Antonin Artaud’s To Have Done With the Judgment of God

The production of Antonin Artaud’s To Have Done With the Judgement of God that I did in Boston about 20 years ago with the great John Voigt and Billy Barnum is now featured on Open Culture along with a rare audio version of the play, OpenCulture has long been my favorite resource for rare and fascinating videos. check out the site. You wont believe the treasure archived there.

 

 

http://www.openculture.com/2014/09/antonin-artauds-censored-never-aired-radio-play.html

 

Copper and Gold – demos for new album

I will be taking  a break from reviewing movies for a couple weeks in order to write and record demos for my new album, Copper and Gold.  For those of you who like music, the links to the demos  will be posted  here each day for the next two weeks.  Here is the first one:

Stuck in the Was

http://fawm.org/songs/54490/

an asteroid is on a collision course with earth. spaceships are ready to take the population to a safe planet. but something is stopping the earthlings from leaving. they are stuck in the was.

and the second

Unforgivably Dumb (The Madwoman of Iowa)

http://fawm.org/songs/54680/

The Republicans should dump all their candidates and nominate Hillary Clinton. The there will be no Trump or Cruz to point a finger at, and Sanders can run against Clinton in a fair fight and we will have a chance to find who the country really wants..Hillary or Bernie. and if Hillary were on the Republican ticket, she wouldn’t have to lie about plans for war in Syria and non-taxable profits on Wall Street.

and the third

Andy’s Gotta Go

http://fawm.org/songs/55062/

This history of rock and roll is rife with tales of musicians who have been forced by management to kick their friends out of the band. This song eavesdrops on a manager telling his client to do such a thing, as the times are changing and solo acts are faring better than duos who front a band. The era is one in which many glam rockers found it commercially advantageous to drop the drag act and affect a more masculine image.

and the fourth
A Lifetime to Cry
Country music used to deal with some heavy subjects. This is my attempt at writing one of those songs that walks a tightrope between the maudlin and the truly heartbreaking.

 

song #5
http://fawm.org/songs/55951/

Memphis Cadillac

I began this song as a response to a friend who argued that you cant sell an old fashioned country song, that the market today is limited to the current styles dominating the country charts. From there, the song took some unexpected turns.

Let those Titties Be
towards the end of the song, i found the sound on the harmonica i was reaching for. can you guess what the sound is supposed to represent?
song #7
my son, my son
song #8
Get a LittleSlower
stomp along to these snapshots from the life of a man on the run..who is slowing down.
song #9
Lily Tree

 Everybody knows that lilies don’t grow on trees. Until this song, there has never been such a thing. But the idea of a lily tree now exists, and perhaps someday someone will go looking for one. And eventually, a lily tree will be sighted. The belief in a lily tree will grow. Other will sing about the tree, give it properties, perhaps even magical properties.

http://fawm.org/songs/56881/

 

 

 

Song #10

Layla (Her Name Was)

I always loved the songs Hank Williams wrote in the character of Luke the Drifter, so I wrote one that Luke might have written were he walking around in this day and age.

 

http://fawm.org/songs/57065/

 

This song is not about evolution. It is about housing, migrant labor, and camouflage.

song #11

14 songs in 28 days. What are you waiting for… inspiration?
FAWM.ORG

Song #12

14 songs in 28 days. What are you waiting for… inspiration?
FAWM.ORG

Song #13
http://fawm.org/songs/57773/
This one is a love song/

14 songs in 28 days. What are you waiting for… inspiration?
FAWM.ORG 

 

 

Song #14

http://fawm.org/songs/58101/

Cold Cambridge Streets

Father wants to take daughter to the places where he grew up, but those places have changed beyond recognition, and he realizes it is more important to know where you are than where you have been.

 

 

song #15
http://fawm.org/songs/58456/
theme for an imaginary james bond adventure
THIS CITY THAT KILLED ME TWICE

 

 

song #16
The Suffering Earth

song #18

Here is the final song of my song cycle, “Copper and Gold.” Having slogged through some of the sadder aspects of human life, we elevate ourselves in the end to a more optimistic outlook. I hope you have enjoyed taking this journey with me, and I would love to hear your comments.

14 songs in 28 days. What are you waiting for… inspiration?
FAWM.ORG

Capsule Reviews of Five New Movies

 

 

LISTEN TO ME MARLON

Comprised mostly of old television news and interview clips, scenes from movies and  their promotional materials, “Listen To Me Marlon” falls short of its claim to be the first unveiling  of hundreds of hours of  Marlon Brando’s personal audio tapes.  It is not an entirely fraudulent claim, as much of the film’s narration is taken from these tapes, but it does not, as did “Kurt Cobain: About a Son,”  use the subject’s voice as the primary audio source.  Nonetheless, there are so many fascinating sound bites here that the film is a must-see-and-hear for fans of the legendary actor.  One of his more thought provoking statements is the admission that, yes, he is a great actor, but only because he allows the audience to do the acting for him.  Even though much of the footage has been seen before, it is a pleasure to see it again, all collected into one place, and given a form based in part on Brando’s own musings.

 

 

 

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

Yet another fictionalized version of an existent documentary, this tale of US manipulation of a Bolivian presidential election is recommended for those who still resist the idea that America’s own elections are rigged.  Sandra Bullock in even more of a space cadet here than in “Gravity,” giving a performance that belongs in a better movie, and comes off  here as an off-the-wall case of disassociation.  Billy Bob Thornton is lazy as usual, one of so many contemporary character  actors who get by on  nothing but an ugly face.  The movie was  interesting despite its being a mess, and a cause for wondering why gringos are  unable to make gripping political dramas set in Central and South America, such as “Missing” and  “Salvador,”  anymore.

SISTERS

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are very funny in “Sisters,” a rare case of a vulgar, immature comedy dominated by a feminine sensibility, which means there is more vomiting than masturbating.  It’s not bad until the party-that-never-ends scene  that kills the themes hinted at during the early exposition.  So we don’t get much insight into the party girl / smarty girl role reversal experiment.  Instead, a lot of drunk adults play at being drunk teenagers. Surprisingly, when the parents come home to find their house and property destroyed, they don’t seem angry at all.  I guess sometimes destruction is a  motivation toward reconciliation.

The Peanuts Movie

This comic strip was an American institution fifty years ago. I am surprised that it still connects with people today. It is a testament to the power of universal themes.  I don’t like the replacement of stick drawings with rubbery flesh inflated with helium, but that is the way of the modern cartoon (if we are still allowed to call them cartoons).  The pretty red-head girl to whom Charlie Brown is fatally attracted is always shown from the behind.  What is it that makes all of us crave so desperately to see her face?

CAROL

A major disappointment from director Todd Haynes, this rudimentary and uninteresting lesbian soap opera has none of the charge of the Douglas Sirk melodramas Haynes claims to have inspired him. Both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara turn in dull performances that make one long for Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn, who were so much more sympathetic in the unfairly maligned “The Children’s Hour.”  Although set in the 1950’s, much of the art direction suggests the previous decade, which might have been a better choice to give a historical  dimension to its thin story.  An early scene, in which Mara feels  a  perplexed reaction to her first stirrings of same sex attraction, suggests what the film might have been had it focused  more on the inner lives of characters who are  trying to understand desires for which there is no book of social manners upon which to organize one’s actions.

 

Movie Review:”Incendies” – the lethal instability of modern barbarism

 

 

A modern odyssey into a land that hasn’t changed since Biblical days, “Incendies” unravels an ancient tragedy from the point of view of its descendants.  At the bidding of their mother Nawal’s (Lubna Azabal)  will, twins Jeanne (Melissa Desomeaux Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) are sent on a quest to deliver posthumous letters to a father who has been believed to be dead and a brother  they did not know existed.  As Jeanne uncovers and follows  Nawal’s  footprints, a parallel narrative offers an objective view of Nawal’s life, giving the viewer the double perspective of the investigative daughter and confessional mother. Simon is out of the picture for the first half of the story, as he despises his mother so much that he refuses to comply with her last wishes, leaving his sister to accomplish what was intended as their dual mission.

The film opens with a savage vista outside contemporary windows, setting  up the visual dichotomy between the worlds of the children and the mother.  An air of lethal instability  is telegraphed through the mentally unbalanced music of Radiohead, with Thom York’s wavering voice gently nudging us to the precipice of madness. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who adapted the script from Wajdi Mouawad’s play,  wastes no time in shoving our faces into the barbarism of the Pakistani family code, as we see the young Nawal and her lover chased by her two brothers, who shoot the man point blank and are about to do the same to their sister when their mother intercedes.

Seldom has  the  mindlessly vicious use of firearms been displayed on the screen with such  finality.  In one of the most brutal scenes, a bus driver is taken from the bus and murdered by  right-wing Christian  terrorists who then open fire on its occupants.  Three survivors cower inside while gasoline is poured over the top of the bus, where it drizzles through an opening in the roof.  The suspense is anguishing.  The human terror is even worse.  There is plenty of torture and killing in “Incendies,” but the horror is not in graphic depiction, but in the imprint they make upon the viewer’s mind. Villeneuve invites us, not to observe, but to contemplate.

The film also sticks its pins into us through the primeval fear of other people.  When Simon finally joins Jeanne on the quest, there is a scene in which two strangers come to his door, telling him to come with them for an hour, that they want to help him.  The anxiety of his getting into the car with these people is unbearable, because we have seen the lack of respect for human life in their society, and the slightest misunderstanding could result in sudden death.  Another scene simply depicts Jeanne crossing a bridge between the Northern and Southern sectors.  People walk intrepidly in both directions, armed soldiers poised in readiness to shoot. Unlike Hitchcock, Villeneuve does not  tinker with audience anxiety. He shoots the scene without artifice, knowing the situation alone is enough to unsettle us.

Azabal and Poulin  are so psychically convincing as mother and daughter that at times their identities mingle.  Both actresses give strong performances in roles that must convey both a sense of heroism and victimization. As the mostly absent Simon, Gaudette has a simpler time of it, but manages to convey  the internal bitterness  of the abandoned child with a quiet lack of fortitude.

Unlike some movies that have exploited anti-Muslim sentiment to instill a sense of outrage in their audience, “Incendies” shows us that it is not the Muslim religion that so incenses the civilized spirit, but the barbarism on all sides of every border that is responsible for making an inferno of Eden.  It is this sickening, violent world in which hatred  escalates with every retaliatory strike that breaks Villeneuve’s heart.  And his film may break your heart as well.

Movie Review: “The Revenant” or “Man in the Wilderness Redux”

 

 

When “Man in the Wilderness” opened at the Seattle Seventh Avenue on November 24, 1971, it wasn’t on the list of movies I wanted to see. Instead, I went to Nicolas Roeg’s “Walkabout,” Frank Zappa’s “200 Motels,” and Milos Forman’s “Taking Off.”  There were plenty of other options in Seattle that weekend, including David Lean’s latest, “Ryan’s Daughter,” as well as revivals of his “Doctor Zhivago” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”  A few suburban second run houses had triple features of the first three “Planet of the Apes” movies, and The Crest, right outside the city limits, offered the blockbuster double feature of “West Side Story” and “Around the World in 80 Days” for just 50 cents.

There was nothing about “Man in the Wilderness” that appealed to me.  And nobody in the industry or the press was treating it as anything special. Reviews were poor.  Howard Thompson, in the New York Times, judged it “a flat, pretentious bore,” while John Hartl of the Seattle Times called it “an entertainment for masochists.”  It ran for three weeks downtown, then “Diamonds are Forever” replaced it.  Unlike most popular features, it didn’t go straight to the second run theaters, but disappeared for six weeks before popping up at the drive-ins.

It seemed like an odd movie to be given an $120 million dollar remake forty-five years later, but  2008 had seen a $45 million remake of a piece of drive-in schlock called  “Death Race 2000,” which had been made in 1975 for “$300,000, so it was pretty obvious who was running the asylum in this new century.  Directing this remake of an insignificant adventure yarn from 1971 was Alejandro González Iñárritu, who had won an Oscar for directing 2014’s best picture, “Birdman.” So this was not going to be any run of the mill remake flop-a-rama.  “The Revenant” was a designer package.

And for the first ten minutes, it looks like it might be a successful one.  Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography promises something grand and epic on the scale of  his work on Terrence Malick’s “The New World.” But after the massacre of the fur traders by the Indians, that scale shrinks.  The cinematography loses its grandeur as the fabulous landscapes are compromised by the cameraman’s intermittent exotropia, and we are running through the claustrophobic backstage of  “Birdman” once more.   Had the director coordinated his mise en scene with the lazy-eyed drift of the camera,  he might have achieved something along the lines of a wilderness version of Hitchcock’s “Rope,” but this is nothing but myopic eye candy.  From this point on, there is nothing worth watching here.

“Man in the Wilderness “opened with a sudden, shocking, and bloody attack by a bear.  About  20 minutes into “The Revenant,” we get a very bad imitation of that scene.  It is much longer, much bloodier, and far less frightening. In fact, its protracted length and exaggerated gore pushes it into a semi-comedic zone.  I mean, you can only watch this stuff for so long before you start laughing at it. And when it is all over, and the victim left for dead, the sense of absurdity remains, hovering over the rest of the film as a reminder of how idiotic this oh-so serious rigmarole really is.

This is a movie that bullies the audience into liking it. You might be slobbering all over your popcorn as you snore away, but when you drag open your eyelids, its hard to  argue with those formidable landscapes, especially as you have read that everything was shot with natural light.  But what does that mean anyway?  I’ll bet they plastered those mountains and riverbeds with millions of dollars worth of high-tech reflectors. And what about the digital manipulation of the images in post-production?  A lot of expensive work went into the manufacture of   images this stylized. They don’t just appear after a session of point and shoot. Personally, I preferred the soft focus naturalism of Gerry Fisher’s  excellent work on “Man in the Wilderness”  to this unnaturally sharp and over-defined stuff.   That old 1971 programmer is looking better every minute.

Yeah, but what about  the superhuman endurance that Leonardo DiCaprio displays as he crawls out of the grave, drags himself across the ice, and down a deadly waterfall?  Well,  it just  proves if you are a big, lumbering man with abnormal features covered in mud, filth, and blood, who takes up more screen space than he deserves that he can pass himself off as the new Orson Welles.  While I don’t  think much of DiCaprio as an actor, his screen presence has never bothered me. I liked him in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and thought he was fine in “Titanic.”  But until he became Martin Scorsese’s #1 leading man, many held him as an object of much scorn .  Then, they must have thought if Scorsese liked him so much, he must be a great actor, not taking into account the possibility that the acclaimed director was now in his dotage. But even without Scorsese’s endorsement, DiCaprio’s presence in the dreadfully popular “Inception,” would have clinched it.  Now he is almost universally accepted as a great actor, and it will surprise many if he does not receive an Oscar for limping his way through “The Revenant.” It would have been considered ridiculous had Richard  Harris been nominated for an Oscar for the same role in 1971, when the competition included Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, Dustin Hoffman, and John Voigt.  There were even some eyebrows raised when John Wayne walked off with the award.  This year, with Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Matt Damon, and Eddie Redmayne as his competition, there is no reason whatsoever not to give the prize to DiCaprio. Face it, it’s been a long time since an Oscar was awarded for an Oscar-calibre performance.

 

So what is this movie supposed to be about?  Well,  revenant is  French for a person who returns, usually from the dead. Herein lies the film’s ambiguity, and the one aspect of the film that engaged my mind, though not enough to keep me from from falling asleep several times during its duration.  If he is dead then at what point did he die? After the bear attack? or was he dead from the start? Or did he only die toward the end, shortly before the remark that he was not  afraid of death, as he had already been there. Of course, the line can also be interpreted metaphorically, and he was alive right up until the end. The  French definition gives us this out when it says the return is usually from the dad. It reminded me of an M. Night Shyamalan con, coasting on ambiguity until reaching a revelation that is supposed to make you think the movie is a lot better than you thought it was.

And maybe it is better than it looks to me.  I’m so far out of time that I even remember a world before rock and roll existed.  When I look at a movie like this, I’m  like some guy from the silent era looking at sound films in the thirties and whining about the art of film being lost.  Or some WWII vet who thinks movies look more realistic in black and white than in color. I’m sure that people raised in the video age are thrilled at the clarity of the Blu-ray, and a 35 mm screening of  “Man in the Wilderness” would look like an old dated piece of crap that wasn’t even worth looking at.  Probably would feel the same about “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.”   So maybe, from the timely perspective of  the audience   for “The Revenant,”  I am uselessly imposing a dated aesthetic upon today’s cutting edge masterpiece.

One thing remains that bothers me. If Iñárritu is such a genius, what impels him to remake a mediocre wilderness picture from 1971? And what is it about his version that makes him believe it was worth $120 million of other people’s money to produce it?  Certainly there were flaws in the original, from a soundtrack that liberally steals from Jerry Fielding’s score for “The Wild Bunch” to Richard Harris’ hair that is impervious to dirt. But there were also some exquisite scenes, such as Harris placing a splint alongside a rabbit’s broken foot, or Harris’ arm falling limply into the flowing river after he falls exhausted down a slope. And even though neither film has much dialogue, the screenplay of “Man in the Wilderness” is constructed of definite scenes that lead us through place and time.  Even though it was filmed in Spain, we feel the movement from the Pacific Northwest across the mountains and plains to the Missouri River.  With “The Revenant,”  we have no sense of place. It just drags us shapelessly from no place to nowhere.

Even considering the geographical changes in the script from both the historical narrative upon which it is based and the settings for the Richard Harris film, director Iñárritu fails to place the action of  “The Revenant” into correspondant locations. The opening scene depicts an attack on the trappers from the Arikara, who were Indians of the Great Plains, living mainly in Nebraska and South Dakota.  But the scenes are filmed far North in Canada, and look it. Furthermore, DiCaprio’s character was married to and had a child by a Pawnee Indian, who would have lived along the Missouri River in either  Kansas or Nebraska. I have been to those places and they look nothing like the film’s locations.   Apologists for “The Revenant” may argue that the film takes place in some allegorial, metaphorical, or symbolic realm and that the topography represents a cosmology of the spirit.  To that, and to all those who use poetic licence as a  subterfuge for nonsense, I echo Antonin Artaud’s cry of “Shit to the Spirit!”  This movie is nothing but a wallow in the physical prison of death-in-life, and it teeters in the balance between gangrene and amputation.

“Get Ready for your close-up, Barbara” John Ford’s Use of Barbara Stanwyck in “the Plough and the Stars”

 

 

barbara-blogathon

Facial expression is the most subjective manifestation of man, more subjective

even than speech, for vocabulary and grammar are subject to more or

less universally valid rules and conventions, while the play of features, as has

already been said, is a manifestation not governed by objective canons, even

though it is largely a matter of imitation. This most subjective and individual

of human manifestations is rendered objective in the close-up.  (Hungarian film theorist Béla

Balázs)

 

plough and the stars

 

John Ford’s 1936 film of  “The Plough and the Stars” discards most of Sean O’Casey’s play in favor of emphasizing the conflict between pacifist Nora and her soldier husband Jack. Much of Barbara Stanwyck’s performance as Nora is built on Ford’s use of close-ups. The close up is generally a reaction shot, which is perfect for Nora, as her experience of war and its threat to her domestic life is almost wholly reactive. Conversations with her husband are limited to brief exchanges on the order of :

Nora: Nothing matters but us.

Jack: There are things more important than us. I learned that by watching my comrades die.

Ford and Stanwyck succeed in making more profound statements than this without the impediments of dialogue.  In the opening scene, Nora takes a slow turn toward the camera after reading a handbill calling for volunteers to fight for the Irish Republics. Her eyes are filled with questions; her expression one of disbelief.  Returning to her apartment, she offers her husband a penny for his thoughts.  He does not comply, on the basis that his thoughts would not interest her. Her only concern is that their marriage be foremost in his thoughts, so she puts on a happy face to please him. But glancing out the window, she catches sight of a messenger on a bicycle.  Her reaction as she closes the curtains is one of extreme fear.

“What is the matter?” her husband asks.

“Nothing,” she lies.

Nora’s father had been killed in the war, and she cannot dislodge the fear that her husband will not return if he leaves her now.  He complains that her attitude makes him ashamed of her, and that it is man’s duty to fight.  “You’ll do the fighting,” she answers.  “The weeping will be for the women.”  Jack leaves, and Nora’s pleading looks go slack.  Ford captures the desolate emptiness in a close up that spells absolute defeat.

The chaos of war follows, with a distraught Nora tossed among children carrying rifles, citizens caught up in the frenzy of looting, and patriots inspired by speeches and the call to arms.   Everyone except Nora is inspired by a blood-thirsty optimism, and Ford steals a moment from the mob to capture her horror turning to tears as she looks away from the spectacle.

“The women of Ireland must learn to be brave,” she is told.

“They are all cowards,” she answers.  Ford goes in for a close up of unabated anger. “Do you think they all want to die?” Nora screams, but the scream is in her expression, not the volume of her voice. She cannot understand any of it.  Men dying, women in mourning. Even for those whose husbands are still alive are in mourning, for their deaths are imminent.

“Why not just walk away?”  she wonders.

Ingmar Bergman has said that cinema is a study of the human face. This wasn’t as true for John Ford as it was for Bergman, but in “The Plough and the Stars,” he and Barbara Stanwyck told us more about war through close-ups of the human face than Sean O ‘Casey said in his four acts of  staged dialogue.