Conscientiously Reading, Watching December 2022

In December I started a new position as an SEO associate at Sagapixel. In the 45 days that have followed it seems so much like I’ve been unable to raise my head from the mantra “always be billing.”

But I did start reading Stendhal and this has been a genuinely interesting experience. And I haven’t watched “High and Low” since the mid-00s, my salad days. So that reminded me how poor service my recollection does. And finishing Jane Eyre corroborated this conclusion. Who knew that Bertha’s fiery end wasn’t the end (my longstanding, and false, conviction)! Well, someone who’d actually read the book the first time. That’s who.

The Power of the Dog (2021)
I suffer from filmic akrasia, which means that I fail to watch films that I know will be good. No idle comment, even if it is an elliptical reflection. I started writing about this and why I do that and it’s interesting.
This Jane Campion film is a case in point. I saw The Piano (1993) in the theaters, way back in the 90s. And was profoundly impressed. Stars Benedict CumberbatchKirsten DunstJesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Have seen several other films by Campion, and missed others.
But why did it take me so long to sit down and watch it?

— Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 75 pp. Began in November …

Winged Migration (2001)

Eyre, 30 pp.

Bullet Train (2022)
Think I’d considered seeing this in the theatres! But Netflix. In part it was because of the cover of the BeeGees’ song for the trailer (and the beginning of the film).
It’s a compelling exciting film. But raises too many questions about why there are so many white people.
A sort of dirty pleasure.

MESHES Maya window B Conscientiously Reading, Watching December 2022
Still from Meshes of the Afternoon

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
1943! Film by Maya Deren and Alexandr Hackenschmied. 1943! Boggles the mind to think that my grandparents were in their prime when this film was made—that it was made by one of their contemporaries. That’s a silly, idle reflection, I know.
On Sight and Sound’s 100 Best of All Time, the list that makes Jeanne Diehlman (1975) #1. That list. Do not disagree with most selections. This choice I can see.
The NYTimes’ biggest film critics offered commentary on the list.
Eyre, 15 pp.

Beau Travail (1990)
Also on Sight and Sound‘s list and my list of Claire Denis films to watch … considered the best of those. Feel disappointed with myself because I do not see it. Want to see it (that is, why it’s so good). I trust the judgment of others, especially those with a critical eye.
And I do very much appreciate the ending and Denis Lavant‘s character throughout. He’s a contemporary Klaus Kinski.
Yet, I’m not ready to make the judgement it is better than White Material (2009), for example. It is better than High Life (2018), but to my mind that’s not saying much. I like the latter’s conceit, mostly. But that’s about it.
Eyre, 20 pp.

Quick and the Dead (1995)
Sam Raimi, the director, has so much fun with this incredibly camp film. A remarkable fuck you to the Western tradition. A little surprising that Gene Hackman agreed to be in this film, given that it’s mocking the character he played in Unforgiven (1992). The latter is a genuinely great film and doesn’t deserve to be mocked.
Mostly I watched this film while writing an SEO audit. Couldn’t take it too seriously.

Eyre, 60 pp.

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)
Very entertaining. But I almost fell asleep during it.

Eyre, 75 pp.

— Finished Jane Eyre
No better way to celebrate Christmas Eve than by reading a feverish defense of Christian virtue while maintaining a complete failure to extend the principles of Christianity outside the strict boundaries of English identity.
Let me unpack. Jane presents a kind of muted but still insistent Christianity, by which I mean a telling of one’s piety without all of the deference to the Bible that one might expect. Now if you read the notes presented throughout the Penguin edition that I read, you would see so many references to early modern English Anglican culture. That said, Jane’s Christian virtue does not allow her to feel pity—at least not consciously—for Bertha, the wild woman of the third floor, and, as it were, the wife of Rochester, her employer and slow burn.
For a less convoluted exposition of my thinking on Jane Eyre
The final word is that this novel is beautiful, catastrophic failure as a novel that we cannot but keep reading, all the while knowing that Brontë had written better literary works. This novel is a paradox of sorts.

Katherine Lee Porter, “Maria Concepcíon”
And for a short story that celebrates the power of womanhood …
— Stendhal, Charterhouse of Parma, 10 pp.
Began reading this because of an article recently consumed from the New York Review of Books on a recent translation of Manzoni’s The Betrothed, in which Charterhouse and War and Peace were examples of novels of … historical fiction … I find this latter term bandied about these days so recklessly!

Rush (2013)
Meh. So desperately we want Chris Hemsworth to be a talented actor, because he is so undeniably beautiful as a specimen of nature. He’s not bad here, but his character is one-dimensional (and this may be a pretty accurate portrayal). Whereas Daniel Brühl is an actor (Schauspieler).
Charterhouse, 25 pp.
What I find interesting about Charterhouse—written not long after Jane Eyre—is the presence of the writer in the narrative (in relation to that book it is night and day! The latter being profoundly unconscious!). It’s a picaresque novel, in a certain sense. The “hero,” as he is described, is at times quite an idiot even if he is our hero.
Stendhal loves the Italians and appears to hate the French. He has a real sense of the unique characters of nations as it is expressed through its citizens, as much as he has no patience for any view of politics that does not expose the selfish, short-sighted motives of its “heroes.”

High and Low (1963)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Toshiro MifuneTatsuya Nakadai and Kyōko Kagawa.
Not a period film, like those identified with some of Kurosawa’s greatest works. A petty bourgeois attempting to save the soul of the shoe company he loves (the c but thwarted, mysteriously by man whose motives are never completely clear.
Watched this with the progeny and I’m happy to say that he liked it! File that under good parenting!
Charterhouse, 20 pp.

Call Northside 777 (1948)
Directed by Henry Hathaway, starring James Stewart and Richard Conte. My generation knows Jimmy Stewart through It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and his Hitchcock films (not his Mann films!) and Richard Conte from his minor role in The Godfather (1972).
But time was when Richard Conte was not just a gangster typecast. He was an up-and-comer like John Garfield, and he played interesting roles like this one or in House of Strangers (1949).
A true story, and therefore dangerously sentimental. Everything depends upon an antiquated piece of technology, as it happens. And an impossible enlargement of a photo negative.
‘Tis refreshing to see Stewart as the cynic.

The Stranger (2021)
How is this possibly legal! Much of the film you do not know who is who: who is a killer, who is dangerous. You develop sympathy for a man that turns out to be a killer. The psychological stress expressed by Joel Edgarton’s character is profound, yet sort of confusing because you don’t know what kind of person he is. Isn’t he a criminal conspirator?
Charterhouse, 20 pp.

Ça y est!

But if you haven’t had enough, perhaps you want to read my 2022 year round up?