Sunday, August 6, 2017

Rio Bravo

I don’t have a real handle on Westerns. 

Is it true that there are only seven basic plots?  I’ve seen a smattering of them and love aspects about the genre and tolerate the others. 

Take my viewing of Rio Bravo. There are some great moments, I mean some really great moments, but the story is in no way in any hurry to get to them. I have to take my shoes off, put my feet up and sit back because it’s not going anywhere fast. 

There’s a lot of gun totin’ and posturing for superiority as well as plenty of shootin’ the breeze to build comaraderie. Is this the way guys like their movies? 

Before I really ask that question, I should remind myself how much I love the banter over tea in a costume drama. Maybe they’re not so different after all. The dialogue in Rio Bravo is alive and kicking and keeps me entertained, even if I can’t quite see where it’s heading; or even if it has a destination. 

The character studies are simple and broad, though Angie Dickinson’s Feathers is all over the place and I have to put in some effort to following her lines of thinking. Her decision processes echo Jean Arthur’s Bonnie in Only Angels Have Wings, which is a good thing. “Don’t know why I didn’t get on that boat/stagecoach.” 

This is still my favorite scene, but now I have many more to fondly recall from memory.

Scenes From a Marriage

I could write this with circumspection and objectivity, but that ain’t gonna happen.

First off, I’ll get the rant out of the way, but promise to go back and look at the characters with compassion once I’ve gotten it out of my system.

I don’t understand. From the pages of notes that I’m jotting down while watching, these are the words that appear the most.

I don’t understand Marianne’s attraction to Johan. 

There, I said it. I am truly put off by his coldness and arrogance (All a front? Don’t worry; I’ll get back to this). Physically, Marianne reacts negatively to it as well. During the opening scene, while being interviewed, her body language speaks loud and clear. She is so uncomfortable with his boasting; tugging at her collar, elbowing him slightly, glancing sideways. I’m squirming along with her for that is such an awful place to be; trapped to bad behavior by association. Continuing on with the physical, Johan says later that he hated her as he felt her indifference when having sex and is confused why his “bad behavior or criticism made [her] withdraw.” 

And I say, No duh. 

Heaven forbid he put any effort at being consistently kind into his relationship. Marianne has so much natural affection for him, that the formula is so simple—he treats her with care and she’s his. But he can’t be bothered--such a selfish, myopic view that doesn’t serve him well. Even his kisses are awful; self pleasure instead of giving, but she likes them. Go figure.

Okay, on to Marianne. Even though her body instinctively reacts to his behavior, she doesn’t allow her mind to do so. Projecting on to him what she wishes he would be, she lives the illusion. Can she not see that as she prattles away, he’s not there? He left long ago in realization that she wasn’t going to really see him. What would be the point of sharing his poetry? Subterfuge is the kiss of death. I know that Marianne’s story is one of ascending, but it’s so torturous watching her react to her husband’s infidelity—all nurturing (Make him breakfast? Really?) and begging (Anything but that!) and then displacing her anger towards her friends who are privy to the situation. (I couldn’t take it anymore and had to go for a walk.) There is one aspect of Marianne that’s dizzying. Sometimes her emotions turn on a dime and I have to go back and try and figure out what exactly Johan said or watch her face as she goes through a thought process to find the trigger. As a woman I understand triggers, but hers are so abrupt that all I can think is, “Poor Johan, he doesn’t stand a chance at figuring all this out.”

Now for a little compassion, which I do see is peaking out in the two previous paragraphs. Johan is acutely alone. His wife and girlfriend don’t completely know him, but it’s not surprising since he doesn’t have a grasp on who he is either—which belie his bombastic remarks at the beginning. And, oh how I’m loving Marianne’s self discovery. Words like “whether the potential for joy that was innate in me is dead, or whether it merely lies dormant and can be awakened” resonates. Zing!

Everything up to this point was written before seeing the last scene. The shifting moral sands are onerous for me to traverse, but there is some real communication happening between the characters that on one hand is pitiful and on the other beautifully genuine, since they have each arrived at some place new. My next step is to look for reviews to help me see it from other perspectives, for mine is not enough.

Oh yeah, but what about it being a movie? I forgot about the camera; every episode I clean forgot and that’s the highest praise I know.

I'm exhausted and am in need of a virtual hug. 

Well Meaning Translator

I love this character. He doesn't speak a lick of Japanese, but is willing to act as translator, first for the money and to be helpful, but then because he catches the vision of what Takata, the protagonist, is trying to accomplish.

When adopting in Vietnam, my translator was a student who couldn't speak English very well. We were in a world of hurt because our ten day trip ultimately turned into six weeks and for some of that time the twins were taken from us inexplicably. My translator and I would sit face to face with dictionaries in hand and using everything in us would try to communicate. He became my advocate and friend. 

Not One Less

Tenacity can strike in the most unusual ways. As tunnel vision sets in, perspective flies out the window. 

A few years back I was on a trip with my brother on the Oregon coast. He had left early for a jog and was late coming back, too late. He hadn’t been doing well, hence the trip, and the further I searched for him along the beach, the more I was convinced he was not okay. I arrived at a vast boulder field and because it was now high tide I was cut off from the beach beyond, so the only way to get past it was to go through. Driven by fear, I clambered over those rocks for a long time. Neither pain nor logic held any sway with me as I continued on. 

It was despair that finally stopped me in my tracks and sat me down. Slowly as my head cleared I realized that the chance of him being on the other side of the field was pretty slim and there must be a better explanation. I had a lot of time to think about tenacity while I picked my way back across those rocks and along the beach. Such powerful driving emotion had shut down my rational thinking and had replaced it with blind determination. He was at the room when I got there and was fine, but had gone running along the highway and ran too far before turning back.

That’s a long story just to make a connection to a film, but when I watched it, I was back on those rocks as the young teacher searched for her student. I kept thinking what she was doing was folly and that there was no way she would accomplish her task, but sometimes tenacity is perfect in its foolheartedness.

I never told my brother what I’d done, because I didn’t want to add to his sadness and was more than embarrassed by my foolishness. I did learn something about the capacity of my heart that day though and watching the film today and the love and determination of the teacher reminded me that a heart, as illogical as it is, holds its own kind of perfection too.

Thank you Martin for the beautiful film. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Clouds of Sils Maria

"A thin line separates love from hate, success from failure, life from death, a line as difficult to walk as a razor’s edge." -- W. Somerset Maugham.

I'd also add, reality from illusion. What are the stories we tell ourselves? How much of what we believe is real and how much is based on molding our thoughts and feelings to a scenario of our own making? As the characters traverse the mountainside, they're traversing this thin line by throwing out ideas, holding onto some and rejecting others, because they either don't fit, or they hit too close to home.

Both of these journeys take maps; one is a chart of the region and the other is a script, full of the past and present blending together, creating a fertile field of self reflection. I like maps. I want a map of sorts, to sort out what is going on in this movie. I'm going to take Valentine's arm as my map. There are three dominant tattoos and they may have some insights into the story.

The eye from the painting Guernica: Some say the eye represents the sun, others, interrogation. Picasso himself said it wasn't up to the artist to define the symbols, but for the public to use their own understanding. So if I were to try and look at it through Valentine, I might see it as representing her as the observer, seeing all and interpreting what is paraded before her. Maria dismissed her impressions as too simplistic, but sometimes greater truths are very simple and unfortunately for Maria, biting.

Three fishes from a David Foster speech: "There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys, how's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'" Foster goes on to say, "The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about." He continues on explaining, how often what we think is certain, turns out to be completely wrong. I know this is the case, more often than I'm comfortable with. Yentl had it right. "The more I learn, the more I realize the less I know." As the personal assistant, Valentine is constantly having to negotiate the "waters" and accommodate Maria's viewpoint. For a long time, she is willing to be told she's wrong and is open to learning. Maybe too long. Her ability to consider other truths and her desire to be with Maria, keeps her in a less than ideal relationship and it takes its toll.

A smile at the foot of a ladder: This is also a title to a fable written by Henry Miller, who's aim was to write truth, the way he sees it. About the main character he said, "[he is] unique in that he came from the blue. But what is this blue which surrounds and envelopes us if not reality itself? . . . We have only to open our eyes and hearts, to become one with that which is." I like to think of Valentine hiking, while working through all that she has gone through with Maria and coming to the realization that her own instincts are right and should be honored." That blue sky and the clear air awakens her to what she must do.

Monday, December 5, 2016


Alma pours herself into Elizabet with words, which frees up space to draw in Elizabet's demeanor, reputation and all that Alma can only speculate on, but at what cost? 

Elizabet receives Alma in, as a study, but slowly, imperceptibly Alma's living seeps into places that have been shut down and Elizabet is forced to face all that's been locked away. 

The melding of lives both pollutes and purifies, but isn't that both the price and the prize of "not seeming, but being?"

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Forbidden Games

That face.

This is acting before being told what acting is. Brigitte Fossey's innocence is so real that everyone around her stops pretending and starts responding to this little girl's wonderment and are as much in awe of her as the audience. That goes doubly for her rescuer, Michel. She wants a fairyland pet resting place? So be it. Her wish is his command, because she only knows sincerity and Michel is acutely aware of it. Nothing will stop him from protecting and preserving what innocence he can. Protecting innocence. That is a tall order, but how can we turn our backs on it? The ways this movie begins and ends are so difficult, that I know it's affecting me and will continue to do so--just the way the director, René Clément, would have it.

The idea of exploring morbidity, in the face of it, sounds like the best kind of therapy possible. I remember an old, beautiful cemetery that my friend and I would visit on the way home from grade school. We'd read the headstones and think about the people's lives, as we cleared away the overgrown plants and grass. Little did I know I was creating my own therapy. My favorite moment in the film is the panning shot of Paulette and Michel's healing creation.