Habit #4: Real movies

When I am tired after a day’s work, I open up my browser window and surf to Netflix or one of its illicit equivalents, to imbibe a mindless action movie that allows me to identify with a hero who slays its opponents with moral indemnity and righteousness. It is fast food for the soul, full of sugar rush action scenes and thick graphical extravaganza, clogging the arteries of our imagination.

During these 90 minute pleasure sessions, I am aware I’m wasting my time and would feel empty, bereft of the difficult poetry of the world in which I want to live.

So I decided to change this habit. Every time I feel inclined to watch a Jason Statham or Bruce Willis knock out bad guys, I search for a real movie instead. Sounds cocky? It’s very simple. A real movie wants to tell us a unique story, it is made with the pain and patience of a director who gave their very best. It is a movie that wants to make an artistic statement. Once upon a time, every movie was like that. The movies served to a large audience in the 1930s are often more intriguing than what we would call niche art-house today.

And it works. It takes a little will power to overcome that initial craving for cheap and empty action, but once you are drawn into a real movie, you are feeding your soul. Afterward, you won’t feel empty, you’ll feel better, be more inspired and perhaps crave healthy movies next time.

If you have no idea which directors you should look into, try Ernst Lubitsch, Akira Kurosawa, Lars von Trier, Jim Jarmusch, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Wong Kar-Wai, Park Chan-wook, Emir Kusturica, Jean Rénoir, Jacques Tati, François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Charles Chaplin, Orson Wells, Elia Kazan, Sergei Eisenstein, Leni Riefenstahl, Werner Herzog, Jean-Luc Godard, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Michael Haneke, Fritz Lang, Luis Buñuel, Andrei Tarkovsky, Sidney Lumet, Steven Soderbergh, Alejandro González Iñarritu, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Mendes, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson,  Win Wenders, Pedro Almodóvar, or Sam Peckinpah.

Habit #4: Real movies was originally published on Meandering home

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Reading: M – Black Monday by Marcin Świetlicki

Today there is this compact poem by Marcin Świetlicki for our ideosyncratic anthology. As usual, I’ll say what struck me about these lines.

The moment when all the town’s streetlamps light up
simultaneously. The moment when you say
your incredible “no,” and suddenly I don’t know what
to do next: die? go away? not respond?
The moment in the sunshine when I watch you from the bus,
your face different from when you know I’m looking
—and now you can’t see me, you’re looking into nothing, into the shiny
glass in front of me. Not me anymore, not with me,
not in this way, not here. Anything can
happen, since everything does happen. Everything is defined
by three basic positions: man on top of woman,
woman on top of man, or the one right now
—woman and man divided by the light.

The contradiction between the title and the first line in which the streetlamps light up catches this reader’s attention. A lover is rejected and suddenly doesn’t know what to do next (if he weren’t reject, he’d know precisely what to do).
We can guess that the “no” was said late at night (or not so late: the streetlamps light up just after sunset) and the narrator takes the bus the next morning, when the sunshine lights up the scene. It seems like there’s always light, yet according to the title, he experiences a ‘black Monday’. The blackness here is at first glance the unrequited love.

The middle part of the poem sounds like some pseudophilosophical ramblings. Their separation is consummated by the new opening: suddenly, “anything can happen, since everything does happen”. That mysterious phrase is then explained brilliantly by the wry triad of the three basic positions. We may assume that the first too positions have been faithfully explored by the ex-lovers. This poem is about the third one, the division by the light. That phrase has a magical ring to it, and I can imagine it sounds even better in the original Polish: przedzieleni światłem. I think it is a brilliant metaphor for its strangeness and its re-interpretation of loss as the completion of ‘everything’. The poem says nothing about the woman’s motives to reject her suitor (I assume the gender because the author is male, but it is an interesting exercise to show how we know that the voice of the poem is male). Maybe “M” is the first letter of the name of the woman, or does it stand for Mythology?

The division by the light calls up the mythological imagery brought to us by Plato in the Symposium, of original unity of the sexes and Zeus splitting them into several parts, out of fear for their power. It also reminds us Prometheus: Was the light in the poem stolen from the gods and the division of the lovers divine punishment? Everything is enlightened (like in Safran Foer‘s novel) and everything has happened. There is nothing outside of this Everything, all positions have been realized. Everything from now on would be mere repetition, hence the blackness in the title.

Marcin Świetlicki. Image Wikimedia Commons

Reading: M – Black Monday by Marcin Świetlicki was originally published on Meandering home

Miroslav Holub: The end of the world

I would like to publish an eclectic anthology. I don’t know yet who will be included or excluded, it is a journey of first steps. Today, I try to say what I like about this little verse by the Czech immunologist and poetic giant Miroslav Holub, called ‘the end of the world’.

The bird had come to the very end of its song
and the tree was dissolving under its claws.

And in the sky the clouds were twisting
and darkness flowed through all the cracks
into the sinking vessel of the landscape.

Only in the telegraph wires
a message still
crackled:

C-.-o—m–e. h…o—m–e.
y-.–o—u..- h…a.-v…-e.
a.-s…o—n-.

We meet a very anthropomorphic bird who has the notion of the ‘end’ of a song. The end of our song is the end of all meaning. After that, everything dissolves.
Then, ‘darkness flowed through all the cracks’. When I read cracks, I hear Leonard Cohen singing ‘and that is how the light gets in’. But here it’s darkness and there is no escaping it. The landscape is sinking, not dissolving. There is a life after the song, but it consists of sinking darkness while everything else has dissolved.

Against this background, the message in the telegraph wires, is as powerful as can be. Holub once said he wants to make his short lines as effective as possible. We don’t know if the message in the telegraph lines is orphaned or if the messenger is still alive. I assume there is nobody to read this message. The poem tells us that technology survives the end of meaning. And that makes sense, since Holub was an acclaimed scientist.

The message announces a newborn son, so it is safe to say (I hope gender studies scholars will forgive me here) that the adressee is a male. To become a parent is one of the most meaningful things that can happen to you, and here we are: in a barren, sinking landscape at the end of the world where birds don’t sing (or crackle) anymore – we have come to the end of meaning. Yet technology still serves its master, relentlessly loyal, beyond the end of the world.

Miroslav Holub: The end of the world was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: John Ashberry – Some trees

What is it that I like about the following early John Ashberry poem (he was 21 when he wrote it)?

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

It’s the second strophe. After the standard, but somehow fresh observation about the still speech of trees the words “to meet as for from the world as agreeing / with it” sound mysterious yet are perfectly clear if we look carefully. A quality that is typical for Ashberry, I have been told. The enjambement (I like to call it syncopation) “what the trees try / To tell us we are” is brilliant: for a brief moment between the 2nd and the 3th strophe, we are simply “what the trees try”, namely the still speech between neighboring trees. The tension is released and explained in the rest of the poem, that is weaker. The chorus of smiles and the silence filled with noises are worn-out metaphors that don’t add much. The last two lines with their strong rhyme “reticence / accents / defense” sound like kitsch to my ear.

But what this poem accomplished in the second strophe makes up for its later mediocrity. We get a glimpse of Ashberry’s later genius.

Image freestockphotos.biz

Reading: John Ashberry – Some trees was originally published on Meandering home

Urban sketch #3

On today’s walk I go further than ever before: all the way to the Sky Park and the Sunset Park, two wonders of urban development right next to the neighborhood I live in since March. The Parks were formerly the world’s largest mound of municipal waste, spreading an unbearable stench and belching forth methane, which gave it the infernal qualities rendering the surrounding residential area rather unappealing. All this changed when, simultaneously with the World Cup, the city reconstructed the entire site and inaugurated the Parks, boasting incredible biodiversity (butterflies, grasses, sedges).
I am fasting today. The walk through the parks, that are separated by Seoul’s ubiquitous concrete veins but connected by pedestrian bridges, refreshes my soul. A different location, a different self. I walk on wooden steps and gaze at the big orange ball that is our sun; I walk on a platform that leads through high vegetation where the fireflies hide; I walk through a tunnel with industrial lights and large spiders: Nephila clavata had spun webs in front of almost every floodlight and the webs were full of insect cadavers suspended sullenly in the harsh light. I look at the venomous spiders and smile. Now I know where you live, my little friend. I’ll come visit you in your tunnel again one day.

Urban sketch #3 was originally published on Meandering home

Urban sketch 2

In the library I see an old man sitting at a table and a large dictionary. I stand behind him to pick up a newspaper that includes New York Times articles I want to read because of the recent hydrogen bomb test in the North. The man greets me and asks what ‘rags-to-riches’ means. I explain it to him and look up a Korean translation and suggest he installs the dictionary app on his phone himself. Thank you. I look at his leathery but smooth skin and quivering eyes. We do study group he says and I should join. Helping the older Korean generation who had performed the economic miracle that transformed this country sounded good to me so I said yeah and asked him to write down the address. Why had I ignored the topic of what he was reading? There was Jesus and Hallelujah written all over it. It was no English class. I had signed up for Bible study, dammit. The man handed me the piece of paper I had given him with the address of the church written on it and told me see you on Sunday. I might have other obligations I wanted to say but that sentence didn’t render well in basic Korean. Leaving the library I saw the man again standing in the bathroom washing his face. Bye I said and he rushed out pursuing me with a dripping face. What do you do? he asked. I write I say, and I have to do it now.

Urban sketch 2 was originally published on Meandering home