The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — May 2009

Bronson

Bronson is a film about a famous—and very violent—Welsh prisoner, who has spent the bulk of his adult life in prison, most of it in solitary confinement. Should be dull, right? Not when it’s directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, the wacky Dane, who transforms this man’s life into a Brechtian parable. Refn gives us three points of view. Not only do we get to see Bronson mindlessly beating and garroting people and parading around in the nude, but we also see him (bald-headed and mustachioed like Gurdjieff in his prime) philosophically telling us about his exploits, as well as seeing him address a theater full of people in wonderfully absurd costumes like a fabulous showman.

What does it all mean? I haven’t the faintest idea. Is it art? Probably. Would Lars von Trier approve? No clue. Should you go and see it? I don’t know, but if you like Brecht, enjoy Ionesco, think The Iceman Cometh is pretty hot, and have more than a passing interest in Samuel Beckett, you’ll probably like it. Not that it rises to those heights, mind you. It’s more like watching de Sade brutalize himself for no fathomable reason.

May 31, 2009   Comments Off on Bronson

194

In fives and sevens
Ducklings surround their mothers
Like brown furry moths.

May 29, 2009   Comments Off on 194

The Girlfriend Experience

Steven Soderbergh’s latest film in faux Indie style about a Manhattan call girl (played by the already infamous Sasha Grey) and her über ambitious roommate (Chris Santos) is, by turns, engaging, tedious, and, ultimately, as empty as the lifestyle it portrays. A real documentary about NYC callgirls would have been more interesting, but, of course, this would have required more than a few weeks of Mr. Soderbergh’s time. Still, there is something memorable about the film. The person I saw the film with said it was Sasha Grey’s eyebrows, but then she didn’t like either Ms. Grey or the film. For me, it was the simultaneously spare and sumptuous, completely nonjudgmental portrait of a member of the New York demimonde, who spends as much time interviewing her clients and marketing herself as she spends in bed. Despite everything that has been written about Sasha Grey, both positive and negative, she embodies this young prostitute in an American Psycho kind of way, right down to naming the brands of her designer underwear. I personally don’t think the film is as iconic as some reviewers have suggested (the new incarnation of Godard, blah, blah, blah), but it’s definitely worth a see.

May 29, 2009   Comments Off on The Girlfriend Experience

Pay or see white…

A milestone of sorts has been achieved by Markos. His site no longer comes up if you have Adblock active. All you see is a blank screen.

Does this tell you something about the importance of ads to this chap and the lengths he will go to ensure that you see them?

His new motto is “Pay or see white.” Most impressive.

May 27, 2009   Comments Off on Pay or see white…

The Politics of Fear

I’ve long been interested in so-called “wedge issues” in American politics, which are specially created to divide the electorate. In the United States, the best example of such an issue is abortion. Here the formulators have been extremely effective. They’ve managed to state the problem—abortion is murder—so that it galvanizes the faithful and creates a clear boundary between those who are moral (the pro-lifers) and those who aren’t (those who are pro-choice). Wedge issues are effective ways of keeping the electorate divided, which is what conservatives need if they are to win elections. Creating such issues is their stock-in-trade.

The latest wedge issue to emerge is where to house the Guantánamo inmates. The conservative argument is that putting these folks in U.S. prisons will threaten the population at large. Presumably, radical Islam will find ripe soil in American prisons. Of course, the real purpose of this particular issue is to keep Guantánamo open. Conservatives see it as a symbol of our resolve in the war on terror. (Read: if you do us any harm, terrorists of the world, we’ll ship you off to Guantánamo and torture you until you no longer know who you are.)

Issues like these have been successful for decades. It was how the wars in Vietnam and Iraq were sold, how the investment houses were able to loot the Treasury recently, and how we were able to siphon off the wealth of the world for decades while telling ourselves we were spreading democracy. Recently, however, such issues are no longer as effective. Reason is starting to prevail.

I suppose Obama is partially responsible for this, because he’s a master at letting his opponents destroy themselves with their own impatience, but the truth is that Bush and Cheney did the damage themselves. They went too far, much further than another other administration, blowing more smoke than ever before and pulling the old, worn levers until the monster creaked to a halt, exposing the wizard in the elephant costume for what he was, a charlatan preying on the illusions of fearful Americans.

I have to admit I’m in shock. I really never believed I’d live to see the day when jingoism, slurs, and slogans no longer worked in American politics. I pray it will last long enough for Obama to create real change. About one thing there is no doubt. We’re going to come out of this poorer. The only question that remains is the extent of the decline. Will it be on the scale of Britain (our best hope), on the order of Argentina (our second best hope), or on the scale of a banana republic? Only time will tell.

May 24, 2009   1 Comment

The Kos Saga Continues

Over at The Daily Kos, the saga continues. A friend of the writer who was banned for publicly questioning part of the official 9-11 story, published a post on the site that included the banned writer’s farewell. In other words, the farewell was embedded in the friend’s post. Check it out if you can. It’s interesting reading. Of course, now the friend is likely to be banned as well.

If you take this to its logical conclusion, Markos will soon be redacting documents and going to court to keep certain of them from the public’s view. Of course, this is how organizations operate, especially when they reach the point where survival becomes more important than its original purpose.

No one should be too surprised. It’s always about the money–in this case, Kos’s revenue stream. Nothing else.

May 20, 2009   Comments Off on The Kos Saga Continues

193

Knowing she’s rabid,
I let her sink her teeth in
As deep as she wants.

May 19, 2009   Comments Off on 193

Monsieur Proust

Monsieur Proust

One of the joys of being a reader is stumbling upon a book that is improbably charming. Céleste Albaret’s account of her life with Marcel Proust is such a book. Through her eyes as the great writer’s housekeeper and personal assistant, we see how he lived during the last eight years of his life.

To say that Proust’s way of living was eccentric is putting it mildly. He didn’t get up until afternoon, he burned a paper that filled his bedroom with smoke for his asthma, he was served coffee and his croissant in exactly the same way every day, and then he wrote in bed for the rest of the afternoon and early evening. Aside from dressing himself and writing, he did absolutely nothing. Céleste bought everything he needed, satisfied his whims for the delicacies he wanted from shops or restaurants at any hour of the day or night, arranged his dinner parties, handled all of his calls, cleaned and straightened up when he was out, and generally acted as the trusted intermediary between himself and the outside world.

Proust knew he was dying. Albaret tells us he made or maintained acquaintances only to the extent that their traits were those of a character he was developing. When he was through with the character, he dropped them. His last eight years were totally devoted to completing his magnum opus. Naturally, Céleste was in love with him. She knew how great he was. How else could she tolerate his mad whims and schedule, unless her life were completely blended with his?

Lucky for us, M. Proust was independently wealthy and had Céleste Albaret at his side (or, so, she would have us believe). He wouldn’t have survived in this world long enough to write his masterpiece otherwise. Nor, I might add, would we have Céleste Albaret’s charming account of her life with, perhaps, the greatest writer in French history.

May 18, 2009   Comments Off on Monsieur Proust

Taboo Topic on The Daily Kos

The Daily Kos, one of the more popular online political blogs, has banned one of its long-serving contributors for writing a post which suggested that some of the testimony in the official 9-11 report was obtained through torture. Following the news that Cheney had authorized torture to establish a link between 9-11 and Saddam Hussein, the implication is that information obtained through torture is very likely false. The contributor’s mistake—at least, as far Kos was concerned—was that he dared to suggest the official story of 9-11 was in any way inaccurate.

When you think about it, this is kind of interesting. The Daily Kos, one of the more liberal of the blogs, has banished a writer for daring to question the official 9-11 story.

Kos, of course, had no choice. The quickest way of devolving into irrelevance in the United States is to be labeled a conspiracy theorist. Kos simply couldn’t afford the blowback from mainstream liberals who are the mainstay of his blog. His revenue stream depends on them. Any questioning of the official 9-11 story is taboo and means you must be publicly banished to the netherworld of crackpots.

May 18, 2009   Comments Off on Taboo Topic on The Daily Kos

Writer’s Block

I remember during a particularly difficult period in my life, standing in line to register at St. Thomas for graduate classes, finding myself next to a Sister in a flowing black habit and not being able to restrain myself from describing my “dark night of the soul” to her. With a smile and wave of her hand, she dismissed it as being trivial compared with St. John the Divine’s experience. His was mystical, mine was ersatz. Her rejection stung, but she was right. I was a student and overdramatizing. Of course, she had no way of knowing the hell I had just come through and I wasn’t going to tell her the full extent of it. If she knew the true basis of my experience, she wouldn’t have heard me out at all.

For the past year, I haven’t been able to write stories or fiction. Whenever I’ve tried to write, one of three things happened. Either the feelings of revulsion were too strong, or I found myself literally falling into depression, or I was amused (as a farmer is amused) by a chicken that lays fragile and broken eggs. Of course, writer’s block is a kind of dark night of the soul, though I think of it more as dry mouth of the brain. For whatever reason, the subconscious mind, which you, as a creative artist, have carefully cultivated through your daily routine, stops giving you material worth memorializing in words. There is literally nothing inside, and no matter what measures you take to kick start the creative process, they all fail.

In any case, I have begun writing a story again, am energized by it (which is to say I don’t hate it too much), and have been gainfully employed these past several days. I have no doubt that the resulting fiction, when finished, will be considered meager by the literary lights of the day, but I don’t care. A year is a long time to wait.

May 13, 2009   Comments Off on Writer’s Block