Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Epic Immensity of Yellowstone and Grand Teton

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—I love the word "epic." I don't know about you, but the mere sound of that word suggests something on a grand scale. And in art, I have a tendency to immediately embrace works that dare to paint a visual/aural picture across a broad canvas, however sprawling or messy the end result may be. (But hey, who needs neat and tidy in art, right?)

But I honestly don't think I've ever quite gotten that same "epic" feeling in my own life experiences as I've done in three days of exploring both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Spend an extended amount of time in these areas, and you can practically feel yourself getting drunk on not only the park's multitudinous natural splendors, but the sheer overwhelming size of the park that contains all of these splendors.

You know that sense of spirituality I spoke about in this recent post? At certain precious moments, I found those out west at Yellowstone and Grand Teton. It didn't even matter that my mother was still as irritating as ever, and that she and my father almost drove me crazy with their bickering. In the face of such expansive and awe-inspiring views of nature, such personal matters seem utterly trivial.

As I came to discover during our three days of exploration, a mere point-and-shoot camera like my Canon PowerShot SD400 can't even come close to capturing the full breadth and majesty of the images I saw with my own eyes. My camera doesn't have a panoramic setting, either, which would have helped immensely.

But I sure as hell have tried, as this sample of photographs I've taken will hopefully attest:

Yellowstone National Park

Grand Teton National Park

What these digital photographs lack in width, I would like to think they make up for in height.

And on rare occasions, I felt so frustrated by the limits of mere still photography in capturing the grandeur of these sights that I resorted to using the video-capture component of my camera, taking some video, and waiting 'til I returned home last night to add some appropriate musical accompaniment.

To wit, then: a full view of the Teton Range, set to a selection from Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic's great 1981 recording of Richard Strauss's great and undervalued Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony), a piece which I mentioned in my previous post:

If any cinematic subject demanded the all-enveloping IMAX format, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are it; hell, maybe one could even go so far as to resurrect Abel Gance's three-screen Polyvision technique from Napoléon (1927)!

But you know what? For once, I say, forget the movies. Who needs 'em? Here, at Yellowstone and Grand Teton, are real-life epic spectacles worth witnessing and savoring.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Quick One, While I'm Away—and Awake

PERRYSBURG, OHIO—I was trying to fall asleep in the RV tonight, and finding myself failing miserably at it for the first time during this vacation, until I remembered that I hadn't blogged in a few days and figured some of you readers may or may not be interested in what has been going on since my last post. So I am using my sudden attack of insomnia to do this little bit of blog housekeeping.

So what has been going on since my last post? Well...not much and quite a bit, it turns out. In the past three days, my family and I have been making the long trek back home...and boy, has it really felt like a loooooong trek home, not helped much by the fact that the past two campgrounds at which we have taken shelter at to rest for the night have lacked sufficient internet access, preventing me from being able to, among other things, update this blog. (This is where my non-smartphone's recently activated mobile web has come in handy, so at least I can keep up with emails and very occasionally check Facebook and Twitter.) Not that I have been terminally bored during these long days of cross-country driving; my iPod's shuffle function, James Joyce's Ulysses—which, for all its difficulty, I'm actually kinda loving—and Twin Peaks have all been keeping me reasonably distracted.

But our third and final day in Yellowstone was spent exploring Grand Teton National Park, which, it turns out, is even more awe-inspiringly beautiful a place than Yellowstone. (Jim Emerson, you were right!) As I tweeted at the end of that day, as I gawked at the view of the Teton Range and hiked on one of its mountains, I found myself desiring to do two things: listen to Richard Strauss's Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony) and watch Renny Harlin's Cliffhanger (1993) on an endless loop. Yes, you read that right: I just lumped Richard Strauss and Renny Harlin in one sentence. Hey, that's how my highbrow/lowbrow mind works.

I won't say much more about my trip now; I'm saving that for a summary post after I return from vacation, which will most likely be later today. Oh, and there is also one other development in my life that faithful Twitter followers will probably already know about, but which I haven't gotten into here at My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second. It's a pretty earth-shattering development for me...but again, I will save it upon my return.

For now...just wish me luck in getting some honest-to-God sleep tonight! (So this is what insomnia feels like, huh?)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Not-Wild-Enough America?

WEST YELLOWSTONE, MONT.—Among the many sights I've seen at Yellowstone National Park in the past two days have been those of wild animals prancing around in what I guess one could call their natural habitats. To wit:

A bison...
...an elk...
...and a couple of moose

Don't get me wrong; I've been as gratified by the sight of these animals—creatures I certainly don't usually see in my neck of the central New Jersey woods—as much as the next guy. Still...a part of me, while fully taking part in the gawking and photographing of these creatures, thought back to Ric O'Barry, the impassioned dolphin trainer who, in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove (2009), believed that Flipper was smiling on the outside but crying on the inside while in captivity. Not that these particular creatures my family and I glimpsed were literally smiling, mind you (just look at the photos)...but I couldn't help but wonder if these animals were at least somewhat conscious of their place in Yellowstone National Park as essentially objects of show for us vacationing human beings. Do any of these creatures cry inside as we snap snap snap our cameras, giving them the kind of attention similar to the way paparazzi photographers give celebrities?

Or am I simply thinking like some kind of extremist in the PETA-as-depicted-by-South Park mode?

I have to admit, though: seeing these creatures up close was still pretty cool. I mean, look how close a shot I got of that bison! Awesome, ain't it?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Glory of Old Faithful: A Video That is Worth a Thousand Pictures

WEST YELLOWSTONE, MONT.—As the cliché goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words." As I have discovered recently, one could also add, "A video is worth a thousand pictures."

Case in point: Today, my family and I decided, on our first full day in the Yellowstone National Park area, to go see the one thing everyone will inevitably ask if you've seen when you come back from a vacation in Yellowstone National Park. That's right, we went to see Old Faithful.

But, as I and a massive crowd of people eagerly awaited Old Faithful's scheduled eruption at around 12:17 p.m.—it eventually spouted off at around 12:30, in fact—I began to feel that mere photos, however well framed, couldn't quite do justice to the however-brief majesty of Old Faithful's eruption. I had to capture it as a video.

And so I did. Consider this as standing in, for now, for our day, since this was the clear highlight. It's basically just Old Faithful erupting...but stay 'til the last 10 seconds or so, when I try to pay halfhearted tribute to the final upward tilt to the heavens that concludes Toy Story 3 (okay, I made that up just now, but for those who've seen that film, maybe you'll see what I mean).


Monday, August 23, 2010

A Peaceful View During a Drive Through South Dakota's Black Hills


After three days of stop-and-start roadtrip traveling, the Fujishima clan has finally made it to Yellowstone National Park. We'll be here for the rest of the week, and on Friday we'll be heading home.

I'll do my best to try to provide brief updates during our days here, though it's quite possible that each day will be so action-packed that I may be too tired to do much blogging in the evening. We shall see.

In the meantime...how about a video to put one in an appropriately serene frame of mind?

During our brief stay in South Dakota, my family and I visited Mt. Rushmore (though we didn't get as close as I would have liked mostly because my mother was too cheap to pay a $10 parking fee to try to get closer). Later that day (this occurred on Saturday), we drove a bit through the Black Hills and found ourselves gawking at this particular sight—one which I was inspired to capture on video.

Honestly, this brief 1:16 of peace and quiet has been my personal highlight of the trip thus far. Why? Because there were no pesky family members around to either amuse or irritate me; it was just me, standing atop some rocks, taking in the majesty of the view in front of me. These days, that's all I need to be happy.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Convergence of Drivers; Plus, What Am I Doing in South Dakota?


My mother and Mike Watt, on a road to...somewhere

Yes, folks: After two long days of driving cross-country, with a precious handful of hours of sleep last night in between it all, my family and I have arrived in South Dakota. Rest assured, we are still on our way to Yellowstone National Park; that ultimate destination has not changed. But we have to decided to take a bit of time to relax and explore South Dakota. We need the rest; for one thing, we all could sure use time for a shower!

I'm not sure what we plan to see here, though. Wait a minute: Isn't the real Deadwood somewhere in South Dakota? This only reminds me that I still haven't actually watched that much-lauded HBO series...

Friday, August 20, 2010

On the Road, With a Trailer—and My Mother—in Tow

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—By the time you all read this, I will most likely be on the road, traveling with my family to the first national park ever established in the world. That's right, we're going to Yellowstone National Park!

Actually, my enthusiasm for going to this U.S. landmark is a bit more tempered than the exclamation mark in the previous sentence might indicate. Why? Not because of the venue, certainly; I, for one, have never been there, and am eagerly looking forward to the chance to see Old Faithful, among other sights, up close and personal. (Yes, my friends, there will be photographs.) No, my lack of unadulterated excitement for this trip stems from pretty much one fact and one fact only: I'll be spending 12 straight days in the presence of my mother. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know what that means: the potential for lots of barely suppressed tension. As usual with family getaways, this trip is completely her idea, and for the next 12 days, the rest of us are basically at the mercy of her whims. Let's just say, that prospect fills me with less sit-back-and-relax-forget-about-Mars Attacks! satisfaction than it used to inspire.

Nevertheless...as Ludwig van Beethoven famously added to his setting of Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy" in the finale of his Ninth Symphony, "Oh friends, not these tones! / Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing / And more joyful sounds!" And so I will try my best to take my mother's advice, for once, and put myself in a more positive frame of mind as my family and I embark on the long drive out to the other side of the country. Besides, if I'm being honest with myself, I probably could use the break from work anyway. (On the other hand, my cinephilia will be taking major hits as a result of this trip: I'm missing Dial M for Murder and House of Wax in 3-D at Film Forum in the coming week, and completely missing Film Society at Lincoln Center's Eric Rohmer retrospective while I'm gone. Believe it or not, Mom, I actually do make personal sacrifices for family time!)

So if you notice that posting is light for the rest of month at My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second, then that is why. Supposedly the campground at which my family and I are staying when we get to Yellowstone will have wifi, so I won't be completely offline. And I may not be completely deprived of filmed entertainment either: Maybe this is a good time to finally tear through Twin Peaks beyond the first five episodes, the last of which I watched maybe a couple months ago. And oh yeah, a friend of mine did give me her copy of the first season of Lost, didn't she...?

My name is Kenji Fujishima, and I am an entertainment addict.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In Which I Try to Tap Into Fatih Akin's Soul


My latest contribution to The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog is an interview I did with German-Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin, whose latest film, Soul Kitchen (2009), comes out in limited release tomorrow and on demand Aug. 25. (In New York, it's playing at IFC Center.) In the interview, Akin discusses, among other topics, the difficult creative process behind the making of the film, his mixed ethnic background and even his belief in a higher power.

Read it, and then go check out the film—which isn't quite my favorite Akin film among the three I've seen (The Edge of Heaven (2007) and Head-On (2004) are the others, with my preference being for the earlier film), but which is still a lot of fun. If Akin, as he suggested in the interview, was consciously aiming to make a crowd-pleasing comedy with this one, then, in the mind of this particular member of the movie-going crowd, he more or less succeeded.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mikey and Nicky, and Films That Hit (Too) Close to Home


Two of my favorite pieces of writing on Charlie Kaufman's 2008 film Synecdoche, New York—outside of Roger Ebert's definitive take—are Andrew "Filmbrain" Grant's two-part examination of the film's thematic and philosophical intricacies, and the review written by Film Freak Central's Walter Chaw (both of whom, by the way, appear in an extra on the film's DVD, along with two other favorite critics of mine, Some Came Running's Glenn Kenny and Los Angeles Weekly's Karina Longworth). I value both these pieces of writing because both dare to inject the personal element into them while also trying to take the film on in something close to an objective manner. For Grant, the film hit home so hard for him that he went on an alcohol binge the night after seeing it for the first time; Chaw similarly admitted that the film made him feel depressed for weeks afterward, and one of the conclusions he draws about Kaufman's work is that "the more it's examined, the more it's a dissection of the critic's own fears and prejudices."

Though I myself am more of a detached admirer than a passionate advocate of Synecdoche, I think I understand the film Grant and Chaw saw: the kind of work of art doesn't just mess with your mind, but has the power to possibly even scar you emotionally.

This past Saturday, at Brooklyn Academy of Music, I saw, for the first time, Elaine May's 1976 film Mikey and Nicky. For those who don't know much about this film: It's a comedy-drama about down-on-his-luck hustler Nicky (John Cassavetes) who calls upon his old friend Mikey (Peter Falk) in a moment of desperation: Nicky knows a crime boss has ordered a hit on him, and, fearing for his life, calls upon Mikey for help. Over the course of the night they spend together, they get into an aimless series of adventures, shooting the shit, baring their souls, getting into bitter arguments and generally bonding in their own way. Alas, Mikey, it is revealed early on, is in on the hit on his friend, and the film features scenes which suggest long-seated tensions in their friendship that eventually explode in a devastating conclusion that suggests limits to male comradeship.

There's not much of a plot to speak of outside of those bare outlines; Mikey and Nicky is a series of episodes in which the two titular characters' friendship is tested, and it is all done in an unnervingly realistic, improvisatory manner that suggests the mold-breaking style of Cassavetes's own directorial efforts. May uses this loose structure to touch on all sorts of heady subjects: life, death, religion, friendship, masculinity, femininity.

It's a rich and almost unbearably poignant work...and, for this viewer, it's a film that truly hit close to home for me in ways I didn't even fully realize until the next morning.

There is one particularly painful scene in the middle of the film in which buried resentments between the two friends are thrust into the open, with Mikey accusing Nicky of, among other things, only being friendly with him when he's in trouble. Somehow, during this scene—which climaxes in a near-fistfight between the two—I began to think about some of my own friends, and whether I have been less than appropriate friendly to them in recent weeks.

I thought about one friend in particular: someone who I've known since middle school, who I've hung out with often over the years, to the point that we're considered a kind of unofficial couple among our circle of friends. Just about every week, we're usually seeing a movie together, to give you an idea of just how close we are. Recently, though, I've kept a certain distance from him. It's not entirely deliberate, mind you—other social engagements and weird work schedules have gotten in the way. But I've also come to realize that there are many other people in whose company I find more genuine pleasure than I do when I'm around him.

This friend had texted me earlier in the day asking me if I was interested in seeing The Expendables that night—and for maybe the third time in about a month, I had to turn him down because I had already planned to see Mikey and Nicky and then have dinner with someone that evening. Obviously, there wasn't much I could do about it at that point; plans had already been set. And yet, when I turned him down this time and saw that he didn't respond back for the rest of the day, I nevertheless felt a twinge of guilt, mostly out of the deep-seated realization that perhaps I was partly trying to avoid him. (I went to Los Angeles with him earlier this year, and as the week dragged on, the silences between us got longer and longer.) So when I saw this particular scene in Mikey and Nicky, some of that guilt started rushing back to me again, a feeling only intensified by the film's tragic final shot of a startled Peter Falk.

The last thing I expected, though, was to actually end up seeing my friend later that night...in a dream—a dream in which he verbally, and angrily, expressed to me everything I feared he was feeling after all these rejections: snubbed, jilted, ignored. He's not the type to get visibly angry, so to dream of him acting sarcastically bitter and wounded in front of me was, well, nightmarish. I awoke from that dream shaken, and that feeling didn't really leave me for the rest of the day.

That cannot be mere coincidence. Mikey and Nicky has had a more profound effect on me than I even realized upon exiting the theater Saturday evening. I'm still thinking about the film: about what it says about the sometimes tenuous nature of friendship and loyalty, and about how it pertains to my own life. Maybe I'm just not as good a friend to even supposedly "close" friends as I am to others. This film won't leave me alone. I have no doubt in my mind that this film is a masterpiece, but I'm almost afraid to revisit it. Do I dare feel that same sense of shame again?

I've detailed a mostly subjective reaction to this film, of course, one which probably won't apply to everyone. But I'd like to think my personal experience with the film is not exclusive to me, and that the film is universal enough in scope to touch others in a similar way.

If it ain't Mikey and Nicky or Synecdoche, New York, what other movies have had a comparably powerful effect on you? Comment away; I'd love to hear about your too-close-to-home movie experiences.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Want to Believe: Religion, Spirituality and Art

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—A few mornings ago, as I was eating breakfast, my mother once again tried to persuade me to take up religion. This time, however, she had something of an ace up her sleeve, one that, for the moment at least, put me in a more receptive, and thoughtful, frame of mind.

Mind you, I am not by any means a staunch atheist. When it comes to religion, I echo The X-Files's Fox Mulder: I want to believe. I want to believe that there is a Supreme Being who exists to give all of us strength in troubled times, who will provide for us if we only have faith in Him and live by His guiding principles as outlined in the Bible. I have had many a moment of personal struggle where, in the heat of a particularly trying moment, I thought to myself, It would be nice, wouldn't it, if there was a God whose shoulder I could lean on right now. That would just lift a great weight off my shoulder.

I haven't really been able to find it in me to make that leap of faith, though that may be a result less of skepticism than of just not having had the time or inclination to give the whole matter of God's existence much thought. My own experiences in life has taught me that, in general, you can't afford to put circumstances in your life in the hands of some mysterious, invisible presence, and hope that things will eventually turn out all right; you have to actively work to make it so, however difficult it may be.

One of my younger brothers, though, has recently brought religion into his life; he goes to a church every Sunday and has been hanging out more often with people from that church. This past weekend, he and a few others went on a two-day-plus retreat in which they actually read through all of the New Testament.

That in itself is an impressive feat right there. I didn't realize just how impressive it was, though, until I recently talked to him about the weekend, and he recounted his experience on that Sunday when he went to his church's usual service. The priest, he says, was talking about baptism, but instead of saying that one needed to be baptized in order to feel the Holy Spirit enter into him/her, he said that one can feel the Holy Spirit if one lives the right way: exulting in the goodness of God, keeping Him in one's heart, and the like.

It was at that moment, my brother told me, that he suddenly experienced a transcendent feeling: as he claims, he felt the Holy Spirit entering into him. "It's just something you feel," he even said, when I asked him how he knew.

And that feeling moved him to the point of shedding tears.

I mus confess, my friends: When I heard that, I began to experience feelings of my own—awe, amazement...and a little bit of envy. Is there anything I can point to in my own life that can inspire such emotion, passion and reverence?

Well...there is art...


It's funny: I'm not a religious person—I'm inclined to look at all organized religions with skepticism—and yet when it comes to the films I watch, the music I hear, or the books I read, I am almost invariably moved when an author/artist tackles religion as a subject, or simply inspires a spiritual feeling with his/her art.

Recently, for instance, I introduced myself to Hector Berlioz's Grande Messe des morts (Requiem) via a 1959 RCA recording by Charles Munch, the New England Conservatory Chorus and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Within the first few notes of its opening "Requiem et Kyrie"—a progression of notes that at first seems like a regular scale until it reaches a half-step that injects a sense of doubt—I knew this was going to be one of those devotional works that would inspire with its vivid sense of religious fervor. It’s a feeling that Berlioz successfully sustains throughout the work's 80-some minutes, perhaps most memorably in a boldly dramatic passage in its "Dies irae" second movement, in which the composer unleashes four additional brass bands in a musical illustration of trumpets announcing the day of judgment at hand. That is not to lessen the impact of quieter movements like "Quid sum miser," "Quarens me" and "Offertorium," all just as impressive in its feeling of contemplation and, in its concluding "amen," serenity.

At the Getty Center in Los Angeles a few months ago, I had another quasi-spiritual experience at an exhibit featuring the photographs of British photographer Frederick H. Evans (1853-1943). Evans is best known these days for photographing cathedrals. One look at the image above, and perhaps you can see why: The earthy colors and the light illuminating the space impart a genuine you-are-there feeling, as if you yourself were walking in the church, standing in awe of God’s presence.

Of course, this feeling of spirituality is present in many films as well—even in films you may not expect. Last year, in preparation for Werner Herzog’s The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, I acquainted myself with Abel Ferrara’s 1992 Bad Lieutenant, and even though I myself am not a Catholic, I nevertheless found myself deeply moved by the unnamed lieutenant’s guilt and anguish—to the point that, when Harvey Keitel melts down in a church towards the end of the film, crying out for a God that he fears is not there, I was on the verge of tears. Never mind whether the Lieutenant deserved to be redeemed for his many crimes; Ferrara, with brute force and gritty artistry, had made one man’s tortured religious fervor immediate and real.

That is just the tip of a huge iceberg. Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927)—all of these, and plenty more, are examples of works of art that deal with religious belief in ways that inspired someone even as questioning of religion as I.

And the more I thought about these pieces of film, music and visual art, the more I realized that maybe I do have a religion of sorts: Art is my religion, and maybe it is there that I find something that one could call God’s presence, speaking through these artists. Maybe my brother is right that that kind of feeling of fervor in art is merely “fleeting” compared to the sustained spiritual food provided by churchgoing and living one’s life in a religious manner.

But perhaps that is why I maintain this blog: to crystallize those moments of fervor I feel at the movies, to keep the faith.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"How to Be Alone": Four Minutes of (Beautiful) Solitude

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—I said I was done for the week in my last post, but this was just too good not to share. So, not quite yet...

One of my friends on Facebook shared a video that really spoke to me personally, so much so that I think it'll speak personally to some of you too. It's a setting of a poem entitled "How to Be Alone" written by Canadian singer/songwriter Tanya Davis, filmed by another Canadian, Andrea Dorfman, in a charmingly whimsical, vaguely Michel Gondry-ish style.

Loneliness doesn't have to be a bad thing, as Davis suggests. If you're comfortable with yourself and remain engaged with the world even when you're alone, solitude can actually be quite beautiful. That feeling of having your thoughts to yourself, being unburdened by others' wants and demands, and being free to contemplate and explore on your own—to my mind, those are feelings to treasure (at least, as long as you balance solitude with the equal pleasures of social interaction).

Besides, aren't we all alone, basically? As Rainer Maria Rilke, that great poet of solitude, once wrote: "At the bottom no one in life can help anyone else in life; this one experiences over and over in every conflict and every perplexity: that one is alone. That isn't as bad as it may first appear; and again it is the best thing in life that each should have everything in himself; his fate, his future, his whole expanse and world."

Here's the video:

Video for the Day, Friday the 13th Edition

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—It's Friday the 13th today, and what better way to mark yet another Friday the 13th than with...Friday the 13th?

I know, I'm being super obvious and predictable here. But still. The Friday the 13th films were a part of my earliest days of cinephilia, so I have a certain attachment to them, as unapologetically trashy as they are. Beginning first as intrigue at what illicit pleasures potentially lay behind the tantalizing VHS boxes of those (and many other horror) films, becoming full-blown fascination when I taped a bunch of the censored-for-TV versions of the films during a marathon on the USA cable network, and then finally having my curiosity sated when I sat down and watched the unedited versions on premium cable/VHS/DVD. Seeing an arrow getting rammed through Kevin Bacon's throat in the original Friday the 13th (1980)—yeah! Witnessing Crispin Glover get a corkscrew through his hand and a butcher knife in his face in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)—awesome! And what about seeing Jason Voorhees rip the heart out of Ron "Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter" Palillo in the literally thunderous opening of Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)? That satisfied me as well, I'll freely admit. And don't forget the sex and the breasts!

Obviously, I'm older, wiser and more humane now. Maybe. (Or maybe not. I recently got my hands on a DVD copy of that 1987 Hong Kong action flick Eastern Condors that I wrote about here, and all I feel like doing these days is watching Sammo Hung, Joyce Godenzi, Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah kick people's asses in various balletic maneuvers.) Back then, though, I was fairly easy to please, at least in the gross-out movie department.

All of this is a nostalgic preamble to this video, courtesy of the folks at Cinemassacre.com, which counts down one person's 13 favorite moments from the Friday the 13th series. There are many others I could list, but this covers a lot of the more memorable high points—high bloody points.

Enjoy...if you dare!


On that "red-not-blood" note, this particular week in my life and My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second ends. Posting has been lighter than usual, I know. I've got one interview on deck, so I've been working on that on-and-off this week; in addition, the search for a New York apartment has soldiered on in spite of some unexpected setbacks (I won't go into those now; maybe later). Worry not, faithful readers; I'm planning an early return to blogging form on Sunday with a post on a subject that fascinates me. 

What could that subject be? I guess you'll just have to come to my place on Sunday and find out, won'tcha? (Hint: It has to do with something many people like to do/express in a public place on Sundays.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Weekly Musical Discoveries: Charles Munch Conducts Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique


Hector Berlioz, Louis Alexandre Gosset de Guines

Surely everyone goes through those periods of time where one particular piece of music obsesses them, to the point that said piece of music simply refuses to leave your head. I'm currently going through such a phase with French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, its hair-raising final "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath" in particular.

The French composer's five-movement work, written in 1830, is perhaps most famous for its groundbreaking use of a program to go along with the music, one that is said to have been based on an obsession the composer himself was experiencing with a woman. According to Berlioz's Memoirs (translated here by Michael Austin):

A young musician of morbid sensitivity and ardent imagination poisons himself with opium in a moment of despair caused by frustrated love. The dose of narcotic, while too weak to cause his death, plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied by the strangest of visions, in which his experiences, feelings and memories are translated in his feverish brain into musical thoughts and images. His beloved becomes for him a melody and like an idée fixe which he meets and hears everywhere.

Each movement, then, represents episodes in the life of its musical protagonist, some "real," others projections of his troubled mind. Its tumultuous first movement sets the stage, then; and its second and third movements are set in a ball and out in the countryside, respectively—idyllic moments in which memories of the protagonist's beloved darken the aural landscape. But then the piece becomes truly surreal: the fourth movement is a "March to the Scaffold," in which, as Berlioz describes, his protagonist has an opium-induced vision that he has killed his great love and now sees himself witnessing "his own execution [emphasis Berlioz's]."

And then there's the aforementioned fifth movement, a still shocking feat of malevolent orchestral imagination. Berlioz again:

He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath… Roar of delight at her arrival… She joins the diabolical orgy… The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.

Believe me, the music—still intoxicating as ever, what with its shrieking winds and spectral strings—fully lives up to Berlioz's description, with nothing held back in intensity.

Putting aside Berlioz's written program, however, on an absolute-music level, Symphonie fantastique is a classical symphonic structure that more or less conforms to fast-moderate-slow tradition in its first three movements—save for a few choice disturbances in the fabric (the frenetically swirling conclusion of the second movement's graceful waltz music, for instance)—until it goes off the rails in its last two movements, climaxing in a no-holds-barred fury as the hero seems to stare into some sort of mental abyss. Berlioz, it seems, was dipping his toes in the classical style while unleashing his extravagant orchestral imagination to puncture that style, first by subtle degrees, then in full force. He may have helped usher in the Romantic period of the 19th century, but he was not above relying on lucid, time-honored structural means to realize his visions.

I recently listened for the first time to an early-stereo recording of the Symphonie fantastique from 1954 featuring French maestro Charles Munch leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra...and boy, I feel like my head is still bearing remnants of its thrilling ride. Munch's reading of the first three movements is mostly notable for its classical poise—but then, for the most part, so is the piece itself. But then he and his fine orchestra turn the heat up a notch in the steady but forward-moving "March to the Scaffold"...and then truly lose it in the "Dream of the Witches' Sabbath," with Munch pushing fast tempos near their breaking point in ways that, as far as I know, no other conductor—certainly not the more classically-minded Berlioz specialist Sir Colin Davis, in his various recordings of the piece—has dared, at least on record. The effect is shattering, exhilarating—an honest-to-God rush

Seriously, folks: Even if you don't listen to much classical music, you owe it to yourself to hear this performance all the way through, primitive-sounding stereo and all. You won't regret it.

To give you all a taste, here's Munch conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the "March to the Scaffold" movement from the Symphonie fantastique, from 1962 (the user who posted the video has disabled embedding, so you'll have to click on the link provided above).

Monday, August 09, 2010

Weekend Film Round-up: Blondes on Blonde


But, sooner or later, one of us must know
You just did what you're supposed to do
Sooner or later, one of us must know
That I really did try to get close to you

Though Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell get equal star billing in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Howard Hawks's lavish Technicolor musical/battle of the sexes (currently screening at Film Forum in a gorgeous new 35mm print), Monroe's Lorelei Lee is, to my mind, the star of this show. Jane Russell's Dorothy Shaw is the barbed idealist of the pair, throwing herself into the game looking for real love. That's fine, and Russell is certainly quite a sight to watch in her own right; she gets most of the sharpest one-liners in Charles Lederer's adaptation of Anita Loos and Joseph Fields's Broadway musical. By comparison, though, she is a plain, um, "Jane" of a character compared to to Lorelei, an enthusiastic gold-digger who doesn't really pretend to be anything but. She might be a reprehensible character in a different context...but as written in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and as played by Monroe in her inimitable manner, Lorelei truly believes that money is the road to happiness. Does she truly love the rich men she seduces? Maybe that's besides the point; to her, love and money are more or less inseparable.

That is what makes the film's famous "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number so fascinating, in addition to being a brilliant piece of acting, staging and choreography. Lorelei isn't just setting out a statement of purpose; she's also explaining it. Age might take away good looks, and all the true love in the world won't necessarily pay the bills when times get tough—but money, to her mind, is the true constant that will keep two people together, even after the flame of romance dies out.

Cynicism or hard truth? When I look at the relationship between my father and mother—one of uneasy coexistence, I would say, more than passion these days—I can't help but wonder...

Either way, it's a hell of a lot of fun. Just watch "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" for yourself, if you haven't seen this film yet:


Then time will tell just who fell
And who's been left behind,
When you go your way and I go mine.

In Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (2009), the latest film from 101-year-old (yes, you read that right) Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira, it's made pretty clear in its opening scene, onboard a train, that the film will end in lovers parting ways. Thus, much of the "suspense," so to speak, of this slender but entrancing 64-minute feature is the physical and emotional journey its main character, Macário (Ricardo Trêpa), takes to that final, devastating moment of heartbreak.

Based on a well-known Portuguese short story by Eça de Queirós, the story itself contains as many moments of bitter disappointment and misfortune as it does moments of hope and fortune. But a mere plot summary doesn't begin to suggest the distinctive way de Oliveira tells the story. For instance: He has attached a framing device the story proper, in which Macário is wearily retelling his unfortunate affair to a lady (Leonor Silveira) sitting next to him on a train—but de Oliveira frames the two characters from the shoulder up and allows the scenery passing by through the train windows to dominate the frame, allowing our eyes to take notice of the uncaring world passing them by. De Oliveira also throws in a sequence set in an underground literary society that bears de Queirós's name—this is where Macário finally meets the girl of the title, after having glimpsed her fanning herself through a window across from his work office—that has a Victorian-era feel to it contrasting sharply with the modern settings in which the rest of the story takes place. But even though the film is set in the present—and even alludes, implicitly and explicitly, to our current recession, thereby giving it at least passing topical resonance—Eccentricities exudes a timeless feel in its unforced visual style and its elegant compositions. De Oliveira may be telling a story that is meant to address our times, but at heart it is also universal.

For all its considerable visual qualities, though, it is de Oliveira's wisdom about matters of the heart, and of life spanning the generations, that elevates Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl past its parable nature and its thinly realized characters to something close to profundity. One would expect no less from a 101-year-old filmmaker, especially one as widely revered as de Oliveira.


She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl.

This weekend, The Film Society of Lincoln Center hosted a short series of films featuring Isabel Sarli, an Argentinian actress/sex symbol popular in the 1960s and '70s. I had never heard of "Coca" Sarli before, and this series was honestly never in my radar until a friend suggested it as possible Saturday evening viewing. And hey, I'm never not for being in the cinematic company of Hispanic sex symbols—especially one as, um, physically well-endowed as Sarli apparently was. With Mad Men's Christina Hendricks apparently bringing the curvy pin-up back into style, maybe this is Sarli's time to shine once again. It helps that, like Marilyn Monroe, Isabel Sarli embraces her image and embodies it to the hot, passionate hilt.

The film I saw was named Meat (1968). It's not available on DVD, alas, but, in spite of its kitschy elements—a Hammond-organ score that feels like something out of a cheesy telenovela, a tone that wavers from campy to straight-faced—it's actually a very good film that is worth taking seriously beyond its trashy sexploitation provocations.

The title (Carne in Spanish) carries a double meaning. On a literal level, it refers to the meatpacking factory in which its much of its cast of characters works. But on a symbolic level, "meat" is the way many of the male characters view the voluptuously beautiful Delicia (Sarli)—as a pound of flesh to be toyed with. That is exactly what the appropriately named Macho (Romualdo Quiroga) does with Delicia, in a series of rape scenes that eventually escalates to an extended sequence in which Macho subjects her to various advances from other men from the factory who want to get into her pants. Amidst the degradation, she still maintains a belief in the true love provided to her by factory foreman/wannabe artist Antonio (Victor Bo).

In essence, Meat presents a dichotomy between passion and objectification, with writer-director Armando Bo (Sarli's real-life husband) eventually, humanely, arguing for the former even as he doesn't stint on showing us the often outrageous details of the latter. Rest assured, Meat isn't nearly as grueling an experience as it sounds on paper; this isn't the opening rape in Gaspar Noé's Irreversible (2002) stretched out to agonizing feature length. But a funny thing happened after its exuberantly campy final images had flashed onscreen: I walked out of the film feeling genuinely guilty about those many moments in the past in which I had gawked at women, admiring their physical attributes without ever wondering about the person inside the body. This film made me feel dirty in a way that actually kinda made me want to think less dirty in the future; that's the last thing I expected a sexploitation film with the name of Meat to do.

Here's a clip, for a, um, taste:

Friday, August 06, 2010

Literary Interlude: James Joyce and the Interpretation of Art


—What is a ghost? Stephen said with tingling energy. One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners. Elizabethan London lay as far from Stratford as corrupt Paris lies from virgin Dublin. Who is the ghost from limbo patrum, returning to the world that has forgotten him? Who is king Hamlet?

John Eglinton shifted his spare body, leaning back to judge.


—It is this hour of a day in mid June, Stephen said, begging with a swift glance their hearing. The flag is up on the playhouse by the bankside. The bear Sackerson grows in the pit near it, Paris garden. Canvasclimbers who said with Drake chew their sausages among the groundlings.

Local colour. Work in all you know. Make them accomplices.

—Shakespeare has left the huguenot's house in Silver street and walks by the swanmews along the riverbank. But he does not stay to feed the pen chivying her game of cygnets towards the rushes. The swan of Avon has other thoughts.

Composition of place. Ignatius Loyola, make haste to help me!

—The play begins. A player comes on under the shadow, made up in the castoff mail of a court buck, a wellset man with a bass voice. It is the ghost, the king, a king and no king, and the player is Shakespeare who has studied Hamlet all the years of his life which were not vanity in order to play the part of the spectre. He speaks the words to Burbage, the young player who stands before him beyond the rack of cerecloth, calling him by a name:

Hamlet, I am thy father's spirit

bidding him list. To a son he speaks, the son of his soul, the prince, young Hamlet and to the son of his body, Hamnet Shakespeare, who has died in Stratford that his namesake may live forever.

—Is it possible that that player Shakespeare, a ghost by absence, and in the venture of buried Denmark, a ghost by death, speaking his own words to his own son's name (had Hamnet Shakespeare lived he would have been prince Hamlet's twin) is it possible, I want to know, or probable that he did not draw or foresee the logical conclusion of those premises: you are the dispossessed son: I am the murdered father: your mother is the guilty queen. Ann Shakespeare, born Hathaway?

—But this prying into the family life of a great man, Russell began impatiently.

Art thou there, truepenny?

—Interesting only to the parish clerk. I mean, we have the plays. I mean when we read the poetry of King Lear what is it to us how the poet lived? As for living, our servants can do that for us, Villiers de l'Isle has said. Peeping and prying into greenroom gossip of the day, the poet's drinking, the poet's debts. We have King Lear: and it is immortal.

In college, I took a class on semester which, in part, explored different methodologies of interpreting a work of art. One issue that cropped up: How much should one consider historical or biographical context in examining an artwork? Or should it be almost entirely about the work itself?

In this passage from Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus has a rather intriguing theory about how Shakespeare's real point of connection in Hamlet is with Hamlet's dead father, not Hamlet himself. He carefully lays out this theory to those who openly scoff at him for bothering to bring biography into his literary criticism. Normally, I'm the kind of guy that would side with the latter camp, preferring to "separate the art from the artist," as such an approach is so often labeled. But this passage—really, the whole "Scylla and Charybdis" section of the novel from which the above passage derives—got me once again considering whether such a contextual approach should be ruled out entirely. Something drives an artist to create; creativity doesn't come out of a vacuum. But what is the nature of that something? Is it something someone notices in the news, or observes in the outside world? Or is it something one experiences in one's own life? And how much of that should one bear upon an interpretation of a work of literature, visual art, theater or film?

I don't have a set answer to all of that, of course—and neither does James Joyce. I prefer to find comfort in such open-endedness, however. The beauty of art, of course, is that there is no one way of looking at an artwork, and that each approach can be enlightening in its own way. So it is in life: There's no one way to live a life, but if you're open to different ways of living, who knows where you'll find the most illumination and pleasure?

And on that note: I hope all of you fine readers of mine find your own paths to illumination and pleasure this weekend!

Maybe you'll find that illumination in the dark of a movie theater, the way Anna Karina does in Vivre sa vie (1962):

(Screengrab courtesy of DVDBeaver)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Video for the Day: The Legend of Dave Chappelle

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—The first thing I thought of when it was announced earlier this week that 16-year-old singing superstar Justin Bieber was not only going to pen a memoir, but also star as himself in a biopic based on his own life—in 3D, no less? Well, after having a good laugh at the news, I thought of this:

Chappelle's Show
The Dave Chappelle Story
Buy Chappelle's Show DVDsBlack ComedyTrue Hollywood Story

In this sketch from the first season of his brilliant (and sadly short-lived) series Chappelle's Show, comedian Dave Chappelle imagined how he would portray himself if he—like Antwone Fisher when he wrote the screenplay for the film that eventually became Denzel Washington's Antwone Fisher (2002)—wrote the screenplay for a biopic of his own life. Let's just say that he's not above turning that classic Man Who Shot Liberty Valance paradigm—"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"—on its ear and printing an extravagant, and hilarious, legend of his own making.

Not that I really care all that much about Justin Bieber (aside: the first time I actually heard his mega-hit "Baby," I seriously thought I was listening to a young girl, not a pre-pubescent boy), but I have to admit, I am at least marginally curious as to how the kid will approach telling his own life story, such as it is—whether he'll painstakingly stick to the facts or inflate it for the purpose of entertainment. Of course, the fact that book and movie companies are actually offering a 16-year-old, however world famous, memoir/biopic deals is already pretty absurd to begin with, in my opinion. So I can't say I'm chomping at the bit to find out.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

An Outsider's Ode to Sunset Park, Brooklyn

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—As I may have mentioned on this blog recently, and as those of you who follow me on Twitter perhaps already know, I am in the process of trying to find an apartment in New York in which to live. I've mostly been looking in the Brooklyn area because one of my potential roommates is planning to return to school in the fall in an area that is ostensibly closer to Brooklyn than Queens is.

This past Saturday, my apartment hunt took me to Sunset Park, a neighborhood that's a bit south of the ever-popular Park Slope. I had never been in the area before, and honestly I hadn't even heard of it until I started trolling Craigslist apartment listings recently and noticed quite a few of them in that area within my specified price range. But, at least in my brief exposure to Sunset Park on Saturday, it's actually a nice area: quiet, reasonably scenic and homely. It also seems to have a fairly wide variety of ethnicities coexisting there: Chinese, Hispanic, African-American, just plain American. This pleases me; I'm all about variety in general.

A few blocks away from the apartment I tried to look at (I explain the "tried to" part in the postscript below) is the actual park named Sunset Park, and while it's fairly small—two blocks north-to-south, two blocks east-to-west—it's also rather breathtaking. If nothing else, it offers some lovely views of New York City, as you can see here:

Oh, and there's also this:

Chinese pop music? Blasting from a radio? At 11 a.m. in the morning on a beautiful sunny day? I felt like I was at home already!

P.S. Who knows, though, if Sunset Park is where I'll end up living? When the realtor for the apartment I was hoping to view showed up, we discovered that the key he had was only good for opening the apartment building door (which was already open anyway) and not the unit itself! I haven't yet heard back from the realtor as to whether he has been able to procure the actual apartment key since then, and each day I don't hear back from him, my hopes for being able to see this apartment in this potentially promising spot dwindles. So for now, the apartment hunt continues...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Weekly Musical Discoveries: The National's Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers


I had never even heard of the Brooklyn-based indie-rock band The National until I started seeing people on Twitter discussing their latest album, High Violet. Then I started hearing about various concert appearances the band was making in the tri-state area, including some shows at Radio City Music Hall, which is very close to where I work. Because this year I pledged to at least make some effort in keeping up with the latest in indie music, naturally I decided I would make catching up with this and the band's previous albums a goal.

Based on what I've heard, it was a goal worth making.

As many have noted, The National's stylistic influences run far and wide, from folksy Americana to electronic Britpop—all of which the band is able to fashion into an intriguingly distinctive sound of their own. But the band's lyrical content may not be to all tastes: These are not upbeat songs lead singer Matt Berninger & co. sing, to say the least, and sometimes the sense of despair—over failed love affairs, over life's usual disappointments—can veer toward oppressive. But the music that supports the band's depressive vision is frequently evocative, the lyrics eloquent, and Berninger's deep baritone emotionally expressive without beating you over the head with its emotionalism in the wailing Win Butler/Arcade Fire manner.

It's their last three albums, Alligator (2004), Boxer (2007) and High Violet that have received the bulk of the band's acclaim, and justifiably so. For me, though, their second album, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003) shows them at their most excitingly adventurous. If their self-titled 2001 debut displayed a confident mixture of folk and indie-rock elements, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers pushes it further, throwing in electronic sounds along with string arrangements, and featuring acoustic cuts like "90-Mile Water Wall" standing alongside hard-rocking tunes like "Murder Me Rachael," "Available" and "Trophy Wife." Amidst it all, Berninger's voice remains a bedrock of deeply personal introspection, barely raising his voice yet somehow piercing the heart regardless.  

Their subsequent albums refine this mixture, to the point that this year's High Violet seems to contain barely a trace of their Americana roots, focusing more on their indie-rock side. (It's also feels like their most despairing record yet; maybe that isn't a coincidence.) That's not necessarily meant as a criticism; it's proof that The National is still growing after all. Still, I would submit that their first two albums, especially Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, present this terrific band at its freshest, and do not deserve to be undervalued in light of their recent, more widely celebrated work.

Here's a taste—a live performance of the lovely album closer "Lucky You":

Monday, August 02, 2010

Weekend Film Round-up: Profundity, Casual and Rather Less So

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—Circumstances related to family and apartment-hunting kept me from seeing more films in theaters this weekend...so no, I didn't get to see The Kids Are All Right—which went wider this past weekend—or even Salt, of which I've heard some surprisingly positive things. And nope, I still haven't seen Winter's Bone.

But the two that I films I did get to see theatrically were terrific—one of them a newer film, another an until-then-unseen-by-me classic.



In the second half of Mia Hansen-Løve's The Father of My Children (2009), Sylvia Canvel (Chiara Caselli) and daughters Billie (Manelle Driss), Valentine (Alice Gautier) and Clémence (Alice de Lencquesaing) are forced to deal with the fallout from the sudden death of the titular father, Grégoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing); one of the great achievements of this film is that Hansen-Løve—by daring to have Grégoire, a movie producer who feels the walls closing in on him as his financial struggles pile up, off himself midway through the movie—forces us to participate in that grieving process, which Hansen-Løve vividly details: the waves of complicated emotions, the arc from anger to acceptance, the various ways the family members try to maintain the memory of their loving but reckless father.

What's remarkable about The Father of My Children is how visceral a movie it is, for all its talk. In its first half, Hansen-Løve drops us into Grégoire's hard-driving lifestyle, as we see him making phone call after phone call on his way home from the office; the fact that the man is so charming and likable makes his slow-motion march toward self-inflicted death that much more agonizing to witness. Once he shoots himself to death on a street—a shocking moment that Hansen-Løve never really explains, preferring to simply present it as a disheartening fact of life—the second half feels appropriately scattered, as Sylvia struggles to try to keep her husband's production company afloat and Clémence finds herself only now drawing closer to her father by exploring his past. But the grieving process eventually ends, as it must. Even as a sense of unshakable melancholy hangs over them, by the end of the film the family has moved on, underscored by Hansen-Løve's use of "Que Sera, Sera" over its end credits.

The Father of My Children tackles its weighty subject matter with a delicacy and level of observation that vaults the movie to the realm of the casually profound; as an examination of how people cope with deep, unexpected loss, Hansen-Løve's film makes for a worthy companion piece to (Hansen-Løve's current boyfriend) Olivier Assayas's equally moving and insightful Summer Hours (2008).

(The Father of My Children may still be available on IFC on Demand, if it's not playing at a theater near you.)


Equally profound, if perhaps less casual about it, was the until-Saturday-afternoon-unseen-by-me classic: Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), a oft-dazzling feat of can-you-top-this comic invention with underlying—and still startlingly relevant—satire of industrialization and Depression-era life and Chaplin's usual romantic pathos.

I don't think I have anything particularly fresh to add about the film that hasn't already been said; Chaplin's elegant freedom of movement and the sheer delirious audacity of its setpieces—particularly its stunning climactic restaurant sequence—speak for itself. But this technically brilliant film is also a humanist masterwork, in which Chaplin constantly seeks to highlight the human interactions that threaten to be engulfed by the general push toward cold technological efficiency, as he so uproariously savages in this sequence:

Once people accept an "innovation" like that, Chaplin suggests, people run the risk of turning into...well, sheep, as the film's opening juxtaposition of images so boldly illustrates. But Chaplin—like Jacques Tati would later continue in Playtime (1967)—leaves us not with despair, but with hope that humanity will at least soldier on.