Tuesday, February 07, 2012

These are my parents, in 1958 just after a wedding shower where my mother had apparently been given an iron.  I love the way my mother has her hand behind her back, my father's hipster glasses, and my mother's somewhat genuine and somewhat fake smile.   Ah...  the smile of marriage.

Get ready to do some ironing!

Okay, allow me to list the movies I watched in January 2012.

1.) Sweet Grass, 2009, directed by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor
2.) Silent Light, 2007, directed by Carlos Reygadas
3.) Casablanca,  1942, directed by Michael Curtiz
4.) Kenny, 2006, directed by Clayton Jacobson
5.) Four Feathers, 1939, directed by Zolton Korda
6.) Deep End, 1970, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski
7.) Carnage, 2011, directed by Roman Polanski
8.) Poetry, 2010, directed by Chang-Dong Lee
9.) The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, 2011, directed by David Fincher
10.) Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, 2011, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
11.) Five Came Back, 1939, directed by John Farrow
12.) A Separation, 2011, directed by Asghar Farhadi
13.) The Artist, 2011, directed by Michel Hazanavicius
14.) Last Year at Marienbad, 1962, directed by Alain Resnais
15.) Ugetsu, 1953, directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

Hands down, the film that had the most effect on me was "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia."  It's a long movie, 2 hours and 40 minutes.  Not only that, it's a very, very, VERY slow movie.  There are long-shots that are long.  Really long.  Almost-to-the-point-of-parody long.   But it's necessary - you begin to feel you're with the characters in real time.  In the middle of the night.  Driving around the countryside of Turkey.  Looking for a dead body.   With little or no information about who it is, how he died, why it's important, and who the hell everyone who's looking for him is, exactly.  And guess what, it turns out that it actually isn't all that important - the who, how, and why.

Okay, I suppose it's a bit existential.  In fact, I wasn't really all that into this movie until after the two hour mark.  I was a little confused by it's tone, it's lack of forward movement, but I was also enjoying surrendering to the film.  Then suddenly: BAM.  Okay, oh dear, oh yes, oh no, oh wow.  This movie is like wading in water near the shore - with it's calm little waves, rhythmically lapping at your feet.  And just when you start to decide to maybe get out - a monster waves hits you from behind.  But even this analogy is misleading - it's not that anything particularly startling happens, it just suddenly has this cumulative effect.

I cannot stop thinking about this movie.

In fact, I invited a couple of friends over this Friday to see it again.  This time I'll be able to savor those fleeting moments that in retrospect mean so much.  Ceylan lets these moments occur like they would in real life: maybe not important, maybe completely important.   This is the best movie I saw out of the 2011 crop, maybe the most personally impactful movie I've seen in years.  I have Ceylan's previous films in my Netflix queue.  I'm suddenly a big fan.   To me, just from this one film, he's the filmmaker equivilent of the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk.  There's something so distinctly Turkish about their work, and I barely know what that means.  It's just... Turkish.  If I had to label the feeling it would be: hope with surrender, fatalistic, traditional, yearning, dissapointment, quiet promise.

I felt that way about "Deep End" as well.  This movie was shot in England, but by a Polish director - Jerzy Skolimowsky.  (And starring Jane Asher, Paul McCartney's former gal pal!)  It's in english, but it's a completely Polish movie.  And there's something so Polish - so distinctive. I cannot eloquently explain it, I just can feel it.  Let me try, Polish movies are: thick, saturated, inevitable, darkly comic, a dirge with a tinge of the oblivious.

Which brings me to "Carnage."  Wow.  I really love Polanski.  I can even see why he responded to the play "God of Carnage."  I think he thought it was really funny.  I think there's something about how broad and silly and ridiculous that play is that, through Polish eyes, IS funny.  But I must say it: not funny.  A weird marriage of sensibilities.  I think the actors were having fun.  I wish I was having as much fun watching it as they looked like they were having playing these completely cartoonish characters.  Sadly, I think the premise is brilliant.  But ugh.  It made me glad I didn't see the play.  It wasn't for me.

But I want to concentrate on what I loved watching.

Last month I had the pleasure and honor of hosting three of my dearest friends from Seattle.  Jim Emerson, Kathleen Murphy, and Richard T. Jameson are all close close friends who I've known for over thirty years.  They're all film critics. Last year they also came for a few days in January, and we had a mini film festival in my basement.  We did it again this year, and added an extra day - five days in all -  of film watching.  Such a treat!   Many of the films I watched last month I got to watch along with them. There is just about no greater delight in my opinion.  I didn't offer a film for my contribution, I just made them all sit and watch all seven episodes of "Episodes" - which is a masterpiece of comedy!

Other notes on films from January:  I saw "Casablanca" in downtown Chicago, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's playing the score.  I forgot how wonderful that movie is, how well written it is.  It was a little distracting, to be honest, having the orchestra there.  But still, a good experience and worth the effort.

"Silent Light" was another movie that has stayed with me a long time after seeing it, like "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia." It's a Mexican film, but about German speaking Mennonites in Mexico.  The entire movie is made in their dialect with non-professional actors from the community.  I had no idea these people existed.  The film is slow and unwinds at it's own pace, but it's beautiful and haunting.  Since I read it was a remake of Dreyer's "Ordet" (at least partially) - I ordered that movie from Netflix and watched it this month (Feb.)   I actually like "Silent Light" better.  Well - they're really so different.  Both were good experiences.

I did not expect to like "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" as I've never  read the book(s) or seen the original movie.  In fact, I felt I had to go see it (my friends wanted to go) and I considered it homework.  To my surprise, I love, LOVED it.  Rooney Mara is enigmatic, disturbing, and you can't take your eyes off her.   The film was quick and yet expertly paced.  I was completely engrossed, actually riveted.  I hope there'll be sequels.

Dare I say it: I think "The Artist" is overrated.  I did like it.  In fact, I liked it very, very much.  But it seems thin.  Also, I got tired of how depressed the main character got.  (The actor George Valentin, played by the actor Jean Dujardin)  It was too much.  And it was also too much, the girl (The actress Peppy Miller played by the actress Berenice Bejo) saving him over and over and OVER again.  (Spoiler Alert)  I wanted to yell at her - stop trying to save this guy - he needs to save himself!  He tries to kill himself too many times.   By the time he was putting a gun in his mouth I wanted him to just go ahead with it.  This film started to feel too much like a male show biz executive's fantasy.   Let's take a moment and think of a comparison: What is the reverse-sex version of this story?  Well, it's "Sunset Blvd."  Imagine Joe Gillis trying to save dear sweet Norma Desmond's life over and over and OVER again.  And the movie ending with a delightful career-saving tap dance?  HA.  All I'm saying is.... Well, I dunno.  I guess I'm saying that men in that situation often get saved by young women, and women in that situation aren't saved at all.  There's my feminist rant on "The Artist."  But okay - this kind of thing does happen for many men.  So all right.   The film is beautiful - and some of the images - one of which I see is being used in advertising - when Peppy puts her hand through George's jacket and then puts her own arm (as his) around herself - god that was GREAT!  And it was shot all over L.A. and that part made me miss Los Angeles so much it hurt.

I wholeheartedly recommend "Poetry."  It's a Korean movie about an older woman who's a little silly and very sweet and genuine.  She has a lot of bad things happening in her life and she's overwhelmed.  For example, she  has a horrible teenage grandson who lives with her.   She takes a poetry class and it's just heartbreaking and transcendant and whole-life -justifying all at the same time.

Oh, and "Kenny."  What a delight.  And a surprise.   I'm not even exactly sure how I came upon this film.  It's an Australian comedy - very improvisational - about a port-a-potty salesman.  At first I thought it was going to just be scatalogical jokes about, well, about shit.  And yes, it is that. But it has a lot more to it - lots of good performances.  I laughed a lot.

I laughed a lot during "Last Year at Marienbad" too.  It's really the epitome of an experimental art film. It doesn't make much sense as a narrative film.  I think I was laughing at the movie, not with it.  But I would hope that when the Renais and Alain Robbe Grillet (the novelist and the man who wrote the script) got over themselves (or actually maybe this is what they intended)  they would laugh too.  I both hated and liked the film.  And yet I felt no quandries about feeling that way.  I get how stylistic it is. I see the composition, the beauty, and even it's oddness.  But it's also ridiculous.  There's some great extras on the Critereon DVD, I especially loved the interview with film scholar Ginette Vincendeau - she goes into the history of the film and it's influences.  In fact, you could skip the movie and just watch her.

Now, let's move to books.

I read these books in January 2012:

1.) 2666, volume 1. Published in  Written by Roberto Bolano.
2.) The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home  Published in 1989.  Written by Arlie Hochschild (with Anne Machung)
3.) Marriage Shock: The Transformation of Women into Wives  Published in 1999.  Written by Dalma Heyn.

I've been wanting to read 2666 for a long time.  For the first half of the this first volume (which is in three books, which are sold all together) I was happily in love with this book. The characters and the set up is delightful - four academics in four different european countries who all study the same mysterious author.  But by the end of the first volume, I felt I'd lost it. I had this same feeling I had reading Orhan Pamuk's "The Museum of Innocence."  I started to seriously think the author had lost it, not just his characters.  I began to feel the author losing himself in his own book, and not in a good way.   As in losing perspective.  And I was willing to go there with Pamuk.  But I don't know. I don't know if I'm in for the other volumes of 2666.

I've been meaning to read The Second Shift for a very long time.  I have read references to it for twenty years!  But I never had any overriding reason to read it.  I knew the basic idea: in families where both partners work, it's still the women who do the "second shift" at home - 80% of the domestic work of child caretaking, cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc.   And yes, that Is the premise in a nutshell.  And I'm sure it's as true today as it was 20 years ago.  But I was unprepared for how compelling and well written and gut-level astonishing - I would even say astounding -  the book was.  I recognized myself, I recognized my marriage, I saw what I was doing to perpetuate inequitable patterns.  I read this for my own book I'm writing - I have a chapter on housecleaners and housekeeping and I just wanted to cover my bases.  Oh Lordy!  I saw that an updated edition was issued on Jan. 31, 2012!  I must get that to see what's different.  I won't go into it all here, I'm trying to write something deeper for my book.  But god - anyone who's in a situation like this - two working parents - should read it.    It was both embarrassing and enlightening for me to read it.

Marriage Shock - that was pretty good as well.  Her basic idea is: women become demure after they get married. They edit their pasts, they don't act as aggressively, or as ambitiously, and they assume the mantle of purity and love.  They do this but they sublimate their resentment at doing this.  It pops out.  And I can see that this is true.  But Heyn only concentrates on marriage, and not on marriage with children.  Possibly this is because she herself doesn't have children.   In any case, I kept thinking that the book only pertained to a small percentage of women and that group didn't include me.  On the other hand, she is one hell of a writer.  God, some of her paragraphs literally took my breath away.  Again, I plan to write a bit about this in my book, so I'll leave this topic for now...