Life is torture… / Notes on film / XI.11 / Roanoke
I. Isn’t life torture? (on Mizoguchi)
Without mercy, man is like a beast.
A man is not a human being without mercy.
Even if you are hard on yourself, be merciful to others.
Teaches the Father in Mizoguchi’s poignant film, Sansho the Bailiff.
Nakagimi-san’s Song of Lament (after Mizoguchi)
1. Like the howl of a white wolf
“Zushio!” echoes across the fields
of sorrow in Sado province
Like the Madwoman calling the Curlew
across the river of shadows
“Anju!” flies like a heron-cry
through the air, hollow as a drum
I weep as I speak;
I speak as I weep.
Life is torture
II. Melancholy Dogs (on Antonioni)
In science fiction you can never say what’s true to life and what isn’t…
according to Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman
Antonioni’s homage to Vertigo:
agoraphobia as fear of intimacy, fear of falling in love?
It’s the water that’s sad. Listen to it.
Landscape and weather in as visual poetry in cinema,
like the fog scenes in Antonioni…
Now the misery is creeping back, like a melancholy dog
(Monica Vitti in La Notte)
Vitti’s hypnotically attractive eccentricity -
was that what made her Antonioni’s muse?
(Do I pine for her because she reminds me of an old flame? Does she represent an objectified romanticism or just a romantic object? Is all this kitsch, Milan?)
Those almond eyes, upturned and accented with just enough attention to command… The sensuous lips whose smile & frown cohabit with unnerving proximity… The long neck & the lithe limbs in a figure otherwise unremarkable, yet captivating and entrancing…
III. New Waves (across Europe)
1. The sui generis production team behind Visconti’s operatic melodrama, Senso (reenforced by Verdi's Il Trovatore...)
Tennessee Williams’ and Paul Bowles’ English-language dialogue – luxury casting complete with Franco Zeffirelli as Assistant Director…
Visconti’s so-called “betrayal” of Neo-Realism with the lush period drama which is arguably his masterpiece. Each scene a perfectly orchestrated canvas. Sweeping historical panoramas and finely etched miniatures. Romantic emotional excess and exquisite attention to detail. Bravo, Conti!
2. Nouvelle Vague
Godard: the most original / narcissistic / self-conscious?
Truffaut: the most emotionally open / conscientious?
Melville: the coolest, most stylish & entertaining?
Rohmer: the anti-Nouvelle philosopher?
Resnais, Chabrol, Malle: the independent & singular poets?
An assistant to Melville, Schlöndorff ushered in New German Cinema with his adaptation of Robert Musil’s Junge Törless. Philosophical and intellectually probing as Rohmer, literary and poetic as Mizoguchi. And featuring an evocative Henze score.
3. The Man Without Qualities (Robert Musil: 6.XI.1880 - 15.IV.1942) / 6.XI.11
What does one make of Musil, one of modernism’s unsung iconoclastic heroes? Equal to Proust, Mann & Joyce...
The mysterious brain-phosphorus of inward illumination is one choice phrase among many in one of the most ambitious works of European literature. It is trenchant as it is epic (left unfinished at c. 2000 pages) in indicting a world benumbing itself to sleep in the early 20th century, presaging the dawn of the Second World War by evoking the era before the First…
There has obviously been a shift in our priorities. Certain concerns have been taken out of people’s hearts.
Ulrich, the so-called Man Without Qualities, our anti-hero “protagonist” is but one voice in the Dostoyevskian polyphony of perspectives,
revolted by this lethargic acceptance…this helpless contemporaneity, this mindlessly submissive, truly demeaning stringing along with the centuries…
Junge Törless is an early autobiographical portrait of the draconian military academies of the old empire, an expose of human cruelty and indictment of the venality of institutions. A study for his unfinished open-ended epic...
Clarisse is an idealistic naïf, one of the epic’s heroines, and a counterpoint to the philistinism and despair in a testosterone-driven, power-hungry world:
And now here she was, armed for the future with a new slogan: active passivism…a phrase that clearly smacked of a man without qualities.
IV. Saints on film: Rossellini & Tarkovsky (19.XI.11)
I talk and talk, yet accomplish little.
So instructs the eponymous saint in Rossellini’s film
The Flowers of Saint Francis
to a fellow friar from Assisi on how to begin every sermon…
(Not Rilke’s, but a monk’s succinct example of perfetta letizia – perfect happiness)
Elsewhere, Rosellini’s Francesco defines
perfetta letizia as
…triumphing over ourselves…and bearing every evil deed –
in this alone lies perfect happiness.
Francesco, giullare di Dio
("Francis, God’s Jester" being Rossellini’s original Italian title)
Lest we take it all too seriously...
His principles harm his career. One critic’s observation on the title character of Andrei Rublev, equally applicable to Andrey Tarkovsky, the film’s director.
The sense that the world itself is trying to force its way through the screen.
Wagner’s “total work of art” transferred to Bazin’s “Myth of Total Cinema” according to the same critic’s (J. Hoberman) take on Tarkovsky’s masterpiece.
The Passion According to Andrei, to cite its complete title.
The “total cinema” includes extraordinary natural beauty. The wordless soundtrack of nature as grass billows in the water like a woman’s hair – organic, sensuous, mysterious.
Clumps of paint dispersed underwater become flecks and dots resembling stars in the nighttime sky. Such liquid impressionist imagery casts forth a connecting filament to Tarkovsky’s “sci-fi” film, Solaris…
God will forgive you; don’t forgive yourself.
Live between divine forgiveness and your own torment.
Rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, protect the widow.
So the spirit (or ghost?!) of Theophanes instructs Andrei in the arduous path of sainthood, artistry and authenticity…
The happy accident of inspiration as discovery: Boriska slipping down a slope in the mud and landing in just the right spot to find just the right clay to cast the great bell!
Boriska as Andrei’s successor – a true artist: visionary, solitary, young & brash, fearless and bold, uncompromising and indefatigable. And a bit mad…
“Don’t burden your soul, for it is an awful sin to deny the divine spark.” Kirill’s words to Andrei mirroring Martha Graham’s advice to Agnes De Mille – “if you block it, it will never exist and be lost…”
What a day for the people: you’ve brought them such joy, and you’re crying!
(Andrei’s consoling embrace of Boriska, intended for every self-doubting, tortured artist…)
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