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“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

Manipulating Storytellers, Pt. 3: Synecdoche, NY

Part one and two. [Where major spoilers start in the following is noted.]

In a fascinating interview with Wired magazine, Kaufman and his interviewer discuss how conceits provide a framework for his movies. Adaptation has the recursive loop of the events on screen affecting the written screen-play of the events on screen; Eternal Sunshine requires the viewer to deduce, even in scenes not blatantly presented as such, that the majority of the movie is Joel’s memory. But Synecdoche, says Kaufman, “doesn’t turn out [to be] anything other than what you’re watching.” There is the conceit of the title, of course, but there is no resolution of the conceit to tie the story off or justify its peculiarities. Knowing I’d seen it, a friend asked when Hazel’s house was first shown, “Okay, that house is actually on fire, right?” Then later, “Her house is still on fire, right?

Synecdoche is a sly movie. To start, everything from the soundtrack to the color palette appears to be standard quirky indie-movie fare: it opens with a sort-of-lighthearted but faintly macabre catchy song, muted colors, and the story of an artist struggling to realize a great work. It lets you get comfortable with your expectations. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Analysis, Film, Kaufman, Synecdoche

There Will Indeed Be A Morally Unambiguous Ending

There Will Be Blood had my love as soon as the credits rolled, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.  (For those that haven’t seen it, I’ve noted where spoilers begin.)  I wanted to see it again before trying to put why I liked it so much into words, and in the mean time read what reviews I could find, to perhaps get a few clues.  Most of them, though, reduce the movie to little more than big ol’ Big-Business vs. little ol’ (Big-)Religion, and end up with a luke-warm if not negative review.  Those I’ve read that liked the movie seemed to be in the same predicament I am— not quite sure if there’s a coherent reason why they like the movie, but by golly they do.  I got the chance to see it again, though, following its DVD release, and think I can say more clearly just why I enjoyed it so much.

Those that boil the movie down to Business vs. Religion do so because they see the movie as a comment, basically, on American history; this in turn makes the movie little more than a tirade against the Big-ness of both religion and business in America, with all their hucksters and conmen, throwing in perhaps a little bit of sympathy for poor religion getting trampled by mean ol’ business.  The one thing this gets right is that There Will Be Blood is an unflinching glare at what America has made of itself.  It ignores, though, exactly on what grounds the two main characters of Eli and Daniel are facing off: the American Myth of the self-made man.

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Filed under: Analysis, Film, There Will Be Blood, , , , ,

The Gay Way: Inversion and Religion in Proust

A friend gave me, as a graduation present, the box set of A la recherche du temps perdu.  I began the first volume on the long drive from Texas to California, but was distracted by other books for a while and only over the past month dove fully into and finished Swann’s Way.  The word I find I want to use, and I’m sure has been used before, is virtuosic.  There is such a fine balance of construction within each section, and within the sections as they compound into the whole work, with which I am enamored; an underlying structure of thematics which, just as Swann & Odette’s love-theme appears throughout their relationship, seems to play out at various magnifications and degrees of unity across the whole work.  I am anxious to see how the themes are parlayed into the other books.

For now, though, having finished the first volume, I am particularly interested in the way Proust treats homosexuality, as I was a bit surprised to find lesbianism portrayed so blatantly in the first volume.  I was under the impression that Proust waited until the fourth volume to depict the lascivious underworld of homosexuality, having read some while ago a review that decried so few people reading past the pleasantries of Swann’s Way and never getting to the grittier reality of the later volumes, including the scenes of gay cruising in Sodom and Gomorroh.  What is interesting about these early depictions of homosexuality is their carefully layered inversions, which confuse the possibility of making the “correct” moral judgements, and indeed make “correct” a rather ambiguous term whose initial social grounding gives way to a paradoxical construction.

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Filed under: Analysis, Books, Proust, Sexuality, , , , ,

On Stevens’ “Add This to Rhetoric”

After a little over-indulgence on my part in wide-ranging and free-flowing rants for the past couple of posts, I’ll stick to a specific subject this time. This is one of my favorite poems by Wallace Stevens that, if not one of his most polished or succesfully ‘artful,’ is still an unbelievably powerful example of the man’s skill and intellect.

Add This to Rhetoric

It is posed and it is posed.
But in nature it merely grows.
Stones pose in the falling night;
And beggars dropping to sleep,
They pose themselves and their rags.
Shucks . . . lavender moonlight falls.
The buildings pose in the sky
And, as you paint, the clouds,
Grisaille, impearled, profound,
Pftt . . . In the way you speak
You arrange, the thing is posed,
What in nature merely grows.

To-morrow when the sun,
For all your images,
Comes up as the sun, bull fire,
Your images will have left
No shadow of themselves.
The poses of speech, of paint,
Of music—Her body lies
Worn out, her arm falls down,
Her fingers touch the ground.
Above her, to the left,
A brush of white, the obscure,
The moon without a shape,
A fringed eye in a crypt.
The sense creates the pose.
In this it moves and speaks.
This is the figure and not
An evading metaphor.

Add this. It is to add.

Though Harold Bloom is probably correct on both points when he says that “Add This to Rhetoric” is “a kind of footnote to the greater poem, [‘The Poems of Our Climate’],” I still find it to be one of my favorite of Stevens’ poems. “The Poems of Our Climate” seems to belie the imperfection which it claim is “our paradise.” Admittedly, it does this beautifully; but that is part of why I prefer “Add This…,” which, instead, eschews beautiful, meditative images for simplistic ones that depict their subjects while demonstrating the poem’s premise, and which uses a grammar that demonstratively appropriates “…of Our Climate”‘s paradisiac imperfection for its own purpose.

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Filed under: Analysis, Poetry, Stevens, Writing, , , , ,

Quick thoughts on 300

300 still

I saw 300 for the first time a little while back. My first reaction was, as someone who is usually virulently opposed to movies about war, this is an intoxicating film. I was a wee bit intoxicated at the time, and thus absolutely enthralled by the visuals. Seeing it again a couple days later, I noticed how mediocre the acting is in parts (I particularly enjoyed how Leonitus’ accent comes and goes between Sean Connery and British neutral), but the storyline was great. I remember thinking grand drunken thoughts about how Miller’s stories use violence as an expression of valiant opposition against the injustice of a majority rule, be it the “divine” law of the oracles or simply a man with a gun and a badge. The distinctive visual styles are powerful enactments of this heightening of a specific action for the sake of a point, but they are in service to the heightening of a specific emotional response, not just grotesque and cool for the sake of being grotesque and cool. At the beginning of the movie, I thought this would end up being a jingoistic at worst, patriotic at best, yay for your country movie, but it beat all expectations. Its a great film (with admittedly bad acting in places) because it uses conventional vernacular, recognizable by every fourteen year old boy in America, to portray a very subversive message.

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Filed under: Analysis, Film

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