I've put my newly acquired long-distance vision eyewear (for watching TV from across the room, night driving, inclement weather driving, not for reading or computer work... yet) to good use watching a small smorgasbord of films. Started off with Kurosawa's Rashomon- its fractured, modernist, self-cancelling narrative making it my favorite Kurosawa after High and Low- then moved on to a rather allegorical late-fifties horror drive-in double feature: Irvin Yeaworth's The Blob and Arthur Crabtree's Fiend Without a Face. The former features conformity as a gelatinous, ever-enlarging form that attempts to swallow an American small town whole; the latter features the Deadly Human Mind (a mind capable of conjuring the grim specter of nuclear warfare!) as disembodied human brains, complete with attached spinal-cord "tail," crawling rapidly on the ground like spiders and leaping at the necks of people who just don't know when to shut down the atomic military installation. These things work because they were obviously made with the most energy and wit the filmmakers could muster; the special effects seem cheesy now, of course, but luckily (?) we have the postmodernist prism to look at them through. It doesn't matter that your disembodied brains look like Claymation (though they're still pretty damn creepy, if you ask me) or your blob looks like melted Jell-O when they're only mediating signifiers on the way to things people apparently couldn't speak or even think of openly back then.

I then went on to D.A. Pennebaker's gorgeous Daybreak Express- music by Duke Ellington- which was released on the same 1958 bill as Ronald Neame's The Horse's Mouth. It was shot on New York's 3rd Street El before they tore it down, and it's absolutely beautiful. It appears to have been shot at an exact daybreak magic hour, and we basically ride the train from its farthest point of origin to its farthest point of arrival, with the city just shimmering in the orange-saturated dawn. It's transporting on every level; it's everything a short film should be.

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to split the bill and watch the feature tomorrow, as it's nighty-night time now, time to crawl under the covers and devour a few more chapters of Margaret Atwood; full report forthcoming upon completion.


"I mean, I guess we all have that Barton Fink feeling, but since you're Barton Fink, I'm assuming you have it in spades."

I'm watching the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink, which has become, over time, my favorite Coen Brothers film. I think it's gone up through the ranks in direct proportion to my own timeline of vocational discovery (I'm a writer, too. Just like Barton Fink!). I think it really nails... something, something very accurate, about the state of being a writer. Or states, I should say: The emotional state, the physical state, your societal status, your relationship to the world around you. It's hardly a pretty or glamorous thing- their brilliant inclusion of the washed-up-drunk Faulkner figure is no accident.

It's also a movie about writers and films. It's about Louis Mayer. It's about Old Hollywood. It's about the (Old) New American Theater. It's a cosmic goof on film narrative itself; it was playing Adaptation's metafictional game before there was an Adaptation. It's a movie shamelessly geared towards culture-lovers; if you haven't read, read about, or otherwise heard of The Day of the Locust, Sullivan's Travels, or the whole Faulkner-goes-to-Hollywood debauchery, you won't be entirely able to tap into this particular juggernaut. I'm enough of a film geek that Barton was actually my introduction to all of those things; I knew there was something there, so I dug in, did a little research, went to the sources. Over time, the pieces fell into place, the gaps in my own frame of reference. Now, it's all come full circle; I can watch the film with delight and amazement.

Why research? Doesn't that take the "fun" out of it? Absolutely not. I've come to the point in my writing and filmgoing and general obession with popular culture to feel thusly: If you're going to come down with this sickness, this fever, at least do it right. If you don't "get" something, don't attack the creator; find the chinks in your cultural armor and fill 'em in. If this is where you derive pleasure, if this is your favored topic of thought, analysis, and discussion, take it as far as you can, and try to push it further. If you're one of the truly devoted, lazy head-scratching won't even occur to you as an option. These days of instant messaging and the Web and e-mail don't have to just spell the end of literacy and personal/social communication skills; they can also mean that nobody has to be culturally illiterate, ever again. The number of people who share my excitement over this is bound to be underwhelming, of course, but I know they're out there...

The ending of Barton Fink. Q: "Are you in pictures?" A: "Don't be silly." It is sheer, sheer narrative perfection, perfect tone, perfect closure. It resonates, it gratifies every impulse the film has, it accomplishes everything it's reaching for. It's one of the purest movie climaxes I can think of.


Good god, I've let this thing slide... it's literally been weeks since I posted. Oh, well... I've found a new posting obession over at Xixax.com, a forum for cinephiles. There have been a few heated spats about some of the time-wasting that goes on there, particularly of the misogynistic and homophobic sorts. And I don't use those words lightly; I have an excellent sense of humor and consider myself quite politically incorrect when it comes to that. But some of the shit there was completely without mirth, leaving the impression that the hateful posters were trying to keep the board a sort of exclusive, "let's dis fags and talk about hot chicks" affair, when they should know that's impossible; every afficionado of stereotype realizes that the gays love movies! Anyways, I've been posting there so much, it's starting to cut into my other time, which is scary. I don't wanna become one of those Internet losers, spending so much time online that my head is full of pointless junk and my eyes have black circles... must try to cut down.

I guess I'm just lonely for people to talk to about film since leaving Portland for Seattle. In Portland, I had film-fanatic friends I could discuss and argue and watch movies with, and I never realized how lucky I was until living here. I'm sure Seattle is full of cinephiles; I just haven't found them yet. I'll have to make that a point. God, it's like being in high school. "Find new friends." That's why it's so hard; it's one of those things that you feel should be so simple and sort of happen by itself, it's embarrassing that you have to make a point of it. I have some prospects, but we'll see how they work out.

The whole situation was crystallized for me this weekend, when I attempted to watch The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover,- one of my favorites of all time- with my partner, Jason, and he fell asleep within the first half hour. I've learned that being with someone whose taste is exactly the same as yours is a) impossible, and b) would actually be either boring or horrifying if it were to ever come about, but now I'm also learning that c) you've got to develop those outside interests in a more full way than I have been if you don't want to find yourself "appreciating" dozens of movies alone, with nobody to share it with. Maybe that's an inbuilt tension of cinephilia; watching a film, like reading a novel or really being an audience member of most things with the possible exception of rock 'n roll, is an inherently solitary experience. But the feeling you get when your solitary experience seems to match closely with someone else's is, I imagine, what political solidarity must have felt like back when people still believed in the saving grace of such things.

I just finished reading Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex, which is really wonderful, comparable in scope and feeling to Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. It's been a good few years for books, at least from my perspective. Also book-related: I saw Margaret Atwood get Q&A'd at UW by a really awful Seattle radio talk-show lady (I use the term "lady" for this person because, compared to the ribald and brassy Atwood, she seemed terribly stuffy, self-serious, and humorless). Atwood was promoting her new novel, Oryx and Crake (I'd missed her when she came to Portland to read at Powell's when promoting Alias Grace in 1996 and have always regretted it). It was a fun evening. Atwood, in person, is a sardonic, yarn-spinning comedienne. Audience Q&A was best, though. The audience was, of course, full of very young lit students, and her responses to their questions were sometimes knee-slapping. To wit: A young woman who identified herself as a "young female Canadian studying in the U.S." asked what advice Atwood had for her. Atwood: "When I was a young female Canadian writer in the early sixties, things were different. You felt the weight of all these 'genius' males- Hemingway, Faulkner- on you, and you were made to feel presumptuous. Now, there have been great women writers. Young women are surrounded by people and groups who will say nice things and encourage them. I'm thinking of starting a DIScouragement group." A young woman of about 19: "What, if anything, do you think we can take hope in in these terrible times?" Atwood: "You must not have lived through the Blitz! I grew up saving rubber bands, tinfoil, and bacon grease. People find ways. You'd be surprised."

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