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


The tiny sapling
We brought from the wilderness
Now blocks out the sun.

September 30, 2009   Comments Off on 219


He stares at the field
Of beans ready to harvest
And yells for his boots.

September 30, 2009   Comments Off on 218

A Gem in the City

A field of daisies looking toward what we call the Mendota Bridge, which sits in the middle of Fort Snelling State Park, which, itself, is located not far from the airport on the Mississippi. A quite wonderful place to walk and bike. In particular, Pike Island, nestled completely in the river, is an isolated stroll through flocks of wild turkeys and groups of deer, with views of the river on either side. Since the island floods every year, the flora and fauna are simple and unique. The only drawback to the park is that the runoff from the airport filters into Snelling Lake after being treated with chemicals. Near the ranger station at the entry, the smell is sometimes that of a truck full of eggs that has been left to rot in the sun. As an American, one learns to take the bad with the good. We are conditioned to accept that one man’s loss is another man’s gain, that much of what our government does, even at the local level, is out of our control, and that the “public” interest always outweighs that of the environment. Still, there is no place quite like Fort Snelling State Park. A gem in the city.

September 28, 2009   Comments Off on A Gem in the City

Five Minutes of Heaven

In Ireland I noticed a genuine desire on the part of the populace to come to terms with the sectarian violence that took place in the north. Most everyone wanted to know what really happened. A number of television documentaries examined famous acts of violence and why they occurred. So much human tragedy came from The Troubles that people needed to understand the root of it, so it would never happen again. Anyone who’s ever hated another human knows how easy it is to fall into and how difficult it can be to free oneself again.

A small, but important film that examines one of these events, though in a fictionalized way, is Five Minutes of Heaven. HeavenIt is about the murder of a young Catholic carried out by a man not yet twenty, which is witnessed by the dead boy’s younger brother. Meeting thirty-three years later for a television documentary, both men try to come to terms with what happened. It is clear that the event has destroyed both of their lives. The murderer wants desperately to be absolved of his guilt. The witness, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to kill his brother’s assailant. This will be his five minutes of heaven. The climax, though predictable, is a satisfying release for both of them.

While watching the film, I wondered if I would ever see a similar desire on the part of average Americans to understand our recent past. Though I fervently hope for it, I doubt we will see the apologists and perpetrators of torture prosecuted for their crimes. It’s important that they are. What’s left of our democracy hangs in the balance.

September 27, 2009   1 Comment

Leni Riefenstahl

In the 1993 German documentary, Die Macht der Bilder: Leni Riefenstahl, we are presented with a very old woman (almost 90 at the time), living with a man forty years her junior, still fascinated with film. I was immediately enchanted. Riefenstahl rose from being a dancer and actress (the photo shows her climbing a crevasse in a flimsy outfit) to become the most powerful female film producer and director who ever lived. She was innovative and meticulously planned her productions. With an actress’s voice speaking in lovely high German, she can describe every shot she’s ever created, including the types of cameras used and the effect she was trying to achieve with each.

Though tried for war crimes after World War II, she was never convicted. Nevertheless, she became a pariah and lived in an apartment with her mother in Berlin. Because she was such a symbol of Nazism, the authorities prevented her from making more films. Die Gedanken sind frei, however, and Leni never stopped making films in her head, eventually producing books of her photos of the Nuba in Africa.

Throughout the film (called The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl in English), the director, Ray Müller, tries to get her to admit that she was a puppet of the Nazi regime, telling her at one point that Germany wants to hear her beg forgiveness for what she has done. Riefenstahl steadfastly refuses, telling him that her only interest was art, she never joined the Nazi party, and that she has lived with this horrible guilt for so long that only death can assuage it. Of course, she is still an actress, unwilling or unable to accept the responsibility for how her films, particularly Triumph des Willens, were used. One is left feeling in limbo about her. In the end I decided that she embodied the guilt and confusion of Germans in the post war years in a remarkable, strangely sympathetic way—shocked and revulsed by what she had done but with no means of expiating her guilt.

There is an interesting post note to the film. At the age of 101 in 2003, Leni Riefenstahl finally married her companion, Horst Kettner, and died a few weeks later in her sleep.

September 27, 2009   1 Comment


Rain runs from parched leaves
And the earth is sticky sweet
As we run for home.

September 25, 2009   Comments Off on 217


Because shadows move
On its bright surface, they leave
The semblance of thought.

September 24, 2009   Comments Off on 216


Gray horizon line
The dark waves ebb to nothing
Night comes slowly on.

September 22, 2009   Comments Off on 215

Cement Opus

Near the home where we stayed on Lake Superior (about two miles south of Hovland), we found this abandoned cement building on the shore. It was like discovering an old German bunker in the woods. It’s a vast shell, of the scale of a modern castle, with a strange Frank Lloyd Wright feel to it. The construction was that used for commercial buildings, and it was impossible to tell exactly what it was supposed to be. Perhaps it was going to be the global corporate headquarters of George W. Bush and Company. Or, perhaps it was a secret spot, somewhere far from Italy, where Silvio could take his babes. There’s nothing on the Web about it. I’m tempted to contact the Lake County government offices and see what they know about it. There was some funny graffiti inside. One young woman wrote that she would become a lesbian for Lady Gaga.

Anyone know anything about it?

Oh, since the property was posted as private, no trespassing, we had to use our telephoto lens to get these shots.

September 22, 2009   Comments Off on Cement Opus


As is characteristic of me, I got lost today looking for a trail head and ended up 20 or 30 miles from our intended destination. East Bearskin LakeDeciding to make the best of it, we found a moderately difficult hike called Caribou Rock a mile or so off the Gunflint Trail. The hike had breathtaking vistas over West Bearskin Lake and Moss Lake in the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area). West Bearskin (which you can see in the photo) is very typical of lakes in the Boundary Waters—pines and birches almost to its shores, extremely rocky, patrolled by a few pairs of loons, and longer than it is wide. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Travel in most of the lakes in the BWCA is by canoe only. If it weren’t for the national parks system, the Boundary Waters would no longer be a wildness area, but rather an endless chain of cheesy resorts and cabins. The locals still think of it as theirs, and have a hard time swallowing the idea that they can’t exploit it for maximum gain. Here, as everywhere in the United States, the cultural divide is insurmountable. We speak a common language but don’t have the same values.

September 22, 2009   1 Comment