Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side

Watched Fran├žois Truffaut's stunningly beautiful, profound and lyrical The 400 Blows tonight. I was very moved by this film, so moved that I had a lump in my throat during my entire drive home. I was surprised by this, having seen other French New Wave films, and leaving them with a complete sense of detachment from the protagonists, maybe even a repulsion for these new fashioned anti-heroes (of course, this was, I guess, intentional--a reaction against the sentimentalization of Hollywood's fuzzy character studies). But Truffaut's tender portrait of an estranged, ignored, displaced young boy is one of the most convincing and poignant depictions I have seen anywhere. Nothing seems overdone--and although the filming is extremely stylish and crisp, its profound, painful reality is somehow devastating. The ending scene--a freeze frame in which we see the fresh, yet weathered face of Antoine--the face of a CHILD--is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Although he has found his "freedom", he has nowhere to go--and we realize that his deepest desire is not, and never was, for freedom. This beautiful scene also recalls the end of La Dolce Vita--the untarnished shot of Fellini's daughter (a vision of innocence that is unattainable for the Marstrioni character). In the end of The 400 Blows we are aware that, tragically, the young protagonist has already been alienated from his own innocence. This film is profoundly spiritual--it made me, for a few moments, recognize how much I love people, but need to love them even more by recognizing the complexity of each human experience. I was challenged, moved, and I hope that, even in the slightest way, transformed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Missing Newcastle...

And especially the wonderful international community there. Here are some of my favorite photos taken by my dear friend Stephanie (who I miss very much) and her boyfriend, rob. The first is of my playing a card game with some exotic Spaniards(!) The next is of one of Stephanie's wonderful French/German/Spanish/American/English dinner parties. By the way, I have no clue why every single post I have made is in a different font. I need a mjor tutorial on this thing.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Robert 'Charlie Chaplin' Smith??

As I am now obsessed with Charlie Chaplin, I have just come across a 1917 short of his called "The Cure" .While watching it, I was struck by how much his hair, makeup--even the way he is sitting in one part--remind me of Robert Smith (I know Chaplin looked like this in most of his very early films, but this has the most striking resemblance in parts)! I then began to speculate that perhaps this short is what gave "The Cure" their name?! I tried googling around to find out, but came up with nothing. Does anyone out there know? Click on this post's title to watch a short clip from the film and let me know what you think of my hypothesis!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Conversion to Charlie

Last night I had the eye-opening experience of watching Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times. What an absolute delight, a complete surprise--nothing short of a riveting film experience. I am ashamed to say that I honestly don't think I have ever seen a full Chaplin film before--I am hooked. What a genius--directing, writing, producing, acting, composing, singing, roller skating!! Next, I hope to watch The Great Dictator, City Lights and The Kid. If you, like me, have somehow bypassed Chaplin, go rent one of these films NOW. If you, like me, are sometimes concerned that silent film viewing will be tedious, leave behind these concerns. Chaplin will prove them completely wrong.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Welcome to My New Blog

Kierkegaard's thought, struggle, and questions about faith and despair have been very important in my recent life. At a recent literature conference that I attended, conversations were had about novelist Walker Percy's (another fave) love for and interpretation of Kierkegaard in his own novels. Percy was particularly preoccupied with Kierkegaard's aesthetic/ ethical division from Either/ Or.
This is a gross oversimplification, but here goes: the 'aesthete' ("Either") is fueled by a need for immediacy as he passively, dispassionately consumes pleasure. He is absorbed completely within what K calls the "aesthetic stage". This form of bottomless, noncommital hedonism, as K sees it, leads ultimately to boredom and despair. This is actually a perfect description of the world of all of Bret Easton Ellis' novels.
The ethical life, or stage, ("Or") is defined chiefly by reflection--it sees the interior world, including the spiritual, as more important than the external world of temporal pleasure. Kierkegaard seems to think that the ethical person can also partake in elements of the aesthetic life. In the ethical stage, one is devoted, comitted, sees the importance of self-sacrifice. The third "stage" is the "religious" stage. Both the aesthetic and the ethical, if held as independent extremes divorced from the "religious", can be problematic.
I haven't gotten far enough in Kierkegaard to fully understand the relationship between the first two stages and the "religious" stage, but I am working on it. Any help (in the form of comments) would be appreciated! I chose the title because I am fascinated by this interesting distinction--and particularly of K's description of the "aesthete" which reflects a sort of Victorian Dandyism but also points forward to the decadent, depthless world in much postmodern fiction (satirically depicted in Coupland and Delillo's work; even more darkly satirically and graphically depicted in Amis, Palahnuik and Ellis' work). Last, but not least, Elliot Smith has a wonderful album called Either/Or. I love it that this title, Either/ Or, seems to unite the worlds of philosophy, faith, fiction and music--the major focal points of this blog.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sufjan--Chickens, War, Bathrooms, and God.

There has been much said in Christian circles about the fact that Sufjan Stevens has told his publicist that he prefers the media not to ask him about his faith in interviews. This seems to have bothered some, caused some to question Sufjan's devotion, given a reason, perhaps, to judge. I was also somewhat puzzled by Sufjan's stance, but have been much more sympathetic with it recently. I appreciate the fact that perhaps Sufjan does not seem to want to have his faith misenterpreted, turned into an evangelistic power point presentation, or, even worse, used as a marketing strategy. Here is an interesting excerpt from an interview with Sufjan on this very subject:
"I'm not an evangelist. I'm a songwriter and a storyteller. If that story happens to be about Christ, then perhaps, in some odd semantic way, the song could be termed 'evangelical'. I gladly accept that. I also sing about divorce. And murder. And adultery. I sing about chickens and war and bathrooms. In my mind, the gospel is not something to pander and pawn off like a diet soda drink. There is no product. There is no selling point."

I appreciate the authenticity of Sufjan's art--an authenticity that is sometimes raw, often delicate, always mysterious. The very mystery of his art, its resistance to becoming a bottled up evangelistic product, is something I respect.

In the same interview, Sufjan explains what he thinks "being born again" means. This phrase, which I am ashamed to say often makes me wince inside because of its near commodification in evangelical Christian subculture--the ease with which it is used--is ultimately mysterious. It cannot be fully explained or understood by converting into formula (no,not even the "four Spiritual Laws" or "Two Ways to Live"). In trying to simplify this phrase, we have stripped it of its mystery. I LOVE Sufjan's wonderful poetic definition--it seems that only poetry can even begin to reawaken our sense of wonder by both disorienting and familiarizing us at the same time. I love the concrete images, the smell and feel of life, that points toward this amazing mystery, giving us a bit of access to it through the poet's imagination. Sufjan again:

"This is what it means to be born again: to fully and completely disengage with the preconceptions and preoccupations of the adult world and its religions, to dismantle all laws - of physics and society - and yield yourself to the birth canal, and what comes after, in which everything begins to shake and tremble with all senses fully turned to the centre of the universe, the creator, God the Father, in whose cultivation we begin to know and understand our true selves, our real selves, as a reflection of God's image, his creation, like newborn babies, full, fresh, suckling, elated and laughing at everything. "