm, with its armies of spies, ambitious underlings, detailed simulations of cross-examination and questioning and coaching of the same, which must be standard operating procedure at any decent law firm but is suggested here to contribute to the subversion of justice. For all that, the presentation of the actual trial seems a little sloppy and not quite authentic. The Paul Newman character is an alcoholic and in a very dark state at the beginning of the film. Usually I find movies about alcoholics attractive--even the Nicolas Cage movie where he drinks himself to death had me thinking 'that didn't look so bad'--but this one was unusually grim. Maybe Paul Newman seems like too much of a winner so it's more disturbing to see him passed out in a cold hallway than it would be a more regular guy. I don't know.

The DVD came with many bonus features, including a bunch of previews of other Paul Newman movies from the 50s through the 80s. A few of the famous ones like The Hustler were included, but a lot of them looked to be in the mediocre to execrable category. From the Terrace, which I have written about here before, and The Long, Hot Summer, which looks to be another bloated melodramatic literary adaptation (though from Faulkner in the latter case), are included. The Towering Inferno, for which Newman at least apparently got paid 12 million clams--I hope Fred Astaire's compensation was somewhat comparably handsome--is here. There was a frigid preview for a 1979 film called Quintet which starred not only Newman but Ingmar Bergman staple Bibi Andersson and our man Fernando Rey whom we were just speaking of a couple of weeks ago, and was directed by Robert Altman, all relatively close to the height of their fame. Seeing as I had never heard of the movie anyway, I am surmising that it did not work. The worst looking one of the whole lot is this monstrosity from 1964. I forget sometimes that most of the popular culture of that period resembles this, which explains how all of these huge and legendary stars (other than Dean Martin, who is in is native element) can actually appear to be comfortable and not in a constant state of humiliation at appearing in this movie:


I have traditionally had a weakness for Shirley Maclaine, though I wonder if it would be able to survive this catastrophe.

Cabaret (1972)


This movie was quite a big deal in the 70s. It won 8 Oscars (though not Best Picture) despite being in direct competition against the Godfather, which is perhaps the most revered of all post-1960 Hollywood movies. Many of the songs in it were familiar to me though I doubt I had heard them in 30 years. And there are a lot of truly remarkable scenes and numbers and performances in it, especially those involving  Joel Grey, whose work in this movie has been often celebrated; but to have heard about how great something is for close to 40 years and to still be more than usually impressed when you finally see it does not happen all that often, so I have to give credit where that is due.

All of this acknowledged, while I think the movie is still respected 40 years on, much in the same way that I respect it, it doesn't seem very beloved. Perhaps that is as it should be, for I doubt it set out to be lovable, but other movies of the time, such as the aforementioned Godfather and something like The French Connection, seem to be lovable in spite of themselves in a way that this is not. The director here is Bob Fosse, whose movie Lenny, made two years after this, I also wrote about here recently. That movie was also pretty good and was well-regarded in its time, but does not seem to have an especially following today. I don't know a lot about Bob Fosse, but the impression one gets from his movies is that he is a skilled director, very smart, probably cynical, probably more than a little nihilistic, sympathetic to people who live in open opposition and antagonism to ordinary society, with all of these qualities slightly more in extremis than is found even in people who nominally share them with him. These attitudes, or at least the forms which they took in him, seem to have been more prevalent in the general population of filmgoers in the early 1970s than they are now. I don't think of myself as being opposed to them so much as they do not do anything for me at the most basic levels. My overarching gut reaction to this movie, I must confess, was that it was gross. Liza Minnelli seems to me so obviously gross that I feel it is a cliche to write it, but evidently there aren't people who feel that way. It was not the sex, not even the homosexuality, nor the poverty that made it gross but the general atmosphere of joylessness. I get that the shadow of Nazism is looming in the background, though at least as depicted here the Cabaret ethos is not a particularly affirming alternative even for people who are young and adventurous. Nihilism is the soil that allows Nazi-type movements to sprout and grow monstrous.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Low Point

I just hit some button inadvertently on my computer and erased three days worth of tapping on a post, which I have been unable to recover. So who knows when I will get anything up here again, if ever. I wanted to keep it up, to keep something up, but right now everything that doesn't involve cowtowing to the needs of some child or other is just hopeless. Yes, I know, I'll be sad when they grow up and all that, and I'm lamenting over losing hours of ultimately pointless writing and pointless anything else I would have done in the same space of time, but it's still frustrating.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

I Blow The Election (Essay)


I guess I had better get my election post up tonight. I have been conflicted on whether I should actually vote anymore or note. My grasp of the issues seems to be feeble, and I'm not sure I even know what kind of society I want to live in or what values are important to me anymore. If you have seen any of those videos where some smart-aleck goes around grilling people on why they are voting for one candidate or another and the people being questioned aren't able to give a coherent answer or supply a single example in support of a general damning statement they have made, at which all of the educated commenters whom the video is aimed at affect to be appalled by the shocking and scary ignorance, I doubt I would be able to do much better. The arguments for the whole process being a sham and a distraction to divert the masses from realizing that some tiny but all-powerful gang of oligarchs will continue to implement policies favorable to themselves at the expense of everyone else in the entire world regardless of which party is in power are also persuasive. However, I still incline to the position that these titans would prefer that I voluntarily give up on voting than that I potentially annoy them, in however miniscule a fashion, by contributing to the election of a candidate who is slightly less satisfying to them than his or her opponent.

It is probably needless to say that I am going to cast a more or less straight ticket ballot for the Democratic party, not based on any particular merits of theirs, but because I do not like the Republican Party's vision with regard to our economic arrangements. Whatever dramatic and inevitable changes in this area may prove to be necessary in the coming years, I really do not want the Republican Party in its current incarnation to have absolute charge of these. It is my personal opinion that the constant fear of the Republicans instituting and vigilantly enforcing a medieval social agenda is overblown. There is a substantial element of the populace and lower potatoes type elected officials who may support this, but it doesn't seem to me that the people really in charge have any interest in banning abortion (I have read in several places that one of the main obsessions of the global super elite is in fact population control), forcing gays back into the closet, promoting patriarchy in the American middle and working class, or whatever else we are supposed to be afraid of. I do not say that this could not happen at some point. I just think if it does, that that will also mean that the Wall Street/Ivy League/Coastal establishment has also been overthrown, and then the game is completely changed  anyway.

I'm not going to go on at length about Romney, though to me his dominant characteristic as a person is that he is really too obsessed with money. Does he think about or have any interest in anything else? The French would be able to say flat out, this narrowness of interest is indicative of a vulgar mind that has no sense of the bigger picture of life, and that is kind of my impression of him too.

The Democratic candidate for governor in my state has not run a very scintillating campaign; her commercials are terrible, she was rather lifeless during the debates, and she has also, according to her Tea Party affiliated opponent, voted for tax increases 99 times during her political career. I have no idea what kind of governor she would be other than that I'm guessing she has no ambitions to eliminate kindergarten and reject federal funds for education and Medicare, which apparently her opponent has pledged to do.

Our Democratic candidate for Congress is a decidedly unlikable woman who comes across as somewhat hostile to men; I will probably vote for her in order to try to keep the Republicans out, though in the long term I don't think the seething and hostile feminist candidate is going to be a good prospect for the Dems if they actually want to win elections.

Although a Democrat, the local candidate for Executive Council is a 33 year old taking his campaign way too seriously, and spending way too much of somebody's money on signs and multiple mailings. He definitely needs to be knocked down a peg or two. I won't vote for the Republican, but I will for either a third party or  maybe I will write myself in

I wanted this post to be better but I am so tired I am not even really anymore at this stage.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Goodbye to Halloween


Nearly  Ran out of time for the modest Halloween party I have been planning.

I can't remember if I have ever gone to a full fledged Halloween party or not. I must have gone to one in college, but no memory of the event stands out. There was a famous one that took place my senior year of high school--even the house where it was held was of the old, dark, spooky, shrouded in giant and spindly trees variety--but you actually needed an invitation to go to it, which measure of quality control doubtless contributed to the higher than usual ton which it sounded like the party attained.


A better video for this song would have been footage of the late 60s era Vikings rushing the quarterback and headslapping and hauling in bombs while diving and sliding into gargantuan freezing mud puddles, but no one has bothered to make one (and I wouldn't know how to, even if I had the time to do such things).



The Ghostbusters theme song has become a Halloween standard in recent years (this sort of recruitment happens when holidays suffer from a shortage of standards. At least it is on the Rhino Records' Halloween Hits compilation.


Not all of Ray Parker Jr's hits adhere to the Halloween theme, but there may not be another occasion to slip this one into the playlist either. When I was in around 5th or 6th grade, a younger boy at school, probably around 8 or 9--he was black, otherwise it likely would not have been hilarious in the least--did a lipsynch version of this song at one of our celebratory assemblies, complete with all the sulky emoting and pelvic gyrations that one would expect of a great performer. The principal, who was a very tough black woman from a family of 22 children whose parents had been sharecroppers in South Carolina or someplace like that, was absolutely splitting her sides, doubled over in laughter, and accordingly most of the other nearby adults were emitting some sign of correlating mirth. It was one of the funnier things of its kind I have ever seen.



There are no good videos for the Martian Hop song either, which is my choice for the most underrated of the Halloween songs, though it wasn't originally written as a Halloween song either, of course, nor were any of these other ones. These products were part of the goofy and highly fecund sci-fi culture of the 1950s and 60s. In contemporary life we do not have much use for these tropes and relics in the service of science fiction, so we have, rather curiously in a sense, adopted them as ready made traditions for Halloween.


This week's hurricane went inland and westward far away from us that we got off fairly lightly. It still rained for a day and a half and a few branches and a couple of sections of the neighbor's fence got blown down, but we never even lost power and the damage in our general area was much less than last year's storm which caused such bad floods in Vermont, including in Brattleboro. Most of my family and a good portion of everyone else I know lives right in the main path that the storm took, but as far as I can tell, nothing unspeakably awful has happened to anyone of my acquaintance, and while Halloween was postponed in New Jersey, judging by Facebook it proceeded right on schedule in Philadelphia and the D.C. area. The impression one gets from the media and the more agitated factions of political commentators is that this is a historical catastrophe, expressed in a general tone that seems unlikely to encourage the kind of unpanicked, sober, responsible behavior in response to the crisis that these sages affect to want. My general sense is that the storm was not quite bad enough to unleash social chaos to the extent that some seem to fear/predict/have a perverse longing for--today's coverage, for example, of the strain the hurricane is putting on the populace featured an account of two women in a housing project getting into a kind of fistfight and the ransacking of a pharmacy, which does not strike me as forboding the complete collapse of civil society. But I am going to wait a few days and see how this plays out.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Movies of the Lost Barry Goldwater Administrations (1965-73)


How short can I keep these? I am reluctant to drop off from keeping a record of them because my lists are about the only area of my life that is at all organized any more, and serve as a kind of placebo for a sense of actual accomplishment.

This really was a good era for movies, and I say that as somebody who was resistant to much of its appeal for a long time. All three of today's well-known selections were ones I had never felt much of an pull to see, but they all have a more than usual interest about and are well worth the time, if you are going to use your time to consume entertainments anyway.

Mean Streets (1973)


Maybe I am the only one, but speaking as a 42-year old in 2012, I had long grown tired of Scorcese and DeNiro, not because I don't think they are any good, but because one gets tired with almost all people who are as constantly ubiquitous for as long a time as they have been. Here they appear before they became 'themselves', and the movie surprised me by how fresh and lively it is.  The subject matter for the most part hints at impending darkness, I suppose, but the darkness is not I don't think what it is primarily concerned with. Johnny Boy (the DeNiro character) is such a knucklehead that he apparently doesn't care about provoking people who are used to resolving their problems with firearms, which relieves the viewer of a lot of the stress of anticipating that eventually happening. It is Johnny Boy's outrageously oppositional attitude that mostly carries the movie, along with its vignettes of other unbounded characters, of places and attitudes of the time, and the collisions of these forces with each other. This is honestly the first movie I have seen as an over-30 in which I actually enjoyed watching Robert DeNiro's acting (though I suspect I would like him in  Raging Bull if I saw that again). Almost all of the actors in this inhabit their roles with an unusual seamlessness and honesty, or at least the ones playing the neighborhood guys anyway. You also believe that their lives are somehow worth having, maybe more than yours, because they seem so self-actualized.

While the film probably exaggerates it, the amount of casual violence and general mayhem, apart from 'business' related matters, that the movie depicts is pretty amazing. At one point Johnny Boy is up on the roof of his apartment building firing his gun off randomly for half an hour, putting out a few windows in the process, apparently without attracting the attention of either law enforcement or annoyed neighbor. He also on at least one occasion assaults and delivers a beatdown to a random person on the sidewalk and leaves him in a bloody heap while other pedestrians just step around the prone body. Women are hit, thrown to the ground and so forth almost as a way of establishing atmosphere and the characters of male protagonists.

The use of 60s girl group songs in the soundtrack is more than usually effective here. Their exuberance and, even in 1973, suggestion of nostalgia, doubtless matches the mood of the filmmaker and the other creative talent, if not the nominal storyline.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)



If you are of that impossibly exalted class of person for whom even the professional upper middle class constitutes in its collective stupidity a source of near-endless mirth, this is apparently one of the most hilarious movies ever made. I think it is interesting in many ways, but it is clearly intended as an inside joke for friends and kindred spirits of the great Luis Bunuel and other instinctive artistic types--it can hardly have been expected to communicate hard truths to the real bourgeoisie, because for the most part they won't have any idea what the hell they're looking at (and won't care) and the people like me who perceive they are being made fun of and believe they would like nothing more than to change and become an irreverent artist/sage/ independent soul or whatever it is they ought to become obviously do not have any idea how one might set about doing so.

This movie actually won the best foreign picture Oscar in its year, to the confusion of all the writers of the time who both presumably liked the movie and had made their name in part by eviscerating institutions like the Oscars as frequently as possible. The choice does seem not to be consistent with most of the other winners in that category even at the time, mainly because it is by Oscar standards so unconventional and even outrageous. I am curious as to what inspired the academy to vote it the award.

I don't have to tell you that Bunuel is one of the most purely revered masters in the history of cinema. I am not going to, and probably can't, break down all of the messages and symbolic layers of this film, but I tell you there are few directors, if any, who project such absolute confidence as well as a lack of any evidence of mental strain or self-conscious effort in rolling out a movie. This guy is psychologically off in another world from just about everybody, at least when he is behind a camera. Although the film about his life that came with the movie gave the impression that he grew up in a village that was essentially medieval until World War I (Bunuel was born in 1900), his Wikipedia page states that his family moved to Zaragoza, which is a pretty large city, when he was four and a half months old, and that they were among the wealthier and more aristocratic families in town, which background makes his eventual artistic attainments seem more plausible. At the University of Madrid he became good friends with, among other future luminaries, Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca, out of which Spanish Surrealism was hatched. The 1920s was a golden age for magical youthful circles in the arts.

One person who is not a great fan of Luis Bunuel is my wife, who has had enough of his take on the world to unconditionally reject it. If you wanted to try to get her to watch one of his films and admit to its genius at this point you would have to try to sneak it past her, which however I don't think you could. I tried it with The Exterminating Angel, Bunuel's 1962 masterpiece about guests at an aristocratic dinner party whose ennui prevents them from physically leaving the dining room, but we only got about a third of the way through the movie before she threw up her hands and broke out in an accusatory tone: "This is that guy, isn't it? You know I can't stand that guy."

While I was watching this--alone--the dear one, who was doing something constructive, such as making Halloween costumes, at the time, came into the room for some purpose, causing me to pause the movie, at this scene:



She: I hate that guy.

Me: Yes, I knew you probably wouldn't want to see this. You have often expressed exasperation with the works of the legendary surrealist Luis Bunuel.

She: No--I mean, yes of course this movie is ridiculous, but I am talking about that actor.

Me: Fernando Rey? Who doesn't like Fernando Rey? The man is all suave sophistication (I stole this characterization, which for some reason struck me as both apt and hilarious, from Billy Friedkin, director of the French Connection, in which Rey also memorably appeared).

She: Ugh. He is slimy. And the beard is so repulsive! (shudders).

All right. I personally think Fernando Rey is great. He is in fact one of my favorite actors. But I suppose I should be glad that guys like this are not openly at least potential rivals in love for me, because I certainly can't beat them on their own ground.
 
Among the bonus materials there is some lovingly documented film footage of Bunuel ca.1970 mixing martinis on some kind of urban balcony or patio. I'm going to keep this in mind as a beginning prop or motif if I ever decide to do some video blogging.

Repulsion (1965)



This movie was never high up on my list of things I was eager to see, if it was ever on it at all, but having seen it I rather like it. Of course, I love this part of the 1960s, before everything became dirty and ugly and everyone became so adept at expressing how much they hated society and everyone in it apart from a few transcendent super-people. That accounts for part of it. Also it is set in the cool London of the time, and if not of the city itself, with a Polish director and French leading actresses, it was of that cool quality at least. I realized in watching this that this is a kind of story and style of direction that for whatever reason, probably because it resembles the way I experience life, I really take to. A small number of characters who have limited interactions/connections with other people, as well as an equally limited range of actions, these almost all routine in nature, which are drawn out enough in the film to attain heightened significance, such that the whole world of the film is equally appealing and disturbing enough to sustain interest.

I have to admit I am developing a certain amount of fascination with Roman Polanski both as an artist and an alpha male, which he certainly was/is. (I am of course aware of the terrible crime that he is accused of, and probably guilty of; it is a deficiency both of my soul and intellect that I can form neither strong opinions nor passions, either objective or subjective, in matters of punishment where crimes are concerned. Therefore I am going to consider my subject without pretending to feel an obligation to opine on what ought to be the outcome of his legal situation. Also, I strongly suspect that the percentage of prominent men in the film industry in this generation who technically committed crimes of a sexual nature, especially by today's standards, even if not as thoroughly degoutant as that Polanski is accused of, is probably fairly high, the point being that if a faultless history of socially acceptable sexual conduct on the part of the primary makers become required to enjoy watching a movie with an easy conscience, there won't be too many good films left to watch). He is short and not, I don't think, by conventional standards especially handsome--I know these things do not matter where the personality and intellect are legitimately strong, but in most instances where the latter are not the former are counted as serious deficiencies. But time after time, in dealings with powerful and, by the standards of normal people, almost unfathomably egotistical men, and beautiful and in some instances famously difficult women, he establishes his superiority over them and persuades them as it were that they must do as he wishes if they in fact want to continue to pass themselves off as whatever it is they think that they are. Most successful people have absolute confidence in their abilities and the propriety of their attaining to the most prominent heights in their field, as well as the will to impose themselves wherever they perceive it to be desirable or necessary, without much concern for possible negative consequences. In Polanski these qualities seem to be even more developed than in the run of celebrated artists.

The presence of Catherine Deneuve, fresh off of her iconic presence in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, here in light makeup as pretty much the embodiment of naturalistic 1965 blonde beauty, brought up the question, never really explored in depth on this site, of who my all time favorite French actresses would be. To which the answer is, I don't really know. There is among us a class of sophisticated male cinephile who, not finding his counterpart in sophistication, or perhaps just general adult maturity, in American women, movie stars and otherwise, seems to think Jeanne Moreau or, if he is really feeling good about himself, perhaps Anouk Aimee, would be the true girl for him. The contemporary or near contemporary analogue to these legends as far as highly civilized erotic appeal goes seems to be Juliette Binoche, or maybe Isabelle Huppert. One of my old college classmates, who was desired by many women but deemed very few acceptable to his standards, allowed 1980s vintage Beatrice Dalle to be at least worthy of consideration, which was no small concession coming from this gentleman. Then of course there is always Brigitte Bardot


Who else is there? Isabelle Adjani, Emanuelle Beart, the current French superstar (are they like white college basketball stars, you get about one every few years?) the truly delightful Marion Cotillard, and her immediate predecessor Audrey Tautou, you can go all the way back to Arletty...I don't know, it's just so gosh darn hard to get to know them as people, Catherine Deneuve maybe especially. You want to like to her but...can you? What exactly is there? This is going to take some time to figure out. I am not clear on my real feelings for anyone yet, other than that I think I like Cotillard and Tautou the mostest (have they been globalized/Americanized by their generation so as to become more accessibly palatable to us?) and Binoche and Moreau, whom I just cannot warm up to, the least.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Survey of Cities I Will Likely Never Visit


Sometimes when I have exhausted, or been exhausted by, my usual rounds of internet reading and cannot think of any other search possibilities that are likely to turn up anything that will excite me, I cast about for blogs by old graduates of my alma mater, not because there will almost always be a sympathy there--in fact this is almost never the case--but because the likelihood of finding one is still much greater than it is around any other association. With me it is perhaps a sympathy rooted in the sadness of having entrusted one's impressionable mind and youthful enthusiasm and affections to the influence of a cult whose relation to the outside world, insofar as it can be positive, was however always well beyond the capacity of one's understanding. Still, a sympathy is a sympathy. Anyway, such sites as I am referring to in this roundabout way are naturally scarce. The most common type of St John's blogger seems to be an ecclesiastic of some kind whose deepest concerns are with arcana of biblical scholarship and religious doctrine such as would not have been out of place in the 17th century (minus the enthusiasm, expressed at least, for having their theological adversaries put to the torch). There are comparatively few post-Great Books lifestyle bloggers such as myself. One I have found that was pretty good, though the site appears to be defunct now, is the Carfree Family blog, which was about a pretty diehard St John's couple with children who lived in Santa Fe for seven years without a car. Recent circumstances seem to have forced them to reluctantly rejoin automobile culture, which transition also has had the effect of ending the blog by stripping it of its governing theme. I do not know these people, as they are a few years older than I am--3 or 4, it looks like--and they went to the Western campus. Their environmental consciousness and dedication to an anti-corporate diet and overall lifestyle are a lot more thorough and strident than I would probably be able to endure, even if my wife had turned out to be the kind of person who demands such things, which one never thinks about as a desperate 20 year-old; but still, if I strain my antennae for the identification of fellow members of the brotherhood, there is a recognition of some faint and highly subtle--highly--kind, whether of taste, or thought process, or comparative restraint/ underdevelopment of the ego, that suggests a relation.

The object of this extravagant introduction is a rather minor observation that this writer made about being forty-five and therefore considering himself to be at about the midpoint of his life. This struck me as remarkably optimistic. It is impossible for me to imagine myself living to anywhere near the age of 90, and even 80 seems a stretch. It is not that I am particularly unhealthy, but I am a large-framed person who probably has a larger than average heart (this was true even when I weighed 160 pounds) and men like that often drop at some point before their mid-70s, and I don't think I have ever seen a 90-year old with my body type. And even if I were to live until 90, I know of very few people who have been able to live either physically or mentally in a manner that I would find at all tolerable much past 75, and almost all of those people were 1) considerably wealthier than I am, and 2) very intelligent, and very educated, in both cases much more than I am. I am sure there are exceptions, but one cannot count on the likelihood of his being an exception in any situation where that is what will be required of him to attain it.

Obviously then, I consider myself to be well past the midpoint of my own life, and as such, reveling as I do in a state of endless anhedonia, I often muse on the rapidly-dwindling number of days that remain to me and the various that it is increasingly likely I will never do and never will have done. For example I have begun of late to think on all of the famous cities I will probably never see, as well as those I have seen but likely won't see again. I decided to make a post estimating my chances where various of these are concerned. I have not taken the time to develop or research a formula that would provide more statistically accurate figures, so if you are wondering how I came up with a probability of 30% for such and such a place, that is based on nothing but a comparison with other cities and my perception of the ease and expense of getting there and indulging in tourism there. Below the 50% threshold I suspect my numbers here are much higher than a professional statistician would determine them to me.

99%+--Boston

Unless I am killed in a car crash or murdered or drop dead of a heart attack within the next couple of weeks, I will probably make it to Boston again, as it is only an hour and a half away, and I even often have a practical excuse or even necessity to go there, though the advent of online shopping has certainly curtailed these occasions from what they once were too. Indeed my son just went there today with his school on a field trip. So assuming I live a normal life span, I should still have many trips to Boston left me. Perhaps one of my children will even go to college or live there at some point, which thought actually cheers me up a little bit, though perhaps this is a pipe dream in the new economic reality--between the relentless bad news on that front and the New York society papers I have started to become resigned to the idea that my children will likely flunk out of community college, never leave home or have a career and take crystal meth all the time; but even in the harshest foreseeable reality that probably won't be the case for at least a couple of them, right?

97%--New York 

I usually drive through several times a year, though of late I have had intervals of 3-4 years without making it out onto the streets. I always plan at least one annual multi-night trip, even if I don't make, and really I should go down 3 or 4 times a years. It is kind of a disgrace to live this close to one of the super cities of the planet and have been in it as little as I have over the years. I have often lamented that when I have gone there that I have never quite found, I wouldn't call it peace, but a sense of contentment at being in the moment. I have not connected with the great New York themes and experiences. Something has always thrown me off just a little. I have never felt that I had enough time, or enough money, or found a hotel, a neighborhood, a bar, a restaurant, a theater, or any kind of scene where I have been able to feel like I was fully involved or taking part in the life going on around me, which is a level I feel I have gotten to in some other relatively cosmopolitan places. All this said, the likelihood that I will be back at least one more time is overwhelming, though I am getting to the stage of life where taking two or three year intervals between visits begins to become a real risk.

92%--Washington, DC

The frequency of my visits here is dwindling with every decade, but I still make it down to the area every couple of years. It's near where I went to school, and I am familiar enough with it that it's more likely than with some place I've never been to that I will make a pointed effort to get there sometime in the next few years to show my older children the monuments before they are out of high school. The last couple of times I have been there, during which I spent a combined time of about four hours, I have not been able to escape without receiving expensive and to my mind dubious traffic citations in the $200-300 range. One was for parking on the street near the mall in a space which was marked "2 hour parking 8AM to 4PM". In most of the rest of the country, this would indicate that the parking hours were unlimited outside of those hours unless specified but in Washington apparently this can mean that there is no parking after 4pm. Since every car parked on the street at ten minutes past four had a ticket on it and the towing was commencing apace--I was lucky in this that I happened to have parked in the middle and they hadn't gotten to me yet--I am confident that the signs were deliberately deceptive, which is very low policy, and whoever's idea it was to implement it  ought to be ashamed of him or her self. On the second occasion I made the foolish decision to cut through town on 295 on my way to Florida to enliven the journey a little--about a 20 minute detour--and about a month afterwards received a notice that my car had been recorded traveling 68 miles per hour or some such speed by a camera that is doubtless expertly positioned to catch speeding violators. I find this to be a very dark and bad practice. Part of being a civilized society is to recognize that in certain matters having the ability to do certain things does not mean that we ought to do them, and I think it is very telling that it is in our capital cities, where, supposedly, the very smartest and most qualified to wield power of the entire nation are concentrated, that these types of oppressive technologies seem to be most enthusiastically utilized.

89%--Montreal

I haven't been now for three or four years. I have the impression that the whole family, including the children, need passports to drive into Canada now, though I haven't bothered to take the time to investigate the matter thoroughly. My older boys who fondly remember our former visits there ask from time to time if we are ever going to go back. We used to stay in the "family room" at the youth hostel there, which is a very nice one, with a excellent cafe (craft beer on tap!) and lounge/game room. I fear I am starting to get old for youth hostel bedding, but the atmosphere at this particular place is pretty cosmopolitan, which I like the children to be exposed to.

75%--London

Maybe I am being overly optimistic, but as it is still quite easy and relatively inexpensive to get to from where I live, and the odds are that if I ever go anywhere overseas again, this is likely to be the first or second stop.

73%--Chicago

No reason, other than that it is big, not terribly far away, and seems not implausible that if I live another 30 years I might at some point have a reason to go there.

72%--Paris

Maybe a few points high, considering that I have only managed to get there twice, and one of those occasions only being for a day and a half, in 42 years, but like New York, I have only had a handful of in-the-moment Paris epiphany type moments, though the source of my dissatisfaction with these, which all came on my second visit, is that my time there was necessarily so brief and harried. I was I think starting to tap into some real Paris type thought and sensory reception motifs, but I could never linger over them as I would have liked. And my poor first visit when I was twenty was just sad (that is to say I was even a sadder excuse for a person at the time than I am now, and Paris dealt with me as such).

66%--Prague

Also probably too high, but it still does not seem real to me that I would never go back again.

60%--Rome

I'm pretty optimistic about making it back to Rome, as it is a (probably deceptively) agreeable and easy place to visit. Because of the age and layout of the fairly large tourist area, and the apparent lack of a charmless and overwhelming area dedicated to mega-business in the same, the city seems smaller and its pleasures more accessible than they probably are. Plus I threw a coin in the Fountain when I was there before on a suitably romantic and beautifully unhurried evening, so I have to make it back, don't I?

55%--Venice/Florence

If I can make it to Rome, there is no reason I can't make it back to these places again. I am rating my chances of returning to cities I have already been to higher because I am already familiar with the logistics of getting to and moving about in them, so it is easy to imagine getting back to them. I have not been to Spain, for example, so all the warnings about language barriers and gypsy thieves and the need to be assertive with waiters and hoteliers that the guidebooks are full of tend to be, not daunting to me, but a cause for mild consternation; however the same books give similar warnings with regard to Italy and France and other countries I have been to and I have generally found myself able to cope with such situations as have arisen; and if I can cope with something, you can be assured it must not be any very serious matter to begin with.

43%--New Orleans

I don't know why. I feel like I keep getting closer to it, and someday I am just going to take the final plunge and go there. It doesn't sound like a place where I would have very much fun, as I am generally an inhibited person who is uncomfortable around gregarious 'character'-type people--in other words, I am unfriendly--and I don't know how much I would be able to partake in and appreciate the food and other aspects of sensual culture, which seems to be essential to the experience. But I think it is possible I could enjoy myself if  my time there progressed in a certain course amenable to my being able to relax some of my learned habits of despair and hopelessness and the like in the face of other people engaging enjoyably in life.

38%--San Francisco/Los Angeles

I find it hard to believe I will never go to California, but the years keep passing, and eventually they will run out. It is plausible one of my children could live there at some point, which could provide the impetus for me to go out there; at the same time if they are successful, or trying to be, they might be adamant about cutting off all contact with me, I might be too low to move in such circles as they will have ascended to, and so forth. I understand how such things work, and that it might be necessary. I won't complain endlessly like my mother's old neighbors who slaved to put their daughter through Princeton and which daughter now won't call or allow them to visit her in Manhattan or wherever she lives.

32%--Las Vegas

I would still love to go and partake in the nihilistic partying even at my decrepit age, though I would probably not be able to find my scene. If I do ever go there, it will likely be a very short stop while passing through to get to somewhere else. It is almost assured that nothing will take place that will have to stay there.

30%--Athens/Edinburgh/Vienna/Madrid

I would put the chance of my going to at least one of these places at over 50%. These strike me as the easiest places to get to among the cities I have never been to. Maybe the figure for Athens is overly optimistic.

28%--Naples/Berlin

Similar to the group just above but a notch below in burning desire to get there (at present; desires change frequently).

27%--Munich/Amsterdam

The third tier of this general group.

22%--Budapest/Krakow

Of the places I have been, these strike me as the least likely I will ever return to, though I hope that isn't the case.

21%--Seattle/Vancouver

Again I am ranking high because of the eventual possibility of child relocation. I'd like to see these places, but it is much less clear to me what there is for adults to do as tourists in American cities than in Europe, where the path to an enjoyable day or evening with some sense of flow to it is laid out somewhat more obviously.

18%--Copenhagen

I would like to go here, but as it is very expensive, not essential, and a little out of the way, it is bumped lower down than some of the other cities.

14%--Lisbon/Barcelona

Lisbon suffers from a similar problem to Copenhagen. Barcelona is probably the great European tourist city I am least keen on visiting. I think this is because it is promoted as being a vibrant modern kind of place, with hip attractions and street life and all the kinds of things that are directly opposed to the kind of guy I am. London also tries to do this, but I know what and where all the old stuff is there, so I am usually not unduly affected by it. But especially in Spain I would be there to take consolation in the picturesque relics of a dead world. I may secretly wish to be capable of enjoying and interacting constructively with cutting edge pan-European architecture and international class fusion cuisine; but the truth is, I probably am not.

11%--Moscow/St Petersburg

Not looking good now for me to ever get to Russia.

10%--Istanbul/Jerusalem

My problem at the moment is not so much money (though I don't have enough certainly to drag all of my children around to the great cities of the world for months and years on end), as time. I do not have any in the present, and I am running out of it in the future. That is the only reason at present for my not having been to these cities.

8%--Cairo 

Number too high, but I want to stretch out the list. Tourism to Egypt has apparently withered to almost nothing since the recent revolution and continued troubles there. The place has been a mecca for visiting European types since Herodotus, so it is hard to imagine it will continue as a rarely-visited destination in the future. The demographic, political and economic situation there presently is so explosive however that it very well may for a while.

7%--Honolulu

I can't imagine I will ever actually get here--tiny tropical islands thousands of miles distant from any continent rank among the locales that hold the least general appeal to me. However, it is part of our country, I'm not opposed to going there, and perhaps someday the opportunity will present itself.

6%--Mexico City/Melbourne/Sydney/Buenos Aires

Of course I would like to go to all these places, though I don't know much about them, other than that in Buenos Aires they eat lots of steak and it is supposed to be like a cheaper mini-Paris. Psychologically they are, at the moment, very remote. My world, sadly, has become very constricted, and I am not sure how to expand it again.

5%--Rio de Janiero/Tokyo/Kyoto/Beijing/Mumbai

Same as the last group, only even less psychologically accessible.

4.5%--Shanghai/Calcutta

In my perception, the backup cities of China and India.

4%--Hong Kong/Delhi

And here the number 3s.

3%--Seoul/Marrakesh/Teheran

There just isn't enough time, unless I can rapidly figure out how to triple my income while working 3 fewer months a year. If I were to spend just three nights in every city above these in the list, that would take up 147 days. How many days do I have remaining to me, while in a reasonable state of health, for traveling of any kind? 400 maximum? The real probabilities here for everything below Las Vegas are about a tenth of what I've listed, i.e. the actual number for Teheran is more like 0.3%.

2%--Dubai/Macau/Bangkok/Perth/Singapore/Cape Town

1%--Sao Paolo/Lima/Osaka/Tianjin

Less than 1%--Lagos /Jakarta/ Manila/ Karachi/ Dhaka/ Kuala Lampur

Southeast Asia is the area of the world that I have always had the least interest in visiting. I know it is supposed to be spectacular and it is likely that if I went there, as long as nothing terrible happened to me, I would probably think it was great. My romantic imagination is not captivated by it in the same way it is by other places. The southeast Asian jungle and vegetation, I must admit, strike me as the ugliest and most unpleasant earthly landscape there is, and the climate is highly unappealing as well. I don't even want to think about what the insects must be like (in New England our modest and harmless bugs are all going away right about now and we won't see them again until April or May, which is fine with me). But none of this is to say that I would not go there, or that I would be miserable, or at least no more miserable than I am generally.