Friday, March 31, 2017

Next Group

It's been at least a couple of months since I saw these as well. I'll try to remember what I wanted to say about them at the time.

Divided We Fall (2000)

Czech World War II movie that involves the hiding of an escaped Jew by a married couple in his former neighborhood, but for those accustomed to the highly moralized approach that Hollywood usually applies to this subject, this may seem an original and slightly more intricate examination of it. European movies, and especially those made in the eastern countries, are pretty loath to depict anyone in the occupied territories as heroic, or motivated by heroic impulses, at least as the Hollywood mindset conceives of what form this would, or should have taken. I had seen this shortly after it came out--I was at that time still just a few years removed from my time in Prague and eagerly sought out any new Czech movies that made their way to this country--and I had forgotten how good it was. It is the kind of thing that does not sound that good if you try to explain it broadly. Within the apparently standard and perhaps even tired framework there is a lot of inventiveness that I did not anticipate, in part no doubt because I am so conditioned to regard the events of this period of history through the lens that American sources have usually insisted on their being understood. This is not however the way that artists, and presumably a significant portion of the sentient population, in most of the European countries seem to understand it however.
I like this picture because it is reminiscent of every dining room in Prague I had the pleasure of being invited to for drinks. 

I must have watched this just after the election because it was around the time that people on the Internet were asking if anyone would "hide them" from Trump's white Nazi supporters when they were imminently unleashed. Of course I have no sense that anything of this sort is really gearing up, at least for educated upper middle class people, and therefore cannot bring myself to take such alarms very seriously, though if people genuinely feel that they are facing this kind of existential danger from the current government, I am about the last person who is going to be able to persuade them otherwise. Given the advances in surveillance and detection technology, apart from the already established custom in this country of SWAT teams, etc, being able to kick in your door and tear apart your house if they consider they have a good enough reason, I'm not sure that hiding anyone for any amount of time nowadays is terribly plausible, especially if you have already committed to doing it on Facebook. Perhaps if you have truly been existing completely outside of legitimate society, banks, identity papers, taxes, and so on, it is possible to lose yourself in the fabric of the country, but that situation applies to few of the more vociferous members of the Resistance. Now, if some kind of government orchestrated genocide is implemented, and many of the intended victims are not able to get out of the country beforehand, the futility of the gesture will still not excuse slamming the door in the face of the persecuted and leaving them to their fate in order to preserve yourself, but one of the insights of the better sort of Holocaust art, usually, I find, a product of the smaller and poorer European countries, is that if things really come to that point, almost no one has a clear sense of what might be demanded of them or how they are going to respond to particular situations that arise. Especially someone like me who just doesn't have the righteousness and fire and hatred of my political enemies that I guess are going to bear other people through whatever transpires.

That said, I acknowledge that our current societal order is clearly exhausted, and needs some kind of rebirth or reorganization. My personal exhaustion, however, is increasingly of everyone who has no sense of humor and no appreciation for any of the things that I appreciate, or am able to appreciate, no matter what their politics are. ...    

Jupiter's Wife (1995)

Documentary about a mentally ill homeless woman in New York who claims among other things to be Jupiter's wife. This probably seemed like an interesting idea in 1995, but the development of all media in the ensuing years, at least for this type of story, makes it seem rather quaint now. The main problem is that the subject (by which I mean the woman) is not that interesting. The filmmaker did manage to find out who she was and that she had a conventional suburban upbringing, attending high school on Long Island in the early 60s and that she had once driven a horse carriage in Central Park for which she had been featured in newspaper articles and TV spots, as being a girl driver was evidently considered unusual at that time. However, she was much more strange than brilliant, and her adult life and spoken thoughts had little evocative about them, at least that I can remember. The movie is also shot on videotape which further adds to the tired effect, the 90s being now at that distance from us that its negative qualities still carry force in the present and not enough time has passed to make many charms peculiar to that time readily jump out at us.

New York City was still quite dingy in 1995 compared to what it is now, or at least what it was the last few times I was there, when Bloomberg was still the mayor. Most people claim that they liked it better when it was dingy, but I much prefer like the way it looks now, at least the older parts that have been preserved and restored to some of their former charm and grandeur, to the way it looked all through the earlier part of my life. I am certainly sympathetic to the claims that the character of the city at the street and boarding house and library reading room and cafeteria level has been negatively impacted by the ever increasing demands that the immensely wealthy of the entire world make on Manhattan especially, which has had the effect of pushing out most of the people who were sort of like me, if there were ever any such people, which will make anybody upset. It does seem to me to be becoming more remote as an aspirational destination for ordinary young (i.e. not Wall Street bound) Americans who have to earn their own bread, which would obviously be a terrible cultural loss, for them. Of course, it isn't like the city is lacking for people, or younger people, it is just more daunting for those whose main ambitions there are to loaf around reading books, walking around the streets for hours on end, drinking beer and looking at girls, and who live in denial and fear of the forces and necessity of capitalism and enterprise. Who it goes without saying are not reckoned much of a loss by anybody but themselves.

Bizet's Carmen (1985)

This is a film of the famous opera, but not of a stage performance, the singers and actors are out in the open air in various locations around Andalusia. This worked better for me than a stage performance would have, I actually feel like I got something out of seeing it, though of course Carmen is famous for being an opera popular with people who don't know anything about opera, or music, or culture, and probably food, wine, sex, and whatever else there is that is worth knowing, but I am peace with this aspect of myself now. The famous opera star Placido Domingo is in this. I don't recognize any of the other stars by name, including Carmen herself. Even though I obviously have not spent much time in my life in Europe, this production conveys something of the spirit that I felt the first time I was there in 1990 that I have often written about, before the hyper modern strands of global economics and mass migration had set in, and more people seemed to live according to the rhythms and habits more traditionally associated with their particular country or region. Since the contemplation of this was an especial joy and inspiration to me in my youth, it always revives my rather deadened soul a little to be reminded of it again, though I wish I could anticipate some such excitement in the future. As the trend however seems to be for everything to be changed and transformed into some more efficient or exalted version of itself in which most people have less and less of an active part to play, it's not clear what there is for any non-superperson to be excited about.
The Grey Fox (1982)
I believe this movie is categorized under the genre of "Canadian Western", though much of it is set in Washington and Oregon and it stars the well-known Hollywood actor Richard Farnsworth, who plays the gentlemanly real-life outlaw Bill Miner, famed for pulling off Canada's first train robbery (I noted on my Twitter account at the time that train robbing was a crime that has really gone out of style). I liked the mood of this, which is somewhat surprisingly quiet and understated given its subject matter. It mainly takes part in the rainy, heavily forested, and at the time in which the movie was set (1900-1910 or so) practically uninhabited Pacific Northwest, on both sides of the border, and Miner spends a lot of time living in the woods or lying low in sleepy frontier towns. The conflict in the story is that Miner, while intelligent and charming enough to be well-liked by such relatively cultivated people as he is able to encounter who don't know who he is, is unable to "go straight" and live an honest and respectable life, but has a constant compulsion to return to his life as a notorious criminal, in which field he has attained the notoriety and grudging respect due to accomplished practitioners that most men of spirit crave. It is a good, if relatively uncelebrated movie that I had to watch on a VHS tape before Christmas, though now that my wife has gotten Amazon Fire TV I will probably need to seek out VHS copies ever less and less now. This is perhaps one of the last ones I will ever watch in that primitive format.
Three Sisters (1970)
Adaptation of the Chekhov play by Laurence Olivier and a number of other familiar names from the British stage of that era, including Joan Plowright and Alan Bates. Notable for being the last movie that Olivier directed, though he would continue acting of course almost up to the end of his life in 1989. I have not read the play, and I wish I had had more familiarity with the story before seeing the movie, since I have to confess that I increasingly have trouble keeping up with British stage productions with regard to the pace of both the story and the dialogue. Of all the really great authors whose stature pretty much everyone agrees, I think Chekhov may be the one of whom I have read the least. My various lists and games surprisingly have not thus far turned up anything by him apart from The Cherry Orchard, which is consequently the only work of his that I have read. I thought this movie, though (another) British interpretation of an obviously Russian play, was very beautifully done, and took a subdued and yet unaffected tone that the material called for that I am not sure a contemporary production could pull off. Also, as I get older I am increasingly interested in films made right around the time when I was born (1970), since that time seems more and more to belong to another age, particularly in the cinema, where nearly half of the form's history has occurred in my lifetime, and it is reassuring to me, who is so sidelined mentally from contemporary currents of life, to reconnect with the more recognizable world I was born into. This applies to the next movie on the list also.

Louise Purnell, the actress who played the beautiful youngest sister Irina, was so beautiful herself in this that I feel the need to commemorate it here, especially she does not seem to have gone on to do anything else notable in films, and does not even merit her own Wikipedia page. Still, she was once exceptionally beautiful in a high end Chekhov production, and that is not nothing..

Medium Cool (1969)

Somewhat falsely advertised as more of a documentary than it in fact is (though there is some documentary footage in it), this is more accurately a rumination on the state of society that was made in a documentary style, culminating in the real-life events around the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968. Its director was a man named Haskell Wexler who I think it is safe to say could be described politically as "Old Left". He just died in 2015 at age 93, which was too bad, since he was still active within this decade, the special features on the Criterion DVD including a film he made at an Occupy Wall Street rally which it was obvious he was hoping would reveal some hints of an incipient inspiring movement of the people akin to those of the 60s (needless to say, it didn't). The '68 movie is concerned with the mass media's control and distortion of the narrative and the effects it had on the public perception and understanding of everything, activism, the youth culture, the poor community of Appalachian transplants in Chicago, suburbanites arming themselves, politically aroused and confrontational young black people, the eternal class struggle. A very different and interesting movie, probably would reward more than one viewing (I was nearly halfway through it before I realized most of it it must be scripted). Recommended.
I liked this lady in the yellow dress, who played a rather sweet Appalachian woman from West Virginia. I have always had a little bit of a thing for girls from West Virginia since I went to basketball camp (at Morgantown) in high school and thought 'I wouldn't mind partying with some of these cuties.' Of course you hardly ever meet anyone from West Virginia outside of the state itself, at least I don't remember that I ever have.

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