Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Streets of Baltimore

Our City is burning. I have been up on the roof several times today. I watched the smoke from burned cars curl up and drift in slender tendrils just three blocks west of our house. Then a CVS was looted and burned at the same spot. CNN, MSNBC, and even Al-Jazeera were filming live a couple blocks away from our tiny back yard. The experience is surreal. I've thought a lot about saying something, but all I can manage is this: Today many white people felt terrified that they would be pulled from their cars and beaten (or worse) as they fled the City after work. And for no reason other than the color of their skin. If rumors prove true there were some cases of this today. I in no way condone the violence. I abhor it. But those white people who felt genuine terror need to remember the taste of that fear...being pulled from your car at any moment and beaten or worse for no other reason than the color of your skin...and imagine feeling that fear every day of your life. And imagine knowing your father, grandfather, and uncles all had endured it, and seeing no hope for your son to escape it. Wouldn't you want to burn shit down too?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Maps to the Stars

I rented this via iTunes, and the editor's note said something to the effect that David Cronenberg used to specialize in "body horror" films, but now he has "evolved" into a much more mature and sane artist. Whoever wrote that note is a dimwit, because several of Cronenberg's "body horror" films were very mature and artistic affairs--Dead Ringers, eXistenZ, Rabid, Videodrome, etc. Whereas the iTunes editor thinks that Maps to the Stars is a sign of evolution and maturity, I think it's a return to form to his "body horror" heyday after a dalliance in slickly produced somewhat slight action flicks featuring Aragorn as a gangster. This film needs about a half-dozen viewings--and I need to re-read a few Greek dramas as well--to truly appreciate it critically. It's a film about Fate and it speaks the language of Greek myth. There's a lot of incest, there are shades from Hades with Delphic pronunciations, there are life events in a family with cosmic resonances. And at the same time it's a brilliant satire on the shallow nature of Hollywood and stardom and celebrity capitalism. The title of course is a double-entendre, referring at once to Hollywood star maps and to the stories from which the names of many of our constellations were derived. The Paul Eluard poem referred to throughout might help decipher the film's meaning. Julianne Moore is great. The film looks gorgeous--fantastic set design and cinematography. It's deviant and hilarious and darkly disturbing all at once. Might be Cronenberg's Mulholland Drive!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Book #2 of 2015

I've read and enjoyed a couple dozen books about WW2 and/or its key figures. This is one of the best, penned by a skeptical, analytic historian, a very careful and methodical researcher who doesn't make claims without first tracking down all available accounts and assessing the deviations. And yet Trevor-Roper is never dull--he's scathingly funny in his descriptions of Nazi Court insiders like Himmler and Goering, and his writing about Speer contains the finest analysis of that troubling figure I've encountered. This little book about the last days in that Berlin Bunker is a classic. Highly recommended, but mostly for readers with a more than casual interest in the subject.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Book #1 of 2015

I must admit I almost bailed on Wilton Barnhardt in the middle of chapter one. I found the central consciousness so annoying, so cloying, and so close in maturity and temperament to the middle school students who assail me daily in class that I nearly shelved the book in my "donations" pile. But I persevered, and gladly...because this novel progresses through the points of view of several characters associated with a grand old Southern family not only in decline, but in precipitous free-fall. Many chapters are dark and sardonic in the tradition of Southern Lit, but there is always a lively and wry sense of the humor of things, and some outrageous laugh-out-loud moments. Barndhardt captures the South, and its damnably intractable problems with race, poverty, and historical accuracy. But this South is not your grandparents' Dixie, and it is doomed to fall a second time to the combined civilizing pressures external to it and to those continuing to rise within its boundries.