“We wind up in cells of our own making when we’re not generous, loving, compassionate, and forgiving. Without love, we build dungeons in our hearts and fill them with our perceived enemies. We believe they deserve to be there for the harm they caused us, but by imprisoning them we’re destroying our own spirits. When our dungeons are overflowing with these prisoners we refuse to set free, we become slaves to our self-righteousness, our anger, resentments, and self-loathing, which we let multiply until we wind up imprisoned on our own death row.”
– Martin Sheen, in Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, Along the Way
After a few weeks away, I’m once again visiting the Sunday Salon with an update as to recent doings. The blog has lain dormant for over a month, and even I don’t know exactly why, given that there is plenty to write about. Laziness is the answer that I’ve latched onto, although as Julia Cameron points out, probably correctly, in The Artist’s Way, laziness is very often a mask for various forms of fear.
Charging forward fearlessly, then, here is what I have been up to…
Books: While writing about books has been a problem, reading them hasn’t. Recently completed are the aforementioned The Artist’s Way, and Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez’s memoir Along the Way. Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go provided me about fifty hints as to future books to read, which, with my “to be read” stack growing larger and larger, is about fifty more than I absolutely needed. But I don’t mind. Andy Couturier’s A Different Kind of Luxury, which profiles eleven people who have “dropped out” of Japanese urban, commercial society and found fulfillment living in the countryside, was the subject of a book review that got me back to the blog yesterday. Currently underway are Joseph Campbell’s Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal, Pema Chödrön’s How to Meditate, Jonathan Spence’s Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man, and the exhibition catalog Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy.
Music: Compact discs are accumulating as well, but I haven’t been listening to much recently. One recent arrival which is sure to get attention soon is Kaija Saariaho’s oratorio La Passion de Simone, based on the life and thinking of the philosopher and mystic Simone Weil.
Movies: Cannes 2013 is well underway, and as there are a number of films and directors I’m interested in making appearances this year, I’m been following the goings on. My go-to source for Cannes information and reviews is The Guardian. Neil Young’s Film Lounge has also had some useful notes, including updated odds on the Palme d’Or, Best Actor, and Best Actress picks. It so happens that as of this morning, the Palme d’Or favorite is Like Father, Like Son, the latest from a favorite director I’ve mentioned often here, Hirokazu Koreeda. Also on the list are other personal favorites like Jia Zhangke and Jim Jarmusch. Speaking of Koreeda, a DVD set of his recent television series Going My Home has just made its way to me. Koreeda will temporarily be supplanting Yasujiro Ozu in my Sunday Nights with Ozu as I work my way through the series on Sunday evenings, starting tonight!
Last night was spent with two brand new Criterion Collection Blu-rays, 3:10 to Yuma and Bande à part (Band of Outsiders). Both were extremely enjoyable in their very different ways, and both looked fabulous in their Blu-ray incarnations. Glenn Ford, an actor I’ve always to be a solid, albeit sometimes stolid, filmic presence, is at his best in 3:10 to Yuma. I was quite late in coming around to Jean-Luc Godard’s films, having been put off by the silliness of Alphaville several years ago. But come around I have, even on Alphaville, and the dynamism and constant literary and film references in Band of Outsiders were a total delight. Plus the film features one of my main film crushes, Anna Karina, so how could I go wrong? I’ve featured Karina in this blog before. In fact, I’m going to share a picture of her from Band of Outsiders now, simply because I can:
I am hopeful that I have turned the corner with regards to keeping my blog a going concern. Tune into this space to see whether or not laziness wins out. To close out today’s Salon, let’s all dance! Here is the wonderful “Madison” dance from Band of Outsiders, with spoken digressions provided by Godard himself. Anna Karina sure looks great in a hat. Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey look nice too.
Many of us know at least one person who is resistant to the attractions and complications of modern, frantic, high tech, commercial life. Some people take action – small, achievable steps like growing some of one’s own food, joining a food co-op, riding a bicycle or walking to work, using less electricity, and so on. A few go even further in taking themselves “off the grid.” Subtitled “Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance,” Couturier’s lovely and valuable book – based on articles he wrote for The Japan Times – profiles eleven men and women who have given up contemporary Japanese urban life and found more sustainable alternatives living in the countryside. Most of these eleven people share characteristics, aside from the fact that most of them know (and, in a couple of cases, are married to) one another. Most of them are artists. Many are political activists in areas like the environment and nuclear power. Most have traveled widely, finding especially formative experiences in India and Nepal. Most are farmers who produce their own food, avoiding the use of pesticides and other chemicals, and live without electricity.
Some had traditional jobs at one time. Painter, bookbinder, and student of traditional literature and crafts Akira Ito was an electrical engineer until his late twenties, when he decided to move to the country and embrace the hermit-like life of the old Chinese literati. “When I quit my job, I knew if I didn’t do what I really wanted to do then, that when it was time to die I would be left with regrets.” Among his projects was a volume on woodblock carving and paper making in Nepal, where he lived for many years. Many of the people featured in A Different Kind of Luxury contributed to that project, and became lifelong friends as a result. Read more
“Do not fear mistakes – there are none.”
– Miles Davis
On the book front, this morning I completed Donald Keene’s 5 Modern Japanese Novelists, which wasn’t an in-depth scholarly work but nonetheless a good critical introduction to the writers he treats — Tanizaki, Kawabata, Mishima, Abe, and Shiba. Keene’s personal anecdotes (he knew all five personally) enliven the commentary. I hope to have a fuller review of the book in the next few days.
Ongoing reading projects are Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and the exhibition catalog Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy. I admit that I’ve been working on the latter for months, but I still intend to complete it! What my next reading project will be, however, I don’t really know. I have many great options, and am being pulled in multiple directions. Perhaps because I want to continue the Japan theme, and because the book is sitting here next to me, An Edo Anthology, a collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century writings and art from the city that later became Tokyo, is calling out to me, as is Donald Keene’s Anthology of Japanese Literature. There are other temptations, like the new biography Henry Cowell: A Man Made of Music by Joel Sachs, which looks quite excellent.
In the realm of movies, I’m continuing my slow pace, with only two films viewed this week: Anima Mundi, Godfrey Reggio’s short film on wildlife and their habitats, and, on TCM, I Love You Again, a lightweight but very enjoyable 1940 film with William Powell and Myrna Loy (how could any film with those two delightful stars be anything other than enjoyable?)
As for Easter Sunday, I fear I’m going to be spending much of it staring at the television. I would quite like to see the PBS presentation of Thomas Adès’s The Tempest — I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a note of Adès music, and I would hear quite a few notes by this much-praised British composer if I tune in for this opera. I had already tentatively planned to watch Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in honor of Easter, from a Blu-ray disc featuring the “ritualization” of Bach’s work by Peter Sellars that the Berlin Philharmonic presented a couple of years ago. Also, it’s time for another episode of “Sunday Nights with Ozu,” about which I recently wrote. I was considering the relatively short The Record of a Tenement Gentleman. But adding this 75 minute film to the six or more hours of Bach and Adès music makes for a rich day. We’ll see how it turns out.
Coming tomorrow, of course, is Opening Day, so I’ll leave you for this morning with a hearty “Go Giants!”
While in San Francisco for CAAMFest a couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to see some videos by the film critic and video essayist kogonada. Along with his film explorations – here’s a good interview with him where you can also see his short “supercut” films on Stanley Kubrick, Darren Aronofsky, and more – kogonada runs a tumblr, missingozu, in which his enthusiasm for the great Japanese director is on display. Appropriately, kogonada’s films were presented at CAAMFest as a prologue to the showing of Late Summer, the Ernie Park film I praised so heavily in last week’s Sunday Salon, which owes a lot to Ozu’s style. (kogonada’s name, you may recognize, is in itself a tribute to Ozu, or rather Ozu’s longtime writing collaborator Kogo Noda.)
One of the kogonada films I got to see at CAAMFest was his really excellent exploration of the films of Hirokazu Koreeda, among my favorite directors working today. He gets right to the heart of what makes Koreeda’s films so memorable and moving. As kogonada says in his introduction to the video, “The cinema of Koreeda Hirokazu is defined by moments of everyday life. Whatever potential there is for heightened drama – the suicide of a husband, a cult massacre, abandoned children – it is diffused by the familiar rhythms of everydayness.” On the comparison to Yasujiro Ozu, he says, “I think the reason we compare Koreeda to Ozu is because his cinema tastes like Ozu’s. When we leave his films we experience a similar aftertaste, which is to say, a deeper sense of life.”
“…For an artist, virtue can be deadly. The urge toward respectability and maturity can be stultifying, even fatal.
“We strive to be good, to be nice, to be helpful, to be unselfish. We want to be generous, of service, of the world. But what we really want is to be left alone. When we can’t get others to leave us alone, we eventually abandon ourselves. To others, we may look like we’re there. We may act like we’re there. But our true self has gone to ground.
“What’s left is a shell of our whole self. It stays because it is caught. Like a listless circus animal prodded into performing, it does its tricks. It goes through its routine. It earns its applause. But all of the hoopla falls on deaf ears. We are dead to it. Our artist is not merely out of sorts. Our artist has checked out. Our life is now an out-of-body experience. We’re gone. A clinician might call it disassociating. I call it leaving the scene of the crime.”
– Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way (Week 5)