Thursday, March 23, 2017

'Network' (1976)

Network (1976). Paddy Chayefsky, screenplay; Sidney Lumet, director. Starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall. Winner of four academy awards.

Network hasn't saved us from having to endure the first all-television buffoon president, but it sure sets him in the right context: outrageous behavior, roller coaster ratings, demented intensity of approval seeking, zero intellectual curiosity or empathy, total immersion narcissism. 

Welcome to 2017, already so well grasped in 1976.
The most charismatic stars of Network are Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch. The latter's character is having a breakdown, while the former's is on the way up with ferocious vigor. Though not quite as horrible as the soulless ghouls and fools of DJ Trump's inner circle, she's moving in that direction.   
Network: then and now. Sequel: the internet.

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ireland: Signs and Wonders of Galway

Signs and Wonders of Galway, Ireland, in the rain, June 2016. Tattoos, wash & blow/dry, menswear.
70 m, on the right  
Nora Barnacle house. (See James Joyce, Ulysses, 1918-1922).
Galway Angels. Galway City (population about 80,000) is a wonderful place with a groovy vibe, rain or shine.

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Akira Kurosawa: 白痴 / 'The Idiot' (1951)

What we have left to see is about half of Akira Kurosawa's orginal epic cut of 白痴 / The Idiot (1951), based on the hefty novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky first published in complete book form in 1874. As is, Kurosawa's film conveys the mood, atmosphere and existential thickets of the Russian original through a Japanese scrim.   
Even cut in half, The Idiot still works, provided one is willing to employ a little imagination to help fill in the gaps. The gist remains. Here, the title character (Masayuki Mori), suffering from post traumatic stress (thanks to his wartime experiences), has the thousand yard stare; Denkichi Akama (Toshiro Mifune) burns holes into his best frenemy with an equally mystified stare.   
Enter Taeko Nasu (Setsuko Hara) and Ayako (Yoshiko Kuga) into a four-way staring contest. Note Toshiro Mifune on the left, a clear prototype for spaghetti Western characters in his look, well emulated by Clint Eastwood in the 1960s.

In the previous post, Charles asked about a biography of Kurosawa. There are these two books, neither of which I've read yet. But they look good.

Peter Cowie, Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema (Rizzoli, 2010).

Donald Richie, The Films of Akira Kurosawa: Third Edition, Expanded and Updated (University of California Press, 1999). 

Today's Rune: Protection. 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Akira Kurosawa: わが青春に悔なし / 'No Regrets for Our Youth' (1946)

Blend one portion of Jane Austen with two of Fyodor Dostoevsky, season with a little Gone with the Wind. Sit down for a Japanese meal during the Second World War period and voila, you have tasted of  Akira Kurosawa's わが青春に悔なし / No Regrets for Our Youth (1946).  Bon appétit!

Let's look briefly at three aspects of this early post-war film.

1. Love triangle, beginning in 1933. Yukie (played by the astonishing Setsuko Hara) is wooed by Noge and Itokawa (all pictured above).

At one point, Yukie matter-of-factly spells things out for Itokawa:

"If I follow you, my life will be peaceful.  But, if I may say, it'll be boring . . . If I follow [Noge], something dazzling will await me. My life will be stormy . . . It terrifies me and fascinates me."  
2. Family. We learn important things about the connections between Yukie, Noge, Itokawa and their family systems, how they help inform their existential decision-making -- even in rebellion. 

3. Society under pressure. Japanese fascism and nationalism begin to squash socialist and even the most moderate dissent. At first, the students and faculty fight for free speech and against militarism, but eventually, many of the students are absorbed into the war machine and most of the faculty either removed or cowed into silence.

Noge goes to prison and is seemingly rehabilitated by the time of his release, though he still remains, in actuality, a member of the resistance. Itokawa becomes a government prosecutor and is seemingly sympathetic, though in actuality, he has become part of the new status quo. 

Yukie is the character who changes the most, and, existentially, for the better.

No Regrets for Our Youth has additional facets worth exploring -- including fine matters of technique and craft -- but three are enough for one post!

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.  

Friday, March 03, 2017

"The Italian:" The Life and Times of Tina Modotti (1896-1942)

Time is a trickster, compadres!  It's been two years since I last posted about Tina Modotti (1896-1942), but she sticks with me. Haunts me with her distant look and life's arc. 

After finishing Patricia Albers' Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, 1999), I came across Margaret Hooks' Tina Modotti: Photographer and Revolutionary (London and San Francisco: Pandora, 1995, 1993). Both are absorbing, as befits their subject. By now I've gotten to catch some of her photographs during my travels and will keep those eyes open for more.

The quick version. Tina Modotti emigrated from Italy as a teenager, joining a small family foothold in San Francisco. Others would come later. Immigrants! Tina's arrival was nicely timed between the great earthquake of 1906 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. 

Tina did various and sundry to make ends meet, and then became an actress! She also engaged with artist-photographer Bohemian types. She became involved with "Robo" de l'Abrie Richey, dandy poet, and Edward Weston, photographer. She was also friends with Ricardo Gómez Robelo (1884-1924), who would later help her when she lived in Mexico. Richey died in Mexico and Modotti broke off her romance with Weston (more or less). She became closely engaged with the Mexican cultural scene and increasingly aware of the erupting global socio-political situation.   
Diego Rivera, En el Arsenal, 1928, Secretaría de Educación Pública, Mexico City.
Also in Mexico, Tina became jumbled in with Diego Rivera (1886-1957), Guadalupe "Lupe" Marín (1895-1981), Gómez Robelo (her friend from California days), and Comrade Concha Michel. By the time Rivera painted En el Arsenal (above), others were on the scene, too: Xavier Guerrero (1896-1974), the Cuban Julio Antonio Mella (1903-1929) -- the Che Guevera of his day -- Frida Kahlo (1907-1954),  and Vittorio Vidali (1900-1983). 

They all or most became (at least nominally) Communists -- when not enjoying various Bohemian distractions. Some, like Modotti, Vidali and Mella (all three pictured in the right foreground of Rivera's painting) became hardcore communists. Mella was gunned down right before Tina's eyes while they were walking down the street. Her life's story to date was plastered over the newspapers as scandal, with Modotti referred to as "The Italian."

In 1930, she made it to Berlin with the help of International Red Aid (MOPR), just barely escaping the clutches of Italian fascists, who would have killed her. After several harrowing cloak and dagger years, Modotti and Vidali headed into the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939),  Modotti as "Maria" and Vidali as "Comandante Carlos." After Spain fell, they returned to Mexico. After Pearl Harbor and the German Declaration of War, the US became coalition partners with the Soviet Union, strangely enough -- such is the bizarre kaleidoscope of history. 

Poor Tina died of heart failure at age 45. Her life had been anything but bland, though. She'd shifted in her immediate relationships from namby-pamby men to the ruthless Vittorio, from Bohemian actress to grim operative. She had mixed with wildly creative artists and became for a time an excellent photographer of the Mexican proletariat. 

What an arc, from Italy to Mexico and stations in between! I would love to have met her!

Today's Rune: Wholeness. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Café retrouvé: Patti Smith's 'M Train' (2015)

Patti Smith, M Train. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
A writer's life: Patti Smith's 
Time Regained/Le Temps retrouvé

El café veracruzano fue pionero para tener una denominación de origen en México

Inamorato, mother, son. "I made my coffee in her pot and sat and wrote at a card table in the kitchen by the screen door. A photograph of Albert Camus hung next to the light switch . . . My son, seeing him every day, got the idea that Camus was an uncle who lived far away . . . "(pages [71-72]). 

A quarter-mile from the canal house, coffee at the 7-11. The one at 25000 Jefferson Avenue, or the one at 23019 near the Kroger at Nine Mile, both in St. Clair Shores, Michigan? 

Confusingly, Patti Smith mentions the St. Clair River, but I think of it more as Lake St. Clair.  

I remember early morning runs, when it was cold outside, to pick up coffee at both of these 7-11 stores. And, when it was warmer out, an abandoned fish-and-tackle shop just off Jefferson.

"To me it looked like Tangier, though I had never been there. I sat on the ground in the corner surrounded by low white walls, shelving real time, free to rove the smooth bridge connecting past and present. My Morocco. I followed whatever train I wanted" (page [72]).

I remember all the people I met or knew around there. And social spaces. Steve's Back Room. Fishbones. Golden Chopsticks. Andiamo's. Pat O'Brien's. The public library and to the north, the Blue Goose. To the west, Shores Inn. Cedar Garden. The US Post Office. Hallmark's. El Charro. Grecian Table. The Bowling Alley and Linda's attached. Tim Horton. A connection with Van Morrison's father. Ice on the lake.

Snap! Ding the bell. You don't need to go home, but you can't stay here forever. 

My favorite coffee for some time, Peet's out of San Francisco, celebrates fifty years, or fifty-one this year, of making coffee. There's something about their blend and roasting process that makes me love the taste of their French, House and Major Dickason's Blend in particular.  

The best single coffee I ever tasted was in Italy -- espresso. The worst and weakest, in Pan Handle Texas and in Oklahoma. 

When I was growing up, my parents made coffee often, let's not forget.  On special occasions, a big percolator was set up to keep it flowing. 

Haven't missed a cup of coffee for more than a day since I was seventeen. Something to look forward to every morning, sort of like a little daily miracle of life, resumed. 

Today's Rune: Defense. Veracruz coffee: see El Universal Veracruz (9/9/2011), link here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Into the Clouds, A Bird: Matsuo Bashō, 1644-1694

The adventures and hokku poems of Matsuo Bashō' (1644-1694) are like a magical interplay between St. Francis of Assisi -- Francesco, Giovanni de Pietro de Bernardone (circa 1181-1226) -- and Patti Smith (b. 1946). 

Bashō composed hundreds of pithy, brief poems, all the while moving around, traveling light, staying  here and there in a hut with some rice and wine, among drinking friends or on some pilgrimage. 

According to the dictates of his day, his hokku, or "opening shot" haiku, all contained a kigo, a seasonal sign, word, trace or link. 

For example:

Thoughts on a journey

this autumn:
         why do I feel so old? 
                  into the clouds, a bird

[Source: #720 (Autumn of A. D. 1694). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 154.]

And now, a tiny sample of my favorites:

to the capital,
         half the sky left --
                 clouds of snow

Source: #223 (Winter of A. D. 1687-1688). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 62.
resting on my journey,
         I watch the year-end housecleaning
                 of the floating world

Source: #239 (Winter of A. D. 1687-1688). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 65.

villagers sing
        verses in the rice fields:
                the capital

Source: #287 (Summer of A. D. 1688). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 74.

these fireflies,
         like the moon
                 in all the rice paddies

Source: #297 (Summer of A. D. 1688). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 76.

At Takadachi in Ōshū Province

summer grass:
          all that remains 
                   of warriors' dreams

Source: #386 (Summer of A. D. 1689). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 93.

Today's Rune: Defense.