Wednesday, July 30, 2008


When I come across quotes or a few lines I enjoy, I often copy them down in a notepad on my desktop. Here are some of my more recent additions:

"Literature is about trying to capture the one or two moments in your life when your heart opened up." - Camus

"Everyone does what they can to avoid thinking. Laziness is the most basic human trait. People don't want to think -- they can't make the connection between entertainment and thought, they want immediate kicks. People will not be human until they get pleasure from thought. Only a thinking person can be a full person." - Vera Chytilova.

"We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." - Orwell

"Our reality is what it should be, not what it is." - His Day of Glory, Edoardo Bruno

"I liked, as I like still, to make words look self-conscious and foolish, to bind them by the mock marriage of a pun, to turn them inside out, to come upon them unawares. What is this jest in majesty? This ass in passion? How do God and Devil combine to form a live dog?" - Nabokov

"What I find particularly embarrassing are films about artists. Most films about artists must be made by people who would have paid Van Gogh not even an ounce of tobacco for a picture but only half an ounce, and later would have regretted even that because they realized he would have sold it even for a pipeful of tobacco. In films about artists the suffering of the artistic soul, the poverty and the wrestling with the demon, are always put in the past. A living artist who has run out of cigarettes, can't even buy shoes for his wife, is of no interest to film people because three generations of nincompoops haven't yet confirmed that he is a genius." - Heinrich Böll

* * *

Interviewer: In Cannes, American journalists were outraged that the film [Manderlay] shows black people collaborating with their oppressors.

Lars von Trier: Danny Glover plays a good black man whose pure humanity puts him in league with the slave owners. But this is exactly how fascism works and how it was implemented in the concentration camps. If everyone was fighting for their own lives, the Nazis had a problem. But as soon as someone with good intentions entered the camp, they had a powerful instrument of manipulation. That's when the trading begins: "Okay you can kill these two old women, but not the children". Well-meaning people are dangerous.

(This, it seems to me, is what's happening with the entire planet now. We're trying to save our(future)selves only by looking to make fair trades.)

* * *

Bresson: A book, a painting, or a piece of music - none of these things has an absolute value. The value is what the viewer, the reader, the listener bring to it.

Interviewer: There is a difference between value and meaning. We can disagree about the value of a film and still agree on what it means.

Bresson: There are people who when seeing Diary of a Country Priest feel nothing.

Interviewer: But that's their fault. That's not the fault of the film. There is a German proverb: "If a jackass stares into a mirror, a philosopher can't look back."

Bresson: Unfortunately, the public is used to easy films. More and more this is true.

* * *

"Baby boomers won't stop being ridiculous. Baby boomers aren't going to grow up. They'll be 80 years old and people will still be listening to Hendrix and talking about the night we levitated the Pentagon. They're not going to let go of it. There's not going to be that moment when everybody sort of says, "We suck so much. We were so savvy and we sold out." There's never going to be that moment for baby boomers.

Baby boomers are going to go to their graves believing that they ended racism. They really believe that. But I think there are certain neighborhoods in Chicago where if you asked people they would say, "No, I think there's still a little bit of work that needs to go on."

It's not like when 11 percent of the "greatest generation" voted for George Wallace. That's not so great. That wasn't so nice. That wasn't such a fond moment. The greatest generation was nasty to minorities.

The baby boomers aren't nasty to minorities. They just ignore them. I suppose that's progress. It's better than lynching people, but it's not like you ended racism. It's just the whole [baby boomer] idea: "Well, we drove LBJ from office and we drove Nixon from office and we ended the war in Vietnam. That's enough. We're done. Can we see the dessert menu?" - Joe Queenan

Monday, July 28, 2008


help me eros poster
Over the years, Lee Kang-Sheng and Tsai Ming-Liang have managed to create a unique kind of cinema where everything seems to slowly and subtly become fetishized: holes, toilets, clocks, silence, noodles, watermelon, sickness, plants, water, fish, television, cinema screens, an urn, etc. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of using a (mostly) fixed camera to observe people in their everyday activities, a technique that leads us to wonder if we're truly ourselves only when we're alone.

My first encounter with Tsai was What Time Is It There?, and I still remember the scene where Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-Sheng) gets up in the middle of the night and urinates into a plastic bag. I couldn't believe it; other people do that too? (In my case I use plastic water bottles instead of plastic bags; I'm not a heathen like Hsiao-kang.) Since then I've made it a point to see everything Lee and Tsai are involved in, and out of that pledge I've been rewarded with many masterpieces.

Help Me Eros, the second film directed by Lee Kang-Sheng (his first, The Missing, has yet to turn up on DVD), marks Lee as a director with considerable talent and creativity. He certainly owes a lot to his mentor Tsai (who also worked as production designer on Eros), but his acting and presence are such a huge force in Tsai's oeuvre that he has secured himself as an original artist in his own right. The bulk of Tsai's work establishes grey, green, and blue flooded cities of alienation and ennui (with its inhabitants looking for meaningful human contact) while Help Me Eros is a cotton-candy colored cityscape of alienation and erections (with its inhabitants looking for meaningful human contact).

Like The Wayward Cloud, Help Me Eros contains a few scenes that make the entire film worth seeing even if they happened to be the only good things in it (they're not). The best parts of it reminded me of the fantastic images and scenes from the very best surrealist erotica except, with the surrealists, things would often get so out of hand that everything would start floating right off the Earth. In Help Me Eros the images seem to cling ever so slightly to reality in a way that never forces us to question whether or not anything in it could (or would) really happen. This seems to make the world we live in just a little bit more fantastic.

Lee Kang-Sheng's sophomore film is a welcome reprieve from the boring and mundane way in which sexuality and loneliness are treated in the majority of mainstream cinema (if they're treated at all). No, the film is not perfect - some of the metaphors are a bit overstated, and overall the compositions aren't as magisterial as Tsai's - but it still makes me want to build concrete sculptures of Lee Kang-Sheng and place them on every street corner. Or fountains in the middle of city squares that, instead of dripping water, blow out quiet cigarette smoke.

help me eros picture

help me eros lee kang sheng

help me eros

help me eros lee kang-sheng

help me eros film

help me eros

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help me eros movie

Saturday, July 26, 2008

How can we ever read a poem when someone is always in the next room vacuuming?

Bertolt Brecht - To Posterity


Indeed I live in the dark ages!
A guileless word is an absurdity. A smooth forehead betokens
A hard heart. He who laughs
Has not yet heard
The terrible tidings.

Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
And he who walks calmly across the street,
Is he not out of reach of his friends
In trouble?

It is true: I earn my living
But, believe me, it is only an accident.
Nothing that I do entitles me to eat my fill.
By chance I was spared. (If my luck leaves me
I am lost.)

They tell me: eat and drink. Be glad you have it!
But how can I eat and drink
When my food is snatched from the hungry
And my glass of water belongs to the thirsty?
And yet I eat and drink.

I would gladly be wise.
The old books tell us what wisdom is:
Avoid the strife of the world
Live out your little time
Fearing no one
Using no violence
Returning good for evil --
Not fulfillment of desire but forgetfulness
Passes for wisdom.
I can do none of this:
Indeed I live in the dark ages!


I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger ruled.
I came among men in a time of uprising
And I revolted with them.
So the time passed away
Which on earth was given me.

I ate my food between massacres.
The shadow of murder lay upon my sleep.
And when I loved, I loved with indifference.
I looked upon nature with impatience.
So the time passed away
Which on earth was given me.

In my time streets led to the quicksand.
Speech betrayed me to the slaughterer.
There was little I could do. But without me
The rulers would have been more secure. This was my hope.
So the time passed away
Which on earth was given me.


You, who shall emerge from the flood
In which we are sinking,
Think --
When you speak of our weaknesses,
Also of the dark time
That brought them forth.

For we went, changing our country more often than our shoes.
In the class war, despairing
When there was only injustice and no resistance.

For we knew only too well:
Even the hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.

But you, when at last it comes to pass
That man can help his fellow man,
Do not judge us
Too harshly.

Friday, July 25, 2008

an unfortunate discovery

In Google images I was searching for a picture of Jean Cocteau that involved a star, and sadly all I learned - with this knowledge filling up the majority of my screen - was that Claude Cocteau is the name of a porn star.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Decline and Fall of Work

Here is chapter 5 from Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life that I've turned into a slightly more interesting hypertext. The book is essential reading and I find it to be better written and more worthwhile than Debord's Society of the Spectacle - a book I only read while engaged in the art of defecation. (Only 40 more shits to go, and I'll be done!)

The obligation to produce alienates the passion for creation. Productive labour is part and parcel of the technology of law and order. The Working day grows shorter as the empire of conditioning expands.

In an industrial society which confuses work and productivity, the necessity of producing has always been an enemy of the desire to create. What spark of humanity, of possible creativity, can remain alive in a being dragged out of sleep at six every morning, jolted about in suburban trains, deafened by the racket of machinery, bleached and steamed by meaningless sounds and gestures, spun dry by statistical controls, and tossed out at the end of the day into the entrance halls of railway stations, those cathedrals of departure for the hell of weekdays and the purgatory paradise of weekends, where the crowd communes in a brutish weariness? From adolescence to retirement each twenty-four-hour cycle repeats the same shattering bombardment, like bullets hitting a window: mechanical repetition, time-which-is-money, submission to bosses, boredom, exhaustion. From the crushing of youth's energy to the gaping wound of old age, life cracks in every direction under the blows of forced labour. Never before has a civilisation reached such a degree of contempt for life; never before has a generation, drowned in mortification, felt such a rage to live. The same people who are murdered slowly in the mechanised slaughterhouses of work are also arguing, singing, drinking, dancing, making love, taking to the streets, picking up weapons and inventing a new poetry. Already the front against forced labour is forming; its gestures of refusal are moulding the consciousness of the future. Every call for productivity under the conditions chosen by capitalist and Soviet economics is a call to slavery.

That it is necessary to produce is so obvious a fact that even a hack like Jean Fourastié can easily fill a dozen tomes with proofs of it. Unfortunately for neo-political economists, the proofs they adduce are nineteenth-century ones, harking back to a time when the misery of the working classes made the right to work analogous to the right to slavery, as claimed from the dawn of time by prisoners about to be massacred. Above all it was a question of surviving, of not disappearing physically. The imperatives of production are the imperatives of survival; from now on people want to live, not just survive.

The tripalium is an instrument of torture. The Latin word labor means 'suffering'. We are unwise to forget this origin of the words 'travail' and 'labour'. At least the nobility never forgot their own dignity and the indignity which marked their bondsmen. The aristocratic contempt for work reflected the master's contempt for the dominated classes; work was the expiation to which they were condemned for all eternity by the divine decree which had willed them, for impenetrable reasons, to be inferior. Work took its place among the sanctions of Providence as the punishment for poverty, and, because it was the means to a future salvation, such a punishment could take on the attributes of pleasure. Basically, though, work was less important than submission.

The bourgeoisie does not dominate, it exploits. It does not need to be master, it prefers to use. Why has nobody seen that the principle of productivity simply replaced the principle of feudal authority? Why has nobody wanted to understand this?

Is it because work ameliorates the human condition and saves the poor, at least in illusion, from eternal damnation? Undoubtedly, but today it seems that the carrot of happier tomorrows has smoothly replaced the carrot of salvation in the next world. In both cases the present is always under the heel of oppression.

Is it because work transforms nature? Yes, but what can I do with a nature ordered in terms of profit and loss, a world where the inflation of techniques conceals the deflation of the use-value of life? Besides; just as the sexual act is not intended to procreate, but makes children by accident, organised labour transforms the surface of continents as a by-product, not a purpose. Work to transform the world? Bullshit. The world is being transformed in the direction prescribed by the existence of forced labour; which is why it is being transformed so badly.

Perhaps man realises himself through his forced labour? In the nineteenth century the concept of work retained a vestige of the notion of creativity. Zola describes a nailsmiths' contest in which the workers competed in the perfection of their tiny masterpiece. Love of the trade and the vitality of an already smothered creativity incontestably helped fifteen hours of effort, which nobody could have stood if some kind of pleasure had not slipped in. The survival of the craft conception allowed each worker to contrive a precarious comfort in the hell of the factory. But Taylorism dealt the death-blow to a mentality which had been carefully fostered by archaic capitalism. It is useless to expect even a caricature of creativity from the conveyor belt. Nowadays ambition and the love of a job well done are the indelible mark of defeat and submission. Which is why, wherever submission is demanded, the stale fart of ideology makes headway, from the Arbeit Macht Frei of the concentration camps to the homilies of Henry Ford and Mao Tse-tung.

So what is the function of forced labour? The myth of power exercised jointly by the master and God drew its coercive force from the unity of the feudal system. Destroying the unitary myth, the fragmented power of the bourgeoisie inaugurated, under the flag of crisis, the reign of ideologies, which can never attain, separately or together, a fraction of the efficacy of myth. The dictatorship of productive work stepped into the breach. Its mission is to weaken the majority of people physically, to castrate and stupefy them collectively and so make them receptive to the feeblest, least virile, most senile ideologies in the entire history of falsehood.

Most of the proletariat at the beginning of the nineteenth century had been physically diminished, systematically broken by the torture of the workshop. Revolts came from artisans, from privileged or unemployed groups, not from workers shattered by fifteen hours of labour. Significantly, the reduction of working time came just when the ideological variety show produced by consumer society seemed able to provide an effective replacement for the feudal myths destroyed by the young bourgeoisie. (People really have worked for a refrigerator, a car, a television set. Many still do, "invited" as they are to consume the passivity and the empty time that the "necessity" of production "offers" them.)

Statistics published in 1938 indicated that the use of the most modern technology would reduce necessary working time to three hours a day. Not only are we a long way off with our seven hours, but after wearing out generations of workers by promising them the happiness which is sold today on the installment plan, the bourgeoisie (and its Soviet equivalent) pursue man's destruction outside the workshop. Tomorrow they will deck out their five hours of necessary wear and tear with a time of "creativity" which will grow just as fast as they can fill it with the impossibility of creating anything (the famous "leisure explosion").

It has been quite correctly said that "China faces gigantic economic problems; for her, productivity is a matter of life and death". Nobody would dream of denying it. What seems important to me is not the economic imperatives, but the manner of responding to them. The Red Army in 1917 was a new kind of organisation. The Red Army of the 1960s is an army such as is found in capitalist countries. Events have shown that its effectiveness remains far below the potential of a revolutionary militia. In the same way, the planned Chinese economy, by refusing to allow federated groups to organise their work autonomously, condemns itself to becoming another example of the perfected form of capitalism called socialism. Has anyone bothered to study the approaches to work of primitive peoples, the importance of play and creativity, the incredible yield obtained by methods which the application of modern technology would make a hundred times more efficient? Obviously not. Every appeal for productivity comes from above. But only creativity is spontaneously rich. It is not from "productivity" that a full life is to be expected, it is not "productivity" that will produce an enthusiastic response to economic needs. But what can we say when we know how the cult of work is honored from Cuba to China, and how well the virtuous pages of Guizot would sound in a May Day speech?

To the extent that automation and cybernetics foreshadow the massive replacement of workers by mechanical slaves, forced labour is revealed as belonging purely to the barbaric practices needed to maintain order. Power manufactures the dose of fatigue necessary for the passive assimilation of its televised diktats. What carrot is worth working for, after this? The game is up; there is nothing to lose any more, not even an illusion. The organisation of work and the organisation of leisure are the blades of the castrating shears whose job is to improve the race of fawning dogs. One day, perhaps, we shall see strikers, demanding automation and a ten-hour week, choosing, instead of picketing, to make love in the factories, the offices and the culture centers. Only the planners, the managers, the union bosses and the sociologists would be suprised and worried. Not without reason; after all, their skin is at stake.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Forgotten Giants: Ramón del Valle-Inclán

"Gradually, my eyes closed from sheer weariness and the monotonous, regular lapping of the water finally plunged me into amorous dreams, feverish and restless, a representation and symbol of my life. I woke up at dawn with my nerves jangling as if I had spent all night in a hothouse amongst exotic plants giving off rare, penetrating, aphrodisiac perfumes. Above my head, I could hear the sound of confused voices and the flap of bare feet, accompanied by much splashing and coming and going. It was the time for sluicing down the deck. I got out of bed and went up to the bridge. There I stood breathing in the light wind that smelled of tar and seaweed. The heat at that hour is delicious. You can feel voluptuous tremors in the air; the horizon laughs beneath the lovely sun." --from Spring & Summer Sonatas, Ramón del Valle-Inclán

* * *

"Ramón del Valle-Inclán (1866 - 1936), a great novelist and dramatist practically unknown outside of Spain, from about 1920 onward developed a style of dramatic writing that he called esperpento (the grotesque or ridiculous), in which the world is depicted as inhabited by tragicomic, almost mechanically actuated marionettes. As Valle-Inclán explained it, the artist can see the world from three different positions. He can look upward, as if on his knees before it, and present an idealized, reverent picture of reality; he can confront it standing on the same level, which will lead to a realistic approach; or he can see the world from above -- and from this distant vantage point it will appear ridiculous and absurd, for it will be seen as through the eyes of a dead man who looks back on life. Valle-Inclán's esperpentos, notably Las Galas del Defunto (The Gale of Death) and Los Cuernos de Don Friolera (The Horns of Don Friolera), written about 1925, are bitter caricatures of life in which deformed and ugly lovers are pursued by witless and ridiculous husbands while the rules and mannerisms of society appear as mechanical and dehumanized as machines gone mad and functioning in a void." --Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (1961)

"Some critics view him as being the Spanish equivalent to James Joyce; however, due to a lack of translations his work is still largely unknown in the English speaking world, although his reputation is slowly growing as translations are produced.">>MORE

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The horror...the horror...

In an article I recently read, Jonathan Rosenbaum mentions lending a book to Susan Sontag, Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon. I figured the book was probably worth reading since these are two people whose opinions I find worthwhile, so I wrote down the name of it for later invesitigation. Well, I looked it up this morning, and although the book is apparently very notable, this is what I found:

Olaf Stapledon Last and First Men
What self respecting person could ever buy something so ugly? Why do science fiction books always have the absolute worst covers? It might as well be a user's guide to Dianetics! No wonder the genre isn't taken very seriously. (And yes, I'm sorry for subjecting some of my more sensitive readers to such a gross monstrosity.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

2 or 4 things

1: I think, therefore I ramble.

Watching TV at a friends house: Her grandmother's house is flooded, so Granny is staying there a few weeks until the water evaporates from her living room. Granny is bored and uncomfortable in an unfamiliar home. Her favorite show is on - CSI (or some derivative of it) - so we accommodate by changing channels. Granny is appeased. The show is unintentionally hilarious and very condescending to the viewer with much extraneous, explanatory dialogue. And bad acting. We try not to mock it in front of Granny, but at one point she hears us laugh through all our holding back. "What's so funny? ...You can change it!" she says, embarrassed. We are ashamed. Poor Granny.

The show relates the story of an FBI profiler who is having doubts about his profession. He's starting to get dragged down by the mutilated corpses he's forced to examine each day and the mind-of-the-killer way of thinking he must put himself through in order to solve the crimes. By the end of the show he relates this, in confidence, to another FBI agent.

Profiler: I'm having doubts.
FBI Guy: About what? If you're strong enough to do this?

The scene seemed very wrong to me. Strong enough to do this; those words stuck in my head and the conversation just didn't make sense. Strong enough. I quickly realized how many assumptions were backing up that statement; assumptions the writers took for granted as factual points of view that no one would question, not even them: it takes a strong person to be able to stand the sight of mutilated corpses day after day; it takes strength to continuously put yourself in the mindset of a psychopath in order to solve a crime. Only a strong person can stand to do these things and if you can't, you are weak. The only problem is that these things are myths. Our culture, however, must pretend that they are true.

In reality the Profiler should be asking himself if he's strong enough to walk away. Away from the money and the reverence our culture has for his profession and - by extension - him. A sane person would want to walk away from that environment: death, mutilated bodies, and a job they don't enjoy. A sane person would want to be (and would be) affected by those things, but the whole subtext of this scene enforces the belief that to be affected, to care - to be human - is to be weak. Only a sick person would want to push all of their humanity aside and learn to be "strong" in the face of that horror simply for the money, the prestige the job affords, or what they perceive as public service. Only a sick person would want to continue spending such a huge portion of their life working a job that makes them miserable. The concepts of strong and weak are totally mixed up.

(I'm not trying to make any generalizations about what being an FBI profiler entails or what it means about you if indeed you do enjoy it, I only mean to relate it through the premise and point of the particular scene (and within the context of the show) where the person in question is dissatisfied with his job. Yes, we could get into a discussion about whether "dehumanizing" yourself and/or spending your whole life doing something you don't enjoy for some perceived greater good is an example of strength, whether or not the job is in fact an example of public service, and what the other possible motives for remaining under the described conditions could be, but that isn't my point.)

Regardless of whether or not these premises are true the fact remains that it's all presented as unquestioned truth, and most of the people watching the show probably don't even realize that it's presenting a point of view, and by not seeing this they internalize the values that are presented to them, and thus, are poisoned in some invisible way (not to mention how it's teaching/urging us to not think or question things and to just absorb or consume). Of course this is a banal example but it reminds me how pervasive unquestioned assumptions are, which is probably why I often hear people say, as a retort to me mentioning the possibility of a different way of doing things: Yes, but this is the way things are. It's how it's always been. I didn't make the rules.

And then Granny died.

* * *

2: Going out of business...

One of the Hagerstown Wonderbook and Video stores. It did. It's gone. I got over 100 books, including 50 Horizons (a hard cover periodical about art and culture from the 1950s-70s). They're fantastic, with articles on Artaud, Genet, and all sorts of other things. I'll be posting the best things I come across if I'm able to scan them in a way that makes them fairly easy to read.

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3: Changes:

I added something to my blog on the sidebar: recently discovered and recently read. For anyone who's bored there might be something of interest there now and again to read, watch, explore, etc. (It might even be better than aimless internet surfing!) This list will be updated more frequently than my blog, and it displays 100 items at a time. (If blogging has any real purpose, the sharing of information and discoveries is likely to be near the top of the list.)

* * *

4: Essential viewing/Link of the day

This is a 46 minute documentary that originally aired on Frontline. Shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, Jane Elliot, a 3rd grade teacher, decided to divide her class up into the "blue-eyed" and "brown-eyed", making one group the in-group (giving them privileges), and the other the out-group (treating them with condescension). The experiment is reversed the following day. All of it is documented, along with her students return years later, and her use of it on adults in a work environment.

Watch it HERE

Monday, July 07, 2008

"Where does art come from? -- Real art I mean, not sentimental bosh"

Oh how I love it when someone says something stupid that reflects an unthinking, pre-formed view of things, and another person lets them have it...

COMMENT: I purchased your book (Cassavetes on Cassavetes) and made it up to page 257 where I stopped, put it down and never have any intention of continuing it again, now, or in the future... I was hoping not to determine, in my opinion, that John Cassavetes was full of himself, but, alas, that was the ONLY conclusion I could possibly reach. I reached the same conclusion about 3/4 of the way through reading Tarkovskys Sculpting In Time...

Let me say, that I have the Criterion Collection of his works and thoroughly enjoy Shadows, Faces (less so, because it is meaner), Killing of a Chinese Bookie (the edited version), A Woman Under the Influence (his masterpiece - mainly because he allowed some hope in this film) and Opening Night yet, all that aside I will only say that I would never, EVER have let him treat me the way he treated others (ESPECIALLY his friends). I would have smashed his face in (at LEAST). (etc)

RESPONSE: You are free to do whatever you want with my book. Shred it, burn it, hate it. That's fine with me.

But you have to open your mind about art and artists. They are not all gentle, sweet souls. They are not necessarily kind, generous friends. They can be sons of bitches. They can be monomaniacal. They can be egotistical. They can be demon-driven. And they generally are.

In other words, when you come to the same conclusion about Tarkovsky and Cassavetes, it should give you pause to think that maybe YOUR HOMESPUN, MIDDLE-AMERICA CATEGORIES, YOUR BOURGEOIS MORALITY, YOUR NEED TO FIND SOMEONE TO LOVE is the problem. Not their art. Tarkovsky and Cassavetes are two of the greatest artists of the post-war era. That's a fact, Jack. And neither had a fuzzy-wuzzy, Teddy-Bear-snuggly personality. So deal with it. Don't reject it. Don't deny it. Don't run the other way from the truth. Cope, man, cope. Or you're going to have to burn a lot of books. Shred a lot of interviews. Hate a lot of great great artists.

And while you're learning to come to grips with those two filmmakers, better start working on Beethoven and Picasso and Blake and Lawrence and Faulkner and Cheever too. You just won't find many "nice guys" as artists. In fact, I tell my students that if they are too happy, too well-adjusted, too satisfied with their lives and loves and families and friends, they can almost certainly never become great artists. Oh, there are a few exceptions, but they are the exceptions. Art comes out of pain. It comes out of dissatisfaction. It comes out of failure. It comes out of not fitting in. It comes out of seeing how much greater the world and everything in it could be, if only the systems and many of the people weren't so messed up. It comes out of being demon-ridden and angel-possessed. Cassavetes felt that way. Tarkovsky felt that way. Beethoven felt that way. And the less accommodating they became (as each of them aged), the greater their work became.

Sincere best wishes. Think about some of this. I offer it in all humility.

PS: ...If he had been these things, he would not have been the artist he was. He would have been Ron Howard or some other schlock-meister. Cassavetes was unappeasable and maddening -- like his works...

PPS: ...everybody who knew [Cassavetes] is devoted to getting good PR for him and themselves, which is why they deny [these things]. That's the culture we live in; where getting positive PR replaces telling the truth. If you have any doubts about that, look at the ridiculous coverage of Tim Russert's death recently. He was a bobble-head as a newsman; a water-carrier for the Bush administration and anyone else in a position of authority above him; a servant to the interests of the rich and powerful. And he wasn't really even a journalist; he was just a TV personality like a thousand others. But did anyone, and I mean anyone, dare to say any of that? Of course not. The Russert hagiography is testimony to how morally and intellectually bankrupt American journalism is -- and American journalists are. Being a happy face is all that anyone wants out of a journalist apparently. I think of something Cassavetes once said about how all those rich Hollywood directors and producers and agents are always doing things for charities and hospitals and cancer patients, but lose their courage and convictions and principles when they show up for work, and fund another immoral, exploitative, fear-mongering movie. They saved their morality for their free-time, when they weren't working. Well, Russert (and most of American culture) has the same conveniently divided set of allegiances: Private morality and public sycophancy and love of money and power and status. It's true in academia, too. We want our professors to do good things in their private lives, in their free time, but if they seriously critique and try to change something in the university, that's a no-no. That's too controversial. That gets you a low evaluation for being "non-collegial."

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Yes, Ray Carney's mailbag is BACK!

Even if (and especially) you don't agree with Carney's outlook, the mailbag is an insightful, informative and inspirational place to spend time. You can learn just as much from the contributors as you can from Carney's responses, and you don't have to care about film to find worthwhile content. (Note: You can skip around randomly if you wish; most of the letters that refer to previous conversations contain the appropriate links.)

The whole website is a goldmine for rare points of view.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

TEOREMA (1968)

A few comments semi-related to a movie I semi-recently watched semi-consciously:

I like how Terrance Stamp is always reading Rimbaud, as if young Arthur is his life force, the inspiration for his other worldly powers of transforming reality.

"But now, in leaving, you're making me worse than before. Did you want that? Now the pain of losing you will cause a relapse more dangerous than the sickness I had before this brief cure your presence brought. Before, I didn't understand this illness, but now I do."

teorema pasolini
If I ever have a daughter I'll name her Teorema. (Not after the film, but simply because I like the name.) I'd name my sons Charlemagne and Constantine. I like the names, but I also want to encourage them to take over the world.

Last night I had a dream. Pier Palo Passolini was hovering above my bed in black and white. He was wearing a robe that was blowing around him by means of some imaginary wind. I looked down and saw that he was masturbating. Staring intensely straight ahead as he started to climax, a bright white light came out of his penis and shot out onto the wall, opening up to project the Trilogy of Life.