gall and gumption

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No Pizzas Were Eaten in the Production of This Blog Entry

The silence can be accounted for. I've been working at home, and working at home is like never clocking out.

You know, I sometimes wonder whether I ever have a chance of becoming one of those neat people: the people who never have bits of paper with phone numbers and directions scribbled on them scattered all over the place, who have no clutter and yet somehow find things. For me, if it's out of sight it is effectively lost or off the agenda. Not you, though, my small and select readers, never you. You are always in my thoughts. Yeah, but one of those neat people. Who wakes up at like 4 a.m. and makes a cup of nice-smelling spicy herb tea that does something good for you in a contemplative sort of way, and then sits at a tidy bare desk at a window and watches the sun rise and has three or four pages of damn fine prose all written before they walk the—no, people like that if they have pets always have like a tarantula or a cat or something.

And they go do whatever brings in the dough for the appointed eight hours and come home and make a dinner without a mess occurring and go to bed at 9:30 or 10 having written a thoughtful letter or a blog entry about health care policy, measured and reasonable--settled down with a sensible book by Malcolm Gladwell, probably, because they have no time for the negativity and frivolity that make up such a large part of, for example, my inner life, they are interested in solutions and what sort of metric are you using?

Let me tell you, if I were that kind of person you would have something to read here every day and it would be relevant. Relevant to what? I hear you ask. Just relevant, my friends. Isn’t that enough for you?

My hair would comport itself with dignity, and I'd have a smaller, more ascetic bustline--

(One of my neighbors put a full-length mirror out on his lawn, free to any takers, and I took it. I haven't had one for a while (I keep putting off buying one for all the same reason that has delayed my purchase of things like an ironing board--I seem to be doing OK without it) but here it was at last. I'll tell you, I haven't looked at myself stripped down in a full-length mirror for a long time, except in fitting rooms and I try not to look at myself in those because if you do, you might as well walk straight out of the store and off the end of a pier. My new mirror revealed that the actual physical me was so wildly different from the mental image of me that I start wondering whether I should seek the advice of a mental health professional. I mean, I've been carrying around this vision of ruin. And dressing accordingly.

--but instead what is happening is that I edit at odd hours. I try to put in about 6 hours every day. At first this was almost impossible, but I'm sort of getting it now, working on a split shift: 3 hours or so in the middle of the day then 3 hours or so after dinner. In the early morning I put in another hour but no fragrant tea is involved, as I can't seem to get myself out of bed. This is the time when I should be blogging.

I have a writing session for my own projects in the morning, as coffee time outside with the dogs. Then with a little bit of dawdling and puttering I begin the paid work for real, around 11 a.m. I can keep it up for about four hours; after that the dogs begin their intense study and speculation on my every move.

So my second productive bout occurs after dinner. I get a movie from my local video/DVD store, and edit while watching. The movie ends and I go on for another hour or two usually. This works for me because I can't quite allow myself the indulgence of only watching the movie. And the movie provides just the amount of distraction that acts as a sort of counterweight, holding my concentration in place.

Here's some of what I’ve watched.

The Revenger’s Tragedy—Set among gangsters in Liverpool, Derek Jacoby production that takes his most annoying creative tics and makes them fun, while successfully getting into the spirit of the Middleton play. The play itself has so many good throwaway lines, and Jacoby adds in his own good bits, like when the young Duke banishes his mother after his father’s death. She’s sort of tottering down the street, carrying all her possessions in a couple of garbage bags and he’s indulging in one of those great bursts of invective that Shakespeare and the Jacobeans so loved, and she turns around and shouts, “Shut up!!!” Which is not in the text but improves it.

La Strada—Now officially my religion. For days after watching this I was afraid to watch anything else because I thought it would make every other film look shallow and mean. Nothing will come up to it. Nothing will. I watched a Jim Jarmusch movie a couple days later (Coffee and Cigarettes) and got so irritated with it I couldn’t finish it.

The Lives of Others—My kind of sappy ending.

The White Sheik—Genius. There could have been so many ways to do this wrong. When the Sheik's wife shows up you get a moment that might occur in those really broad, low Jamaican stage comedies, a moment of low farce. That’s when it starts to seem to me that everything Fellini touched turned to gold.

The Rules of the Game—Another work of genius. If I try to say what it’s about—nobility, authenticity—I’m not altogether satisfied. You just sort of inhabit it while it fulfills its form.

The Rise to Power of Louis XIV—Fascinating for attention to historical detail, a visual feast. The dialogue is mostly dreadful. It is like transparently expository passages in bad melodrama: “I will never forget that night…[details follow] therefore I must … [intention to follow some absolutist policy stated as if written for a college textbook].” The beauty of it is that the storytelling doesn’t happen in the dialogue. The dialogue is never much more than information. The storytelling really happens in these little transformations that occur from scene to scene, revealing shifts in power and status. At the climactic conclusion, Louis XIV simply walks into a room dressed in a completely absurd suit of clothes. This royal apotheosis is marred by something that baffles me throughout the film, and possibly this was Rossellini’s idea of a joke: Louis XIV in the film does not even remotely look like Louis XIV. But he does look, uncannily, like Napoleon.

The Bank Dick—Considering I know all the jokes and when they’re coming, why do I keep coming back to this film? You know when Fields is standing in line at the bank to see the bank manager after the bank robbery? And there’s some guy in front of him making small talk with the clerk? And he’s muttering, “Fascinating, I’m sure,” and similar grim observations? At that moment he and I are one.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye Bakker—Because Tammy Faye Bakker was a good person.

Not Only… But Also—Dudley Moore and Peter Cook’s comedy show on the BBC. I added Peter Cook to the list of dead comedians I am in love with. There is one sketch that is Moore reading (perfectly!) Edward Lear’s “Incidents in the Life of My Aged Uncle Arly” offscreen while the camera follows Peter Cook as Uncle Arly sort of meandering about. Glorious.

Magnificent Obsession—Not so much a movie as some kind of weird cultural artifact. Gorgeously filmed, mostly set somewhere out west, one of the dumber sentimental narratives of human upliftment you would find in a 1950s edition of the Reader’s Digest. At first I thought the dialogue in the opening scenes was just strange, then it dawned on me that it wasn’t strange, just bad. Then I got to the part where Rock Hudson meets the artist. I could tell he was an artist because he lived in the woods, had lots of paintings all over the place, smoked a pipe, and had That Special Voice. In profound films like this the guy who has the Big Idea always talks in a disembodied voice, like it’s coming out of a cupboard. At that point I knew I was in for it. I knew how bad it was going to be when the artist, having taught Rock Hudson the lesson of Living for Others, says, “It’s dangerous work—a fellow was killed for it at age 33,” and you hear more disembodied voices, the kind that back up the marketing of feminine products, singing “Ohhhahhhohhhhaahhhh!” Even with the invisible choir, though, and especially after watching a Fellini movie or two, this movie supposedly about spirituality was really about stuff: like you couldn’t have people unless they had lots of stuff. People traveled about in airplanes, drove enormous cars, wore fabulous clothes, and lived in luxurious lakeside homes. I watched it all the way to the end, though.

Gonzo--When I was teaching the Writing of Narrative Prose, every couple of quarters I got The Guy Who Wanted to Write Like Thomas Pynchon or The Guy Who Wanted to Write Like Hunter S. Thompson. Sometimes they were the same person, I mean I had Pynchon and Thompson in the room at the same time. But they were like some kind of orc army: when one left another would turn up inevitably, and they were mostly unteachable. They had read Hunter S. Thompson and they knew everything there was to know about writing. I used to blame Thompson for this. But after watching this film I stopped. It was very touching actually, and I don't know what's wrong with me but I find accounts of the hopes and struggles of the 1960s very moving in a way that they 1980s will just never be. I really think at some point we'll be able to look back at it and see it as another one of those great American movements for spiritual renewal, like the others that have swept the country at intervals throughout its history. The thing that makes it so sad is that I'm not sure the others were ever met with this level of nastiness, vindictiveness, and violence. That little dreaming moment ended, but the resentment wears surprisingly, appallingly well.


At 9:41 PM, Blogger buckner said...

Regarding La Strada---it's been so many years since I saw it, and you make me want to go back. But the images I remember most strongly are Giulietta Masina using that lovely Italian backwards wave when she's saying goodbye. And Anthony Quinn eating a double ice cream cone on the beach in one bite. These are unforgettable.

At 12:07 AM, Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

It defies my reason that you could take in so much of each of these while you are editing.

I'm with you up to the Hunter H. I tried watching that a while back - fell totally asleep - so did Miki. The voice-over just drubbed us into unconsciousness. Rossellini's Age of the Medici is out in a nice new DVD. Highly recommended. And of course The Wire.

At 5:18 AM, Blogger Kia said...

To be fair, it's a little harder to follow the ones with subtitles, and the Fellini ones and The Rules of the Game sort of compelled my full attention. The pace slows down with those. But most of the others no problem. I don't even mention some of the lesser things I watched that are improved by one's not paying full attention.

At 6:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like microwave ovens, no two mirrors are the same; glass is considered a liquid by some, I've heard. My favorite mirror is the one in my workplace's 6th floor men's room. Edroso once suggested that I start a blog, but with all of the side effects to the ego that you guys have avoided, I'm afraid that I'll one day look in my medicine cabinet mirror and see Bill O'Reilly.
I'd give the Jarmusch film another chance, after you've spent sometime beyond the event horizon of LA STRADA. I don't blame you, though; after first seeing it, I couldn't get to sleep any more than Zampano could.

At 11:16 PM, Anonymous chick said...

And you laughed at me for owning so many books about or sort of by Fellini (he seems to have been game to do any interview book on offer). La Strada, of course, but not so many people know about the White Sheik. I think it's just marvelous, everything in it perfect. The other one I feel that way about is Nights of Cabiria. And for a newer one, Fred and Ginger, with Marcello and Giulietta together again. I can watch anything by Fellini, even the problem ones. He's personally just so interesting, there's always something to draw you in.

At 7:13 AM, Blogger Kia said...

Ah Chick,

That was before my conversion. Now, of course, I admit you were right all along. They've got Fred and Ginger at my local video store and I'm gonna get it. Did I ever tell you about the first time I watched any of them? It was Amarcord. I got to the end, all choked up with tears, and immediately restarted it and watched the whole thing again. Nights of Cabiria was the next one, yeah, I don't know which is better, that or La Strada. Right now it's La Strada, for probably rather Tolstoyan reasons. But Lord! Of course I don't really have to choose, though... And yeah the interviews are next. Gonna get them all.

At 6:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're going for a Fellinispree, I have to recommend JULIET OF THE SPRITS, which is my favorite of the Giulietta films.

At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Crystal said...

They was a news article on the BBC that stated that a large pizza contains over 2,000 calories - so its probably not a bad thing that 'no pizzas were eaten'.

At 5:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know everybody loves La Strada, but I hate every minute of it. I want to murder Anthony Quinn's character, and I want to slap the Giulietta Masina one silly and get her to just stop it, stop it, stop it. I really like every other Fellini movie I've ever seen, though.


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