Friday, November 09, 2007

First Time Long Time

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Yes I know, I'm becoming an awful blogger. I guess right now I'm in one of my "not often much in the mood to update" phases that comes about once in a while.

Not that I find myself overwhelmingly busy these days. Of course, I'm still working at The Wall Street Journal, still the proofreader extraordinaire for Asia and some of Europe. And outside of work, I'm still indulging in my artistic/intellectual pursuits (at, it must be said, the expense of an active social life---not that I'm deliberately secluding myself or anything). Currently---in preparation for Todd Haynes's upcoming Bob Dylan fantasia I'm Not There (not sure whether I want to make a special trip to the Film Forum in NYC to see this, though, based on what I've read about this film so far, I'm tempted)---I'm trying to catch up on Mr. Zimmerman's music. Recently, I listened once through Highway 61 Revisited; on first listen, it's maybe my favorite album of his so far (although Blonde on Blonde is coming up next). His lyrics---sometimes whimsical, sometimes political, always intelligent and interesting to parse---even more so than his stylistically adventurous music, are what really fascinate me.

On the reading front, I just finished reading D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, a novel which makes me seriously wonder if I could be a lot more passionate about things in general---not only about love---than I am. (At the very least, I like to think I'm not as snobbish as some of the upper-class characters in the novel.) Lawrence may have been writing for a particular post-WWI audience, but I wonder if some of his thoughts on male/female relationships and class consciousness---and how they may sometimes intersect---are more universal than I'd like to admit. Next up: I'm not exactly pining to see the new animated Beowulf, but I thought it might be cool to finally check out the celebrated Seamus Heaney translation of the famous Anglo-Saxon epic. That and Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner---again, in part because of the release of an upcoming movie adaptation.

So many books I still haven't read/have yet to read...sigh...

Speaking of movies, what about the art form that I profess to love so much? Well, I'm still catching up with movies new and old on DVD. Can you believe that only recently did I finally catch up with two bona-fide classics, Orson Welles's Touch of Evil and Carol Reed's (or more appropriately, Graham Greene's, or maybe even more appropriately, Orson Welles's) The Third Man??? Amazing films! If anything, they both demonstrate just how much sheer imaginative style---the tilted camera angles of The Third Man, the exaggerated close-ups (among many memorable characteristics) of Touch of Evil---can transform what might have played as otherwise standard-issue crime thrillers in lesser hands. The depictions of evil in The Third Man are entertaining enough---especially when Welles comes onto the scene midway through the picture---but Touch of Evil both entertains and unsettles almost entirely through its delirious technique, using a kinetic camera style to create an unforgettable baroque world of corruption around which the characters try to negotiate, in ways both honorable and not so honorable. You can viscerally sense Orson Welles's obsessiveness in telling this story (I've read some reviews suggesting that the morally suspect character he plays in the film is perhaps a reflection of himself, doing whatever it takes to retain control of things). I've heard all about the auteur theory, but I think I can honestly say that only after seeing Touch of Evil do I intuitively grasp what those Cahiers du cinema upstarts in the '50s and then, later, Andrew Sarris actually meant. I mean, if Carol Reed had taken on Welles's Touch of Evil script, I wonder if the end result would seem half as forbidding, hyperbolic, lurid---or, above all, personal.

As for more recent releases: somewhat like Touch of Evil, David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises might seem like a typical gangster genre piece on the surface, but Cronenberg is able to take Steven Knight's script and make it seem utterly Cronenbergian by virtue of its surgically precise style, its interest in character psychology (even among this band of genre archetypes) and its searing images of the human body in various states of distress. For an instance of the latter: Viggo Mortensen's body art---which tells his supposed life story---gets bloodied and bruised in a brutal three-way fight in a sauna that outdoes almost any of the shockingly graphic violence of his last picture, A History of Violence. Perhaps Eastern Promises can be said to be a logical companion piece to Violence---both essentially transform genre clichés into meditations on both real-world violence and movie violence, in all its ugliness. But both, in the end, strike me as a bit more different than alike. Violence takes a more baldly deconstructionist approach, reveling in its clichés and toying with one's reactions to the violence while undermining them at nearly every turn; Eastern Promises, however, not only makes all of its archetypal characters seem convincingly multifaceted and human (even the so-called "villains," like Armin Mueller-Stahl's patriarch), but frames these characters and the brutal situations in a dark fairy-tale atmosphere that, for my money, leaves more of a lasting impression than the intellectualized winking (however valuable and perhaps necessary) of Violence. This, it goes without saying, isn't completely original and personal like Videodrome or Dead Ringers, but nevertheless, it's a compelling example of a fascinating film artist working at near the top of his game with what might have been old-hat stuff in other hands.

And I recently caught Away From Her---the film about how a husband deals with his wife's mental deterioration via Alzheimer's---on DVD; I'd be shocked if there was a more vibrant, honest, and deeply moving love story released this year. And Julie Christie, as the deteriorating wife, still looks pretty darn attractive even at 66. Oh, and yes, she's terrific in it, too---totally convincing and free from look-at-me (read: Oscar-baiting) histrionics.

Anyway, I'm not entirely sure if all this reading, listening and movie-watching I'm doing is actually helping me in the long run except giving me more things to do, more perspectives and approaches to absorb, etc. But I'm rather enjoying it---so much so that it's likely I may stick with this schedule for a little while longer after I (hopefully) graduate in January.

Maybe all I'm really doing is just putting off real-world responsibilities for a little while longer.

Otherwise...well, I did contribute this recent piece about one of my favorite classical works for The House Next Door. So I'm still keeping my writing skills somewhat sharp.

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