Thursday, August 30, 2012

white lies

BACK STORY: K. invites her mother, E., to stay with her at the beachfront house she rented, and both of them decide that it'd be fine if E. brings her friend D. along, whom K. has already met and liked. D., it's soon established with a puff of smoke, brought pot with her, and K. becomes worried. She could lose her license, she says (driver's license? nursing license?). E. could as well (insurance license?). D. is smoking the pot out in the open, on the deck, with no worries. This makes K. even more uncomfortable, especially since the house was rented in her friend's name. (Of possible interest: K. has smoked pot before, as has E., most likely.) Anyway, D. is told to stop, but doesn't. So, since K. is still uncomfortable, E. tells K. that they'll just go home. K. feels bad. "It's no big deal," E. tells her. "This kind of stuff happens to me all the time." They finally agree. Next E. makes up a story to tell D. as the reason for their sudden, unplanned departure. "I have to go home because I can't get in touch with my brother," she tells D., which causes them to come home two days earlier than planned.

THOUGHTS: When I told E. that D. was perceptive enough to figure out the real reason―or at least figure out that the reason given was bullshit―E. responded, "No, it's fine." I asked her why she didn't just tell D. the truth about why they were leaving. E. replied, "Think how bad it would make D. feel if she knew we were coming home early because of her." Well, I said, why not just tell her, "Look, this is making K. uncomfortable, and when we asked you to stop before, we were being serious. So, again, can you please stop? Because if you don't stop we're going to have to go home early; as I said, K. isn't comfortable with the risk. Maybe you don't think there's any risk but we're K.'s guests, therefore it's her decision." Then, I explained, the ball is in D.'s court, and she couldn't feel bad if she then "made you" take her home. Once she's been made aware of the gravity of the situation (as K. sees it), she has only herself to blame if she continues to smoke. Furthermore, if she still decides against complying with her friend's request once the situation has been made explicitly clear, then you'll discover that D. isn't a very respectful friend, which would be nice to know (though that information would probably be uncomfortable and therefore undesirable, in E.'s view). But this direct approach never seemed to occur to E., and I suspect it's because the real reason the lie was fostered in the first place was to prevent D. from thinking K. and E. were party poopers, fuddy-duddies, squares. In other words, the lie was created by E. and K., not for D.'s sake, but for their own. They, quite unknowingly, wanted to maintain the image they had of themselves as hip, with-it, cool, easy going, laid-back, open-minded―an image they want others (in this case, D.) to see and believe as well; therefore, they had to present and foster it, even if only as a mask. Facing the truth would have meant casting doubt on this image.

Now, if that's not the case (of course they would almost certainly deny it regardless, probably because they're hiding it from themselves), then the lie makes even less sense because it's so arbitrary and pointless. "Quick! We have to go! I called my brother five times, and he didn't pick up!" They've established a mode where lying has become the default, go-to response to any semi-confrontational situation, which is, among other things, juvenile. But seeing it as juvenile would conflict with another one of the images they have of themselves, which is that of a mature, responsible adult. So what must they do instead? They have to justify their lying by seeing it as essential, even good. "You don't understand. I was really just helping her. Protecting her." (Stop and think about everything that rationale implies for a moment.) And they also justify it by viewing it as a "white lie", the kind of lie that's standard and acceptable. They classify it along with, "No, you do not look fat in that" (which isn't a very helpful lie either, if you think about it1). But if they would allow themselves to step back for a moment and exercise some reflection and self-criticism, it wouldn't be overly difficult to see how unnecessary, silly, and potentially harmful such lies are. But people don't usually do that. It requires too much unmasking, too big a fight between who you think you are and who you really are.

People who have made white lies their standby also don't seem to realize how obvious such lies are to anyone with half a brain, which has the added effect of annoying everyone around you who happens to have half a brain. (When you lie to a perceptive person, they usually hear (or suspect) the lie. And when they watch a liar's lips move, they don't see the liar mouthing the lie, they see them mouthing the words, "You are dumb as shit; that's why I think you'll believe this.") The white-liar thinks they're fooling everyone, but they're only fooling themselves. Protecting themselves, preserving their self-image. "This kind of stuffs happens to me all the time," E. said to K. Maybe it's time she started asking herself why.
* * *

Interestingly, perhaps the notion that D.'s smoking bothered K. was actually a white lie constructed by K. in order to get one (or both) of them to leave! Maybe they were getting on her nerves, and she wanted to spend the last few days alone. (Very crafty, K.!) Just maybe... After all, when that's the world you've decided to create, who could ever know for sure?

1 Much better is the truth, politely phrased. Some variation of: "I've seen you in much more flattering outfits." Then the person, you know, might actually find something better to wear. (This is the footnote that will inevitably cause certain white-liars to say to themselves, "Wait, I do that," thus resulting in them disregarding everything else I said above, thinking it no longer applies to them.)

Dante and Virgil among the white-falsifiers

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Exploring Sight & Sound's Greatest Films Poll

As I'm sure many of you know, every ten years Sight & Sound polls critics, directors, programmers and various other film loving people in an attempt to determine the "Greatest Films of All Time" (I'll never understand why so many people think is Fellini's best film). Naturally there any many biases built into such lists that make them rather dull (I admit to being glad to see "the best film ever made" sitting at nineteenth in the critics poll and ninth in the directors poll), but the BFI website has also made it possible to browse the ballots by participant and/or film, which can be rather interesting. And since I spent the first half of my day exploring the lists of various participants, I figured I might as well share some of what I found.

What follows are the ballots submitted by some of the world's most interesting filmmakers, many of whom I'd also count among my favorite living directors. But first(!) one of the more intriguing critics lists, Nicole Brenez's top ten. She appended a comment from which I particularly liked the following (you can read it in its entirety HERE).

"We haven’t seen the 20th century’s most important films: German films of the extermination camps (even if their shooting was officially forbidden); Soviet films of the gulag (Solzhenitsyn thought they were never made); Chinese films about the camps, which Wang Bing is finally beginning to shoot; scientific films about the splitting of the atom; films about those workers who, at the very end of the 19th century, never left the factory but were instead chopped up inside Chicago’s abattoirs. Thus, a provisional list that I dedicate to André Sauvage’s Dans la brousse annamite (1934), a film abominably mutilated by the industry, which is about a possible trace of paradise on earth."

Her list (clicking a title allows you to see who voted for it, as well as its overall ranking):

Adebar 1957 Peter Kubelka
Afrique 50 1950 René Vautier
Aguaespejo granadino 1955 José Val del Omar
Balle traversant une bulle de savon
Lucien Bull
By the Bluest of Seas 1935 Boris Barnet/S. Mardanin
London 66'-67'- Pink Floyd 1967 Peter Whitehead
Nothing but the Hours 1926 Alberto Cavalcanti
Profit & Nothing But! Or Impolite Thoughts on the Class Struggle
Raoul Peck
Timeless, Bottomless, Bad Movie 1998 Jang Sun-Woo
Two-Lane Blacktop 1971 Monte Hellman

Other lists:

Béla Tarr

Aleksandr Nevski 1938 Sergei M Eisenstein
Au Hasard Balthazar 1966 Robert Bresson
Berlin Alexanderplatz
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Frenzy 1972 Alfred Hitchcock
M 1931 Fritz Lang
Man with a Movie Camera 1929 Dziga Vertov
Passion of Joan of Arc 1927 Carl Theodor Dreyer
Round-Up, The 1966 Miklos Jancso
Tokyo Story 1953 Ozu Yasujirô
Vivre Sa Vie 1962 Jean-Luc Godard

Tsai Ming-Liang

400 Blows, The 1959 François Truffaut
eclisse, L' 1962 Michelangelo Antonioni
Fear Eats the Soul 1974 Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Goodbye, Dragon Inn 2003 Tsai Ming Liang
Mouchette 1966 Robert Bresson
Night of the Hunter, The 1955 Charles Laughton
Only Son, The 1936 Ozu Yasujirô
Passion of Joan of Arc 1927 Carl Theodor Dreyer
Spring in a Small Town 1948 Fei Mu
Sunrise 1927 F. W. Murnau

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Brighter Summer Day, A 1991 Edward Yang
Conversation, The 1974 Francis Ford Coppola
Captive, La 1983 Chantal Akerman
Empire 1964 Andy Warhol
Full Metal Jacket 1987 Stanley Kubrick
General, The 1926 Buster Keaton
Goodbye, Dragon Inn 2003 Tsai Ming Liang
Rain 1929 Joris Ivens
Sátántangó 1994 Béla Tarr
Valentin de las Sierras 1967 Bruce Baillie


These are my ten ghosts

Abel Ferrara

Cul-de-Sac 1966 Roman Polanski
Devils, The 1971 Ken Russell
Hawks and Sparrows 1966 Pier Paolo Pasolini
Prison 1949 Ingmar Bergman
Lolita 1961 Stanley Kubrick
Los Olvidados 1950 Luis Buñuel
Ran 1985 Akira Kurosawa
Touch of Evil 1958 Orson Welles
Woman Under the Influence, A 1974 John Cassavetes
Zero de Conduite 1933 Jean Vigo


“You can't make films like the films that made you want to make films,” spoke Godard back when most of these films were made and inspired me to try – but why stop at 10? Add ALL the other films of the above directors to the list, plus ALL of the films of Godard, Hawks, Hitchcock, Bertolucci, Scorsese, Michael Snow, Rossellini, the other films of those above and Nicholas Ray, Milós Forman, Joseph Losey, Buster Keaton, Sam Fuller, Stan Brakhage, Woody Allen, Robert Bresson, Sam Peckinpah, David Lynch and and and…

Guy Maddin

After Life 1998 Koreeda Hirokazu
Age d'Or, L' 1930 Luis Buñuel
Letter From an Unknown Woman 1948 Max Ophüls
Long Goodbye, The 1973 Robert Altman
Man's Castle 1933 Frank Borzage
Mulholland Dr 2003 David Lynch
Tree of Life, The 2010 Terrence Malick
Unknown, The 1927 Tod Browning
Zero de Conduite 1933 Jean Vigo
Zvenigora 1928 Aleksandr Dovzhenko


Joyous, aggressively primitive and trope-giddy, Zéro de conduite is the best shortcut back to the intensely wondrous state of childhood – and therefore the source of all creation – in the history of cinema.

Tod Browning and forgotten genius Lon Chaney's perfectly executed allegory about the self-castration impulse in all of us, The Unknown is immensely entertaining, unpredictable and thoroughly disinhibited – perhaps the most fearless and shameless melodrama of all time.

Man’s Castle is the best example of how Frank Borzage slows a film down to unspool in ‘lover's time’, a pace that allows him to pack in all the tiny details that encrust and encase a pair of throbbing hearts. Agonising and cathartic!

The Tree of Life isn't even a movie, it's a vest of dynamite that rips open the viewer's bosom and keeps it suffering long after detonation.

Is L’Age d’or an oneiric essay film? Still the most inspiring, ragged, cocky, smart and mischievous – all of it expressed in an extinct but somehow modern filmic vocabulary. We'll never quite catch up to this picture.

The Long Goodbye is mannered in crazy, loosey-goosey ways. Altman, in the zone, completely repurposes a genre!

Mulholland Dr.: boom! Game changed!

Letter from an Unknown Woman: sadistic comedy or delirious tragedy? Masterfully both.

Singular use, reuse and re-reuse of memory and film-as-memory in After Life, Kore-eda’s strangely playful yet moving wonder. What a structure!

Zvenigora is mind-bogglingly eccentric!

Roy Andersson

Amarcord 1972 Federico Fellini
Andrei Rublev 1966 Andrei Tarkovsky
Ashes and Diamonds 1958 Andrzej Wajda
Barry Lyndon 1975 Stanley Kubrick
Battle of Algiers, The 1966 Gillo Pontecorvo
Bicycle Thieves, The 1948 Vittorio de Sica
Hiroshima Mon Amour 1959 Alain Resnais
Intolerance 1916 D.W. Griffith
Rashomon 1950 Akira Kurosawa
Viridiana 1961 Luis Buñuel


This is my list of films that I consider the best in film history. I hesitated a little about what word I should use: the best films or the most important films. I decided to call them the best films. Only the first three films are placed in order of preference. The others are a mixture without preference.

My absolute favourite is Bicycle Thieves, the most humanistic and political film in history. Viridiana is the most intelligent and Hiroshima mon amour is the most poetic.

All the ten films are excellent and fascinating artistic expressions about what I would call mankind’s both raw and delightful existence. These movies make us wiser.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Andrei Rublev 1966 Andrei Tarkovsky
Au Hasard Balthazar 1966 Robert Bresson
Avventura, L' 1960 Michelangelo Antonioni
eclisse, L' 1962 Michelangelo Antonioni
Late Spring 1949 Ozu Yasujirô
Man Escaped, A 1956 Robert Bresson
Mirror 1974 Andrei Tarkovsky
Persona 1966 Ingmar Bergman
Shame, The 1968 Ingmar Bergman
Tokyo Story 1953 Ozu Yasujirô

Olivier Assayas

2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 Stanley Kubrick
Gospel According to St Matthew, The 1964 Pier Paolo Pasolini
Ludwig 1972 Luchino Visconti
Man Escaped, A 1956 Robert Bresson
Mirror 1974 Andrei Tarkovsky
Napoleon 1927 Abel Gance
Playtime 1967 Jacques Tati
Règle du jeu, La 1939 Jean Renoir
Tree of Life, The 2010 Terrence Malick
Van Gogh 1991 Maurice Pialat

Carlos Reygadas

Andrei Rublev 1966 Andrei Tarkovsky
Distant Voices, Still Lives 1988 Terence Davies
Executioner, The 1963 Luis García Berlanga
Gummo 1997 Harmony Korine
Los Olvidados 1950 Luis Buñuel
Man Escaped, A 1956 Robert Bresson
Mother and Son 1997 Aleksandr Sokurov
Persona 1966 Ingmar Bergman
Sansho Dayu 1954 Mizoguchi Kenji
Werckmeister Harmonies, The 2000 Béla Tarr

Hong Sangsoo

Atalante, L' 1934 Jean Vigo
Boat Leaving the Port 1895 Louis et Auguste Lumière
Boudu Saved from Drowning 1932 Jean Renoir
Early Summer 1951 Ozu Yasujirô
Green Ray, The 1986 Eric Rohmer
Man Escaped, A 1956 Robert Bresson
Nanook of the North 1922 Robert J. Flaherty
Nazarín 1958 Luis Buñuel
Ordet 1955 Carl Theodor Dreyer
Young Mr Lincoln 1939 John Ford

John Gianvito

Age of the Earth, The 1980 Glauber Rocha
commune (Paris, 1871), La 2000 Peter Watkins
Earth 1930 Aleksandr Dovzhenko
Evolution of a Filipino Family 2004 Lav Díaz
House is Black, The 1962 Forough Farrokhzad
Kuhle Wampe 1932 Bertold Brecht/Ernst Ottwald
Arguments and a Story or Reason, Debate and a Tale 1974 Ritwik Ghatak
Shiranui Sea
Tsuchimoto Noriaki
Story of Kindness 1985 Tran Van Thuy
West Indies, ou les nègres marrons de la liberté 1979 Med Hondo


Obviously we know that there is no such thing as the ‘ten greatest films’, nor could anyone on the planet ever see more than a fraction of all the moving pictures generated to fairly pass judgement. What the game of lists affords is the opportunity to revisit and ruminate on those values one holds dear and to share one’s enthusiasms. Restricted to ten choices, these are ten works that for me significantly pierce the murk. Through their individual artistry and unequivocal commitment to the plight of the disadvantaged, disenfranchised and too-often invisible majority of this planet, these films are among those that accomplish what Tarkovsky stated as the ultimate aim of art: “to plough and harrow the soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.”

Kore-eda Hirokazu

argent, L' 1983 Robert Bresson
Dust in the Wind 1986 Hsiao-hsien Hou
Floating Clouds 1955 Naruse Mikio
Frankenstein 1931 James Whale
Kes 1969 Ken Loach
Travelling Players, The 1975 Theodoros Angelopoulos
Nights of Cabiria 1957 Federico Fellini
Secret Sunshine 2007 Lee Chang-dong
Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The 1964 Jacques Demy
Woman Under the Influence, A 1974 John Cassavetes


Every time I watch Floating Clouds, it’s never the same. My impressions of the last scene are totally different between my twenties and my forties. The dialogue at the petrol station in the last scene of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is awesome. The smile of Cabiria in the last scene of the Fellini is shocking. Landscape in the Mist might be the smallest piece among Angelopoulos’s works, but I love it all the more for its smallness.

It’s needless to mention the brilliance of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence. But I think the actor/actress at the receiving end makes the difference between success and failure in this kind of film. In this case, Peter Falk is just wonderful.

Dust in the Wind determined me to pursue the road to cinema. It pushed me from behind. L’Argent is like a textbook, which I review before shooting each new film of mine.

Lisandro Alonso

Aguirre, Wrath of God 1972 Werner Herzog
Alphaville 1965 Jean-Luc Godard
Havre, Le 2010 Aki Kaurismaki
Killing of a Chinese Bookie, The 1976 John Cassavetes
Modern Life 2008 Raymond Depardon
Pickpocket 1959 Robert Bresson
River, The 1997 Tsai Ming Liang
Silent Light 2007 Carlos Reygadas
Stalker 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky
Tropical Malady 2004 Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Mike Leigh

American Madness 1932 Frank Capra
Barry Lyndon 1975 Stanley Kubrick
Emigrants, The 1970 Jan Troell
How a Mosquito Operates
Winsor McCay
I am Cuba 1964 Mikhail Kalatozov
Jules et Jim 1962 François Truffaut
Radio Days 1987 Woody Allen
Songs from the Second Floor 2000 Roy Andersson
Tokyo Story 1953 Ozu Yasujirô
Tree of Wooden Clogs, The 1978 Ermano Olmi

José Luis Guerín

City Lights 1931 Charles Chaplin
Floating Weeds 1959 Ozu Yasujirô
Gertrud 1964 Carl Theodor Dreyer
Letter From an Unknown Woman 1948 Max Ophüls
Limelight 1951 Charles Chaplin
Maman et la putain, La 1973 Jean Eustache
Darling Clementine, My 1946 John Ford
Ordet 1955 Carl Theodor Dreyer
Tokyo Story 1953 Ozu Yasujirô
Woman of Paris, A 1923 Charles Chaplin


I find it impossible to be represented by fewer than 20 titles. My list might prove too traditional and not render an accurate picture of my general outlook in relation to cinema. Nevertheless, and due to the lack of time, I will have to disregard any choice strategy and rely on my current emotional memory, since some of my viewings are recent, but others less so.

Michael Glawogger

Vivan las Antipodas!
Victor Kossakovsky
Age of the Earth, The 1980 Glauber Rocha
All of my Life 1966 Bruce Baillie
Come And See 1985 Elem Klimov
Fata Morgana 1971 Werner Herzog
Forest of Bliss 1986 Robert Gardner
How Yukong Moved the Mountains 1976 Joris Ivens/Marceline Loridan Ivens
In The Mood For Love 2000 Wong Kar Wai
Mothlight 1963 Stan Brakhage
Unsere Afrikareise 1961 Peter Kubelka


The question about the best films of all times is also question about you as a filmmaker. How do you define yourself through the films of others? So for one I chose three experimental films, three narrative features and four documentaries, and I wanted all of them to have a poetic quality and a strong visual, rhythmic and almost haptic tone. In those films, the art of cinema not compromised by simple storytelling, journalism or other alien approaches. Those films are true to the art of cinema.

Ulrich Seidl

Andrei Rublev 1966 Andrei Tarkovsky
Even the Dwarves Started Small 1970 Werner Herzog
Gertrud 1964 Carl Theodor Dreyer
Gospel According to St Matthew, The 1964 Pier Paolo Pasolini
Husbands 1970 John Cassavetes
My Little Loves 1975 Jean Eustache
Merry Widow, The 1925 Erich von Stroheim
Faits Divers 1983 Raymond Depardon
Silence, The 1963 Ingmar Bergman
Viridiana 1961 Luis Buñuel


My selection of the ten best films of all time is very personal and based entirely on the films that have most influenced me and my filmmaking. Which films inspired in me fear, admiration and fascination? Which films lastingly formed and disturbed me? Which films stayed with me? Which films continue to mark me? Which films opened up inner and outer worlds, and at the same time showed me paths in filmmaking? All of the above applies to each one of these, my ‘greatest’ films.

Manoel de Oliveira

Battleship Potemkin 1925 Sergei M Eisenstein
Gertrud 1964 Carl Theodor Dreyer
Gold Rush, The 1925 Charles Chaplin
Informer, The 1935 John Ford
Ivan the Terrible 1945 Sergei M Eisenstein
Journey to Italy 1954 Roberto Rossellini
Mouchette 1966 Robert Bresson
Passion of Joan of Arc 1927 Carl Theodor Dreyer
Playtime 1967 Jacques Tati
Ugetsu Monogatari 1953 Mizoguchi Kenji

Thom Andersen

God's Step Children
Oscar Micheaux
High and Low 1963 Akira Kurosawa
Hour of the Furnaces, The 1968 Octavio Getino/Fernando E. Solanas
Kiss Me Deadly 1955 Robert Aldrich
Darling Clementine, My 1946 John Ford
Not Reconciled 1965 Jean-Marie Straub/Danièle Huillet
Perceval 1978 Eric Rohmer
Pickpocket 1959 Robert Bresson
Puppetmaster, The 1993 Hsiao-hsien Hou
Tokyo Story 1953 Ozu Yasujirô

Peter Tscherkassky

2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 Stanley Kubrick
Adebar 1957 Peter Kubelka
At Land 1944 Maya Deren
chien andalou, Un 1928 Luis Buñuel
Pig, The 1970 Jean Eustache/Jean-Michel Barjol
Easy Out
Pat O'Neill
Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The 1966 Sergio Leone
Nashville 1975 Robert Altman
Playtime 1967 Jacques Tati
Some Like It Hot 1959 Billy Wilder

Lukas Moodysson

4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days
Cristian Mungiu
Boot, Das 1984 Wolfgang Petersen
Fanny and Alexander 1984 Ingmar Bergman
Hotel Du Nord 1938 Marcel Carné
Killing of a Chinese Bookie, The 1976 John Cassavetes
Last Picture Show, The 1971 Peter Bogdanovich
Man on the Roof, The 1976 Bo Widerberg
Margot at the Wedding 2007 Noah Baumbach
Mirror 1974 Andrei Tarkovsky
Swedish Love Story, A 1970 Roy Andersson

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Accattone 1961 Pier Paolo Pasolini
Big Heat, The 1953 Fritz Lang
Dodeskaden 1970 Akira Kurosawa
Germany Year Zero 1948 Roberto Rossellini
Loulou 1980 Maurice Pialat
Modern Times 1936 Charles Chaplin
Searchers, The 1956 John Ford
Shoah 1985 Claude Lanzmann
Street of Shame 1956 Mizoguchi Kenji
Sunrise 1927 F. W. Murnau


A random list of ten greatest films.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bored? (III)

You know all of those hideous books you have lying around? (No, not your secret stash of Harry Potter; I mean the good books you own that are rendered hideous by their very bad covers.)

I had to keep the "look inside" on Moby Dick just so that people would know it was real

This malady is most widespread among books with any hint of adventure, science fiction or fantasy, and it's especially deforming when any of these hints are combined with the so-called genre "classic" (see above). Deadly, also, when paired with anything that's been made into a popular movie.


And catastrophic when paired with the author Derrick Jensen.

Occasionally you'll come across a book that, although the cover isn't horrible, it just doesn't fit the book as well as it should. Penguin's Twentieth-Century Classics version of Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes is a suitable example.

Not bad. But it's not likely to inspire any young people to read it, either. Which is a shame because that's who this beautiful book is best suited for (Alain-Fournier was dead by twenty-seven).

I decided to alter the cover in an attempt to make it into something I thought better represented the feel of the novel.

The novel is about longing, things lost, and unrecoverable places (physical, emotional). You know, Youth. Plot-wise it's about a young man who meets a girl and becomes haunted by her memory. And later in the novel he shows up with a mustache. So, for my cover I decided to show this young man―haunted by a woman, her face covered with flowing hair―with his face covered in darkness. And with a mustache.

* * *

Making your own book covers is a fun thing to do if you've never given it a try, and if you pick the right books you won't have to worry about making the covers worse off than they were before. Hardbacks can be turned into anything―they're much easier than paperbacks (it's tough to match the edges in paperbacks without it looking messy)―especially since you can buy clear, adjustable jackets for almost any size book. And while it's true that most hardbacks already look pretty good with their jackets removed, the fun is in the personalization. (Next I'm making a jacket for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and in lieu of summary or critical praise, I'm going to put Bukowski's poem "Carson McCullers" on the back.) I guess you could also use (or buy) a jacket for paperbacks, though I've never tried. And of course modifications can also be made, very easily, to DVD covers.

Here's a hardback version of Lolita my friend DJC made. He used an advertisement for Kubrick's film from a newspaper or magazine, which technically, I suppose, makes it a movie tie-in... But I think it's pretty perfect.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Vidal, Marker

Tuesday afternoon I went to a used bookstore with a friend, and as we were leaving my friend informed me that we had been made fun of while inside. "Didn't you hear those people whispering?" Yes, I said, but I was too far away to hear what they were saying. (I remember a couple, probably in their mid-30s, peering down the aisle we were in, whispering and laughing. I assumed their enthusiasm had nothing to do with me, so I kept browsing.) What were they saying? I asked. "Things like, 'Oh, look at us, in the literature section, reading! We're so smart.' " 

Neither of us could make sense of it. I mean, they were there too! Do they go around to various bookstores to mock people for reading... in a bookstore? Was this a regular thing for them? What else, I wondered, did they make fun of people for? Handling fruit in the supermarket? Watching movies in a movie theater? It was all very funny and bizarre. I suppose their assumption was that people only read literature as a pose, that no one really enjoys it. Or maybe that people read it because they feel like they have to, like they've somehow been bullied into it. I don't know.

I felt like we had just exited a Bill Hicks joke.

Strangely, three of the books I happened to purchase that day were by Gore Vidal. Dreaming War (2002) and Imperial America (2004)―parts two and three of the trilogy that begins with Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (2002)―as well as his memoir Palimpsest (1995), which I began reading that night. The next morning I awoke to the news that he had died.

Vidal was many things: a raconteur, an insightful literary critic, a brilliant satirist, and a great essayist (I've not yet read any of his fiction). As I wrote previously, few were as good at wryly cutting someone down as Vidal. On Nabokov: "Finally, he gives us several meticulous portraits of those butterflies he murdered ("with an expert nip of its thorax") during his celebrated tours of America's motels." He was often patronizing or condescending―usually for the sake of humor―but even when only vitriol remained it was (usually) for all the right reasons (his cattiness, chief among his faults, sometimes took over). At his best he was humorous, corrosive, and iconoclastic all at the same time. On Teddy Roosevelt: "Give a sissy a gun and he will kill everything in sight. TR's slaughter of the animals in the Badlands outdoes in spades the butcheries of that sissy of a later era, Ernest Hemingway. [...] There is something strangely infantile in this obsession with dice-loaded physical courage when the only courage that matters in political or even 'real' life is moral." (The title of the essay this comes from is called Theodore Roosevelt: An American Sissy.) Years later he would unleash more venom on one of America's most notorious sissies, george w. bush, and it was here in his role as a relentless slayer of America's most destructive mythologies―as well as stupidity in general―that Gore Vidal will be missed most by those of us who never knew him. As things got worse, he got angrier. He never mellowed.

As I write, U.S. "Concentration Camp X-Ray" is filling up at marine base Quantanamo Bay, Cuba. No one knows whether or not these unhappy residents are prisoners of war of just plain evildoers. In any case, they were kidnapped in Afghanistan by U.S. forces and now appear to be subject to kangaroo courts when let out of their cages.

This is a pre-Osama text: "Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and associations; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed." The tone is familiar. Clinton? Bush? Ashcroft? No. It is from Hitler’s 1933 speech calling for an "Enabling Act" for "the protection of the People and the State" after the catastrophic Reichstag fire that the Nazis had secretly lit.

Only one congresswoman, Barbara Lee of California, voted against the additional powers granted the president. Meanwhile, a New York Times-CBS poll noted that only 6% now opposed military action while a substantial majority favored war "even if many thousands of innocent civilians are killed." Simultaneously, Bush's approval rating has soared, but then, traditionally, in war, the president is totemic like the flag. When Kennedy got his highest rating after the debacle of the Bay of Pigs, he observed, characteristically, "It would seem that the worse you fuck up in this job the more popular you get." Bush, father and son, may yet make it to Mount Rushmore though it might be cheaper to redo Barbara Bush's look-alike, George Washington, by adding two strings of Teclas to his limestone neck―in memoriam, as it were." ―Gore Vidal, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace

As for Vidal's death, I thought it fitting to end with an excerpt from his 1953 essay, Novelists and Critics of the 1940s:

One is reminded of Flaubert's comment nearly a century ago: 'The melancholy of the ancients seems to me deeper than that of the moderns, who all more or less assume an immortality on the far side of the black pit. For the ancients the black pit was infinity itself; their dreams take shape and pass against a background of unchanging ebony. No cries, no struggles, only the fixity of the pensive gaze. The gods being dead and Christ not yet born, there was between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius one unique moment in which there was man.' Our own age is one of man alone, but there are still cries, still struggles against our condition, against the knowledge that our works and days have value only on the human scale; and those who most clearly remember the secure authority of other times, the ordered universe, the immutable moral hierarchies, are the ones who most protest the black pit. While it is perfectly true that any instant in human history is one of transition, ours more than most seems to be marked by a startling variety of conflicting absolutes, none sufficiently great at this moment to impose itself upon the majority whose lives are acted out with an inhuman universe which some still prefer to fill with a vast manlike shadow containing stars, while others behold only luminous dust which is stars, and us as well."
* * *

Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983). One of my picks for ten greatest films of all-time.

Vidal once said he never missed the chance to appear on television. Chris Marker was the opposite. Extremely private, he didn't even want his picture taken. In light of this I will try to pay tribute to Marker in a way he might like—that is, by not talking about him.

"Henri Michaux's work is without equal in the literature of our time." —Borges

"Like Jorge Luis Borges, Marker is encyclopedic yet self-deprecating, projecting the kind of welcoming intelligence that invariably leaves you feeling smarter from the encounter." —Jaime Wolf [X]

The towering somnambulist Henri Michaux once famously said, "The Sorbonne should be razed and Chris Marker put in its place." That's tribute enough for a thousand people, let alone one.

But who was Henri Michaux
? some of you might have asked had you not been so embarrassed.

Lawrence Durrell once said that Henri Michaux's writing gave him "the impression of having some deep psychotic wound." Coming from someone like Durrell, that's validation enough.

But who was Lawrence Durrell
? some of you might have asked had you not been so embarrassed.

Henry Miller once wrote a letter to Durrell praising his writing, saying it "makes one dance to follow you." He then went on to ask Durrell the following: "How did you come by your great wisdom? Give us a tangible, personal statement of the condition of your soul today. Are you still standing there on the top-most tip of Mt. Everest? Does the snow still dazzle you? Have you passed out of snow and into the blue? ... What is the password?" That's praise enough for a Buddha, let alone a writer.

And everyone knows who Henry Miller was. 

So now finally we have—by way of imaginative logic—the very famous and revered Henry Miller remarking that Michaux, and therefore Marker, was a genius. (Never mind that Miller is overrated; he's very famous.)

* * *

Michaux, like Marker, didn't like being photographed. He was a poet who claimed he didn't write poetry—his hand was in too many pots (poetry and painting being chief among them). Marker, too, was an artist of many disciplines.

Left: Marker's art (from The Case of the Grinning Cat); Right: Michaux's art (a painting)

Alain Resnais once said the following about Chris Marker:

"He is the prototype of the 19th Century man. He managed to achieve a synthesis of all appetites and obligations without ever sacrificing any of them to the others. In fact a theory is making the rounds, and not without some grounds, that Marker could be an extra-terrestrial. He looks like a human, but perhaps he comes from the future or from another planet... There are some very bizarre clues. He is never sick or ill, he is not sensitive to cold, and he doesn’t seem to need any sleep."

I would like to posit my own theory. Namely, that Chris Marker and Henri Michaux were the same person!

Left: Marker/Michaux; Right: Michaux/Marker

As with Resnais' theory, there are some very bizarre clues. For example, they're both dead.

And how fitting it is that, just two days after his death, Marker's favorite film, Hitchcock's Vertigo, dethroned Welles Citizen Kane as the best film of all-time in Sight & Sound's international decennial poll. (Kane had been number one in every poll taken since 1962.)


I'll end with the following video Agnes Varda created from her tour of Marker's studios (both real and virtual). It was made known to me via Andrew Gilbert's nice tribute to Marker at the kinodrome.