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..


....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.  

Hamilton Health Services Corporation v D.H. et. al.

The introduction to a lousy decision by a Judge Edward of the Ontario the Court of Justice:



[1]                       The applicant hospital has brought an application under subsection 40(4) of the Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C-11, as amended, against the respondent children’s aid society.  It is an unusual request brought about by a very sad circumstance.  The subject child of this application is an 11-year-old girl from The Six Nations of the Grand River, named J.J.
[2]                       In August of this year, J.J was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (A.L.L.).  A.L.L. is a form of cancer in the bone marrow.  The applicant hospital’s position is that it is treated with chemotherapy delivered in a number of phases.  In J.J.’s case, the applicant’s initial testing indicated she had a 90 to 95% chance of being cured.  The specialists at the applicant hospital are not aware of any survivor of A.L.L. without chemotherapy treatments.
[3]                       Although J.J. had commenced chemotherapy treatment, it was discontinued in August of this year.....
The Conclusion: 
[81]                  It is this court’s conclusion, therefore, that D.H.’s decision to pursue traditional medicine for her daughter J.J. is her aboriginal right.  Further, such a right cannot be qualified as a right only if it is proven to work by employing the western medical paradigm.  To do so would be to leave open the opportunity to perpetually erode aboriginal rights....


[83]                  In applying the foregoing reasons to the applicant’s subsection 40(4) application, I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the applicant’s stated course of treatment of chemotherapy...
It's (unfortunate) worth noting that the judge is aboriginal. 

The mother took the kid for some worthless alternative treatment in Florida from a highly questionable practitioner--I don't know if he's a doctor. I understand the child died.

In trying to think off the top of my head for the legal frailty in this decision, which supports the proposition that law can be an ass, the following occurs to me, which involves keeping the judge's premises in tact, (that keeping intact a questionable proposition in itself but beyond my immediate knowledge and resources.)

I'd have thought that the mother would have to have shown the court what specific traditional medicine she proposed and in complete specifics especially considering:

...the applicant’s initial testing indicated she had a 90 to 95% chance of being cured.  The specialists at the applicant hospital are not aware of any survivor of A.L.L. without chemotherapy treatments...

The Florida alternative "treatment," which failed, couldn't have been part of traditional native medicine. So the judge conflated the practice of traditional native medicine with simply withdrawing J.J. from chemotherapy. It's amazing to me and a dark hole in the judge's reasoning that there's not a scrap of evidence of what the traditional practice was to be. If the answer to that was the alternative Florida treatment, then the mother's position should have failed.

It's tragic and incredibly thick headed that this little 11 hear old girl's life was sacrificed on the altar of ....the opportunity to perpetually erode aboriginal rights.... since as this judge quotes another judge for the point that...

....64]                  But before delving into defining what an aboriginal right is, Chief Justice Lamer made what I consider to be an incredibly important statement as to why aboriginal rights exist at all.  At paragraph [30], he reminds us all of the following:

In my view, the doctrine of aboriginal rights exists, and is recognized and affirmed by s. 35(1), because of one simple fact: when Europeans arrived in North America, aboriginal peoples were already here, living in communities on the land, and participating in distinctive cultures, as they had done for centuries.  It is this fact, and this fact above all others, which separates aboriginal peoples from all other minority groups in Canadian society and which mandates their special legal, and now constitutional, status.

In my view a life has been snuffed out by the misapplication of an abstraction and by bad legal reasoning that can't sustain scrutiny, at a minimum, by references to its own premises. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

American Sniper

A few thoughts on American Sniper.
Spoiler alert.
In between ingress and egress of rounds of sleeping over grandkids, I snuck off to take in American Sniper. For some odd reason I didn't get, my wife took a pass. Maybe someone can clue me in why.
I thought it a really good movie, very-- can I use this word-- filmic, very cinematic, alive and absorbing, without being gratuitous, from first scene to last, and with none of the arch stiffness and overdone righteousness and sheer dullness that all marked Selma down in my estimation. 
I left thinking one flaw in American Sniper was maybe the failure to render a more complex Chris Kyle, a certain lack of getting more inside both his his head and the meaning of events. But I thought about that some and came to the view that he was what he was, an amazingly straight shooter literally and metaphorically, and that the movie is, at an easy minimum, adequate to that. 
My initial niggling found itself eventually landing on what I thought was the glib, or perhaps too easily passed over, post de-enlistment transition in Kyle from a guy seething with psychological wreckage and trauma, which we see only brief glimpses of, to a seemingly recovered constructively whole person. 
But the presentation of him in his growing up and in the different phases of his life is well given to us by Eastwood. The metaphor and symbol of the rifle scope marking the narrowness of his original vision of the war and his place in it sets what expands in him over the course of the movie. He transcends the role of sole sniper as he goes on the house to house hunts with the marines and as he gets more leaderly in heading more broad based missions that enfold his role of solitary and removed shooter, a role his Iraqi counterpart, also shown as militarily gifted and with wife and child, persists in. 
The hell and horror of war, its fog, swirling dust and sands of confusion, chaos, blinded vision and moral ambivalence are among the strongest things shown in the movie. And their depiction, each foray growing wider in scope, is integral to both the expansion of his soldierly role and and the final defeat of his hitherto indefatigable and unflinching commitment to the cause as he tells his wife he's ready to come home.
His need in between tours to get back into action, restless and dissatisfied with civilian life, reminds me, of course, of Hurt Locker, but with the overall psychological arc more fully given, as I remember Hurt Locker, in American Sniper. That contrast in Kyle is evident in his instantaneous, joyouts, clamorous, boisterous camaraderie with his band of brothers as against his domestic pent up listlessness. 
Cooper is just terrific in his role, totally physically and temperamentally convincing and wholly compelling in his portrayal of Kyle, And, to touch on Selma again, the marriage scenes in American Sniper, to my mind, simply put away the stiff artifice of the scenes between MLK and Coretta. Sienna Miller is good too in her relatively brief appearances. But, again, Cooper is more than good. He's superb, a natural, "all the way down," as Justice Kagan said of law in a different context,
For me, American Sniper, in sum, is the depiction of a certain type of quiet, strong man who is at first a black and white true believer while brilliantly gifted in certain of the arts of war all as set in the hell and fog and ambiguity of war, and all of which take their toll on his commitment as his role and vision of things expands. What he is left with at the end is a life-healing commitment to soldiers physically and psychically afflicted. In that commitment, unlike in war itself, there are no greys.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Selma: Oversttuffed And Slow, However Worthy

I saw Selma today with Sharon.
I guess we're both in a really small minority but we both thought the movie was a pretty big yawn though with some strong individual scenes. It was, we thought, near to dead at its core. Inert. I found it dragged and I got impatient with it how slowly it moved.
I think it's troubled by how bathed in righteousness it is. I know it's supposed to humanize King, show him in his self doubt and anxiety and uncertainty. But I didn't much believe it. Next time I'm in one of those states of mind, feeling nervous and such, I'll call Deborah Katchko-Zimmerman at 2:00 am to sing to me so I can hear God's voice. This King, and I'm reporting my reaction not trying to be contrarian for its own sake, bored me to drowsiness.
For me that inertness is underscored by high blown and high sounding and morally exemplary so much of the talk is awash in swelling violins and other heart-moving strings. Not one swear word from any of the movie's exemplars. Not even one "God damn," about Wallace or Clarke or a foot dragging LBJ or the Klan, or after the church bombing or the devastation levelled at the first aborted march across the bridge, or the murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson.
My diagnosis of the inertness at the heart of this movie is its failure to make compelling drama out of the great themes it deals with, overstuffed with the glow of righteousness it bathes its exemplars in, the to-me contrived anxiety the movie is intent in showing King suffering from. There's no real internal tension of the movie that grabs you and and pulls you in. It wants to make history into art and it tries way too hard with, as noted, the pompous dialogue--no one talks that way--basking in musical crescendos. 
I thought the scene between Johnson and Wallace, while not the greatest scene ever, Wilkinson failing I thought in conveying the power and complexity of LBJ, Tim Roth--and I'm in a minority here--was pretty good as Wallace, crackled with some real drama and than did any of the dead scenes between the exemplars, including between King and Coretta King. Oprah Winfrey mind you was just great in her small role. She is a vastly under-rated actress and conveys almost innately authentic emotional complexity and pain. 
I obviously appreciate the magnificence of the historic achievement but this movie, despite some of its powerful moments, is for me, in a word, soporific. 
P.S. I don't have any quarrel with how the movie presented the history or its treatment of LBJ.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gone Girl: Some Comments

This is a thoughtful, well written piece. The problem for me is that while the movie is just ok, worthwhile in a stolid way, weighed down by Affleck's one note lugubriousness, as well as flawed by small inconsistencies, too glib dialogue at the outset, and a preposterous ending, most of what Rothfeld writes is overwrought. (I haven't read the novel.)
Here's an example of the latter:
...This is the patriarchy that Amy is up against: one in which men don’t have to care, or even respond to female caring, because they hold all the cards. One in which even the most accomplished and capable women are forced to mold themselves into the incarnations of male fantasy in order to matter, in which every heterosexual love story is a retelling of Pygmalion. One in which women are powerless to hold men accountable—in which female emotion is valued as a fundamentally worthless currency....
Some such notion of a shifted patriarchy may be evident in the novel but it's not organically present in the movie despite the one slapped on monologue about "cool girls." Amy, let's be clear is nuts, a psychopath whose acting out grows from faking a rape to trying to contrive elaborately a murder--getting Affleck executed, which he should be, critically, for his terrible acting and killing the screen--to committing a bizarre, bloody and horrible murder. 
Her psychosis is entangled with her central self- perceived failing--the painful distance between Amazing Amy and the all too human, real, deeply troubled Amy who writhes around in existential bad faith. The night of celebrating Amazing Amy's wedding is only salvaged for real Amy by Affleck's proposing to her. Real Amy is all external accomplishment and all inner failure evident in needing to fulfill herself in perfecting the intellectually inferior men she takes to herself: such as the first guy she falsely indicts for raping her when he starts to pull away from her relentless attempt to make him better; and such as Affleck who similarly pulls away from her to the point of an affair with his jejune student. Only Desi, who can't be improved by her and is, at a minimum, a match for her, it seems, in intellectual accomplishment, sophistication, and wealth, homicidally repulses her by his unstinting devotion to her. Affleck understands her psychotic need and plays on it in telling her what she insanely needs to hear in his interview in order to draw her out.
Rothfeld's abiding error throughout her piece is to use Amy's sickness as a basis for the weighty cultural pronouncements about the new patriarchy and the boundary pushing new femme fatale. But for Amy's crazy, literally crazy as in psychotic, idiosyncrasies, she needn't try to be a "cool girl;" she needn't saddle herself with mediocre men: she needn't seek to close the distance between the real and amazing her by creating an Amazing Nick. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, the saying goes: here a psychotic woman is just a psychotic woman, and Affleck is just another zhjlub, which shoots down entirely, I argue, Rothfeld's overwrought and misplaced cultural pronouncements about the new patriarchy, about the relation of this movie's femme fatale to the tradition of femme fatale in noir, and in her overall reading of the movie in these terms. 
One other example:
....The traditional femme fatale cannot be faulted for availing herself of the only weapon available to her—her sex appeal—but we cannot fully endorse her tactics either. Her beauty was too conventional, too much a realization and reinforcement of male fantasy—perhaps a means toward more radical transgressions, but surely no more than one step on the path toward greater, more destabilizing disruptions...
"Cannot be faulted," "cannot fully endorse": by whom, by what standards, based on what unargued for assumptions? There seems to me some ultimately unstated feminist ideal set of principles, values and ideals running through this piece and forming unstated bases for judgment. And that, in my judgment, both ties in to the overwrought notions of a new form of patriarchy and Rothfeld's general overthinking of this movie. 
One other note: aside from Affleck's leaden dolefulness, in small ways his character just doesn't add up. He picks Amy up by a lot of slick, smart talk, joking about a beer not belonging to a guy who looks like he's doing a thesis on Proust. He describes himself as a writer, and writes for a men's magazine. He's trying to write a novel. He teaches creative writing. Yet this is the guy who thinks quinoa is a fish, wants just to play board games with his sister, guzzle beer and watch reality TV. I don't think so. These jarring inconsistencies blend in with his incompetent acting to make him and his character wholly unsatisfactory.
No one is dismissing her as crazy. She's being recognized for what she is: namely, crazy. Really, the gender-inflected power dynamics of both the boardroom and the bedroom have little to do with anything in this movie.
Yes, I read the review. You're confused. That's evident in your positing a film based on a novel vitiates the literal, whether literal is or isn't in scare quotes. What's literal is what actually happens, the actual story. A film from a novel has nothing to do with it, or anything else really. They're separate and distinct works, with their own themes, genre specific techniques and either successes or failures. The more acute point is that to oerleap what actually happens and start airily talking about symbolism is an error, which error gets accentuated when what's posited as symbolic makes a hash of what actually happens. Then you're squarely in the realm of silliness. The facts of the story involve a woman who falsely indicted her first boy friend for rape and ruined his life thereby, who has with obsessive and phenomenal elaboration contrived to have her cheating husband murdered by a Missouri execution and then has in a scene of utter bloody horror brutally murders the wealthy, sophisticated guy obsessed with her and who takes her in at her desperate request. All without an ounce of remorse. All with cold, conscienceless calculation to get what she wants. I'm no diagnostician of mental illness, but it's patently wrong to understand this homicidal woman as anything but sick and evil. All of that knocks the shit out of any airy and nonsensical view a of "symbolic representation of the long-term effects of interpersonal gender dynamics." So, again, of course I read and understood the review. It's, as are you in endorsing its argument, wrong. Finally the literal, what actually happens in the film,, and even more so, I understand, in the novel, is light years away from men often calling their ex-wives crazy and dismissing them. I hope you can get it through your head that this woman is actually crazy in the world of the film.