Monday, July 20, 2015


My friend Judith and I met for coffee today and expressed our appreciation for one another's friendship. I told Judith she's increased my capacity for calmly taking risks and accepting change. Judith told me I've influenced her growth as an artist. 

I believe friendship can only be strengthened by honest expressions of gratitude. Too often, people lock their true thoughts and feelings in solitary confinement. True expression, whether in relation to people or through the creation of art, is the most liberating kind of work. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wild Tales and Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Last night I began watching Wild Tales, an Argentinean film composed of six darkly comic tales, all dealing with the theme of revenge. I watched the first three, trying to figure out if the tension I felt was pleasurable or agonizing, or perhaps both. The first film takes the viewer inside a jetliner about to crash. This film was eerie, considering the recent Germanwings plane crash. The second film captured a waitress contemplating murder when someone evil from her past walks in the door. The third film explored the most implausible consequences of road rage. Yet despite being a farce, the ambiguous motives of the characters heightened the tension. It was impossible to distinguish a protagonist and antagonist out of the two feuding motorists.

My stress level alerted me that I needed to pause the film and go for a long walk. I contemplated the thrill we take away from watching people suffer in films. Blue Jasmine was basically a film of a woman floundering until she hit rock bottom. Shakespearean tragedies, such as Macbeth, Othello, or King Lear give the audience a taste of schadenfreude as we watch the characters’ fatal flaws lead to their destruction.

When is a film or play about suffering a work of art and when is it plain cruelty? By watching someone meet a cruel fate and not sympathizing, or even feeling joy in their suffering, are we basically being modern day Coliseum spectators? I don’t know, but it’s something worth pondering.

Today I finished reading Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This book also deals with revenge and human suffering. The narrator is an ambiguous character who interviews people about a murder that took place years earlier, testing people’s memories and consciences.

The day Santiago Nasar was murdered coincided with a lavish wedding and a visit from a seafaring Bishop. The murderers announced their plans to everyone they met, but all the townspeople were drunk, distracted, or dismissive. The cruel imagery of animals being slaughtered set a deathly tone. When the knives slashed through Santiago Nasar’s body, it’s clear that every character was complicit. Marquez revealed in the first sentence that Santiago Nasar would be murdered, perhaps to give the reader a sense of guilt, as if maybe there was something we could have done.

I admit there is some satisfaction in characters getting their just desserts, but at least Gabriel Garcia Marquez weaves in complexity and creates doubts concerning what’s really just. That, I believe, is what distinguishes great art from entertainment.           

Saturday, July 4, 2015

My Brilliant Career

Independence Day has taken on a deeper meaning after watching the film My Brilliant Career. Now I’m thinking about independence as it pertains to our personal need for freedom and self-exploration. Sybylla, the leading character, defies the stultifying expectations set for her in late 19th century Australia. She’s a daydreamer, a musician, and a writer. Like anyone with multiple interests, it’s important to continue with creative expression and develop as an artist, hopefully with some emotional support, before narrowing in on a true passion, something that could parlay into a brilliant career. Sybylla not only lacks support, but she must actively resist pressure to conform to notions of femininity. She must stand up for herself when others mock her aspirations, and nurture her own potential in a place where opportunities for women go to die. 

The cinematography in this film is gorgeous. I loved the scene of Sybylla sitting in a boat, holding a red parasol and the scene in which the pillars of the house seem to section off three characters sitting on the front porch.

Sybylla is consistently reminded that her looks do not measure up against other ladies’, but I thought she was quite beautiful. Sybylla’s hair is a wild mass of untamable frizz that brings to mind the stormy weather  and the thrashing willow trees of the opening scene. She doesn’t tie rags in her hair to create perfect ringlets like her sister at the beginning of the film. I suppose ideas about what constituted an attractive woman rested in the inflexible roles women were given and how graceful their transitions were from demure virgin, to dutiful wife, to doting mother. If a woman resisted those roles, her perceived attractiveness and reputation, would be tarnished.
I recognized the love interest, Harry, as the actor who played the skeptical paleontologist in Jurassic Park. The leading actress, Judy Davis, was not recognizable until I searched her name. Then I saw she acted in Barton Fink, playing the ghost writer, who tried to help Barton Fink as he wrestled with the maddening task of writing a screenplay about wrestling. I enjoyed her performance in Barton Fink and I delighted in the passion she brought to her character in My Brilliant Career.

My search to learn more about Judy Davis also dredged up some misogynist drivel. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone. In the song, “People are Strange,” Jim Morrison croons, “Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted.” I’m not a fan of The Doors or Jim Morrison, but that line is absolutely true. Being unfairly cast as wicked, or being called a “bitch,” unfortunately is the price many women pay for being independent.

Happy Independence Day, everyone. Enjoy your freedom.