Tuesday, October 29, 2013

John Donne: Death, be not proud

Death be not proud, though some have call├Ęd thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee;
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou’art slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie,’or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.


2001, 98m, Mike Nichols
Vivian Bearing, a professor specializing in the poetry of John Donne, is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. As she progresses through the course of large does of chemotherapy, she analyses her feelings with minuteness as she senses the approach of death. The sanitized, efficient, mechanical and indifferent environment of the hospital turns her into a thing, powerless as she sinks. The film, for the most part, is in the form of a monologue, as she speaks out her thoughts to us, the audience. As a person who has spent her life mastering language, this format is admirably appropriate in articulating her complex emotions. Time, scarce as it is, crawls and stretches in the isolation ward. She falls back on the poetry of her beloved poet as her solace. But Donne is not enough. As she says, "I thought I was extremely smart. But I seem to have been found out." Seeing a second time after many years, it does not make the same impression. But it gives a glimpse of human frailty when people face the end. Learning does not seem to count for much. "Learning, genius, power, wealth, reputation, science, technology --- all become nothing when one is confronted by death."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein

2009, 84m
Finkelstein is a former Jewish American professor, ousted from the academic world for his controversial pro Palestine views on the Israel-Arab question. He is the son of survivors of the Warsaw ghetto. He maintains that Israel's conduct towards the Palestinians resembles that of the Germans towards the Jews during the war. He calls Israelis Nazi Jews. He has been dubbed a Jew hating Jew. This is an interesting film which provides insights into the the un-knottable knot that is the Middle East. Finkelstein has paid the price of his views by losing his job and achieving the status of a controversial figure.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Manchurian Candidate

Jonathan Demme, 129m, 2004
Curiosity arising from the infantile 1958 version of this espionage thriller having the same name induced me to risk this. Certainly this is state of art in comparison, and Meryl Streep in a villain's role is not the sole attraction. One of the charms is the likeness and unlikeness of the two films, which keeps the mind on two parallel tracks, more often diverging than converging.
Some of the fun of his retrofitted ''Candidate" comes from its playful acknowledgment of -- and frequent departure from -- the first version, which was released in 1962, just in time for the Cuban missile crisis. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Ipcress File

109m, 1965
This film is best enjoyed for the style, or ambiance. There is a scene where a uniformed band marches down a lane. A man stands leaning over the railing of a bridge. People saunter enjoying the evening. Speckled ducks floating on clear water. A picture of civilization and harmony. This of course is not the theme of this silly spy movie.
Bosley Crowther<
"And in one respect he has succeeded. He has built up the proper atmosphere in which a daredevil-challenging mystery might conceivably occur and a dauntless and daring detective might acceptably take wing.
His setting of London, in which this espionage thriller takes place, is full of rich and mellow colors and highly official goings-on behind dark-paneled doors in old, gray buildings and in cozy bachelor digs and gentlemen's clubs......Fast, fluid, candid shooting; startling close-ups of telephones, traffic lights, train wheels; eyes and faces seen through slits in doors make for sheer physical excitement and a feeling of things happening. The Ipcress File is as classy a spy film as you could ask to see."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sartre: from Republic of Sillence

"We were never more free than during the German occupation. We had lost all our rights, beginning with the right to talk. Every day we were insulted to our faces and had to take it in silence. Under one pretext or another, as workers, Jews, or political prisoners, we were deported EN MASSE. Everywhere, on billboards, in the newspapers, on the screen, we encountered the revolting and insipid picture of ourselves that our oppressors wanted us to accept. And, because of all this, we were free. Because the Nazi venom seeped even into our thoughts, every accurate thought was a conquest. Because an all-powerful police tried to force us to hold our tongues, every word took on the value of a declaration of principles. Because we were hunted down, every one of our gestures had the weight of a solemn commitment. The circumstances, atrocious as they often were, finally made it possible for us to live, without pretense or false shame, the hectic and impossible existence that is known as the lot of man. Exile, captivity, and especially death (which we usually shrink from facing at all in happier times) became for us the habitual objects of our concern. We learned that they were neither inevitable accidents, nor even constant and exterior dangers, but that they must be considered as our lot itself, our destiny, the profound source of our reality as men. At every instant we lived up to the full sense of this commonplace little phrase: “Man is mortal!” And the choice that each of us made of his life and of his being was an authentic choice because it was made face to face with death, because it could always have been expressed in these terms: “Rather death than…” And here I am not speaking of the elite among us who were real Resistants, but of all Frenchmen who, at every hour of the night and day throughout four years, answered NO. But the very cruelty of the enemy drove us to the extremities of this condition by forcing us to ask ourselves questions that one never considers in time of peace. All those among us – and what Frenchman was not at one time or another in this situation who knew any details concerning the Resistance asked themselves anxiously, “If they torture me, shall I be able to keep silent?” Thus the basic question of liberty itself was posed, and we were brought to the verge of the deepest knowledge that man can have of himself. For the secret of a man is not his Oedipus complex or his inferiority complex: it is the limit of his own liberty, his capacity for resisting torture and death.

To those who were engaged in underground activities, the conditions of their struggle afforded a new kind of experience. They did not fight openly like soldiers. In all circumstances they were alone. They were hunted down in solitude, arrested in solitude. It was completely forlorn and unbefriended that they held out against torture, alone and naked in the presence of torturers, clean-shaven, well-fed, and well-clothed, who laughed at their cringing flesh, and to whom an untroubled conscience and a boundless sense of social strength gave every appearance of being in the right. Alone. Without a friendly hand or a word of encouragement. Yet, in the depth of their solitude, it was the others that they were protecting, all the others, all their comrades in the Resistance. Total responsibility in total solitude – is this not the very definition of our liberty? This being stripped of all, this solitude, this tremendous danger, were the same for all. For the leaders and for their men, for those who conveyed messages without knowing what their content was, as for those who directed the entire Resistance, the punishment was the same – imprisonment, deportation, death. There is no army in the world where there is such equality of risk for the private and for the commander-in-chief. And this is why the Resistance was a true democracy: for the soldier as for the commander, the same danger, the same forsakenness, the same total responsibility, the same absolute liberty within discipline. Thus, in darkness and in blood, a Republic was established, the strongest of Republics. Each of its citizens knew that he owed himself to all and that he could count only on himself alone. Each of them, in complete isolation, fulfilled his responsibility and his role in history. Each of them, standing against the oppressors, undertook to be himself, freely and irrevocably. And by choosing for himself in liberty, he chose the liberty of all. This Republic without institutions, without an army, without police, was something that at each instant every Frenchman had to win and to affirm against Nazism. No one failed in this duty, and now we are on the threshold of another Republic. May this Republic to be set up in broad daylight preserve the austere virtue of that other Republic of Silence and of Night."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hannah Arendt

2012, Margarethe von Trotta, Barbara Sukowa, 113m
Yet another page in the annals of the holocaust. The film does a good job of bringing to life the famous philosopher. Interesting as her own life is as a Jew who escaped and made it good in the US (which she understandably describes as "paradise"), the real point of interest is the conclusions she arrived at as a political philosopher, and the workings of a razor sharp intellect. Her essence is not tumultuous events, which she undoubtedly faced, but the workings of a mind. Of this we get only a glimpse. However, this dramatic biopic is excellent as far as it goes. Given the subject matter, there was scope for a more powerful script. After all, her work must have gone much beyond coining "the banality of evil".

“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it, and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.”
The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Make Way for Tomorrow

1937, Leo McCarey, 92m
A film about dependency brought about by old age. An elderly couple lose their house and none of their children are in a position to lodge them together. This enforces separation, the thing they dread the most. The film inspired Tokyo Story. It is a well told human story, giving insight into the challenges of aging as well as the problems of caring for the elderly. Among Ebert's list of Great Films.