Thursday, March 15, 2018

'The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí' (1942): Early In Spain

The Secret Life of Salvador Dalítranslated into English by Haakon Chevalier. New York: Dial Press, 1942. Since reprinted by various publishers. 

Dalí's (1904-1989) innately bizarre way of seeing things is all here, but to my surprise, so is a consistent sort of Catholicism. There's a lot of depth in this book. Dalí was a strange person, and an interesting one.

Childhood and young adulthood are conjured in a way that feels accurate -- we tend to forget how precocious and weird children can be on the inside. Dalí remembers, maybe even with more than a touch of obsessive compulsion.

Dalí as a kid, not quite an adolescent:

 . . . I determined the methodical distribution of the events of my future days, for with my avidity for all things, resulting from my new and bubbling vitality, I felt that I needed a minimum of order so as not to destroy my enthusiasm in contradictory and simultaneous desires. For I now wanted to take frenzied advantage of everything all at once, to be everywhere at the same moment. I understood very quickly that with the disorder in which I went about wanting to enjoy and bite and touch everything I would in the end not be able to taste or savor anything at all and that the more I clutched at pleasure, attempting to profit by the gluttonous economy of a single gesture, the more this pleasure would slip and escape from my too avid hands.

And so he chose to adopt "a jesuitical and meticulous program . . . strictly and severely exacting." (Chapter Five: "True Childhood Memories.")  

And on he will go, to Madrid, and Paris and New York City, and eventually back to Spain, and even recently in the news. 

It'll take a few posts to complete the job.

Today's Rune: Flow. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Maya Lin: 'Boundaries' (2000)

Maya Lin, Boundaries. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Anyone aware of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is aware of Maya Lin's work. Boundaries explores her poetic and philosophical approach to memorials, monuments and architecture in general.

Given ongoing fights over the purpose and placement of memorials and monuments, Lin's thoughts retain their relevance.

With the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I needed to ask myself the question "What is the purpose of a war memorial at the close of the twentieth century?" My question led me to a study of war memorials, from the earliest funereal stelae to the monuments of the great world wars. I felt that the design should focus on the individuals who died and not on the politics surrounding that war. I sought a design that would bring the viewer to an honest acceptance of the deaths of those individuals. (Boundaries, 3:05).

First World War (1914-1918) memorials resonate with Lin (born October 5, 1959). "The images of these monuments were extremely moving. They captured emotionally what I felt memorials should be: honest about the reality of war, about the loss of life in war, and about remembering those who served and especially those who died." (Boundaries, 4:09).

A monument dedicated to 100,000 missing and unidentified dead from the Battle of the Somme in Thiepval, France, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, influenced her approach to the Vietnam Memorial (1982). "This memorial acknowledged those lives without . . . creating a political statement of victory or loss. This apolitical approach became the essential aim of my design; I did not want to civilize war by glorifying it or by forgetting the sacrifices involved. The price of human life in war should always be clearly remembered." (Ibid.)

Lin asks, what is the purpose of this memorial? Her answer helps create the design.

When we look at monuments and memorials and placement, and reasons behind their placement and design, we can decide whether they belong where they are or need to be moved. 

If you had to design a memorial for the next major war involving your nation, what elements would you want to include? 

I would emphasize all war deaths, not just military deaths. It's rare to think of any 20th or 21st century war in which overall casualties are not or have not been far higher than strictly military ones.

Much more to consider with Maya Lin's Boundaries -- at some point.

Today's Rune: Initiation

Monday, March 05, 2018

Roberto Rossellini: 'The Flowers of St. Francis' / 'Francesco, giullare di Dio' (1950)

Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis / Francesco, giullare di Dio (1950). Vignettes of the original Franciscans, played by real Franciscan monks, with a medieval feel, beyond normal time, in black and white. This is the kind of little gem of a movie that distinguishes cinema from books as an art form.

Federico Fellini co-wrote the minimalist script, which is more evident in some of the chapters than others. 
San Francesco d'Assisi / Saint Francis of Assisi lived from about 1181 to 1226 A.D. 

The main cook for the early Franciscans was Fra Ginepro / Brother Juniper, who died in 1258 A.D. He was a bit of a "jester." 
Here, Franciscans spread a feeling of peace in the village, near the end of the film. They also redistribute food to the hungry. 
St. Francis and St. Clare at St. Mary of the Angels. Santa Chiara d'AssisiSaint Clare of Assisi lived from 1194 to 1253 A.D. 

This memorable film provides an alternative to the many human-directed miseries already wrought in the 21st century. The Criterion Collection package includes extra interviews. Isabella Rossellini (born 1952), daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, provides impressive insight in one of them.  

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Isabel Allende: 'El amante japonés: Una novela' / 'The Japanese Lover: A Novel' (2015)

Isabel Allende: El amante japonés: Una novela / The Japanese Lover: A Novel (2015). A quick, easy read. It's strange to see allusions to very recent events in a novel, connected with the upheavals of the 1930s and 1940s. 

I particularly enjoyed the various points of view, ranging from the much older Alma to one of her caregivers and mentees, Irina. Both have immigrant backgrounds -- Alma, a refugee sent to California by concerned family during the encroachment of the Nazi menace, Irina rescued from the poverty of Moldova (though out of the frying pan into the fire). There's a Japanese family whose patriarch had moved to California to become a gardener well before the Second World War, breaking the family tradition of militarism, and numerous other characters. Ichimei Fukuda, son of the gardener and a gardener himself, is "the Japanese lover" -- Alma's.
The Japanese angle adds historical flourishes. There's a religious component with Ōmoto, a modern offshoot of Shinto that publishes tracts in the international language Esperanto. There's the holistic aspect of landscape gardening; internment during World War II preceded by the burial of the family war sword; and note of the highly decorated Japanese American combat unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (whose history is worth a book of its own -- including those they fought in Europe, ranging from Germans to various detachments surprisingly fighting alongside them -- the Germans --  originating from Somalia, Poland, India and other unexpected places). 

A pretty cool, undemanding novel that deals with age and life changes, varied circumstances, refugees, immigrants, love and history, all laced together nicely.

Today's Rune: Wholeness. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Kon Ichikawa: 'The Burmese Harp' / 'Biruma no tategoto' / ビルマの竪琴 (1956)

Kon Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp / Biruma no tategoto / ビルマの竪琴 (1956), based on Michio Takeyama's 1958 novel of the same name.

Set-up: Japanese soldiers are abandoned to their fate in Burma (now Myanmar) near the end of the Second World War. Focus is on one company, led by a captain who had been musically trained in civilian life, and who has his troops sing to boost morale. One of his privates, Mizushima, has taken up playing a Burmese Harp, and seems already otherworldly at the beginning of the film, only to become more so.

The company tries to make its way to a safe zone so they can somehow return to devastated Japan, but are eventually overtaken by British (including Sikh) forces at a Burmese village. 
Though the war is officially over by this time, mortal danger persists. Another detachment of Japanese soldiers refuses to surrender -- death before dishonor. Mizushima is sent to Triangle Mountain to convince them to choose life over death. Will he succeed?

The rest of the film involves Mizushima's becoming a Buddhist monk, choosing to remain in Burma to bury abandoned Japanese war dead (apparently killed in large part by air and artillery attack), combined with the rest of his company, now POWs, trying to figure out whether he's dead or alive, and if the latter, hoping he will return with them to Japan. 
The Burmese Harp is an effective and sad film, distinctive in its long-term philosophical and religious considerations. For example, it's noted that neither the Japanese nor British empires will reign in Burma -- which became independent in 1948, though it still suffers ethnic turmoil in the 21st century. 

Kon Ichikawa (1915-2008) directed, but he worked in close collaboration with Natto Wada (1920-1983), the script writer, who also happened to be his spouse. Ichikawa did a color film remake of The Burmese Harp in 1985, but I haven't seen it yet.

Today's Rune: Joy. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Masahiro Shinoda: 'Pale Flower' / 'Kawaita hana' / 乾いた花 (1964)

Masahiro Shinoda's Pale Flower / Kawaita hana / 乾いた花 (1964). 

Whereas Seijun Suzuki's 1964 Gate of FleshNikutai no mon / 肉体の門  is set in the immediate wake of the Second World War and shot in garish colors, Shinoda's 1964 film is set in the early 1960s and shot in black and white. Japan has begun to rebuild and we can recognize it as contemporary modern. But the code of gangsters (yakuza) is key to both films, and to both periods in Japanese society. So is the underground scene in general -- dangerous and alluring. 
'“There was a strong influence of [Charles] Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal throughout this film,” director Masahiro Shinoda would later remember of his 1964 squid-ink noir Pale Flower.'" -- Chuck Stephens, "Pale Flower: Loser Take All" (2011), The Criterion Collection. Link here.
"Bewitchingly shot and edited . . ." The Criterion Collection has special features, all nifty. 
Who will pay the Piper? But first, who is the Piper? 

"A sumptuous sonnet to unrequited amour fou, Pale Flower remains Shinoda’s most enduring creation." -- Chuck Stephens, "Pale Flower: Loser Take All" (2011), The Criterion Collection. 

Today's Rune: Strength

Monday, February 12, 2018

Seijun Suzuki: Gate of Flesh / Nikutai no mon / 肉体の門 (1964)

Seijun Suzuki's Nikutai no mon / 肉体の門 / Gate of Flesh (1964): set in the post-World War II devastation of Tokyo, a dazzling look at how people struggled to survive. Part pulp, part Surrealism and part everything but the kitchen sink, Gate of Flesh has a fresh, crazy feel even now. 

Destruction is everywhere. Much of the population suffers from some variation of post-traumatic stress, shell shock and "nostalgia" -- psychic damage from firebombings and other forms of mass violence, both dealt out and received. 

The "returnees," as veterans from the various battlefronts were called, are warily received, while organized gangs (yakuza) run rampant, black markets flourish, and prostitution is pervasive and brutally competitive. American occupiers, including Military Police (MPs) roam through the urban tangle with weapons at the ready, half suppressing and half participating. It's a sort of massively scaled industrialized version of Deadwood.    
Gate of Flesh is based on a 1947 novel by Taijiro Tamura (1911-1983). What's striking about the Seijun Sazuki (1923-2017) adaptation is how much wilder it is than Japanese films made during the actual American occupation. Why? Because immediately after the war, American authorities censored everything in occupied Japan with a heavy hand, but by 1964, that was gone. 
The Criterion Collection DVD set has lots of extra goodies. It's also worth noting that there are five adaptations of the Tamura novel, three of them made after Sazuki's version. 

Today's Rune: Partnership.