Friday, January 13, 2017

Werner Herzog: 'Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World' (2016)

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, Werner Herzog's free-wheeling documentary about the rise and impact of the internet inspires thought. Though low-key, the film is consciousness-raising, like Marshall McLuhan's concept of "the electronic envelope" into which we are folded, or McLuhan's "Global Village" (1962) and "Global Theatre" (1970).  

Here, Herzog asks several globally-connected people: "Does the internet dream of itself?" Not coincidentally, Philip K. Dick's dystopian vision is brought into the mix at one point (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- the 1968 novel that morphed into the 1982 movie Blade Runner). 
A scene from LO AND BEHOLD, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. The memorably strange choice of interview setting and style in this scene speaks volumes about Herzog and his creative crew.
In Lo and Behold, Herzog interviews all sorts of people, including the visionary Elon Musk. 

As one fellow movie-watcher noted, Herzog really knows how to shake people out of the trees. 

Several facets of the internet are covered, including cyber attacks, other disruptions in the net, collaborative research, social media personae, self-driving vehicles, people afraid of "the rays," the rise of the robots and upcoming plans for colonizing Mars. 

It's not all good to think about, but behold, even the most oblivious users of the internet are daily immersed in its ways. Much to be aware of and ruminate upon.

Today's Rune: Fertility.  

Thursday, January 05, 2017

This Place Will No Longer Accept Cash

I. Where have all the rupees gone?  India is phasing out cash. In the US, the penny costs more than its worth in exchange and may be eliminated. In the global trend to "demonetize" (that is, "strip" official currency of value), will we have to rely on "blockchain" accounting systems? And: will our money be safe from electronic theft? Stay tuned! Before you know it, we'll be resorting to barter systems and new forms of "black market" trading. 

II. Living in a "red state" dominated by Republicans, I have found the demonetization process at work even locally. That is to say, this is happening regardless of the party in control, or geographical location. A bulletin arrived recently in the mailbox, delivered by postal service, that reads in part:

"[Place X] Will No Longer Accept Cash

In an effort to improve security, accounting procedures and productivity, [Place X] will no longer accept cash for services. This means bills, citations, fees and other payments to [Place X] will only be accepted with a check, money order, and credit or debit card. 

[We] hope going cashless is not too much of an inconvenience [haha], but [Place X] also has online payments . . . so people could pay at home or work [assuming they have a home, work and a computer or smart phone].

There are three overriding factors [that] contributed to the decision [by whom?] to not accept cash: simplicity, security, and timing.

In terms of security, there is less of a worry about cash floating around [Place X] and it makes bookkeeping and keeping track of bank deposits a lot simpler.

Cash is inefficient. 'It is expensive (and dirty) to handle cash* -- you have a natural loss; you have to pay staff  to count, deposit, and reconcile it; and it increases transaction times,' [no source for this quotation] No cash means no traveling to and from the bank. Plus, not handling money will make [Place X] safer.

The improved procedures will be effective January 1, 2017 . . ."

*Ludicrous!  The mail is "dirty;" credit cards are "dirty." This characteristic never stopped their use before. Wash your hands!

Paper money has been widely used for nearly 1000 years. "Genghis Khan was instrumental in the spread of paper money as currency. . . [I]ntrigued with the paper money he discovered when he conquered China in the 13th Century, [h]e used paper money as a uniform currency across his vast empire. " (Source: "A Short History of Money," link here.)

"Black markets" (informal economic exchanges not authorized by the ruling party) have probably been around since there were more than a handful of people on Earth. Going back to cashless will inspire a revival of bartering, trading and other creative forms of exchange. People will want a fall-back position when computer systems crash or hackers come a'hacking.

I'd be willing to barter with bottles of wine and sacks of coffee beans, among other things. How about you?

Today's Rune: Breakthrough. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Akira Kurosawa's 赤ひげ / 'Red Beard' (1966)

Akira Kurosawa's 赤ひげ / Red Beard (1966) is a meticulously crafted film, an example of cinema as a masterful art form in its own right that includes elements of fiction, poetry, visual art and architecture but is also distinctive. The aesthetics of black and white film (this was Kurosawa's last before shifting to color) allow one to focus on shadow and form as well as sound. Kurosawa is a master filmmaker and one need not understand Japanese to appreciate his works. Indeed, as in the most moving silent films, many of Kurosawa's shot compositions illuminate the power of facial expressions and, in particular, the look of a person's eyes. Kurosawa's work is very satisfying aesthetically and I'm learning a great deal about technique in reviewing his films.
I have never really understood modern medical doctors, their motivation or disposition, but Red Beard makes me wish we had in the everyday now many more such as these doctors from 200 years ago, working hard at a Japanese medical clinic. 

The title character, Dr. Kyojō Niide (played by the always memorable Toshiro Mifune), frequently strokes his beard which is, though we see him in black and white film only, red. One can readily compare his character with Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbirdan American film made in the same decade as Red Beard, though the good doctor is a bit gruffer than the lawyer. Just as Atticus takes up a rifle to shoot a threatening rabid dog, Red Beard has a scene in which he opens up a can of whoop-ass on a threatening group of hooligans in a courtyard outside a brothel.

Red Beard approaches his patients, most of them poor, in a holistic manner, strengthening the body, mind and spirit of each when it's still possible to help. He works patiently and effectively with people afflicted by fevers, alcoholism, mental illness, "spiritual scalding," and physical wounds. His holistic approach could be put to good service in the 21st century.
Blanket airing on left is of the same pattern as the one in the top image
Red Beard is based on Shūgorō Yamamoto's The Tales of Dr. Redbeard (1958), plus an additional thread from Fyodor Dostoevsky's Humiliated and Insulted (1861).
Red Beard has heft as well as breadth. In flashback sequences (which sometimes remind me of surrealistic Luis Buñuel flashbacks), there is a landslide and the aftermath of an earthquake. In one sequence, we can see a character stumbling around in the foreground while at the top of the screen a line of people exit the "stage." Having experienced firsthand the nightmarish devastation of the Pacific War that ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and having earlier lived through a massive earthquake, Kurosawa is deep diving through these scenes.
There's another sequence that begins with a strange chanting, a beckoning to the underworld to spare an imperiled young boy's life, that ends with a visual shot from the perspective of the bottom of a well, a water-reflection of the people shimmering above -- a mind-blowing achievement. 

Today's Rune: Harvest.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dominique Loreau, 'L'Art de la Simplicité: How to Live More with Less' (2016)

Dominique Loreau, L'Art de la Simplicité: How to Live More with Less (English edition, Louise Rogers Lalaurie, translator, 2016; French edition, 2011). I love this kind of book: lots of everyday poetic-philosophical tidbits and holistic ideas blended together, take 'em or leave 'em.

". . . in the studio of your mind . . . putting thoughts into action takes vision: without it, you will lack direction"  (page 147).  

"We have a choice in everything we do. There are reasons why we focus on certain choices and not others" (which she then delineates -- pages 171+).

". . . there are many forms of intelligence -- emotional intelligence, intelligent good sense. Some people have neither" (page 187). Be aware and beware of these sorts of people.

"READ AS MUCH AS YOU CAN . . . Words express our thoughts . . . Each of us is a unique collage, of our parents, our friends, our studies, experiences and travels, our reading . . . A cultivated person can perceive the unity and multiplicity of a thing at once, and see no contradiction" (page 210). 
Dominique Loreau, L'Art de la Simplicité: How to Live More with Less (English edition, Louise Rogers Lalaurie, translator, 2016; French edition, 2011).

"We acquire and expand energy through ideas" (page 227).

"QI AND ENTHUSIASM . . . Enthusiasm is an emotion that spurs us into action. It is a powerful energy form, to be cultivated with dedication" (page 231). This may be one of the most practical and important ideas in the book. 

"One thing alone is true: live well. But to live well we must  be truly 'alive,' and love life itself" (page 231). 

'TRAVEL, LIVE LIFE TO THE FULL . . . How can we be free if we cling to home like an oyster to a rock, mired in routine and boredom? Travel for pleasure . . . A pencil and notebook are all we need . . . The experience will leave an indelible trace in your soul" (pages 233-234). Indeed, go forth!

Today's Rune:  Initiation. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Conrad Rooks: 'Siddhartha' (1972)

Siddhartha, Conrad Rooks' 1972 movie adaptation of Herman Hesse's short novel of the same name (German, 1922; English, 1951), does justice to the original. Though the acting is gently stylized, not "naturalistic," this doesn't bother me in the least. Here and in other ways, Rooks' Siddhartha is on a Buddhist-style par with the Christian-oriented films Pilgrim's Progress (1978) and Christiana (1979). I find all three more enjoyable and more interesting than the majority of films that I've seen over the years. Probably because the stakes are so high, and so relevant to every one of us at all times.

Siddhartha's look benefits from the Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist (1922-2006), probably better known as an Ingmar Bergman collaborator. And it's nice having actual Indian actors playing all the parts, with Indian music in the background, and Indian architecture and ecosystems as the visual backdrop. 
Simi Garewal as Kamala, Shashi Kapoor as Siddhartha
As for the director Conrad Rooks (1934-2011), he was an interesting fellow in his own right. Beneficiary of Avon wealth (as in, "Avon lady here"), he shook off adult alcoholism and drug addiction through a Swiss "sleeping cure" and then went on to make Siddhartha. His earlier film Chappaqua (1967), is a chaotic mess, but it does have some groovy scenes with William S. Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg, Ornette Coleman, Ravi Shankar and Moondog, among others. 
Nothing remains the same
Everything changes
Everything returns

Today's Rune: Partnership.   

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Journey to The Presidio of San Sabá (November 2016)

Presidio outer walls
On the weekend before the presidential election in November, I journeyed into the shadowy heart of Texas to see with my own eyes the site of the The Presidio of San Sabá, which was abandoned by its Spanish and Lipán Apache occupants in or around the year 1772. 

It was worth it! The presidio grounds were the most interesting surprise, but along the way I noted pithy place names and tidbits, herewith presented for your consideration and possible amazement.
Silverado Cowboy Church --  Wall clouds -- Shatterbelt hills -- Palo Pinto -- Natty Flat --  Blue Flat -- Panama Road -- Gordon -- Twin Mountain Ranch -- Erath County --  W. K. Gordon Museum -- Thurber ghost town -- Mingus -- New York Hill -- Strawn -- De Leon -- Puddles from rain -- Ranger College -- Foggy -- Cisco -- Cattle -- Assembly of Yaweh -- Gerhardt Farms -- Lutheran cemetery -- Rising Star -- Old downtown and post office -- Men in camo and big cowboy hats -- May, Texas -- Blanket, Texas -- Trees with “grape” clusters -- Large carrion birds -- Early, Texas -- Mall, urban strip -- Brownwood next door --strip mall fiasco -- Hastings Books (shuttered) -- Red Wagon Restaurant -- Large railroad junction -- Payne Union University -- Octoberfest -- 3M Company plant --Kohler plant -- 377-South -- The Slough of Despond --
Looks plundered, blackened stumpy wreckage of trees -- Colorado River -- County line old rusty bridge to side -- Auction white pickup truck hoedown -- Curtis Airfield -- Salon de Reino -- Turtle & Tuttle -- East Sweden cemetery -- Little Onion Creek -- Onion Creek -- Shorn sheep in many fields – all the sheep are shorn -- Rochelle --Brady -- Mr. China -- Hext, Texas --Menard County line -- Monarch butterflies floating over road -- Chapman Draw -- Scalp Creek -- Volkmann Draw -- Celery Creek -- arrival Presidio San Sabá, 1757-1772 (two versions)
The Return -- Celery Creek -- Concho County -- Fuzzy Creek -- Valera -- wrecked train cars (mixers) – half a dozen -- A butte on the road to Santa Ana -- Bangs, Texas.

Today's Rune: Movement. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Akira Kurosawa: 'The Bad Sleep Well' / 悪い奴ほどよく眠る (1960)

In The Bad Sleep Well / 悪い奴ほどよく眠る (1960), Akira Kurosawa tackles a still very contemporary theme: institutional greed and corruption, cover-up. and behind-the-scenes machinations.

Shot in black and white (with elements of silent films -- like special emphasis on faces and gestures), the movie's basic set-up is thus: Nishi (Toshiro Mifune) plans to take revenge on his corporate father's tormentors. 
The film is developed in waves, with a grand wedding, reporters asking questions, corruption investigations, and much unspooling intrigue. 

The Bad Sleep Well twists along to include an attempted suicide at the mouth of a (real) live volcano, clandestine night meetings, and semi-hostages secreted in the ruins of a (real) munitions factory bombed by the Allies during World War II.  

Admirers of Alfred Hitchcock and the Coen brothers will especially dig this production. 
Those even barely attuned to what's going on today, from Trumpian America to Brazil to South Korea, from Fukushima Japan to around the globe, will surely grok the enduring connections across time and space between egotistical organizational chess pieces bound up in graft, greed and sheer folly, so well-depicted in this film.

The Criterion Collection includes added bonus materials with its DVDs, including a relevant chunk of Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create (2002). 

Today's Rune: Harvest.