Saturday, March 25, 2006

8 1/2

It was the third or the fourth time that I attempted this movie last night. The first time, most likely in 1999, and I don't think I made it that far into the movie before falling asleep. There was at least one more attempt, maybe two in the following years to watch this movie so well regarded by the type of people that cream their pants when they can start throwing around the term meta.

It's a gorgeously shot movie and really I think that every time I tried watching it, I was just tired to begin with, but it's really puzzling to met that I find this movie so hard to stay awake in since I am not the type of person that drifts off during movies. It's a really rare occurrence when it happens, and that it has happened a few times with this movie makes me think this this movie has some secret soporific powers. Even last night, at only eleven o'clock, I found myself starting to drift into that sleepy state and had to sit up straight on the couch, reposition myself. It took several sofa repositionings, but I did manage to stay awake long enough to see the end credits finally roll on this movie.

And there were parts of this movie that I really did love, the scenes with Saraghina, I found totally enthralling. There are some characters from old films that come across as apparitions, their screen time is brief but they totally own the scenes they are in. Saraghina was the most beautiful woman in the whole movie. It seemed almost John Waters/Divine like when she danced for the little boys on the beach. And their relationship is amazing to me and made me think about my own relationship with older men, how I am Saraghina in that situation. With her, you can see in her eyes how happy she is to be considered this beautiful woman, to be desired, even if it is by a pack of schoolchildren, and how happy and human she looks when dancing. That scene is amazing!

And of course, there is that amazingly sad and absurd harem scene. When the showgirl is told to move to the upper floors because she is too old to live on the ground floor and resists, tries to start a coup, asking for just one more year, there is something terribly sad about that that gets at everything depressing about this life. Her voice, her cries sting me, it's such a sad voice this aging showgirl cries out when she pleads that her ass is firmer than any of the other girls, and one of the girls says to her:

"Hey girl! Just look at your rulebook: Whoever passes the age limit shall be removed to the upper floors, where she shall be treated equally well, but shall live basking in her memories."

Which, of course, is what this movie is all about, about being stuck with memories of past moments in our life and never being able to recapture them, or only being able to do so, as Guido tries, through the process of art making. The rest of the movie aside from these two scenes because of the choppy nature of it all was something I had a hard time settling into, becoming invested in, and thus the constant need to rearrange how I was sitting to prevent myself from falling asleep. The last five minutes of this movie, however, totally brought it all together and made this for me, a really great movie, everything after the gun is fired, the bit of dialogue that occurs then about trying to make an honest film. It amazes me how much of a film or a novel's power rests upon the ending, that it can be amazing until then and have a weak ending, which will then throw your previous high evaluation of the rest of the movie into doubt. Andrea Diminio talked about this, referring to this as "privileging the ending," and with this movie, I totally came to love it just because of the ending. So take heed, artists, make sure your endings are awesome, that that can make a great movie out of something that you otherwise would not have labeled as such.

I am still reading Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet and it is brilliant. It's wordy and has question upon question about human beings in every paragraph, it is staggeringly intelligent and makes most writing seem like total muck. It makes me a bit uncomfortable for some of what it is saying about race, but apparently in the current printing of the book (I have an old used copy), there is a forward by Stanley Crouch that examines this aspect of the book, putting it within the context of Black-Jewish relations, so after I finish this, I am going to have to go to B and N and sit there and read that forward. I don't even know how to talk about this book because I like it so much, it had me laughing so hard out loud an hour or so ago. Books occasionally make me chuckle politely, but never, or rarely, laugh out loud for such a sustained time. The humor comes from this generational conflict between this older Jewish man who escaped the Holocaust and who has a seriousness about him and his having to navigate his way around the New York of the 70's in which he lives where everyone seems criminally hell-bent or totally wacky. This passage struck a chord with me so much this morning, it isn't the one that made me almost cry from laughing, but it the one where I said, "Oh my god," as I am wont to do when I come across a phrase I think particularly choice. The phrase being, "Desires incapable of useful fulfillment," because that phrase is just so perfect and hits at everything tragic and amazing about life, and of course, made me think of my desires for boys, and how this phrase is such an apt description of those crushes.

"And partly he was right, for humankind kept doing the same stunts over and over. The old comical-tearful stuff. Emotional relationships. Desires incapable of useful fulfillment. Over and over, trying to vent and empty the breast of certain cries, of certain fervencies. What positive balance was possible? Was this passional struggle altogether useless? It was the energy bank also of noble purposes. Barking, hissing, ape-chatter, and spitting. But there were times when Love seemed life's great architect. Weren't there? Even stupidity might at times be hammered out as a golden background for great actions...." And on and on with the questions never fully answered, their being asked themselves a sort of answer to the mindlessness Sammler believes surrounds him.

Two living writers whom I would not hesitate to list as some of my favorite writers, whom also write intelligent books that ask lots of nice questions are both putting out books in the coming months that I am really excited about. David Mitchell's Black Swan Green comes out April 11. And my favorite writer, Philip Roth, is releasing Everyman on May 5. Consider my calender marked.

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