...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Go on singing

In the process of taking care of apartment matters while KP suns in Sweden, I've remained frighteningly sober. Even a run-in with Coppola's Rosso ended earlier than it normally would.

On Saturday, my dad and I went out to Anaheim to watch the Yanks. In typical fashion the Angels beat the crap out of them. We had decent seats but the O.C. sun was burning up the deck. So we went progressively higher and higher up the ballpark to stay in the shade. By the 9th, the view was such:
I did get to see ARod and J. Stach-less Giambi go yard, back-to-back. But we left once the over-praised Yankee relief staff allowed 8 straight runners (7 hits) without being able to get an out in the 8th inning. They've taken their two best relievers (Chamberlain and Giese) and made them starters. That leaves a problem. I witnessed it. It was great to see a game with my dad though. But the blondes with silicone stacks kept getting in the way of my view of the field, even when they were standing in the beer line.

In between unpacking boxes this weekend, I had a chance to get through some DVDs. Finally finished the first Popeye set. Awesome. Highly recommended. Remember these aren't the crappy cheap color cartoons. These were the original ones from the 1930s. Once Jack Mercer signs on as the voice of Popeye, these short violent films become very funny. Mercer ad-libs, mutters grandly terrible puns under his breath, and (if my hearing's right) occasionally comments on the cartoon itself. As far as the un-PC element goes, Olive Oyl gets socked around as much as the boys do. Off-putting at first, it eventually blends in and makes sense, since everyone else gets punched and she takes a hit better than the boys do, sometimes. The racial incorrectness, though, is very dated and seems like laziness on the part of the writers and animators. Otherwise these B&W cartoons are still enjoyable 70 years later. Note: Popeye apparently liked to dance a lot at this point in his life. One out of every six cartoons has him cutting a rug.

Kristen brought me Babe (the one about the pig, not the Ruth picture) as a present a week or so ago. It was in the DVD player as soon as I'd set it up. 13 years ago (wow) I watched Babe -- with Stacy Lydon, I just realized -- in a theater full of children. I hate kids in theatres and I normally despise kid's movies, so I was anticipating disaster. But it was beautiful. Once the movie started, there wasn't a peep from the little people. And as the film came to a close in a striking, zen-like, peacefully composed sequence of shots, I began reading into a film for the first time. I think this was the first time...at least it makes for a decent story.
What's surprising all of these years later is how dark this G-rated squeaker-pic can be. Much of it centers around the accepting of one's destiny to be eaten. When Babe sings Jingle Bells right after being measured for a Christmas ham, I thought that if one were to replace the animals with humans, the irony of his joy would be too gruesome to film. But, alas, Babe has a different destiny. And I was surprised how emotionally connected I still am to the film's final act. I think it's largely due to James Cromwell's commanding, almost wordless, performance as the farmer. If any of y'all watch this one again, keep an eye on Cromwell, he's amazing.

Finally, I watched F for Fake. I've had it sitting around for a month, courtesy of Netflix. It was my loss to have waited so long. It can easily stand with Kane and Touch of Evil as Orson Welles's best cinema. I can't add much more than what has already been written, but I'll try. It's at least 20 years ahead of its time. The editing is fast and brilliant as it tips the film towards the avant-garde, which in turn probably kept any distributor from picking it up back in '76.
It's Orson's last completed film, but he shows no signs of slowing down. The tone is mischievous, youthful but wise. It's about two famous con artists, one who was one of the great art forgers, the other an author of a true biography on a faker and a fake biography on a real person. Besides being full of twists and turns and commentary on the art market, it really is about beauty and truth. If someone can recreate a Picasso or Modigliani (in minutes!) with perfect precision, who's to say that this person is not an artist as well? And what then is art? And why does the artist matter? It is the art that is profound. Once the art is created it belongs to the universe, not one person.

I've never seen anything like this film. It's a documentary, but not. It's a mediation with tons of titillation. My favorite part comes an hour and 2 minutes into the running time. Welles abruptly cuts to a monologue about Chartres which turns out to be the thesis of the whole film.
The monologue follows, below. Imagine the great Welles voice -- like a large sleepy bear sipping Cabernet -- weaving his thoughts in almost a whisper. And as you listen, it's as if the world stands still for a minute:

"Now, this has been standing here for centuries, the premiere work of man, perhaps, in the whole Western world. And it's without a signature. Chartres. A celebration to God's glory and to the dignity of man.

"All that's left, most artists seem to feel these days, is man. Naked. Poor, forked radish. There aren't any celebrations.

"Ours, the scientists keep telling us, is a universe which is disposable. You know, it might be just this one anonymous glory, of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose, when all our cities are dust, to stand intact, to mark where we've been, to testify to what we had it in us to accomplish. Our works in stone, in paint, in print are spared, some of them for a few decades or a millennium or two. But everything must finally fall in war or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash. The triumphs and the frauds. The treasures and the fakes.

"Fact of life, we're going to die. Be of good heart, cry the dead artists out of the living past. Our songs will all be silenced. But what of it? Go on singing. Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much."