25 May 2011

What the Eyes See in Black Narcissus

Thanks to SIFF I was able to get a-twitter about all those Powell & Pressburger closeups that allowed me lengthy gazes into the eyes of each character in Black Narcissus.

It struck me as an even better film on the big screen, as the human portraits proved just as vivid as the matte painting vistas of the Himalayas (contained entirely in Buckinghamshire's Pinewood Studios).

Because these things never really interest me in films, I'll set aside whether the film is really a commentary on the failings of colonialism or the triumph of misogyny or consequences of big game hunting (Sabu's snow leopard coat!). Just as they do with art itself in The Red Shoes, Powell & Pressburger employ Black Narcissus as a metaphor for the overwhelming power of memory.

We see Deborah Kerr (before she was Sister Clodagh) fishing in an impossibly beautiful jewel of a lake in Ireland and hear Sister Phillipa (her hands covered with callouses) movingly explain how she has to get away from Mopu's vistas before she loses her sanity.

The problem for the nuns, stuck up in the high winds and crystal skies, is not a loss of faith. It's that the setting makes their clarity of vision, their remembrances of things past, too sharp to bear--deep focus stares search the horizon for things that will never appear again.

21 May 2011

A Review in Verse for Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog's Love Letters (in 3D)

There is not art tonight
But that of memory.
Yet how much room for painting there is
In the tight passages of Chauvet cave.

There is even room enough
For the drawings of my forefather's forefathers,
32,000 years ago,
That have been locked so long
In a slide-sealed limestone cliff
That are etch-edged and fresh,
And liable to shock as Pollock.

Over the great carpet of calcite crystal
Steps of cave man and cave bear.
It is all lit by invisible red flames.
It trembles as rhino limbs rushing through time.

And I ask myself:

“Are your eyes strong enough to bear
these species that are but echoes:
Is this camera strong enough
To carry a wild horse back to its source
And back to us again
Belted over with stars?”

Yet I would lead my grandson by the hand
Through millennia we'll never understand;
And so I stumble. And the crystals drip into stalactites
With such a silence of forgotten dreams.


(All apologies to Hart Crane, both for this poem and for the existence of James Franco.)

16 May 2011

2011 SIFF Preview

SIFF 2011 is here and I've frustratedly skimmed the web and print editions of the calendar to find the gems. SIFF.com has an excellently named but, for me, unhelpful tool called SIFFter to wade through the 422ish films showing this year.

#1 category SIFFter needs to add: "This film is by a legitimate director who you should probably care about and not just by some dude." I need to press that button and get 25 or so results. When I try to sort that way myself I get about eight. And don't think that category is an absurd comparison to those actually used in SIFFter. There's one called "Love Me, Do!" and I want to know why not "Love Me, Do Me!"

But I would hate for the complaints to run longer than the actual preview! So.

Alluring film NOT showing at SIFF:

The Tree of Life. Damn you Cannes Film Festival. The Thunder to our Sonics yet again.

Alluring films showing at SIFF:

Submarine. Good-looking teen romance, 97-minute Belle & Sebastian video, both? Dig the Godard fonts and color palette anyway. (MAY 20 or 22)

The Trip. You've seen the Coogan-Brydon Michael Caine Accent-Off, right? A whole film of that! I'm not a Winterbottom fan but it seems unlikely he can fuck this one up as profoundly as he did The Killer Inside Me. (MAY 21)

Black Narcissus. Not new (probably showing as a nod to the doc Cameraman screening at the fest) but it's Powell & Pressburger at a literal high point in their careers casting Sister Clodagh into the Himalayas with the wind freeing everyone from their sanity. Perhaps my favorite setting for any film and featuring not only Deborah Kerr at her least annoying but also an absolutely ridiculous Jean Simmons as an Indian strumpet. (MAY 21)

Beginners. I don't really want to see this film (subtitled dog alert!) but you should watch the trailer because Christopher Plummer has the same reaction my mom did when first exposed to house music. It's unclear whether he too will go on to refer to it exclusively as "home music." (MAY 24)

Steam of Life. You might think I want to see a bunch of naked Finns because I have a longstanding secret crush on Teemu Selanne. But you'd be wrong--I just love saunaing! I hope that, like the trailer, there are no subtitles so the philosophizing doesn't obscure all that Finnish junk. (MAY 25 or 26)

Mysteries of Lisbon. This will require some bravery (it's four hours long and the screening costs $16) but I do love me some long movies. Raul Ruiz cinema is so Proustian that he directed Marcel Proust's Time Regained (and I really enjoyed the parts I saw while awake!). I'm impressed by the swooning and hauteur of the trailer but Mysteries would really be can't-miss if someone promised a Cristiano Ronaldo cameo. (MAY 28)

The Interrupters. This is an easy sell--a new documentary by the maker of Hoop Dreams. I'm only worried because each subsequent viewing of Hoop Dreams has left me more depressed and the first adjective used to describe this exploration of Chicago's gang violence is "heartbreaking." (MAY 28 or 29)

On Tour. WTT's favorite non-Gosling actor, Mathieu Amalric, directs this film about a traveling burlesque show and...who cares? Mathieu Amalric=must see. (JUNE 9 or 11)

Norwegian Wood. Tran Anh Hung is one of those legit directors. The Scent of Green Papaya won loads of those Frenchie awards in '93 and Cyclo is a personal favorite because it felt like '60s Godard scored by Radiohead. And OMG it's from a Haruki Murakami book! Gonna be a Seattle scene for sure. (JUNE 11 or 12)


Any local followers (or luminaries flying in for SIFF!) are encouraged to check these out with WTT--I'm very good at standing in line while holding an umbrella and thinking of unflattering things to tweet.

15 May 2011

Throw the Dice

Mostly I read things because smart people compel me. My happy visit with Anne Carson's The Beauty of the Husband comes from a post by Katherine Hill.

But, in a larger sense, I like to think I also read things because they reconcile irreconcilable parts of my life. This morning The Beauty of the Husband has also done that.

I still find Carson's Autobiography of Red more affecting overall than TBOTH (perhaps it's worth noting that, biographically speaking, I'm more familiar with mythic unrequited redness than the truthful complications of marriage) but, thanks to a recent viewing of Bright Star, I had better occasion to gasp at this Keats-centric book.

The reminder of why I read poetry came in the book's 22nd tango, "Homo Ludens." Carson's plainspoken thunderbolt:

If a husband throws the dice of his beauty one last time, who is to blame?

For years I've tried to wrap my head around seemingly illogical romantic leaps made by family, friends, exes, etc. and I've never known how to put it until reading that line. They're throwing the dice of their beauty and, finally seeing that, I can draw a fresh breath. I've always enjoyed watching craps anyway.

(Next week I hope WTT will return to the cinema. But, after all, May is National Poetry Month, right?)

09 May 2011

Unpublishable Poetry: Turquoise & Silver

Turquoise & Silver

I needed her to leave so I could see
weather-ringed eyes in morning or evening
riveted fingertips that find the seams the cotton
snarl over her sun-spiced hip her chest piece

phoenix raised by needles and madness to match
fingers of smoke and motorcycle choke clutching
a tomahawk rosary chain chinked from her teeth
a smile going away up one side of her mouth

I was young and allowed my imagination
these malignancies strung across her brain
as real as a turquoise-collared tank top
the summer storm she’s always been running

us down the blue mess of our wrists banked together
semiprecious stones veined with cigarette ash
she’s lasering off the wings and I go with them
to listen to the silver sound of keys erasing

my mistakes my rages meteorological
I’ll never see her restored
skin dimpled as mail a mainline wedding
invitation its envelope licked and postmarked blue.