Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving. I don't know who Emma S. is, but it's a nice turkey, and will do fine to carry the sentiment. Thanks Emma, wherever you are.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I understand the defense of journalists that happy news does not make for good copy. Try writing a novel sometime without conflict, and let me know how many you sell.

Still, it's nice to get an occasional positive story.

Dolphins Protect New Zealand Swimmers from Shark

Two entries down I mentioned a visual that might symbolize three different things.

Three is a natural number in presenting ideas. From the ubiquitous A-B-A pattern in music to the standard use of three to establish a narrative pattern in jokes or stories, the number finds its way into our world again and again.

Another use of three in movies is in Requiem for a Dream. Another possible, slight spoiler is about to arrive, although I doubt anyone is unsure of whether the movie is a positive or negative portrayal of drugs.

In the conclusion of the movie, a montage trio flashes before us in quick-cut shots, rotating through the three story lines. The barrage of images establishes the degradation of drugs on our bodies, minds and souls. Or, to put it more concretely, our health, intellect, and morality. Each drug story in this movie deconstructs primarily on one of those notes.

I haven’t read that in any reviews—perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough—but I’m sure that’s the intent.

Maybe that’s obtuse to even have to say. That’s the risk of writing in isolation, tossing off obscure little thoughts every few days.


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

If you want to understand America, you must first understand how a country whose citizens are known the world over for their outgoing self confidence should emerge as a leading consumer of drugs for social anxiety, how a nation dedicated to the freedom of the individual should enforce standards for physical beauty with such rigidity that grown women race to toilets at restaurants to throw up their dinners, and how a nation famed for its dedication to the pursuit of happiness should also be such a fertile market for anti-depressant medication.

--Carl Elliot

Friday, November 12, 2004

I like movies that credit the audience with intelligence. I watched Maria Full of Grace last night, and a tiny detail at the end caught my attention. There’s a background visual that ties together numerous thematic elements, and it’s shown in such an understated way, I’m guessing less than half the audience caught it and recognized its significance. But I prefer this over the overstatement that’s more often used in movies, where the camera is blatantly telling us things, instructing us on what significance we should give to a scene, rather than allowing significance to arise more naturally.

Now, the spoiler. Do not read on if you haven’t seen this movie, intend to, and don’t want to learn details about the plot.

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The movie focuses on Maria, who lives in Colombia and decides to become a drug mule, travelling to New York with cocaine. To get across the border, she swallows latex rubber capsules filled with the drugs. Maria also learns that she is pregnant, and when she is pulled in for questioning by U.S. Customs officers, it’s this that saves her from prosecution. X-rays are used by the customs officers to detect drugs in a person’s stomach, and X-rays cannot be performed on a pregnant woman.

Throughout her trip, Maria begins to see the bitter consequences of choosing to smuggle drugs. One mule is caught, and another named Lucy dies. Maria visits the sister and brother-in-law of Lucy, and ends up giving some of the drug money she receives for transporting Lucy’s body back to Columbia for burial.

But in the last scene, which has Maria walking away from the airport in a decision to remain in New York, we see a quick glimpse of an advertisement on the wall behind her, partially obscured by her body. It’s evident that the sign reads: “It’s what’s inside that counts.” That’s right. Drugs, new life, and character. Maria has dealt with all three internals.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Friday, November 05, 2004

I’ve watched Jim Jarmush’s Coffee and Cigarettes twice now. The first time, I absolutely loved it. The second time, I noticed segments that might have been better on one viewing only, amusing but not lasting. But I’ve had two of the sequences lodged in my mind for awhile, and I think they’re the two best.

The first involves actors Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, playing themselves—well, sort of. The “sort of” indicates that everyone in the movie plays themselves, if you can accept Bill Murray laying low with a waiter job and drinking coffee right from the pot as “himself.” There’s no clear indication when we’re seeing ad libbed material that might accurately reflect an actor’s true feelings, when we’re seeing a Jarmusch invention, or when we’re seeing a combination, and that in itself makes the movie more interesting.

But back to Molina and Coogan. In their bit, Alfred Molina has discovered that there is a genealogical link between himself and Steve Coogan—that they’re relatives. To Alfred, this is important and special and should be shared. He is excited and expects that an immediate bond will be formed over that mutual knowledge. But he gradually comes to realize that to Steve, it is just next to meaningless. Coogan is surprised, he politely comments on it, and then even before he leaves, it has already become just a useless piece of trivia.

The exchange reaches its peak when Alfred Molina states what he would like from Coogan. He tells him, “I want you to just acknowledge this extraordinary thing and just…love me.”

The statement runs so counter to Steve Coogan’s mode of handling relationships that he can barely respond, his words can only squeak out feebly. And at that tense, awkward moment, we have a perfect picture of two ways of existing. Molina shows that he enjoys the messy involvement of investing in other people’s lives, and has no interest in existing merely for his own sake. He holds Coogan in warm regard, and can hardly wait to start a long friendship. Coogan, on the other hand, is detached, self-ambitious and narcissistic. He can’t even get Alfred’s name right, and refuses to give him a personal phone number.

I don’t think Jarmusch is merely the watching camera in this dialogue. At the beginning, he shows us that Steve Coogan is on a higher level socially than Molina. His career seems to be taking off. But by a strange and clever twist, the roles are reversed, and Coogan is rebuked—mostly by circumstances, but also implied by Molina’s reaction when they part. It becomes very clear that Alfred Molina does not think highly of people who cannot get beyond themselves and accept the risks of not being isolated and removed.

Jarmusch, then, seems to be telling us that for all of Molina’s bumbling social clumsiness and borderline invasive manner, it’s better than being self-obsessed and cool. At least that’s what I take away from the scene, and would like to believe I’m right.

The other sequence, my favorite, is the last one, and the performance of Taylor Mead sitting with his friend Bill Rice as janitors in a large building is fantastic. Mead is an eccentric visionary with a deep love of life. He wants them to imagine that their coffee is champagne, and he thinks he can hear traces of the Mahler song “I Have Lost Track of the World” resonating through the building. He implores his friend to listen carefully until he too hears the song. These closing moments are tender, poignant, and achingly beautiful.

I don’t mean to sort these vignettes according to good and bad. As a whole, the movie is well-worth the time. Everything works. Bill Murray is wonderful as always, Iggy Pop and Tom Waits are fun, Roberto Benigni and Stephen Wright are off-beat hilarious, and Cate Blanchett is amazing. On the Blanchett scene, if you really want to be surprised, and don’t already know who sits across the table from her, do yourself a favor and close your eyes during the opening credits.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Paul Simon poetry.


Time it was,
and what a time it was,
it was...

a time of innocence,
a time of confidences.

Long ago, it must be,
I have a photograph,
preserve your memories,
they're all that's left you.

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