Here Today Gone

I’ve been in Cleve­land less than 48 hours and I’m head­ing off for a New Year’s in Cana­da. Even­tu­al­ly I’ll have a cou­ple of reg­u­lar weeks to estab­lish some sort of rou­tine, but until then it is par­ty time, excel­lent.

Christmas Unwrapped

Well, I’m back in Cleve­land after a few days in Indi­ana. Three Christ­mas gifts I’m excit­ed about include my new sweet-ass pots and pans set, my iron­ing board, and my sub­scrip­tion to Paste [it comes with a comp CD every month!]

The top Christ­mas moment was on Box­ing Day when I came into the fam­i­ly room dur­ing the after­noon to find my mom, my aunt and my uncle all fast asleep and Mat­lock on the tele­vi­sion.

Oh yeah, in hon­or of James Brown’s pass­ing here’s a short film called Beat the Dev­il star­ring him and direct­ed by Tony Scott. About the only place you’re going to find this film is on YouTube unless you man­age to stum­ble across one of the lim­it­ed release BMW Films DVDs. The rest of the DVD is good too, all shorts by great direc­tors.

Faces

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #252: John Cas­savetes’ Faces.

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I think, maybe, that the cor­rect reac­tion [at least in terms of the reac­tion Cas­savetes was aim­ing for] to Faces is sup­posed to be loathing. It is a long, tor­tur­ous jour­ney through the dark­est parts of mar­ried adult life, and there are no redeem­ing qual­i­ties to any of the char­ac­ters that I can see. Grant­ed, there is per­se­ver­ance and forth­right­ness, but it only serves to feed the destruc­tive paths all the char­ac­ters tread.

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There is a basic ten­den­cy in chem­istry that liq­uids and gas­es flow from areas of high­er den­si­ty to low­er den­si­ty; hypo- to hyper-. This ten­den­cy holds true in Faces as well, but with the addi­tion of human instinct and intent; a dan­ger­ous com­bi­na­tion. Dick­ie, Louise, Chet, Jean­nie, every­one feels emp­tied of mean­ing or ful­fill­ment, yearn­ing for the days of their youth, or the gold­en years the nev­er exist­ed. Flo­rence is prob­a­bly the best exam­ple of this in the film; old, dumpy and des­per­ate, she throws her­self at Chet and begs to be kissed, any­thing to feel a bit alive again.

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The forced, rau­cous laugh­ter, the end­less drink­ing and smok­ing, the chiaroscuro light­ing and stac­ca­to impro­vi­sa­tion­al dia­logue effec­tive­ly force the view­er to face their inner dis­af­fec­ta­tion while the char­ac­ters onscreen con­tin­u­al­ly man­age to avoid this very con­fronta­tion. My moth­er watched most of this with me, and she talked about how trag­ic every­one seemed. She didn’t know which would be worse, whether Dick­ie and Maria split apart or stuck it out togeth­er in the end. She expect­ed a sui­cide, but made no men­tion of mur­der, so while she didn’t state it explic­it­ly, I think she caught on to the fact that every­one is far too self-cen­tered-obsessed to con­sid­er harm­ing any­thing oth­er than them­selves.

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So while I still nev­er real­ly want to see Faces again, I guess I have a respect for it now. It is a pas­sion play with no pulled punch­es, frank and uncom­pro­mis­ing. True to Cas­savetes’ form there is lit­tle flash and glit­ter, only true to life expe­ri­ences, most of which, in this film, deal with the seami­er side of things.

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Cri­te­ri­on Essay by Stu­art Klawans.
Ron Car­ney on Faces.
Strict­ly Film School review.
• Sens­es of Cin­e­ma arti­cle.
• A few scenes from Faces on YouTube 1, 2, 3.

That Guy

I did a cheap hack of this YouTube Word­Press plu­g­in to make it func­tion like a sub­scrip­tion to my vid feed. I’m sure there is a bet­ter way to hack it, but until I have a chance to sit down and exam­ine it, the result on the side­bar will have to do. I’m cur­rent­ly redesign­ing from scratch, but the intend­ed final design won’t be much dif­fer­ent from what it is cur­rent­ly. I’m exper­i­ment­ing with meet­ing 508 stan­dards and mak­ing the site read­able on hand­held devices in addi­tion to val­i­dat­ing as strict XHTML. I think I’m becom­ing one of those web design­ers…

Shadows

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #251: John Cas­savetes’ Shad­ows.

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I said I was dread­ing the Cas­savetes films that I was going to have to watch as a part of my some­what man­ic deter­mi­na­tion to watch all of the films in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion, so, of course, I ordered the two I’ve already seen from the library. I must admit that I don’t hate Shad­ows any­more, maybe in the 6 years since last I saw it, I’ve grown to under­stand it bet­ter, or I have more expe­ri­ence with which to rub it against; whichev­er, I now like this movie. I still ful­ly expect to still hate Faces when I watch it lat­er tonight though.

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Shad­ows, like most of Cas­savetes films is an impro­vi­sa­tion. This is remark­able, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the qual­i­ty of the per­for­mances. What is also remark­able was the price tag, a fea­ture length film made for $40,000, shot main­ly on loca­tion in Man­hat­tan, and some­thing that, by today’s stan­dards, seems much more real than real­i­ty tele­vi­sion. There isn’t tru­ly a plot, but there is a large event that the lives of the char­ac­ters orbit. The three main char­ac­ters are Ben, Lelia and Hugh, broth­ers and a sis­ter, black or mixed, lov­ing each oth­er though fight­ing often. Lelia and Ben could and can pass as white in most instances and for the view­er this is even more the case, since Cas­savetes’ choice of high con­trast cin­e­matog­ra­phy height­ens this appear­ance. Hugh’s back­ground is read­i­ly appar­ent how­ev­er. Ben is a jazz trum­pet play­er and Hugh a jazz singer.

Lelia is a doe-eyed beau­ty and all kinds of men are after her. She is deft­ly manip­u­lat­ed into los­ing her vir­gin­i­ty to this guy named Tony who, when he meets her dark-skinned broth­er and finds out she’s not Whitey, gets a lit­tle nau­se­at­ed and bails like a buck­et. Lelia’s bereft and depressed and look­ing to avenge her­self on some dude as a result of the bad sex. Ben and Hugh, in addi­tion to doing their own thing, try to make her feel bet­ter.

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I feel sor­ry for Hugh, he’s strug­gling as a singer but is the only one to bring in any mon­ey for the fam­i­ly. Ben­nie stays out all night and in all day, and his entire com­port­ment is a mix between mis­an­thropy and self-con­scious­ness. He nev­er plays his trum­pet on-screen, but he prob­a­bly bends that thing around his soul. Lelia spends all day hang­ing out with suit­ors or mop­ing. I’m kind of mak­ing her out to be a rather unsym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter, but she’s not. Her actions in film-time cen­ter around a trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ence, but it is obvi­ous from her man­ner of recov­ery that she is as strong as the bond between the fam­i­ly under­neath.

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All of the char­ac­ters are fight­ing for some­thing. Lelia to regain her bal­ance after her inno­cence is destroyed, Ben­nie to come to grips with his place in a world he doesn’t like, and Hugh to reclaim a dream that has slipped from his grasp. Their strug­gles ring true, in dynam­ic coun­ter­point to the soul­less dis­cus­sions about Sartre and exis­ten­tial­ism that take place at a “lit­er­ary par­ty” in the first third of the film. In the end Cas­savetes has cre­at­ed a pol­y­se­mous snap­shot of spe­cif­ic peo­ple with spe­cif­ic trou­bles and made their lives applic­a­ble, under­stand­able and real to those that watch it. I fig­ure that’s a pret­ty good accom­plish­ment with only $40,000 to work with.

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Cri­te­ri­on Essay by Gary Gid­dins
Excerpts from Cas­savetes on Cas­savetes on the mak­ing of Shad­ows.
More Ray Car­ney on Cas­savetes and Shad­ows.
• Dan Schnei­der review of the film.
A minute of footage from the begin­ning of the film on YouTube.

Work [out]

I signed up for a mem­ber­ship at the gym two blocks from my work­place yes­ter­day and got up at 5:30am this morn­ing and rode the 23 in for my first work­out. I feel like I’m in the worst shape of my life, and I like­ly am, so I made sure to take it easy. There is a room where they have group exer­cise, but as none of the class­es are sched­uled until 8 or so, I have it all to myself for some basic cal­is­then­ics and hap­py-joy fenc­ing foot­work. I did that for about twen­ty min­utes, had a good long stretch and then ran for a half hour on the tread­mill and watched some dude stab an inflat­able snow­man on tele­vi­sion. A set of crunch­es lat­er and I hit the show­ers: with­out a tow­el. [This over­sight will be reme­died tomor­row.] There is also a room at Fit­works [warn­ing: noise] where they show movies, a sort of tread­mill cine­plex, where peo­ple can run in the dark and zone out. They were show­ing Christ­mas at the Kranks yes­ter­day. I won­der if I can con­vince them to play Cri­te­ri­on films…

One block from work is a CVS, where I imag­ine I’ll be get­ting my post-work­out break­fasts. I bought some yogurt and gra­nola bars today. Rid­ing the gym, in the dark, on the bus, lis­ten­ing to Ori­on by Metal­li­ca, I felt like I was hav­ing a real-life train­ing mon­tage.

The city steams on win­ter morn­ings
like a spent horse
bus­es squall
in the dark

lock­ers hold ties
and work boots

anoth­er
heart pumps legs
pump heat hunts for
release—

pow­er­ing this
restive beast called Cleve­land.

Video Post

I’ve been uti­liz­ing YouTube more often late­ly. I took some video at Poet­ry at the Lit the oth­er night and below is a vid I took of The Ex at the Grog Shop on Sat­ur­day.

You can watch all of my vids here. I just need to find a YouTube ver­sion of the Flickr RSS plu­g­in for Word­Press.