I’ll slack off from blogging soon for a bit of travel. Comment response will be slower. In case anyone is interested, here’s a brief list of some of the books, music, and films I consumed while taking a break from blogging this spring:
The most interesting book was probably A Time for Everything, a fairly long Norwegian novel that takes some of the Biblical stories quite seriously, although they are transported to a location that seems a lot like Norway. I also read Microscripts, by Robert Walser and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira (both of which I found slightly disappointing.) I found Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky to be delightful. And I greatly enjoyed Tiepolo Pink by Roberto Calasso. I’m told that Danube by Claudio Magris is a classic. It is certainly impressive, but is probably better suited for those with a greater knowledge of Central Europe. It left me with the impression that the Danube River contains the most dense and complex cultural mosiac on the planet. If the internet had never been invented I’d be well read enough by now to have handled it, but the internet was invented. I got 220 pages into Underworld by Don DeLillo, and gave up. I just finished Peter Hessler’s River Town, and liked it alot. He’s my favorite observer of Chinese culture (this is the first of three books that he has written. I should probably do a book review.)
Here’s some quick music comments:
The Wild Hunt by Kristian Mattson was my only discovery, as I’m afraid I don’t keep up with pop music. I also got his two newest EPs.
Oh but rumor has it that I wasn’t born
I just walked in one frosty morn
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. I can’t understand why Lucinda Williams isn’t a superstar.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I can understand why Kanye West is a superstar.
Jonsi Live. The lead singer from Sigur Ros
Bob Dylan Live 1964. For some reason I love his voice, but find Joan Baez (who also sings on the album) to be very annoying. Go figure.
And now some brief film reviews. These are mostly new films, but a few old ones. I see what’s available at the theater, and almost never watch films on TV
Uncle Boonmee Can Recall His Past Lives (Thai) 3.9 Apichatpong Weerasethakul might just be the best director in the world today. It’s a tragedy that few will see this on the big screen, where the visuals/sound/atmospherics are so impressive. Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010.
Poetry (Korean) 3.8 Another great movie by Lee Chang-Dong, director of Secret Sunshine. Like some other great directors (and unlike Hollywood) his movies are partly defined by what they choose not to show. Great use of sunlight. Brilliant ending. I’m sure I’d get lots more out of it on a second viewing.
HaHaHa (aka Summer/Summer/Summer) (Korean) 3.6 Song’s films are reminiscent of all those French films about young people adrift in and out of relationships. I’m not sure if it’s the Korean setting that makes them seem fresh, or his skill as a director.
Cameraman: The Life and Times of Jack Cardiff (British) 3.5 A must see film for fans of “Black Narcissus.” I wish I could have lived his life instead of mine.
Incendies (Canadian) 3.5 A very powerful look at the Lebanese civil war. Does a lot of things well, but doesn’t really excel in any single category—except perhaps acting.
City of Life and Death (China) 3.4 The rape of Nanjing.
Deep End (British) 3.3 An old British film by a Polish director. Reminds me of Peeping Tom, although not as good.
The Robber (Austrian) 3.2 Interesting film based on a true story of a marathon runner who robbed banks. Stylistically reminiscent of many films of the 1950s and 1960s, which makes it seems derivative at times.
The Tree of Life (US) 3.2 Worth seeing, but I found it much less impressive than some of the critics suggested. The visuals were nice, but not visionary as in Tarkovsky and Kubrick films. Did a great job of capturing the feel of childhood. The scenes with Sean Penn didn’t work for me.
The Housemaid (Korean) 3.2 Like many Korean films, it’s a movie that loves extremes. It’s interesting seeing Western culture symbolizing decadence and evil. Korea’s quite nationalistic.
Cold Weather (US) 3.1 An independent film that is ostensibly a detective story, but is actually a sly comedy about slackers.
The Strange Case of Angelica (Portuguese) 3.0 Charming at times, but in the end he doesn’t quite pull it off. The director (Oliviera) is 102 years old. Time to retire?
Midnight in Paris (US) 3.0 Another entertaining and completely forgettable film from Woody Allen.
Battleship Potemkin (Russian) 3.0 Thrilling visual images, corny dialog, overacting, simplistic message and a really big ship. No, it wasn’t Titanic, it was a “film classic.” Didn’t Eisenstein steal that baby carriage sequence from Brian DePalma?
Nostalgia for the Light (Chile) 2.8 Well-intentioned film that overreaches.
Summer Wars (Japan) 2.5 Disappointing anime by the director who did The Girl Who Leap Through Time.
My favorite film blogger is Colin Marshall. Here’s an except from a recent post:
Another essayist, centuries older but still a friend-maker in his way, may point to the escape route. A couple weeks ago, I interviewed Sarah Bakewell, Michel de Montaigne’s latest biographer. I admire many things about Montaigne, not least having invented the modern essay form, but his lack of strong opinions really wins me over. In his work — point out the staggering oversimplification in this if you must — I see a man struggling so hard to be honest about himself that, in the process, he strips himself of his opinions. I’ve come to think of honesty as a solution that, poured on one’s own opinions, dissolves them. When we dig down to bedrock, claims like “I love Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies” and “I hate Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies” amount to little more than — well, grunts, right? We can’t credibly call them honest or dishonest, since their vagueness and rootedness in impulse takes them out of territory where that sort of truth and falsity applies.
Which isn’t to say that we should stop talking about the cultural products that attract or repel us. I just wonder if we should talk about them from richer angles than liking and disliking. In the best critics’ vocabularies, do words like good, bad, and any synonyms thereof have any place at all? In our interview, Geoff Dyer mentioned his current work on a book entirely about Stalker, in which — and only my own conjecture follows — he will not say “Stalker is good,” or even “Stalker is great.” I wager he’ll say something more interesting like, oh, “It’s not enough to say that Stalker is a great film — it is the reason cinema was invented.” Hence, I suppose, the fact that I showed up to interview him, not the other way around.
I won’t say Stalker is great, but I will say that it has shown at Harvard about a half dozen times in the past 30 years. And I will say that I saw it twice at Harvard. And I will say that the 4 times I missed it were four of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made.
PS. I really need to read Montaigne—he sounds like he has exactly what I like in a essayist.