Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More Pocket Movie Reviews

I'm going to go through these so fast you won't believe it.

Everlasting Moments (2009)

Swedish movie about a woman trapped in a difficult marriage who finds some kind of release through taking photographs. I actually liked it, though that has to be taken by the reader with a few caveats as regards my personal proclivities. 1. It is set during the 1910s. 2. It takes place in Sweden, and is all about Swedish people (and one Danish guy), whom besides being attractive I also relate to relatively easily as far as temperament, gloominess, the nature of the climate they have to live in, level of intellectual energy, etc. 3. The director was Jan Troell, who has been directing films since the mid-1960s and was 78 when he did this. In other words, he is working in a paradigm that is familiar. This movie reminds me of something that would have come out around 1987.

I am glad to see they are still making feature films in the Swedish language, especially given that country's outsized tradition in that art. I had thought maybe with global economics and the defection of all top international talent to the identifiable centers of economic dynamism in their respective fields, that the worldwide market for movies in Swedish centering around, if not small, then relatively subdued themes, would no longer justify the expense not only of making them but of developing the talent to make them. Of course Jan Troell is old and has international prestige, so he may be a dinosaur who has the cache to carry on. He also went to Hollywood for a few years back in the 70s, though it sounds like he didn't like the dynamics of how he was allowed to work there and came home pretty quickly.

This was another Roger Ebert pick, though in this instance I think a good one (I identify the Roger Ebert selections because he is a much more generous critic than the other books I have, which rated this movie for example as low as 2 1/2 stars).

ER: Series Premiere (1995)

This was actually very good. It is the first episode of the long-running TV show, which I have otherwise never seen. I am guessing it was a two hour program, cut down without the commercials to about a ninety minute movie. Maybe because I have worked in a hospital for sixteen years I find medical movies more inherently interesting at this point than courtroom or police movies, but the way they did this was effective, it gave a sense of an environment that is, like it or not, at the very center of human activity in contemporary life.

Yes, I did like the no-fool-suffering, first in her class, relentlessly professional and oh so cute lady doctor.

Poltergeist (1983)

The first of two blockbusters from my childhood I was certainly well aware of but had never seen before. Poltergeist seems to me quite dated. The animating spirit behind it does not resonate with me, and probably would not have at the time either, though it does seem that the public was more easily frightened by movies in those days than any sensible person would be now. A few of the forgotten early 80s artifacts were interesting to see, such as those horrible shag rugs everybody had that always smelled bad because of the dogs. My parents were the kind of cleanliness fanatics who even in 1983 didn't allow people to smoke or bring dogs into the house--other people regarded them as strange--so I always thought everybody else's house that we went to smelled awful, though only of their generation. The houses of people my grandparents' age I always thought were great, even though they smoked just as much as everyone else did. Maybe the smoke mixed better with the older rugs and tables. I had also forgotten how the television stations would just go off the air at one or two in the morning and there would be static for 4 or 5 hours overnight. That must have ended almost right after this movie was made though because by '87 or '88 when I was at the end of high school and staying up late all the time there were reruns or movies or infomercials and the like going on all night.

I also like how when their daughter is zapped into another dimension that the family doesn't go to the police or seek out credentialed experts in radio waves or black holes or whatever but call on exorcists and spiritual mediums to deal with their problem.  

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

As I've mentioned before I never saw the Star Wars movies as a kid, even though I was right in the primo age group to have become enveloped in the cult, and I find as an adult I really cannot get into them at all. On of my movie books has rated all six of the Star Wars movies, including the 3 new ones that everybody hated, at 5 stars. Well, one down at least.

I was ten when this came out, and even though I never had a great clamoring to see this, or any other movie, at that time, it is kind of surprising to me that I was not at some point taken to see it anyway, only because it was such a huge deal. I know my father thought they were stupid, but his opinion on anything did not seem to carry much weight with anyone besides me. Anyway, I am inclined to agree with him now.

I did enjoy seeing Billy Dee Williams, whose appearance brought some much needed interest, or humor, or even implied humor, to the movie (though I kept waiting for him to crack open a Colt 45).

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Famously dominated the Oscars in its year, as time goes on a fairly legendary one in the annals of film. The other best picture nominees that year were Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, and Nashville. The other best director nominees were Fellini, Kubrick, Altman, and Lumet. This of course was directed by Milos Forman, probably the most famous figure to emerge from the Czech new wave of the 60s who emigrated from that country after the crackdown of 1968. I have to admit, I have a lot of affection for this movie. It is absurd, but that is after all, largely the point. The sensibility of life as essentially absurd is a strong current running throughout the Czech mindset, which impresses itself upon the outside observer as bitterness tempered or cut through in places with a rather charming whimsy. This is the best I can explain the quality with which I think Milos Forman infused into this movie, which I'm sure would have been very different, and probably less likable, in the hands of another director. Also, I like to think that maybe I share something of this outlook on life, though it has not assumed as clear and definite or appealing a form in me as maybe it has in intelligent Czech people.

I am tempted to get some of the music Nurse Ratched was fond of playing in the ward (such as the number above) to put on for my children. It is actually quite calming, and while I am worried about them turning into passive zombies wholly lacking in any initiative like I am, I think there are much greater threats in that way than elevator music, which naturally would be interspersed with strident, commanding selections from Beethoven and the like.   

Everyone who sees this now makes the same observation, but it is remarkable to think that this was a major Hollywood production and was very popular commercially. Or was considered popular enough.

Little Big Man (1970)

I'm not sure what to make of this movie, which I knew nothing about before it turned up on my list. I will probably need to see it again sometime. At some moments I felt like it was interesting, at others I wondered if it were one of those 'you had to be there' late 60s/early 70s movies (I stole this description, which I found humorous, from a prominent and outstanding movie blogger who seems to be about my age). I had trouble concentrating my attention on it all the way through. It is a long, sprawling, picaresque Western-type of movie, similar to a type of novel that was popular at the time, massive, detail and fact-stuffed, full of goofy and somewhat irreverent incidents often featuring historical personages, the John Barth, John Gardner type of book. The director was Arthur Penn, who had done Bonnie and Clyde and Alice's Restaurant in the three years prior to this, so he was at the short-lived, but quite productive, peak of his career. Dustin Hoffman was the star, playing a rather strange role as a white man who, starting as a child, keeps getting captured during the wars between the white men and the Indians and living as a member of whichever society he happens to be in the fold of at the time until he gets captures again in the next war. Faye Dunaway is also in it, playing an even more bizarre character. It's 1970, so Dustin Hoffman has a decent amount of situationally interesting sex come his way even though he is neither particularly looking for it nor seems to merit such unasked for bounty. George Custer is a fairly major character, and a good one. Wild Bill Hickok is almost depicted, though he is not as effective as the Custer character. I think I will give it a year of two and see it again.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Why Won't People Just Give Up the Humanities and Put Themselves and the Rest of us of Our Collective Misery?

Last week was a busier one than usual for scientists ridiculing people--mainly academics--whose learning and accomplishments, if they can even be called as such, are confined to the soft realms that usually go by the name of the 'humanities'. First, noted provocateur Richard Dawkins was wondering why the Nobel Prize for Literature was never be awarded to a scientist or science-oriented writer, but was always bestowed on people who wrote about 'things that never happened'. If you actually read the interview, he is not really all that hostile to literature itself perhaps so much as to a certain fairly sizable class of cognitively limited people who fetishize it. He does take a dig at Jane Austen, that he doesn't care about who is going to be married to whom and so forth, but it's not like that has never happened before. Emerson said pretty much the same thing ("The one problem in the mind of the marriageableness; all that interests in any character introduced is still this one, Has he or she money to marry with, & conditions conforming?")* and much worse besides. I personally think Pride and Prejudice deserves is one of the best and most important novels, deserving of its central place in the tradition, etc, but minds of the most extreme masculine bent do seem to be pretty consistently resistant to its charms. Since a lot of scientists, as well as Wall Street financiers and top economists fit this category and in the current climate hold status as the smartest and most effective people in society, when they go around casually kicking out in one sentence various pillars on which the humanistic tradition is built and declaring that reading any novel constitutes a major descent in content and intensity of thought from the kinds of things they are wont to muse about while shaving, this has the effect of arousing the sense of panic that is already latent in certain embattled English professors and the more impoverished and 'underemployed' of their former students. This form that this panic takes is something along the lines of course of 1: All of the people with power, money and good jobs will be persuaded that I am stupid and treat me accordingly; 2: I actually am stupid and totally deserve to be treated this way,that progress and evolution in fact demands it; 3: The life that I have led has been demonstrated by science to have been pointless and in fact not even to consist of any measurable or identifiable knowledge or thinking that is real; 4: I could not even attain my dream of being one of these joke intellectuals that scientists can expose as charlatans in a couple of sentences. Why haven't I killed myself already?

Dawkins's provocations were mild however compared to Daniel Dennett's (and John Brockman's) chest-pounding, all-out smackdown of the modern liberal arts, whose practitioners are informed in so many words that the progression of thought and knowledge has blown so far beyond them that they don't even have the capacity to perceive how puny and ridiculous their ideas of what constitutes these things are. Indeed the liberal arts people are so clueless that the scientists can whip out 20 year old insults to lash them with that scarcely need to be updated ("A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s"--perhaps you could stick in gender studies and Derrida for Marx and Freud--I wouldn't know, I never even made it to that 1950s level). This is followed by a merciless upbraiding in which Dennett lacerates the humanists for being completely ignorant of enormous advances made by science in the understanding of concerns that have occupied philosophers for thousands of years and supposedly constitute the primary personal and professional obsessions of the humanists' lives:

"Those who want to be taken seriously when they launch inquiries about such central philosophical topics as morality, free will, consciousness, meaning, causality, time and space had better know quite a lot that we have learned in recent decades about these topics from a variety of sciences. Unfortunately, many in the humanities think that they can continue to address these matters the old-fashioned way, as armchair theorists in complacent ignorance of new developments."

The comment sections in these articles are even worse. I was hoping someone might say they had once met somebody who was not a professional scientist who struck them either as intelligent or admirable in some way or who had an acceptable understanding of any scientific principle and had incorporated it into their own field in an interesting manner. But no one seemed to have had any experiences of this type. All they could feel for the mental prospects of anybody outside the field was disdain, with at best a kind of hard pity for the futility that would forever accompany all their efforts to appear intellectually substantial and relevant in the 21st century.

That said, all this is not a new development, of course. Your poets and speculative philosophers have had to adapt and react to advances in scientific knowledge since at least the days of Galileo and Copernicus. They had more leisure to make the transition--the advances came at a slower rate in general, and a poet might not receive the news that say the earth rotated around the sun for a generation or two, especially if he lived in some wild place. The geological discoveries of the middle 1800s dating the age of the earth at several billion years shook the confidence of many traditional thinkers in their own methods (moreso, in my observation, than the subsequent writings of Darwin did, though these too had a huge impact), and in the earlier part of the 20th century physicists (or, more usually, their champions) were lording it over outdated collegiate dons and ineffectual would-be artists that their skills and visions of life were obsolete. Aldous Huxley, who seems to have had some understanding of science, though probably not enough to be considered legitimate by a real scientist, wrote some of the more effective critiques of the worldview and arrogance of the scientific community I have ever come across during this time, which I hope to write more about sometime in another post. As an ongoing problem (or threat) this is much more of an issue for academics than for artists, who are primarily concerned with interpreting the experience of being human in a more penetrating and dynamic way than it is usually perceived to be. If the rapid increase of knowledge and outlook by the prime movers in society and the changes in attitudes this requires is bewildering to 99% of the population it is actually the place of some part of art to interpret and respond to this bewilderment. It is implied that this is not the case with theoretical philosophy and literature and history as academic disciplines, however. As the concerns of these are with truth and truth alone, and as the methods of science are by far the greatest tool at man's disposal for penetrating to the truth about things, or nearer to it than philosophic or poetic thought or pure reason itself has ever been able to get, even with regard to logic and morality and time and the conception of will and other ideas that seem to have their origins in human mind and language, these disciplines must acknowledge the discoveries that science has made therein, accede to them even though supposedly their practitioners are unable to understand them, and desist from further making fools of themselves by looking at these problems and going on about them in the same way as they have for the last 400 years.

I need to wrap this up as briefly as possible. 1. Most intelligent people who are non-scientists adapt to the new ideas once they are able to have some sense of the truth under consideration and what it signifies. It is natural to resist what one does not understand if one wants to function as an autonomous thinking person. It appears to contain in some sense a purer reason than even the most elegant propositions and syllogisms produced by theoretical philosophy, but this is folded within an extremely esoteric language, training and attitude towards the meaning of truth that is not as easily translated to more regular language as it seems it should be. 2.The humanities constitute a legitimate and important body of knowledge, but it is a slow knowledge as far as progress goes, which I guess puts it at a disadvantage in the modern world, where people are not impressed by anything anybody had to say about anything 20 years ago, let alone 2,000. When I was in school in the early 90s my college, which is an admittedly extreme case, was just getting around to tentatively accepting that the writers of the 20s--Proust, Woolf, Joyce, Kafka, Eliot, etc--were important...

I have to stop. I am still having awful issues with my computers. I guess I have to do something about it.

*Of course Emerson's opinion of Jane Austen was not in his case an argument for the general worthlessness of literature as a tradition or ongoing endeavor.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pictures From North Conway (White Mountains) Trip

Clearly, somebody wants my blog to die. Of the three computers I could use, one doesn't allow me to get into the site far enough to write anything new, one crashes about a minute after I get logged in, and the third obnoxiously covers half of the writing space with advertisements that I can't get rid of as long as I stay on the writing page. This third one is the one I am writing on now. I will give this situation a couple weeks to correct itself. If it doesn't I guess I will have to find somewhere else to carry on. Obviously I need to feel like I am in the game somehow, in whatever paltry degree. As I tap this out I am eating Utz potato chips and Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA--8.3% alcohol content--out of Frederick, Maryland, where F Scott Fitzgerald is buried. Such is the degree of anxiety these hindrances on my ability to write my blog are causing me. 

I had a leftover block of days off at the end of the summer and as we had not gone on any big trip this year everybody was up for going away overnight for a couple more days. I looked into going back to Maine to one of the beaches, but we had been to Maine a lot by that point, so I decided to go up to North Conway in the White Mountains. This area is only about two hours from where we live and we usually go up 2 or 3 times a year on day trips, but this was the first time we had ever stayed overnight. Our hotel was around 3/4ths empty, which I thought was unusual considering that it was the middle of August. But now that so many schools and colleges start around August 20th, the season really begins to die by the middle of the month. This is ridiculous, of course, everybody says so, but I have only noticed the acceleration of this trend over the past 4-5 years. 

1. Outdoor Model Railroad at an Attraction That We Visited. This place was kind of a scam but the children liked it, and it is decidedly homemade, old-fashioned and non-corporate, and I appreciate that the proprietors only have so many days in the year to generate income. Still, when I think of things I did not see when I was in Europe as a younger person because I couldn't bear to part with $10, and compare it with the amounts I throw away to try to give my children a few happy memories of their childhoods now, it is astounding. 

2. This Picture Pretty Much Says It All. The deal with this train ride was the shadiest bit of business in the whole package. They weren't able to sell tickets for the ride on this toy train, because that would qualify this establishment legally as an amusement park, and they would have to get permits or pay more taxes, or something. So they have a table set up in their gift shop full of overpriced junk souvenirs, and if you buy a kid a souvenir, they are entitled to a ride on the train which does not affect the legal status of the museum. I don't understand it. Anyway, I am holding one of the souvenirs that enabled us to go for this ride. Despite all of these shenanigans, I have happy memories of this day. The owners were from Switzerland, the German part, quite old, who had been all over the world and decided about twenty-five years ago that of all the places they'd seen they wanted to retire to North Conway, New Hampshire and collect train memorabilia. All of the little buildings and animal silhouettes on the train route here were made by the guy. Any artistic value they might have would have to be considered under the 'folk' category.

3. The Station, Along With Most of the Other Outdoor Buildings, Has Seen Better Days. It just makes it seem that much more authentic. 

4-6. Pictures From the Indoor Model Train Museum. I stayed outside with my two smaller children and didn't go into this part. My nine year old got the camera and took about forty pictures of all the displays.

Passenger trains in New Hampshire have been pretty much extinct for 50 years now. They revived the Boston to Portland line in the late 90s and that train makes a couple of stops at school towns (Exeter and Durham), and the New York to Montreal train goes along the Connecticut River stopping at Brattleboro and White River Junction, Vt, which are right across from New Hampshire, and sometimes it slips across the river at one point and stops at Charlestown, NH. But that is about it.

7. It Couldn't Be All Light Amusements. We Did Some Hiking Too. This was an easy trail though, and was outside the National Forest, the higher mountains of which can be seen in the background. This place was called Black Cap Mountain. This summer was not an ambitious one for hiking because of the alignment of the children's ages. We had a four year old who was hiking fully on his own for the first time, as well as a two year old who still had to be carried all the way and who was a lot heavier than she was as a one year old. We also have a six year old who doesn't like hiking at all and is very vocal about the fact, though he is a very robust hiker.

8. View Looking Southeast. Those mountains in the distance are probably in Maine.

9. Another View of the Scene On Top of the Mountain. This is about the most vanilla hike you can do in that area, but it is still pretty beautiful when you get to the top.

10. Near Zeb's Nostalgic General Store, In the Town of North Conway. There are two nostalgic general stores on the same block. On one of them, there is a sign on the door that says: "You are now entering the past. Please turn off your cell phones, etc". This was cute and the store itself did invoke a sense of the past, despite being overcrowded. I noticed that they still had security cameras though.

11. Lunch Counter at Zeb's. The White Mountains area is a National Forest, not a National Park like Acadia or Smoky Mountains are, which distinction seems to be important to a lot of people, though to me they all seem to function pretty much the same. North Conway is the commercial and traffic clogged center on the edge of the park akin to Bar Harbor and Gatlinburg, and falls between the two on the class scale. North Conway attracts a fair share of affluent people, but it also has quite a bit of kitsch, and a lot of vulgar family oriented attractions like water parks, miniature golf, rides, rope climbing facilities, etc (all of which we of course have indulged in from time to time) that Bar Harbor largely does not have. Needless to say it does not have all of the Jesus and guns and you-mess-with-me-you-mess-with-the-whole-trailer park humor kind of stuff that they have in Gatlinburg. I suspect North Conway would be pretty gay-friendly, though Bar Harbor appeared to have a prominent and well-defined gay scene, or community, or whatever you want to call it, from what I could make out. I think the traffic is actually worse in North Conway than in Gatlinburg.

12. Watching the TV in Our Little Suite. This room was actually kind of nice. I was a little paranoid about the hotel at first because everybody else who was staying there seemed to be fat and covered with tattoos and I thought that must reflect badly on us (no stylish gays would deign to stay at a place like this). But it was perfectly fine.

Now that school is back in session and everybody is busy again and the cooler weather is imminent (though it was 92 degrees yesterday) I am sentimental about our little summer trip. That said, autumn was always my favorite season, only at this time of my life I'm usually too busy to appreciate it much, unfortunately. It will go by in a flash and if I'm lucky I'll have a couple of days where I am able to feel something of the emotions this season used to arouse in me when I was younger.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Favorite Women of Art #15

Otto Bacher--Nude Outdoors (1893)

We haven't done one of these in a while. This girl reminds me of somebody I used to know. We'll call her J. Of course I did not know her like this. Otto Bacher was an American Impressionist. This painting is in Cleveland, which is supposed to be a truly world-class art museum. I admit I was looking through a bunch of art books looking for something to fit in with this series, but I waited to be spontaneously excited in fidelity to my current state of mind, and I am satisfied that is the case here..

I am having a devil of a time just getting onto this site lately, let alone actually writing. I had been able to get on a crippled version at work (hard to link, etc, but I could type at least) for a few weeks, now I can't even get in. My computer at home is dying, so it's a crapshoot whether I can even get on the internet at all without being instantly thrown off. I could go to another blogging site, and maybe I will have to if these problems aren't resolved, though I would hate to lose the continuity and ease of access to my vast archives. On the other hand, I could start a entirely different blog--Bourgeois Triumph, or I'm More Creative and Intellectually Alive Than All of the Other Writers on the Internet or something like that, with a revamped attitude and more vital content. I need to get my computers working at a 21st century level though. Is it time to invest in a tablet, just for my personal use? Seriously, I need to be able to reliably access and write on the sites that allow you to do those things, which I don't have, well, these last two days.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Brief Notes on Some Comments (James Baldwin)

My weekly posting.

I got a couple of comments this week. I don't get many comments--four so far this year, one in 2012 (and that all of seven words)--so it was a pretty momentous occasion. The commenter(s) didn't think much of something I wrote about James Baldwin five years ago. That is fine, I looked over what I wrote and while the introduction was a bit silly, the rest of the piece does not strike me as unreasonable or even disrespectful. In any event the criticisms directed at me were neither particularly coherent nor devastating. However, some of the things that were said interested me, and I wanted to briefly address them.

The childishness of my opinions was emphasized, twice in fact, though specific examples were not given. I don't feel childish when I am alone, but as this is the impression I make on most serious people above the age of seventeen or so, despite all that I have done to try to combat this shortcoming and give myself some gravitas over a period of many years, I must face the possibility that I don't have whatever quality people have that enables them to read and think out important things with perception and maturity. I must confess though, when I got bogged down writing this paragraph I cleared my head by watching a couple of numbers from On the Town on Youtube, which is not exactly an argument in favor of my having any kind of mind that is to be reckoned with.

The commenter accuses me of paying too much attention to what other critics have said about James Baldwin. I don't recall having ever read anything about James Baldwin. He is not at this point, and has not been for most of my reading life, someone who is talked about as a literary figure very much. Indeed, if I am coming to similar conclusions as other readers of a certain type, perhaps it speaks to something that is actually there. I do not deny that the man was courageous, or that he did not accomplish meaningful things in his life, or even that I did not like his first two books, Go Tell It On the Mountain, and Notes of a Native Son, both of which are well worth reading, though I do think Another Country was pretty bad. However, childish as I am, I have still read a thousand or so books in my life, most of them 'literary' in nature, and I also have spent a decent amount of time trying to write, and based on this experience, Baldwin displays some limitations as a writer that really jump out at you compared to other authors. Maybe these limitations are not important in the grand scheme of Baldwin's career, perhaps they are not even real, and I am blinded by certain biases related to my situation in life that have nothing to do with Baldwin's literary plan--I am not a scholar, after all. I am basically a person jotting down hasty impressions in a diary, or better, a journal. There is a way to do that well.

In my notes on Baldwin I was really thinking of him purely in a literary/artistic context and his place and relations in that universe, which is how I tend to perceive reality, interpret history, and so on. His status as a public figure or civil rights champion did not really factor much into what I was writing.

I am usually criticized for being over-reverent of authors. This is a change for me.

The writer pointed out that a number of black icons such as Malcolm X, Toni Morrison, etc, would probably not agree with my assessment of Baldwin, which, I might add, was not actually either bad or dismissive. It is hard for me to imagine a scenario where I could sit down with the likes of Malcolm X and Toni Morrison and say anything I genuinely believed or thought that would be enlightening or pleasing to them however.

The commenter closes by saying that I owe Baldwin (or maybe they really mean someone else) an apology. Do dumb readers whose offenses mainly consist of an inability to understand a celebrated (and dead) author's work even have the capability of insulting him? I don't think so. You have insulted your readers, if you have any, or teachers, or whomever, by wasting their time with falsehoods, and maybe you owe them an apology, which they can convey to Plato or James Joyce or Baldwin or whomever by understanding them even incrementally better than they did before. And can an inferior mind offer a legitimate apology to a great one anyway? Not really.

I am tired this week. I wanted to spend a little more time of this, but I have no concentration. I think I am more manic/bi-polar than I had realized. I notice that my moods and energy really swing back and forth. This week I am on a down cycle.