Friday, October 19, 2018

David Lynch: Mulholland Drive (2001)

David Lynch: Mulholland Drive / Mulholland Dr. (2001). Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Martínez Herring/Harring (Countess von Bismarck-Schönhausen) and Justin Theroux. 

After having seen everything David Lynch at least once, it's easier to go back and reconsider Mulholland Drive.

In short, what a cool, weird film!  Watts is also in Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), and Harring has since enjoyed a strong turn as a lawyer in the FX series The Shield (2006), among other things.  
What is Mulholland Drive?  Are we delving into alternate realities, psychological realms, dreams, feeling-driven memory distortions, alternate state consciousness, hallucinatory experiences, floating through the bardo, a limbo-like state, or a blend of such elements with off-kilter surrealism?  You tell me. The final response will be: "Silencio."

Today's Rune: Possessions. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Kim Thúy: 'Ru' (2009, 2012), Take I

Kim Thúy, Ru. New York: Translated from the French by Sheila Fischman. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012; originally published in French in 2009.

This is a lovely short novel, organized as a series of interconnected (but mostly capable of standing alone) short chapters that look on the page like prose poems or flash pieces. 

Ru has the gravitas of a personal nonfiction account. I found it completely absorbing on a first read and can imagine combing through it again soon to see what I missed.  

"I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chains of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns." (page 1) 

An Tinh Nguyen, the main protagonist, is born in Saigon. French and Vietnamese culture are strong in her childhood years, even after the American War when the country is unified. Eventually, she escapes with members of her family to Malaysia, until they are taken in by Canadians and relocated to Quebec. 
I appreciate the fact that Ru is mostly neutral on the opposing sides of the war and its aftermath, allowing the reader to focus instead on what it's like to be a war child and refugee. 

Throughout Ru, we are taken as if by the hand to see conditions in Vietnam during and after the American War, in boats and refugee camps, and in a new, unfamiliar land -- Canada. We see the family of An Tinh Nguyen and come to understand something of its structure (Aunt Seven, Step-Uncle Six, Cousin Sao Mai, etcetera), and see what it's like to become accustomed to a new country, while still yearning for the old. 

Deft and memorable. 

Today's Rune: Initiation.  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Donald J. Raleigh: 'Soviet Baby Boomers' (2012), Part V

Donald J. Raleigh, Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

The Afghanistan War (1979-1989), according to Aleksandr Konstantinov: "'an absurd stupidity.'" (page 263) Olga Martynkina: "'terrible and unnecessary.'" (ibid.)  Gennady Ivanov: '"Besides heroism, it gave us nothing but cripples and drug addicts.'" (page 265)

"Diluted state repression remained an element . . . mostly because it constrained people's choices by switching on their self-censorship. Few Baby Boomers had direct run-ins with the KGBm but all felt its presence." (page 265)

Glasnost. Aleksandr Babushkin: '"You have to understand that any cultured person, intellectual, is able to distinguish between true and false information.'" (page 286)  

Perestroika. Olga Gorelik: "'it gave freedom to several strata of the population, to the intelligenstia, for example. But, on the other hand, it created complicated economic problems. Not everyone can restructure themselves, namely our generation.'" (page 288)

"For some [Soviet] Baby Boomers glasnost meant fulfilling a life-long dream of traveling abroad . . ." (page 295) 

Collapse of Soviet Union. "[b]y 1994, 67 percent of the population had no savings or extra cash . . . murders, suicides, and divorces reached extreme levels . . . Between 1992 and 1997 life expectancy for men fell from 67 to 57 years and for women from 76 to 70 . . . (page [312])

"The emergence of fifteen independent states from the ruins of the former Soviet empire . . . complicated life for the Cold War generation." (page 317)

Religion and Philosophy. Resurgence of Orthodox Church. New Age. Osho (Rajneesh). Buddhism. Scientology. Transcendental Meditation. (page 322)

Robber Barons. Oligarchs. Crime "five times higher" (page 323). "Privatization" gave "rise to a class of rich businessmen, as well as to a cohort of entrepreneurs who had accumulated massive fortunes . . .oligarchs, who acquired enormous holdings through insider trading . . . The resulting social inequality and effrontery of the new rich fed disillusionment with market economics and the democratic political system. Retirees looked back upon the Soviet days with nostalgia." (page 327)

Yelena Kolosova on Boris Yeltsin:  "'He was a massive man who drank, and therefore could be trusted.'" (page 329)

21st century. Vladimir Putin. Chechnya. "Russian liberals and others backing a free market system believed political freedoms remained as important as a strong leader; however, Russian Communists, nationalists, and supporters of Putin's umbrella organization, Unity, stressed the need for an authoritarian order in the country." A blueprint for Donald J. Trump in the USA: "Either Russia, will be great, Putin pronounced, or it will not be at all."  However, unlike Trump among Americans, Putin enjoyed "the backing of almost 75 percent of the [Russian] population." (page 334)

Lyudmila Gorokhova on Putin: "'Although he's not handsome, he has a great deal of charm. . . His range of interests is indisputably wide, and he's intelligent.'" (page 336)

A Russian doctor: "'I believe today's youth are awful. . . the wars contribute a lot. We see many Afghan vets, and many more after the wars in Chechnya. Military action has a very negative effect on people. As a rule, they become apathetic and depressed." There is "widespread alcoholism." (page 343)

Youth are adrift and slack in the mind; what happened to intellectual curiosity?  Vladimir Kirsanov: "'In the past, we had to get hold of information on our own by reading books, and by researching something, and this always makes the brain work more actively, but now information is absorbed passively. This is the main thing that distinguishes the two generations. Today's students don't like to read.'" (pages 344-345)

Anna Lyovina: '"The future is with people who have seen the world, analyzed things, compared, and took what they liked that was good and interesting, from wherever.'" (page 348)

A summary of the Soviet dream: pages 360-361. There was in Soviet society a double-consciousness, the projection of a public persona and the development of a private person. Raleigh doesn't use this term, but it seems equivalent: "there were two truths 'one for everyone, and the other that's inside you.'" (pages 366-367). This is how life is everywhere, to varying degrees up and down the spectrum. But would you rather live in Amsterdam, or Pyongyang?  

Today's Rune: Signals

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Donald J. Raleigh: 'Soviet Baby Boomers' (2012), Part IV

Donald J. Raleigh, Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

"The Soviet practice of sending work cohorts on vacations together made it complicated for families to travel together, giving rise to vacation romances." (page 206

Families became smaller. "At the end of the 1970s, 52 percent of Soviet families with children had only one child . . ." (page 206)

On Lithuanians: "The people . . . are very peculiar  . . ."  (page 208)

Marina Bakutina, guide-interpreter: "'I could think whatever I liked, but not say it.'" (page 209)

"The Baby Boomers also continued to have vicarious encounters with foreign cultures through movies and books . . ." Olga Kamayurova: "'I like the films they used to show at film clubs, that is, complicated, sophisticated films not for ordinary viewers . . . They showed us lots of such films, including, my heavens, Fellini and Antonioni. It was like food for us movie lovers . . . Sometimes, when they picked some sensational film, I would think . . . this is so extraordinary.'" (page 210)

When some of the Soviet Baby Boomers moved to the USA, they were appalled by the high cost of health care and education (page 217).  

Travel: "'It's better to see something once than to hear about it seven times,'" goes the Russian proverb."

Viktor D. on the late Soviet era: "'health care was free and unequivocally on a higher level than now. Education was free, including higher education and graduate school . . . People received apartments, they had confidence in tomorrow. Maybe everything was on a lower level than in America, but there was stability.'" (page 237)

The Brezhnev to Chernenko era became an embarrassing gerontocracy, "'an awful spectacle.'" (page 240) "Yelena Kolosova recalled asking, 'Who's Chernenko? He was even worse than Brezhnev, absolutely nothing more than a joke.'" (page 243)

Oddly, at the New World resort in Crimea, some Russian Baby Boomers became New Age types, or joined Osho (the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh movement that spread worldwide, with a "Zorba the Buddha" style colony in Oregon) . (See page 246)

Ideas of existential freedom. L. G. Ionin: "'The Soviet people chose from among the available choices and understood freedom as having choices from among what was.' In this regard, for a free person, the Soviet Union was a free society. Freedom existed as a real choice, as an individual emotional experience." (page 249)

[to be continued.]

Today's Rune: Possessions

Monday, October 08, 2018

Donald J. Raleigh: 'Soviet Baby Boomers' (2012), Part III

Donald J. Raleigh, Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Strange phenomenon: making "primitive 78-rpm recordings on used X-ray films." (page 140)

Aleksandr Galich, Bulat Okudzhava, Vladmimir Vysotsky, the latter's songs included "And All Is Quiet in the Cemetery." (pages 142-143)

Voice of America, Deutsche Welle (German Wave) broadcasts (pages 146-147).

Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jazz Hour, etcetera (page 148)

BBC better than Voice of America, to Yelena Kolosova (pages 149-150)

Cuba as romantic inspiration: many of the interviewed Soviet Baby Boomers thought that Castro and the Cubans were cool (just like hepcats and beatniks in "the West" did). "'Cuba, my love, island of crimson dawns.'" (page 151)

Split with China over Cultural Revolution and Damansky / Chenpao Island crisis (page 153), late 1960s. Ready for war, if needed. "'[P]eople think the Chinese are strange.'" (page 155)

As in "the West," Soviet Baby Boomers mostly ignored "the Developing World."  "In 1966 Soviet citizens harbored 'unequivocal disinterest in the 'Third World,' whereas 91 percent of those surveyed were interested in America and admired its technological progress and living standards. Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were enormously popular, and many believed Americans were much like Russians." (page 158) 

The assassination of JFK was felt as a tragedy and "calamity." Yelena Kolosova: "'Since the assassination, I've had a fierce hatred of Texas. The first time I flew to Dallas, I couldn't overcome that ominous feeling that the tragedy had taken place there.'"  (page 162)

"The Baby Boomers came of age at the zenith of Soviet socialism, only to see the system crumble some three decades later. Ironically, much of this had to do with the Soviet system's very success at effecting social change, whose byproducts included rapid urbanization and a rise in the number of educated professionals." (page 169)

1968 was a turning point of sorts, after the Prague Spring was crushed; things were worsened by the Afghanistan War (1979-1989).

Interesting gender statistics. "In 1970, 86 percent of working-age women were employed (the figure was 42 percent in the United States): 71 percent of the country's teachers were women, 70 percent of its physicians . . ." (page 190). 

Also as of 1970, the divorce rate in the Soviet Union was second only to that in the USA. "Soviet women initiated divorce more than men . . ." (page 201).

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Friday, October 05, 2018

Donald J. Raleigh: 'Soviet Baby Boomers' (2012), Part II

Donald J. Raleigh, Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

"Soviet teachers were among the strongest believers in socialist values." (page 94)

From the Young Pioneer manual: "'It will be the best, the most just and the happiest society on earth.'" (page 110)

"influence, connections, and pull -- blat in Russian." (page 118)

Soviet schools: "They instilled in their charges basic human values that would be appreciated in most societies." (page 118)

A Soviet Baby Boomer about living in the 1960s: "'We always had decent food; we went to the theatre, to the movies, to the circus, and to whatever else was of interest. We didn't differ from other average people of our time.'" (p. [120]).

Many Soviet Baby Boomers developed an "identification with a larger global youth culture;" guys in particular tinkered with space-related themes (page 121).

"Many female Baby Boomers loved theatre, ballet, dancing, reading, hanging out with friends . . . Olga Gorelik liked to read, draw, go to the movies, and spend time with her girlfriends." (page 122) 

Many enjoyed sporting events. Pioneer palaces gave people places to hang out. (pages 122-124) Kids loved to play in apartment courtyards (dvor), too. (page 125)

On social relationships, Raleigh notes: "Friendship lacks a definition that works for all times, places, and peoples, because the phenomenon is a cultural and historical one that changes over time: the type of society determines the nature of friendships." (page 126) Soviet friends provided emotional and practical support for each other, and they could counter or at least alter government and family controls (pages 126-127). A fair number of high school friends remain friends for life. (page 127)

"The Soviet Union prided itself in being the 'most reading' nation," and many continue to read heartily long after the collapse of the USSR. Friends traded books and they also utilized libraries, like many sensible people still do wherever they are available. "Reading conferred status" (page 129). During an interlude in the 1960s, Mikhail Bulgakov (Master and Margarita), Solzhenitsyn (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) Kafka and Kierkegaard were published (pages 130-131). Samizdat (underground writings produced in the USSR) and tamizdat (things smuggled into the country from the outside) also made the rounds (page 131) -- and made reading all the more exciting, no doubt. Eventually, photocopy machines sped up the process of underground writing production. (page 132)

Movies opened up portals to other worlds (as T. Bone Burnett, an American Baby Boomer, has put it, after growing up in conservative Fort Worth, Texas). These were real social events: "it was always something you simply had to see. . . not only so that you could take part in conversations but also because they really were worth seeing" (such as Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky films) . Through cultural diffusion, in came American jazz, Western fashion and music, and exotic tastes. (page 135)

"'[B]ut it was difficult to get hold of such things. . . and we need to "get hold of" them. The meaning of the very "get hold of" is probably uniquely Russian' . . . it means acquiring something with great difficulty." (page 136)

Tape recorders became popular when they were made available -- music could be recorded and shared, especially underground material: "'forbidden fruit is always sweet.'" (page 140)

[To be continued.]

Today's Rune: Possessions.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Donald J. Raleigh: 'Soviet Baby Boomers' (2012), Part I

Donald J. Raleigh, Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

An absorbing look at the world through the hearts and minds of the Soviet high school graduating class of 1967. Specifically, via two elite high schools, one in Moscow and one in Saratov, a city on the Volga River that is about 850 kilometers / 528 miles southeast of Moscow. From the perspective of "the Sputnik Generation," one also gets at the entire arc of the Soviet Union, from beginning to end, and then onward right into the Vladimir Putin era. 

Their grandparents' generation, generally speaking, experienced the First World War, Bolshevik Revolution and Russian Civil War; and their parents, the Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) era, including mass repression, the Second World War, and the Nikita Kruschev (1894-1971) "Thaw" after Stalin's death. 

The Baby Boomers benefited from the Thaw, were excited by Sputnik and Kruschev, but eventually became embittered during the Leonid Brezhnev era (1906-1982), especially toward its end; then on to Mikhail Gorbachev (born 1931), glasnost, perestroika, the breakup of the USSR, Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007) and Putin (born 1952).

Most of the interviewed boomers were the children of "third tier" elites -- those immediately below nomenklatura and second tier elites -- that is, they were children "of the mass intelligentsia -- professionals (doctors, research scientists, professors, engineers, architects, artists, teachers, librarians, etc.)," the kinds of bourgeois specialists who tend to help maintain a semblance of civil society (not only in the Soviet Union but also in 'The West'). (page 22)

Stalin, a brutish nationalist and proponent of the Cult of Personality (namely his own), turned against those with a more internationalist sensibility, and aimed, almost right up to the time of his death in 1953, "to root out 'cosmopolitanism,'" partly a code word for Jewish intellectuals, sophisticated urbanites and their "fellow travelers."  (page 32) Luckily for most, in the wake of Stalin's death came "the Thaw," which relaxed the atmosphere a bit.

As for attitudes and actions over time, Raleigh notes: "Within any historical situation, people pick their fates and live their lives both as passive objects and as active agents." (page 64)

Teachers were very important to the elite Baby Boomers: they "'had very colorful personalities' and played an enormous role in shaping their charges' worldviews' . . . 'They taught us to think, not only to learn things by heart' . . . 'Actually, all of the teachers were excellent! Except for a few individuals, they were all interesting.'" (page 91)

[To be continued.] 

Today's Rune: Signals.