RELIGION. I have taken to reading the Bible again, and by that I mean Pessoa‘s The Book of Disquiet. It is a monumental work and, in Richard Zenith‘s curation, rather a mammoth one too. So I read it on and off, though I ideally I tell myself I should read a passage every day as one does, if devout, a Bible. But maybe I am more devout in spirit than in practice, and therefore a true Catholic towards this book.
Pessoa: So why do I keep writing?
Pessoa: Because I still haven’t learned to practise completely the renunciation that I preach.
(A Factless Autobiography 231)
DIVERS. For three years I have written monthly posts about the books and movies I read and watched in that time. I’ve become more and more lax about the writing of these, being both late and unhelpfully brief about them. The point was to force myself to think carefully about what gives me pleasure and what doesn’t. Laziness is bad for thinking.
Now that I’ve become less invested in writing a blog that is read and more interested in having a place that keeps track of my interests and complaints and confusion, I’ve decided to switch to this format for my blog writing: a (hopefully) fortnightly gathering of my thoughts and readings. This first divers post of 2012 will have to summarise two months instead of just two weeks, so bear with me.
MUSIC. I don’t ‘follow’ music. I don’t buy albums or go to concerts or keep up with the trivia. I’m pretty uncouth in this area of the arts, but I do have my favourite songs. Usually I just play them over and over on youtube. My earworm this past month has been Kate Bush‘s ‘And So Is Love’ (where worm refers something that turns into something beautiful like a dragonfly).
BOOKS. This is what I read in January and February:
- Raymond Queneau: Exercises in Style (1947, tr. from the French by Barbara Wright)
- Frank Bidart: Golden State (1973)
- Beverly Dahlen: Out of the Third (1974)
- Beverly Dahlen: The Egyptian Poems (1983)
- Peter Gizzi: Artificial Heart (1998)
- Peter Gizzi: Threshold Songs (2011)
- Linda Gregg: The Sacraments of Desire (1991)
- Jorie Graham: Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts (1980)
- Claire Hero: Sing, Mongrel (2009)
- Brigit Pegeen Kelly: To the Place of Trumpets (1988)
- Brian Teare: Pleasure (2010)
CINEMA. This is what I watched in January and February:
- Ingmar Bergman: Persona (1966, Sweden)
- Catherine Breillat: Sex is Comedy (2002, France)
- David Cronenberg: A Dangerous Method (2011, Canada)
- Tom Hanks: That Thing You Do (1996, USA)
- Eric Rohmer: Triple Agent (2004, France)
- Iain Softley: The Wings of the Dove (1997, USA)
- Billy Wilder: Sunset Blvd. (1950, USA)
- Andrei Zvyagintsev: Elena (2011, Russia)
So let’s organise these films somewhat.
A fun B-list movie that I’ve watched before: Hanks‘s That Thing You Do
An OK novel-to-cinema adaptation: Softley‘s The Wings of the Dove (based on the Henry James novel)
An OK film by a director who has in other instances been very brilliant: Breillat‘s Sex is Comedy
Bergman film: Persona — I’m not sure how else to categorise this. I liked it, but Bergman isn’t quite as compelling as other filmmakers for me.
A Hollywood classic: Wilder‘s Sunset Blvd. — I quite loved this; I should’ve seen it a long time ago. Much of American cinema shifted into place after I watched this. It also made me think how underused, and even poorly used, the voiceover is in contemporary cinema.
A stunning political film: Zvyagintsev‘s Elena — This is a pretty good review.
A great living filmmaker makes another: Cronenberg‘s A Dangerous Method — When I asked my (ex-)film professor whether this was any good, he said it was ‘very watchable but still the work of a tired man, who has grown old gracefully.’ This seemed true when I watched the film myself. It’s a wonderful movie, beautifully, even painfully, made about Carl Jung’s (Michael Fassbender) relationship with his hero Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), and also with Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Spielrein was a patient of Jung’s, as well as his lover; later she became a child psychologist.
Fassbender was fine. Mortensen was astonishing — I would never have thought anything of him if he hadn’t started working with Cronenberg. I don’t know how to explain it, but he does these things with his face, so subtle, that must be Freud. Keira Knightley surprised me. I thought she was wonderful.
Last note: I watched A Dangerous Method in a movie theatre (my first time for a Cronenberg film as I’ve never before been in a place where his movies were showing) in a very strange mall with a group of poets. We were the only people who showed up to watch the movie.
TV. I watch a lot of television, usually on my computer (paradox?). This is probably not reflected on my blog because I hardly talk about it, but . . . I need TV. I need carefully timed parcels of distraction to punctuate my work day; otherwise my mind explodes. It’s hard to know where to begin talking about what I have been watching off late, because just in this past week I have completed several Masterpiece Theatre miniseries. That’s how bad it is.
Instead of saying what I loved, let me make a complaint about the watching of TV. One of my worst habits is recommending movies and TV shows to people, even when I know that the recipient of my recommendations (a) does not give shit or (b) is feigning interest, but does not give a shit. Recently, however, it’s happened that some of my friends (and acquaintances) have started watching shows that I’ve previously recommended (though it probably has nothing to do with my endorsement).
But that is not the complaint. The complaint is that now I have to participate in/overhear conversations about said shows. By ‘said shows’ I actually mean ‘a particular show’ known as Downton Abbey. This is another Masterpiece Theatre BBC production, but not based on a work of literature as these productions usually are. It’s set in the house of a British aristocrat, Lord Grantham, in the early part of the twentieth century. It starts out as a pretty standard entail drama — third-rate Austen, in other words, but set in a different time period and generally a lot of fun.
I’d been watching the show as it came out in the UK, before PBS started showing the episodes here in the States. I mostly enjoyed the first season, but by the second season, the show has become the worst kind of soap opera, filled with spurned soon-to-be-ex-wife-now-villains and burn victims claiming to be dead relatives. The show has many, many problems, but the two biggest ones seem to be:
1. that it is not based on a work of literature and is the creation of someone living now (Julian Fellowes) looking at the past; intentionally or not, the focus is on the changing times, early feminist struggles, class struggles, that sort of thing. The view is so restrospective and unsubtle that characters gradually lose what little interiority they had and become cardboard placards with writing on them that says BENEVOLENT MASTER, WICKED LADY SERVANT, PORCELAIN SLUT and so on. What you have then is utter tripe and some of the best British actors in the business today swimming in it.
2. that it has gone beyond other BBC miniseries in becoming shockingly popular, in the UK as well as in States, and probably other parts of the world.
I deeply regret ever mentioning that I liked the show because now I have to listen to Dowager Countess (one of the better-written characters, played by Maggie Smith) references every five minutes. The show used to be a bit of fun for me, but now that it’s become an American phenomenon, I have to bite my lip whenever people act like it’s the most intelligent show to grace our TV sets. Dowager Countess, indeed. I bet you could fart in public, yell ‘Dowager Countess!’ and you’d be considered the most intelligent person in the room. That’s the world we live in.
In better news, my new favourite of the Masterpiece Theatre is The Forsyte Saga (2002), based on the John Galsworthy novels. I’ve watched the first season. It’s all beautifully done, but Damian Lewis . . . Damian Lewis who plays Soames Forstye, one of the protagonists of this saga and the most execrable man you will ever meet (in, I suppose, a John Galsworthy novel), is brilliant. He and Gina McKee, who plays Irene Heron (sp?), command my attention completely. I want to use that cliché to describe them: consummate actors.
Here is a clip from the first episode and one of their early interactions:
RECENT ACQUISITIONS. These are very recent; if I include all of January and February’s purchases, this page would take much, much longer to load.
LOVE. “. . . when circumstances mischievously led me to suppose that I loved and to verify that the other person truly loved me, my first reaction was of bewildered confusion, as if I’d won a grand prize in an unconvertible currency. And then, because no human can avoid being human, I felt a certain vanity; this emotion, however, which would would seem to be the most natural one, quickly vanished. It was followed by an uncomfortable feeling that’s hard to define but that was composed of tedium, of humiliation, and of weariness. . . . I finally understood a phrase of Chateaubriand whose meaning, because of my lack of personal experience, had always eluded me. Chateaubriand writes of René, his personification, ‘it wearied him to be loved’ — on le fatigait en l’aimant.” (The Book of Disquiet, A Factless Autobiography 235)