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Friday, September 28, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

A couple of weeks ago I was meandering in the bookstore when I overheard two middle-aged (but older than I) women talking to each other. One said, "He also wrote Fahrenheit 451. Here's The Martian Chronicles. By today's standard it would seem overwritten, but it's really quite beautiful."

Anyway, I bough Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury because I recently heard it recommended. It's kind of slow. The prose is ... old fashioned, a bit languid and laying it on a bit thick. "Overwritten," as the woman put it so accurately, and a bit too sentimental. Funny how he makes the typical middle-American small town life seem so romantic. 

A little past the half-way point of the book, a description gave me an idea about shadows that kills people by drowning them in its darkness. But then I remembered that this idea has more or less been taken up by GRRM. Damn you! (waving my useless fist in the air :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Close Without Touching

Time has washed away 145 minutes of the movie "The Master," along with whatever the story was, leaving only fragments of images in memory. The longest segment etched in mind is the "processing" scene in the dark cabin on the boat. Hoffman demanded that Phoenix keep his eyes fixed on him without blinking. No blinking. Reply without thinking. If you blink you have start all over again. I don't even remember most of the questions, except the ones about having sex with his aunt and his mother being insane.

A greater intimacy between two people cannot occur. In that moment two minds melted into one, and nothing else in the world exists. For a moment loneliness goes up in flames. 

It reminds me of the title of a piece of instrumental music "Close Without Touching". The music itself does not quite live up to the title, but it's not bad. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Master

That something unspoken connects the two men (Joaquin Phoenix's Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd) is undeniable. Exactly what this relationship is, however, remains open to interpretation. It could be a homoerotic current running between them, or a father-son bond of love and hate, or a codependence between the savior and the saved. Are these bonds all the same thing? Especially between men? Don't know. My vote is to the father-son relationship, only because I interpret PT Anderson's previous movies as driven by troubled and contradictory father-son relationships as well. Something between Freddie and the Master reminds me of the clash between Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano in "There Will Be Blood."

There are times during the movie when I wanted to nap or check my blackberry, I must admit. Yet there are also scenes that completely captivate me, like the "processing" Dodd did with Quell. So intense I could hardly blink myself.

Joaqin Phoenix irritated me very badly in this movie. First, I couldn't shake the feeling that this character should have been much younger. Much, much younger. 20 to 22. Phoenix is too old, and looks even older. Second, the Marlon Brando-James Dean-homage-ish grimace is excessive, akin to screaming at the top of his lungs for 130 minutes, "Look! Acting!" I much prefer Hoffman's reserved approach. I know they are supposed to contrast with each other, but Phoenix just annoyed me too much.

Phoenix's posture throughout the movie suggests that Freddie is an ape. We the audience is even told directly that he is "an animal." Dodd wants to tame him, that is also clear. Freddie's posture becomes straighter and more like a man. Yet it is hard to tell whether the glint in Dodd's eye is satisfaction at his creation or disappointment of losing a vehicle to project his own repressed animalistic urges.

The soundtrack is very interesting. It does not always "enhance" or "cooperate" with the scenes. Sometimes it almost conflicts with the scenes. Other times it serves to smooth out visually abrupt transitions. The mix of dissonant modern tunes and 1950s jazzy style is most intriguing. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Ring Cycle

这个星期PBS播放纽约大都会歌剧院今年演出的瓦格纳之尼伯龙指环系列。不知道是全本还是删节本,反正每天晚上我都是看一会儿就去睡觉了,不能坚持到底。

小声说,我觉得故事情节方面尼伯龙指环比Tolkien的指环王系列好看多了,没那么好人坏人黑白分明,而且热血沸腾的爱恨情仇也比底气不足的指环王好看多了。

不过当然尼伯龙指环是不可能拍成暑期热卖片的,不仅因为瓦格纳在美国名声欠佳,而且故事里各种乱伦,孪生兄妹/姐弟,姑侄真爱等等,哇塞,太劲爆了。一眼看出 Star Wars 和 A Song of Ice and Fire 都有抄它的内容。GRRM 叔不仅抄了孪生兄妹/姐弟恋爱的情节,而且把Brunnhilde火化爱人尸体且自己走进去殉葬的情节安到了Daenerys头上。

音乐还好,有一点晦涩但不是很难接受,旋律和和声都很丰富。第一次片段地听当然听不出 leifmotif 什么的,不过唱出来挺顺耳的,Wotan 的低音部分困难点儿,其他男女中音高音的角色都可以接受。只是没有特别吸引我,吸引到必须一气儿听到底不能自拔的地步。

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Revenge

It was exactly the same kind of day. A Tuesday, a cloudless morning with pure blue above, the sunlight blinding. I don't remember what my office looked like then, but I remember Steve the copyeditor at my door, being the first person to tell me to go on the news sites. But I couldn't, becaue WaPo and NYT sites crashed. I also remember going home early and spending the afternoon on the couch staring at the TV. That's about it.

Perhaps this is the closest many people to smelling the odor of death. For me, it was a distant third to 1) Tiananmen Square in 1989, and 2) Los Angeles riot in 1992 (although it was over when I arrived in LA). Psychologically, these two incidents were a lot scarier and intimate than 9/11 to me. By comparison, 9/11 seemed a lot less real or tangible than those two.

People died. Then many times more people died and continued to die 11 years later as a consquence. What's it all for and about? Maybe there is no logic or reason. Maybe a big reason is revenge, tracing its way back to a hundred years past or more. A little while ago I read an article by the movie critic Jim Emerson in which he discussed his own lack of lust for revenge.

As a Chinese person who grew up hearing the folklore and watching the movies, I am among the hotblooded people who do have a lust for revenge. "You killed my father/brother/wife/children. Now prepare to die." The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most popular western classics among Chinese readers. We Chinese fantasize revenge without guilt, perhaps because we do not have the modern social machinery to exact this revenge for us, i.e., the court, police, army, and government. Still, collectively carried-out revenge is still revenge, minus some of the blood lust and personal satisfaction in the process. 

Emerson ponders why audience generally appear to have a lust for revenge, at least in theaters. I had worked that out long ago. Revenge is a way to restore a sense of order in this chaotic world. Although people kill each other all the time for no good reason or logic or justice, the dream of retribution provides a soothing balm on the unbearable reality. The moment a clear and unambiguous revenge is enacted. In the movies, the hero either completes his revenge in the climactic final battle (mostly Chinese movies) or forgives the villain and let him live after defeating and humiliating him (usually movies from the west). The latter is really more about the self-actualization and coming of age than about revenge. We channel our relief through the hero as he walks into sunset.

Well, things don't work out that way in reality, do they? The people who enact revenge get it if they are lucky, but they also fail and die just as often. They don't all safely walk away. Collatoral damage and deaths mount while the avenging party kills the culprit who have anything to do with this lust for revenge. So for those innocents who were wronged in the process for no reason at all, are they due some revenge of their own? Do they star in their own revenge movies? The answer is no, because there is no order or logic or justice in the real world. So revenge is only a dream to give meaning to the sound and fury.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Jack Vance


某同学最喜欢的作家中一个是 Arthur Clarke 一个是 Jack Vance。他曾经给我塞了一本 Demon Prince 系列中的小说,我读了两章闷死了读不下去。最近在 GRRM 的自述里看到说大胖子深受 Jack Vance 影响,瞅瞅某同学满书架的 Vance 小说,决心给他第二个机会,于是某同学推荐了另一本,中篇小说 The Dragon Masters,据说是雨果奖得主。这次我耐着性子读了大半,这就快读完了,同时下决心彻底放弃这个人的小说。好吧我承认他很有特点,设定颇为奇诡,文字风格独特,喜用晦涩的词汇,害得我不得不查了几次字典,且口吻冷酷而阳刚。他笔下的人物关系很男性化,不是主仆就是彼此竞争,男性人物冷漠刚硬,女性人物愚蠢无能,都是让我腻味反感的类型。我指着书跟某同学抱怨说怎么女人被他写得跟白痴一样比白痴还没用?某同学嘿嘿笑答,Jack Vance 是很老的老头啦,观念陈旧啦。我说呸,臭老头,我才不要看。

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