Happy Birthday, Louis Armstrong

This is fabulous. And the Duke Ellington quote on the screen before the clip begins … Heart-crack.

Posted in Music, On This Day | 2 Comments

Happy Birthday, Percy Bysshe Shelley

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on this day in 1792.

Shelley, along with his BFF Lord Byron, thumbed their nose at the commonplaces of their current era, and he (even more so than Byron) appeared to court controversy from right off the bat. Shelley was an aristocrat, born into wealth. He went to the top schools (Eton and then Oxford), but was expelled after he wrote a treatise on the glories of atheism. He got in big trouble for that, and then even more trouble with his father when he eloped with the teenage Harriet Westbrook. Her father owned a tavern, which made the situation seem worse to his privileged family. He and Harriet traveled about the English provinces, as well as Wales and Ireland, as, basically, political rabble-rousers. Shelley was the kind of person who stood on street corners distributing leaflets about injustice. Around this time, he started publishing poetry as well. Poems that reflected his radicalism, his atheism, and his political convictions, none of which made him popular.

Then he met Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the daughter of the feminist political writer Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, the anarchist. His marriage was on the fritz at this point, but you get the idea that Shelley wouldn’t have let such a thing as domestic bliss stop him from doing what he wanted. He and Mary ran away together, leaving poor Harriet behind. Mary’s stepsister Claire came with, causing all sorts of rumors to fly about what was going on, romantically, sexually, with the trio. They finally returned to England and he found out that Harriet had drowned herself. (Mark Twain wrote an enormous essay called “In Defense of Harriet Shelley”, a wonderful act of chivalry, really, defending her from the slanderous comments made about her in a recent biography of Shelley, where she was blamed for everything bad that happened to Shelley. If only she had been nicer … was the main thrust of the book. Mark Twain went to TOWN on that writer.)

Shelley then married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who then became Mary Shelley (now famous the world over for writing Frankenstein). They had a son who died when he was two. Shelley was devastated.

Percy and Mary and Mary’s stepsister Claire joined up with Lord Byron at Lake Geneva. Byron slept with Claire. Shelley wrote some poems. Mary wrote Frankenstein on a dare. Shelley continued his poetic and political radicalism. Shelley was a legend in his own time. Fame did not visit him only posthumously. There was a sense of sexual sadism and depravity about him, at least that was his reputation, and his poems often pointed in that direction, with incest and violence and political revolt. He was obsessed with ancient times (as many were then, with the opening of Egypt to the world), and wrote a five-act tragedy called Cenci (it’s quite an interesting work) that took place in 16th century Rome. He wrote Ozymandias around this time.

In Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World’s Best Poems, Camille Paglia writes of “Ozymandias”:

Compressed in size yet vast in scale, “Ozymandias” remains Shelley’s most accessible poem, employing effects that are prophetically cinematic. Its punishing landscape descends directly from Marvell’s “deserts of vast eternity,” the wilderness beyond Eden in “To His Coy Mistress”. This time, however, we are in Egypt, which had been opened to European exploration by Napoleon’s 1798 invasion. Like Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us” and “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” “Ozymandias” is a traditional sonnet but also a spontaneous Romantic effusion, reportedly written straight out in less than an hour on the flyleaf of a borrowed book.

Only one line is ostensibly in the poet’s voice: Shelley introduces the poem, then steps back and disappears. A second character, the shadowy “traveler”, begins to speak in the second line, and though his voice continues to the end, he too recedes as the monumental artifacts take over. There is a third voice inset in the poem – that of a royal ghost as sonorous and demanding as Hamlet’s stalking father.

Does the traveler really exist? Or is he a dream vision? In either case, he acts as proxy for Shelley, the wanderer who was to die in exile. The traveler “from an antique land” may be a space traveler, or, eerily, a time traveler, a messenger from antiquity (1). The poem’s relay of voices distances the visual material and makes us feel the passage of time. As a framing device, however, the succession of speakers is incomplete, since we never return to the opening person or place. The lack of closure may be due partly to the poem’s cataclysmic revelation: what the traveler sees is nature’s total victory over culture.

I remember after 9/11, with all the anger and all the rage, I was walking down below 14th Street, where you could still smell the air burning, where you needed to wear a mask to shield your face, and someone had written the engraving on the statue of Ozymandias on a piece of paper and tacked it up to a wall. The words on the great pedestal of Ozymandias are “Look on my works ye mighty and despair”. I remember thinking to myself, “Uhm, yeah, the rest of the poem shows a once-great empire crumbled in the dust and forgotten for centuries. So you might want to rethink using those particular lines as some sort of THREAT to those who want to kill us!” (Speaking of which, Stan from Mad Men made a similar observation when someone quoted that poem out of context, and it just added to my huge crush on that character.)

In 1818, a prolific year for Shelley, they were living in Italy to be close to the Byrons.

Here is an excerpt from a letter from Percy Shelley to good friend Thomas Peacock. It’s hard not to roll your eyes at lines such as:

My custom is to undress and sit on the rocks, reading Herodotus, until the perspiration has subsided, and then to leap from the edge of the rock into this fountain–a practice in the hot weather exceedingly refreshing.

I mean, HONESTLY.

Bagni di Lucca, 2 July, 1818.

My dear Peacock,
I received on the same day your letters marked five and six, the one directed to Pisa, and the other to Livorno, and I can assure you they are most welcome visitors. Our life here is as unvaried by any external events as if we were at Marlow, where a sail up the river or a journey to London makes an epoch. Since I last wrote to you, I have ridden over to Lucca, once with Claire, and once alone ; and we have been over to the Casino, where I cannot say there is anything remarkable, the women being far removed from anything which the most liberal annotator could interpret into beauty or grace, and apparently possessing no intellectual excellencies to compensate the deficiency. I assure you it is well that it is so, for these dances, especially the waltz, are so exquisitely beautiful that it would be a little dangerous to the newly unfrozen senses and imaginations of us migrators from the neighbourhood of the Pole. As it is–except in the dark–there could be no peril.

The atmosphere here, unlike that of the rest of Italy, is diversified with clouds, which grow in the middle of the day, and sometimes bring thunder and lightning, and hail about the size of a pigeon’s egg, and decrease towards the evening, leaving only those finely woven webs of vapour which we see in English skies, and flocks of fleecy and slowly-moving clouds, which all vanish before sunset ; and the nights are for ever serene, and we see a star in the east at sunset–I think it is Jupiter–almost as fine as Venus was last summer; but it wants a certain silver and aerial radiance, and soft yet piercing splendour, which belongs, I suppose, to the latter planet by virtue of its at once divine and female nature. I have forgotten to ask the ladies if Jupiter produces on them the same effect.

I take great delight in watching the changes of the atmosphere. In the evening Mary and I often take a ride, for horses are cheap in this country. In the middle of the day, I bathe in a pool or fountain, formed in the middle of the forests by a torrent. It is surrounded on all sides by precipitous rocks, and the waterfall of the stream which forms it falls into it on one side with perpetual dashing. Close to it, on the top of the rocks, are alders, and, above, the great chestnut trees, whose long and pointed leaves pierce the deep blue sky in strong relief. The water of this pool, which, to venture an unrhythmical paraphrase, is “sixteen feet long and ten feet wide,” is as transparent as the air, so that the stones and sand at the bottom seem, as it were, trembling in the light of noonday. It is exceedingly cold also. My custom is to undress and sit on the rocks, reading Herodotus, until the perspiration has subsided, and then to leap from the edge of the rock into this fountain–a practice in the hot weather exceedingly refreshing. This torrent is composed, as it were, of a succession of pools and waterfalls, up which I sometimes amuse myself by climbing when I bathe, and receiving the spray over all my body, whilst I clamber up the moist crags with difficulty.

I have lately found myself totally incapable of original composition. I have employed my mornings, therefore, in translating the Symposium, which I accomplished in ten days. Mary is now transcribing it, and I am writing a prefatory essay. I have been reading scarcely anything but Greek, and a little Italian poetry with Mary. We have finished Ariosto together–a thing I could not have done again alone.

“Frankenstein” seems to have been well received, for although the unfriendly criticism of the “Quarterly” is an evil for it, yet it proves that it is read in some considerable degree, and it would be difficult for them, with any appearance of fairness, to deny it merit altogether. Their notice of me, and their exposure of their true motives for not noticing my book*, show how well understood an hostility must subsist between me and them. . . .

P. B. Shelley

The Shelleys and the Byrons and their various entourages traveled a lot, moving to Rome, to Pisa. The Shelleys settled down in La Spezia on the Bay of Lerici. Shelley bought a sailboat. He called it Don Juan, after Byron’s poem. Shelley was not a good sailor, and he could not swim, but he loved the pastime. In July, 1822, a storm came up during one of his outings, and he drowned. When he washed onshore, his body had deteriorated. He had a book of Keats’ poems in his pocket. (He had always loved Keats, and had invited Keats to join him and his merry band of reprobates in Italy. Keats said No. When Keats died, Shelley wrote a poem as a tribute.)

Robert Graves compared Shelley and Keats in this unforgettable passage:

Shelley was a volatile creature of air and fire: he seems never to have noticed what he ate or drank, except sometimes as a matter of vegetarian principle. Keats was earthy, with a sweet tooth and a relish for spices, cream and snuff, and in a letter mentions peppering his own tongue to bring out the delicious coolness of claret. When Shelley in Prometheus Unbound mentions: “The yellow bees in the ivy-bloom”, he does not conjure up, as Keats would have done, the taste of the last hot days of the dying English year, with over-ripe blackberries, ditches full of water, and the hedges grey with old man’s beard. He is not aware of the veteran bees whirring their frayed wings or sucking rank honey from the dusty yellow blossoms of the ivy.

Michael Schmidt, in Lives of the Poets, writes on the Keats/Shelley connection, as well as on the Shelley/Byron connection:

Shelley does things Keats never attempted. He does things no other English poet has achieved. Perhaps he is, as Grave suggests, a spiritual hermaphrodite. Perhaps his philosophy is, in some respects, off the wall, though not so zany as Blake’s… If Shelley is not quite so effective a name [as Byron] to conjure with, if his biography and beliefs – in free love, revolution, and so on – are less celebrated, it is because Shelley had a better mind, capable of exploring ideas as well as expressing memorable opinions. He did not pay court to an audience. He did not pose at the heart of his best poems. There is no equivalent to the Byronic hero in Shelley. He was a poet first and last, and if a man of vision, a man of specifically poetic vision. He is, as C.H. Sisson has said, “The last English poet to write as a gentleman.” What blurs his work are in fact the “modern ideas” [Matthew] Arnold attributes to him ideas that are no longer modern and no longer apply, and a conscious distance from what Arnold means by “life”.

Shelley’s roots in specific landscape and community are as shallow as Byron’s were. Perhaps we should say that the aristocratic milieu into which he was born could not contain him. It did provide him with a voice, but at heart he is a disciple of Goethe, a European. The Mediterranean irresistibly called to him. He learned from classical philosophy and literature, Italian and Spanish culture. Dante was his master and he translated some of the Divine Comedy. He translated passages of Homer, Euripides, Virgil, Cavalcanti, Calderon and Goethe.

Tennessee Williams wrote in a letter to his grandfather, Nov. 22, 1928:

I have been reading a good number of biographies this year which I am sure you will commend. Probably you remember how I picked up that volume of Ludwig’s Napoleon on the boat and liked it so well that the owner had to ask me for it. I tried to get it at the library but it was out. Instead I got a life of the Kaiser Wilhelm by the same author. Since then I hve read several others of celebrated literary personages. I have one at home now about Shelley, whose poetry I am studying at school. His life is very interesting. He seems to have been the wild, passionate and dissolute type of genius: which makes him very entertaining to read about.

What about the writing? From what I recall, we only had to read “Ozymandias” in school, that was my main introduction to Shelley. In graduate school, we had to read Cenci, his play – a tormented feverish work, giving the sense (retrospect at work, of course) that this was a man who knew, somehow, that he wouldn’t live long, so he had to get it all out as quickly as possible before he departed. You can still see why his work was so disturbing in his day and age. Hell, it’s disturbing in OUR day and age.

Auden had a great dislike of Shelley (many people do, they find him distasteful) and wrote in a review of a biography on Shelley:

I cannot believe that any artist can be good who is not more than a bit of a reporting journalist … Abstractions which are not the latest flowers of a richly experienced and mature mind are empty and their expression devoid of poetic value.

Matthew Arnold was one of Shelley’s greatest champions, and wrote of him:

[Shelley was] a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating his wings in a luminous void in vain.

Arnold lumped Shelley and Byron together (as they often were), saying that they were the major poets of the day (not Wordsworth, or Walter Scott or Keats) – and their works would stand the test of time. Arnold wrote:

[Shelley and Byron will be remembered] long after the inadequacy of their actual work is clearly recognised, for their passionate, their Titanic effort to flow in the main stream of modern literature; their names will be greater than their writings.

During William Carlos Williams’s final illness, he said to his friend Robert Lowell (nickname “Cal”):

“Tell me honestly, Cal. Am I as good a poet as Shelley?”

That anecdote has always really moved me. We all have those idols in our minds, the ones we try to live up to, the ones we try to “beat”.

Schmidt sums up:

Shelley rejects a rationalist tradition of normative and conventional art. He stresses emotional fluency, the mystical source of poetry (the dying coal); he believes in the centrality of the poet. Such views have not been popular in England since the First World War, though they have retained or gained currency in other anglophone lands. That poetry is “not subject to the control of the active powers of the mind,” that there is no “necessary connection” between it and “consciousness or will” – such views can cause offense if taken seriously. We do well to distrust Shelley. But within the vast realm of his poetry, plays and prose exist, apart from masterpieces to be valued, lessons to be learned, even if only by reaction. His imaginative strategies cannot be borrowed, any more than Milton’s can, but they remain in a deep sense exemplary. A young poet keen to attract a popular audience can ask Byron for a master class. A serious and questing poet will recognize in Shelley a more challenging mentor, and one who will give only private instruction.

I always liked Shelley more than Byron. “Ozymandias” spoke to me as a high school kid, although why knows why, it seems so remote. It had a magic to it, an opening up into the vastness of time that resonated with me. I love Paglia’s point that the poem seems to predict the 20th century art of cinema. Its art is strictly cinematic. It’s a story being told, first of all, so the whole thing is already second-hand. “Once upon a time …” essentially. So we start with two voices chatting, and then the story opens up (plot-wise, and visually), and we see the shattered statue in long shot – panorama shot even, and the entire movement of the poem is a slow zoom-in to see the words on the plaque. And then, conversely, a slow zoom back out. In our current day it is difficult for writers NOT to be “cinematic” because the medium is so influential.

Shelley’s eye is a 20th century eye.

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

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Let the Madness Begin

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The film festival submission process for, July and Half of August the short film I wrote (directed by Brandeaux Tourville, starring Annika Marks and Robert Baker) has begun.

Here’s a great picture of the director, immediately post-shoot, 3:30 a.m., foggy street in Burbank, holding the slate.

july

My deepest thanks and gratitude to everyone – exec. producer, producer, actors, makeup, grips, cameraman – who believed in my script and made it happen. No one does anything alone.

Posted in Movies | 25 Comments

July 2015 viewing diary

Faith of Our Fathers (2015; d. Carey Scott).
A poorly done Christian movie. My review at Rogerebert.com.

In Stereo (2015; d. Mel Rodriguez III).
The second terrible movie I’ve had to see and review in June. My review at Rogerebert.com.

Red River (1948; d. Howard Hawks).
I had to watch a great film in order to cleanse my mind of the bullshit I was forced (well, I was paid, so there’s that) to watch. I love Red River so much. Montgomery Clift in his debut, holding his own with John Wayne, not an easy feat. Gorgeous cinematography. Great film.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, Part I (1980; d. Rainer Werner Fassbinder).
I went through a huge Fassbinder phase about 15, 20 years ago. I saw everything he did. (Which is quite a feat: in his short life, his output was prolific. It’s like he knew he wouldn’t live long.) I love Querelle and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and the television series Berlin Alexanderplatz. It’s really not like anything else. I didn’t watch the whole series this time around. I mean, who has the time, really. I love his style, though.

They Were Expendable (1945; d. John Ford).
You’ll see a lot of Wayne in this list. Seeing Hondo brought the obsession to the fore. They Were Expendable is a devastating and dark picture about a group of men left behind during a particularly fraught battle in WWII. There aren’t planes enough to come and get everybody out. Ford films it with gloom and despair: there are many GORGEOUS shots of the men walking through a particular tunnel, their figures turned into stark silhouettes of grief. John Wayne is wonderful but he plays support staff to the great Robert Montgomery. There’s a beautiful romance as well with Donna Reed: I love John Wayne pacing near the phone, waiting for her to call. Like an eager teenager. Beautiful film.

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933; d. Busby Berkeley, Mervyn LeRoy).
A favorite. I have something I want to write about it, and I am putting it off because I can sense it will be huge and take over my life. Why do I do this to myself? A great film: gritty and fantastical and bizarre. Both a fantasy and an expression of the harrowing reality of 1933. Ending with one of my favorite musical numbers of all time. Wrote about it – and Joan Blondell – here.

Tree of Life (2011; d. Terrence Malick).
It’s been a while. I reviewed for Capital New York, right after seeing it for the first time, and you can hear my initial response to the film in my writing. It holds up. (I’ve seen it about 4 times.) Brad Pitt’s performance gets better and better. His HANDS. The whole performance is about his HANDS.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2011; d. Ana Lily Amirpour).
I love this movie! I reviewed this for Rogerebert.com, and also put up a post of screen grabs.

Tap World (2015; d. Dean Hargrove).
My review of this wonderful documentary about tap dancers around the world was slated to go up on The Dissolve the week it closed its doors. WHAT A LOSS. Not just personally, although I loved writing for them, and loved their comments section, but for the world of serious enthusiastic film fans everywhere. I put up the review on my own site, but almost hated pressing “Publish.”

The X-Files, Season 7, Episode 20, “Fight Club” (2000; d. Paul Shapiro)
Back to the X-Files! Kathy Griffin in a dual role. Super stupid!

The X-Files, Season 7, Episode 21, “Je Souhaite” (2000; d. Vince Gilligan).
An episode about a genie, and be careful what you wish for. It’s wonderful, especially that last scene which is KILLER. However, I can’t help but compare it to the genie episode in Season 2 of Supernatural, which is one of my favorite episodes of television ever made. Unfair comparison. Still: when you see what Mulder wished for … Heart-crack.

The X-Files, Season 7, Episode 22, “Requiem” (2000; d. Kim Manners).
The season finale. Mulder is sucked up into a UFO with a group of other freaks. And scene.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 1, “Within” (2000; d. Kim Manners).
I come to the series fresh, having no idea of the fan-consensus (such as there may be) about certain aspects of the show. I am also (clearly) binge-watching which is its own animal and very different from watching it in real-time. Mulder is gone for the majority of Season 8, and replaced by Agent Doggett (played by Robert Patrick, who was T-1000). I LOVE Agent Doggett. At a certain point in a long-running series, you have to shake things up – either because you are forced to (Duchovny didn’t want to come back full-time), or because you want the show to survive and not spin its wheels. Introducing a new agent into the mix, thereby putting the skeptical Scully in the position of being the “Mulder” in the new partnership, was wonderful. What ends up happening with Mulder’s disappearance, is we start to see what he meant to Scully, and her desperation to get him back. That’s what it’s all about. I’m in this thing for the emotions. The mythology is often beyond me.

The Third Man (1949; d. Carol Reed).
Charlie and I went to go see the new restoration playing at the Film Forum. I have seen the film many times, but never in a theatre. Those images. Those shadows. The tilted camera angles. The glowing mischievous face of Orson Welles peeking out of the shadows, one of the most famous entrances in cinema history. Charlie and I had a great time.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 2, “Without” (2000; d. Kim Manners).
Tracking down Mulder leads them to the desert, which leads them to the little genius kid from the chess competition. Agent Doggett is now the skeptic, fighting Scully every step of the way, except you can tell he has integrity as a person and wants to do as good a job as possible in an impossible situation. The intermittent shots of Mulder being tortured are both erotic (he’s naked, there’s a cod-piece-ish contraption over his groin) and HORRIBLE (his skin being pulled out from his face.)

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 3, “Patience” (2000; d. Chris Carter).
Oh boy, Duchovny’s name has disappeared from the opening credits! And Robert Patrick has taken his place. I get why fans resented it. But I fell in love with Agent Doggett.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 4, “Roadrunners” (2000; d. Rod Hardy).
My guide through the Files has been Keith Uhlich. He watched in real-time as each episode came out. His is a lifelong obsession. So when we watch together (as we watched this one), he gives me background, on how it was received initially. He said that there was a lot of irritation about this episode, fans did not like Doggett’s He-Man Let-Me-Save-Scully thing. So here’s my take on this one: I LOVED it. And LOVED Doggett in this. Him carrying Scully out to safety provided a sweep of emotion! She was a damsel in distress (as she often has been, against her will – since she is such a strong capable person). But this episode provided the glue between these characters, glue that carried us through the rest of the season.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 5, “Invocation” (2000; d. Richard Compton).
A bit of backstory about Agent Doggett and his son who died.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 6, “Redrum” (2000; d. Peter Markle).
I fucking love Joe Morton. Always have.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 7, “Via Negativa” (2000; d. Tony Wharmby).
Third eye. To be honest, the details of this one are a bit lost to me. That’s what happens when you watch 12 episodes in one day, which is what Keith and I did in June. “You two need help,” said Dan.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 8, “Surekill” (2001; d. Terrence O’Hara).
To be honest, my main takeaway from “Surekill” is being a secretary at that particular disgusting company has to be one of the worst jobs in existence.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 9, “Salvage” (2001; d. Rod Hardy).
Gulf War Syndrome: you’d have to be a certain age to remember when that condition was in the news all the time. It brought back memories. Mulder is really just GONE now, isn’t he. It was weird.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 10, “Badlaa” (2001; d. Tony Wharmby).
Kind of hilarious. Deep Roy is awesome.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 11, “The Gift” (2001; d. Kim Manners).
The return of Mulder, whom we have been dying to see, although once he re-appears it is terrifying. Super-gross to see someone vomit that much into a hole.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 12, “Medusa” (2001; d. Richard Compton).
Really fabulous. Great set of the Boston subway-system. Interesting ensemble, too, reminiscent of the band of warriors in Aliens.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 13, “Per Manum” (2001; d. Kim Manners).
Hey there, Adam Baldwin, how are you? I found this episode, with pregnancy and perhaps false-ultrasounds, and Scully’s panic to be incredibly upsetting. Also the tender flashbacks with Mulder, donating his sperm for her, their heads leaned together in silhouette. Emotional.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 14, “This Is Not Happening” (2001; d. Kim Manners).
Fantastic. Scully’s performance is coming into the Epic realm.

Supernatural, Season 2, Episode 17, “Heart” (2007; d. Kim Manners).
I’ve been busy and June was, frankly, wretched. It involved a date I was psyched about ending in weirdness and disappointment, a random sexual assault (not by the guy from the date, but from a guy leaping out of the shadows, literally – I had to punch him.), the start of new meds for my loony-tunes psychology, increasing health issues involving my uterus, and a Satanic doctor who made me feel my body was worthless because I have never had a child. “Your uterus is a piece of meat. I do not understand why you are attached to it.” Uhm, because it’s an important body part and it’s part of me and whatever I decide to do with it is going to be a big deal? June felt like the world was against me. So I have not been in the mood for re-caps. I tried to get in the mood, though, by re-watching “Heart,” an episode I love. I finally got around to the re-cap.

Mad Women (2015; d. Jeff Lipsky).
Terrible movie. I’m sorry I even saw it. My review at Rogerebert.com.

Magic Mike XXL (2015; d. Gregory Jacobs).
My third time seeing it. Can’t get enough. I have written before about how seeing it was actually healing, in the middle of June.

The Last Waltz (1978; d. Martin Scorsese).
A favorite. With such an air of melancholy and exhaustion keening through it.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 15, “Deadalive” (2001; d. Tony Wharmby).
Billy Miles Billy Miles Billy Miles. Also Krycek, whom I love, horrible villain that he is. Scully’s future baby is rising in importance. Like, entire government agencies are aware she is giving birth. Ridiculous. But great. The return of Mulder.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 16, “Three Words” (2001; d. Tony Wharmby).
FIGHT THE FUTURE. Okay, dude, but how? Not really interested in the plot here. More taken with how different Mulder is, how things have changed, and the strange new relationship between the two of them. Mulder is irritated and, if possible, even more paranoid than he was before.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 17, “Empedocles” (2001; d. Barry K. Thomas).
Welcome, Annabeth Gish. I like her slightly bizarre character. She doesn’t really fit in, but neither does the character. Scully again is a damsel in distress, hospitalized due to stomach pains. The “pizza man” becomes a running joke, which makes me think that a similar joke in Supernatural (beloved by Destiel fans and, seemingly, despised by the rest of us) has to be a nod to the X-Files. “The pizza man” is the universal code for = Porn Plot.

Samba (2015; d. Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano).
May be offensive to some since it treats the hot-topic of immigration in France with a light slapstick touch. The reason to see it is the charm and star power of Omar Sy. My review at Rogerebert.com.

Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006; d. Justin Lin).
In the midst of a re-watch of the whole series, which I love to death. Also: can someone please teach me how to do the Tokyo Drift? Even though my car is a Hyundai, used as a punchline in the film? I need to know how to do it.

A Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile (2015; d. Sophie Deraspe).
Fascinating documentary about the recent Internet hoax that dominated world news for a week. My review at Rogerebert.com.

Supernatural, Season 2, Episode 17, “Heart” (2007; d. Kim Manners).
I told you June was rough. I needed to watch “Heart” AGAIN in order to get into the re-cap. I was moving in slow motion in June, beat up and upset.

Magic Mike XXL (2015; d. Gregory Jacobs).
Fourth time. My sister and I snuck away on our vacation to see a matinee. We were the only ones in a huge theatre. It was a private screening. We had a BLAST.

I, Confess (1953; d. Alfred Hitchcock).
Montgomery Clift as the priest caught up in a situation beyond his control. Karl Malden as the determined police detective. Beautifully shot, of course. Stunning black-and-white.

The Innocents (1961; d. Jack Clayton).
How had I never seen this unbelievably creepy and upsetting movie, based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw? Deborah Kerr always said this was her finest performance, and now I can see why. Gorgeously filmed. Scary as hell. Psychologically unstable.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 18, “Vienen” (2001; d. Rod Hardy).
Inquiring minds want to know: Did they really film this on a real oil rig? It looks like they did.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 19, “Alone” (2001; d. Frank Spotnitz).
Scully goes on maternity leave. Doggett gets a new partner, who seems pretty meta: a “fan” of Mulder and Scully. It’s weird: Scully and Mulder are exiting the series sort of. I loved the final scene, though, with the two of them bickering about whether or not they saw a spaceship.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 20, “Essence” (2001; d. Kim Manners).
Frances Fisher as the creepy baby-nurse! Scully’s due date approaches. And naturally the government is involved.

The X-Files, Season 8, Episode 21, “Existence” (2001; d. Kim Manners)
Scully gives birth in an abandoned town. And holy shit, she and Mulder kiss.

Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015; d. Marielle Heller).
For review at Rogerebert.com. My review will come out next week.

The Quiet Man (1952; d. John Ford).
I love The Quiet Man. My dad loved The Quiet Man: “There is a fight scene in it that is the longest fight scene I’ve ever seen.” John Wayne in the graveyard in the rain, with his shirt see-through – one of his sexiest moments. The Quiet Man always reminds me of a really fun conversation I had with a random guy in Ireland about the movie.

Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 1, “Black” (2014; d. Robert Singer).
The start of my first re-watch of Season 10 in its entirety. I had forgotten how terrible Hannah is. She’s a bad actress, basically, and forgets – always – that her character is an angel, a supernatural being. Compare to how Misha Collins originally played his character in Seasons 4, 5, 6. He did not seem human. I had forgotten how MUCH of her there is. But, and this is a huge but: JP and JA and Mark Sheppard more than make up for it. And Cole. I love Cole. He is my Special Ops doppelgänger. Not that I ever was Special Ops, but that’s one of the nicknames my friends have for me.

Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 2, “Reichenbach” (2014; d. Thomas Wright)
Ackles is superb. What he has created here … I just wish we had more of it, akin to Soulless Sam in Season 6. But c’est la vie.

Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 3, “Soul Survivor” (2014; d. Jensen Ackles)
Quite moving, and beautifully filmed. The other episodes Ackles directed did not have all that much “Dean” in them. This one is heavy on the Dean. And he’s grown as a director and is able to handle switching off roles. In many ways, the close-ups of him in the bunker basement are among the most beautiful shots of him in the entire series. Which just proves my theory that he knows what he has, is not embarrassed about it, and lets it be highlighted to its most baroque level. I also love the derelict old drive-in, created in post-production. A lost world.

Posted in Movies, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Happy Birthday, Herman Melville

Herman Melville.jpg

Herman Melville was born on this day in 1819. Moby-Dick is one of my all-time favorite books, so I figured I wouldn’t just re-hash that old territory, but compile here 5,000,000 quotes about Melville. They come from everywhere: from reviews of Moby Dick when it first came out, to John Huston’s comment on it, when directing the film, to Hart Crane’s stunning poem about Melville’s “tomb”.

The Maldive Shark by Herman Melville

About the Shark, phlegmatical one,
Pale sot of the Maldive sea,
The sleek little pilot-fish, azure and slim,
How alert in attendance be.
From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw,
They have nothing of harm to dread,
But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank
Or before his Gorgonian head;
Or lurk in the port of serrated teeth
In white triple tiers of glittering gates,
And there find a haven when peril’s abroad,
An asylum in jaws of the Fates!
They are friends; and friendly they guide him to prey,
Yet never partake of the treat–
Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull,
Pale ravener of horrible meat.

Art by Herman Melville

In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt–a wind to freeze;
Sad patience–joyous energies;
Humility–yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity–reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel–Art.

Moby Dick proved hard and exhausting to write. But he knew it was original and he understood that it was good. Published in 1851, it was not a success; until the first quarter of the twentieth century it was neglected. Ambitious later books were rejected. The failure of Moby Dick helped turn his primary attention to verse. Battle-Pieces (1866) was welcomed as peripheral work by a man who had once been famous for his prose. Seriously disturbed in his mind, he made a trip to the Holy Land (meeting with [Nathaniel] Hawthorne in Southport en route), and out of this visit emerged his most ambitious if not his most accomplished poem, the 18,000-line Clarel, twice as long as Paradise Lost, and in the octo-syllabic couplets of Gower’s Confessio Amantis. Eventually, Melville – after working as a minor customs officer in New York – was reduced to dependence on his wife’s money: she gave him an allowance to buy books and to print his later works in small editions for the tiny readership he retained. He died in 1891, quite forgotten, with the manuscript of the prose work Billy Budd completed but unpublished. His reputation was at such a low ebb that even this masterpiece went unpublished until 1924.” — Michael Schmidt, The Lives of the Poets

“The paucity of primary sources derives in large part from the downward trajectory of Melville’s career. When Typee came out in 1846, he was only 27 years old. A best seller in its day, the book ‘made him as famous as he would ever be when he was alive.'”– Samuel Otter, associate professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Melville’s Anatomies (University of California Press, 1999).

“‘The name died before the man,’ Mr. Olsen-Smith says. ‘Compare Melville to Mark Twain, for instance – a man who remained beloved throughout his life and after, up to the present. People saved every scrap. … It’s a different story with Melville.’ ” — Jennifer Howard, “Chronicle”

At Melville’s Tomb
by Hart Crane

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

whale

“Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand!” — Melville apparently shouted this, as he sat at his desk writing “Moby Dick”

“…a cosmos (a chaos) not only perceptibly malignant as the Gnostics had intuited, but also irrational, like the cosmos in the hexameters of Lucretius.” — Jorge Luis Borges on the “cosmos” of “Moby Dick”

“In general, it is the non-psychological novel that offers the richest opportunities for psychological elucidation. Here the author, having no intentions of this sort, does not show his characters in a psychological light and thus leaves room for analysis and interpretation, or even invites it by his unprejudiced mode of presentation… I would also include Melville’s Moby Dick, which I consider the be the greatest American novel, in this broad class of writings.” — Carl Jung in The Spirit in Man, Art, & Literature


Jose Ferrer visits John Huston and Gregory Peck on the set of “Moby Dick”

Moby Dick was the most difficult picture I ever made. I lost so many battles during it that I even began to suspect that my assistant director was plotting against me. Then I realized that it was only God. God had a perfectly good reason. Ahab saw the White Whale as a mask worn by the Deity, and he saw the Deity as a malignant force. It was God’s pleasure to torment and torture man. Ahab didn’t deny God, he simply looked on him as a murderer – a thought that is utterly blasphemous: “Is Ahab Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?…Where do murderers go?… Who’s to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?”‘ — John Huston, An Open Book, 1980

“We have little more to say in reprobation or in recommendation of this absurd book…. Mr. Melville has to thank himself only if his horrors and his heroics are flung aside by the general reader, as so much trash belonging to the worst school of Bedlam literature — since he seems not so much unable to learn as disdainful of learning the craft of an artist. —Henry F. Chorley, in London Athenaeum, October 25 1851, review of “Moby Dick”

Letter of Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne:

June 29 1851

My dear Hawthorne ,

The clear air and open window invite me to write to you. For some time past I have been so busy with a thousand things that I have almost forgotten when I wrote you last, and whether I received an answer. This most persuasive season has now for weeks recalled me from certain crotchetty and over doleful chimearas, the like of which men like you and me and some others, forming a chain of God’s posts round the world, must be content to encounter now and then, and fight them the best way we can. But come they will, — for, in the boundless, trackless, but still glorious wild wilderness through which these outposts run, the Indians do sorely abound, as well as the insignificant but still stinging mosquitoes. Since you have been here, I have been building some shanties of houses (connected with the old one) and likewise some shanties of chapters and essays. I have been plowing and sowing and raising and painting and printing and praying, — and now begin to come out upon a less bustling time, and to enjoy the calm prospect of things from a fair piazza at the north of the old farm house here.

Not entirely yet, though, am I without something to be urgent with. The “Whale” is only half through the press; for, wearied with the long delay of the printers, and disgusted with the heat and dust of the babylonish brick-kiln of New York, I came back to the country to feel the grass — and end the book reclining on it, if I may. — I am sure you will pardon this speaking all about myself, for if I say so much on that head, be sure all the rest of the world are thinking about themselves ten times as much. Let us speak, although we show all our faults and weaknesses, — for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it, — not in [a] set way and ostentatiously, though, but incidentally and without premeditation. — But I am falling into my old foible — preaching. I am busy, but shall not be very long. Come and spend a day here, if you can and want to; if not, stay in Lenox, and God give you long life. When I am quite free of my present engagements, I am going to treat myself to a ride and a visit to you. Have ready a bottle of brandy, because I always feel like drinking that heroic drink when we talk ontological heroics together. This is rather a crazy letter in some respects, I apprehend. If so, ascribe it to the intoxicating effects of the latter end of June operating upon a very susceptible and peradventure feeble temperament.

Shall I send you a fin of the Whale by way of a specimen mouthful? The tail is not yet cooked — though the hell-fire in which the whole book is broiled might not unreasonably have cooked it all ere this. This is the book’s motto (the secret one), — Ego non baptiso te in nomine — but make out the rest yourself.
H.M

“I am like one of those seeds taken out of the Egyptian pyramids, which, after being three thousand years a seed, and nothing but a seed, being planted in English soil it developed itself, grew to greenness, and then fell to mould.” — Herman Melville

“Some critics would place his name among the most important American poets of the nineteenth century, or even today.” — Robert Penn Warren

“Melville’s poems, less sumptuous in semantic nuance than the prose, less second nature to him than his fiction, are worked at and worked up, yet the difficulty of the restraining forms remains central. So does the rumor of an ‘unspeakable’ theme, unacknowledged at times, at times veiled from himself, which has to do with a radiant sexual irresolution. More insistently even than Conrad, Melville depicts a male world in prose and verse, a world in which intimate relationships and erotic experiences are between men and types of men: at sea, in the army and elsewhere. He celebrates, laments, touches – and he occasionally foresees, not the huge and benign vision of Walt Whitman, but with narrowed eyes, looking further than the future. His is not the optimism of Emerson but something more serious: he sees beyond a bad age, he sees to the other side of evil; nature consoles, but it also remembers and comments.” — Michael Schmidt, “Lives of the Poets”

“Mr. Herman Melville has earned a deservedly high reputation for his performances in descriptive fiction. He has gathered his own materials, and travelled along fresh and untrodden literary paths, exhibiting powers of no common order, and great originality. The more careful, therefore, should he be to maintain the fame he so rapidly acquired, and not waste his strength on such purposeless and unequal doings as these rambling volumes about spermaceti whales.” — London Literary Gazette, December 6 1851

“Melville ranks I think with certain modern artists like Van Gogh and Orson Welles as being the kind of model who inspires me as an indie theatre artist. Yes, the more he pursued his individual vision, the less “commercial” he became, with the irony that just as he was creating his works of lasting genius, those today most prized by the public, he was scorned by the masses. The world expects you to kiss its ass. How much more satisfying it is to say, like Melville, ‘World, kiss mine!'” – Trav S.D. on his excellent blog-post about Melville.

“I could readily see in Emerson … the insinuation that had he lived in those days when the world was made, he might have offered some valuable suggestions.” — Herman Melville

“Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had ‘pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated'; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation…. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne, on a walk on the beach with Melville, 1857

Mardi is a rich book, with depths here and there that compel a man to swim for his life. It is so good that one scarcely pardons the writer for not having brooded over it, so as to make it a great deal better.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne, in a letter to Evert Duyckinck

Michael Dirda wrote in 2005:

Readers will note that I have said nothing very much about Moby-Dick . But what can anyone say? Its quietly portentous first sentence is as famous as any in world literature (‘Call me Ishmael’), and some of Ahab’s monologues, like the one beginning ‘Is Ahab Ahab?,’ achieve an eloquence rivaling that of the Bible and Shakespeare. There are longueurs, but even in the midst of tedious cetological lore, one comes across such disturbing passages as that in which the Pequod’s sailors squeeze and squeeze and squeeze handfuls of white spermacetti. Then there are the marvelous portraits of the crew — the black cabin boy Pip, who goes mad and loses his sense of self, the well-meaning but weak Starbuck, the mysterious harpooners Queequeg, Tashtego, Daggoo. There are the haunting encounters with other ships, especially the Rachel ‘searching for her lost children.’ And throughout there is philosophizing that at times rises to a kind of prose poetry:

‘All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in a whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.’

In Melville’s lifetime few recognized or even suspected the writer’s exceptional genius — but Nathaniel Hawthorne came close, and the two men established a long-lasting friendship. After their first encounters, the writer of Polynesian adventures went back to his romantic tale about ‘Whale Fishery’ and, in Delbanco’s words, ‘tore it up from within.’ Melville deepened and amplified his novel, enlarged it in every sense, with the obvious hope of joining what he called, in an essay on Hawthorne, that fraternity where ‘genius, all over the world, stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round.’ With wonderful appropriateness, then, the author of The Scarlet Letter — which appeared in 1850 — became the dedicatee of the following year’s Moby-Dick .

“It will be a strange sort of book, tho,’ I fear; blubber is blubber you know … and to cook the thing up, one must needs throw in a little fancy, which from the nature of the things, must be ungainly as the gambols of the whales themselves.” — Melville on “Moby Dick” – in a letter to Richard Henry, Jr.

“A sense of unspeakable security is in me at this moment, on account of your having understood the book. I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as the lamb.” — Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne – after Hawthorne read Moby Dick

“…fresh from his mountain charged to the muzzle with sailor metaphysics and jargon of things unknowable,” — Evert Duyckinck in his journal, describing a meeting with Melville, 1856

— “[He is] a little paler, and perhaps a little sadder…. and no doubt has suffered from too constant literary occupation, pursued without much success, latterly; and his writings, for a long while past, have indicated a morbid state of mind.” —Nathaniel Hawthorne, on seeing Melville in 1857

“It is–or seems to be–a wise sort of thing, to realise that all that happens to a man in this life is only by way of a joke…. And it is also worth bearing in mind, that the joke is passed around pretty liberally and impartially, so that not very many are entitled to fancy that they in particular are getting the worst of it.” — Melville to Henry Savage

E.M. Forster, from one of his lectures on the novel, compiled in the wonderful book “Aspects of the Novel:

Moby Dick is an easy book, as long as we read it as a yarn or an account of whaling interspersed with snatches of poetry. But as soon as we catch the song in it, it grows difficult and immensely important. Narrowed and hardened into words the spiritual theme of Moby Dick is as follows: a battle against evil conducted too long or in the wrong way. The White Whale is evil, and Captain Ahab is warped by constant pursuit until his knight-errantry turns into revenge. These are words — a symbol for the book if we want one — but they do not carry us much further than the acceptance of the book as a yarn — perhaps they carry us backwards, for they may mislead us into harmonizing the incidents, and so losing their roughness and richness. The idea of a contest we may retain: all action is a battle, the only happiness is peace. But contest between what? We get false if we say that it is between good and evil or between two unreconciled evils. The essential in Moby Dick, its prophetic song, flows athwart the action and the surface morality like an undercurrent. It lies outside words…we cannot catch the words of the song. There has been stress, with intervals: but no explicable solution, certainly no reaching back into universal pity and love; no ‘Gentlemen, I’ve had a good dream.’

The extraordinary nature of the book appears in two of its early incidents — the sermon about Jonah and the friendship with Queequeg.

The sermon has nothing to do with Christianity. It asks for endurance or loyalty without hope of reward. The preacher ‘kneeling in the pulpit’s bows, folded his large brown hands across his chest, uplifted his closed eyes, and offered a prayer so deeply devout that he seemed kneeling and praying at the bottom of the sea.’ Then he works up and up and concludes on a note of joy that is far more terrifying than a menace…

Immediately after the sermon, Ishmael makes a passionate alliance with the cannibal Queequeg, and it looks for a moment that the book is to be a saga of blood-brotherhood. But human relationships mean little to Melville, and after a grotesque and violent entry, Queequeg is almost forgotten. Almost — not quite…

Moby Dick is full of meanings: its meaning is a different problem. It is wrong to turn the Delight or the coffin into symbols, because even if the symbolism is correct, it silences the book. Nothing can be stated about Moby Dick except that it is a contest. The rest is song.”

Forster said that “prophetic” literature was one of the “forms” of the novel, and that only 4 writers came close to being prophetic: Dostoevsky, DH Lawrence, Emily Bronte, and Herman Melville. I also have to say I cannot agree strongly enough with his comment: “The rest is song.” YES.

As in this excerpt from Moby Dick, one of my favorite bits of writing not only from Moby Dick, but from any book ever written anywhere:

A word or two more concerning this matter of the skin or blubber of the whale. It has already been said, that it is stript from him in long pieces, called blanket-pieces. Like most sea-terms, this one is very happy and significant. For the whale is indeed wrapt up in his blubber as in a real blanket or counterpane; or, still better, an Indian poncho slipt over his head, and skirting his extremity. It is by reason of this cosy blanketing of his body, that the whale is enabled to keep himself comfortable in all weathers, in all seas, times, and tides. What would become of a Greenland whale, say, in those shuddering, icy seas of the north, if unsupplied with his cosy surtout? True, other fish are found exceedingly brisk in those Hyperborean waters; but these, be it observed, are your cold-blooded, lungless fish, whose very bellies are refrigerators; creatures, that warm themselves under the lee of an iceberg, as a traveller in winter would bask before an inn fire; whereas, like man, the whale has lungs and warm blood. Freeze his blood, and he dies. How wonderful is it then – except after explanation – that this great monster, to whom corporeal warmth is as indispensable as it is to man; how wonderful that he should be found at home, immersed to his lips for life in those Arctic waters! where, when seamen fall overboard, they are sometimes found, months afterwards, perpendicularly frozen into the hearts of fields of ice, as a fly is found glued in amber. But more surprising is it to know, as has been proved by experiment, that the blood of a Polar whale is warmer than that of a Borneo negro in summer.

It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.

Happy birthday, Mr. Melville.

Posted in On This Day | 7 Comments

“I’m looking for a book by this guy eye-bid.”

Charming review of Margaretta Barton Colt’s memoir of her 30 years running the independent bookshop specializing in military topics called The Military Bookman: Martial Bliss.: The Story of The Military Bookman.. The quote in the post-title comes from one anecdote in the book, included in the review.

The bookshop closed in 2003. I went there a couple of times when I first arrived in New York (the Upper East Side was practically the suburbs, as far as I was concerned – it was way over THERE), but I loved the atmosphere of that bookshop, and also the mostly-male clientele who hung around. These guys knew books and knew what they were looking for. I was really into military strategy for a while there. I bought a John Keegan book at The Military Bookman, and inhaled it while I was in the midst of going to grad school. I will definitely be reading this memoir (I love bookish memoirs especially, but it’s wonderful that Colt has written this book, self-published it … It’s one of the real casualties of the Internet age, the vanishing of special places like The Military Bookman.)

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1,000 Strong

I found this very moving, in the middle of a steaming-hot pouring-rainy soup-y muggy day. Fabio Zaffagnini was so passionate about somehow getting the Foo Fighters to come play in Cesena, Italy, that he organized an event called “rockin1000″: 1,000 musicians and fans from all over the country came to Cesana and played “Learn to Fly” together, in the middle of a field, as a call to the Foo Fighters, a plea, if you will, to come to them.

The video is now everywhere, I’ve seen it linked to everywhere. I’m a huge Foo Fighters fan but just didn’t get around to watching this thing until today.

I have no idea if the Foo Fighters will hear the call and go there. I don’t really care about that, although it would be amazing.

What has brought me to tears today is the video, and the image of how ever many drummers, drumming in unison, all the guitar players, bass, lead, all playing the same thing, and the enthusiastic fans singing together and having such a good time. What an extraordinary moment. What a completely random thing to do. Random is the best. In random-ness is magic. In random-ness, unconnected from any desired result, is the feeling that people can come together. That’s all. They can come together, put their minds to it, learn the song, practice it on their own, fly/drive/swim to Cesena (all on their own dimes) to do this completely crazy fun thing. And watch his speech afterwards. A frank plea to the band, but really more about the exhilaration of what he just put together, what he just helped happen.

I feel privileged to be able to witness it. It’s rubbed off a bit.

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Supernatural: Season 2, Episode 17: “Heart”

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Directed by Kim Manners
Written by Sera Gamble

“Heart” has an insistent rhythm, like a heartbeat: The moon rises, sets. The sun rises, sets. The cycle repeats. Despite the urban setting, the rhythm of the natural world is explicit. The mood is watchful, anxious, and emotionally fraught. Like the electrical tension in the air broken by a huge summer storm. That electrical tension has been building through episodes. “Roadkill,” with its dark wet gloom, its themes of mortality/loss/letting go, was one of the best stand-alones in Season 2 (thus far), but it was also a perfect emotional launching-pad for “Heart”. If “Tall Tales” had come before “Heart,” we’d have a very different Arc, wouldn’t we? That final moment in “Roadkill,” with Sam’s anxious glance down the road, leads us to “Heart” effortlessly.

We’re past the season mid-point. We are about to go into the season’s final stretch, the episodes of which are a mix of silly/tragic/burlesque/poignancy that has rarely been reached in the show again, at least not at such a sustained level. You’re amazed the show can actually take it. A lot of that success depends on the depth reached in “Roadkill” and “Heart.”

Continue reading

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Happy Birthday, Emily Brontë

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Often Rebuked
by Emily Brontë

Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:

Today, I will not seek the shadowy region:
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long-past history.

I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide;
Where the gray flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain-side.

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

“My sister Emily loved the moors. Flowers brighter than the rose bloomed in the blackest of the heath for her; — out of a sullen hollow in a livid hill-side, her mind could make an Eden. She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights; and not the least and best-loved was – liberty. Liberty was the breath of Emily’s nostrils; without it she perished. The change from her own home to a school, and from her own very noiseless, very secluded, but unrestricted and unartificial mode of life, to one of disciplined routine (though under the kindest auspices), was what she failed in enduring. Her nature proved here too strong for her fortitude. Every morning, when she woke, the vision of home and the moors rushed on her, and darkened and saddened the day that lay before her. Nobody knew what ailed her but me. I knew only too well. In this struggle her health was quickly broken: her white face, attenuated form, and failing strength, threatened rapid decline. I felt in my heart she would die, if she did not go home, and with this conviction obtained her recall. —Charlotte Brontë, on Emily’s stint away from home as a teacher in 1835

“Emily, like her characters, loved liberty and the open spaces of the moors. She insisted on her own patterns of life. Having nursed Branwell through his last illness, she caught cold at the funeral service and began her own two-month decline to death. Yet even on the day she died she insisted on rising in the morning, getting dressed and beginning her daily duties, as if the will could force its dying vehicle to live on. The will is the force her poems celebrate.” — Michael Schmidt

“The girls’ real education, however, was at the Haworth parsonage, where they had the run of their father’s books, and were thus nurtured on the Bible, Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Sir Walter Scott and many others. They enthusiastically read articles on current affairs, lengthy reviews and intellectual disputes in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and The Edinburgh Review. They also ranged freely in Aesop and in the colourfully bizarre world of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.” — Ian Ousby, The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

“stronger than a man, simpler than a child” — Charlotte Brontë on her sister Emily

“She never showed regard to any human creature; all her love was reserved for animals.” — Brontë family friend on Emily, reporting to Mrs. Gaskell

“Another poet could learn only one valuable lesson from what she does, and that is the ways in which form lives when it is driven urgently by powerful impulses, and how when that urgency ends a poem should stop.” — Michael Schmidt

Nov. 23rd, 1848
I told you Emily was ill in my last letter. She has not rallied yet. She is very ill. I believe, if you were to see her, your impression would be that there is no hope. A more hollow, wasted, pallid aspect I have not beheld. The deep tight cough continues; the breathing after the least exertion is a rapid pant; nd these symptoms are accompanied by pains in the chest and side. Her pulse, the only time she allowed it to be felt, was found to beat 115 per minute. In this state she resolutely refuses to see a doctor; she will give no explanation of her feelings, she will scarcely allow her feelings to be alluded to. Our position is, and has been for some weeks, exquisitely painful. God only know how all this is to terminate. More than once, I have been forced boldly to regard the terrible event of her loss as possible, and even probable. But nature shrinks from such thoughts. I think Emily seems the nearest thing to my heart in this world.” — Charlotte Brontë

“How much better they would have made Wuthering Heights in France. They know there how to shoot sexual passion, but in this Californian-constructed Yorkshire, among the sensitive neurotic English voices, sex is cellophaned; there is no egotism, no obsession…. So a lot of reverence has gone into a picture which should have been as coarse as a sewer.” — Graham Greene, Spectator, May 5, 1939 – review of the Olivier/Oberon “Wuthering Heights”

“My sister Emily was not a person of demonstrative character, nor one, on the recesses of whose mind and feelings, even those nearest and dearest to her could, with impunity, intrude unlicensed: it took hours to reconcile her to the discovery I had made, and days to persuade her that such poems merited publication.” — Charlotte Brontë, on finding Emily’s poems

“Sealed in her art-world, the moor strategically placed for escape above the house, no domesticating and limiting mother to weaken her capacity for identification with whatever sex she chose to impersonate at a particular moment, polite society at a safe distance, and a father who seems to have selected her as an honorary boy to be trusted with fire-arms in defence of the weak, Emily Brontë’s life exemplifies a rough joy in itself, its war-games, its word games and its power to extend its own structuring vision out upon the given world.” — Stevie Davies

“In her poetry, Emily Brontë achieves a remarkable effect by the energy and sincerity, and often by the music, with which she portrays her stoicism, independence, and compassion in stanzas which in many instances are the commonplace vehicles used by mere rimers. It is as though she were brought up to feel that certain forms of verse were the patterns, and had, with dogged acceptance, poured into them her emotions with an honesty that made the outward form seem negligible.” — Paul Lieder

“They were grave and silent beyond their years; subdued, probably, by the presence of serious illness in the house; for, at the time which my informant speaks of, Mrs. Bronte was confined to the bedroom from which she never came forth alive. ‘You would not have known there was a child in the house, they were such still, noiseless, good little creatures. Maria would shut herself up’ (Maria, but seven!) ‘in the children’s study with a newspaper, and be able to tell one everything when she came out; debates in parliament, and I don’t know what all. She was as good as a mother to her sisters and brother. But there never were such good children. I used to think sem spiritless, they were so different to any children I had ever seen. In part, I set it down to a fancy Mr. Bronte had of not letting them have flesh-meat to eat. It was from no wish for saving, for there was plenty and even waste in the house, with young servants and no mistress to see after them; but he thought that children should be brought up simply and hardily: so they had nothing but potatoes for their dinner; but they never seemed to wish for anything else; they were good little creatures. Emily was the prettiest.’ ” — Elizabeth Gaskell, “The Life of Charlotte Brontë”

Excerpt from ‘Little Magazine’ – a magazine created by the Brontë children, to describe their doings, and plays, and poems. This one was written by Charlotte.
June the 31st, 1829
The play of ‘The Islanders’ was formed in December, 1827, in the following manner. One night, about the time when the cold sleet and stormy fogs of November are succeeded by the snow-storms, and high piercing night-winds of confirmed winter, we were all sitting round the warm blazing kitchen fire, having just concluded a quarrel with Tabby concerning the propriety of lighting a candle, from which she came off victorious, no candle having been produced. A long pause succeeded, which was at last broken by Branwell saying in a lazy manner, “I don’t know what to do.” This was echoed by Emily and Anne.
Tabby. “Wha ya may go t’bed.”
Branwell. “I’d rather do anything than that.”
Charlotte. “Why are you so glum to-night, Tabby? Oh! suppose we had each an island of our own.”
Branwell. “If we had I would choose the Island of Man.”
Charlotte. “And I would choose the Isle of Wight.”
Emily. “The Isle of Arran for me.”
Anne. “And mine should be Guernsey.”
We then chose who should be chief men in our islands. Branwell chose John Bull, Ashley Cooper, and Leigh Hunt; Emily, Walter Scott, Mr. Lockhart, Johnny Lockhart; Anne, Michael Sadler, Lord Bentinck, Sir Henry Halford; I chose the Duke of Wellington and two sons, Christopher North and Co., and Mr. Abernethy. Here our conversation was interrupted by the, to us, dismal sound of the clock striking seven, and we were summoned off to bed. The next day we added many others to our list of men, till we got almost all the chief men of the kingdom. After this, for a long time, nothing worth noticing occurred. In June, 1828, we erected a school on a fictitious island, which was to contain 1,000 children. The manner of the building was as follows. The Island was fifty miles in circumference, and certainly appeared more like the work of enchantment than anything real.

“When at home, she took the principal part of the cooking upon herself, and did all the household ironing; and after Tabby grew old and infirm, it was Emily who made all the bread for the family; and any one passing by the kitchen-door, might have seen her studying German out of an open book, propped up before her, as she kneaded the dough; but no study, however interesting, interfered with the goodness of the bread, which was always light and excellent. Books were, indeed, a very common sight in that kitchen; the girls were taught by their father theoretically, and by their aunt practically, that to take an acctive part in all household work was, in their position, woman’s simple duty; but, in their careful employment of time, they found many an odd five minutes for reading while watching the cakes, and managed the union of two kinds of employment better than King Alfred. — Elizabeth Gaskell

“After the age of twenty, having meantime studied alone with diligence and perseverance, she went with me to an establishment on the continent. The same suffering and conflict ensued, heightened by the strong recoil of her upright heretic and English spirit from the gentle Jesuitry of the foreign and Romish system. Once mopre she seemed sinking, but this time she rallied through the mere force of resoluttion: with inward remorse and shame she looked back on her former failure, and resolved to conquer, but the victory cost her dear. She was never happy till she carried her hard-won knowledge back to the remote English village, the old parsonage-house, and desolate Yorkshire hills.” — Charlotte Brontë

“Her imagination, which was a spirit more sombre than sunny – more powerful than sportive – found in such traits material whence it wrought creations like Heathcliff, like Earnshaw, like Catharine. Having formed these beings, she did not know what she had done. If the auditor of her work, when read in manuscript, shuddered under the grinding influence of natures so relentless and implacable – of spirits so lost and fallen; if it was complained that the mere hearing of certain vivid and fearful scenes banished sleep by night, and disturbed mental peace by day, Ellis Bell [Emily’s pseudonym] would wonder what was meant, and suspect the complainant of affectation. Had she but lived, her mind would of itself have grown like a strong tree – loftier, straighter, wider-spreading – and its matured fruits would have attained a mellower ripeness and sunnier bloom; but on that mind time and experience alone could work; to the influence of other intellects she was not amenable.” — Charlotte Brontë

“Of course, I was not surprised, knowing that she could and did write verse: I looked it over, and something more than surprise seized me, — a deep conviction that these were not common effusions, not at all like the poetry women generally write. I thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear, they had also a peculiar music — wild, melancholy, and elevating. ” — Charlotte Brontë, describing the moment in 1845 when she first read all of Emily’s poems

More on Emily Brontë here.

More on Emily Brontë’s poems here.

Wuthering Heights

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Giants Together

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