Movie Review: “The Shape of Water”

March 4, 2018 at 2:28 pm (By Amba) ()

Judging from the (lack of) response to this on FB, it should have been a blog post in the first place.

Saw #TheShapeofWater” today. Trying to frame how I felt about it. [SPOILER ALERT!!]

I love “Beauty and the Beast” stories (starting with Cocteau’s 1946 classic) and hoped to be able to give myself over to this one and suspend disbelief. The movie was too self-conscious, culturally referential, and full of in-jokes to be the kind you could give in to in that naïve way (what Paul Ricoeur would have called “first naïveté,” to be outré about it). In fact, I laughed out loud many times (even at “a god? I don’t know, he ate a cat …”). Yet it also had many touching moments, relented and deigned to fulfill one’s yearnings in the end, and it grew on me after it was over.

It’s interesting for someone who actually lived through the late 1950s–early 1960s to see that era turned into a garish mythological dreamtime (as also, differently, in “Mad Men”). It reminded me a bit of the quasi-Victorian alternate universe of Philip Pullman’s novels. Many sophisticated and subversive tropes about the entrenched sexism, racism, and Cold War machismo of that time wove through the movie. It was a nifty touch that a circa 1960 movie monster actually looked like a . . . circa 1960 movie monster, done up in the special effects of that time. And it was a funny and lovely contrast between human missionary position sex, shown in blatant splayed bare-ass full frontal, and human-monster sex, hidden discreetly behind a pulled shower curtain and alluded to with a shy, sly hand gesture.

Best picture? Hell, I don’t know. The postmodern self-consciousness of so many movies now seems to me a sign of decadence, as if culture is eating and recycling itself, with too little input from either raw experience or headlong imagination. This was an enjoyable movie, haunting and hilarious by turns, but not all-of-a-piece enough to be a great one.

A final note: was Del Toro doing a bit of subliminal “Hidden Persuaders” (1957!) influencing by making the monster look so much like an Oscar?

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Frontpaging myself . . .

December 3, 2017 at 1:34 pm (By Amba)

shamelessly. From a comment I posted on this (which gave me the opening to draft something I’d been thinking about anyway):

Even when we lack for nothing materially and even interpersonally (or especially when we lack for nothing, because then we are not distracted by the demands of necessity), our consciousness still torments us, to the point where seeking to soothe and pacify this insatiable inner craving and discontent is one of our major activities and expenses (be it by football, alcohol, opioids, workaholism, religion, or reading articles on the Internet). Taoism, Buddhism, and Stoicism are some of the thought systems that have attempted to confront this directly. What is this bone-deep, incessant dissatisfaction, the ground bass of self-awareness that we hear when all the other noise stops (Henderson the Rain King’s “I want I want I want”)? Is it only human, an artifact of our incomplete evolution, or is it shared by, say, cats and cetaceans, perfected by evolution 30 million years ago? Is it about knowing we’re going to die? Is it just about the ebb and flow of physiological states of need and satiation? Should we strive to extinguish it? Should we harness it to drive ourselves somewhere worthwhile instead of driving us crazy?

 

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Hypochondria and Puritanism at 5 a.m.

November 28, 2017 at 12:02 pm (By Amba)

(wanna know what the “young old” think about early in the morning? I didn’t think so. but I’ll expose myself anyway.)

Journal entry, 11/28/2017

I’m scared of my body. I lie awake tuning in to its weird vibrations here and there like someone in a creaky old house, or an earthquake zone. Listening: was that a ghost’s step closer? a tremor?

I know that I’m past three score and ten (which is a real thing, it turns out) and my body could turn on me at any time. So is the tingle in my left big toe the beginning of ALS, or a brain tumor? (It’s probably sciatic nerve compression in my left lower back, where I’ve had sacroiliac pain, or common peroneal nerve irritation in my sore left knee. After yesterday’s amazing ATM [Awareness Through Movement© lesson], which differentiated extension of the lower spine, it vanished for a day. Also, I was walking up and downstairs in a new way that spared my knee.) Is the little string that repeatedly vibrates deep in my pelvis — now in the left groin, now just right of center — a muscle twitch (ALS again!) or an abdominal aortic aneurysm? Is it a reaction to the drastic demands for change and exertion I make on my body? Or have these things always been going on and am I just now attuned and undistracted (i.e. alone) enough to notice them? Who knows? Who cares? Something will get you, sooner or later, you can count on that. The real question is, how can I make use of rather than waste what’s left of my life? Not by lying awake listening to the first tendrils of the flood of mortality finger for cracks, trying the door.

Then too (ambivalence is all!), the “don’t waste your life” meme is so puritanical, and it just rouses its opposite, rebellion, so they are deadlocked. It’s the guilty puritan who wastes his or her life snacking on the couch and beating him/herself up for it. What a bore, “Should!” and “Don’t wanna!” in their endless Punch and Judy show. Superego and subversive soul . . . I was thinking yesterday that an inspired or guided blundering into situations is a richer way to live than setting a Project and plotting a course — the American self-help way. Ignore the landscape, build for the automobile, with its front-facing binocular focus, its blinders on, its headlamps tunneling through the fog to the same death that will claim those who’ve been wandering in the woods exulting shamelessly in their senses . . . But from another point of view, a Project is only a way of getting yourself into some new situations.

I’ve always lived myopically, using all my creativity to respond to, cope with, and understand comprehend whatever — whoever — came close enough for me to see and, better yet, touch. (“Comprehend” holds a better metaphor than “understand”; it’s hands-on.) Now? For the first time in my life, the field ahead and all around is clear, and I have the chance and the challenge to project something of my own onto that blank screen. It is so unaccustomed, and so absurd in the existential sense — undriven by the engine of reproduction and unawaited by any even imaginary expectant throng. Does it matter to me if it doesn’t matter?

I used to think this was what “acte gratuit” meant. What a disappointment to discover that it meant a murder committed for the hell of it — an adolescent male fantasy of the existentialists, a term coined by André Gide. . . . This is weirdly relevant.

The point is, I feel like an adolescent, but I am not. I am a “senescent,” a “moribund.” I don’t have an adolescent’s plausible illusion of unlimited time. I have some unknown but very finite amount of time until the clock inside strikes and my coach turns into a rotting pumpkin. And, maybe because I am abnormally healthy for my age, I can’t quite seem to get it. Is what I have my ear cocked inward for a kick in the ass? Do I need a ticking timer, a hard deadline to race against?

Doing something for someone else (usually editing) drags me back into the lifestream, contextualizes me, and gets my juices flowing. Everything exists in connection, nothing in isolation. Pull one thread and the whole peaks and puckers into a landscape.

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A Muffled Lantern

November 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm (Uncategorized)

 

There’s almost no new news about the “West Side terror attack.” I can’t decide if that’s media amnesia—the accelerating addiction to ever fresher thrills—or an admirable determination to go on with life.
All I know is, you’re still resonating with the emotion of a story and the media hustle you on. My first experience of this was Tiananmen Square, and it put me off media news consumption ever since. I am a slow-paced ruminant, I guess. I resist being turned into a media lab rat conditioned to await the next jolt from the electrode. Partly, it’s having lived with Jacques who had lived through something very real in real time. I got it a distant second-hand (second-hand is always distant*) and worked very hard to make it as real to myself as was humanly possible (which is not very) using only an imagination. Vicarious media participation in traumatic events is film-thin and can be peeled off just that easily. One feels one owes the directly traumatized more respect than that. And of course we privately give, in our imaginations, more respect than the amnesic media with their ratings cravings.
*(Jacques loved this quote from L.–F. Céline: “Experience is a muffled lantern that sheds its light only on the bearer.)

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The receiving instrument

October 26, 2017 at 11:06 am (Uncategorized)

(Some discoveries are too good just to drop on @#&^$*&!! Facebook where I myself will never see them again. Besides, I want Louise to see this.)

What a lovely term I never heard before — the “beholder’s share,” the unique creative contribution that each viewer/listener/reader brings to perceiving a work of art. It was coined by Alois Riegl of the Vienna school of art history and his disciples Ernst Kris (who became a psychoanalyst) and Ernst Gombrich.

I had come to this concept (without having a word for it) in regard to Jacques, who was an immensely generous and percipient listener to music, especially jazz — its ideal audience perhaps — who was obviously musically gifted, but had never learned, in his rough-and-tumble life, to play an instrument well. (It might have been the bass.) It struck me that “the ear is the fifth instrument in the quartet,” that no piece of music is complete or fulfilled without a listener, a witness, and that listening, like playing, must also be practiced and refined. And the same can be said for every art. Now I have a term for it. The beholder’s share.

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Whose foot is it, anyway?

December 22, 2016 at 8:28 pm (By Amba)

Sometimes it’s like that.

                                                                                               [better with the sound off]

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Thank you for [not] sharing.

September 14, 2016 at 3:31 am (By Amba)

Just because I’m drunk on self-inflicted sleep deprivation, I’m going to inflict a journal entry on you. But I’m putting it here, not on Facebook, so only the true masochists will make the effort to see it.

______________________________

Went to see a film about John Berger. He’s still alive! A hearty 90, smoking and shoveling snow. But he just lost his wife. I went to see it because his short story about a farmer and a calf so haunts me. He went native in a French peasant village 40 years ago. I was a little disappointed to see he is still something of a cultural sophisticate after 40 years of helping with milking and haying. When young he was beautiful and self-dramatizing, with a mop of wavy black hair, high cheekbones and a prominent nose, a sort of Leonard Cohen or Leonard Bernstein of radical art criticism. He’s a beautiful old man, rugged and luminous, with beseeching eyes,

john-bergers-quotes-2

and his dialectics are at least simplified and more enigmatic, the fancy edges worn off. . . . The film, much of it, was annoyingly hip and formless. As if form were a form of capitalist colonial oppression. But I could look at Tilda Swinton forever. She looks like a 6- or 7-month fetus, when they are fully formed but haven’t yet put on any fat.

I realized that I am something of a radical, in terms of despising the worship of money, the loving of it more than life. (There’s a desperation about it, the flight from death that it is, that only makes things worse, gives you more to flee from.) But I see it almost the way an old Catholic would, not as a flaw in “the system” but in human nature, the way we cleverly hot-wire and short-circuit our own brains. And in that way I’m more of a conservative . . . except I don’t think returning to tradition is the answer, because tradition isn’t adapted to the modern world. [Which leaves me feeling] we’re fucked.

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The storm troops of cancer

September 15, 2015 at 1:11 pm (By Amba)

The storm troops of cancer
burst in on the family dinner,
brute shoulder to the door
dull gray-green fabric tight
over meat malleus as bronze
smearing the candles,
dislocating the delicate jaw,
incinerating the snowflake of order
tatted by held-breath billions of years.

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Why Two

July 7, 2015 at 11:26 pm (By Amba)

It’s really strange to me that I haven’t seen articulated what seems to me the obvious reason why gay marriage isn’t the moral or legal equivalent of polygamy, and is not, therefore, bound to lead to it.

In a word: Two.

You can have sex with more than one person (like it or not, many married people do). I would hold that you cannot have full intimacy with more than one person (at a time, and it also takes time).

In fact, I’m not sure you can have full intimacy even with one person. It’s an ideal to strive for, to achieve at moments and at other moments fall far short. As the saying goes, we’re born alone, we die alone, and we’re often never more aware of our aloneness than in marriage.

But the point is, sex is only the opener, what overwhelms our resistance to getting close enough and open enough for the rest to start happening. If you stick around, then, it’s a full-time job trying to be intimate — and its daily double, companionable — with one other person. If you divide your attention you cut its depth in half and blow your focus. You may have fantasies about other people, you may be infatuated with another person, you may imagine that intimacy with that person would soar far above what’s possible with your current partner. Well, maybe: some people are better at it, or better together. But even at its best, coexisting with one other person, bringing two such different inner lives into one space, striking off the rough edges, takes a lot of work and time, a lot of attention, a lot of failure and rage and remorse, a lot of discovery and revelation of the other and of yourself. It’s not something we have the time or capacity to divide up and parcel out. If you do that (as in Big Love), it becomes something else — more reproductive and social, less . . .

spiritual.

At the core of marriage, underneath the habit and comfort and irritation, you bear witness to another person’s existence — and, let’s face it, you just bear another person’s existence — a little bit like God would. If we invented God (where would we get such an idea?), it was in the hope of being seen like that, through and through, with steady attention and patient, unblaming fascination, down to our dark places.

Try and do that with a harem, even a small one.

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On joining the ranks of the old

May 8, 2015 at 1:40 pm (By Amba)

This, by Alessandra Stanley, who has gotten herself in trouble before (h/t Tom Strong), got me going:

People who complain about aging sound old. But “Grace and Frankie” is a senior angst comedy that somehow doesn’t seem fusty and out of date. . . . Together, [Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin] pull this comedy about 70-somethings back from the brink of ridicule. . . . This series covers a later phase in life, somewhere between late-blooming love and assisted living.

And it’s been a while since a series was so intently centered on the early-bird-special set.

Television shows tend to reflect the preoccupations of their creators, and ageism is a fact of Hollywood life. It’s not just older actresses who feel discarded. [It’s e]ven [the] people behind the camera . . .

Reviews reflect the preoccupations of their creators, too. Stanley is reportedly 60 herself, and every line of this screams, “I am NOT one of THEM!!!” Ageism is also a fact of New York media life—hell, of American life. And milking that fact for bittersweet laughs (after all, there’s a large, retiring demographic coming along, the death-diminished bulge in the python, with lots of TV-watching time on its hands) is what this sitcom is all about. Toward the review’s end, Stanley stops sneeringly editorializing with every phrase and simply describes a scene from the sitcom:

Grace and Frankie find that without important husbands, they vanish. Old friends don’t call and strangers don’t even acknowledge them. In one scene, the normally poised Grace is incensed when a male supermarket cashier doesn’t turn to serve them or even acknowledge their waves, pleas and yoo-hoos. He has eyes and time only for a pretty young woman who saunters up asking for lottery tickets.

Grace has a screaming meltdown, and Frankie ushers her back to the car and reveals an upside: She stole a pack of cigarettes. “We have a superpower,” Frankie says slyly. “You can’t see me, you can’t stop me.”

Grace and Frankie feel invisible, but here they stand out.

So this has made me think about the perennial subject of age and ageism: how getting old really sucks, and how it actually doesn’t; why our culture dismisses, derides, and despises the old, and what it misses thereby. (Disclaimer: I don’t think this is all or even the main thing we should be talking about, in some last baby-boomer bid to monopolize the cultural conversation.)

How getting old sucks is perfectly obvious: your body starts to fall off. And sometimes, and therefore, your mind too. And it’s simultaneously happening to all your friends. Nature is through with you and starts looking for a way to kill you. And it is perfectly clear to you that it is not a matter of if, but when, and how, and how bad. From now on you’ll be occupied with tossing parts of yourself you can live without to Captain Hook’s crocodile to postpone the inevitable; then, you’ll be smashing the crocodile in the snout with your rifle butt as its bad breath engulfs you. It’s the price of life. And it’s amazing to arrive at the threshold of old age and discover how very little of a dent the triumphs of science have made in it. Okay, more of us now make it to our three score and ten. And then, if not before, the shit starts hitting the fan, right on schedule. Knees are replaced, stents put in, breasts and bladders turn cancerous . . .

What’s more amazing to discover, though, is that it isn’t all loss and fear. If you have your mind. If you have your mind, it becomes like a study glowing with burnishing lamplight, with a deep, comfortable chair, with shelves of books on all sides receding into the darkness of the infinite. As you sit in that chair you have a magical arm that can reach out past Alpha Cygni in a languid gesture and pluck just the right apple from the farthest twig of the great tree.

Of course there’s more — the detachment and perspective we call “wisdom,” which feels like rising to stratospheric heights above the busy surface of the globe and taking it all in with an eagle’s-eye sweep—the patterns, the vanishing tininess—on the way to leaving it all behind. And if thinking has new, powerful pleasures, so does stopping thinking—paradoxically recognizing how futile, inadequate, and disconnected from actual life are all efforts to systematize and understand. You know so much more about what you don’t know—the pinnacle of education!

Why doesn’t our culture find any value in this? I think mainly because it’s invisible, or hidden in homely vessels. We’re an almost exclusively visual culture, obsessed with the charm of surfaces. We’re also obsessed with marketing, which goes for the lowest biological common denominator, locus of the strongest impulses and the broadest base—therefore the surest profits. (Profits über prophets!) Sophisticated presentations of the most basic drives and arousals are our entirely worldly focus. In the heat of the prime of life, the insights of wisdom are impotent cobwebs, or snowflakes, to be shouldered off.  Only loss reveals them to be weighty anchors and deep wells.

It’s holding on that makes age ridiculous. If you’re too busy fighting the loss, you can miss the gain.

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