The Week That Was, or At the Movies! (At Home!)

Around the house has been uneventful and quiet. It’s been enjoyable, though we’ve had our usual summer errands and engagements: doctor appointments, daycare water days, meetings at work, etc.

The goslings are longer and taller and gray, and a few have only wisps of green halos left of their original color and fuzz.

While I’ve done some reading and writing, part of the summer that I enjoy is a chance to watch more movies than during the school year. From this week:

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 6.06.02 AMPeter Greenaway rarely elicits indifference, though I bet some have slumbered off during one of those long tracking shots. His work produces a love or hate in the viewer, at least that’s been my experience.

I don’t think I’ve seen this in about 20 years, where I was introduced to it in a film class. Thank you, Dr. Hotchkiss! Part of the reason I hadn’t watched this again is that I can’t recreate the  first time seeing it with a good friend in a film class. I believe this was the first Greenaway film we watched, and we both found it hilarious. Greenaway’s movies are generally gorgeous, but also full of the darkest, driest British wit. Part of our fun in watching The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) was due to my physical reactions to Michael Nyman’s score, which I detested at the time. I love his work now, but back then I was repulsed by minimalism like Philip Glass–it was tortuous. I would cringe every time the music started and my friend would laugh.

I like Greenaway’s films even more these days and even listen to Nyman on purpose.

Draughtsman’s is an art film, a period piece, a satire, and a murder mystery. And by art film I mean, yes, it eschews Hollywood traditions, but I also mean it is a film about art, and like other Greenaway films, it is full of allusions to the European tradition of painting and sculpture. As a trained painter, he also did all of the contracted drawings.

Another period piece by a divisive director I watched was A Field in England (2013) and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I want to watch it again and see how I feel abouta-field-in-england-poster the ending. The use of rope as a device and image in the film was really interesting to me, but I can’t quite put it into words. Something about the soul tethered to the body, the mind tethered to the brain. I don’t know. The rope and mushroom imagery, both related to the images of circles and rings, were fantastically used. The music, sometimes folksy, sometimes noisy, and the sound design were darkly enveloping. I really hope to see this in a theater some day.

Jane Campion, one of my favorite directors, has several short films on FilmStruck. I didn’t know these existed Campionand all of them, so far, are funny, sometimes sad, and often both. “Passionless Moments” (1983) is a catalogue of small moments in the lives of very ordinary people. The situations are silly, but believable. A boy pretends the vegetables he’s carrying are a bomb that he has to get to his mom’s kitchen in order to defuse it. A man does yoga and has an epiphany–I think–of something fairly obvious. Speaking of Greenaway, this reminds me of some of his early work that uses lists and voiceover as organizing principles.

Also on FilmStruck is Francis Thompson’s short “N.Y., N.Y.” 112340-n-y-n-y--0-230-0-345-crop(1957). He didn’t make many films, but this is one of the best short films I’ve ever seen–and it has a great score. I’ve read that it took 13 years to make. I’ve read that it took 20. Either way, it was a long time in the making. Thompson directed very few films, mostly (if not all) shorts. This one uses kaleidoscopic lenses to an amazing effect. Again, one that I hope to see in a theater. There is an ok transfer on YouTube.

 

 

The Week That Was, or This Is He Who Smells

An overheard conversation between bath and bedtime:

6YO: “Ciao”…”Ciao” means…uh…”Ciao” means “hello” and “goodbye” in…in…
Amy: Italian.
6YO: In Italian.
4YO: (clomps in on cast) ¡Hola, Big Dogs!

Despite a nice plate of shrimp, peas, orzo, and fresh parmesan, our children decided to skip that and eat the lemons off the cutting board. One of them danced like a robot while basically using her nose as a juicer. “Lemons are so sweet!” she yelled, and kept dancing.

Then she told me about watching a bird eat a poisonous snake during her zoo field trip. The little one decided to eat some cherry tomatoes and raw spinach leaves to go with her lemon slices. Maybe the zoo talk inspired her to eat like the turtles we saw there eat lunch once.

Later that night:
6YO: What are you doing?
Me: Fixing lunches. What are you doing?
6YO: The cat puked in our room.
Me: Can you tell mom?
6YO: She knows.
Me: Ok.
6YO: She stepped in it.
Me: Why are you telling me this?
6YO: Can I please may I have some ice water?
Me: Sure. Then bedtime.
6YO: With ice.
Me: Ice water with ice. Got it.

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Richard Matheson wrote the story that became the Twilight Zone episode everyone knows (or should know!) with William Shatner. He wrote “Duel” which became Spielberg’s first feature-length film (or at least the first one most people count). When playground discussion went to horror movies, kids would talk about Trilogy of Terror‘s sequence with a Zuni doll, based on Matheson’s “Prey.” It was the only part of that film I ever heard anyone talk about. Stephen King has said that Matheson is the writer that most influenced his own work. “Prey” seems to directly influence King’s short story “Battleground” and the “General” sequence in Cat’s Eye (1985). Matheson also sets his stories predominantly within the “normal” US households and neighborhoods. For example, King took Dracula and brought the idea to a Maine town in ‘Salem’s Lot, but this homeyness has often been a strength of King’s work.

He also wrote I Am Legend, a great apocalypse novel that became The Last Man on Earth (1964), Omega Man (1971), and finally I am Legend (2007). While I haven’t seen the latest adaptation, Last Man on Earth is my favorite. Omega Man is a laugh riot even as an apocalypse film.

Ray Bradbury called him “one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.”

If that isn’t enough to make you go read his work then I don’t know what is.

I don’t know if this is truly the best of Matheson, but it is an amazing introduction to his short fiction. If I would have discovered him in high school, I don’t think anything could have kept me from writing horror fiction. What really clicks reading these stories is how writers take ideas from each other and re-work them. He’s a link between someone like Poe or Lovecraft to King.

 

 

Way back in February, I wanted to watch some more Buñuel. That didn’t happen until recently. Robinson Crusoe (1954) and Simon of the Desert (1965) make an interesting double feature. Crusoe is a favorite book of mine (the first book I remember re-reading), but this movie version isn’t great. It does, however, create a bizarre claustrophobia that helps achieve the mood of forced solitude. Evidently the film was made in some thick and dangerous jungles, while interiors were done on soundstages. This packed frame is the opposite of the visual imagery often seen with island narratives where we get broad expanses of sky and beach. Thematically this makes sense in something like Lord of the Flies (1963) and the chaotic freedom the boys feel without having grown-ups. I found the claustrophobic effect in Crusoe surprising and interesting, but not worth watching the film again.

Simon of the Desert also features a character dealing with solitude, but one which is self-inflicted. Also, the visuals of the man atop a pillar surrounded by desert and sky are the opposite of the cramped images from Crusoe. A short essay by David Heslin, “The Impotence of Asceticism: Luis Buñuel’s Simón del Desierto,” digs into the history of St. Simon and what Buñuel does with it. The film is short–I’ve heard a variety of reasons why–but it is an interesting mix of plot and Buñuel’s surrealistic images and sequences. It’s also perverse and funny, like his films often are.

That ending! Glorious for those who want to engage with the ideas and likely maddening for those who want everything neatly worked out.

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Candles aren’t a usual topic here, but I do enjoy them. I decided to be a part of our department’s Secret Pal this year. I generally don’t like this kind of stuff and I wanted to push a little outside my comfort zone. Anyway, I received a Frostbeard Studio Oxford Library candle and it was fantastic. Thanks, Secret Pal! When I used that one, I tried The Shire, and while it’s a lighter fragrance, it’s nice, too. These are perfect sensory accompaniments to night reading or listening.

I really wanted to get the Old Books candle, but it is the only one I’ve seen with bad reviews. People who like book smells are persnickety–maybe. The major complaint is that it just smells like vanilla.

Once I leave The Shire, I’m journeying forth nosewise and elsewhere Frostbeardian.

 

The Week That Was, or Brokefoot Poutin’

Remember last week and all that great weather and trips to the park? This week began in rain (and ended in rain) and a broken foot for our youngest who was just getting the hang of sliding down the “fire pole” by herself. She’s in a cast and a Franken-boot since it’s more dangerous for little ones to have crutches. I assume more dangerous to herself, but I have a feeling if she had crutches, we would be treating her older sister for a concussion or worse. We know she’s been in pain and sometimes it catches up to her, but overall she’s been so good about everything, despite what I titled this entry.

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It’s quite difficult to work with and respond to canonical texts without having the older work overtake the new one. Brown shows masterful control here. Where there are resonances with the Bible, the language never takes control of Brown’s own. He’s writing contemporary poetry rich in its own melody, yet rich in historical overtones.

I’m taking a break from the grind of the submission process, and to some degree a break from poetry writing itself. I’ve naturally fallen into nonfiction–it’s what I started writing back in sixth grade. And music is now taking up some of that time I used for writing and submitting. One of the benefits of this break is taking the time to read many of the contemporary poets I’ve been wanting to read. Brown’s name has come up a lot recently.

 

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I think this may have been the first time I watched Man with a Movie Camera (1929) as a whole. Anyone with an interest in film or film theory has likely seen images from it (like the Odessa steps sequence of Eisenstein). This is a fantastic film built on a montage of daily life and the creation of film itself. The “man” of the title is often filmed by another man with a camera. I watched this in relation to Peeping Tom (1960), another self-reflexive film that I’m writing about for my next Test Prep essay.

 

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One of my favorite movies is Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), so it’s strange that I somehow missed Escape from New York (1981). Overall, it’s a well-done popcorn movie. I liked the images of the city, blacked-out, skyscrapers green and hulking and empty. I also liked the palette for many of the night scenes: high contrast red and greens or cool blues (and grays and tans? if I remember correctly) played against the darkness (and Carpenter’s score).

Anyway, I’ve never noticed Carpenter use so many focus pulls.

Frank Doubleday’s creepy, oddball performance as “Romero” just about steals the whole movie, which is saying a lot for a film rife with scene stealers.

This week I’ve been listening to Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op. 1. It was his first published composition, but his only sonata. Berg wrote this as a student of Schoenberg, who developed the most lasting version of twelve-tone composition we have. I love the coloring of these chords and how within this context dissonance and consonance–or rather a traditional notion of these ideas–gets altered. I’m going to listen and pick through the score some, just to gain some understanding of what’s going on, though for the moment, staring at something like this:

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seems way beyond my comprehension at the moment.

Anyway, I’ve mostly listened to Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recording of it, but I plan on listening through some other performances to hear how different players approach a work like this. Glenn Gould has also recorded it, so I’m interested to see how his compares to others. I really hated his Bach recordings for years, but they’ve grown on me.

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I’ve been working on the first Bach cello suite and had an insight that I’m almost embarrassed to admit. Maybe I will when I have the piece under my fingers again.

For sightreading practice I’m playing some of Haydn’s E Flat string quartet (No. 31) and playing the cello part on electric bass.

And for workouts this week I’ve been revisiting:
mega
Metallica’s music never made me interested in playing guitar, but Megadeth, especially Rust in Peaceinspired me to try more guitar playing. Great riffs and solos. A friend’s dad once described Mustaine’s vocals as like “a little, green head yellin’ at me.” Sure, some of that’s cringy–but Mustaine takes on characters at times, which was kind of a risk in thrash. I forgot how funny some of the lyrics were (“Immense in my girth, erect I stand tall” –C-mon, it’s about a missile!–“Launch the Polaris! The end doesn’t scare us!”). I remember enjoying the references to Roswell and general dystopian theme of this record.

I’m also trying to redevelop the walking bass chops I once had. I’ve also discovered some Paul Chambers isolated bass tracks, which I’m excited to learn from as well.

If I can ever get these essays graded.

The Week That Was, or Pollen-esia

Our just-turned-four-year-old makes dinner a full contact event. We quit trying to play into her attempts at doing anything but eating, so we just hope that she eats a few forkfuls of something. Every now and then she eats a whole dinner or just ignores it.

This week I had asked her to eat a few times and she just wasn’t interested. We have leftover Easter candy and she and her sister get a little bit for dessert if they eat their meals. Evidently, I enforce Draconian dining rules.

At the point we figured she just wasn’t going to eat, she decided to distract us. “I’m going to draw a picture of the family. First, I’m going to draw Daddy, who doesn’t listen…he looks like a crazy old lady with lasagna on his nose.”

Bravo.

…..

One nostril seemed to go into some sort of allergic shock while I was administering the ACT exam. Half an allergy. I don’t know. It quit after 48 hours.

Meanwhile, the four-year-old reminds me every day that it’s ok to step on the pine catkins because they aren’t worms.

That explains some of the nightmares….

…..

Driving through fog and from a wedding reception, the children got into an argument that devolved into tears and shouts. The argument was about whether or not “Starlight” was a good name for the vacuum. I told them they had to stop. They went to sleep.

…..

I don’t really understand Pinterest yet. Mostly I look at pictures of libraries, studies, and studios. Probably a kind of wish-fulfillment. Maybe I do understand Pinterest. Anyway, I was fascinated by their choices for me:

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I was able to return to Lost Chords this week with a short review on the Angles 9 record Disappeared Behind the Sun.

Another record I found surprising is Sun O)))’s Monoliths and Dimensions. I physically couldn’t listen to more than one track at a sitting because of the intensity of the experience. I recommend listening on a nice loud system or good headphones. I had never heard the band before and I just can’t imagine what a live set is like.

I’ve been listening and learning Black Sabbath tracks for fun. After the flood, I had to go through my instruments for damage (just the upright needs some repairs), but they all need some TLC. It’s been exciting to dig back into playing music again after so many years away from it.

 

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“Monkey Love Experiments” (2014), partially based on the Harlow surrogate mother experiments, is a beautiful and beautifully sad short film about a monkey who believes it is going to the moon. There’s an amazing amount of information in this nine-minute film, but it never feels forced. It’s partially filmed in stop-motion, one of my favorite techniques, but it also skillfully blends computer and live-action effects.

 

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Bill Frisell is an astonishing musician and a rarity. He has always seemed in control of his ego and has never been afraid of melody or tenderness or complexity. He’s engaging on recordings and live. Bill Frisell: A Portrait (2017) traces his life and career up to the present.

The Week That Was, or Jackasserie

The post below is originally from Friday, February 23. As we were settling down for the night, we heard running, then rushing water. Within minutes water was pouring out of the ceiling and flooding over my shoes. Parts of the ceiling fell in. No one was physically hurt, but we had to move to a new apartment and the kids will be waiting for another month before we have all of their clothes and toys in order to know if they are too damaged from the water. We were in a hotel for about two weeks. We’re slowly getting life back together. 

I’ve had to abandon several writing projects that I hope to resume as soon as I can. Until then, this may be the last update for a while.

I have to give thanks to family, friends, students, and colleagues who have been patient and helped support us through this. Thank you! 

Also, a big thanks to Elton Ripley, who has been incredibly helpful. We couldn’t have gotten through this process without him.

Here’s what I was writing a few Fridays ago: 

Shorter work weeks feel more difficult than a normal week. It’s like everyone still crams in the same amount of work and expectations over fewer days.

And that’s been most of the week, really. Lots of work and essay grading, which will likely continue for at least a month before reviews start kicking in.

My AP students did an exercise writing descriptive paragraphs that used polysyndeton in one version and asyndeton in another. Then they analyzed how the devices altered the tone and tempo of their writing. Though descriptive writing can be blended into any writing mode, it sure felt like a break reading these in between the various analytical papers we generally write. It’s nice to see a different side of their personality come out in their writing.

I did a random line doodle that turned into a portrait of a donkey. Balthazar? I was once told I was like the Eeyore of faculty meetings. I’m trying!

Balthazar

 

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Bluebeard (1936)

I love stop-motion animation and I had never heard of this one before it turned up on FilmStruck. It’s short, but fun–and extremely violent. I mean it’s like California Raisin gore, but still. It retells the Bluebeard folktale of a powerful, ugly nobleman whose wives have a habit of disappearing. He warns a new wife that she can go anywhere and enjoy any treasure, but to stay away from a chamber in the bottom of the castle.

While not the smoothest animation, Bluebeard has some interesting design concepts and sometimes an interesting use of materials, for example, the cottony fabric used for dust coming off of the roads.

And the quality in some spots is breathtaking, though you can tell that the film stock or stocks that the restoration was done from were damaged. It’s part of a Criterion Collection of Jean Painlevé’s, Science Is Fiction, which features some outstanding short films on underwater subjects like the octopus and sea horse.

The Week That Was, or I Wish the Shoe Fit

This week included speeding tickets, stomach viruses, the stinkiest, and ultimately most inedible, Brussels sprouts ever, and a white-knuckled trip to work in rain, standing water, and without streetlights, among other slight disasters.

My just-turned-four-year-old got a special present of pull-ups for her birthday because of the stomach virus.

Taking care of sick children did allow for a lot of snuggling, watching cartoons, and some reading.

Getting writing done is another story.

I did write a Lost Chords on the heavy metal art book Hellraisers.

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It’s been two decades since I’ve seen Buñuel’s work, with the exceptions of Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age D’Or (1930). These are strange, beautiful films I revisit every year or so, each containing images seared into my visual memory. Well, aural memory, too. Almost every version of Un Chien I’ve seen uses “Tango Argentino.” It’s a piece of music that I hear in my head on a weekly basis. I’m not kidding. Maybe I should have given a warning before that link.

With Viridiana (1961)Buñuel managed to anger not only film censors, but also Franco and the Vatican. There is a fearlessness to his work, even if some argue that some of his metaphors are too obvious. I don’t know. Those images! These films were uncanny and almost incomprehensible when I was a young viewer. I enjoyed and felt transported by that quality. Now I can see the historical and social implications in his work and the films have taken on multiple meanings.

He was asked to change the ending in order to make it less suggestive. Originally, Viridiana goes into her cousin’s room and it is assumed that they are beginning an affair.  [spoiler here] He reshot it and had three characters sit down to play cards, and suggest the beginning of a polygamous relationship among them. And the censors okayed that ending! Cojones, Buñuel!

There are a several films I’ve missed by him (Robinson Crusoe?) and I’m hoping to dig into his work more formerly over the next year or so.

 

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Tom Hart’s How to Say Everything is a fantastic addition to the art/craft/storytelling shelf. Seriously. I found it as smart and warm as it is inspiring. I’m hoping to take a class at his Gainesville school, The Sequential Art Workshop (SAW), and who knows, maybe I could develop some online classes in literary content that he wants the school to have? I’ve been trying to establish a creative writing class for years and there just doesn’t seem to be money available to make that happen in the public schools where I work. But then again, it would be great to do some sort of film, philosophy, literature, or mythology course for these students. SAW’s website includes some free resources among other cool items.

I read excerpts from Hart’s Rosalie Lightning, his most famous work, several years ago and I just can’t read it in its entirety right now. I had a baby almost the age of Rosalie when I started reading it, and I knew the background story from a friend who teaches at SAW sometimes. What I read was beautiful and painful. The book is about the deepest love and loss that may be possible. I am planning on reading some of his lighter work, though, and I’ll read Rosalie some day.

 

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I ignored Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead initially because of the oxen-like contrariness I seem to have about something I hear about too much in popular culture. Finally, after so many people I respect had mentioned this, including Ashley M. Jones, I decided to check it out.

Smith’s work is confrontational, political, personal, and can somehow be serious and seriously funny at the same time. Their use of form in this book is fantastic–styles that work against the traditional stage or page dichotomy. These are poems that live on the breath and breathe on the page.

 

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Delaine is awesome. Not My Small Diary is a series that she has edited for more than two decades now, while also doing her own autobio comics series My Small Diary. I was so excited to get this one because I’ve been a fan of the the series and the “unexplained” since before I could read. I had more than one Time Life collection on oddities, and for a brief period I had cable which made Monster Quest a great way to start a weekend.

The bittersweet center of this collection is that within days of getting mine it became known that longtime contributor (he’s possibly in every anthology in the series) and all-around cool comix guy Mark Campos took his own life. Unlike a lot of contributors and fans of this series who knew him personally, I can’t say that, but I can say that I deeply enjoyed his work and his contribution was always one of the first that I read. His work reminded me of some of my favorites from MAD (Aragones, Jaffee, etc.), and while he could be funny, he also took that cartoon style and fused it with so many disparate influences, and wound it through his own perspective, moods, and tones.

He is missed.