Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I watched the original version of Solaris, by Tarkovsky. After watching it initially, I started it a second time with the commentary track turned on. I only made it this far before I lost all trust in the commentators for this version:
The sudden downpour which follows, one of the elements which frequently appears in Tarkovsky's films, has often been interpreted symbolically by critics, much to Tarkovsky's dismay. Complaining in Sculpting in Time that he is repeatedly asked what rain, fire, and water mean in his films, he retorts:

In Russia you have those long, persistent, dreary rains. And I can say that I love nature. I don't like big cities, and feel perfectly happy when away from the paraphernalia of modern civilization. Just as I felt wonderful in Russia when I was in my country house with 300 kilometers between Moscow and myself—rain, fire, water, snow, dew, the driving ground wind—all are part of the material setting in which we dwell, I would even say of the truth of our lives.

I am therefore puzzled when I am told that people cannot simply enjoy watching nature when it is lovingly reproduced on the screen, but have to look for some hidden meaning it must contain.
[Commentary by Graham Pride]

This, however, is somewhat disingenuous, given the multiple and inescapable associations that the natural elements have accumulated in myth, folklore, religion, literature, and art; and the well educated Tarkovsky must have been aware of these.

Here, for example, the rain appears to have a cleansing effect on Kris, who literally immerses himself in an element he won't be able to experience in space.
[Commentary by Vida Johnson; emphasis added]

So after a long and well-reasoned statement by the creator of the film about over-reaching symbolism, Vida Johnson dismisses Tarkovsky out of hand in order to preserve a particular strain of criticism that apparently needs over-reaching symbolism to survive. I would've hoped that by the time students finish their undergraduate work, such tendencies would have been trained out of them. Back to Poetry 101, I guess.

I'm perfectly willing to admit that a writer, artist, composer or director may at times say more or less than intended. But to divorce the finished work from any light the creator might bring to bear on his creation simply because one doesn't agree with his approach, that's hubris. It is tantamount to saying: Everyone else played the game, Tarkovsky. You must also.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

My older brother trims trees for a living


and then salvages some of the pieces to make wood furniture.


Each item is typically made from a single piece of wood.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Bugs and Bruises

We can learn much through the eyes of children. At every stage in my son’s life, I’ve gained wisdom and understanding about life and humanity by watching what he does, and how he develops.

Sometimes this learning experience has been about something as simple as bugs. Ever since my son was seven or eight months, he’s been fascinated with bugs. He would spot a fly or even a tiny gnat and watch it fly around or try to touch it.

At some point his fascination became mixed with fear. He still wanted to get closer to them, but would do so with a definite uneasiness. One afternoon he refused to take a nap because he was convinced that there was a bug in his room.

Little childhood fears like these, at such an early age, are a sobering reminder that the world is not as it should be, that we wander east of Eden on our pilgrimage to the new Jerusalem. A year-old child, though he could not frame his fears in theological language, has already learned Romans 8:22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” His little human soul already bears the stamp of knowledge given by the Creator through the natural world.

We try to protect them, to comfort their fears. We want their experiences to be positive; we wish that their moments could be like the children on the road to Jerusalem, joyfully and intuitively recognizing the Messiah. But we are only human fathers. We will give them fish, but the world will deal them snakes. The rest we must leave up to the heavenly Father. Our parenting and protection is only a flawed and frail reflection of His care and protection over His children. They will continue to be placed in reed baskets (Ex. 1:22–2:3), dropped by their nurses (II Sam. 4:4), and even slaughtered by the Herods of the world (Ex. 1:22, Jer. 31:15, Mt. 2:16). Only God can bring them to the Pharaoh’s daughters (Ex. 2:5–10), place them under the watch care of the king (II Sam. 9: 3–10), spare them from the sword of tyranny (Mt. 2:13), and see them into His kingdom under His eternal love.

I don’t know what new things may confront my child. I would like to think that he will never have to face a greater fear than spiders and flies, yet I know it’s not likely. This small fear will give way to greater anxieties, and the small scrapes and bruises will give way to larger pains. At night I have stood over my son’s little bed while he sleeps peacefully, my hand on his head, weeping at the vulnerability of a small child and a father’s love. But it is comforting to know that it is not in my hands. I can hold him up before the Lord of the universe as a living sacrifice and ask, “Please take my child and use him for your glory. Guide his paths as he walks through this life. Have mercy on him, as even now he begins to reveal the state of his heart. Without you we all are lost, abandoned to the cruelty of the world and our own destructive ways, but by your grace we have abundant life and souls born anew. Amen.”

Monday, August 23, 2004

     This is the rain that can bleed my soul. Softly falling in the warm summer air, like a quiet voice saying, "I understand what life can be. I know the losses and the pain, the loneliness and disillusionment."
     Rain doesn't pretend. When so much around us is superficial, when we are mostly blind to what life can be, rain gently tries to remind us that there's more.
     I wish that all of the people vainly trying to live a material vision of the American dream, those with longings for nicer cars and bigger houses, those with the empty hope of saying, "If I could just reach ---- in my life things would be alright,” I wish that all of them could be brought outside, sat down, and forced to sit through a good, heavy rain shower.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

You might have heard the story about the truck driver who was attacked by a wasp and crashed his truck on the freeway, bringing thousands more wasps.

What strikes me about the reporting of the incident is how the larger picture seems to have been missed. Notice how it is reported as matter-of-factly as any other piece of the day's news, as if we are to believe that there was no pernicious significance in the way it played out.

Are we to believe that it was merely coincidence that the wasp happened to pick a truck loaded with so much jam? And that the attack was strong enough that the driver couldn't maintain control? Come on. I wasn't born yesterday.

And where did thousands of wasps come from so quickly? Are there really that many just randomly buzzing the flowers along highway medians and shoulders? If that's what you think, you place too much stock in coincidence, my friend.

No, this was carefully orchestrated. Somewhere, two thousand fat and happy wasps toast the heroism of that one brave insect.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

There never used to be an understanding of children as a distinct psychological phase. That is why when you look at old family portraits from certain periods, the children are not painted as children but small adults.

How much they must have missed.

My daughter's understanding is not just a more primitive version of my own, it is unique. I like just being around her to see how she will react to things, and to see if I can figure out what and how she thinks. Usually I can't, but the results of her thinking process are endlessly fascinating.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Ever see shoes in a bathroom stall and wonder if your thoughts were out loud or in your head?

Monday, August 09, 2004

As movies go Collateral was good. But for a Michael Mann movie, it was a little disapointing. The movie keeps your interest sufficiently, but the script was flawed. While Tom Cruise was good, he can't quite deliver the intensity of Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, or Daniel Day-Lewis.

I was hoping for another Mann production like Last of the Mohicans, Heat, or The Insider. If you haven't seen those yet, the best is still ahead of you. And since Mann is working on one or two new ones, maybe the best is still ahead of all of us.

Here's a couple quotes from The Insider:

Mike Wallace: Who are these people?
Lowell Bergman: Just ordinary people under extraordinary pressure. What the hell did you expect, grace and consistency?

Lowell Bergman: You pay me to go get guys like Wigand, to draw him out. To get him to trust us, to get him to go on television. I do. I deliver him. He sits. He talks. He violates his own f***ing confidentiality agreement. And he's only the key witness in the biggest public health reform issue, maybe the biggest, most-expensive corporate-malfeasance case in U.S. history. And Jeffrey Wigand, who's out on a limb, does he go on television and tell the truth? Yes. Is it newsworthy? Yes. Are we gonna air it? Of course not. Why? Because he's not telling the truth? No. Because he is telling the truth. That's why we're not going to air it. And the more truth he tells, the worse it gets!

And from Heat:

Vincent Hanna: You know, we are sitting here, you and I, like a couple of regular fellas. You do what you do, and I do what I gotta do. And now that we've been face to face, if I'm there and I gotta put you away, I won't like it. But I tell you, if it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.


"This was another reminder that in Western Europe there is sympathy for dead Jews; it's just the live ones that they cannot tolerate."
--Laurence Weinbaum, Director of Research at the World Jewish Congress, after being attacked at Auschwitz on Sunday

From the Jerusalem Post

Sunday, August 08, 2004

A friend of mine in grade school named Bob Gaynor had a shining moment, but in this case I wouldn't call is sheer stupidity (although some might). I'd call it a moment of small triumph.

There was a girl in the school named Sandy who was athletic, popular, and considered very attractive by some of the guys. Bob Gaynor was a stocky, average kid I hung around with on the playground. At recess one day, he and I were talking to a group of students that included Sandy when some brief fit of dementia or irresistible romantic longing seized Bob and he grabbed ahold of Sandy and hugged her tightly. During the instant he did it, I was horrified at his strange outburst, and my guilt by association. But as the moment faded, or maybe only later looking back, I was proud of Bob.

Sandy would get over the annoyance, and Bob would get over the mortification that followed, but he will always own the memory of that passionate hug. We go on from childhood and learn to control our irregular impulses, but I could almost wish that we would learn moderation selectively. Some smaller desires and eccentricities are pretty harmless, and add interest to a sometimes sterile social setting. I wonder, if that happened in adulthood, if at work someone spontaneously hugged a coworker, for instance, shouldn't we be able to laugh about that?

I think that's partly why I am fascinated with madness. I realize it's a romanticization—those people are trapped, scared and suffering—but I am interested in the consequence of madness that convention is thrown aside.

Friday, August 06, 2004

It's like I have to have one shining moment of sheer stupidity with each person I know—the kind of moment you look back on and ask "Who did I think I was?" or "What made me think that was the best course?" — and then it's fairly smooth sailing after that.

There's got to be medication for that, some kind of pill that would say on the label, "Take two tablets as necessary when temptation to have shining moment arrives. Take with food. Do not mix with alcohol."

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Today you have an opportunity to see what Hollywood looks like at its best: a blockbuster-styled movie, released during prime blockbuster season, but one that promises to deliver what the others can't.

An action-movie afficionado and an esoteric arthouse theatre junkie could sit down together to Collateral and be happy brothers for a couple of hours. I was less than completely thrilled when the first reviews came in, becuse Collateral was hovering around 60-70% on Rotten Tomatoes. I probably rely too much on numbers, but I think there's value in consensus. Turns out the negative reviews were all in the earliest arrivals. The fuller story now has Michael Mann up to 91%. I can't wait to see it.

Watch for Mann's keen eye for detail, and the intelligence he gives to every scene. If it is similar to other Mann films, notice how deftly he controls the pace, never lagging and never rushed. Expect wide, clean shots of Los Angeles streets that provide a solid foundation for everything taking place. Expect Cruise to transcend himself, and Foxx to get our attention for future possibilities. Hope that Mann gets another oscar nod.

Then we'll meet on Monday and compare notes.

Give Us This Day

I wasn't young in my soul
Though my face may say otherwise.
Those nights—
working, saving, bleeding, crying.

It wasn't fun in my heart
Though it wasn't promised.
And I bore no wound that hasn't
cut someone else deeper.

No weariness stole my song,
These burdens, they reach to the core.
The carried weight, never shared,
never forgotten.

It isn't good, reflecting,
Suck it in and—move on.
The pre-dawn hours signal days past,
another tomorrow.

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