May should be a wonderful month, a time of joy and in many respects it has been. I was vaccinated during this month and have even ventured out without a mask on a couple of short occasions (yesterday, the first day of June I left the house for a social event and had no mask at all! Actually I forgot it).
Since the month finished with a viewing of Miller’s Crossing and began with Empire of the Sun (watched with Lucian), I’d count it a success. And I almost finished Don Carlos, which seems to me to be worthy of comparison with Shakespeare—no hyperbole. This is a play that will stay with me for some time.
— Empire of the Sun (1987)
— Finished Kozol, Shame of the Nation
Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring a very young Christian Bale, John Malkovich, and others.
The film is excellent in almost every respect. Its only errant note, ironically, is the lip-synced choral performance (by Bale) at the beginning and at a crucial point midway through the film. Christian Bale is entirely the character of Jamie Graham, and John Malkovich is an unconflicted and unvarnished “gentleman of fortune.”
— Bertholt Brecht, Galileo, 50 pp.: The scene where he picks up Andrea and moves him around the room is brilliant.
— Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, 10 pp.: This book I should have read back when I would smoke cigarettes and drink glasses of whisky—that is, back in the 1990s and early 00s.
— Billions, 2.11-12, 3.1: This show is a lurid, unhealthy pleasure. Else why would I binge it?!
— Brecht, 10 pp.
— Patton (1970), up to intermission: Have a very distinct memory of having watched this film with an uncle who was a big fan of Penn State football and the former fallen coach Paterno (for whom I now have only the deepest contempt). Patton was a feel good film.
Whereas 30 years later, Paterno is a solipsistic enabler of a molester unable to acknowledge his own culpability, who escaped justice by dying of cancer. Patton is, just as the ending scene confirms (why he’s walking around a windmill), Don Quixote without the punchline. A deeply flawed person equally failing to achieve insight into himself. Secondly, Patton is not really a war film. There’s little war in this film. This is not a shortcoming, necessarily.
— Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Reckless: Should I apologize for having read these things? Lurid fantasies of just violence.
— Patton, finished. I do wonder why the film didn’t end with the accident that ended his life, given that it happens not long after the final scenes of the film (1945).
— Finished Brecht’s play Galileo
— Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Reckless: Friend of the Devil
— Brecht’s essay on five difficulties on writing the truth (in an appendix to Galileo)
— C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (hereafter LWW), Chap. I [read outloud to Lucian]: Lucy and her siblings find themselves in new environs and she discovered a peculiar wardrobe that opens into a wood and a Faun whose name is Tumnus. May 2021 rediscovered.
— LWW, Chaps. II-III: Tumnus, the Faun, invites her to tea at his humble abode. Lucy is charmed by him and unfearing even he admits he meant to pass her onto the White Queen. She returns and her siblings are unbelieving. For them she’s only been gone a few minutes—for her hours. Sometime later, another rainy day, Edmund goes into the wardrobe, partially by accident and he immediately meets the White Witch.
— Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, “Cruel Hand”: You may have served your time, but you’ll never be free of the new n-word, felon, bitterly complains a minister.
There’s shame in not having read this before, which is the stupid meaningless shame of inevitable ignorance. The kind philosophers following Socrates should be impervious to. Is also a silence imposed upon the reader (such as myself, full of pride and piss) who knows that nothing he can say is meaningful. The expression of anger is nothing. Recently I saw a picture of a man at a protest (perhaps from July 2020) with a sign that said, “I see you, I hear you, I stand with you.” Is that adequate? I’m hesitant to think so.
The one thing that has really changed my mind is the status that I’d accorded the Supreme Court. Prior to reading this book I’d held the Supreme Court in esteem as an intellectual institution of the highest rank where logic and evidence hold sway. Whereas now the institution seems fatally flawed, excessively conservative (and I’m not just thinking of its present constitution).
Also, I’m not sure that I voted for Bill Clinton’s second term (I did for the first, which was the first time I voted) and whatever respect I had for him has been long eroded away. But more than ever the 90s seem such an incredibly vile, ignorant time (and I’m not just thinking of what we wore, which was tragic). Clinton needs to apologize.\
— Ian McEwan, Solar, 30 pp.
— China Syndrome (1979) Directed by James Bridges, starring Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, and Jane Fonda.
— Friedrich Schiller, Don Carlos, 5 pp.: This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for more than a decade, watching me and my goings-on, giggling at my ignorance. Thank God the idle curiosity of May 2021 came along to call my conscience to task.
— Solar, 80 pp.
— Don’t Breathe (2017) , 40 minutes: Thank God I didn’t watch the whole of this. I’m shocked that this has such a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes (68%). All civilized persons agree in the opinion that crowdsourcing is always the best way to determine the worth of popular content.
An insult to the other better cultural consumptions of May 2021? Or the contrast making the former stand out more fully?
— Lupin (2021–), 1.3
— Solar, 10 pp.
— The Abyss (1989), last 20 minutes
First read Ian McEwan in college, the story “First Love, Last Rites.” A deeply disturbing story and sex and death. Solar follows the exploits of Michael Beard, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who’s just ended his fifth marriage and been caught in a culture war kerfuffle (my creation) … Wrote a post about the novel.
— LWW, Chapter IV
— Lupin, 1.4-5
— Solar, 15 pp.
— Don Carlos, 10 pp.
— Finished Solar
— LWW, Ch. V-VI
— LWW, Chs. VII-VIII
— Don Carlos, 5 pp.
— Jeff Lemire & Gabriel Walta, Sentient
— NYRB on the “golden” age of Egyptology
— LWW, Chs. IX-XV
— Don Carlos, 5 pp.
— Finished LWW
— Don Carlos, 15 pp.
The General (1926): Have seen this so many times now. Lucian loves it. But I’m perplexed by why it was made. Or rather, in 2021, I’m perplexed.
— NYRB on Thomas Adés
— Thomas Adés, Tavot: An errant moment trying to educate my ear.
— Introducing Toshiro Mifune (2020): Criterion Collection documentary blurb, Imogen Sara Smith gives a fascinating account of Toshiro’s career. Some of my favorite Toshiro Mifune films include Sword of Doom (1966), Yojimbo (1961), High and Low (1963), Throne of Blood (1957), Seven Samurai (1954), and others (not necessarily in that order—probably Throne of Blood would be first … Shakespeare, you know).
— Miller’s Crossing (1990): If I were to create a list of some of my favorite films, this would be at the top for both personal and other reasons. The personal reason is that watching the Coen brothers’ films in high school and college was my intellectual cinematic groundswell: that’s when I knew that my interest in film surpassed just the pleasure of being entertained.
But I also genuinely love this film for what I would call intellectual reasons: for me it is deeply concerned with knowing why we act certain ways. It begins with a discussion of “ethics,” which is hilarious because really it’s a couple of gangsters talking about a veritable code of thieves … but it’s really about why we do certain things. Is it for greed? Love of others? Sex? Power?
— Don Carlos, 10 pp.
— Collateral (2004): While I watched this film I kept thinking (I’d seen it before at least once or more) this is a dress rehearsal for Heat, but it turns out that it was made after Heat (1995). Honestly, having watched this lowers my opinion of Michael Mann a little.
— Trouble (2019): Apparently titled “Dog Gone Trouble” on Netflix. Finding out who was in this (or mostly who wasn’t in this) has made me feel somewhat guilty about my fixation on certain actors and actresses … made me wonder if my fetishism is blinding judgment about actual performances.
— Don Carlos, 10 pp.: King Phillip (in Act Three) develops a more profound character and sophisticated knowledge of those surrounding him. He even becomes sympathetic to Carlos.
— Prince Caspian, Ch. I: More reading out loud to the heir of my fortune.
— Seven Chances (1925): In this Buster Keaton film, his character needs to marry before 5 p.m. on his 27th birthday in order to inherit seven million dollars. He learns this on the morning of his 27th birthday. After a series of embarrassing disappointments, his friend publishes an advertisement in the newspaper, in turn precipitating a mass of women who arrive to join him in holy matrimony. At one point he’s running down a mountain, being chased by rolling boulders and a seemingly infinite supply of potential fiancées. It’s quite droll.
— Prince Caspian, Ch. II
— The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), 1 hour: Finally this film is becoming a little interesting to me. The domestic tension over Jimmy Stewart’s genes … again! Doris Day’s singing ruins at least one of the scenes for me. I wish I knew why I despised her or that song so much, but it really provokes a visceral reaction (eat your heart out Bolaño).
— Prince Caspian, Ch. III
— Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991): The apparently innocuous background noise of suburban (urban) Philadelphia life, turns out to be a movie released in 1991 no less (the year I graduated from high school and began college) … with a cameo by Christian Slater and a principal role by a dark-haired Kim Cattrall.
This film reminds you of all of the worst characteristics of the 1990s. It is a dreadful film, which is only partially its fault: it tries to think the end of the Cold War and naturally fails. There are a few lines of Kirk’s about the end of history, and naturally the oaf thinks that the end refers to the limit of a period or space.