Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Amy McDonald /Dream On

Dream On, first single from Under Stars (2017), latest album by my favorite Scottish female singer


Thursday, 8 June 2017

Arrival (2016)



Here's a new version of the Contact topic. That is, Earth people's contact with an intelligent and technologically advanced Alien civilization. However Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016) is not of the Independence Day type, but rather of the clever Contact (R Zemeckis, 1997) type. In the 1997 movie starring Jodie Foster (and based on an absorbing 1985 Carl Sagan novel) it was Science and Technology that were at the center of the stage, even if sharing prominence with some metaphysical implications. Scientist Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), after receiving a signal from Vega, manages to travel there making use of alien technology, even if her story has later to face general disbelieve. And it will be a life-changing deeply emotional event she will experience over there, in outer space, on the surface of a Vega Planet (in some sort of Paradise beach, near a deepest blue sea), an spiritual experience, not unlike that of Dave Bowman in 2001, A Space Odissey.

But it was physics, astronomy and engineering that Ellie Arroway used as ways to her transfiguring voyage. In Arrival, it is not Physics leading the way, but another science is, one often neglected in this kind of movies: linguistics/philology. So the protagonist here, that is, the scientist mainly in charge and (intelectually) kicking ass does not come from a "hard" science, but from a "soft" humanistic discipline: Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an expert on everything related to human languages in all their variety and complexity.

Communicating with advanced aliens: a cultural challenge. 

Yes. Language. Because, suppose the aliens finally come. Suppose they have an amazing technology, and a (way deeper than ours) knowledge of natural laws, and how the universe works. Well, how do we learn from them? How do we manage to communicate? Linguistics/Philology reigns in Arrival as the main science or discipline.

So aliens arrive, then. It is Arrival Day. And they hang up there amidst the clouds, in strangely shaped spaceships. But unlike Independence Day, they do not just set out to destroy human cities straight away and for the sake of it, they just happen to hang up there, apparently waiting, as if not being sure what to do next once they have made it to Earth, and finally found out there is an intelligent species over here.

What's next? Well now they (and we) have to try to establish some sort of communication. But how do you communicate with beings that do not share anything with you, no psychological or emotional traits, only the knowledge of physical laws? Sure there should be a common ground, as after all we are all biological creatures from the same universe, with the same physical and biological laws underlying us. But the abyss between us must be huge all the same.

The humanities, also within the equation

I remember this book by Evry Schatzman, The Children of Urania which was about technologically Advanced Alien Civilizations, about their chance to exist, about the (scientific) conditions for their existence, all the theoretical frame for such existence, developed once again: the Kardashev types of civilizations, the Fermi question (how come they still have not visited us if there are probably so many of them?), the impossibility for faster than light travel, and so on and so forth.

So the book went through the usual exposition of the conditions that make an (alien) civilization likely: the right size of the star, the right size of the planet, the right distance, the necessity for liquid water on the surface, or for an oxygen atmosphere...the full list of astronomical, physical, chemical demands. But there was something in The Children of Urania which I had not found in other similar books, and which was for sure food for thought. Mutations of culture as doors into science and technological development. A cultural change as a key condition for the advent of science and technology, a change or a mutation that might not have happened on Earth, that might indeed be very rare, and that... might explain our astronomical solitude.

Take human civilization(s) some 1000 years ago. What kind of civilization was it back then? Let's take a look, for instance, at West/Latin Europe. Could we consider it an advanced Civilization? What would aliens have thought of it had they arrived on Earth around 1000 AD to pay a visit and check how things were going on here in terms of intelligence and technical progress? Well, for sure, back then European civilization was an "advanced" one, in some sense. After all, it was quite a rich, sophisticated one. Philosophy, theology, architecture, literature, poetry, politics, art...were all developing at a good level. But sure Medieval European Civilization (or those of the rest of the world for that matter) were not scientific-technological. Not in the sense today we understand as such. Sophisticated they were, highly conceptual, but with a very limited knowledge of the real (material) nature of the Universe. 

Well, what happened half millenia later? In the early 16th century, the so called scientific revolution took place. The modern scientific method was established and a growing body of positive knowledge of the natural world started to build-up. Around 1600, we abandoned finally the speculative laberynth that all past civilizations underwent, and managed to enter at last a solid terrain of positive knowledge. What was the explanation to this mutation? was it the emergence of capitalism? Protestant culture and ethics? The enormous building-up of classic knowledge due to the invention of printing? It was in any case a cultural mutation that might not have happened. How can we be so sure that that mutation always takes place in all alien civilizations? Perhaps we are alone, and there is no other technological civilization in the whole universe, the reason being not such things as, say, the peculiar size of our moon and the tidal force, but the astonishing and mysterious cultural change that took place in the 16 century and which led to the so called scientific revolution.

See? There is more to the Contact story than hard experimental science. Humanities and soft social sciences might be as important. The mutation of Civilization into a scientific technological one had a "humanistic cultural" basis. It might not have happened. Language, as the basis of the so-called humanities is a fundamental tool and one essential discipline in our process of contacting. Let's stop forgetting it or minimizing it.

Aliens from an advanced civilization must be "intelligent" which means not only rational, but in possession of a good set of neurons (or neuron-like cells) making them not only logical and mathematical but spiritual, thus capable of creating deep spiritual worlds of symbolism and meaning. Will we contact their spiritual world with our spiritual world?

A "feminine" aproach

Arrival highlights the importance of culture in the Contact topic. Not just physical science, but cultural approaches and transformations. Again it is a woman who leads the way (as in 1997 Contact), but this time with a "social science" as an instrument. Women are probably better at social and humanistic disciplines, so its fair enough that a woman leads the show here. Women are very good at language and communication (whereas men are probably, even if this is probably not too PC to say, better at physics). Arrival is a movie on the importance of language and communication between unbelivably distant beings, of emphasizing the necessity for building up bridges. Of solving the tricky riddle of how to connect minds and intelligences, linking psychological (spiritual) inner worlds.

Arrival is a feminine (not a "feminist") approach to the Contact topic, this being a frequent -sometimes even tiresome- topic within the SF frame. Language, and not physics is the star here. Arrival is a clever movie, with a good script, a good development, well-drawn psychologies and fine performances. But I would highlight, as its most interesting trait, its vindication of a humanistic discipline as a fundamental key to a possible future Contact. Something which reminds us the overall importance of the rest of the (so called) humanities in our (likely) future contacts with aliens, with advanced technological alien civilizations. Because they might well be a product of cultural mutations, of cultural intangible forces (not only biological ones), much as we ourselves are. Theirs being a spiritual vasteness as deep as ours, for which we will need approaches well beyond the strict reign of matter, once we have aknowledged, of course, that we both share the same rational scientific frame.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

WestWorld / Season 1 (2016)


"They say that great beasts once roamed this world. Big as mountains. Yet all that's left of them is bone and amber. Time undoes even the mightiest creatures. Just look what it's done to you. One day, you will perish. You will like with the rest of your kind in the dirt. Your dreams forgotten, your horrors faced, your muscles will turn to sand, and upon that sand a new God will walk, one that will never die, because this world doesn't belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who is yet to come."

This great line of the probably best TV series today made me think of an idea expressed by paleoanthropologist Yves Coppens in The Most Beautiful Story of The World. "It is unsure if we humans are to be the heroes of this story" The "story" being Earth's geological/biological evolution since its formation. We humans have been here on this planet for a mere million years. How long will we survive? Let's not forget that there are still like 4.000 million years of Earth history yet to unfold!

So will humans last? How long? And if not, who will their succesors be? And will these be the product of evolution/biology (as we were), or rather the product of (human-derived) technology?

Our descendants, the new masters of the world, will they be of the carbon type? Or rather of the silicon type, like these Westworld "artificial" but increasingly -through experience and change- humanlike creatures?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Onibaba (鬼婆, 1964)


As well as books, movies are countless. Over a century of movie-creating has resulted in an infinitude of them. In all languages, all topics and genres, all possible human approaches, and from all countries. Quite a few outstand as well-known masterpieces (Kane, Potemkim, Vertigo, 8 1/2, Tokio Story, 2001, Rashomon, Rules of the Game, and the like). But so many years of the so-called (7th)art have inevitably also led to the existence of a good amount of forgotten classics. That is: movies of obvious quality and aesthetic value but no longer (if ever) present in the charts, the critics' reviews or moviegoers' conversations. Perhaps forgotten is not the right word of course, as these movies are not actually "forgotten", but sure they're (a bit) neglected. At least outside the country where they originated.

Here's one of those hidden gems: Onibaba (鬼婆, 1964), from one of the most important cinematographies in the world: Japan. This dark hypnotic movie is not exactly a hidden gem. It is a gem, sure, but not "hidden", at least not in Japan. But is it known or heard of by most fans (even horror fans) in the West or the rest of the world? I doubt it.

The story of Onibaba is set in Japan in the mid 14th Century, during a period of civil war, of death, poverty and hunger, of loneliness and suffering. Two women, mother and daughter-in law, survive by killing soldiers after inadvertedly atacking them with spears, or tricking them into a deep hole. They later trade with their possessions, and that is how they make their living. A dangerous living in the nearly perpetual dusk (even under the sunlight) of this ominous world of Onibaba. 

Later on, at some point, the two women will be haunted by a sort of masked demon, whose origin was a previously killed (by them) masked samurai. Directed by Kaneto Shindo (who worked as an assistant of the legendary japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi), Onibaba is a true Japanese horror classic. Little known (or not at all) in the West. Some critics consider the movie to be a period drama, but most view it plainly as a horror movie. Well, it is both. And it contains solitude, hunger, maddening sexual desire, jealousy, fear, deceit, murder, claustrophobia, a menacing war background, and the presence of the supernatural, A great deal of symbolism underlies the story. (The mask hiding the desfigured samurai might be a symbol of that real Japan desfigured by the Hiroshima bombing, etc)

"Onibaba is a chilling movie, a waking nightmare shot in icy monochrome, and filmed in a colossal and eerily beautiful wilderness" Peter Bradshaw

Onibaba is a gem, hidden o not, not to be missed. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Enemy (2013)


Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered. José Saramago  

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013) is a Canadian-Spanish production loosely based on Jose Saramago's The Double, with screenplay by Javier Gullón. In a way, this is an intriguing encounter beetween the universes of the late portuguese writer (philosophical, intellectually on point, somewhat morose) and that of David Lynch (fantastic, dreamlike, highly symbolic). In Villeneuve's movie we are introduced to a College history teacher (Jake Gyllenhaal) by the name of Adam Bell, who leads a life apparently devoid of all excitement, a guy who seems totally focused on his academic discipline and who, as he himself claims "is not interested in movies" and probably, the viewer guesses, not into any other form of entertainment either. He just teaches history at College and makes love to his fiancée Mary (Mélanie Laurent), that's all.

 Doppelgänger

But one day he comes across something really weird, something that will turn his monotone life upside down. On one ocasion a colleague suggests he take a look at one particular movie that he might find of interest which comes under the title of Where There's a Will There's a Way. Without much excitement, Adam rents a DVD of the movie and makes a pretty scary discovery: in the movie playing a very small role, there is an actor who is physically identical to him. Yes, a double, a doppelgänger, there in that obscure movie he had never heard of. After some quick googling, Adam finds out the identity of this second-to-third-rate basically unknown actor. He learns that he has just made a few movies and played in very small parts, as an extra, essencially. The actor's name is Anthony Claire and the little information he finds in the internet makes it clear that they are like two drops of water, or next to it.

Adam also finds out that his double (played also by Gyllenhaal, obviously) lives in Toronto as well, this dreamlike Toronto as depicted in Enemy, and he decides that he should meet him. Eventually the two men will meet in a creepy, slightly terrifying, face to face encounter, that Adam cannot completely cope with. 

Except for some minor details (Anthony wears a wedding ring), the two appear to be identical. Also both happen to be related to physically similar blond girl friends: Mary (Mélanie Laurent) and Helen (Sarah Gadon), Anthony's wife, who is 6 months pregnant. Adam and Anthony might look identical in physical terms but their psychologies drastically differ. Adam, the history teacher, is dubious and hesitating; Anthony, on his part, is more proactive, even agressive.

There is an unequivocal Lynchean atmosphere, oneiric, weird, in the development of the story. We find spiders here and there in the course of the movie, as if the spider (and a spider's web) was a key concept to the understanding of Enemy. What is going on here? What is the deeper meaning of this strange movie we are seeing?

Spiders here and there

I remember some time ago talking to a friend who had been engaged for a few years, though not yet married to his fiancée. I asked him how the thing was going, and I recall him saying something like At first I felt sort of trapped. But now I would say I am fine. Well, trapped. And this has been pointed out as one possible key to the underlying meaning of Enemy. This feeling of being trapped in a relationship, which is not clear. As if one was a kind of insect in a spider's web, and even ready to be devoured by the spider. And who is the spider? Well, uh, the woman. And the spider's web is nothing but the commitment: this commitment so often demanded, which some find suffocating, and so hard to stick to at times.

Also there is this final shot in Enemy. Again involving a spider. The most terrifying final shot in all movies, as some have said. Don't know if the most terrifying one, but scary as fuck, all the same. Spiders.

Spiders. Are they the clue? Being trapped by the spider's web of a commited relationship. Or is this, as someone else has suggested, an Invasion of the body snatchers thing? Could Anthony Claire, Adam's doppelgänger, be truly a spider in a human disguise? Well, anyway, Enemy is rich enough to allow different interpretations, as dreams do. One thing is certain: here is a story of the Mulholland Drive sort: incomprehensible, complex, lysergic, scary. Wonderfully image-turning. Filled with enigmatic clues and symbolisms to taste, if you are into it (Is this chaos decipherable?) If not, you can at least enjoy a good lynchean oneiric ride, without caring much about the meaning. 


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Nightcrawler (2014)

Of course, in Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014) we have another great performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, a most eclectic and arguably one of the finest actors today. But what I find most fascinating about his brilliant Louis Bloom creation is something that has already been noted by some viewers and critics: smartly psychopathic, Bloom is a close relative of two iconic Robert De Niro characters: Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver (1976) and Ruppert Pupkin from The King of Comedy (1982), both directed by Martin Scorsese. Louis Bloom is definitely a sort of mixture of Bickle and Pupkin, sharing psychological traits with these two other lovable sociopaths.

Like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, he also scans away the night scene with a cold, dispassionate eye, safely behind the wheel of his car. Only that Bloom's eye is even colder and more dispassionate, because Bloom, unlike Bickle, doesn't exactely feel dismayed or angry by what he sees in the New York streets in the small hours, nor does he play with the idea of perhaps cleaning the streets up in some sort of fascist way. Louis Bloom just wants to document them, to "print on tape", or digitally register, the pain he comes across in the streets, or rather which he actively seeks for (accidents, murders, whatever), and then deliver it to others who are eager to consumate it. He delivers it to the media and wants to be paid for it accordingly. That is it. He doesn't give a shit about what causes the tragedies and their pains, or what could be done about it. We have this intuition that he could even be happy to create the painful situations himself, if necessary, if that could better serve his purposes, so as to have more of them to register, and earn more money.  His eye is not a moral one, it appears purely dehumanized.

And along with his other kindred spirit Ruppert Pupkin (King of Comedy), Bloom also has illusions of grandeur. Like Pupkin, he is obsessed with climbing up the ladder of success, no matter what. He definitely wants to be someone, a big someone. He is the ultimate entrepreneur, and an unscrupulous type of it. He knows what he wants. His moral approach might be reprehensible, but at least no one could say his goals are not crystal-clear. Aside from the psychological similarities between Bloom and Pupkin, Nightcrawl also delivers us (like The King of Comedy did) a critical comment on the media culture of the day. And in the case of Nightcrawl, on the harshest variety of it. If it bleeds it leads takes media culture to a most cynical dimension, in which images are coldy and impeccably manipulated to suit one particular narrative or editorial line.

Bickle, Pupkin and now Gyllenhall's Bloom are three sociopaths sharing the same essential icy loner psychology. Nightcrawl could well be considered the Taxi Driver of today. (It even has its own You Talking to Me? scene, guess which one). We could note that in 2014 Nightcrawl Jake Gyllenhall was the same age (33) as Robert De Niro in 1976 Taxi Driver. Maybe that is just a biographical anecdote, but it could as well be a sign of Gyllenhall's coming iconic status. What is not anecdote for sure, is that the anapologetic strenght of Nightcrawl seems to equal that of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Gilroy's movie is a great one, a realistic knockout in a moral sense. A cynical document in the form of fiction of today's world, and through the eyes of a most cynical character.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

George Michael (1963-2016)


Here's a cool acoustic version by George Michael of Wham!'s Everything She Wants (1984). With a live orquestra and a small crowd of some 300 people, he performed it along with tracks from his 1996 album Older and other works.

Recorded in London, in October 1996 (aired 1997), this was critically aclaimed as one of the best MTV Unplugged performances.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

James Taylor / Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas


Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now


Here is Christmas again. This is a time which is loved by many, but feared by quite a few as well. It is a time (supposedly) of happiness, of family gathering and heavy dinners, of partying. Also of bitter loneliness and near depression. Perhaps nothing of what we wanted has been achieved, another year is passing by, and to many that alone is depressing.

Written in 1944 by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blame for Minnelli's Meet me in Saint Louis, Have yourself a Merry little Christmas is one of the most popular and most performed Christmas songs of all time. It has also been covered quite a few times by different artists.  But I would say that James Taylor's version is possibly the one that's best captured the bittersweet taste of this period of the year: sparkling happiness mixed up with dark melancholy, the two sides of Christmas.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Ian McEwan: Atonement

It is the hot (for England) summer of 1935, in a nice big country house in Sussex. The Tallis, a high class family, inhabit it for the summer holidays. The father, a high government commissioner, is away in his London office, busy at work with preparations for a European war that back then, in mid 1930s, is becoming a real possibility. Among the people at the house we find the mother, tortured by never-ending migraines; the elder daughter (22 year-old Cecilia); the younger one (13 year-old Briony); the brother Leon; business man Paul Marshall; and finally three cousins from the North, on a visit. Along with a due bunch of servants, we find Robbie Turner as well, the son of the governess, who is also a protegé of the Tallis family.

Briony is the central character in this amazing story. At 13, she is theoretically on the brink of leaving childhood, but she is also well into that strong egotism so typical of childhood and early (sometimes full) adolescence. Nonetheless, in this case to her ordinary child's solipsism, you also add up a great imaginative creative power.

Briony, thrilled by story creation 

She's thrilled by the act of creating tales. Writing, translating into words the awesome, or just plain, events of existence is something she definitely loves to do: she is truly a writer, a narrator in the making, a young person whose life will, in years to come, likely be devoted to literature, to the re-shaping of reality in the form of fiction. It already is, actually, this very day, as she spends most of her hours putting little stories on paper with increasing skill. She imagines stories all along, which she later has her mother (and about everyone else) read and evaluate: she likes showing off her talent. Her emotional development, her new experiences and thoughts will find immediate reflection on those pages she is constantly filling up.

But on this particular summer day extraordinary things will happen. Things which will mark Briony's fate as well as those around and linked to her. The fate of the people at the house that very moment is going to be determined by Briony's imaginative powers. Today is the day, and tragedy will take place.

What is going on? Some cousins from the north are coming to the Sussex mansion, in order to spend a few weeks with the Tallis: 15 year old-Lola and her two younger twin-brothers. Also among the new guests today are Leon (Briony's brother) and a friend of his, Paul Marshall, already a successful young businessman. Just then, immediately before the arrival of the guests, Briony has finished a play that she has intitled Arabella, which she, full of excitement, of course intends to represent before her beloved brother and the rest of the guests. For that, she counts on the (reluctant) aid of the cousins: Lola and the twins. So she calls out for the due rehearsals to the annoyance of the northern cousins, which would rather do anything else. Go play by the swimming pool, for instance.

At the same time, Robbie, the housekeeper's son, spends the morning in dreamy introspection, thinking of quite a promising future unfolding before him: to his literature degree he has just achieved, he speculates with adding a new one: Medicine, no less. And of course he also thinks, and quite so, of Cecilia, the Tallis elder daughter, whom he has known since they were children. He fancies her. That morning, he is fantasizing about her, while inmersed in his bathtub. And at one point, he emerges from the bathtub and reaches the nearby desk, where he sits down to typewrite a letter to Cecilia Tallis.

He playfully tries different versions, some of them a bit too rude to really think of delivering, but which he writes as well, just for the fun of it (maybe thinking what if, anyway).... He finishes the definitive version, one he thinks is OK: a more or less polite version of course, of what he had to say. But, what happens then?...yes, we guessed it: he mistakenly ends up sending the wrong letter, one of the rude versions he had been playing with, one which he thought he had discarded. The rudest one, in fact, one which reproduces a explosive slung word. Explosive, that is, for the place and time and the vehicle, a letter.

Fancying, invoking tragedy 

Cecilia and Robbie have known each other since they were children. They are in love, only they still haven't become fully aware of it. They soon will, that same day actually, but the most awful misunderstanding is going to stand on their way, also that same night. And it is the deliverer of the letter (writer-in the-making Briony) who will be the responsible for it.

After Briony has given Robbie's letter to her sister, one definitive scene will take place. In the evening, the guests (including Robbie) gather up for dinner. Afterwards, having both got up discreetly from the table, Cecilia and Robbie head for the library, where they will end up making love with shelves full of books as a frame. Briony just enters the library while they are at it, and well, she sees the thing, and being just 13 (and also being high class England in the 1930s) she does not quite understand what is going on.

But her powerful imagination is quickly set into motion. A dark imagination at that moment, way darker than that of a similar creature: Ana, from The Spirit of the Beehive. Briony is more proactive than Ana, and she will unconciously generate what will turn out to be injustice and cruelty, born out of that abundant inner world of hers.

Earlier that day, Briony had also witnessed something by the lake, again involving Cecilia and Robbie, another weird (to her child's imagination) event, that she again will process in the wrong way.

Later at night, in the woods surrounding the house, something horrible will happen. Is it a rape? An attempt? The victim is Lola, the 15-year-old cousin from the north. Everyone is distressed, and the police are quickly called in. All people at the house are interrogated on the crime. Who might the assailant be? But Briony, her imagination out of control, has already decided who he is.

Atonement is a great exploratory work, a must for those readers who wish to be told a good story, also for those who like reflecting on the power of literature, who want perhaps to manufacture good valuable literature themselves, for the story which is told and the horizons the narration might reach. The great power of fiction, and its own reality.

History itself is a construction of our minds, even if its based on factual truth, it is after all a series of texts, which we create and shape. So will the lives be of those people in Briony's hands. Narrations. Imagination can be a source of aesthetical beauty. Also of lies, arbitrariness, ultimately disaster. But it too has the potential of eventually creating some form of posthumous symbolic justice.

The destiny of the flesh

As an author, as any author worth the name, Briony is some sort of a goddess, thus capable of instilling life on the creatures of her imagination, putting them on stage and set them out to think, live and experience. Also, as we will discover, she will even have the capacity to alter the lives of the physical beings around her, retelling their stories and destinies. Early in the movie, we had seen Briony alone in her room in the middle of the act of writing, so precious to her, and we have spoted some diminutive figures by her side, like ready to be manipulated by her, if she wishes. They might be a symbol of her power of creation and literary manipulation.

We are made of flesh and, true, that flesh will be vanishing in the course of just a few years or decades. After that, it is only remembrance that will remain of us. Our flesh will have become just a text, a narration, an oral one or, if we are lucky enough, written by someone. If anything, we will have turned into a story, such is the destiny of our (now) tangible matter. What is to be done with that bunch of texts which constitutes our identity, once we are gone? We are in the hands of those who will carry out our memory, those executors of our narrations, those who establish its basis and those who will add to it. If they exist, if we are fortunate enough to have them. Otherwise, nothing will be left of us, fair or not.

Briony will discover just that in due time. At one point, people are gone and all that is remaining is their tale. She will learn that this tale can be retold or reinterpreted, enriched with new meanings, clever variations. And in doing so, in some mysterious way some sort of peculiar justice, should we say rebalancing (in an aesthetical or moral sense), can even be made, without betraying the essential truth.

In Briony's case, it was a matter of atonement, of self-punishment. A moral challenge. But overall, if we are the chosen ones, if we have awaken a strong mind's creative power and put it at the service of our story...well, it is hard to imagine a bigger fortune.


Monday, 5 December 2016

Compliance (2012)


It is a mad busy day at a branch of a fast food chain. The day outlook seems to be a bit grim. Dificulties are mounting up. The previous night, someone left the refrigerator door open. Some food have got rotten, and there will be problems to serve some orders. Also, problems aside, and beyond some artificial friendliness, staff members do not appear to get along extremely well.

To make things a bit more confusing, suddenly there is a phone call asking for the branch manager. Turns out to be a police officer, coming up with a strange accusation: a customer claims that money has been stolen from their purse, that same morning at the branch. The officer also reveals the existence of some amount of evidence for the crime. As a result, one of the staff members, 19 year-old Becky, is accused by the officer on the phone. She is drawn aside. And the nightmare begins.

Compliance (Craig Zobel, 2012) is true psychological horror. Horror might arise from a life-threatening menace, but more frequently it simply arises from trouble (or complete impossibility) to understand exactly what is going on, not in the world as a whole, but in our personal micro-world. Horror arises from the troubles we all have understanding the others (and ourselves), their deep pshycology and reasoning, their actual motivations, the meaning of their actions. To some extent, all we are familiar with is nothing but a handful of masks we see around us, acting in a way whose actual purpose we dont completely grasp, or not at all. We just have verbalized messages directed at us or at the others, along with some ambiguous body language clues. All to just try figure out a little what the mess is about.

We usually speak of the existence of kafkaesque situations in our ordinary life. That does not imply any event of fantastic nature. Just ordinary stuff that actually happens to us and quite often, becoming some sort of psychological horror. Kafkaesque is an used-up term expressing a world of weird, obscure (somewhat laughable) unfathomable situations of personal alienation. But that is actually our real world, too: one of confusion and misunderstandings in the everyday interaction between impenetrable psychologies. And it becomes incresingly sinister and hilarious -more kafkaesque- as our civilization goes on gaining more and more complexity. Our brains are in some way limited, there is a limit to the complexity we can cope with. The irony is that we now have better tools than ever before to communicate, to expand ourselves, but most times they are just technological projections of our inner chaos.

Now add evil to this equation. Add voluntary confusion and misunderstanding, add the actual intention to create pain, to create confusion. Then you have the full picture. At some point the whole thing might ignite, and unexpectedly we find ourselves confronted with perfectely exposed accusations in a polite articulate manner which we simply cannot understand: we find ourselves in the position of a well known Kafka character. Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K, he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested. We simply fail to figure out what has happened. How it is the rest of the world seems to have converged into action against us.

And there is, all of a sudden, the horror. Compliance happens in day light in an ordinary work environment, with ordinary characters, none of them specially evil, o not at all. Yet I found it one of the most frightening movies I have seen in recent times.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Suzanne Vega & Carson McCullers



I have been a long time Suzanne Vega fan, yet I missed her 2011 homage to the ill-fated southern (US) writer Carson McCullers, or at least I wasn't fully aware of it. I actually remember having heard something back in 2011 when I still lived in London. Now I learn that it was a musical stage piece written and performed by Suzanne Vega: Carson McCullers Talks about Love. And now in 2016, Suzanne has released a new album with songs adapted from the musical: Lover, Beloved: songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers. 

It was precisely just a few months ago that I discovered the literature of Carson McCullers, and I did so through the most frequent door into her world: her highly popular 1940 novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. And like so many others before me, I too was stunned by this 23 year old girl at the time who had managed to write such an incredible mature novel, her first. In 1940, when Lonely Hunter first appeared, McCullers was a shock for the reading public, by her obvious literary powers oddly combined with her fragile teen looks, even younger than her actual age.

It was McCullers herself who would later write that 1930's America, more specifically the "South", had become a great literary stage, to an extent that it could well be compared in literary potential to such spaces like czarist Russia. And along with William Faulkner  -and later other new writers like Harper Lee, Capote or Tenesse Williams-, it was also McCullers who would become one of the key figures to settle the reality of such a daring comparison. Yes, the American South seemed to have become some sort of a tragic dostoievskian space. With a biblic air to it. A literary space that demands the unfolding of human passions, or simply the exposition of the maddening complexity of human relations.

From a very early age, Carson McCullers had to fight against illness. She had rheumatic fever at 15, and suffered from continuous strokes throughout her entire life, which eventually left her half paralyzed in her early 30s. Finally in 1967, at just 50, she died from one final cerebral stroke. Her life was really a troubled one, in a physical as in an emotional sense: illness came along with alcoholism, sexual repression and a tragic relationship with her husband, Reeves McCullers, from whom she took her literary name.

It was around 1977, that the subtle and insightful 18-year-old Suzanne Vega came across a picture of Carson MacCullers, who had already been gone for a decade. She suddenly felt sort of intrigued by the clear physical resemblance. Some kind of discreet spiritual connection was at that point set into motion between her and Carson. 

Then in the early 1980s, Suzanne was studying English and drama at Barnard College, in New York. One day, her drama tutor came up with a funny project. He asked his students to disguise as an artistic or cultural figure from the past, and then respond to some questions as in a TV interview show, as if the students were actually the artistic figures. Of course, it was McCullers the past personality Suzanne inmediately picked to give life to.

Throughout the1980s Suzanne established herself as a succesful iconic folk singer with such delightful works like Marlene on the Wall, Luka or Solitude Standing. And it was back in those days that she had started work in a play that would intend to explore that spiritual connection she had felt with Carson a few years before. The completion of this work would last for 30 years, as it would not be till 2011 that she finally completed it and put it on stage.

In 1967, the year Carson died, Suzanne was a child of eight. From that 1977, when Suzanne felt for the first time touched by the presence of Carson, until now it has been nearly 40 years. That is decades of connection for these kindred spirits. The result in creative terms is quite a nice one: an intriguing musical play and an album with a handful of smart songs. 

I love these two, Suzanne known to me for many years, and Carson, a recent discovery. And I feel delighted to know about this unexpected cultural link between them.


Saturday, 10 September 2016

Closer (2004)

Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004) is a "romantic" drama, featuring four clever ferociously articulate characters who happen to desire each other, but then can't help knocking out each other with ferocious words, finding a kind of guilty pleasure in it. Or an irresistible temptation they are quite happy to fall into.

"Without the truth we are animals" says Dan Woolf, Jude Law's character. I strongly uphold the concept of truth, but I am not so sure if Dan's assert is always right. I tend to think that eluding the truth, or at least its rougher versions, might be one basic ground of civilization, or a certain type of it.

I imagine there might be civilizacions or societies (they are in theory conceivable) that are strongly based upon truth no matter what, that are strong enough to uphold truth and not collapse under its heavy weight. And others, on the contrary, that are based upon some type of wishful thinking, a set of elaborate untested ideologies, dense narratives under or behind wich we can live safely. Western civilization since the 1960s might well be an example of the latter.

Same thing happens, in a minor scale, with human relations. Eluding the rough truths of existence, or encapsulating them with the aid of language, thus adding to them layers of meaning (or meaningless) to hide them or blur them. Not so in Closer. Here we have four people so attracted by the truth, so addicted to it, that they even wish to be hurt by those they desire or have desired, those they have been physically/emotionally linked to. Their pursuit of truth seems to be so obsessive they simply don't care how much it will hurt them, the most the better. 

Rom-coms are some sort of modern fairy-tales. Not few of them are clever enough, having at least a bit of truth in them, a literal or an aesthetic one. Other times, though, rom-coms are simply not only unrrealistic but silly. People who are not exactely into them (those self hurting truth seekers) will probably love Closer, the anti rom-com.