Friday, April 11, 2008

A Few Thought Bubbles

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Hello again, readers!

For the most part, this weekend will basically consist of me finishing up my federal tax return before the forthcoming April 15 deadline. Really, it shouldn't take too long---I don't earn that much, and I don't have a lot of property or anything like that to report)---but I'm trying to fit it in between personal movie (and Wire) screenings. Hopefully I'll find enough time to get it done and send it out this weekend (because, at this point, I pretty much have no choice).

Thus, for this particular installment of My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second, instead of an in-depth entry into something intensely occupying my mind, I'm going to simply throw out a few sketches, if you will, of ideas I may want to develop in future entries. Consider these "thought bubbles" of sorts...

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One of the movie screenings I'm catching this weekend---barring any unforeseen circumstances---is my first-ever encounter with Chantal Akerman's famous 1975 experimental/feminist feature Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. I'm pumped! It's at Rutgers University's own New Jersey Film Festival tonight; not sure why the organizers decided to show the film at this particular point in time, but, as there is no Region 1 DVD edition of this film available (it's included in a Region 2 DVD box set of Akerman films that I'm too cheap to invest in right now), I'll go for it, no questions asked---even if the "print" turns out to be a relatively cheap VHS source.

I'll let you all know what I think next week; I'm sure the movie will merit more than a passing paragraph or two!

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A few weeks ago, Nathan Lee, one of the Village Voice's most well-known and well-respected film critics, was unceremoniously fired from his job there. Couple that with a slew of other film-critic firings at even smaller newspapers over the past few months, and it's all gotten me rethinking by initial professional film-critic plans. As many have suggested in the blogosphere, it is increasingly looking like the future of film criticism will be in the hands of people writing more out of passion than trying to do it regularly for a living---as more newspapers cut out individual film-critic voices (mostly for cost-cutting reasons, I'm fairly certain) and replace them with, say, undistinguished Associated Press wire reviews, the future for incisive, intelligent, informed film writing may well be online. And so far, few people have actually been able to figure out how to make a living strictly blogging online. So I'm not sure I want to take that risk just yet...

So maybe copy editing and/or reporting really is where my future is headed, with film writing---like the kind I occasionally contribute to The House Next Door---relegated to a side hobby. If so...well, in a way, that would validate exactly what my mother has been saying to me all these years.

I think I just felt a chill go up my spine in writing that. Not sure if I'm ready to face that harsh truth just yet...

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Another slap-in-the-face reality check this past week came in the form of a meeting after work in which the full force of Rupert Murdoch's takeover of Dow Jones hit me like a kid swatting a fly. No, there were no warnings of layoffs at this meeting, thank goodness---but what one of our supervisors offered was arguably more unnerving: uncertainty. Essentially, no one really has a clear idea what Murdoch has in store for us, so all we can hope for now is possibly a smooth transition to a different kind of job within the company, just in case Murdoch has it in his mind to shut down the South Brunswick branch altogether and relocate all of us to the News Corp. building in New York. Something like that.

My only real regret here is a selfish one: my plans for spending two years at the monitor desk while educating myself artistically on the side may be ending sooner than I had hoped for. Adulthood, here I come---and I must confess, I'm nervous about meeting you, Adulthood, face to face, secluded as I have been here in quiet old East Brunswick, N.J. for the past few months.

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You know what I haven't written about much recently? Politics---specifically the ongoing presidential race. I should probably say something about it, if only just to add a bit of variety to this blog. On the other hand, do I really have anything to say at all? I don't find myself all that enthusiastic about either Democratic candidate; despite her formidable intelligence, I've never really trusted Hillary Clinton's sincerity about anything; and while temperamentally I should be more enthused about Barack Obama than I am (and I was impressed with his candid speech on race a few weeks back), I'm equally suspicious of his rampant hope-mongering, especially how it'll all look if he gets into office and runs up against, you know, political interests and all sorts of avenues toward compromise. As for the so-called "presumptive Republican nominee" John McCain---well, I have to admit I have a more favorable view of him as a person based on his TV appearances and what I've heard about his record in Congress (anyone who stands up against torture as he has over the years is admirable in my book). I'm not sure, however, that I really want to stay in Iraq as long as it takes, as he has publicly pledged.

But then, I also have to admit that I haven't really done all my research on these candidates, so maybe I shouldn't say anything more on the subject (for now). The only other thing I'll say right now, then, is: I hate politics. I really wish I could just stay indifferent to it all. I can't, of course; to do so would be to forsake my duty as an American citizen. But I just wish I could say to myself, and to others, "screw politics" without being tarred and feathered as a lamentable example of what is wrong with young Americans today. I just don't like to talk about it, and I could do without it, personally. But there's no avoiding it, so I have to be involved, in some way. As Sheriff Bell says in No Country for Old Men, "Okay. I'll be a part of this world."

Here's the Obama speech I referred to earlier:



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On a more upbeat note: after taking in Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou again last weekend (on the recently released Criterion Collection DVD), and remembering that the first spoken word in the film is "Velázquez"---as in the 17th-century Spanish painter---I decided to briefly surf online for some of his paintings. (Yes, my art knowledge is so deficient that I'm not sure if I've ever actually seen a Velázquez painting anywhere.) And I struck a minor personal revelation that ties somewhat to the intellect-versus-emotion stuff I wrote about a few weeks go here on this blog.

Take a look at Velázquez's "The Lady with a Fan":


Now, one may certainly look at this painting on a formalistic level and admire, say, the accuracy of fleshtones, the interplay between light and dark, the intimate atmosphere, etc. But when you get right down to it, what does one really respond to in this portrait, putting inside technical concerns? The subject itself. What is going on in this lady's face? What might she be thinking? She doesn't exactly look all too happy; is she in a hurry? Who knows? All human beings have their mysteries, and the real brilliance of portraits like these, it seems to me, is in preserving that mystery even while depicting its surface particulars. I look at this painting, and I don't necessarily find an earth-shatteringly fresh way of perceiving the world around me, philosophically or emotionally. Does that even have to be a prerequisite for what distinguishes great art from merely serviceable craftsmanship? The artwork is all there is, in the end. If it makes you feel or reflect on something---whether that reflection is as minor as how it corresponds with a mood you or someone else has felt previously---maybe that is all one really needs to know in order to gauge one's reaction to that work. The deep intellectual contemplation can come later.


All of these thoughts swirled around my head as I sat down a couple days ago with the newly released DVD of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, a film that I've gone back and forth on for months now (just look at my previous posts about it here and here), but which resolutely refuses to depart from my mind, even as I've taken in great films like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and The Flight of the Red Balloon in recent months. Does it add to my understanding of the corrupting force of unchecked capitalism and ambition to the human soul? Maybe, maybe not. (Again, I'm not convinced it has anything revelatory to say on the subjects of capitalism or religion---at least nothing that hasn't been broached by Welles or Kubrick films that Anderson so lovingly recalls.) But there is still the mystery of Daniel Plainview, that force of misanthropic, bullying nature at the heart of the film. What, for example, is his real reason for slapping the tar out of Eli Sunday soon after his "son" loses his hearing? Is he really just venting his frustrations, or is he simply and fearsomely showing his secular dominance over this supposedly holy preacher? Maybe it's both. Anyway, such mysteries of one man's human consciousness are arguably much narrower than the mysteries of fate and chance in a godless universe posited by the Coen brothers in No Country for Old Men---but should that necessarily mean one film is worth prizing more than another? Because one gets me thinking about the world I live in, and another gets me thinking just about another (fictional) human being? I guess I used to think so, which is why I've so baldly voiced my intellectual ambivalence about There Will Be Blood on this blog before. But maybe I've been too narrowly focused in my artistic concerns all along. (Or maybe I'm just trying to justify my sheer visceral exhilaration of watching Blood, which I felt all over again watching it on DVD.)

Still, am I simply lowering my standards here? I wonder...

But that, as with all these other sketches of ideas, is for possible future discussion.

Heck, if you want to discuss all or any of these right now, feel free to post comments. I welcome the discussion, always!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I also saw the DVD of There Will Be Blood and was moved by the film. The film is based on a novel by Upton Sinclair. Sinclair's theme throughout his life was capitalism and its "evils". He was involved in politics as a socialist and ranted and railed about big business and its effects on society. His really famous novel, The Jungle, is about the meat packing industry in Chicago. So I imagine that Daniel is a symbol of the bullying nature of capitalism and its de-humanizing effect on a man so obsessed with making money. When he beats up Eli, he is beating up a weaker and vulnerable being and in the finale he succeeds in destroying that weaker figure. Although in the process he loses any trace of humanity, if he ever had any and surely does not become a sympathetic character. Its a haunting film, for sure.
No Country For Old Men is also from a novel. Cormac McCarthy, from the few novels that I have read, has a bitterness and pessimistic view of life. He writes of harsh realities, often with raw brutality and violence. He does not paint a pretty picture of the nature of mankind, at all.

A few other films from the past year or so that also portray the nature of mankind (or woman-kind) and their flaws are:
Silk
Atonement
Margot At The Wedding
3:10 to Yuma
Rocket Science

By the way, what happened with your dog?

kenjfuj said...

...I imagine that Daniel is a symbol of the bullying nature of capitalism and its de-humanizing effect on a man so obsessed with making money.

One of the key lines to that effect in the film, for me, comes during that first scene in which Plainview and Henry meet up with the two representatives from Standard Oil. After the offer is put on the table, Daniel asks them, straight up, "What would I do with myself?" Indeed, his whole life---at least, as much as we have seen in the film---has pretty much been devoted to amassing his riches. Once he has those riches---well, he gets away from the rest of humanity just as he wants, but there's nothing left for him to do except live out the rest of his days. He's pretty much pushed away the two people (H.W. and Henry) who kept a flicker of his humanity going, and so all he has left is to consummate his oversized pissing match with Eli at the end.

Even if I find some of this character analysis not particularly insightful or deep, I am still astonished---even after four viewings---by the visceral impact of There Will Be Blood---one feels as hollow as the protagonist by the end of it.

I really need to read the Upton Sinclar novel, by the way.

As for Dusty...well, let's just say that if there is a problem with him, it still hasn't been solved. In other words: no, I haven't yet taken him to a vet myself---maybe because, to be brutally honest, I'm a little afraid to go against my mother, even if I feel she is wrong. (I know: that's no good reason not to just go ahead and take him already. Again, I'm being honest, even if that honesty makes me look like a grade-A pussy.) Her brilliant new idea, by the way, is to simply deprive him of water after 7 p.m.---this being a suggestion of one of my neighbors, who, according to Mom, used to be a vet's assistant. Yeah, that really signals an authority on pets (even if she does have, like, five dogs at home).

I guess, though, I'm just as bad as my mother, because I don't particularly feel like talking much more about our dog right now...

Anonymous said...

Its interesting to note that when Daniel asks, "What would I do with myself." Their answer is something like "you can take care of your son." but the truth is he only used the "son" to show the image of a family man so he could sell himself to the community. He never wanted to "take care of a son". When the son was "whole" and could help him in the oil business it was fine; after the son went deaf, he was a liability and not an asset and Daniel lost interest in him.He was not about to work with him or help him. The scene where he sends HW off on the train, demonstates his disconnect with any sense of family or fair play---he just walks away from him. Years later, when an adult HW announces that he is going to form his own company, Daniel, even with all his wealth, cannot accept that the young man wants to create something for himself. He only sees it as an attack on himself and his son becomes his competition. He views everything in life through the lense of greedy capitalism.

kenjfuj said...

Hi Anonymous:

Not much more to add to your comments, except I do think there is some real affection for, and even some warmth toward, H.W., at least early on in the film. Yes, he used the boy for his own business-related ends, but in a way, H.W. kept him sane when he was useful. When he became less useful to him---after he went deaf after the oil-derrick explosion, of course---his affection, and thus his humanity, started leeching out of him, apparently to the point that, when H.W. does come back into his life, it's not the same. How could it be?

And yet, I wonder if, during Daniel's faux-baptism, his declarations of "I have abandoned my child!" weren't actually meant in earnest---an accidentally soul-baring moment that he quickly recovers from as he reverts back to his mockery of religion throughout the rest of that scene. (Daniel Day-Lewis's delivery of that line is so flamboyant---as is the rest of his performance, for the most part---that one can't definitively tell on that point.)

Anonymous said...

I will agree that in the beginning Daniel showed some hint of affection for the boy; even in the aftermath of the oil derrick explosion, Daniel runs to get HW and carries him out, with some tenderness. However his progression towards insanity fueled by his greed does indeed wipe this all out. Its an amazing film, really.

A comment about the political scene since you wrote about it: I had really been hoping that this would be the year the Democrats win back the White House and maybe I still feel that way, but I am just not so sure. Its annoying how the two Democrats are sniping at each other and how far they are carrying it. Soon, one of them (Clinton probably) should get out of the race and build a consensus and they should form the ticket together. I highly doubt that is what is going to happen though. Early on it seemed that she had the thing locked up, she must be still in a state of shock that Obama was able to knock her to the side, as he has done at this point. If the two of them keep up their nasty rhetoric towards each other much longer, it will really damage the Democrats' chances, whoever the nominee is. McCain is the best of the Republican lot as far as I am concerned but I too fear his stance on the war, not only in Iraq but is there any country that he would not want to go to war with? Thats scary. So it will be an interesting year.....

kenjfuj said...

Totally agree with you about the campaigns on the Democratic side this year, anonymous, although I've probably gotten to the point that none of the nastiness surprises me all that much. Talk about egos! Even Nancy Pelosi is trying to urge forth a quick resolution. Yeah, I really do hope this hopelessly drawn-out Democratic primary election campaign doesn't put a damper on the party's chances for taking back the White House. On the other hand, I've perhaps become cynical enough to wonder whether even a chance in party in the White House would make a difference in the long run; it's not like the Democrats were able to accomplish a whole heck of a lot even when they had majorities in both Congressional houses these past two years or so.

But yes, an interesting year this certainly will be politically. And of course I will be paying attention; I'm too fearful of being labeled a bad American citizen not to do so.