Saturday, January 31, 2015

World on a Wire

Finally found some time to watch Fassbinder's World on a Wire. It is deliriously shot and designed. So many mirrors everywhere! As the dialogue on the image grab above shows, all of them do serve a purpose in making a point. What I found most interesting was that although it lacks the force and the emotional punch of his melodramas, the themes and ideas which animate this film are the same.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Vasily Grossman - Spanish Book Covers

Two powerful covers from the Spanish edition of books by Vasily Grossman - the most recent entrant to the list of my all-time favourite authors. In English the books are known as Life and Fate and Everything Flows

The First Sherlock Holmes

"A 1916 silent movie featuring Sherlock Holmes - long presumed lost - is due to have its premiere in Paris. It stars a man who changed the way we see Conan Doyle's famous sleuth forever."

BBC magazine has details on how.

Also found another article there in which John Gray tries to explain the long-standing appeal of Sherlock Holmes -

"Aside from a few relics of Victorian rationalism who find a curious comfort in Darwinism, most of us now accept that reason can't give meaning or purpose to life. If we're not content with the process of living itself, we need myths and myths very often contain contradictions.

Holmes is one such myth. Seeming to find order in the chaos of events by using purely rational methods, he actually demonstrates the enduring power of magic."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Olive Kitteridge

I was very, very impressed with the new HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge (just four episodes actually, around an hour each). This is really one of the most intelligent films I have seen about depression. Although to call it "about" depression or about travails of aging, or about anything else for that matter, will be doing an injustice to everybody involved in making it. This is really much more than just its subject -- one of those rare films that makes you feel wiser about the complexities of life. "There is nothing like a simple life" - as the tagline of the show says and it shows why that is true. I am short of superlatives to describe what Frances McDormand has done with her character here. It makes you feel angry and depressed just thinking why we don't get to see her more often on screen. Now off to find the original novel by Elizabeth Strout on which the series is based.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Melanchholy of Resistance cover

I was always intrigued by the painting featured on the cover of Laszlo Krasznahorkai's The Melancholy of Resistance (one of my favourite novels, if that is not obvious) but didn't know anything about the painting.

Some googling showed me that it is a detail from a painting called "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889" by Belgian painter James Ensor (1860-1949)

I found two articles which have more background on the painting - here and here. Very clever and interesting choice for the cover I must say.

(Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On the firm foundation of unyielding despair

"That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Prisoner of Zenda

Not terribly entertaining although the introduction in the Oxford World Classics edition makes some very interesting points about it being a commentary on the idea of "English Gentleman" which made a  lot of sense to me.

Some interesting tidbits.

Zenda was probably an inspiration for Nabokov's Zembla, which makes a lot of sense actually.

Also love this acrostic dedication (to his son Zafar) in Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Zembla, Zenda, Xanadu:
All our dream-worlds may come true. 
Fairy lands are fearsome too. 
As I wander far from view 
Read, and bring me home to you.

True Detective

Judging by the comments and articles on the Internet, it looks like I am not alone in being disappointed by the ending of the first season of Twin Detective.

First a list of what I liked:

- It is beautifully shot and I am not just talking of the famous tracking shot at the end of 4th episode. Whether it is the aerial shots of the swampy landscapes of Louisiana or despair inducing scenes of rural desolation or the shots of the two leads having a conversation in the car, it is all breathtaking. I could actually watch it with sound on mute. It is that good. Adam Arkapaw, the cinematographer, also shot Top of the Lake (other great find for me from last year) which should propel him among the top ranks in the list of contemporary cinematographers, that is if he is not there already. I should also mention the director - Cary Joji Fukunanga for the great attention he paid on the visual elements of the drama, which is actually one of the things that keeps me away from TV dramas (specially sitcoms) because if it is not visually appealing or distinctive it gets boring after a while.

- Brilliant lead performances by both Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughney. The show lacked interesting secondary characters (unlike, say, Breaking Bad) but it more than makes up for the attention it pays on the leads.

Now things I didn't like:

- inconsistent writing. In the first few episodes I was actually enthralled by Rust Cohle's monologues about human consciousness and other horrors of human existence. I couldn't believe I was hearing those words on a tv show. I am not familiar with the genre of Weird or American horror fiction but I could easily trace the influence of Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Cioran and other purveyors of hard and pessimistic existentialism. But everything comes to a nought towards the end of the show with a truly conventional denouement, which will not be out of place in a standard serial killer hollywood movie. If that was not enough we also get a monologue about how "the light is winning against the dark", that too from the mouth of Rust Cohle. May be one should feel grateful that the writers didn't make him beg for mercy to God or turn him into a born again christian. In hindsight all that talk about consciousness, evil and existence became what it was - the kind of talk guys have in their hostel rooms when they are half-drunk.

- comparison with Twin Peaks. At many times while watching the show my thoughts kept going back to Twin Peaks, constantly comparing these two detectives with agent Cooper and sheriff Truman. I was thinking that "the Yellow King" would be someone like "Bob" from Twin Peaks and "Carcosa" like the mysterious woods that surround the town of Twin Peaks both stand-in for some kind of immanent evil in the world at large. Twin Peaks showed that you can catch the murderer but the spirit of evil will always be free, always looking for victims, feeding on the "garmonbozia" of pain and suffering. In this sense it profoundly subverted the genre of detective fiction which is built on the premise that the detective with his power of ratiocination restores the order to the world which was disturbed by some evil act. Thinking like this True Detective felt even more conventional than it really is.

Overall I still feel it is worth watching. It is certainly far more intelligent and interesting than the movies Hollywood continues to make.


“If, as Moses Mendelssohn maintains, Judaism is not a religion but a revealed legislation, it seems strange that such a God should be its author and symbol. He who has, precisely, nothing of the legislator about Him. Incapable of the slightest effort of objectivity, He dispenses justice according to His whim, without any code to limit His divagations and His impulses. He is a despot as jittery as He is aggressive, saturated with complexes, an ideal subject for psychoanalysis. He disarms metaphysics, which detects in Him no trace of a substantial, self-sufficient Being superior to the world and content with the interval that separates Him from it. A clown who has inherited heaven and who there perpetuates the wost traditions of earth, he employes means, astounded by His own power and proud of having made its effects felt. Yet His vehemence, His shifts of mood, His spasmodic outbursts finally attract, if they do not convince us. Not at all resigned to His eternity, He intervenes in the affairs of earth, makes a mess of them, sowing confusion and clutter. He disconcerts, irritates, seduces.”

Emil Cioran, The Temptation to Exist