Wednesday, May 2, 2012

These Are The Proportions

…not the debut album by The Proportions, but the best line from Footnote, the moment even the non-Talmud scholar will abandon his lingering question/complaint, “Important to who?”


Funny that Guy Maddin’s last feature, My Winnipeg, ended with the soothing refrain “little chunk of house” (if I remember it correctly), referring to the site of endless wonder in Maddin’s own early years, while his new one, Keyhole, equally personal it seems, portrays a house as the site of endless horror and danger. So the chief concern of the protagonist (a great, cruel performance by Jason Patric) is to recreate and re-inhabit the house he shared with his family, to understand what went on there and banish the sorrow that “lingers.” But when we inhabit the past, do we only regain the horror, and not an understanding?

I continue to dig Maddin’s editing style, hyperactive but not dumb. In all other movies, things are understood to be happening exactly when they are shown, but Maddin escapes the tyranny of now: the arrangement of objects in a room at any given moment might refer to where they were a split-second ago, or will be a split-second from now.

Keyhole epitomizes “It was a dark and stormy night”; I imagine if I made my own movie in this style, where some sound/condition from waking life becomes the omnipresent atmosphere of a dream/a dreamlike subjectivity, I’d have not thunder, wind and rain, but cars continually driving past the scene of the action. I am constantly aware of passing cars when I’m out in the city, their noise, the calm they suck away with their anonymous receding. Were there always so many of them? My childhood ramblings were not so marked, in my memory.


Of the many pleasures of Gold Diggers of 1933, let us forever remember the tangled mass of newly unemployed Aline MacMahon’s hair, as she lies in bed alongside her equally unemployed roommates, no reason in the world to get up or fix their hair. One of cinema’s most unkempt visions – God bless Hollywood before the Code.


The kid in The Kid with a Bike is part of the film’s web of redemption, if you want to call it that, but I’d say that, through it all, he exists at a higher level of spirituality, so consistently does he refuse to negotiate reality/truth for his own ends, so innocent is he in his expectation that others will do the same. His theme music is appropriate, in that way.


Three lines and one shot from The Grapes of Wrath:

“Wherever there’s a cop beating up a guy, I’ll be there.” – One could superimpose Tom Joad on a lot of the worst scenes ever caught on tape. Probably someone has done so.

“I know we’re not the kissing kind.” – Funny that I remembered Ma Joad as such a warm, protective presence, which she is, but in an indirectly affectionate way. Everyone knows the Joads don’t touch. When she first sees her son after his release from prison, she considers how to approach him and then only shakes his hand. What an amazing detail.

“We’re the people.” – Who are the people? Are the filmmakers the people? Am I the people? I’d happily watch the Joads inherit the earth, I just don’t know if their peopleness is a function of their goodness and clarity, or the way they must reproduce to offset calamity/their own awful deaths. Hopefully the former, I’d like to be included.

The movie has another one of those endings that is remembered as “more upbeat, less bleak” than the novel’s, strangely so in this case, since the word “DANGER” appears prominently in the center of the film’s last shot. As the line of migrants’ vehicles moves toward the foreground of the shot, the word lies in wait, black against a dark gray sign that the camera reveals to the audience. Perhaps we are meant to understand, according to the setup of the shot, that the caravan moves away from danger? (I’d prefer to believe a sinister irony, that they move toward new tragedies of unforeseen particulars.) And perhaps the word has often gone unseen by the audience, washed out in the lower contrast of videotape? But it was quite apparent, and ominous, in the Kimo Theater’s vivid presentation. I’ve recreated the tone-scheme of the shot below (as I remember it), in the way it might be diagrammed in a textbook.

Tilt your screen back a bit, and the word disappears, but its threat is still present.


That movie (1940), along with Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac (1949), has recently served to remind me how long America/the world has been modern (voice dripping with cynicism on that last word). In the former, the way Muley doesn’t know who to shoot, because even the people who run the bank aren’t exactly responsible for his situation. In the latter, these lines: Our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap. Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings. In case you thought our spiritual crisis was particular to the current generation.

It all sort of reminds me of Jack Donaghy's couch factory.

Because I think it's time you knew and maybe you feel the same way.

Sometimes I will write a complete sentence all at once, rarely two in a row. Do people do that?

Writing is for the most part a horribly painful process for me, wherein I piece together words, backwards, forwards, outside in or inside out, until they resemble grammar. I worry that I get so consumed by the task of producing something legible and not embarrassing myself that there’s no room for saying something I really believe. The only satisfaction I get is in reading my words back and feeling they could have been written straight through.

Writing is very likely to lead me to mental illness, it exacerbates all my worst OCD tendencies, but without it I would feel scattered, distracted.

I admire people who write drafts and revise them. My process is more like hammering tin.


And yet, odious as my review of Sinead O’Connor’s new album was to write (for no reason related to the content, only to an onset of my recurrent awkwardness with language), it did clear the way for me to truly start loving the record. I might not believe anything I wrote about it or even now have any idea how to understand the woman who made it, but that’s one of the best things that writing does for me, it stops my brain a-thinking.


Elsewhere, I said that “Novacane” is efficient, but I must note that it’s also full of inefficiency: how many times does it repeat the title word, how many ways does it rephrase its central idea? Maybe that’s one of R&B’s greatest assets, its inefficiency in the pursuit of a groove and the declaration of a feeling. And yet, Ocean’s ideas are short (not small) and I wish he’d keep them that way; if there’s anyone prepared to do a modern take on Double Nickels on the Dime, in a different style (and more insular, relationships-based), I’d say it’s Ocean.


Just came across this. Klosterman’s belief in his own rationality is the very thing that makes him nonsensical here, but even if it’s true, and the tUnE-yArDs album doesn’t stand the test of time, isn’t its greatness (the greatness of any art, really) precisely that Garbus refuses to censor herself (her ideas, observations, enthusiasm) for the eyes and ears of the future?


aaron said...

Your words about writing really resonate, at least with me.

Do you find that your writing is always of the same quality, regardless of how much toil you put into it? Or worry that you've "lost it" somehow, that you can no longer write as well as you did last winter?

I hope the Reading (b)log isn't too horribly painful to produce--I do enjoy reading it! Especially liked the observation about cars in this entry.

Geoff said...

I don't necessarily think my writing is getting worse or even staying the same, but if it's improving I have no idea where or how it's happening. The blog isn't too painful to write, I try to make it a more spontaneous collection of my thoughts, which can backfire: if words don't come quickly, I just let it be vague. Thanks as always for reading.