Sunday, May 30, 2010

thoughts on the film MARKETA LAZAROVÁ

(Czech, 1967, František Vláčil, director; starring Magda Vášáryová as Marketa)

I finally got in the right mood to fire this sucker up. Watching this film, I sensed its greatness, although I was barely able to follow the narrative. No...”although” is not right. I sensed its greatness because I had such difficulty following the narrative.

I have a hypothesis. It involves idiomatic head space and the “fields” of interaction. How minds are configured, generally, in a given era. And how the ability to communicate is tied to the common mentality. Yes, we can read Shakespeare or Augustine, and from our century, we can understand what is written. But what if we were transported back in time? Would the face-to-face encounters allow us to really “get” what is being said to us? Would we read the body language of a distant era? Those gestures pregnant with subtle shadings? What I'm trying to describe is similar to culture shock nowadays. Say, you somehow get plopped down into Mongolia. The organic, innate forms of meaning and how they are sent out to other brains are, to a certain extent, connected to a given geographical culture (I surmise this, with unwarranted, faux-intellectual confidence). And I think that phenomenon would be magnified several fold if the distance were temporal rather than or in addition to the cultural. Time wires us human beings up in collective idiosyncrasies.

The 2008 HBO miniseries JOHN ADAMS, staring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, was impressive. I enjoyed it, thought it was interesting and well done. But when I think more about it, I realize how little imagination went into it. Seemingly, no effort went into creating the weirdness that would impact viewers “eavesdropping” on such a different, alien era. It was more like present types were plucked from our normality and plopped into cool costumes and recorded events. We are not presented with an attempt to infuse the roles with imagined odd brain-waves. The gestures, the glances, the expressions – the “fields” of interactive space – are not, in the miniseries, conveyed with an adequate (imagined) eccentricity peculiar to the late 18th century and early 19th.

Heck, if you're my age, let's zoom back just 40 years. To high school. Yeah, you'd have no problem with the conversations, but I assert that the general ambiance would seem “off”. Perhaps even dream-like.

Quoting Wikipedia's succinct summary, MARKETA LAZAROVÁ “takes place in the Middle Ages, and tells the story of a daughter of a feudal lord who is kidnapped by neighbouring robber knights and becomes a mistress of one of them.” Also from that source, the film “was voted the all-time best Czech movie in a prestigious 1998 poll of Czech film critics and publicists.” The historical background is shadowed with subtle aspects of the conflict between Christianity and Paganism. The foreground has to do with rival clans in conflict with the regional king and his captain, who seeks to bring those clans under his firm control.

With this film, the suspension of disbelief is immediate, thorough, and hypnotic. Even the landscapes (mostly snowscapes) strike the viewer with an uncanny force: it's as if these barren fields, reedy marshes, and ancient forests would not be found today anywhere. The scenic elements are imbued with a terrible sublimity, a harsh yet somehow mystical significance. And the costumes are so wild-and-woolly that authenticity appears to have been woven into them.

The film opens with a voice-over to set the stage, to set the feel. It is wonderfully poetic. Like only Eastern Europeans can be. Then, we must wend our way through the action and the dialog that is, at least for me, almost nonlinear and quite bizarre. The whole movie seemed like a fascinating non sequitur. Told in vignettes, the narrative sort of hop-skips between cause and effect. Yes, one can discern a vague story-flow. But it's more impressionistic than logical. More lived-in than acted. And that lived-in aspect is what made the greatest impact on me.

During the whole thing, I had the unsettling sense that if I had been transported back to that time, into those circumstances, I would be hopelessly lost. And let's say I went back there with a working knowledge of the Czech language, even old Czech. I would not know how to carry on a conversation with any of those characters. In the movie, grunts, grimaces, and crazy guffaws seem to carry as much vital information as words. Those insane hoarse belly laughs! They don't seem connected to the dialog for which they are the ostensible reactions! Marvelous and head-spinning. And much of the communication takes place non-verbally, via the oddest facial expressions and tilts of the eye.

We are dealing here with actors inhabiting 750-year-old minds. And oh my gosh!...all that hysterical campfire laughter! I should also mention the musical soundtrack: it is alternately evocative, stirring, and down-right disconcerting.

I'll leave you with a few choice exchanges:

--“Where did you see the regiment?”
--“Half a day away.”
--“What do you mean?”

--“The marshes are frozen.”
--“Butterbur is a healer.”

--“A sincere mind does not seek words.”
--“A bird's breast weighs heavily on the knight's heart.”

"Super Taranto" -- Gogol Bordello [dang...]

"Ultimate" -- Gogol Bordello


Saturday, May 29, 2010

it felt like a waltz

We moved in liquid grace
to a dream's pulsing rhythm,
natural as the Volga's flowing.

We moved as music moves.
It felt like a waltz so lilting!
We were woven into dance,
and my heart felt an orchestra.

You moved with color and inflection,
like hidden words in a freeing poem.
I measured notes of surreal hope,
till madness leaked into my steps.


you moved so well. Such gliding poise,
such smiles of youth. I could not dance
like some old uncle, as if it were a trifle.
Madness leaked into my steps,
and love was felt inside that dream.

I heard Russian violins
in your flashing eyes.
I felt viola depths
in your spectral hands.
I saw into your kindly soul
and felt it as a cello.

But dancers in a dream are caught
and fade before the world of light.
I think I must have meant something,
perhaps a smile through beats of time.
I know I dreamed you as perfection.
I know I loved you on an evening.

We moved in liquid grace
to a dream's pulsing rhythm.
Now it's time to bow adieu
and thank the stars that sent you.

casting off

That locust shell, a ghostly exuvia,
hanging there on the pine tree trunk.

On what wind is the borne creature winging?
And what new colors its glistening eyes behold?

A poet sifts...

...within his thought pattern, giving attention to subtle intimations of sound and rhythm which are somewhere far behind the tumble of words with which his mind is filled. In this way, he creates a phrase that carries with it a new force, and the reader, in turn, can perceive his own feelings being intensified as their energy is transformed by the impressions he receives from the poet.

"The Secret Dimension" an essay by Peter Brook, from the book GURDJIEFF (Needleman & Baker, 1998)

on holiness

Warning: I'm about to go all sentimental or something. If you are squeamish, avert your eyes.

A few days ago, my friend Yael posted a humorous YouTube of meowing little kitty cats waiting to be fed. When they finally got served, things got real quiet....just deep, involved munching. That video has stuck with me. When those kitties were chewing and chewing, it seemed to me that all was, for a few moments, right with the world. A form of holiness seemed to hover over their little heads, and over my own soul.

This got me thinking about other forms of holiness. Besides those traditional kinds involved with ritual and religion. About what happens, occasionally, outside cathedrals, temples, and mosques. What happens simply and spontaneously out yonder, in the “mundane” world.

Simple things. Simple actions. Simple observations.

A mother or father preparing a meal. A mother or father teaching a child to tie shoes, or fly a kite. A husband or wife, in a moment of suspended time and suspended normality, glances at the beloved and senses an aura of precious individuality. A flower found blooming unexpectedly in late spring, just because it's there. The sound of rain in a summer's early morning. That rumor of autumn caught in August air. The wind through pines boughs before frost in November. The silence of snow, telling us the past and future are one. A friend sensing the need of another, though time and space intervene.

And little kitties filling their little bellies.

Monday, May 10, 2010

quantum rant

I used to get freaked out in a fun way over all that spooky-weird quantum mechanics stuff. Of course, one really needs to understand blackboard gibberish, needs to have been born with a mind hyper-flexing with math to properly fathom quantum mechanics. But not knowing stuff has never stopped me before from spouting off about stuff.

I think things have gone too far with quantum mechanics. It's a door that should not have even been opened. “That contradicts human curiosity and the compulsion to go wherever we go!” says probably everyone. I never pay much attention to “everyone,” anyway. So, I'm gonna rattle off my thoughts about this junk.

Some groovy practical things have come from exploring quantum theory (I can't think of any right now, but I'm sure there must be some nifty things). But at what cost? – parallel universes, string theories, the multiverse, zombie cats in boxes, vortexing brain tubules, freakin' wave-functions collapsing, photons giggling at us during their long-distance tangos...all kinds of wild shit. Guys and dolls in fancy universities are straining hard to make Einstein's General Theory of Relativity play nice with quarks and sub-quarks. That giant underground collider contraption in Europe sends pieces of reality zooming around and smashing (something tells me those physicists get off on the ultra-violence).

Some doors should remain closed. Because opening them turns us into quivering idiots.

It should be apparent to sentient beings that Quantum World is not Human World. Our brains ain't built for that. And what's on the other side of black holes has no bearing on our lives. Alice taught us that the Looking-Glass world is too damn freakish. The quantum world is where we stop its own concern. We keep trying to punch holes into reality. To flush a god out into the open. We're so silly! The Big Bang? Who cares? Much better to leave some darkness intact. Darkness is where the mysteries live that allow us to make art. A good poem is worth more to the human spirit than a sack full of ancient cosmic radiation.

What's the motivation for funding research into all this exotic stuff? So technologies will be developed and turned into products for corporations. "4D television sets coming soon. Place your advance order!" So CEOs can build Taj Mahals on all five of their vacation homes.

Just because we don't know something doesn't mean we should. one has a clue what consciousness is in the first place. And we're gonna use consciousness to figure out a theory of everything? Talk about the cart before the horse! “But maybe we'll finally understand what consciousness is when we break through the last quantum door or pull hard enough on 11th-dimensional strings.” And maybe pigs will build submarines and have fun zooming around under the ocean.

All I'm saying is this: we've seen enough to know that reality at the depth of quantum particles behaves in a way too bizarre for explanation...for understanding. We are pieces of reality. But reality itself will not allow pieces to see the overall image of the puzzle. That's my assertion, and it is fun to make it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

how I read Ezra Pound

How do you read him? Or do you read him? Yes, he turned into a fascist fruitcake. Yes, his CANTOS are mostly thick with gobbledegook. Or maybe not. I'm really too uneducated and too un-worldly to know for sure. Perhaps academics can penetrate just what the hell he was on about through all that stuff.

I don't look for sense in Pound's poems. I don't care what the poem is about. My sensibility doesn't work like that. The very idea of trying to understand the references or the meaning of a Pound poem has no purchase on my brain. I don't care! I don't want to know. I don't want to think when I read a Pound poem or any poem. I want to experience. I want to be entertained. I want to be zapped into another realm of being. A form of transcendence. And for me, no one provides that kind of experience like Ezra Pound.

Oh, there have been other great poets, from all eras. Many of them, like Keats, find a way into my soul. Many provide moments of transport. Even some contemporary poets are good enough to be entertaining, instead of profound and artsy. “Entertaining” – to attain entrance. That's how I would break it down. When a poem allows you to slip into another dimension. An aesthetic moment of stunning, soul-leaping quality.

As far as I'm concerned, no one has ever come close to Pound's flawless cadence, to his images that spiral into vortices of pure beauty.

I'm not going to provide any excerpts of Pound's poetry here. For one thing, I can't be bothered. And I think it's better that I don't. For those open to reading him, I prefer that you discover those special moments on your own. Yeah, you'll have to wade through a swamp of junk. But when the poem opens onto those splendid lines, the skies part, the stars tremble...and the gods reclining just out of our view are glad they made a world.

Friday, May 7, 2010

SPIRITS (a song by the Gothic Rangers)

Butterfly and Chinese wisteria flowers by Xü Xi

Sentience rides in a chariot reined by an illusionist.
Something within decides before you've thought of it.
Everything in the body movin' like a fugue of Bach.
Every nerve in the brain pushin' toward the crunch.
Every memory like a ghost from Pandora's trunk.
Ennui, sweet ennui, won't you bring a melancholy funk?

I dream about floods, nonplussed, how'll I brook that enigma?
I wake up to consciousness of being swallowed like Jonah.
When the crisis leads to all of your cards being trumped,
and you think you hear faint calls from the shell of a conch,
it is way past time for a subtle thirteenth month.
Ennui, sweet ennui, won't you bring a bittersweet pungency?

Spirits moving in the mist of morning
like Japanese blossoms a-floating,
like strange laughter in the wind chimes,
like a waterfall singin' old rhymes.

Spirits moving in between the seasons
like the origami art of creasing,
like oblique flight of black butterflies,
like the shadow's edge holds a hundred sighs.

Spirits, spirits, I will no longer turn my back on you.
Spirits, spirits, I'll wade in your waters that are dark and cool.

The dead shall be spoken to in cadential conversation.
The days shall be slant like the poems of Emily Dickinson.
I'll walk the Street of Crocodiles, listen to Schubert.
I'll fall in love however I wish, even flagrantly tendered.
I will gaze at the stars and think about all mortal creatures.
Ennui, sweet ennui, won't you be my tearful teacher?

Spirits moving in twilight of evening,
in the plumage of a peacock's preening,
in the rhythm of two lovers dancing,
in the eyes of that girl reading tea leaves.

Spirits, spirits, I will no longer turn my back on you.
Spirits, spirits, I'll wade in your waters that are dark and cool.

words & music by Robert T Buck

Tim & Robin

she turns me into words

Of splendors that hang
too far to touch, yet glow
in unformed thought...

of vague shapes at night
when the moon is overhead,
when like a pauper ghost it begs
words to fill its cratered depths,
words of golden coinage
from my minting tongue...

of all uncertain things
congealing round a grain,
to an iridescent pearling,
into an uncoiled time...

of what they mean I'll speak in lines
that flow with coward's courage.

It's that changing into words of things
made from fog and drunken clouds...
making something out of echoes
bouncing off of mirrored surface...

What great power you wield that pulls
substance from my vapored brain!

Yes, my words fall and tumble, turning
round the spiraled poles that sing
of northern snows and southern suns.
Coming through a foam of nothing,
dancing through my blood, those words!

Some break upon the page and fail.
Some make a line a thing to read.

I catch a glimpse of colored feelings,
then in stealth I reach to pillage
phrases guarded by stern angels,
phrases made from jeweled pieces.

Pieces of your hold on me,
pieces made of clay and magic,
glued together into verses,
shaped into a form of beauty,
made from what I am – language.

As lilies lean and time is bent
toward the West and evening light,
I turn instead to think of East
and feel me changing into worth.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


an emigration poem


Our hummingbirds have returned
to the bright leaves of Quetzaltenango
and whisper direful tales
of a dread shape in El Norte.

Other nervous gods
pace in the temple mist,
keeping watch over maidens cooling
calloused feet in the jungle brook.

Jaguar speaks at night
in low tones that drift
through pink adobe walls
and stir our dreaming hearts:

“Arm yourselves with love for all beings,
even for the furious ants
that stream amid the rubber trees.
Arm yourselves with love,
even for that thing with hard eyes
shambling up yonder in El Norte.

Awake with innocence;
awake into frog-song;
awake with no ambivalence.

Light the cooking fire
and pack a few belongings.
El Norte is waiting
for you, my little jaguars.

Remember as you travel
into dark imprecations:

the spirit of the Jaguar
will soften those hard eyes;

the justice of the Jaguar
will melt its bloody coin;

the anarchy of the Jaguar
will intoxicate its masses.

Remember my words
and trust they will flow,
wet with magic,
into the arms and legs
of some righteous gringos.

Trust they will fall
and wash away the border,
like those spells of old priests
brought rain and new worlds.

Only for a brittle day
shall that thing in El Norte
suck out the wits of gringos.

His catastrophe is coming. That thing with hard eyes
shall be undone by compassion. My great purse
of bones I shall rend and spill out its power
of mushrooms and weeping ghosts.

Only Jaguar Law
shall not be broken,
my rule of awful celebration.

Only Jaguar Law
is as strong as obsidian
and will not shatter
in the jaws of hatred.

And my Dance of Life will amaze those hard eyes.

And my Chaos of Life will confuse the hard eyes
of that thing standing now in El Norte.”