Monday, 28 June 2010

Falling Out of Bed Twice

Jane Campion and a panel from Little Nemo (Winsor McCay)

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Every Moment a Window

There is an amazing photograph of Mia Farrow from the Seventies that I sometimes find myself thinking about. It has nothing to do with Farrow specifically, but still its details come flashing through my memory at the oddest moments.

The first thing about the picture is that it isn't some glossy celebrity shot, meant to frame stardom or some dream of glamour. The subject certainly isn't Farrow's fame. This is candid, yet uninvasive in a way that a paparazzi photo could never intentionally be. Her glance isn't the typical self-conscious look of an actor being photographed either. Here we find someone turning, not to a camera, but within a moment, simply being. There is no predominant gaze or responsive pose. There is a lack of voyeurism or fetish. Perhaps what makes this stand out from the vast supply of images we encounter all the time is that the mystery, here, isn't one of desire.

There is a plainness. There is an authenticity that would be hard to wrangle out of even the most naturalistic photo journalism. There is, in those muted coffee tones, nothing that overtly calls our attention. We might only be passing. The wood of the misaligned chairs, the table cloth that seems to continue out the window (or doorway), the conversation of the man in the background--all of these lend themselves to the most undramatic of moments. The room is quiet, we feel, an echoing space, and cool enough for scarfs.

And yet there is momentum in the somewhat jittery and slightly out-of-focus composition. Two details stand out, for me. First there is Farrow's cigarette, burning, it seems, in two places at once--giving a sense that we are witnessing something imperfect and incomplete, an aperture in-between one moment and the next. Second, there is the man's wristwatch, only slightly in the background, but catching the coolness of that light, perhaps from a second unseen window.

We are moved to consider what happens next. Perhaps the subtle transience of such a quiet moment is the most startling thing.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Play Your Heart Out

I recently re-watched Mike Leigh's brilliant Happy-Go-Lucky, a film--it seems to me--that emphasizes the crucial role of play in daily life. Play, not just as a form of creativity, but as exploration too and ultimately as a form of coping, of attending to life in all its joys and sadness. This means making light of situations and relationships, not in order to forget them, but rather to see them more clearly.

'It is good to remember always that playing is itself a therapy...that play is an experience, always a creative experience, and...a basic form of living.--D.W. Winnicott

One of the underlying details of the Happy Go Lucky is how well-read and worldly these modern young women living in London happen to be. Poppy's sister is studying criminology, and at another point, we find Zoe reading Esther Freud's Hideous Kinky in bed. But one thing that I didn't catch when I first saw the film at the cinema, was a surprising Paul Auster reference that occurs early in the film.

Poppy and Zoe are constructing prototype bird-costumes for the classes of young children they teach.

POPPY: Be amazing to fly, wouldn’t it?

ZOE: You reckon?

POPPY: Just - phooo!

ZOE: What, like Mr Vertigo?

POPPY: Oh yeah. I love that book.

Mr Vertigo, as it happens, is the story of an orphan named Walt Rawley who is taught the secret art of flying by a strange magician named Master Yehudi. It begins with a Paper Moon scenario that similarly takes place in the Mid-West of the early twentieth century. Magical, dark, wildly playful, and in places heartbreakingly sad: it is, for me anyway, rather like a re-imagining of Peer Gynt in America. A story, like all great stories, really about a quest for selfhood, about trying to find one's place in the world.

It is one of Auster's more open, unselfconscious, and (dare I say) truly playful novels.

This is slightly unrelated, but I did happen to run into Mike Leigh one evening in London, crossing the street. I had just come from the Rothko show at the Tate, so this would have been February last year. As a young (and ultimately unsuccessful) film student, I was obsessed with Leigh's work. Particulary the twin-poles of Naked and Life is Sweet. Anyway, I was still too in awe of him to know what to say. I just stood there on a street corner in Pimlico thinking, I'm standing next to Mike Leigh. If I'd only known about the Auster reference, I think I might just have had enough nerve to ask him about it.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Breathing Space

I am in love with this image, just the sheer possibility of a space such as this. It makes you want to breathe more deeply.

Recently, reading about a new show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, called Small Spaces, I came across the architecture of Terunobu Fujimori whose work I find beautiful in its simplicity, its quiet unpretentious airiness. The tea houses he builds all give a feeling of away-ness too, a sensation strangely akin to the one I feel whenever I watch Woody Allen's rather underappreciated A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy (1982).

Here is Fujimori in his takasugi-an, literally 'a tea house too high', the construction and the lay out of which you can read about here. From what I can tell, his buildings all involve these tea houses as centrepieces.

'There is here no measuring with time, no year matters and the years are nothing. Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am gratful: patience is everything.'--Rilke 23 April 1903

Apparently, they built the entire house used is Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy from scratch, especially for the film. Its dacha-like detachment, its cool sombreness (perhaps reinforced by the lack of electrical fixtures) is something I find incredibly alluring, everytime I watch. It's like being welcomed in from the upstate New England heat, a little light-headed, and being offered a glass of lemonade and a spot to recline.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Summer Collage

From a Russian film I can't remember

Digging around for interviews with Paul Auster this morning, I stumbled across a reading by Priscilla Becker (poet, Brooklyn) in The Paris Review. You can listen to the entire thing here, but it inspired me to make a little summery sound collage using Becker's awkward lovely voice and an old Bert Jansch instrumental.

Blue Statuary

by Priscilla Becker

The songs wore out; they rusted
the radio. The singers began to die.
I left my toenails at the beach, hoping
they would grow another body.
I would return with a better,
more expressive face.

I loved it when you said my name.
When you didn’t, I listened
to the sounds the world made.
The trees especially injured me,
though they wouldn’t have known.
When the wind arrives, it upsets them.

I would return with sand in my hair.
The silence, I expected.

Liv Ullman in Utvandrarna

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Oneself as Another

Oneself as Another suggests from the outset that the selfhood of oneself implies otherness to such an intimate degree that one cannot be thought of without the other...[This relationship is] not only that of comparison (oneself similar to another) but indeed that of implication (oneself inasmuch as being other).--Paul Ricoeur

Watched The Double Life of Veronique the other night and I'm still, contemplatively, wrapped up in it, somehow seeing its aura everywhere. I somehow knew from the first minutes that this was one of the most tremendous films I had ever seen. It's perhaps one of those amazing films you occasionally find you have put off watching for years and years, as if preparing yourself for something you know will be revelatory. In a way, the story of the movie has always been there, haunting you, part of you, hiding in the backdrop of your life. Indeed, I can still remember myself as an adolescent, puzzling over this empty video case in Foriegn section of the local video rental shop, but never once taking it out.

The film itself has got me thinking about identity, and the different parts of ourselves we carry around with us. Also the fact that Veronique must ultimately mourn the death of Weronika, this other who is also herself. She must search for this mirror image, even if she mistakenly thinks she is searching for romance (with an enigmatic puppeteer, no less). She must discover the real absence, the real person whom she misses and needs. That she finds her, in the end, only by chance is perhaps the most crucial thing.

Some days before, I had seen two fortune cookies on the ground, outside the same Chinese restaurant where I once spent my 21st birthday. (In fact, I still carry in my wallet the fortune I received on that very night, which says You are a person who goes places in the world.)

So there on the sidewalk outside the door of The Hon Lin Restaurant, ten years later, and two new cookies. The first was broken in half, the second unopened. Picking them up and saving them, I read the fortunes later that same evening. Immediately, I wanted to send them to somebody else, mail them as gifts, imagining their surprise. I also imagined myself in other lives, living whatever dreams these fortunes foretold.

I must admit, I never play the lottery, but these fortunes complelled me to do so and I very carefully played the numbers that were printed on their backs. It goes without saying that I lost, but that really isn't the point. The point was the will to imaginatively invest and creatively wager on the power of chance alone. I wanted to say a little prayer for chance.

Anyway, it reminded me later--after finally seeing Kieslowski's film--of something Veronique/Weronika might have done.

More than anything else in this film, it was the view Veronique awakes to in her father's house that startled me most. Because, although I was seeing it for the first time, I felt I already knew it, had been there to visit. Many times, I felt, I had opened those same doors and walked out, barefoot or rubber-booted on the grass. Many times, in many books, I had pictured scenes there and watched shadows play across the ceiling.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Background Details

I used to leave little messages to myself around the house, fiercely folded slips of paper I'd squeeze into skirting-board corners or stuff underneath the furniture. The idea was to forget about these notes, then discover them again at a later date. I was trying to get in touch my future self, I guess. Dear Jane, dear Jane: I've been thinking about you again; I've forgotten to tell you how beautiful you are; I've always known you would escape, see the world, fall in love.

One of my favourite hiding places, actually, was in old library books, in that envelope they used to have pasted inside to keep track of each copy (and which often housed the signatures of previous readers).

The climax to all of this was when I began tape recording the messages. I started burying cassettes in the backyard, wrapping them in waxpaper, before I finally dug them up again weeks perhaps even months afterwards. I would play them at night, on a blue walkman that only had three buttons: play, stop, and fast-forward. I can still feel the texture of those foam-insulated headphones. Always, I would shiver when I heard the sound of my voice so ghostly and warbled, telling secrets from the abyss. It made me a little nervous, a little like I was evesdropping on something off-limits.

The only thing, I think, that saved my sanity was when my parents suddenly divorced. I was eleven at the time. Shortly after that, I seem to recall my mother blaming me for ruining her azaleas. Even though I pleaded ignorance, she knew something was up. Maybe she had noticed a footprint in the flowerbed. Maybe she had come across one of my notes and became suspicious. I never found out--but the obsession ended. The notes were all retreived and unfolded, the tapes erased. My future self ceased to be a myserious object of interest.

But every once and awhile, my secret self haunts me. On cold nights when I feel like taking a walk, feel the urge for slipping away without anybody knowing, I hear that girl's voice again. Dear Jane, she says, over and over, before she is finally muffled by all those absent years left between sender and recipient.

Figures in the background of a wedding photograph from Norton Canes, 1937. The marriage of my great aunt and uncle, Ada and Harry Hesketh. My grandmother was a bridesmaind.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Waking Up with Art

Maybe fate is never one thing, but a composite of possibilities...

I really don't know the story behind the two different covers for Garkunkel's not-so-great album from 1979. He may have produced a lot of fluff in the Seventies but this album and Breakaway, I think, are both underappreciated gems in terms of their cover art alone (the latter album especially). Here, the dish of jam disappears. A butter plate arrives. It's like those games from Highlights magazine in which you were asked to count the subtle differences between two scenes.

Something sexy going on here too, as if the record buyer has just woken up with Art in some dreamy New York apartment.

This is slightly unrelated, but I also find it amusing that Mr Garfunkel has a list on his official website of every book he's read since 1968. It's arranged in chronological order, so for instance we can see what Art was reading during his star turn in Mike Nichols's Carnal Knowledge (it was Sense and Sensibility).

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

la glu de l'aléa fait sens

Nobody knows what Couperin's Mysterious Barricades (Les Barricades Mistérieuses) refers to. Some think it has to do with the melody itself. Others have proposed, I think rather crudely, that it may have to do with the unobtainability of a maiden's virginity...Why the plural, then, is anyone's guess, but I think on at least some level, the mystery might (like all good mysteries) have to do with time. Perhaps we may think of past and future as being barricaded from the present, opening and closing in unexpected, often bittersweet ways...

Incidentally, Paul Auster mentions this work of Couperin's a number of times in his work. Off-handedly in Moon Palace when Marco and his father are comparing their favorite things; it is listed as one of the fictional Paul Benjamin's books in the screenplay for the film Smoke; and finally, in the Music of Chance when Nashe, who is being forced to build a wall, starts playing it (it was Auster's working title for the book too);

It was impossible for him to play this last piece without thinking about the wall, and he found himself returning to it more often than any of the others. It took just over two minutes to perform, and at no point in its slow, stately progress, with all its pauses, suspensions, and repetitions, did it require him to touch more than one note at a time. The music started and stopped, then started again, then stopped again, and yet through it all the piece continued to advance, pushing on toward a resolution that never came. Were those the mysterious barricades? Nashe remembered reading somewhere that no one was certain what Couperin had meant by that title. Some scholars interpreted it as a comical reference to women's underclothing - the impenetrability of corsets - while others saw it as an allusion to the unresolved harmonies in the piece. Nashe had no way of knowing. As far as he was concerned, the barricades stood for the wall he was building on the meadow, but that was quite another thing from knowing what they meant. (181.)