Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New York Film Festival 2011 (Plus 1)

The Siren writes up her brief impressions of five movies she has seen so far at the New York Film Festival 2011. In the order viewed:



Woman With Red Hair (1979, Tatsumi Kumashiro). A so-called pink film; the Siren had seen some of these before but hadn't been aware that they constituted a genre, still less that this genre was what she was going to be confronted with on Day 1, Film 1 of the New York Film Festival's press screenings. You could say the Siren was ill-prepared; the last Japanese film she watched was 24 Eyes. Woman With Red Hair isn't something the Siren particularly wants to analyze at great length, or even short length, but it reminded her a bit of The Devil in Miss Jones, only with much less nudity and much better framing. The lead actress (Junko Miyashita) is gorgeous.




The Loneliest Planet (2011, Julia Loktev). Contempt Goes Backpacking. We spend a long while watching the well-scrubbed couple (Hani Furstenberg and Gael Garcia Bernal) have well-scrubbed sex, in between trekking the wild spaces of the Republic of Georgia, and we await an Event. Then the Event happens and…All right, no spoilers here, so the Siren puts it this way. Martin Amis, in his 1984 article on Brian De Palma, remarks that Body Double (which the Siren loves) "could be exploded by a telephone call." This movie explodes if one character turns to the other on one of many arduous hikes and says, "What the hell…?" Has definite rewards, like the lovely score by Richard Skelton, and some enthralling moments, like a long-distance look at the couple and their guide walking along a riverbank after the Event, and a graceful, deeply emotional shot that zooms in on Furstenberg's hair coiled at her neck. But overall, a frustrating travelogue.



You Are Not I (1981, Sara Driver). Based on a Paul Bowles short story; the film's negative was destroyed in a warehouse flood and recently restored from a print discovered in the writer's own collection. It is the pleasingly spooky tale of a woman incarcerated in an insane asylum, who uses a fiery car accident outside the asylum's gates to escape and return to her sister's house. The Siren loved the black-and-white, bare-trees-in-late-fall ambience, via Jim Jarmusch as cinematographer. Very much of its 1980s New Wave time, including the humor. "Just don't let her get excited," is the advice proffered on how to handle the patient (Suzanne Fletcher), who scarcely moves and is given to thousand-yard stares that would scare the wits out of Nurse Ratched. Didn't seem to be much of an audience favorite, but this is the Siren's kind of Halloween movie.




Le Havre (2011, Aki Kaurismaki) Marcel, a shoeshine man (André Wilms) in the port city of the title, has scant income and a devoted but ailing wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen). He winds up sheltering a Gabonese refugee boy (Blondin Miguel), with the help of a bottomless supply of kindhearted neighbors, one seriously lovable dog, and one cop (Jean-Pierre Daroussin) who says "I don't much like people," but doesn't mean it. A fairy tale about real-world problems that is blissfully unmoored to reality of any kind. Contains a Mickey-and-Judy plot twist, a shot that echoes a Susan Hayward movie (you'll know it when you see it), and a deplorable French pun. The squarest movie the Siren has seen all year, and she's including her TCM viewing here. She was crazy about it, and would have been even if the main couple weren't named Marcel and Arletty.




We Can't Go Home Again (1976, Nicholas Ray). A major restoration of the director's last film, a labor of love by his widow, Susan, and an important piece of film history. The Siren is grateful that it's available, and grateful to have seen it. She only wishes she had actually liked it. Many of the images have power, but the movie itself does not, weighed down as it is by dorm-room philosophizing and students who are painfully unnatural on screen, even though they are evidently playing variations on themselves. Ray's beautiful voice provides the narration, and the movie perks up when he's in the frame. At times it resembles an oddball, self-valorizing version of To Sir With Love, only this "Sir" is preaching psychosexual and political liberation instead of clean clothes and good manners. It's an opportunity to see a celebrated auteur wrestling his demons to the end, but in terms of cinema, the Siren got a lot more out of Born to Be Bad.


And the plus one, such as it is:



I Don't Know How She Does It (2011, Douglas McGrath). The Siren has loathed few novels to the degree that she loathed Allison Pearson's 2002 book about the problems of a hedge-fund manager trying to balance work and the demands of her husband and two kids. The character of Kate Reddy was so spoiled and abrasive that even when she voiced a complaint the Siren has made herself, the Siren's response was, "Oh, go soak your head." The good news is that Sarah Jessica Parker gives Kate some urgently needed warmth, and Aline Brosh Mckenna once again turns in a screenplay that's much better than the book it's based on (the other being The Devil Wears Prada). The bad news is that the movie is slackly plotted, offers nothing to much to look at except Christina Hendricks and Pierce Brosnan (who are wasted with prodigal carelessness), and despite the occasional wry chuckle (mostly via Olivia Munn's Momo), the film has no actual wit. The actors all deserved better, but this is probably the best job that could have been done with the source material.

100 comments:

Tony Dayoub said...

I'm beginning to lower my expectations for Ray's film, which I plan on seeing at it's public screening on 10/2. You're not the first to voice the kinds of issues you had with it. Still, I'm interested particularly in Tom Farrell's part in this, which I heard is pivotal, because he struck up a Facebook correspondence with me some time back.

joe said...

I thought Loktev's "Day Night Day Night" was really good, and am looking forward to "The Loneliest Planet." You seem to find the story implausible, is that why it was frustrating to you? Or is there something about Loktev's style that doesn't agree with you?

The Siren said...

Joe, I wouldn't say I disliked her style; there's some shots that pack a lot of meaning. Yes, it was basically implausibility of what happens after The Event, and a story that felt padded out with individual episodes that played too long and didn't go anywhere or build. I'd definitely watch another film by her and hope for a story with more meat on it. One other thing I liked, but didn't mention: a sweet moment early on when Bernal sends a lost ball back over a wall, only to have whoever is on the other side send it sailing back; and they bat it back and forth for a bit.

The Siren said...

Tony, Andrew Grant likes it a great deal; out of respect for our Filmbrain, and a desire to offer a dissent if someone wants one, the link goes to a very favorable notice. But no, I didn't much care for it at all.

glennkenny said...

I don't know if I should be impressed (well, I AM impressed) or slightly insulted that my sitting by you and being completely evil at all the above screenings didn't do a thing to compromise your acuity of perception. Should I try harder?

The Siren said...

Hm, I don't know. You were evil before, and evil after, but not so much evil *during.* I think the sweetness of Le Havre sanded off your edges a bit.

Vanwall said...

I love Kaurismaki films, they are all filmed on his own private planet.

The Siren said...

VW, I would totally live on planet Kaurismaki if I could.

gmoke said...

Has the Siren run out of old(er) movies? I'm feeling oddly off kilter reading her reviews of new films.

PS: After getting sucked into The Red Shoes once again on TCM last night, I would like to start a campaign to resurrect The Lovers of Teruel and Ludmilla Tcherina, even more beautiful and graceful 14 years after The Red Shoes. She was also a novelist, painter, and sculptress besides being a dancer and actress.

Kevyn Knox said...

The Kaurismaki was one I was hoping to make, but alas did not. Maybe I will get a chance to say hi before or after the Melancholia screening on Thursday, as I have read so much of your work but have never met you.

And no, that isn't meant to sound near as creepy as it ended up sounding.

Vanwall said...

Speaking of ballet films, a bit OT, but TCM showed "Dr. Coppelius", a little film, but a labor of love by independents, with marvelous dancing and colors, plus Walter Slezak in a funny role - it's a comedy ballet. If you can catch it at some time, it's well worth it, one of the best film interpretations of ballet - with NO dialog!

Peter Nellhaus said...

The Siren vs. Pinku Eiga. And yes, some people I respect have written seriously about the genre. There are a couple of films I've found to be of interest, but The Woman with Red Hair isn't one of them. However, I saw an earlier film, on Netflix, from the Sixties, titled Slave Widow. Very soft core, and it seemed heavily influenced by Mizoguchi, especially with the tragic ending.

md'a said...

I didn't find the absence of discussion following Loneliest Planet's "event" to be implausible in the least. Words would be wholly inadequate. One of the film's many great touches is Furstenberg somehow managing at one point to silently convey the unmistakable (at least to me) impression of being on the brink of finally broaching the subject, only to keep her mouth shut when she can't think of anything to actually say. And of course the constant presence of the guide plays a role in their silence; one imagines there'll be a conversation at some point down the road. Just not now.

Yojimboen said...

My favorite non-dancing role of Ludmilla Tcherina’s is in the Italian B&W version of Spartacus (1953) in the role re-played seven years later by Jean Simmons. Side-by-side there are enough similarities in the two performances to make one suspect Kubrick was very familiar with the earlier film.

Also FYI Chère Madame, The Woman with Red Hair only loosely belongs in the Pinku Eiga category; certain purist colleagues inform me the film is more correctly placed in the Nikku Roman Porno genre.
I felt sure you’d want to know.

The Siren said...

Gmoke, let me point out that two of the six ARE more than 30 years old. :) Since the NYFF was kind enough to permit to attend the party again this year, I figured it was only fair to tell my readers what I was seeing and what I thought. Also, it's an interesting discipline for me to write short things that try to give a sense of the movie and what I thought. It's a whole separate art. I am still watching old stuff; when I don't I start to get twitchy.

Kevyn, thanks! By all means introduce yourself, if you spot me. The Melancholia screening conflicts a bit with my work sked so I am not sure I will make it. Also, just reading the in-depth descriptions of Antichrist left me staring off into the middle distance, trying to imagine the circumstances under which I would choose to see it. Scenarios like, "I am trapped in a remote house where a malevolent poltergeist has replaced all the movies available via any means with either the complete filmography of June Allyson, or Antichrist." Situations like that. I'm told Melancholia is a whole different animal, of course, but Antichrist spooked me.

The Siren said...

VW, a while back I had an email discussion of Coppelia with a balletomane friend--I love the Delibes ballet score (does the film use it?) but have never seen it. He told me it's generally a slog for him; a lot of mime and just not very funny. So a non-dancing version sounds interesting; especially with Walter Slezak.

Peter, I hope I didn't imply the film was unworthy of serious consideration. It is, but I didn't feel qualified to offer much more than "I liked it, mostly." For me, it was a reminder that there are aspects of Japanese culture that I am probably fated never to understand.

Which brings me to Yojimboen--thanks for the clarification, and I don't mean that sarcastically at all. It was described as a pink film in the press notes, which I should obviously start reading more closely. (Amazingly, it's the second time in two weeks I've been reminded of Grease. Every time I see "pink film" I think of Stockard Channing in Grease scowling at Olivia Newton-John: "She looks too pure to be pink.") I wonder if I should clarify in the brief itself? You know how I strive for the utmost pristine accuracy...

Vanwall said...

Siren, "Dr. Coppelius" is all dance, no dialog, and very much Delibes. It's charming, and reasonably paced, so it moves along quite well. It's not a pratfall film, it's really a well done adaptation, which was sly more than LOL.

Trish said...

80s new wave, Paul Bowles and Jim Jarmusch? I know I'll like You are Not I.

The Siren said...

Aha, VW, I have no idea how I misread your comment so completely; it's clear enough, must have been my general sleep deprivation. My apologies! I don't know the film at all (obviously) but I'm intrigued. Will have to check whether my friend knows.

The Siren said...

Trish, I loved it and still don't get why its comparatively chilly reception. Maybe they did like it and were just digesting? It isn't as though it's hard to follow or ugly to look at; the acting is in that deadpan 80s style but I like that style, what can I say.

Yojimboen said...

Chère Madame, you should run a contest to see who can come up with a typeable emoticon denoting a tongue planted firmly in a cheek. As chastisement for taking me seriously you are hereby sentenced to watch a double-bill of Good News and The Shrike.

The Siren said...

Then I would need said emoticon for my last two lines of my reply to you.

BTW, I am currently trying to see The Shrike. I yearn to see a June Allyson movie that I like and I've a feeling Allyson the Harridan might do the trick.

Trish said...

Know what you mean, Siren. Although I don't actively dislike June Allyson, the woman irritates me. I feel she is an antiquated device from Hays and Breen, intended to whisper sweet nothings to the females in the audience on the subject of being good wives and homemakers, and sacrificing all. Ultimately there's nothing REALLY wrong with this, but she irritates me nonetheless. It's a shame, because rejecting her is rejecting Executive Suite.

The Siren said...

*stares at Trish in horror* OMG. I forgot Executive Suite! There ALREADY EXISTS a June Allyson movie that I do not hate! That I, in fact, LIKE!

This is big.

Karen said...

The ensemble nature of Executive Suite means, to me, that it is a film with June Allyson, but it is NOT a June Allyson film.

The Shrike sounds tempting indeed. I yearn for an Allyson role that gives me permission to despise her to the extent I already do.

Yojimboen said...

Not to cut too deep a sidetrack on The Shrike I think it will surprise you. If memory serves (it’s decades since I’ve seen it), June Allyson pushes beyond what was even then an obvious piece of stunt-casting and scares the shit out of the viewer.

Lest we forget, the source material was no mean play; it won a Drama Pulitzer for playwright Joseph Kramm; Jose Ferrer starred and directed on Broadway and used his then considerable H’Wood clout (Caine Mutiny; Cyrano; Moulin Rouge) to get Universal to produce.

The price was (SPOILER ALERT) the tooth-achingly, ludicrously unlikely H’wood ending forced on the film by the studio, an ending which effectively shits on all the hard work which precedes it.

There’s a terribly sad coda (or horribly ironic anecdote, depending on your POV) attached to the piece. Joseph Kramm’s wife, Isabel Bonner, like the play’s protagonist, was an actress who had semi-retired when she and Kramm married. She played the lesser role of Dr. Barrow on Broadway and repeated it in the movie.

Then she took the play on the road, playing the lead role (opposite Dane Clark) in a small repertory tour; and on July 1 1955, suffered a brain hemorrhage and died on stage in the middle her biggest scene.

Trish said...

Ha ha, Karen! I always find the 1949 version of "Little Women" gives me permission to despise her.

The Shrike definitely sounds like a winner - studio enforced ending and all.

William Holden and June Allyson in Executive Suite? Surely they weren't cast for their undeniable chemistry. There's got to be a story there. Which one of them was doing the film to get out of a contract, or doing it to get into another film?

DavidEhrenstein said...

I second the move to ressurect The Lovers of Teruel -- a deeply strange ballet film. Also P&P's Honeymoon in which Ludmilla performs the same dance-drama to less overheated affect.

I kind of suspected the Ray would turn out the way you describe, Siren. And I'm guessing Welles' The Other Side of the Wind -- when and if we get to see it -- will prove likewise.

Among the NYFF's other items be sure not to miss Vito, the documentary on the life and work of film crtic and gay and AIDS activist Vito Russo. It's cast includes your truly.

Vanwall said...

You can always watch Allyson in "They Only Kill Thier Masters", 1972's killer Doberman doggies attempt, where she plays so far against type as a predatory, murderous lesbian, she's inside out. Plus, her screen time is minimal.

Shamus said...

Since we're all playing (from a safe distance), "The Siren could always watch... June Allyson" my two-cents worth is pitched for (if the Siren has not seen it already) Interlude.

Let's see- June appears to be a sweet young American thing, drifting sweetly in Europe for the first time where she... take a guess. (Maybe the Siren has not seen this, after all). The object of her affections is a mysterious composer with a mad wife in the backdrop, which is composed of a testy collaboration between Douglas Sirk and James M Cain...

For some reason, this is one Sierck film on which EVERYBODY seems to agree. And it sounds suitably bloodcurdling to make you think that maybe everybody is right (for a change). Personally, I tend to gravitate to the Sirk films which stars either Sanders, George or Stanwyck, Barbara, so I haven't seen it myself, but I thought that maybe since you're giving June another try...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Fasbinder loved it.

Shamus said...

No, I think Fassbinder hated it. He constitutes one half of "everybody". But anyway, it is a little seen, little talked of 'Scope film which just happens to be out on DVD. Maybe it's for all the June fans who just don't seem to be able to get enough of her.

Shamus said...

Such as James Agee, who said "June Allyson seems incapable of giving an insincere performance."

Yeah well, even great critics can go wrong. Spectacularly wrong. Farber thought Glenn Ford was a fine actor ("a quiet actor"- I paraphrase) and he used something to the same effect to praise (here's you cue to flinch, Monsieur X.) Wendell Corey.

glennkenny said...

I think Fassbinder loved it and hated it on alternate days. He was like that.

DavidEhrenstein said...

In his piece on Interlude Fassbinder worte "After seeing Douglas Sirk's films I am more convinced than ever that love is the best, most insidious, most effective instrument of social repression. June Allyson takes a lesser lover back to the United States with her. But they will not be happy together either. She will always be dreaming of her conductor and he will always be seeing her dissatisfied longings. They will absorb themselves all the more in their work, which will naturally now be exploited in turn. Right."

Shamus said...

Thanks, David. I should have known better than to contradict you: I cannot even recall the source where I got that (obviously mistaken) impression. [When (and where) was that article of Fassbinder's published?]

And Fassbinder's admiration for any of Sirk's works is not that much of a shocker. But I love that: "love is the best, most insidious, most effective instrument of social repression..." Although how much of that statement is actually true is, of course, another question. Most of the "repressive" love in Sirk seems to be "vertical", i.e., children and their parents, rather than lovers simple.

DavidEhrenstein said...

See Fassbinder's episode of the compilation film Germany In Autmn, Shamus. It's the oepning segment and a scalding apoligi pro viita sua. Fassbinder appears in it as himself and so does his mother ("Lilo Pempeit" in was her billing in his movies) and his mover Armin Meir (to whom Fox and His Friends is dedicated.) Armin is one of TWO Fassbinder boyfriends who committed suicide.

Happily a third important boyfriend, Gunther Kaufman, is still with us. Whe Fassbinder married Ingrid Caven, Gunther was his Best Man. And that's who he slept with on his wedding night.

DavidEhrenstein said...

That Fassbinder article was published in the Edinburgh Film Festival Douglas Sirk trubute book.

Tony Dayoub said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Dayoub said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rcocean said...

"It's funny, Mat..."

Mat who?

Shamus said...

Again, Thanks, DE.: I'll get to Germany in Autumn pronto.

I don't know whether to laugh or be horrified that he drove two of his boyfriends to suicide (but was this before or after his own death?). But that he married a woman and slept with his best man, well, yeah, there I laughed (I thought that role traditionally fell upon one of the bridesmaids, and before the wedding).

And boy, I don't want to get to bad side of the Siren; or Tony: had better sign off, toot suite.

Yojimboen said...

This remind anyone of the Robert Ryan/Joan Fontaine clinch of last week’s discussion?

Yojimboen said...

(I meant to do this earlier.) Trish, your above comment re Ms Allyson: “I feel she is an antiquated device from Hays and Breen, intended to whisper sweet nothings to the females in the audience on the subject of being good wives and homemakers, and sacrificing all.” deserves re-printing.
It’s as intelligent an observation as I’ve read in many a moon.
Hat’s off.

Rachel said...

Clearly, June Allyson was a woman who could take charge.

Trish said...

Y., I'm honoured. Thank you.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well of course she could

DavidEhrenstein said...

Armin Meir hung himself not long after Germany in Autumn was made. El Hedi Ben Salem hung himself in prison where he was being held on a murder charge. Fassbinder found put about it ust as he was starting to shoot Querelle. That's why it's dedicated to Salem's memory.

Still outside of those who died of AIDS (Kurt Raab, Raul Gimenez) or natural causes (Rosel Zech) the rest of the Fassbinder gang is flourishing. Especially Udo Kier who's currently shooting Ulrike Ottinger's The Bloody Countess, starring Tilda as Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

gmoke said...

"In his piece on Interlude Fassbinder wrote 'After seeing Douglas Sirk's films I am more convinced than ever that love is the best, most insidious, most effective instrument of social repression.'"

Interesting that I just transcribed some of my notes from Ursula K LeGuin's Four Ways to Forgiveness just today that may be germane to this sentiment:

"I can only say that it may be in our sexuality that we are most easily enslaved, both men and women. It may be there, even as free men and women, that we find freedom hardest to keep. The politics of the flesh are the roots of power."

"I have told the story I was asked to tell. I have closed it, as so many stories close, with a joining of two people. What is one man's and one's woman's love and desire, against the history of two worlds, the great revolutions of our lifetimes, the hope, the unending cruelty of our species? A little thing. But a key is a little thing, next to the door it opens. If you lose the key, the door may never be unlocked. It is in our bodies that we lose or begin our freedom, in our bodies that we accept or end our slavery. So I wrote this book for my friend, with whom I have lived and will die free."

DavidEhrenstein said...

Went to the cast and crew screening of "Vito" last night at CAA and it was Beyond Thrilling. Everyone involved in this documentary has done a stellar job of not only telling Vito's life - and therefore the history of the LGBT movement -- but bringing back Vito's voice. I think about Vito all the time, so I hear his voice constantly. But it was quite a thrill to see him speaking -- at lenght -- in that inimitable style of his. Casual yet resolute and fierce. Vito was never at a loss for words. Never. He lived life so fully that his death seems a rude interruption And being gay had a meaning that few of us ever come to grips with. To Vito it was a calling. And that's why to those of us lucky enough to have known him and loved him Vito will never die.

The film has tons of footage of event's I never knew were covered so fully. "Zaps," street protests against homophobia (the famous occupation of Harper's magazine in which I participated -- one of the greatest days of my life) and plenty of ACT-UP.
The film also shows what a humungous task writing "The Celluloid Closet" was. There was no home video when Vito started out to write it. He had to go to film libraries all over the world. More important he had no guide. He discovered things that other film historians ignored or overlooked completely on his own.And he constructed an argument about the way film and popular culture shape our imaginations that's valid to this very day I'm beyond proud to have participated in this project (I'm on screen from time to time -- and my best line got a big laugh) and I KNOW "Vito" is going to mean a lot to LGBT kids today.

HE'S YOUR FATHER.

Shamus said...

M. Gmoke,

That quote was very lovely. The idea that most philosophy or politics or metaphysics dissolves away at the simple presence of something beautiful or sensual and immediate, is also at the (paradoxical) heart of the works of my favorite poet, W.B. Yeats. It is distilled most poignantly and ironically in Politics, the final poem in his Last Poems and it is short enough that I can reproduce it here:

How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here's a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there's a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!


But this theme is also lurking in his poems such as The Circus Animals Desertion, The Dialogue of Self and Soul and In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz.

Shamus said...

And perhaps it is the job of the poet or the novelist or the filmmaker to affirm this basic human experience over anything and everything else, politics or god or perhaps even morality (in its indiscriminate and authoritarian sense).

X. Trapnel said...

"After seeing Douglas Sirk's films I am more convinced than ever that love is the best, most insidious, most effective instrument of social repression."

May I express some skepticism with regard to this formulation? Ideologues, left and right, dream of a population free of the private committments and allegiances of love, whereby "liberation" means total political mobilization in the interests of the collective, represented by the state which just happens (in their dreams) to be run by just such ideologues (see Plato [the chap who would horsewhip Homer]on guardians and philosopher kings). As so often in his mature work, Yeats crystalizes the conflict as an open, perhaps unanswerable question as opposed to Fassbinder's positive assertion, but then, the best lack all conviction...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Latest FaBlog: Hommage A Guy Maddin

Yojimboen said...

Sorry X., “the best lack all conviction…” always brought out my jaundiced eye. Without some conviction, how the hell’d they get to be the best?

I get back on board (somewhat) with “while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

Though overall it sounds to me like an appraisal of the current state of the Democratic Party.

Yojimboen said...

Or:
“And the worst are full of passion
Without mercy.”

(Depending on late you were up last night working.)

X. Trapnel said...

Y,

I think it's a problem of metrics and sonority. Yeats could have written "certainty" (allowing the possibility that one could be wrong, something I think characteristic of "the best"), but the hard c and the heavy emphasis on "vic" sounds better. As regards the Democrats, I agree; Yeats as prophet bird (Sailing to B.) got it right. Alas.

I haven't seen enough Sirk to accurately guage the bullshit level of Fassbinder's apercu (it seems pretty high), but Frank Borzage might serve as a counter-example. Well, an unleashed Frank Borzage.

gmoke said...

Love, flesh, and politics. Try tango and get them all within a three minute dance.

Borges on tango:
"To speak of the tango as aggressive is not enough; I would say that tango and the other Argentine dance, the milonga, express something directly that poets have often tried to say with words - their sense that fighting can be celebration."

(Tango is where the aged Yeats, if he danced well enough, could hold that young beauty in his arms and she would welcome the embrace.)

X. Trapnel said...

We have no record of Yeats' prowess as a dancer. Chasing neurotic English/Anglo-Irish lesbians around the great gazebo doesn't count.

Shamus said...

Maud Gonne was a lesbian?: fuck, this is new to me.

Y, "the best lack all conviction" does not mean that they have no private convictions whatsoever: it just means at that moment (the violent chaos and anarchy) they cannot bind themselves to any political ideologies: the worst, of course, do and they are able to do so with certainty.

Mostly, I find Yeats' poems to be full of moments of silliness and wrong-headed ideas and skewed mythologies stolen from Irish folklore and French Surrealism and Hinduism- Second Coming is not exempt from this general pattern but those lines there are some of the greatest in 20th C. poetry.

An example of silliness: in Prayer for my Daughter, he says: "an intellectual hatred is the worst/So let her think opinions are accursed." Excuse me, "opinions are accursed?" What is the use of a decent education then? How is she going to shop for her food let alone read the classics? Or vote. But, it is also my favorite of his poems. Mohini Chatterjee is one of the most sublime poems ever written on a silly idea (reincarnation).

Shamus said...

And M. Trap, I don't think that Fassbinder's statement is bullshit: but it is more often the children who try and control their parents in Sirk's films (and in such a manner that you wonder if it is love after all). But if you take All that Heaven Allows (his most characteristic film), then you can see that there are also some very complex emotional negotiations and transactions between the lovers.

No use comparing Sirk and Borzage though. For a film to work (any film to work), you must accept all the premises of the filmmaker at least for the course of the film. So, if you watch Borzage, you must believe in "love's transcendent state", which is total bullshit in life of course. And Sirk's films are more about form and style than any private beliefs or convictions in any case.

Shamus said...

"...they cannot bind themselves to any political ideologies"

Alright, that seems more than a little reductive. Maybe losing conviction is simply the natural state of such times, an inability to arrogate oneself to any single perspective to would (supposedly) be a curative, a prescription for anarchy. Does that make any sense? Ah, fuck it, never mind.

Yeats also used a lot of dancing metaphors: "Men dance on deathless feet" and "How can we tell the dancer from the dance?" Whether he ever attempted to do the Borgesian tango, is, however, a moot question.

X. Trapnel said...

I didn't mean MG (who was simply neurotic and English); I was thinking of the surrounding bevy of the Wild Old Wicked Man phase including E. Shackleton-Heald, Dorothy Wellesley; I don't suppose WBY ever actually chased Eva Gore-Booth around anything.

Fassbinder's unfalsifiable statement is the sort of thing bien pensant folk like to bow before without making the slightest adjustment to their own private lives, bourgeois individualism being something for other people to overcome. Mauvaise fwah in a word.

Shamus said...

Fassbinder's statement is directed to Sirk's works: it would be - shall I say? - ill-advised to attempt to work it into our lives, somehow. Film criticism, XT: cut him slack, will you?

In any case, strange obsessives like Sirk and Sternberg and Borzage (and Ophuls and Mizoguchi and Kubrick and... you get the idea) exist alone, in their self-contained universes. You could draw some parallels with their works and life in general of course but life and politics are not assimilated into their works in any usual way. Sorta why they are obsessives in the first place.

Jesus, where am I? (Shaking my head, vigorously) Oh, the New York Film Festival, of course. A thousand apologies, Siren.

Shamus said...

Although to complete the circle, X.T., what was the name of the poet(ess) Yeats drove to insanity (and to suicide, wasn't it)?

X. Trapnel said...

The lady in question, Margaret Ruddock, was already unstable when Yeats met her. He was actually quite encouraging/supportive of her. Her suicide was in 1951, long after their affair. She is "that crazed girl...dancing on the shore."

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Men dance on deathless feet" and "How can we tell the dancer from the dance?"

Here

and HERE.

Shamus said...

Thanks, X.T. (I had to return the Everyman edition of his poems to the library eventually and my own book has no notes). But Yeats also seems to have felt some personal responsibility for her mental breakdown after their affair had ended.

"Did words of mine put too great strain
On that woman's reeling brain?"

X. Trapnel said...

Some have suggested a faint note of self-congratulation in "Man and the Echo." Thus Paul Muldoon: "If Yeats had saved his pencil lead / would 'certain men' have stayed in bed?"

Shamus said...

Well, when you put it like that... Still very funny though.

gmoke said...

I like Yeats' Wandering Aengus myself, which made quite a beautiful song as well as poem.

An example of how an old(er) man can dance the tango that a (much) younger woman would find alluring (I apologize for the scratchy sound):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TCjQv7-BXs

The video was shot at the Confiteria Ideal in Buenos Aires so you can't get much more authentic.

The young men move
like panthers
but the old men move
as the sun moves
inexorably
across the sky.

Shamus said...

It’s hard to stop talking about Yeats once you’ve started. Mr. X., you had quoted one Irish poet on Yeats: let me return the favor. Here is a slightly different perspective.

After reproducing the extraordinary final stanza of Among School Children, so Mr. Seamus Heaney:
“The ambition to write such exorbitant poetry had its penalties, and the need for an utterance that would overwhelm produced a certain overweening and theatricality.”

But Heaney also seems much more sympathetic to Man and the Echo (more so than Mr. P. Muldoon in any case), and Cuchalain Comforted both of which he says went a long way to “correct the histrionic streak Yeats was indulging when he planned to conclude his Last Poems… with Politics.”

I hope this is helpful. Or maybe not. I must hasten to add, however, that Heaney is, on the whole, very deferential to Yeats, carefully defending Yeats’s perennial reliance on the supernatural and even his brief flirtation with fascism (which was mild compared to Pound’s or Wyndham Lewis’ in any case).

Irish poems “learning their trade” have it tough- it’s hard enough to write something decent and worth reading even without having a giant like Yeats in such close proximity, anticipating everything you might do and screwing with your work (I mean, in comparison with Yeats, even Larkin - the one of the greatest post-war English poets - seems somewhat minor). And not just the poets: Roddy Doyle made some disparaging/dismissing comments on Ulysses some time back. Who is to say that such resentment is unjustified?

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

The topic of Yeats always opens up the sluice gate of blather with me and I fear trying our hostess's patience (MATery will get us nowhere). So briefly:

I've often relied on your (sort of) namesake when arguing about WBY's battier ideas and questionable politics. Denis Donoghue and Conor Cruise O'Brien (both of whom I revere) have made heavy weather of WBY's right-wing politics (which I would call reactionary, not fascist, and compared to De Valera downnright liberal) which I prefer to see as
intramural Irish bickering (or brawling: how I would love to see a John Ford-directed slugfest between Yeats and Joyce with the whole Celtic Twilight gang yelling encouragement [or maybe Joyce and Lady Gregory]), i.e., none of my business. Heaney (in "Yeats as Example?") argues that the absoluteness of Yeats' attitudinizing (when it came down to practical politics WBY was a fervent defender of free speech and pro-divorce) was away of shielding his poetic gift and values in a world hostile to both. This is unfamiliar to us. Only think of Auden, great as he his, constanly chasing after intellectual fads--Marxism, Freudianism, [Christian] existentialism. The braying of the Brit lit establishment against Philip Larkin several seasons back was a gout of rage at someone firmly and determinedly himself.

Shamus said...

As you mentioned, Heaney argues that despite the centrality of his mysticism and faeryology, shall we say, Yeats possessed a "robust, skeptical intelligence" equal to any secular intellect at that time. I suppose when it comes down to it, complaining about Yeats' seances would be like complaining about that damn city that prefigures in so much of Joyce's novel.

Can you remember what we were talking about before we privatized this thread? June Allyson, wasn't it?

And what on earth is "MATery"?

Yojimboen said...

I don’t think Yeats was ever truly the same after the Abbey Theatre riots of January 26 1907 when, at the premiere of Synge’s “Playboy of the Western World” the audience erupted in anger at the mention of the word “shift” - as referring to a woman’s undergarment - and started ripping up seats. Various re-tellings have Yeats, Lady Gregory as his wingman (or wingwoman), rushing out onstage to hurl invective at the moronic rioters. I have no difficulty whatever envisioning Yeats, tears of rage flying, screaming in despair, “You bloody fools, you have disgraced yourselves again! Is this to be the recurring celebration of Irish genius?".

Notwithstanding that the riots were largely instigated by Sinn Fein agents provocateurs and at least two Vatican stooges in the crowd, the effect on WBY was profound and, I believe, terminal. The event marked the start of his journey away from the ethereal esoterica of west coast lore, and toward a more decided facing of reality, with imagary of hitherto unseen tactile strength and maturity.

To all intents and purposes Yeats stopped being Irish that night. Though his grief at the incremental abandonment of a culture which arguably has given the world six out of the seven greatest writers in the English language was no doubt unbearable and overwhelming, I believe he had no choice.

Ultimately of course, the severing of the sentimental ties, though the emotional ties would always remain intact, was Yeats’s (and our) salvation. All his best work lay ahead.

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

MATery=the obnoxious, digressive manner of a recently dismissed contributor to this site whose exile I should not like to share.

I don't see the seances, gyres, phases of the moon stuff as equivalent to Joyce's preoccupation with Dublin; I consider them utterly detachable from WBY's poetry (I have never read/never shall read A Vision) whereas I read Ulysses precisely FOR Dublin and wish to hell we had a novelist who did the same for NY (I'm currently reading a surprising contender: Aben Kandel's City for Conquest [a title that might rings some bells] which certainly has Joyce in its lineage).

Y's reading of the Playboy riots and its effects on the trajectory of Yeats's subsequent career is right on the money; I just want to put in a word for John Butler Yeats, Willie's EXTRAORDINARY father (a fine painter, a great New Yorker in his later years, and one of the best letter writers in the Eng. lang.) who faced down the rioters as follows: "This land of saints...of plaster saints..."

The Siren said...

Nobody's bothering the hostess at all, she loves Yeats. And wrote her first English Lit paper on The Playboy of the Western World, and her last on Brendan Behan, so knock yourselves out. If anyone wants to talk about The Midnight Court they know where to find me. More posts coming presently.

Yojimboen said...

Brendan Behan lore:
His first visit to NYC:
He arrives on a Saturday, meets friends, dines, has a jar or six, then heads back to his hotel (upper B’Way somewhere); en route he decides to buy a paper; at the newsstand he is handed the Sunday NY Times. It was a particularly busy weekend and the Sunday Times had its usual 25 sections and oh… maybe 200 pages.

Brendan takes the 4 lb package and asks what is it?
Newsstand operator: “What do you think it is, it’s the Sunday Times.”
Behan: Jaysus! What the foock happened on Saturday?

Shamus said...

X., (Since Madame gave us permission to ramble- and I hope her next post is on Miriam Hopkins, as she promised)

Since you mention it now, I had just read Beautiful Lofty Things, last night, and it is very moving. Yeats has also a entire poem devoted explicitly to his growing sense of disillusionment and isolation after the riots Y. mentioned; his imagining of an ideal (I'd say almost too ideal) audience:The Fisherman.

The living men that I hate,
The dead man that I loved...
(Synge, of course)

You are, of course, free to ignore all the Yeatsian ghosts and obscure symbols and visions (which I too have not read: but then I've not read anything but his poetry) but what I meant was that, like Joyce's Dublin, Yeats drew inspiration from the supernatural, so, howevermuch he relies on soul and seances and faeries, we must be grateful for that nonsense: they gave us all great poetry we read today.

Y., I don't know that you could rightly say "Yeats stopped being Irish" that night. He wrote Easter 1916 ten years later of course. Besides, for all intents and purposes, Yeats is the one who appears to define "Irishness", not the other way around.

gmoke said...

Synge, another fine Irish writer whose words roll off the tongue and around the mouth like berries or fruit, all juice and taste you can get drunk on.

There's a film of Playboy starring Siobhan McKenna that I recall as being pretty good with Gary Raymond, who is probably best known in the US for the TV series "The Rat Patrol," as the Playboy.

None of Yeats' plays seem to have made it to the screen, according to a cursory look at imdb, and I've never heard of any being revived recently. Might be worth a look. Or not.

Shamus said...

And Jaysus, where the hell does Y. get all his great stories? Probably the same magical, mystical place where he gets his dirty pictures.

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

I too find "Beautiful Lofty Things" a deeply moving (and quite cinematic) poem, mythmaking though it be ("all the Olympians," forsooth). On the other hand, "The Fisherman" is mythmaking that moves me not; I don't believe in this ideal reader for a moment and there's something here suggestive of the beautiful lofty bullshit of "Under Ben Bulben" (heresy, I know, but really, those "hard riding country gentlemen"; this must be the sort of thing that ticked off Denis Donoghue. Let's not even talk about "The Statues," exhibit A for the "Yeats was a fascist" folk. I admit though that I love this very un-PC poem). Neither of these all too assertive poems possess the power Yeats could command when working through truly felt and experienced oppositions. "A Dialogue of the Soul and Self" reconciles world and ideal without resorting to myth (though one winces slightly at "When such as I cast out remorse"). The beautiful simplicity (the dearly won simplicity of a lifetime) of the concluding lines is emotionally overwhelming in a way that the (admittedly stunning) conclusion of "The Fisherman" is not.

Yeats and the movies (did he ever see one?). There isn't much. Michael Redgrave played him in Young Cassidy, a Sean O'Casey biopic. Odd Man Out of course has many of his Abbey cronies (and one antagonist: W.G. Fay). And there's a photograph of a young (!) Sara Allgood (whose sister was Synge's beloved) kneeling to an amused WBY in mock hommage.

Yojimboen said...

The studies of B. Stanwyck and P. Goddard I posted last week were quite lovely shots of lovely ladies, I thought; pleasing not only in an artistic sense but also of historical interest. Imagine my surprise to see them degraded as “dirty pictures”.

I don’t collect dirty pictures – whatever they are. I do collect – and have for years – photos of actresses and entertainers, dancers, singers whom I admire. Not solely for their beauty but also for their talent. An unapologetic hobby: I am a heterosexual male who regards the female form as Nature’s most magnificent and successful creation, and I never grow tired looking at women from Arletty to Zetterling, Dietrich to Garbo to Tullulah.

Unlikely ladies like Brice (Fanny) & Bainter (Fay); among the ‘C’s are Bow, Lombard & Charisse; stroll thru Davis (Bette), Davies (Marion), Hopkins (Miriam & Peggy-Joyce) to the Dolores’s (del Rio & Costello – yes, Isabel Minafer her own self; grandmother of Drew Barrymore). Dancers include Zorina, Humphrey (Doris) & Graham (Martha); singers Etting (Ruth), Roth (Lillian) & Morgan (Helen) – and while we’re among the Irish, a certain Mrs. Jack Cassidy.

These names represent a tiny fraction of a collection of artistic nudes which will never appear on this site. Dirty pictures indeed. Ah, Shamus, you’ve gone and spoiled it for everybody.

Shamus said...

Yojimboen, did you not just see me beg you for the Stanwyck nudes; and start blubbing when I got to see them? What can I possibly do to convince you that I was joking? For the record, I absolutely would like to make this my hobby, only I don't know quite where to start. Hence that remark (which was actually meant as a compliment).

And I think you are extremely mean in naming names (Davis! Charisse! Oh my God, Lombard, Lillian Roth!!!) and then saying "will never appear on this site". THAT, sir, is absolutely unforgivable. You could think about slowly release your luscious hostages into the blogosphere, say one actress month. So next month could "Nude Clara Bow Month" and I and countless others online would simply stay on that site for the rest of our natural lives, content just to refresh the page every day. Are you satisfied at least now that I am, nominally, in your camp?

X.T., I could answer your thoughtful comment in more detail [oppositions do exist in Dialogue of Self and Soul but they are mostly weak oppositions and Yeats' sympathies are very clearly indicated, so they are no less assertive than any other poems of his. And agreed, let us not talk about, say, the eugenics in Ben Bulben: "base-born products of base beds"; instead let us delight in the perfect cadence of the epitaph (the most beautiful epitaph, ever?).But isn't it instructive to compare Yeats' imperative statements and curious hypotheticals and rhetorical questions and Larkin's poetry of the "seem" "as though" and the like...Larkin's sensibility will be familiar to anyone even coming to his poetry for the first time: Yeats will always be strange and new] or I could back to the previous thread and do some intensive staring at Ms. Ruby among Stevens (oh dear, I hope this is not too creepy). The latter course is more advisable, I think, after I clear all sharp objects from my desk.

X. Trapnel said...

Shamus,

Well, the opposition in "The Fisherman" is rather easy and a bit cheap: the shallow, cynical, chattering Dublin literary crowd and the silent, "wise and simple" (ugh) fisherman. Those in "Dialogue of Soul and Self" are internal and universal: "The ignominy of boyhood; the distress/Of boyhood changing into man;/The unfinished man and his pain/Brought face to face with his own clumsiness/The finished man among his enemies?/How in the name of Heaven can he escape/That defiling and disfigured shape/The mirror of malicious eyes/Casts upon his eyes until at last/He thinks that shape must be his shape?/And what's the good of an escape/If honour find him in the wintry blast?"

(Pause for a moment to remember to breathe.)

Can you really compare the expert metrical click-clack and conventional rhetorical invective of "The Fisherman" to this? Come now...

Shamus said...

X.,

I'd never intended to compare The Fisherman with Dialogue anyway, but Yeats always seemed very forthright and absolutely certain about certina things: they ring out as prophecies (Second Coming, Easter 1916, basically every other great poem you can think of). The oppositions Yeats sets up initially are utterly dissipated by the great lines you just cited in Daialogue. I also think you are more moved by Dialogue than I am: as remarkable as it is, it is not my favorite: Schoolchildren, Prayer for my Daughter affect me much more.

(Also see the early opposition in The Stolen Child. Yes, it is an early poem of faeries but the same opposition is preserved for Dialogue: the human pleasures for the unearthly and Yeats is quite adamant on what is more important. As a result, "...the brown mice bob/ round and round the oatmeal chest" is sharper and more poignant than the pools of water that "scarce could bathe a star".)

Long story short, the opposition is largely rhetorical.

X. Trapnel said...

For all his veneration of Hardy, Larkin's first poetic love was Yeats and I don't believe he ever got over it nor wanted to. When Larkin rises to assertion ("...for unless its powers/Outbuild cathedrals nothing contravenes/The coming dark...") the sonorities are Yeatsian when they're not downright Shakespearian: "...And as we raced across/Bright knots of rail/Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss/Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail/Travelling coincidence; and what it held/Stood ready with all the power/That being changed can give..." "Seem," sir? Nay it is. I know not "seem."

Shamus said...

Well, in Whitsun Weddings, Larkin seems to express a sort of nostalgia for the present as it is still passing. I'm not sure if that qualifies as Yeatsian but Yeats' laments were more direct, more unavoidable than Larkin's (Irish Airman) and sexual or bodily decrepitude often figured in this (Sailing to B.). Larkin's narrator also seems more invisible (at least from what I've read of him).

And, since you are still awake, Mr X., we could segue into the manner in which Yeats sometimes completes his poems: the rhetorical question.

For the life of me, I cannot understand what they mean. For instance,"Who can tell darkness from the soul?" (I didn't know they were alike in the first place) or "Did she put on/ His knowledge with his power/Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?" or, of course, "How can we know the dancer from the dance?" (I fucked up on this quote earlier: know, not tell - shudder).

These sweeping statements Yeats makes is only an outcrop of his declarative style (which seems vast, positively cavernous somehow)and because his poetry seemed large enough, life seemed to bend to his will: "Changed, changed utterly." And it did, didn't it?

X. Trapnel said...

Whoa there! "Easter 1916" assertive? Maude Gonne sure didn't think so. Here is negative capability to please John Keats. All of the questions and uncertainies are all unresolved in the end, even the possibility that "England may keep faith." Not a poem to raise cheers at a Sinn Fein rally. And Yeats is unsparing of himself in the first stanza, admitting his place in that same Dublin lit crowd he scorned in "The Fisherman."

I don't see anything unearthly in "Dialogue of Soul and Self" which is not just earthly but earthy (Waldo Lydecker might add disgustingly so): "I am content to live it all again/...if it be life to pitch/Into the frog-spawn of a blind man's ditch/...Or into the most fecund ditch of all/The folly that man does/...if he woos/ a proud woman not kindred of his soul."

Shamus said...

I mean, MCMXIV as compared to the more Easter seems much more reserved- "Never such innocence again" and "A terrible beauty is born"; even with hindsight, Larkin is more circumspect. Yeats (even though, or rather, because of the lack of distance) gives it a sweeping panorama. But compare the events!

Shamus said...

Sorry, I didn't see you previous post there.

It's not assertive! This is the first I've heard of it. And Yeats' disdain for politics is well recorded in his poems at least. When withered old and skeleton gaunt/an image of such politics This is connection with the Gore-Booth sister who played a role in the Easter uprising.

X. Trapnel said...

What does Yeats assert here? That everything is "changed." Into what? "Terrible beauty" is not an endorsement of anything. And let's not disregard Yeats's cunning. He knew that "drunken, vainglorious lout" would stick to John McBride, terrible beauty or no.

Shamus said...

I don't think it would have been a great poem if it were a simple endorsement (or denouncement) of the events at that time: his feelings on politics is... complicated (and since when is Maud Gonne's opinion of Yeats' art important?). Actually, Eva Gore-Booth and Con is a truly strange, backhanded encomium: how, from that poem would anyone have guessed that Con was a great politician in her own right: Cabinet berth and MP,among the first women to attain such renown. Needless to say, no mention of any of those in that great poem. The Great Gazebo that is built consists almost entirely of beauty, not utopia of some sort.

Back to Dialogue, aren't The Soul's perorations unearthly (an appeal for considering the unearthly or some realm beyond death)? The Self is of course disgustingly earthly. Goingo about ditches being fecund. Waldo would definitely not approve.

DavidEhrenstein said...

A contemporary nude of a world famous star (NSFW)

Yojimboen said...

All right here’s a nude study of W. B. Yeats (cropped for decency) so we can all get on with our lives.

Sorry, my mistake, that’s Lambert Wilson. This is Yeats.

But there is a resemblance, no?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Hey, I never knew Yeats was that cute!

Nto a very good shot of Lambert.

Here's a much nicer one.

And here he pretends to be Jeanne Moreau

Yojimboen said...

That’s a very lovely rendition of Le Tourbillon, David. Almost as good as the original. Thanks.

DavidEhrenstein said...

You're welcome. And were he here Lambert would thank you.

Yojimboen said...

When our hearts were young and gay, when the world was full of hope, joy and promise, a French actress few of us knew started to sing a song (in a movie by a young filmmaker we would come to know); two minutes later we were all head over heels in love with her.

Forty-nine years later, it’s still so goddamn fucking beautiful it breaks your heart.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And right now that actress is making a movie with fellow goddess Caludia Cardinale, Le Vice-Consul de France a Lahore (aka. Michael Lonsdale) under the direction of everybody's favorite 103 year-old