Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pop culture is quite ephemeral: Farrah Fawcett died around noon in LA, and three hours later, Michael Jackson died. But the hyperbole is a little much.

The interesting thing is that, right now, there's an emphasis on how Michael Jackson was the most famous entertainer of the 20th Century. I hate this kind of hyperbole: if the worldwide saturation of attention is an indication, then the most famous entertainer of the 20th Century remains Charlie Chaplin. And (yes) there is an analogy: Chaplin was also noted for rather unsavory relations with minors. (Paulette Goddard was actually not an anomaly. The other day, i was researching her life, and came across the fact - which i had known but had forgotten - that she had been a Ziegfeld Follies chorine at the age of 15, when she married a millionaire; three years later, when she was 18, she divorced her first husband and received a million dollar settlement, whereupon she and her mother went to L.A. where they invested in real estate. Goddard met Chaplin shortly after, and they claimed to have married in China or Vietnam or somewhere but no marriage license was ever found. Chaplin then starred Goddard in "Modern Times" in 1936, when she was already 23 or 24, but he'd already been with her since she was a teenager.)

The problem is that there is too much deification going on in the way people regard the arts. A lot of it has to do with the need people have for spirituality, but there's an insistence on creating an image of the artist as hero, and there's no middle ground.

But certainly an odd day. In addition: Hanne Hiob died; she was Bertolt Brecht's daughter, a few months ago, Stefan Brecht died. Ed McMahon also died. Ed McMahon's death was very sad: he left a lot of debts, and his wife had to move out of the house as soon as he died. Very sad.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

There was an article about a week ago, about how more than 80% of blogs have slowed down. A lot of people just aren't posting anymore. It's like hula-hoops or pet rocks: a fad.

But the reason i haven't blogged recently is that i'm stumped. I've been going to press screenings, but since the Tribeca Film Festival, it's been a tough slog. Also: i must be on another schedule, because i'm not running into people. And the feeling of isolation is starting to get to me. There's so much that's now causing the theatrical experience to disintegrate, but going to the movies was always some sort of communal experience: it wasn't just sitting in a theater as part of an audience, it was going to the movies with people. When i was a child, my grandmother took me to the movies, along with my sister. And even watching movies on TV, i always did that with my sister. (One big memory was watching "The Third Man" on TV with my father and sister, and my father was explaining about post-WWII Europe - he was stationed in Berlin in 1947, so he was part of the Occupation forces - and he talked about the bombed-out buildings, and the rubble. We must have been about six or seven at the time. I'll always love "The Third Man" for that reason; also "The Fallen Idol" because my father loved that movie: he thought Ralph Richardson was the greatest actor he'd ever seen.)

A note about the weather: this is one of the soggiest Junes on record in New York City. Average rainfall for June is about two inches; we're already past six inches, and there's no (real) end in sight. It's just rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. And when it gets really bad, it's impossible to get around. For some reason, subway service slows down (if not outright stops) in the outer boroughs, and since i'm now in Brooklyn, this is a real problem. On Tuesday, June 9, there was a press screening of "Brighton Rock"; the screening was at Film Forum. Well: it should take me about 45-50 minutes to get there from my house. There was a deluge that morning, and when i got to the subway station, it was obvious there was a delay. So i just went home. Today (Thursday, June 18), there was a press screening of "Les Plages d'Agnes", also at Film Forum. Also a deluge this morning, but i went anyway... but i waited for the D Express at 36th Street Brooklyn; three N Expresses went by, and by that time, it was 10:40 AM; there was no way that i would get to the West 4th Street Manhattan station by 11, so i would be late to the screening, so i just turned around and came home. Of course, it was lucky: i'd seen both "Brighton Rock" and "Les Plages d'Agnes" before, but still, i feel like i'm cursed never to be able to get to Film Forum!

(If i were going to The Museum of Modern Art or the Walter Reade Theater, i could take either the D or the N train, but with Film Forum, it's the D train to West 4th.)

Oh, well, and it's still raining.

Yesterday it was a clear (thought cloudy) day, and i had to wait in the morning for the National Grid person to come and do the annual boiler check. And on Turner Classic Movies (this month is dedicated to "Great Directors") it was Tony Richardson day. Started with "The Charge of the Light Brigade", then "The Sailor From Gibraltar". I really wanted to see that again, because... my question is: why is it a bad movie? Why is it that "The Sailor From Gibraltar" and Jules Dassin's "10:30 PM Summer" don't work as movies, yet Duras's own writing for the movies (the screenplays for "Hiroshima Mon Amour" and "Une Aussi Longue Absence") and her novels and her own movies ("La Musica", "Destroy, She Said", "Nathalie Granger", "India Song" and "Le Camion") are quite remarkable. What is wrong with "The Sailor From Gibraltar" and "10:30 PM Summer"?

I also watched Richardson's 1969 version of "Hamlet" (boy, that Nicol Williamson sure does talk fast!).

Then i went to the press screening of the documentary "Afghan Star". This movie played at the recent Human Rights Watch Film Festival, but i missed it then. Jeff Lunger joined me for the press screening, and after we went to a coffee shop and discussed the movie. The movie was one of those barely functional digital works, but the subject was fascinating: it was about how a fractured, war-torn culture (Afghanistan) can be united by... pop (in this case, a version of "Pop/American Idol"). One of the things Jeff and i talked about was the idea of the "hook", that angle of the documentary which enticed people to fund it. (In this case, it was obvious that the British Channel 4 funders were interested in the conjunction of the exotic nature of an alien "pop" culture, and the political implications. For instance, of the four final contestants, two were women, even though the Taliban has made it explicit that women are not allowed to sing or dance in public. One of the women gets carried away in her song, and she lets her head scarf fall and she dances at the end of her song... and of course, there's death threats and denunciations and hysteria. But "Afghan Idol" is defying the Taliban.) But Jeff and i also discussed the fact that there are so many documentaries being made, but there seems to be a lack of passion about most of them.

I missed the Great Performances broadcast of the concert version of "Chess". I remember when "Chess" was first done in London, and that was one of the two musicals that Mary Lucier became obsessed with (the other was "Cats"). I saw some version of "Chess" (was it on Broadway?) and a few years later, i remember going to an off-off-Broadway production of "Chess". But i'll have to catch "Chess" when it's rebroadcast.

Well, i didn't get to "Les Plages d'Agnes" but it's Jules Dassin day on TCM, and i'm watching "Topkapi" (which i had seen as a child). Too bad TCM didn't show "10:30 PM Summer" but i have that on DVD. This evening, TCM will be doing Francois Truffaut.

This week, i also saw two films by Sissako, the director from Mali; his films also raise some interesting questions, because the dramatic structure is flat, and his films seem to dribble away (his films don't really have endings, they just stop) yet what are the compensations? And there are compensations. I'd already seen "Waiting for Happiness" (and i was surprised at how much i remember of that film; i have to admit that the images are quite haunting) but not "Life on Earth" and what was illuminating was that the same situation (the one-thing-follows-another style, without any dramatic conclusion) which i had found in "Waiting for Happiness" was also in "Life on Earth". Anyway, there's going to be a retrospective of his work at MoMA.

In terms of Agnes Varda: it seems that she and Chris Marker (who has been a close friend of hers since the 1950s) have reached the point where they can simply record their feelings and thoughts with unsurpassed ease. But it's like Chris Marker is viewed as such an intellectual, while Agnes Varda is not (yet her work, such as "La Pointe Courte" or "Sans Toit ni Loi", is certainly as rigorous and as intellectual as anything by her compatriots Alain Resnais or Marker). Yet it reminds me of the situation when Claude Simon won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Mary Mccarthy remarked, "What? Not Nathalie Sarraute?" And this takes me back to Margeurite Duras...