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..


....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.