Monday, June 27, 2011

Black Metallic

One of the best of the "shoe gazer" genre. I love how this song builds and soars.....



I selected the "audio only" version because this is a song best set to YOUR imagination, not a video director's (though the official video did grab my attention in places).

Friday, June 24, 2011

Remembering 97 GTR

Back in the late 80s/'90 I often found myself laying rubber to the guitar and metal crunch of Miami's WGTR 97.3 FM. It was an Album Oriented Rock (AOR) station in a market already crowded with 'em. 97 GTR focused more on the rock of the day than obscure Crosby, Stills, & Nash like competitor Zeta 4, though. Along with the expected hair band fluff of Warrant and Poison, GTR played Joe Satriani and even Donald Fagen and Midge Ure tracks.

The music suited me, but it was the station's personalities who made it so much fun. Herman and McBean (formerly of competitor 103 SHE) did the morning show. It was actually funny. Steve Stansell, a very personable sounding guy, did evenings. Scott "Guitar Balls" Chapin lent his voice to just about everything (and guaranteed you've heard him somewhere, as he's done spots and voiceovers for many TV and radio stations around the country). GTR portrayed a party atmosphere that was infectious, and evident at the remotes they did in Dade and Broward counties (occasionally southern Palm Beach, too). Crazy contests, song parodies, practical jokes (they hyped and simulcast a fantasy superconcert with the driving directions which, if followed exactly, would've led you smack in the middle of the Atlantic). I also recall an event where eveyone met in the paking lot of a Sound Advice and cranked Guns 'N' Roses' "Paradise City" simultaneously to see who had the best (or least distorted) car stereo unit.

In the same North Bay Village (off the 79th Street Causeway) building as GTR was AM talk station WIOD, and I also listened to host Neil Rogers in those days. During his show, Neil would stop and remark that the walls of his studio would rumble due to the music and Lord knows what else was going on in the GTR studios next door. It was like a scene out of that film FM (scroll back for review). Somtims GTR jocks would stop in and chat with Neil, too. As a side note, Rogers passed away in Dec. 2010. I posted an entry about him a year and a half or so before. He was quite the personality himself, so having him tangentially involved in the GTR nonsense just made it all the more fun.

It all sounds dumb, I realize. Many stations, even today, don the infantile act, but GTR was something different. It was a nice alternative to the self-importance, relentless self-promotion of so many radio stations (FM and AM) at the time. It somehow made you feel like you were part of it, not just some anonymous listener. It was one of the last stations I heard that so prominently featured "personalities", DJs who actually added to the mix, rather than just being annoying voices that talked all over your music. Those who grew up in generations past really got to experience radio stations as more of an art form. I wish I had been old enough to appreciate it. Those who were might've felt GTR was already a corporate compromise, but I felt it was something cool. Yes, I was in my late teens/early 20s, but still.

These days, radio has largely become consolidated, lifeless shlock (the music and the DJ banter). Clear Channel and other behemoths have drained the life away, and housed many stations on the same floor in various buildings. I got to visit a local industrial park last year where one of my patients, a DJ and tinnitus sufferer, worked. We played around with a mixer and spectral analyzer to suss out various narrow bands of noise for him to listen to on his iPod. Very cool night. But it also allowed me to see that several local radio stations were all just a door away from each other.

One of the most memorable of the GTR DJs was Patty Murray, who did drive time broadcasts (3-7 weekdays). Her energy and appreciation of even the most ridiculous tracks (like Sam Kinison's cover of "Wild Thing") made for fun listening. Sadly, she died in a car wreck in 1989, on a day I still remember so clearly. The way the normally raucous station handled this tragic news was tasteful, approriately reverant, yet the spirit of the station was never morose. Patty would've wanted it that way. Shortly after, a CD featuring several of 97 GTR's song spoofs was compiled, with proceeds going to the Make A Wish Foundation. I never got to purchase one.

About a month ago, the GTR page on Facebook announced that a box of these CDs had been found in Chapin's (now living in Wisconsin) garage. Again, proceeds from the $10 discs would go to Make A Wish in Patty's honor. I got one and experienced that rush one gets when hearing something familiar for the first time in many years. Patty herself sang "Bimbo Rock", a knock-off of that old limbo song. Other tracks take potshots at Jim Bakker and Sylvester Stallone, both dubious 80s icons, of course. "Bowling with a Turkey" is a wildly silly but well produced take on CCR's "Proud Mary". The disc also contains the infamous "Jamaican Bobsled" and National Condom Week tunes, as well as the theme song for the "Home Invasions", where listeners would win contests to have the DJs crash their houses at 6 in the morning with a whole bunch of ruckus. Imagine living next door to a winner! Van Halen's "Eruption" vibrating your windows.

Listening to this disc put me right back in my old '86 Chevy Cavalier, rockin' out while driving to Palm Beach Atlantic College. Those were good times. But, in May of 1990, 97 GTR went dark. After the last rebel yells, the safer sounds of "the 70s, 80s, and today" suddenly filled the air: The Coast was born. I also clearly recall driving home from school and wondering what in the heck Michael Jackson and Swing Out Sister were doing where Rush and The Cult belonged. You know the story; the Arbitron ratings weren't favorable. Three rock stations were perhaps one too many for the market. I wish I could hear tapes of the last several hours of 97 GTR. An article I read stated that management told the jocks they could play whatever they wanted that final afternoon, as long as they didn't rip on their bosses. Would be pretty historic to hear, hours that could also be analyzed as some of the last of Old Radio itself......

Monday, June 20, 2011

Last Tango in Paris

What a cause célèbre was director Bernardo Bertolucci's 1972 atrocity LAST TANGO IN PARIS! During some initial screenings, filmgoers on both sides of the Atlantic had to contend with picketers who hurled epithets at them while they waited in long lines to buy tickets. Local governments around the world confiscated prints. Maria Schneider (Jeanne) and Marlon Brando (Paul) denounced the harrowing experience of shooting the picture, both eventually accusing their director of bullying and deviance. The behind the scenes fracas (pre and post production)is far more interesting than what we witness onscreen for 129 painful minutes. One of my favorites: Brando refused to memorize his lines (can't blame him, and I would've charged the studio thousands per word to utter this nonsense)so he suggested that, during one of the more intimate scenes, his words be written on his co-star's derriere. Even Bertolucci refused such an absurd and lascivious request.

I'm certainly in the minority in my opinion among film lovers on this movie, though some respected critics agree that it is essentially smut wrapped in an art house package. Maybe it is. Not that I'm a connoiseur of the alleged pornographic, but this film fails in that department as well as artistically. I originally saw this film some 20 + years after its controversial debut, so I was well removed from being influenced by the zeitgeist. But by then, this film was hailed as some sort of piece of classic cinema. A notorious film with a famous "butter" scene, billed as supremely erotic. It (and the film) is not.

Paul and Jeanne both seek to rent the same apratment in Paris. They decide to have an affair, the kind where names are not disclosed and emotions are held in check. They proceed to have emotionless, empty sex. I saw no joy, especially not in Jeanne's eyes. Paul is an arrogant prig who spouts some of the most outrageously banal dialogue I've ever heard in a film of this stature. For your reading pleasure, I'll list some of them further on. He seems to be enjoying thet trysts, and then promptly stops showing up at the apartment. Jeanne is distraught; she seeks him out. Or does she?

They eventually meet on the street and Paul is the one who wants to resume the affair. They do indeed do a tango in a bar and begin to really communicate. Jeanne gets a bit spooked and decides to end it. Paul admits he is in love. Somewhere in between, he forces himself upon her, using a stick of butter as a lubricant. It is a scene of great pain, to my eyes. How people can decide that the scene is erotic or sexy is beyond me, and I'm far from prudish. I just think people misread Bertolucci's intentions. The scene is abrupt and edited with no regard for sensuality. It is all about Paul's sense of power. I guess the scene works in that regard.

The closing scenes of the film contain the Relevatory, Meaningful Climax (no pun intended; sorry, couldn't resist). It's a scene you've seen in one form or another many times. Here, it is clumsy and ineffectual. Even if it was poignant, I would not have cared, as I hadn't for the previous 2 hours. LAST TANGO IN PARIS is a deadeningly dull, pretentious pile of swill that some have championed, perpetuating this reputation of brilliance that I did not see. I often say that films are only successful if they meet the filmmaker's goals. It seems to me that Bertolucci was trying to make something sexily high-brow and dissonant, but it's all just twaddle.

And often ridiculous. Let's laundry list some of the dialogue:


1. "I could dance forever! Oh, my hemorrhoid!"

2. "You know in 15 years, you're going to be playing soccer with your tits. What do you think of that?"

3. "What are we doing here?"

"Let's just say we're taking a flying fuck at a rolling donut."

4. "Listen, that's not a subway strap, that's me cock!"


Sure, there's more, but this is a family blog! You might about now blow a whistle and say that I've quoted out of context. I ask you: in what context would any of the above be considered appropriate or indicative of something worthwhile? This film is supposed to be art! I think it all may have had a chance of working if it were silent. Yes, a silent film, even as late as the 1970s. It would've been a bold experiment that, had Bertolucci focused and rallied the talent he has shown on most of his other films (even other controversial pieces like 1979's LUNA, quite underrated),LAST TANGO might have really been something. Instead we have what we have. The scenery (here, I mean architecture) in some scenes is at least nice.

Is it worth even one viewing, just to say that you've seen it? Caveat emptor, invisible audience, caveat emptor. Feel free to respond if you disagree!

Part VIII; The Great Overrated

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tourista, Book VII: Finale!

Our legs were on fire from hiking the steps at Montmartre but we had to squeeze in another famous Parisian spot: the Moulin Rouge. On this day, we decided to skip the Metro and just marvel at this great City on foot; the Boulevard de Clichy wasn't that far away. Before we saw the well known red windmill we spotted a long line of folks waiting for the cabaret inside. Apparently, the show is far less risque than in years past (dating back to the 1880s), especially at the turn of the century when saucy burlesque was the mainstay. The can-can style of dance is still performed, if with a bit less fishnet flaunting. We wanted to stay for a show but there were more sites to visit.

On the way to Moulin Rouge, I saw a sign that would certainly raise the eyebrows of an American.Ordering lunch in Paris can be tricky!

The final day, we managed to see the retail paradise known as the Champs-Élysées, looking quite a bit more modern than I would've imagined. Many of the storefronts looked like places I've seen across the U.S. I'm sure longtime vistors would explain how Americanized the long row of shopping has become. I remember my 9th grade French teacher telling us her madras blouse and funky purse had been purchased in a shop there. I also remember one of my smartass classmmates repeatedly calling it the "Champs (hard C-h) Ulysses".

That kid also tried to butcher the pronunication of the Arc de Triomphe, which stands west of the Champs-Élysées. This monument, completed around 1835, is a mammoth structure which celebrates the solidiers of the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution. The names of many who served are etched inside the concave pillars of the Arc, with sculptures depicting battles of the Wars viisble on the outer rims. I took some pictures but the light was not with us, unfortunately.

I did manage to get a usuable shot of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which stands west of the great Louvre Musuem. Its sculptures depict the wartime victories of Napoleon.
Speaking of the Louvre....I'm speechless. More comprehensive or eye-filling a place I've yet to witness. The Palais du Louvre, originally a fortress built in the 12th century, houses the over 650,000 thousand square foot space. Here's a slice.The Musuem opened in the eighteenth century amidst some disorganization. Later, into the next century, collections and building wings were now arranged chronologically. It would take me several entries to detail what I saw that day in September of 2010, though the fact that we were only able to spend a few hours there (not nearly enough by a mile) would not provide sufficient data anyway.

The initially controversial glass pyramid, completed in the late 1980s, stands over an entrance to the Cour Napoleon, the main court. Some felt the more modern structure was a blight on the landscape, an insult to the structures which had stood through periods of the Restoration, the Third Republic, and so on.

Close to 35,000 items are housed in the Louvre, many dating from prehistory. I was endlessly fascinated as I examined primitive tools, cookware, furniture, and weaponry. Not just the intracacies (yet apparent functionality) of design, but that these artifacts survived untold climates over the centuries, including the metereological sort. It seemed impossible to stare at an item so ancient, one that had not yet turned to dust, like so many others had that were built so long afterward.

We of course had a mission to see the most famous painting of all, the Mona Lisa: Leonardo Da Vinci's 16th century portrait of an ordinary Italian woman named Lisa del Giocondo. I saw the crowd as I entered the room in which it was housed. It (canvas and frame) was much smaller than what I was expecting and is encased behind thick panes of bulletproof glass in response to multiple attempts at theft (including a successful one in 1911; the painting was missing for 2 years), and vandals over the years.

We also marveled at the famous Greek statue, the Venus de Milo, from several angles.We wandered the halls of the Louvre, often overwhelmed as to what to observe, what to study, what to pass by. I cannot say enough about this most essential of museums. If you create "bucket lists" this surely must be in the Top 5.

We flew back to the U.S.A. with a suitcase filled with goodies purchased in France and Spain. This would be my first experience with customs, and it was not at all bad. The agent spread cans and packages across a backroom table in the Charlotte, NC airport with a meticulous eye. My wife is a thorough packer and itemizer, ensuring we had no difficulties (or confiscations).

Since this, my first trip ever overseas, I've already formulated a return not just to Paris, but to many stops in Europe. Sorry it has taken me nearly a year to complete these entries! I look forward to writing many more in the years to come.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Paris, Je T'Aime

I'm not saying it's easy to tell a story in 90 or 120 minutes, but it's a heck of a lot harder to tell it in 5. The luxuries of character development and transition are not at your disposal. It's not like a lengthy jazz piece, but rather more like a rock or pop song in which you have to burn all the way through. Wes Craven, one of the directors of 2007's anthology PARIS, JE T'AIME, describes it as (something like this) "In five minutes you can't have John. Drives to the market. Meets Jane. Goes to the park. It's John drives to the maket and meets Jane and goes to the park." Apt. As you could imagine, things could go awry very easily.

They most certainly do not in this collection. Recall my review for its sequel, 2009's NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU, last month. The disparate tales told in that movie rarely worked and just felt pointless. In PARIS JE T'AIME, we conversely understand these characters and entirely get why they love this most romantic of cities. It is a very happy merger of the cinematic and the beautiful economy of the short story. Just about every segment involves us. In very little time, we get a richly detailed portrait. We, of course, can't get all the details but we're given enough to develop ideas on our own. Like that young mother (Catalina Sandino Moreno) in "Loin de 16e" who drops off her own child in daycare to rush across the city to tend to her employer's baby. Or the aging couple (Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands) in "Quartier Latin" who meet for a drink before divorce proceedings the next day. Also, the mother (Juliette Binoche) who, in "Place des Victoires", grieves the death of her son and gets the chance to visit him in the afterlife, if but for a moment. Sometimes it's in the dialogue, and when there's little of that, it's in the directors' and actors' choices. What to show? What to hold back? Every moment has a purpose. There's just so little time. NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU, didn't seem to get that.

The other movie also tried to hard to be clever, to pull the rug out from under us at the conclusion of each tale. This time, a few segments suprise us without feeling gimmicky. Alfonso Cuaron's "Parc Monceau" reveals the relationship between an American (Nick Nolte)and a young Parisian girl (Ludivine Sagnier)gradually, their dialogue filled with clues. Gus Van Sant's "Le Marais" leads to a climax we've all experienced in one form or another. Vincenzo Natali's "Quartier de la Madeleine", a vampire horror/romance (complete with copius CGI bloodletting) resolves in a way consistent with vampire legendry; this episode is good campy fun, one you might've expected to have been directed by horror maestro Craven, who instead contributes "Pere-Lachaise", a story of an about to be married couple who visit the grave of Oscar Wilde.

The Coen Brothers contribute "Tuileries", a coldly clever, unsympathetic yet funny bit with Steve Buscemi as a tourist, hunched down in the Metro with his maps and guidebooks, drawing the ire of a local and his girlfriend (and a little brat with a pea shooter). It's amusing and very much in the vein of the Coens' other works. Buscemi never says a word, even at times reminding us of one of the clowns of silent films. Tom Tykwer's "Faubourg Saint-Denis" is a frantic, time shifting bit of cinema focusing on a young blind man's (Melchior Beslon) romance with an actress (Natalie Portman) that dazzles us with its style (think RUN LOLA RUN's energy) and satisfying wrap up. Sylvain Chomay's "Tour Eiffel" manages to take that most enduring of French cliches, the mime, and not only poke fun at them, but also embrace them with a sweetly funny valentine.

The tone of PARIS JE T'AIME shifts wildly among episodes, but smoothly, expertly. Like a DJ segueing music. Some of the bits became instant favorites of mine that I know I'll be watching again for years to come. It's a fine blending of styles among such an eclectic band of directors. The only piece that didn't completely come together for me was "Quartier des Enfants Rouges", directed by Olivier Assayas and starring Maggie Gyllenhal as an actress on location, striking up a connection with a young man we learn is a courier of special merchandise. The intrigue is minimal; it felt like one of the misfires of I LOVE YOU, NEW YORK.

This film also has this certain quality that appeals to me: the unxplainable feeling you get when you're on to the next story, but you're still thinking about the previous one. You're full into a new segment, meeting the principals and learning about them, but still you think on that young man who meets a Middle Eastern woman and her grandfather. You wonder what happens right after that last shot we just saw. You care. This occurred for me over and over in this movie, but maybe it's just me. I sometimes feel this way when I've finshed watching one TV program and the next one begins. What are the other characters doing now?

My favorite segment of PARIS JE T'AIME? "14e arrondissement", written and directed by Alexander Payne, who has an impressive resume of films like SIDEWAYS and ABOUT SCHMIDT. Each of his works examine someone who feels increasingly isolated, perhaps trapped in the past. Margot Martindale plays an American who has saved enough to spend 6 days in Paris. She narrates her segment entirely in French, quite proud of her lessons. Her attempts at an authentic accent are positively authentically American. She describes her life as a postal worker back home in Denver, a former boyfriend who is now married with children, the loneliness she often feels. It is heartbreaking, yet flashes of well timed humor are just perfect amongst the melancholia (like in SCHMIDT). Martindale is just perfect as the plain Jane, and having her narrate in French just makes it so effective. Her final scene is a summary for the entire film, a great moment that many have experienced while in the City of Lights, a moment that was all the more effective for me as I made my own first trip to Paris last year. This is a wonderful movie.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Changeling

Possible Spoilers

Director Clint Eastwood's 2008 CHANGELING, for many, is the worst sort of horror film: a harrowing document of the loss of a child. As I watched the true, heartbreaking story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), I just couldn't imagine the enormity of the pain. I'm not a parent, and I don't imagine this film would be an easy experience for any viewer who might be. Especially knowing that J. Michael Straczynski's screenplay is faithful to the events of corruption and murder in 1928 Los Angeles.

Single mother Collins, a switchboard operator manager, returns home one day to find her young son missing. After several agonizing months, the LAPD reports that the child has been found. When Collins meets Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), Head of the Juvenile Division at the train station, she expects a joyous, tearful reunion. Instead, she finds an imposter, a boy who only ressembles her beloved son in passing. Understandably, Collins is aghast, but there are reporters present, and Jones repeatedly refutes Collins' dismissal: it's been a long time, he's not the same child, etc. Jones is quietly relentless; Collins acquiesces, agreeing to take the boy home "on a trial basis".

There is no doubt;it is not her son. His height doesn't reach that pencil mark on the doorjamb, the one Collins measured with her son in the opening scenes. Collins repeatedly calls the department with her outrage. However, an LAPD appointed doctor comes to the house and explains that a child's spine can shorten after a trauma. He will also summarily dismiss all of Collins' claims. There seems to be a conspiracy, but why? Perhaps not a malicious conspiracy, but instead the wiping of egg off of one's face, or in contemporary parlance, a "CYA". Unfortunately, a department's cover-up of ineptitude will be a woman's hell.

Meanwhile, a local reverend, Gustav Briegleb (John Malcovich), whose weekly radio program is mostly spent decrying the rampant corruption of the local police force, hears about Collins' case. Briegleb is the sort of fellow you want on your side; he's just as determined to expose wrongdoing as the LAPD are to perpetuating it. He meets Collins, but in the interim she will be institutionalized by Jones due to her insistence as to her "son's" identity. We will observe Collins endure a hellish stay at L.A. County Hospital's "psychopathic ward". We will also follow another detective as he apprehends and questions a young Canadian boy as he's about to be deported. As CHANGELING's serpentine events unfold, it will be apparent that Christine's dilemma has more than a bit of commonality with the other case.

The second half of the film details the fallout, the aftermath of the described events. These scenes may give you a bit of relief, watching as the wheels of justice perhaps finally spin. The desire to see Christine receive some vindication is what drives the later scenes of this lengthy picture, and there is no denying the payoff, even if the conclusions are not especially Storybook Happy. That's life. I'm pleased that the filmmakers stuck to history.

Grim meat, this movie. Somber, almost humorless in its storytelling, CHANGELING is far from light entertainment. The very material of the storyline is engrossing from start to finish. Eastwood and his crew pay particular attention to period detail: the drab garments, the ubiquitous cable cars. However, like many recent Eastwood pictures, it is a craftsmanlike drama that is satisfying, yet a bit too pat.

Originally, Ron Howard (still credited as a producer) was to direct. Interestingly, the movie nonetheless plays like something Howard would make. CHANGELING is filled with (and a bit hampered by)big Hollywood moments, such as when Briegleb and colleagues bust in and rescue Collins just before she is subjected to shock treatment in the ward. The sequence even has her saviors yelling at the nurses, a scene I've seen dozens of times, the "I'll have your job if you don't let me through" type. Also, one of Collins' ward mates, a feisty prostitute, utters an empowering, profane line of dialogue which of course Collins will repeat at just the right moment. Scenes such as this are too contrived for me, too written. Christine's story is potent enough without this silliness.

Ms. Jolie is quite fine in the title role, for once not toting a gun or wearing tank tops. She disappears behind floppy period hats and constricting clothing, her face sullen yet always suggesting a dash of hope. Malkovich is excellent, as usual, with the correct forcefulness and brio Briegleb requires. The supporting cast are also well chosen (it's good to see Donovan in something besides Burn Notice, though his mannerisms are similiar here). The "making-of" programs on the DVD show the happy atmosphere Eastwood fostered on his set.

But that got me thinking. You've heard how dictatorial, hardass directors are hell to work with, yet often produce great cinema? Eastwood is not a multiple take guy, he works quickly and without perfectionism. Is that why his films (excepting UNFORGIVEN and some others) are solid but not seminal? Perhaps, but the screenplay is also to blame, in part, for CHANGELING's standard issue feel. As before, I will still recommend the film (unless you're a grieving parent; there's one flashback that is especially unnerving and graphic)with mild enthusiasm. The appropriate tone and professionalism are there. I just wanted something...more..Not dramatic weight, but perhaps dramatic artistry that dispenses with the Syd Mead Screenwriting rulebook.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ordet

There are no onscreen cast and crew credits for 1955's ORDET. We are not told that the esteemed Dane Carl Dreyer directed it. There isn't a hint of a whiff of a shred of pomp. This film, based on a play by Kaj Munk, deals with the struggle of faith. A story framework which could understandably be perceived as melodramatic when described is mere business, nuts and bolts to elucidate Munk's and Dreyer's points. The atmosphere is entirely somber and melancholy in the great Scandanavian tradition. The one humorous line in the movie uses Kirkegaard in its punchline.

The story is told deliberately, though the pace of ORDET is not glacial. We are almost immediately involved in the drama of the Borgen family, of widowed patriarch Morten and his three sons: Mikkel, a religious skeptic, Anders, a lovelorn youth, and Johannes, a former seminary student whose studies perhaps have caused enough of the leaving of his senses to believe he is Jesus Christ. Mikkel is married to Inger, a loving and supportive bride with two young daughters; a third child is due any day. Morten hopes it will be a son.

Anders is in love with Anne Petersen, daughter of Peter, the local tailor. Peter does not approve of Anders or the entire Borgen farm as he feels their faith in God is merely lip service, not genuine. The stage is set for perhaps a Shakesperian tale of warring families. Morten arrives at the Petersen domecile to discuss the dilemma. The two men discuss their misgivings with each other. Morten feels that Peter's rigidity has choked the joy out of him, that his somber demeanor belies the joy of knowing God. There are many miserable Christians out there.

The viewer might say both Peter and Morten are unrepentant in their refusal to acknowledge each other's points of view. Why are there so many denominations? There is one word of God, but the interpretations of it are countless, often shaped to fit one's comfort. Mikkel is a good person, caring and human, but apparently isn't so sure about the Divine. The characters in ORDET seem adrift in either strict ritual or a more aimless, benign form of God acknowledgement.

But there's also Johannes. Was it merely the young man's immersive studies that lead to a madness so deep and profound that he believes he is the son of God? Are Dreyer and Munk insinuating something else? Maybe God is using Johannes as a vessel to remind those who've lost their way (read: everyone else in the village). Johannes will continue to hover around as his sister becomes gravely ill as she tries to deliver her baby. The doctor does his work, crediting science for every step. The family will wait and acknowledge. Johannes asks all to believe in miracles. Only Inger's older daughter will listen, though she also wishes her uncle would at least tuck her into bed.

By the amazing climax of ORDET, a miracle does occur. It is quite stunning and powerful, even to my cinematically jaded eyes. It must have been positively overwhelming to 1950s audiences. The final scene is a culmination of the film's many themes regarding faith in what one cannot see. Who among His believers (especially in the face of blinding tragedy) truly believes that God can engineer events that science alleges to debunk? When the flesh is pushed to the fire, even the most devoted may wilt. Those who don't, outcasts like Johannes, are deemed insane. Even Christians' resolve to acknowledge the Divine will often fail if things aren't logical.

ORDET would be perfect viewing for mixed company, believers and empiricists alike. I could imagine that someone might consider my previous paragraph and then say, what about someone like Harold Camping? Remember him, the guy who predicted that the Rapture would occur this past May? Wasn't God using him? How can we tell who is genuine and who is a crackpot? ORDET does not answer, but rather shows the beauty and power of undiluted faith, even if it is through a character many would consider a blasphemer.

I have read reviews from folks who were Christians and others who were agnostics or atheists; most found ORDET to be a beautifully rendered meditation on the power of unwavering faith. Dreyer challenges the viewer at every turn, holding a mirror to every audience member, reflecting our mores and inhibitions in his and Munk's characters. The director moves the camera deftly around rooms, sometimes ominously, other times with anticipation. Dreyer creates the cinematic out of what is essentially static, but I also felt he preserved the theatrical origins as the actors' line readings and posture evoked the excitement of seeing a live production. How rare, to succeed in both regards.

ORDET is a bona fide classic that will certainly be a personal experince for most viewers, regardless of their spirtual convictions. Regardless of that, there's little denying the sheer power. Especially that final scene.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

PBA, Book Two

My first day as a college student at Palm Beach Atlantic in the Fall of 1987 was pretty heady. I can still remember walking through the August heat down Olive Ave. to my first class: Philosophy. Not exactly a cushy introduction. Dr. Don Berry, whose sons I grew up with in the church, stood at the lectern in Borbe Hall and proceeded to conduct the class in the most laissez faire manner I imagined was possible. No outlines, no structure at all. This was not anything to which I was accustomed. I kept waiting...waiting..for some main point, but he just spoke. He spoke like one of those guys who sat cross legged in the Student Center, pontificating on antimatter, if with a bit more authority. Rather, Dr. Berry, a highly esteemed and great man, mind you, was dressed like a Southern Baptist preacher and spoke of Heidegger and his contemporaries. And note taking? I had no idea what to write down.

Philosophy class also introduced me to the "mixed ages" sampling so common in college, especially with what was largely a commuter campus. There were middle aged men sitting in the front row; I found it odd. I was 18 and used to being around people my own age in the classroom. It was odd but I began to appreciate it, and the class. Even if it was often merely an arena for debate. While my new friend Randall, who in great frustration, stated rather frankly that his time would be better spent even masturbating, I grew to really enjoy Dr. Berry's lectures. We did have tests, mostly essay, and I'm pretty sure I received an "A". It would prove to be one of my most memorable courses.

During my freshmen year I also took American Free Enterprise, required for all students. As Dr. Donald Warren recounts in his book Miracles and Wonders: A Chronicle of Palm Beach Atlantic University, the class was created in the 1970s by Colonel Trauger (who I had for Advertising a few years later)after he became increasingly dismayed at students' lack of understanding of how our market system (is supposed to) works after he saw the results of a campus questionnaire. Robert Inglis taught the comprehensive course. Dr. Inglis would be my prof. for several more classes as I later declared my major to be Business Administration.

Why? I've thought about this many times. That's what a guy was supposed to major in. Women typically majored in psychology (or as the many Baptist humorists quipped: the "Mrs." degree). Certainly some truth to that, as I'll relay. PBA was a Christian campus, so of course many of the guys who didn't major in business sought their B.A. or B.S. in religion. Not too many girls did. I took a homiletics course my senior year (my minor was Communications, and since we had to write and deliver a sermon at the end of the semester it counted as such) and in a class of 12 or so there were 2 females. When they delivered their orations they were torn apart during the critique session for being "too emotive."

As a sidebar, I still have the sermon I wrote, which was based on the Book of Job. I delivered mine in a semi-ominous tone ala Brad Crandall, who narrated IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS, that schlocky documentary (I use that term loosely) from the 70s. I don't remember any harsh criticism. I was also no Adrian Rogers at the podium.

Was I interested in business? Yes, actually I was. In those days, I read the Wall Street Journal and even some of the more esoteric economic journals with great interest. Mainly, I just seemed like the right major to declare, a path to credibility during the job hunt. I was naive. Bus. Adm. is one of the most general of degrees. I had little idea specifically of what I wanted to do. But I still had a few years to think about it.

I was also interested in literature and creative writing, but the so-called Voices of Reason were loud and discouraged me from taking that road, a road I believed would lead to unemployment. If I had it to do over again? Well, as I later found audiology as my career choice, I would probably major in Communication Disorders, but PBA didn't have that. Otherwise, I might've tried something more artistic.

TO BE CONTINUED..........

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Key West

A sizable chunk of my 20s are/were an alcoholic blur. That included (I'm fairly sure) a brief trip to Key West. It was vaguely familiar. I'd always wanted to return for a proper tour. For our second wedding anniversary, I did. What a gorgeous place.

Folks are constantly referring to South Florida as "paradise". If you consider a sweltering, overly commercialized, attitude-ridden swath of swampland a paradise, more power to you. Yes, there are pretty beaches, quaint historic neighborhoods (I live in one), and some lovely people, but overall I've always found it a wildly overrated mecca of unchecked entitlement and humidity. But not Key West.

It takes over 4 hours by automobile from West Palm Beach to the southernmost tip, but the drive down U.S. 1 ("Overseas Highway") is dandy. Instead of miles of concrete and unpredictable truckers, to say nothing of those daredevil cyclists who speed around you maybe 20 degrees off the pavement, you get a 2 lane highway that passes over the gorgeous waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, their hues in the sunlight brilliant blues and greens. Some of the islands or "keys" you pass through are more commercial (Islamorada, Marathon, Tavernier) and feature lots of shops and the usual eyesores of local businesses, but usually it's only a minute before the landscape once again reveals much unspoiled foliage and wetland. There's even a habitat for deer in Big Pine Key; you are warned with several signs to watch for them. It was encouraging to learn that the deer population, once near extinction, has now multiplied.

When you finally get to the county seat of Monroe County, you are now closer to Havana, Cuba than to Miami. The neighborhood where the famous buoy sits announcing the 90 mile point from Cuba in fact reminded my wife of the troubled country to the South (she had visited nearly 10 years before). We took the obligatory picture with it. There was a line of folks waiting for their turn, handing their cameras to strangers behind them; quite the unexpected social event, there.Nearby on Whitehead and Truman (named after the U.S. President who spent quite a bit of time in town) is the Hemingway House. Almost immediately you are greeted by the famouse yellow shutters and dozens of felines, some with six toes, descendents of Snowball, Ernest's kitty from decades past.A tour guide with just the right amount of character lead us through the rooms and gardens of the estate, his colorful narrative quite entertaining.As I had already learned during my work on a research paper during high school, Papa Hemingway had a troubled but adventurous 61 years on this earth. Several wives, homes also in Cuba, Spain, and Idaho (where he committed suicide in the early 1960s), famous and not-so-famous friends were all discussed. The House was very peaceful, the cats dozing in the shade or on antique furniture. A bit of amusement: a urinal from the original Sloppy Joe's sits horizontally in the garden, used as a fountain. Our guide explained that Hemingway felt that since "I pissed enough money away in (it), I might as well keep it!" We also huddled in a narrow stairwell to see the room where many of the author's novels were typed.Across Truman Street is the Key West Lighthouse and Museum, open for tourists since its deactivation in 1969.Completed in 1847, the tower was a replacement for the previous structure built at Whitehead's Point, the southernmost point of the island, in 1826. Over the years, the lighthouse system was improved with Fresnel lenses from France and the tower itself got higher and higher. We ascended the very narrow staircase and looked out over the Key, all 360 degrees from the top.

Back down in the gift shop, I picked up a book which detailed the history of the one time railroad system spearheaded by Henry Flagler around 1911-1912. It was the first and only time trains were to be linked to the mainland. Many laborers lost their lives erecting the concrete structure with tracks over swamps and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The Great Depression and a major hurricane did it in in the mid-30s. The railroad was not rebuilt, but U.S. Highway One's full trail to the lowest Keys was completed in 1938.

Backing up, per a recommendation we at at the lovely Blue Heaven restaurant on Thomas Street, an outdoor, patio-like atmosphere of neon and art, the tables placed around giant trees. We of course had to have key lime pie on this trip, and theirs was a doozy, complete with a tall meringue head atop.In fact, you would expect we had lots of fine food and atmosphere to go with it. We had a lunch at Hog's Breath (sirloin sandwich and onion rings), a nice wrap for lunch at Sweet Tea's, a tasty plate of flounder at the 30 + year old Bagatelle; the latter 2 eateries on famous Duval Street.

You've heard of Duval? It's the only street in the U.S. bordered by 2 oceans: the Atlantic to the East and the Gulf of Mexico to the West. It is the main drag, part of Old Town, with bar after bar after restaurant.....life was teeming there on Saturday night. One guy dressed like Spiderman was playing a sitar. THAT was worthy of some coin in his hat.

Side note: Pepper's, off Duval on Green Street. We went for a visit as my wife's cousin had worked there several years earlier. Never have I seen such a collection of hot sauces and condiments, even spicy coffee! One wall has a glass case with the most potent sauces locked up. We were told that any one drop of those should be diluted in a gallon of water. You have to sign a waiver to purchase any of them.

We did not engage on any aquatic adventures on this trip, aside from a few hours on the glass bottom boat, which sails about 6 miles into the Gulf, hovering over one of the largest barrier reefs in the world.Crew members provide very interesting data on the reef and the biology of it; I was not aware how toxic humans' bateria are to coral, for example. On future visits, we will definitely snorkel around. John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo to the north is also a great location to gaze at undersea life.

We did not drive around Key West; it just isn't necessary. Renting a bike or scooter serves one well. The weather was grand, so we just walked (better to burn all those calories!). We would walk Eaton toward Old Town, drinking in all the fanatastic architecture. Antebellum and Art Deco homes line the aves, many converted into hotels, B & Bs, museums, but many occupied by residents, perhaps many who visited and never left. Understandable. Our final morning in town we ate breakfast at a hotel right on the beach. Our English waitress explained that she and her husband moved to Key West last summer and have no immediate plans to leave. If it wasn't for the hurricane threat to such a low lying plain (plus the heat of the summer months), I think my wife and I would follow suit.

Finally, there are 2 other things about Key West you may have very likely heard about: ubiquitous roosters and otherwordly sunsets. Our wanderings around the island revealed many chickens and roosters, and their offspring, pecking about the beautiful gardens in search of insects. The roosters crow near non-stop on the street, in trees, everywhere. Someone said there is a city ordinance protecting them. After a few hours in Key West, it seemed completely normal to have them around.

The sunset? I first learned of the patented beauty and appreciation, interestingly enough, from the 1985 buddy comedy RUNNING SCARED. That was the one with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as Chicago cops who strongly consider retiring in the Keys. In one scene, Crystal wonders why everyone has gathered just to watch the sun dip into the West yet again. He learns it is a tradition. If you go, it won't take long for you to stand mesmerized by the shifting light and color schemes, the palette growing more orangey golden as the giant ball melts and kisses the ocean. We stood in Mallory Square with hundreds of others, including entertainers who juggled and had cats jumping through hoops of fire. The soft clicking of cameras and "ooh"s and "ahh"s lasted quite a while until the great light finally disappeared. We were left with a violet twilight that was perfect atmosphere for a romantic stroll with my bride.

We wondered aloud many times why it took so long for us to visit. I think we'll be returning quite soon.