Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jem Cohen: Museum Hours (Take II)

In plainer English than the previous post, the set-up for Jem Cohen's Museum Hours is this: Anne (Mary Margaret O-Hara) borrows money to travel from Montreal, Canada, to Vienna, Austria, to hold vigil over her cousin, who is in a coma; there are apparently no other available relatives or friends who can fulfill this responsibility.

On a tight budget, Anne finds a tiny room to stay in, and she wanders into the Kunsthistorisches [Art History] Museum, where she is helped by Johann (Bobby Sommer), a compassionate museum guard. During her extended stay, they come to learn more about each other, sharing a connection as they explore the museum and various spots in Vienna.

That's the basic set-up. Simple idea, quiet unfolding, thoughtful movie. A keeper.

Today's Rune:  Flow. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jem Cohen: Museum Hours

Jem Cohen's Museum Hours (2012/2013), set in Vienna and starring the city and its environs, the Kunsthistorisches [i.e. Art] Museum, Bobby Sommer, Mary Margaret O'Hara and Ela Piplits, delivers a beautiful and gentle meditation on art, cities, people and birds -- among other things.

I want to publicly thank Gina Mandas for the recommendation. Museum Hours is a very impressive work, with elements that remind me of Werner Herzog and Jean-Luc Godard combined with Tom Ford's A Single Man (2009) in its dazzling yet down-to-earth observational qualities. You gotta live, you gotta see things before departure time -- yes!
By some act of synchronicity, a few days before Museum Hours arrived in the mail, I watched a short documentary about Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1525-1569) and his art, so was extra taken by the attention devoted in Jem Cohen's film to the Kunsthistorisches Museum's "Bruegel Room" and the precision of the Ela Piplits' character's musings about Bruegel's art and life. In the parlance of our day: Wow. Will watch again.

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Woody Allen: Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight (2014) takes place in 1928. Why 1928?  It's a brief wondrous moment, far enough off from the Great War of 1914-1918 to allow our characters not to have to dwell on it, even while they remain innocent of the Great Depression and next world war right around time's corner. And so our characters can look grand, banter, and drive around in cool cars between séances and magic tricks while discussing philosophy and mysticism, science and luminous beauty. Places visited include a Berlin theatre and a London mansion, but most luscious of all, the South of France in peacetime -- an artist's paradise.
Emma Stone as Sophie Baker of Kalamazoo, Michigan, with Colin Firth as Stanley, aka the Great Wei Ling Soo.
Magic in the Moonlight -- here, magic in the sunlight. Unlike virtually every other take on this film, I will not make a comparison with other Woody Allen movies. "Why they do that?"

1928 was quite a year. My apartment in Michigan was of that vintage, replete with subtle art deco touches -- fantastic construction, with Detroit in an ascendant economic position. But elsewhere in 1928, the Japanese Imperial Army committed atrocities in China, Benito Mussolini stalked Italy with an "iron fist" and London endured a great flood. Prohibition reigned in the USA, and people along the Mississippi River were still recovering from the Great Flood of 1927. Enjoy life's magic when and where you can.  

Today's Rune: Breakthrough. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Eyes of Texas: Where the South Begins

Glen Sample Ely's Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity (Lubbock: Texas Tech University, 2011) -- as its full title suggests -- debates Texas identity. 

Which to emphasize?

Where the South Begins / Where the South Ends
Where the West Begins / Where the West Ends ?

Is Texas part of the American South, the American West, unto itself, or some other realm entirely?  All of the above. It is/was also First Nation country (Caddo, etc.) or passageway (Comanche, Kiowa, etc.), New Spain with a touch of New France, Mexico, Lone Star Republic, Annexed State, Slave State, Seceded State, Embattled State, Occupied State, cotton state, Wild West, cattle state, oil and gas state, drought, fire and Dustbowl state, and in some areas emerging -- eco-preserve state. 

To a large extent, Ely shows, determining where the West/South identity split ends or begins depends on how much rainfall arrives: less than twenty inches per year west of the 100th meridan: the West. Transitional zone between the 100th and 98th meridian: Shatterbelt Region. Then transitioning to East Texas = Old South. Let's not forget South Texas, either, which has its own characteristics.   

Upon closer inspection of Texas in its entirety, anyone and everyone would find a more complex milieu than that typically presented by either Texas promoters or detractors. It's a diverse place, with pockets not so diverse and other pockets more so. But why is it a Tea Party led "Red State" in 2014? Will it become a "Blue State" by 2020? How about "Purple" in between?  
The history of Texas has oft been violent and cruel and even downright stupid, but there is also a countercurrent of resilience, imagination, and adaptation to change. Plus good food and music, among other things. Some of Texas is Western, some is Southern, some is a mix or becoming very made over indeed, with a dramatically heterogenous inflow of new people.

Fort Worth, the place (or at least a place) "where the West begins" according to public relations efforts since the 1920s, is as good a place to point to the current diversity of Texas as any. According to the latest federal census reports (2010-2013), Fort Worth is (as of mid-2013) the 17th largest and most populated city in the USA -- one notch below Charlotte, North Carolina, and one above Detroit, Michigan. 

Demographics of Fort Worth as of 2010-2013 (rounded):

19% African American/Black
 3%  Multiracial
 1% American Indian/First Nation
34% Hispanic/Latino
41% Anglo/Non-Hispanic White
 4% Asian 

That's diverse by any standard. 

Today's Rune: Partnership      

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pedro Almodóvar: La flor de mi secreto / The Flower of My Secret (1995)

Pedro Almodóvar's La flor de mi secreto / The Flower of My Secret (1995) revolves around Leo Macías, who writes under the pseudonym Amanda Gris. Her marriage with Paco is an emotional train wreck: Leo's neediness combined with his distance form a wretched dynamic, one so awful that he prefers serving with NATO in Brussels and Bosnia during wartime rather than remain with her in Madrid -- whereas she (just almost) wants to die rather than be without him. 
Leo (as Amanda Gris) is a successful writer of "pink" romance novels, but her growing affinity is for "black" (as in the mood) writing. She loves "anxious" and "lunatic" writers such as  Djuna Barnes, Jane Bowles, Janet Frame, Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin, and so on.  And indeed, The Flower of My Secret touches quite a bit on identity, persona, pseudonym and a heady creative spirit. Even the choice of "Amanda Gris" as pen name seems to derive from the Spanish visual artist Juan Gris, formerly known as José González, a fellow traveler in stage-shifting. Then there's the matter of stealth, theft and the so-called "writer's [or writers'] well" -- there are only so many ideas to be reworked. Leo's "black" work is to be made into a film (and actually was later made into Almodóvar's own Volver ~ whoah), while her "pink" work is taken over by a temporarily secret admirer/ghost writer. Ah, life!   
Almodóvar's La flor de mi secreto / The Flower of My Secret (1995): Plaza Mayor, Madrid. Ángel and Leo after dark. Red is the color. 
Almodóvar's La flor de mi secreto / The Flower of My Secret (1995): Blanca (Manuela Vargas), Leo (Marisa Paredes) and Rosa (Rossy de Palma).

A few lines for the future: 

"Except for drinking, everything is difficult for me" (Leo).

"Jealousy is a needle that keeps me from living" (from a song in Almagro, Castile-La Mancha).

From Leo's madre (played by Chus Lampreave, always memorable):

"She hides things like a magpie" and "Like a cow without a cowbell." 

Let's not forget phosphorus supplements for "memory." Who knew?

Today's Rune: Partnership.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pedro Almodóvar: Entre Tinieblas / Dark Habits (1983)

Zooming in to the goings on inside a small convent, Pedro Almodóvar's Entre Tinieblas / Dark Habits (1983) shows that people often opt to become (or remain) more interesting than the limitations of their social functions. In other words, nuns may be rebels, artists, romantics, gardeners or addicts as well as servants to their order -- just like anyone else. 
I tend to enjoy movies (and any other kind of stories) about nuns and priests and so forth, and I dig Almodóvar, so this one works well for me. As a Catholic, I don't find Entre Tinieblas sacrilegious at all. So what if the Mother Superior is a romantic with a fondness for drugs and "bad girls?" If you substitute good food and drink or sports or smoking or whatever else you wish into the equation, doesn't everybody who can enjoy such pleasures?

Dark Habits isn't a comedy, exactly, nor is it a satire, nor a drama -- though it has touches of all; nor does it have wacky pacing. Rather, we have time to meet all the main characters, discovering what drives them but also what keeps them in place. Above all, though, change is in the air coming from multiple directions, so none of them can remain in their present station forever. Life is exactly like that, over time.
Here's my attempt to chart out the various social connections embedded in the Dark Habits storyline. Three of the characters are spectral presences only (Yolanda's boyfriend, the Marquis and Virginia, his daughter). Three types of written documents tighten the plot: a diary, a letter and several popular fact-based novels ghost-written by one of the nuns. 
Today's Rune: Wholeness. 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Get On Up

It's 104 degrees out in North Texas - what do ya do? In the American tradition that goes back just under 100 years, I headed for an air-conditioned movie theater! 

Get On Up (2014) -- aka "The James Brown Story" - directed by Tate Taylor and starring Chadwick Boseman, occupies the same ballpark as Oliver Stone's The Doors (1991 -- with Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison) and Olivier Dahan's La Môme / La Vie en Rose (2007 -- with Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf). It offers a similarly telesoped and kaleidoscopic -- and necessarily streamlined -- vision of the artistic star of the show, set within some kind of social and historical context. In each example, the genius-talent aspect of the star remains mysterious  -- God-given or lucky, or both -- but the human element is shown as comprehensible. Of these three biopics, I liked the lead actor and historical character in all of them, but Get On Up provides the best overall experience -- at least it did for me. 

Let it be known that I was a serious fan of Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison and James Brown going in and remained one coming out, but I also felt enriched by these cinematic perspectives. 

Hot outside? Check out Get On Up, if possible, in a movie house that sports a powerful sound system. No kidding: the musical experience alone would be worth the effort.

Rune: The Self.