Friday, June 19, 2015

Bland Barry: An Epic about a Thoroughly Mediocre Fellow: BARRY LYNDON (Stanely Kubrick, 1975)

One of the most interesting things about Barry Lyndon is that he's boring. He's a bit stupid - but not enough for me to feel sorry for him; he's a bit pompous - but not enough for me to hate him; he's somewhat good-looking - but not enough to inevitably draw the eye; he shows some bravery - but it's a workaday sort that anyone might show; his beginnings are poor - but not too desperately poor; his end has some tragedy - but it is not terribly so (he does get to keep his knee and 500 a year).

And so the grandeur of the vehicle that carries him - an epic film - epic in length, epic in beauty and filled with wars and duels and love affairs and wealth - is perhaps the great joke: an essentially average person, someone I neither love nor hate, gets the title card.

Is Stanley Kubrick giving me a conspiratorial elbow to the ribs or a mocking grin? I am not sure if I am in on the joke or the butt of it, for while I can see the irony of the thing, I cannot, in the end, easily distance myself from it. I am uncomfortably suspicious of two things: one, that every film, every story I've ever watched or ever read is not really about a hero at all (perhaps even the idea of a protagonist is bogus); they all feature average, boring people; I've just been fooled by the accoutrements. Two, that we are each terribly average - and well, a bit boring - in spite of the central role we each feel we play in our own lives.

When presented finally at court, a title carries no real consequence, and the king, however polite, cannot really place the man with the grand title as one of those among his acquaintance and within his respect.

Barry Lyndon is only Redmond Barry after all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Let's Listen" - The House Is Black (Forugh Farrokhzad, 1963)

"Alas, for the day is fading the evening shadows are stretching. Our being like a cage full of birds is filled with moans of captivity."

This documentary, following the lives of those living in a leper colony, is the only film of Forugh Farrokhzad, a woman Iranian poet, who died at 32, only four years after making the film, but it is, at 21 minutes, spare and powerful, and it is no wonder that it is credited with sparking the Iranian New Wave.

She films as you might expect a poet to do - layering spoken verse (from the Bible, the Koran, and Farrokhzad's own poetry) with potent, select images, each image speaking volumes, some images repeated - all together creating threads of being and feeling.  At first, one feels horror - the toeless foot with scissors snipping away at dead flesh, the eyeless face, the noseless face - but horror quickly falls into sympathy and then into something more complex, something like empathy. - What is that? That is a person. That is someone like me. -

The film ends in a schoolroom of children, some adults around the edges.
"You. Name a few beautiful things," says the teacher.
The boy student pauses. "The moon, sun, flowers, playtime."
To another student, "And you, name a few ugly things."
Another pause.
"Hand. Foot. Head."
I, watching and listening, feel a shock of sympathy - in this boy's life, the human body is an ugly thing.
But, as in a gentle contradiction to my response, those in the school room do not cry.  The room erupts in laughter. Laughter. And the boy's eyes light up; he ducks his head, a sweet modesty in having unexpectedly made a joke.

Like the best kind of film, this film shows me my own failures to see and understand - and makes me see, makes me feel. And the world is suddenly much richer.

"Let's listen to the soul who sings in the desert."