The last post seems lost forever, but life goes on...

Two things heavy on my mind recently: Politics and overstimulation.

I’m nearly through Sidney Blumenthal’s The Clinton Wars (Blumenthal was, of course, Clinton’s senior aide and a central figure in the Lewinsky scandal). It’s very partisan, naturally, but having been born and braised in a very right-wing household, I recognized the blind naivete and self-righteous hypocrisy driving the best of Clinton’s would-be destroyers (and the hatred and puerility driving the worst, like Tom DeLay and that unparalleled, unabashed liar and would-be destroyer of a truly united states, Ann Coulter), and the fact that these people are currently riding high in our government and in our increasingly radical rightist media has me committed to becoming more politically active, whether it’s dropping a postcard to Wal-Mart to commend them for decently expanding their anti-discrimination policies to cover sexual orientation to backing Dennis Kucinich, the only Democratic Presidential candidate whose policies on the issues seem really compelling. Politics can be a false substitute for the religiously inclined from all over the political spectrum, but it’s gotten to the point that being as uninvolved as I’ve been (I draw a distinction between that and apathy; I’ve always been verbally passionate and as intellectually engaged as possible in sociopolitical issues, with a paucity of action) has started to feel too nihilistic for my personality and thus more difficult than just trying to take political action in some form, however insignificant and futile it may seem.

I’m going to keep my fingers tightly crossed for Kucinich, my favorite of the candidates so far. If worse comes to worse, I’ll gladly vote Howard Dean. If it came down to Kerry vs. Bush... Well, let’s not be quite so fatalistic just yet!

As far as the overstimulation goes, I’m going to risk characterizing myself as a prissy worrywart by flat-out admitting that I’m concerned about my attention span. I’m a rerun addict, and though I’ll defend television as a medium ‘til the day I die, I’ve come to the conclusion that TV programming has to be kept under control if you want your mind to remain reasonably fit (I don’t include watching films under the same umbrella). My TV ratio is, I believe, the problem. I’m going to make it my goal for the summer to, say, maybe only watch one of the three available Simpsons reruns a day, and use the hour I save to read something that will expand my frame of reference and keep my thought-juices flowing. Probably a very bourgeois aspiration (at least it is according to Steven Malkmus as interviewed by Dennis Cooper in All Ears, Cooper’s essay collection that I’ve been desultorily reading, as appearances would indicate the author intended), but at this point, it feels too important to worry too much about categorizing the impulse. For a worthwhile project- which I suppose is the craving at the root of all my newfound resolve- I could do worse, I think.

On the headphones at this very moment: Pulp’s brilliant, sweeping epic “Wickerman,” from the We Love Life album. It may very well be the finest song they’ve ever done. The increasingly lost Neil Labute is apparently directing the remake of the slightly campy but also disturbing English cult film of the same name... “Follow it on for miles and miles, below other people’s ordinary lives...” How do great songwriters (Jarvis Cocker in this case, of course) come up with these few words that just ripple in our souls and our minds?

Nonfiction has not only been the order of the day in what I’ve been reading (I went straight from Jonathan Franzen’s How to Be Alone to the Blumenthal book), but also when whetting my frighteningly incorrigible cinematic appetite.

Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad, a documentary comprised (composed, in this case?) of film shot during the 1964 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, is unlike any other documentary I’ve ever seen. The words “documentary film” bring to mind shaky camerawork, grainy film with bad lighting, direct sound; visual and aural aesthetics forced into second place by the on-the-run rigors of being out in the field shooting a moving, unpredictable subject. Documentaries are made in the editing room, as they say. But an event like the Olympics is a sitting duck for the camera, and Ichikawa’s doesn’t capture so much as it meditates, and on such a grand, symmetrical, precise visual scale, too; if you can’t quite wrap your mind around the concept of a Kubrickian documentary, just give this a viewing. It’s runs very long, almost 3 hours, but it’s so enrapturing that the time just flies by.

Peter Davis’s Hearts and Minds, from 1974, is a sobering reminder of American imperialism and paranoia that couldn’t be more timely today. Although some worry is obviously warranted after 9/11, the need for an enemy and the relentlessness of certain types of people and politicians as a result may, it’s implied, be a constant of American policy. The arrogance and willful ignorance of those behind the costly, wasteful American invasion of Vietnam- and they brazenly display it for the camera, here- is teeth-clenching. And I’m afraid the current administration is a barely disguised, warmed-over version of Nixon Republicanism. In any case, this one really resonated with me.

Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog is another one that, like Ichikawa’s film, completely escapes anything expected in terms of look or feel. The late Sacha Vierny’s camera (laterally gliding shots virtually identical to the memorable same from The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover can be spotted by the cinephilic eye) wanders over the chillingly gorgeous ruins of Nazi concentration camps as the diligently astute text of novelist Jean Cayrol is read over it; the film was made only 10 years after the camps were full of victims.


On a somewhat lighter note, the Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens, from 1976. This could have come off very expose-like, with the cameras detailing for us the squalor of a couple of once-beautiful, once-prominent American aristocrats (Edith Bouvier Beale and “Little Edie” Beale, her daughter and cousin of Jackie Kennedy, who famously rescued their home from condemnation with some charitable spring-cleaning). Instead, it’s an affectionate paen to this somewhat (charmingly) demented duo. The fact that the behavior of the two women suggests a dilapidated, finally sad sitcom (when she’s not feverishly philosiphizing, Little Edie gripes perpetually at her recalcitrant mother about her missed life opportunities, creating a hilarious, snippy banter that does little to disguise either the Psycho-ish Freudian horror or the real familial love underlying it). The Maysles come off not as exploitative interlopers, but as friends who drop by and take home movies, providing a little desperately needed contact with “outside” people.” There’s actually something very compelling about the Edies’ way of keeping that icky “outside” world at bay, perhaps because, judged solely on that aspiration, they’re unqualified successes.

Breaking with my own hermetic tendencies, I actually left the house to catch Jeffrey Blitz’s much-discussed Spellbound, a documentary about eight teenagers from unique and disparate backgrounds who make it to the Washington, D.C. finals of the National Spelling Bee. Could Terminator 3 or 2 Fast, 2 Furious possibly be as riveting and nail-biting as watching these poor, brave kids sweat it out in front of the judges as they grasp for those damnedly elusive consonants and vowels that could spell victory or defeat? I really doubt it. The film is about so much more than the contest, though; it’s also a wonderful glimpse into the different socioeconomic backgrounds of these kids (“America’s future,” as we’re so fond of calling them), at times recalling Michael Apted’s 7 Up series.

In the time it’s taken me to actually come to the conclusion of this post, I’ve finished the Blumenthal book and am on to W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, the extraordinary layout of which would have been the inspiration for the visual layout of this particular blog entry... except it seems I can't get any of the pictures I would've liked to include to work on this goddamn thing. Believe me, talking about the problems of creating a blog on my blog is not the sort of self-reflexiveness I find enjoyable in the slightest.

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