Trappist-Style Aged Mayonnaise
Now Playing: John Cale--"Fairweather Friend"
My life hasn't exactly been uneventful recently; it's just that so much of what happens isn't really visible to others. Also, the downtown library computer lab's pretty much turned into the local homeless shelter by day, and while most of said patrons are quiet, unobtrusive characters, the bad apples are starting to get on my nerves (while I can hardly comprehend what some of these people have to go through in their daily lives, it is supposed to be a library--although such behavior, of course, is hardly limited to the homeless, as witness my housemates). I doubt I'd have blogged anyway, but I suspect it's becoming a more than minor factor in my online reticence. It's mostly been writing (after a month-long break) and reading, anyway, along with work, with film taking an unexpected dive. I've been a little stunned to find myself reading science books--Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, several collections of essays by Stephen Jay Gould, and a book on ecology and gardening (I'm thinking of learning next year). The weather's been fantastic, especially over the past couple of weeks. The tree in front of my window's been turning a brilliant red gold, which makes for some superb reflected sunsets against my wall. The graveyard looks stunning.
Election stuff's always captivating, especially this year. This is hilarious, and be sure to check out "I'm BATMAN!"'s contribution in the comments section.
Work's been adjusting itself to normal, as the novelty wears off and I seem to settle into a groove. It's a hilarious welter of stories and complaints there, most often from the people who've been there the longest. Bitching and back-sniping are a way of life (it is a restaurant, after all), but it'll take more than that to dent my general good cheer (although I tend to wonder about the ethics of staying a forthright, plucky sort partially for the specific purpose of pissing people off--it's not as important as I make out, but sometimes it helps). If you enjoy people-watching and-studying, it's a wonderful envoironment, with much more diversity than my former job (naturally, considering that it boasts over a hundred more workers than the cafe). I've been taking a few classes on cheese, and will probably start learning about olive oil in a couple of weeks. One of the good things, surprisingly enough, is that there's hardly any room for advancement. My immediate supervisor has been there for ten years, and our manager for twelve. One of the mid-shift cooks is, I believe, into his second decade. This will hopefully militate against my staying there (and in Ann Arbor) too long and also encourage lateral moves into some of the other shifts, if possible. There's more actual cooking that goes on in the morning, and more scope for creativity.
Culloden (1964): One of my favorite cinematic discoveries over the past couple of years has been left-wing British filmmaker Peter Watkins, whose massive, astonishing six-hour La Commune--Paris, 1871 (2000) I watched last Christmas Eve. His first major success came with this film for the BBC--like La Commune, a well-researched docudrama on a bloody episode in European history, and one of the most engrossing and thought-provoking films I've ever seen. This is mainly because it's not only a historical film, but also a film about history itself--how it's made, recorded, and rememebred. Having dealt at length in grad school with questions regarding the legitimacy of historical research from both traditional and "postmodern" persepctvies, and then being an amateur cineaste, I loved Culloden. Some will guess simply from the title that Watkins' subject is the last stand of Prince Charles "Bonnie Prince Charlie" Stuart's Jacobite force against the British army at Culloden Moor in Scotland in 1746, the final gasp of Stuart (primarily Catholic) resistance to what was seen as the usurping Hanoverian dynasty and its attendant Protestant commercialism that threatened traditional noble and clan-based society. The scenario, in nationalistic terms, may sound familiar, as it was used thirty years later to portray events four and a half centuries before, and was called Braveheart, a stirring movie in many ways, but a historical film of almost staggering awfulness. Watkins' approach to filmmaking could hardly get any different from traditional Hollywood. Culloden, like La Commune, is filmed as a TV documentary, recording the action as it happens and interviewing participants (played almost entirely by semi- or non-professional actors) like the foppish Bonnie Prince Charlie, some of the Hanoverian commanders (though catching only glimpses of the opposing general, the Duke of Cumberland), and especially common soldiers and noncombatants of either side (some speaking Scots Gaelic to an English-speaking translation voiceover). The result is brilliant, especially given the gritty, verite nature of the fillmmaking and production. The battle scenes are fantastic, eschewing Hollywood noble sacrifice in favor of the genuine horror of war as much as any sort of film with Watkins' budget probably ever could. The chilling--and deliberate--dispassion of the narrator (Watkins himself) works wonders: "This is grapeshot. This is what it does." The fight scenes were orchestrated by Derek Ware--stuntman, bit actor, and founder of frequent 1970s British TV stunt team Havoc (Doctor Who, Elizabeth R)--who would perform similar duties the next year on Watkins' most famous work, The War Game, an Oscar-winning depiction of a possible nuclear attack on Britain, which would be banned in the UK for the next twenty years. The work of cameraman Dick Bush is similarly inspired, giving Culloden a look that still remains fresh and even ahead of its time after four decades. They don't make movies like this anymore, but they were hardly making them back then, either. Watkins manages to convey his deep feeling for the ordinary participant in history without being too preachy (especially through his trademark closeup technique, cutting off the space above actors' heads so audience attention never escapes their faces). Unlike traditional English vs. Celtic and/or American cntests, the warts of each side are clearly revealed for the viewer. Though Watkins obviously feels for the destruction of traditional Highland society at the hands of proto-"globalizers" (an apparently conscious echo of contemporary anti-insurgency campaigns--France had just left Algeria and the US was about to get "serious" in Vietnam--and a theme that would echo much more forcefully in La Commune) and emphasizes the brutalizing effect of conflict on the combatants, he also doesn't shy away from the less savory aspects of clan life, demonstrating both the exploitative nature of the clan system and revealing the rift the rebellion opened up between different families and clans (the most obvious being the pro-Stuart MacDonalds and the pro-Hanoverian Campbells). There are no easy good or bad guys in the film, just as there are relatively few throughout history. If more films like Culloden were made, such truths might be easier to understand.
Silent Running (1971): I'd seen bits and pieces of Silent Running over the years, the actual film on VHS, and finally got to see the whole thing on DVD recently. An online chum of mine considers it the best American sci-fi film of the 1970s, and considering the competition from other decades, I might be willing to consider "of all time" status (along with The Thing From Another World, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 2001--if one considers it American, and Close Encounters--and the last for the musical sequences). It's certainly one of my favorite movies, a conviction reinforced by seeing it again. In the near future, Earth's been stripped of all its forests (how they're possibly getting enough oxygen is left unsaid) and a fleet of spaceships drifting through the solar system carry the last patches of green in colossal geodesic domes. When the news comes that the spaceship crews are to return to commercial service (jettisoning and destroying the domes), botanist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) determines to preserve his charges, and ends up killing the crew of his own ship (including a startlingly young Ron Rifkin) to do so. Lowell manages to steer the ship away from a potentially lethal confrontation with Saturn's rings and faces the prospect of an eternity alone with his two robot servants, "Huey" and "Dewey." It's a remarkable achievement: a stunning employment of special effects matched with an unexpectedly compelling and morally ambiguous story without being pretentious, preachy, or hackneyed. It also features Joan Baez music that doesn't make you want to puke or rip forth your eardrums (she's not that bad, but you probably know what I mean). Director Douglas Trumbull, son of special effects wizard Don Trumbull--who had, among many other feats, made the flying monkeys fly in The Wizard of Oz--was responsible for the look and effects of 2001 a couple of years earlier, and convinced Universal to let him make Silent Running as one of several "hip" films (along with Easy Rider and a few others) that the studio greenlit to capture the elusive "youth market." Everything looks fantastic. The spaceship models are amazingly realistic (whatever that means when discussing futuristic spaceship design), and the interiors are even better, mainly because they were filmed on an old aircraft carrier in the midst of decommission. Trumbull simply redid the interior structure with paint and a few cinematic touches and had a spaceship set. The robots look like oversized space-heaters on legs, and were performed by multiple amputees (one of many interesting details revealed in the DVD's thorough extras). The latter probably had a lot to do with their sympathetic performances (again, robots). The look is similar in some ways to 2001, but with quicker editing and more emotional connection to the events. I might be mistaken, but I think Lowell was the only role Dern ever had where he was the main actor, not co-starring with Jack Nicholson or doing ensemble stuff (for the latter, Michael Ritchie's brilliant 1975 sleeper Smile is well worth a look), and he's absolutely mesmerizing (especially considering that he came to Silent Running after a dry period in his career). It helps that Lowell isn't just some single-minded, fanatical eco-warrior. He likes hanging out with his crewmates, regularly cleans up at poker games (and enjoys it), and has ordinary ambitions (in his case, becoming head of a restored Park Service). The threat of destruction to what he considers "nature's greatest gift" makes him snap, and he spends the rest fo the film agonizing over what he's done, realizing the need for human companionship, and finally (in a way) confronting his crimes. One can sympathize with a motive but not excuse the crime, and this relatively simple dilemma (scripted by future producers and directors Stephen Bochco and Michael Cimino) plays out with fascinating scope and power throughout Silent Running. It really is a wonderful example of the sort of drama one often finds in literary science-fiction (and so rarely in cinematic), and its influence even helped to create Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 90s. I for one feel considerable pique at its relative obscurity when you consider that Trumbull came up with cute, squat non-anthropomorphic robots years before Star Wars and "future grunge" nearly a decade before Alien or Blade Runner. Trumbull went on to direct a couple of low-profile sci-fi flicks and the special effects on Close Encounters, but he ought to be considered one of the greats just for Silent Running.