Thursday, November 27, 2008

Two Lovers and its Antecedents

One of the better films I've seen of late is James Gray's Two Lovers, a beautiful love story, filmed like a thriller that I imagine will resonate more with male viewers than female. Which is not to say that women won't like it either, of course. What sets the film apart from so many others on a similar theme is its recognition of the cruelly pragmatic choices taken in the pursuit of love. The films that do the same can, in my own experience, be counted on one hand. I won't give too much away (because any plot summary will) but the focal scene in the film - through which the subjective pain of the Joaquin Phoenix character is fleshed out in such a moving way - belongs to Isabella Rossellini, Phoenix's onscreen mother. I only mention it because the scene itself carries an echo from cinema history, from a film conceived by her parents, both of whom made very difficult decisions for their time 'in the name of love'. That film is Voyage to Italy, which was itself a precursor of Ingrid Bergman's own divorce from Roberto Rossellini. The film in which Bergman and George Sanders' marriage frays visibly shows one of the most moving of cinematic break ups, and quite appropriately, it references Joyce's The Dead, that most devastating of literary texts on the lingering infidelity of past love (and the unhappy couple are themselves bestowed with the old Galway name). I'm pretty sure Gray knew what he was doing when he cast her...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Batman vs the Young Turks

The Turkish city of Batman is to sue Christopher Nolan, director of the last two Batman films, and, curiously not DC comics, for infringement of a registered trademark. There you are, now you've heard of the Turkish/Kurdish city of Batman...

Real life Batman faces super test

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Sartre and the Galway Dentist

I recently renewed my subscription to the London Review of Books having let it lapse, rather stupidly, for a couple of years. Most of the articles do end up on the website but reading the print edition is a lot more fun and a helluva lot less of a strain on the eye, considering the normal article length is 3000-5000 words.

In the latest edition, which annoyingly, I got almost a week after much of it was posted online, there is an interesting piece by Elif Batuman, a Stanford academic, which reviews Elisabeth Roudinesco's Philosophy in Turbulent Times, which has just been published in English. I'm not terribly equipped to assess Batuman's largely negative view of Roudinesco's book though I do agree with his view on the victim complex of Louis Althusser, following his murder of his wife, being familiar with much of Althusser's work, including his memoir The Future Lasts a Long Time. Even more disturbing than Althusser's crime, which was committed when he had slipped irrevocably into insanity was the way his friends closed ranks around him and even managed to recast him rather than his dead wife Hélène as the victim. If Irish readers of this blog find Aosdána members' unqualified support of Cathal Ó Searcaigh's recent shennanigans unseemly, well that was pretty tame stuff compared to the flurry of philosophes rushing to relativize their friend and colleague's crime.

But it is elsewhere in Batuman's article that my attention was snagged, in an amusing passage on Jean-Paul Sartre's visit to John Huston in Galway in 1959 to hammer out a screenplay on Freud. The project came to nothing because of a mounting animosity between the two men but Batuman's description of the visit merits quotation at length:

The Huston-Sartre collaboration fell apart in 1959, when Sartre
travelled to Huston’s home in Ireland to work on the script. The two
didn’t work well together. ‘There was no such thing as a conversation
with him,’ Huston later recalled. ‘He talked incessantly, and there was
no interrupting him. You’d wait for him to catch his breath, but he
wouldn’t.’ Meanwhile Sartre, in his letters to Simone de Beauvoir,
described Huston as ‘perfectly vacant, literally incapable of speaking
to those whom he has invited’. Evidently he didn’t realise that Huston
was waiting for him to catch his breath. The philosopher went on to
compare Huston’s ‘inner landscape’ to ‘heaps of ruins, abandoned
houses, plots of wasteland, swamps’: ‘He is empty,’ Sartre concluded,
‘except in his moments of infantile vanity, when he dons a red tuxedo,
or goes horseback riding (not very well).’ (Huston, of the infantile
red tuxedo, was equally bemused by Sartre’s wardrobe, its stark
invariance: ‘I never knew if he owned one grey suit or several
identical grey suits.’)

Who can fail to be entertained by this
picture of Sartre criticising somebody for being a bad rider? Or by the
anecdote about how he once had toothache and refused to go to Dublin,
as Huston suggested, to get it treated? Huston didn’t know any local
dentists, but Sartre found one, from whose surgery he emerged in a
matter of minutes, having had his tooth extracted. Huston – who,
despite his scepticism about America, had evidently not totally
renounced the ‘hygienism’ of his native country – wondered at Sartre’s
casual attitude to his teeth, but concluded that ‘a tooth more or less
made no difference in Sartre’s cosmos.’ Here you see the entire charm
of the existentialist way of life.

The A-list bitchiness is amusing enough, if to be hardly exceptional, but the vision of Sartre stumbling out of a West of Ireland dentist's surgery is one that needs to cherished for all eternity. It's the sketch that Monty Python never wrote.

LRB · Elif Batuman: On Complaining

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Renegade Soundwave

So the inaugural Obama post is here and it's a suitably soft one, drawn from a lull in this week's news cycle. The Chicago Tribune, which liked Obama enough to endorse a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in its history, reports the not-so-top-secret information that his Secret Service codename was 'Renegade'. All nice and macho and, dare I say it, 'maverick'? Not to mention reminiscent of one Richard Kimble, who, if my memory serves me right, was also a Chicagoan. Wife Michelle is 'Renaissance' (a reference to Harlem and black history I wonder). Daughter Malia is 'Radiance' while Sasha is 'Rosebud', which anyone who knows the sordid connotations of that word related to both Citizen Kane and William Randolph Hurst will find just a bit unseemly.

The fighting Irish veep Joe Biden is, or presumably was, known as 'Celtic'. Pronounced with a 'c' or a 'k' I wonder?

President-elect Obama a real Renegade | World news |

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Laziness and Being Late to the Party

So I got lazy. The postings didn't even tail off this time; the end was all a bit brutal. It wasn't even that I was far from a computer in that time, much less from the doleful labyrinth that is the world wide web. Nor was it really anything to do with a resolve to better manage my time; I am pleased to say that I am still as supremely disorganised as I was when I left off blogging for a second time, or started for the first time. It was common-or-garden laziness. There had been a number of times I thought about posting and then thought better (or worse). And there was never any time really that I thought that the world would miss my ramblings (or at least those few dozen souls that, according to Clicky, bore witness to my underachieving on a daily basis).

So quite a few major events passed by without the slightest whimper from this parish, namely the Lisbon Treaty and Ireland's vote on it (actually I had planned to do a lengthy post on it the day before but didn't have the time), the Beijing Olympics, Georgia and Russia's Caucasian tiff that ran parallel to the games and, of course, the US Presidential elections. As you can imagine I had an opinion on all of them but, being spectacularly late to the party, I'll keep my own counsel, except for whatever I might utter in passing. What I might otherwise have approached as news, I will henceforth tackle as history. Not blogging about the US election was probably a good thing, seeing as I got carried away - as did many others - with the Obama candidacy. I still retain a moderate amount of idealism regarding him that I'm prepared to let get tarnished just as I am the shiny new MacBook I have recently helped myself to. Anyway if I do manage to maintain any presence here the erstwhile Illinois senator will have his part to play.

So I'll make no promises, the blog is not a priority and will be at the mercy of other variables such as work, sickness, health, my general wellbeing, my glittering social life, the odd hangover and military service. The new computer is a lot lighter and more mobile than the last one so I thought that maybe I might be a more mobile blogger but its lightness is unbearable in the sense that I'm afraid I might forget I have it with me and leave it in a basement cinema, from where it will be unlikely to return as easily as any of the many Moleskine notebooks I have mislaid, or a tapas bar, which is where the far better organised and motivated folk at MI5, tend to forget theirs. I don't call this blog 'underachievement' for nothing.

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