Monday, August 23, 2010

Don't know why it's taking me so long to readjust to being back home. Well, it is true that i was away for almost ten months, and i've never been away from New York City for so long in my entire life! But the last month has been a flurry of travelling: from Berlin to Munich, then Munich to New York City, then a week at home, then to and from Santa Fe. It was the travelling to and from Santa Fe that was the killer: the delays, getting stuck in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport for hours, the horrible cramped conditions in the airbuses that make up the final lap of the trip to Santa Fe... agh!

I feel like i never want to travel again! Since we've moved to Brooklyn, we haven't taken many trips. In fact, the only trip i took was the one to my niece's wedding in Napa Valley. That was it. Now that i'm back home, i don't even want to go on the subway!

But i have been watching things on television, i saw some movies, of course i've been watching TCM's Summer Under the Stars. For Paul Newman day, i watched "Rachel, Rachel" and "Paris Blues". "Paris Blues" is one of those movies which (in a way) has improved with time. At the time of its release, the movie was derided for its rather cliched view of la vie boheme in Paris, especially since the movie was released at a time when the first Nouvelle Vague films were being distributed, so the image of Parisian life had to compete with "Breathless", "The 400 Blows", "Les Cousins". And in terms of race relations, Kerouac's "The Subterraneans" and Baldwin's "Another Country" had already presented far more complex narratives. But now, the location shooting in Paris seems so evocative and lovely, especially in the exquisite black-and-white cinematography; Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll give appealing star performances, and there's the Duke Ellington music, as well as Louis Armstrong's appearance. What's not to like? As for "Rachel, Rachel", the acting in it was really exceptional, certainly, that's one area where Newman was quite gifted as a director.

There are many movies which are problematic, but, when looked from certain angles, are quite impressive. Once such movie was "The Sun Shines Bright", which i got to see (in a rare 35mm print) in Berlin. It's hard to explain, because the intensity with which Ford seens to infuse certain scenes is difficult to explain. On the surface, the material seems very retrograde (more so because the same material had already been used by John Ford in the 1930s), but Ford's feelings seem to overwhelm everything.

I'm just so tired. I can't seem to shake it. Just watched "The Ghosts of Girlfrends Past"; obviously, not a movie that i would watch in a theater, but i decided i should see it because it has Jennifer Garner, who (along with Jennifer Aniston) was an object of scorn in a recent column by Maureen Dowd. Jennifer Garner isn't bad, in fact, there are moments when she's very charming. In a way, i don't understand current critical standards (or the lack thereof). It's like the current critical animosity towards Jennifer Aniston: where is this coming from? But it's coming from the same mentality which Hollywood foists on everyone, in which there are winners and losers. So Angelina Jolie is a winner (especially because "Salt" was a success) and so Jennifer Aniston must be the loser. And one of the problems with critics now is that so many critics want to be insiders, they want to know who's on top in the Hollywood hierarchy, they want to back the winner.

It's kind of a hideous situation. And nobody wants to break the trend.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

More than a week, now in Santa Fe, quite disconcerting. I'm not sure if i'm the type who likes to commune with nature, and so though there are lovely sights and spectacular landscapes, it's rather lost on me.

Took the Georgia O'Keefe Ghost Ranch tour, it turned out to be more fun than i thought it would be, but it pointed out the problems that exist now in terms of critical standards. I still have to think about this, but it was illuminating to finally see "Work of Art" on TV. It was the final episode.

I think about this in relation to what i experienced in Berlin, and how the situation in terms of art has shifted. I forgot who said it (was it Dwight MacDonald?) but the statement was, "If all the cards are wild, you can't play poker." The reference was to "Touch of Evil" because the point was that the film was so outre that there seemed no semblance of "normality".

What standards are we using when we look at art? One of the jobs of critical commentary (it seems to me) is to articulate standards in relation to one's own aesthetic. But the idea of some universal aesthetic has been discredited, but it has not been replaced by anything which provides a general outline for cultural discourse.

We've reached the point where the individuation of taste has replaced any semblance of cultural continuity. So in place of a general culture, we have the preponderance of polls and "consensus" as a replacement. And this leads us to the point where "art" does, indeed, become a game show, and the standards of art are reduced to sound bytes and quips. Hey, wait: in some essay i wrote in the 1980s, didn't i describe the artworld as a variant of "Let's Make a Deal"? Well, my attempts at frivolity, at making a statement that was so preposterous it could never be "real", have come home to roost. But i'm not exactly crowing.

And so we see the result, a result where Georgia O'Keefe is lionized in Santa Fe, because her work now fits into critical paradigms (feminist, gender studies, etc.) which are currently fashionable, yet D. H. Lawrence (another cultural figure who staked out time in the area) is dismissed, because those same standards which hoisted O'Keefe have discredited Lawrence (dating back to Kate Millet's work). Yet am i wrong in thinking that "Sons and Lovers", "The Rainbow" and "Women In Love" remain among the finest works in the Anglo-American literary tradition? I could explain why i think that, but that would also assume an acknowledgement of where Lawrence fits in the British tradition, and the importance of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. It is not simply a matter of "if X and Y are good, then Z is also good" but an awareness of how Lawrence extended and amplified the aesthetic which Eliot and Hardy represented.

On another note: Reid Rosefelt had a wonderful post on his blog about Angelina Jolie, because i've tried to explain the same thing to people, i.e., how, if you had the chance to meet her when she was about 19 and just starting out, she had a vibrancy and an innate intelligence that bordered on ferocity. She seemed capable of doing almost anything. And no matter what she does now, she was a girl whose future seemed limitless. The only thing i wish is that she would take her acting more seriously. But she's the real deal: a genuine movie star, and she was that from the beginning.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

It's now almost a week since i've been home; was it really 9 and a half months away? I thought i would rush to movies, but have been catching up, spending time with my mother.

I'm glad that i went to the International Federation of Theater Research conference in Munich; for my last week in Germany, it proved to be very exciting. Not that i attended many of the sessions, but it was fascinating to see an organization in transition, really trying to become truly international, with scholars from Asia and Africa and Latin America, in addition to the usual Euro-American suspects. And the general meeting was fantastic: fractious, contentious, argumentative. It was a performance in itself. Who knew that the attempt to democratize the organization would be met with such resistance?

I'm happy to be back in time to see the annual TCM Summer Under the Stars: on Sunday, August 1st, watched "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" with Basil Rathbone. On Monday, August 2nd, watched a bunch of movies with Julie Christie: "The Fast Lady", "Young Cassidy", "Billy Liar", "Darling". I can't believe it: this morning (Thursday, August 5th), i watched one of the Bomba the Jungle Boy movies ("African Treasure"; it's part of Woody Strode day, though his part was really small).

I couldn't watch "Work of Art": i tried, but it was so... aggravating. After a few minutes, i just had to get back to sanity, so i switched to "Psych". I still have to see "Hot in Cleveland".

There's so much to do, so much to see. NY1 just had a report about the waterfront parks in Brooklyn. Of course, today is another scorcher. I'm glad that this past weekend was relatively temperate, because otherwise, i'd be wondering why i came back.

But one thing i learned: i love New York. A lot of people wish they had been in NYC in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and i don't have to wish.

Now that i've said that, i have to say that coming back was a shock because of the sudden changes. Subway service is a shambles. I love the fact that the new notices in the subways (explaining why service is being cut) simply blame it on the budget crisis. But what a way to run a city!