Friday, May 22, 2015

A Few Thoughts On The End Of Mad Men

So I finished the last half of last season of Mad Men. It and the finale were ok.

I noted the finale's last two scenes: DD in a group sitting on a grassy green stretch of lawn overlooking the ocean, very Esalen-like, smiling broadly and crazily like one of  Kerouac's holy fools, listening to therapeutic type talk from a kind of guru about, I paraphrase, a new day, a new dawn and new beginnings and possibilities. Then cut to the famous Coke commercial, "I'd like to teach...," (which pimped out racial harmony to sell diabetes-inducing cola.) 

So is Weiner a wiener? He said in an interview that it's inferable that DD went back to the McCann world eating ad agency and hatched this ad from his retreat experience, that it's a great ad and that it's cynical to be cynical about it.

I say with D.H.L. "Never trust the teller, trust the tale." For large, for me, the hot dog in Weiner respecting his comments on the finale rests principally on two grounds:

1. I'm a critic of the ending of The Sopranos as an artistic cop out, betrayal if you want to get dramatic about it. After X many hours following the story, I argue we're entitled to a touch of resolution--I don't need ribbons and bows wrapping a gift box, I can live with controlled ambiguity, irresolution and ambivalence but not fatuity--you viewer decide, I'm not saying--parading as purposeful ambiguity. We have here, I say, inartful anti climactic darkness, as in being kept in the dark, over richly textured possibility. So, analogously, but not in parallel, in Mad Men's last two scenes we have no way of inferring, con Weiner, whether DD went back to the agency. No, not able to infer, which means being able to draw a conclusion from a body of information, we're simply left guessing. And after all we've been through with DD, how is the sheer unknowing of what happens to him defensible? There's a difference between arguable interpretations arising from a textual foundation and arguments over meaning and significance OOH and guessing over the failure to provide artistically controlled irresolution as is the case, I argue, with the ending in both series, OTOH.

2. Weiner by his comments shows that he can't stand up to the deeper and darker implication of his own work. The adjacency of the last two scenes at a minimum could be thought to show the commercial coopting of such beneficent promise as the "higher" Esalen-like consciousness may hold for us all in order to sell diabetes-inducing, syrupy, teeth rotting, terrible-for-you soft drinks. Here we have an essence of much of advertising: the fantasy-oriented falsification of reality to sell prosaic crap. A more dire implication may be a thematic link between the romanticized hokum of Esalen-like consciousness, namely the privileging of self absorbed feelings-"How do you feel about how Sunflower feels about you feel about how she's feeling?"-and the fetishization of self-involved "freedom" inclining to something solipsistic-as if the hardnesses of reality can be subject to such self centred nonsense, so the link between that romanticized hokum and the traduction of the ideal of racial harmony to sell syrupy not-good-for-you crap: "if it feels good do it" marries being made to feel good about one's self by drinking a soft drink. As I see it, Weiner is stuck in the shallow end, "mad in craft" as Hamlet says,  unable to ascend to the depths, so to say, rise to the heights, that is to say, promised but not delivered by his art. 

My takes, poor things that they are, for as idiosyncratic and contrarian as they may be. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

On Basquiat And Emily Carr

May, 7, 2015

I went this afternoon to the AGO to see the Emily Carr exhibit, From Forest To The Sea. I don't recall having given her two thoughts ever before and if I ever saw her paintings--I have to think I did, what with Kleinberg being a hour's drive--they never stuck. I had a couple of months ago gone to the AGO to see the Basquiat exhibit, Now's The Time and even went to a Saturday long seminar on him (that deserves its own note.) I came away from Basquiat thinking that the celebration of him has more to do with him being black, a street kid with tons of street cred, good looking, a buddy of Warhol's, and having died young and of a heroin overdose no less than his art. I don't buy the claims that his primitivism has great and deceptive skill behind it and that his explicitly cruder paintings, like Car Crash, have that behind them. I see lots of busyness and clutter in his paintings than great art. The sublime and the ridiculous are Breughel's magnificent peopled paintings and Basquiat's busyness. I got no emotional wallop from his paintings and felt no resonant depth in them.

But Emily Carr just knocked me out. Maybe wrongly the curator had 1930s and early 40s dark paintings of trees and forests to start the exhibit. They're so full of dark menace, ferocity and foreboding. They put me in mind of "lovely dark and deep" but with weighty emphasis on the "dark and deep" in their most forbidding and threatening aspect. The trees, tall, spindly, sparse, denuded of foliage, seem stuck and submerged in cannibalistically herbivorous vegetation with imagery of jaws wanting to swallow up what's around them, all painted in dark, gloomy colours. In many of these paintings the surrounding vegetation is painted in water imagery with tidal waves about to crash down on the trees or with swift River currents about to carry them away. And what light from the sun that does appear in some of the paintings often seems like a consuming fire. For all Emily Carr's talk about the animism of nature, of forests and trees, they seem played, fragile, weak and vulnerable in their thinness. 

So, I found a disconnect between the curator's annotation of these paintings interlarded with snatches of Carr's own strong and expressive prose, much of it to a view of nature's refulgence, fecundity, regeneration, divine teleology and the dark. foreboding ferocity I just described. Accordingly, I saw way more ambivalence in her well known work Indian Church than the curator allowed for, the mere contrast of imposed European cum Christian while linearity and the nature as wild, flowing of many complex darker shades and shapes. The church was that but also had the quality to it of Hemingway's "A Clean Well Lighted Place," a small oasis of sanctuary. And in line with that two sidedness of it, the forest, in which the church sits quite alone, has untamed and threatening dark wildness to it of a thematic piece with her other paintings of nature's ferocity.  So I saw exploration of both sides of that nature church paradox, each side with its own paradoxical ambivalence.

So, too, to move from these later dark paintings to the lighter, more benign paintings of her earlier years in the exhibit shocked me a little and took some adjusting to. There's a kind of smile that suffuses many of these earlier paintings in their benignity. And in that regard there's a computer based recreation of her travel to Alaska diary book of sketches and prose entries, which is delightful and funny, whimsical and charming, endlessly lightly self deprecating. I'd have thought a more telling curation would've proceeded chronologically from light to dark, so to speak. 

I think her art is great. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Two Thoughts On King Lear


We saw today a filmed version of King Lear as it was performed in Stratford, Ontario. The play is of course magnificent. I see it as play about nothing, not Seinfeldian nothing as in the utterly prosaic and uneventful, but nothing as negation, evil so deep, cruel, sharp and pervasive it drives life into meaninglessness.


Volumes can be written about it but I want to say only two things.

The first is how cold, stinting, doctrinaire and even prideful is Cordelia in refusing to give Lear even a touch of what he wants, some generous profession of her love. She is righteous in refusing to flatter him for gain, in being disgusted at her sisters' tendentious falsity, in saying "nothing" in contrast with their massive protestations of love and reverence for Lear. But she is as self righteous as she is righteous. She is in love with her principled righteousness. And  her "nothing" measures Cordelia reacting against, and to, Lear's pathetic and foolish purchases of his daughters' love and their self advancing exploitation of it rather than transcending both with a heartfelt, genuine expression of her love. She will parcel out her love in accord with her "bond" and her "duty," half to her father, half to her husband, no more, no less. Contrast this minginess with the Juliet's expression of love:

....My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep. The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite...

The other thing on my mind prompted by the play is my continuing to remain stumped by "Ripeness is all" in Edgar saying to Gloucester:

  Edg.  Away, old man! give me thy hand: away!
King Lear hath lost, he and his daughter ta’en.        10
Give me thy hand; come on.
  Glo.  No further, sir; a man may rot even here.
  Edg.  What. in ill thoughts again? Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither:
Ripeness is all. Come on.        15

Hamlet says to Horatio "the readiness is all," which I take in part to mean that he can no longer think out and plan what he will do against Claudius. All he can do is be ready to meet and do his best with whatever befalls him, including the likeliness of death. 

So, in Lear, "is all" also suggests a fundamental and singular insight that crowds everything else out for importance. "Ripeness" suggests to me fullness, a maturing peak, the best or peak of oneself, maybe a kind of point of equipoise between getting to that point from the instance of creation--"their coming hither"-- to the descent into spoliation and death--"Their going hence." But, in Lear, it's all a sad and burdensome lot, the going and the coming, it seems. For it all must be "endured." So, what in all that is the exact meaning of Edgar's "ripeness"? 

I feel like it's at the periphery of my understanding, like I'm only one thought away from it, but I just can't make it out. 

Sent from my iPad

Friday, March 6, 2015

Boyhood, A Few Comments

For me, what I found entrancing is the beautifully observed and quietly complex social reality of  the specific scenes of daily life that cumulatively gain depth and impact as the characters change over time, as they fill out, mature and show the effects of time and gravity too, both physical and emotional. Patricia Arquette who wants to improve herself makes an upwardly-mobile relationship with the off putting  psychology prof who turns out an overbearing drunk, rife with menace, beating her up in a shattering scene, set against the movie's general quiet, and then all the kids' huddled reaction and then him standing in front of them with such a latent promise of bullying violence about them and you can feel their terrified fear of him lashing out. 
So much of the movie's focus is on the  resilience of kids, their moves and self protections when their world can turn dangerous on a dime say at the dinner table or when they're swept up in the consequences of their parents' big choices. The small, intimate detailed touches are fantastic: scared of the prof's explosive rage, Mason hides in a bedroom and obsessively watches a comedy video;  Lorelei’s version of Britney Oops! … I Did It Again; the trek to buy  copies of a Harry Potter book. I could go on forever. 
So beautifully and quietly and subtly observed, so much of the feeling of lives lived. 
There is a comparison to Catcher In The Rye, I'd make: Holden wants Phoebe and her friends never to leave the field of rye they're playing in, never to lose their innocence because the world is so full of crap, as Holden might say, only the innocence of childhood redeems it. In Boyhood, we see them leave the field, meet life as it meets them, crap and non crap in all that, as it all meets so many of us in our own late twentieth century and early 21st century moment, and shows us their adaptations, their beginning to mature, leaving them on the precipice of adulthood. By my lights, clearly not everyone's, it's simply an amazing and beautiful movie. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Sea Is My Brother

So I like Kerouac a lot, a lot--that's two "a lots."
I some time ago while hunting through the remainder bins of Book City on the Danforth came across JK's first written, last published novel The Sea Is My Brother. I noted from a bit of a web hunt a few snottily dismissive reviews of it as clunky and amateurish.
Didn't care. I read it, with open arms, mind and heart. I just finished it.
And I loved it, some part of that pure sentimentality out of my two "a lots" for Kerouac but a bigger part out the interest its descriptions, themes and characters evoked for me and by its stretches of really good, concrete writing, especially at the end when the sea voyage gets underway, and Everhart's conflicts get some resolution and Wesley Martin is affirmed in his love of the sea and both the solitude and the brotherhood sailing it as a merchant mariner offer him.
It also struck home with a few of my own experiences:
for example, encountering and working alongside working men in my working my way through school in a saw mill and then as a dishwasher, assistant cook and waiter on the trains, getting shocked into seeing what vital and diverse life went on beyond the puny, coddled precincts of my own experience;
or for example, encountering the sheer monotony of endless, boring, repetitive manual labour and seeing myself as miraculously blessed to have my ongoing education as a pathway from that--while admittedly Everhart is on balance thankful for his monotonous work as part of real experience that shows up the limits and thinness of his academic life at Columbia;
or for example, engaging in vigorous talks about all kinds of ideas with vigorous, engaging guys of all kinds outside any academic setting; 
or for a last example, feeling in miniature the cleansing involved in leaving day to day life behind when starting on 4-5 day runs on the trains from Vancouver to Winnipeg and back, during which the flashing-by mountains, forests and prairies had some of the vast cosmic magic and purification the sea and the lengthy sailing of it have for Everhart and Martin.
I can't stop talking about Kerouac without quoting one of my favourite sentences in all literature and surely a match for any novel ending sentence in all literature except maybe Ulysses
Love it, just love it:
...So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty....

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mr. Turner: Short Commendatoy Note

We just saw more or less all 150' of Mr. Turner ("more or less" because I cop to having missed about 20' in its first third, due to something apparently called "nodding off.") It moves slowly, all in all a mite too slowly, its only weakness; but once you get into its rhythm, especially if you're well rested, and once you get in tune with the initially off-putting, frog-like, croaking unloveliness of Mr. T., you are into, literally, "a heartbreaking work of staggering genius." Once in that rhythm, the movie, like Boyhood--a totally different movie, to be sure--not at all plot driven, simply absorbs you scene by scene, each with its own nuances and complexity, till they build into a whole, into a full representation of a complicated, many sided man, all genius, personally prosaic and warts, of a marvellously depicted society, of the paradoxical relation between man and artist, and, generally, as the best, most unsentimental film representation of an artist, in any of the arts, that I think I've ever seen. 

I can't recommend it highly enough. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hollywood History?

What *is* the case for Hollywood history? 

I find the argument in the below comment hard to pin precisely down.

Francine Prose's sort of saying distortion doesn't matter; and she's sort of saying it does.

She says at one point, on having taken her eight year old granddaughter to see Selma, (itself a questionable choice):

...And though the violence made the film painful to sit through, to underplay what the activists—and ordinary people—had endured would have been much worse than misrepresenting the part played by Lyndon Johnson. Later, I thought, my granddaughter and I can deal with the film’s historical mistakes.

But then she says:

...As a member of a generation that, because of Johnson’s stand on Vietnam, underestimated or ignored his admirable record on domestic issues, I was sorry to see him cast as the villain of a story in which his actual involvement was much less obstructive..

and:

....Were I a director, I would want to avoid the sort of errors and exaggerations that make reasonably knowledgeable audiences so dubious and uneasy about what they’re being shown that it ruins their pleasure in watching...

Prose earlier in her piece (seems to defend?) defends distortion in historical films in the interest of drama. But, while the distortion of LBJ in Selma didn't bother me, maybe it should've, there was no great dramatic heightening that I could see from the distortion of his involvement with King. There seems to me in that a general answer to the attempt at rendering the story in history. There seems to me no need seriously to sacrifice accuracy in the interest of drama. There ought be, well and creatively done, drama enough in the raw source of actuality.

I'd make two distinctions here: one, between an imaginative representation of a set of events or a person, where imaginative distortion is of the essence of the art, as against the effort to get the story right; and, two, in the latter, between some minor licence and embellishment--say writing King's speeches (because the actual speeches weren't made available by King's estate) as against outright distortion that materially falsifies a material event or events or a particular historical actor.