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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Black Swan: A One-Minute Film Review! The Movie That Dips Its Beak Toward Leda!

BLACK SWAN, the new movie -- or rather Film, with a tottering capital F -- takes the self-v.-self plot conceit, throws it into a revamped La Boheme milieu, tosses in some horror tropes and pre-Beauvoir Cinderella psychology -- at times I found it unbearable to watch, both the prefabness of it all and the horror -- and yet moments of specificity hit that particular sweet-spot note of narrative inevitability, quivering between utter cliche and utter urgency, which could just about make a viewer's head spin around, several times and fast, a la the Exorcist.

The dancer I saw the Film with found it unbearable as well -- and yet. And yet.

Whatever it is, film, movie, last year's nightmare: it enters one's head like a virus from outer space, clenches in, resists forgetting, especially in the resplendence of its cliches. So does that, therefore, make it Oscar material?

Uncurmudgeonly Unman*
*As a friend of mine says: only curmudgeonly men of a certain age don't like this movie.

**The music link, above, is just for fun. The movie trailer -- and not, mind, that I recommend you see this movie -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jaI1XOB-bs.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Other White Meat

An article on the Jewish Xmas Eve tradition of Chinese food and a movie, first published in 1992 in Contemporary Ethnography:


Bon appetit!

Friday, December 24, 2010

In Memory of a Late Teacher: Thesis and Antithesis

To enter that high school European History classroom was to enter a sanctuary. You were being inducted into something much greater than you could access, you a freshman, he a teacher with consonants exploding klieg-fast and with a certainty you could never hope to muster. Let's have a summary, he'd splutter, and you would try to recover from your careful notes -- taken before in the marble notebook he demanded -- some simulacrum of the prospect view and theory of history on which he had lectured the day before. Years later, you revisit his syllabus, his careful crafting of European history, and marvel at how gracefully opinionated his ideas were, how much history he happily elided, and the absolute respect he extended to mostly American students by proffering them, on a filigreed silver platter, the absolutisms of his Europe.

The defenestration of Prague. Thesis (splutter) and antithesis (double splutter).

To this writer, having been schooled in Oakland-Berkeley public school with not much more to show for it than an acquaintance with Japanese kite songs, the Pate-Pate, and the best methods for incubating chicks, becoming a person who would never truly master which states border Minnesota, Mr. Crome's specificity and transcendence knocked away walls and created a vaulted intellectual cathedral. One could master history and form a thesis; even Herodotus was a kind of fiction writer; historiography already an imperiled pursuit. Come to history with some creativity, he seemed to imply, a stance which might have been a result of his brief past as a kid in the Hitler Youth, a student-borne "fact" which might have had no legs. A bad historian, I still don't know.

His head shone under fluorescence so brightly it seemed spit-polished, as was, perhaps, the careful curl of his forelock. In his being, he retained something of the blue-eyed boyish roue (accent over the e, but can't put it in here!) about him: I would always see him at Au Coquelet, the Berkeley cafe on University and Milvia, savoring with great nostalgia some pastry with layers of whipped cream which just about screamed opening night at the Bavarian opera house. In short, he was exactly the particular enigma students remember and savor, everyone held in the loving esteem which the school -- note "school" as a breathing, corporeal being -- showed its faculty as well as its students.

I remember Mister Crome talking to me on a walkway at what we still thought of as the new campus, telling me a term paper I had written on Descartes was a noble failure, and the phrase stuck: he offered me the epiphany of realizing ideas would forever be embedded in words as a kind of holy vestment, and that there would never be a way to sunder an idea from its representation in language. I could almost say my entire career (as a writer who seems unwillingly drawn, again and again, back to the idiosyncratic byways of history) could have come from the moment of realizing both the failure of my attempt and the nobility of the pursuit.

To the memory of Mister Hans Crome, therefore, to spit-curls and klieg-consonants, in gratitude, I raise the above cup of nostalgic froth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Recognizing the Slave

I had an odd encounter this evening, in person, with a spokesperson for a major demonic force in corporate America -- let the name of the big entity go unspoken for now, but let's just say it starts with W. And while at first I saw only the flat deadness in the eyes of this spokesperson -- so much like the eyes of a bigoted policeman I once had the fortune to meet off a highway in Whittier, California -- while this customer service manager spoke his party line, speaking American cust-serv glossolalia, while I lost any hope of seeing his humanity, by some grace I managed to do some internal jiujiutsu, and lo and behold, the conversation turned! There came into my proxy's gaze the merest flicker of humanity, clouds parting enough to reveal the slave in his eyes, the helpless proxy of our ironic country in which individuals march lemming-like toward corporations. This proxy, neither young nor old but already formed, this poor customer service manager seemed, before this signal moment, to have been speaking in tongues, but once I made what felt at the time to be an effort worthy of Hercules to see his slave, we started to have a simulacrum of real conversation.

Being able to recognize the slave in another's eyes: a gift capable of unlatching whatever keeps all our thousands of tiny inner slaves unnoticed.