30 November 2011

Profane Love: Derek Jarman and Caravaggio

I created the above video after failing at writing about Caravaggio for The House Next Door and the Summer of '86 series. I had a pile of fragments, quotes, scenes I wanted to somehow refer to, but couldn't make any of it cohere. A month or two ago, I thought about trying again by creating a sort of collage, and figured if it was too weird or unfinished for The House, I could at least post it here and be done with it. But as I looked over the collage, it felt more like some sort of script to me. "Wouldn't it be nice," I thought, "to make a film about Caravaggio?" In all my copious spare time. But the idea nagged at me, and finally I sat down to see what such a thing might look like. I transformed the essay-collage into a script-blueprint, recorded the narration, and then tried to fit images to it. I thought it would take an afternoon. It took substantially longer, and involved various software failures, lots of thinking and rethinking, a willingness to put up with some frustrating compromises after headache-inducing hours of work, and some serendipity.

In the end, I like what came out. Given endless time, there's plenty I'd change, and it's still very much a text essay that became a video essay rather than something that was conceived from the beginning as a video essay, but that's okay. Maybe I'll conceive some video essays now.

Below the cut, I'll post the script as originally written. It went through some edits as I put the video together, so this is essentially a shooting script rather than a transcript. But one of the problems I faced in putting the video together was how to signal quotations, and I never really solved that problem, so the script will at least help make it clear what is and isn't a quote.

29 November 2011

Buy Yourself a Holiday Gift! And Something for Everybody Else You Know, Too!

Terri Windling is facing health and financial problems right now, and so a bunch of folks have banded together to create a giant auction of stuffs to raise money for her. If her name is unfamiliar to you, check out her Wikipedia page for a quick summary.

photo by Beth Gwinn
I don't know Terri Windling, but she has been a great help to many of my friends in their lives and careers, so I am distressed to hear of her distress. I've got dozens of books in the house with her name on them, and far more with her name on the acknowledgments page.

Therefore, I decided to contribute an item to the auction, something I've had for a while and have been looking for a good cause to which to donate it. This seems perfect.

Thus, if you would like to bid on a copy of Startling Mystery Stories with Stephen King's second professionally-published story in it, follow this link. This issue of Startling Mystery was the first magazine where King's name appeared on the cover.

There are all sorts of other items offered in the auction, of every size, shape, purpose, and price, with more added frequently. Keep your eyes on it -- treasures and wonders await you, and your money will go to a good cause!

15 November 2011

World on a Wire Update, Plus Vanya

Consumer-citizens of the United States, rejoice! Criterion has announced that they will be releasing Rainer Werner Fassbinder's wonderful science fiction epic World on a Wire in February. Diligent and obsessive readers of this here blog may remember that I swooned over World on a Wire both here and at Strange Horizons back in September, and I remain as swoonful toward it as before. The DVD/Blu-ray will include a 50-minute documentary about the film by Juliane Lorenz, one of Fassbinder's most frequent collaborators and the head of the Fassbinder Foundation. Lorenz has created documentaries for some of the other DVD releases of Fassbinder's films in the U.S. and elsewhere, and I've enjoyed all of the ones I've seen, so am looking forward to this one quite a bit.

And in equally magnificent — indeed, perhaps even more magnificent — news, Criterion will also be releasing Louis Malle's final film, Vanya on 42nd Street. It's one of my favorites, a movie that has been important to me since the day I first saw it at the Angelika in New York during my freshman year at NYU — accompanied by Carol Rocamora, whose Chekhov course I was taking at the time, and for whom I later did work as a production manager and a copyeditor. My VHS of the film is wearing out, and it will be a real thrill to replace it with the Criterion Blu-ray. I know of only one other film of Chekhov's work that affects me as deeply as some of the great stage productions I've seen — Nikita Mikhalkov's Unfinished Piece for Player Piano, which is a much freer adaptation of Chekhov (created from elements of his first play, Platonov, and some short stories). Vanya on 42nd Street uses David Mamet's adaptation of a translation of Uncle Vanya, and while there are vastly better versions (Carol Rocamora's, for instance!), the synergy of the actors along with director André Gregory is pure magic. I disliked Wallace Shawn as Vanya for a while, but have grown to love him in the role. And Larry Pine as Dr. Astrov gives one of the greatest performances I've ever seen. And Phoebe Brand and Jerry Mayer are charming and brilliant and sad and hilarious. And— Well, I'd better wait. In February, I'm sure I'll want to write about the details, and about watching the film again, for what will be something like the 15th time (I used to watch it at least once every 6 months, and used it with a couple of classes years ago).

If you can't wait till February, Amazon has the film available online, and the old DVD is back in stock after having been unavailable for years (it seems to be still unavailable outside the U.S., alas). I expect Criterion will do an excellent job with the remastering of the image, and though it's not a film that has the sort of striking cinematography that World on a Wire does, nonetheless the intimacy and immediacy of the staging will, I expect, benefit from the new image and higher resolution.

Epigraphs for an Imaginary Novel

Going through notes for old pieces of writing, I discovered this collection of quotations I hoped to sprinkle through a piece of long fiction I was outlining ten years ago. The story itself never came to anything, but some shadowy traces of it remain in the collage...

If the New World fed dreams, what was the Old World reality that whetted the appetite for them?  And how did that reality caress and grip the shaping of a new one?
—Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark

Why is it so inconceivable to our dramatists that some people do not know, or care, how they feel all the time?  That some people act with a detachable motive, or from a myriad of contradictory ones?  Why is life itself less interesting per se than explanations of life?
—Mac Wellman, “The Theater of Good Intentions”

There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.  And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces.  And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.
—Herman Melville, Moby Dick

It is the private dominion over things that condemns millions of people to be mere nonentities, living corpses without originality or power of initiative, human machines of flesh and blood, who pile up mountains of wealth for others and pay for it with a gray, dull and wretched existence for themselves.  I believe that there can be no real wealth, social wealth, so long as it rests on human lives — young lives, old lives and lives in the making.
—Emma Goldman, “What I Believe”

I have carried out, before my own eyes and against my intention, a part of the modern tragedy: I have made a lasting flaw in the face of the earth, for no lasting good.
—Wendell Berry, “Damage”

A great idea springs up in a man’s soul; it agitates his whole being, transports him from the ignorant present and makes him feel the future in a moment....Why should such a revelation be made to him...if not that he should carry it into practice?
—William Walker, president of Nicaragua, 1855-1857

If we confine the concept of weeds to species adapted to human disturbance, then man is by definition the first and primary weed under whose influence all other weeds have evolved.
—Jack R. Harlan, Crops and Man

Faith defies logic and propels us beyond hope because it is not attached to our desires.  Faith is the centerpiece of a connected life.  It allows us to live by the grace of invisible strands.  It is a belief in a wisdom superior to our own.  Faith becomes a teacher in the absence of fact.
—Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

Of what consequence, though our planet explode, if there is no character involved in the explosion?
—Henry David Thoreau, “Life without Principle”

I actually had to develop a love of the disordered & puzzling, viewing reality as a vast riddle to be joyfully tackled, not in fear but with tireless fascination.  What has been most needed is reality testing, & a willingness to face the possibility of self-negating experiences: i.e., real contradictions, with something being both true & not true.
—Philip K. Dick, Exegesis, 1979

For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity.  God keep me from ever completing anything.  This whole book is but a draught — nay, but the draught of a draught.  Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!
—Herman Melville, Moby Dick

My favorite melodramatic theme: the harried anarchist, a wounded wolf, struggling toward the green hills, or the black-white alpine mountains, or the purple-golden desert range and liberty.  Will he make it?  Or will the FBI shoot him down on the very threshold of wilderness and freedom?
—Edward Abbey, journal, December 1951

To argue from analogy, every thing around us is in a progressive state; and when an unwelcome knowledge of life produces almost a satiety of life, and we discover by the natural course of things that all that is done under the sun is vanity, we are drawing near the awful close of the drama.
—Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

When I reflect to what a cause this man devoted himself, and how religiously, and then reflect to what cause his judges and all who condemn him so angrily and fluently devote themselves, I see that they are as far apart as the heavens and earth are asunder.
—Henry David Thoreau, “A Plea for Captain John Brown”

You tell me of degrees of perfection to which Humane Nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.
—Abigail Adams, November 27, 1775

06 November 2011

Fresh Links

Just an addendum to my previous post, in which I lamented the breaking of Google Reader's share function, which enabled the "Fresh Links" widget over on the sidebar—

I have created a near fix, as you'll see if you look over on the side. I'm using the RSS feed from my Delicious account for this, since it was sitting dormant. (Thus some of those links are very much not fresh right now!)

02 November 2011


Google has done gone and broke Google Reader, removing the sharing function to encourage people to use Google Plus instead. This means the "Fresh Links" section over on the sidebar is no longer able to be refreshed, and I'll probably go back to occasionally doing linkdump posts. Here, for instance, are some links:

Kael Days

Seventeen years after her last book and ten years after her death, Pauline Kael's name is hard to avoid right now if you read culture magazines or blogs. That's because of three books that came out in October: The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael, edited by Sanford Schwartz and published by The Library of America; Brian Kellow's biography Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark; and James Wolcott's memoir Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York, which includes, apparently, lots of material about his friendship with Kael (before they had a falling-out after he published a sharply critical, even vicious, essay on Kael's acolytes in Vanity Fair in 1997).

I haven't read Wolcott's memoir, but I've been reading around in Kellow's biography and I'm familiar with almost everything in The Age of Movies. It was Kael's 1,291-page retrospective collection For Keeps from 1994 that made me into a fan of her writing when I was an idealistic, ignorant kid studying playwrighting and screenwriting at NYU, and though my opinions about her have changed a bit over the years, she's part of my psyche, her presence inextinguishable, like a crazy aunt.