The film (2009) and the poem (1875). The poem’s terrific, the film’s good, Mandela’s an extraordinary man, and the reborn South Africa an uncanny successful ending to the most opprobrious modern nation-state.
On the Beach (1959) is a strange but powerful film, in the quiet way in which depicts humanity’s final days following a global nuclear war; and unfortunately relevant as of today, given the current state of affairs.
That film made me interested in director Stanley Kramer. Today I’ve seen his Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), that I hope you may have seen, too (and if not, I highly recommend it). But I don’t want to comment on its main theme —the responsibility, the degree of responsibility, or the lack of responsibility, of the German people in the atrocities committed in their name by their government. Quite a theme, very good scripted, appropriately nuanced, and wonderfully acted out.
What I want to bring here is a piece of dialogue quite at the beginning of the film that has touched me deep. Preparing for leaving the courtroom at the end of the first session, the chat between two of the judges goes this way:
—What’ve you thought doing at the weekend?
—My wife and I are going to Liege.
—Nothing in Liege, I’ve been there…
—My son was in the 101st. He’s buried in the American cemetery outside Liege.
The film’s gorgeous, but not entirely in the good sense —I mean, this is one of those movies in which everything’s perfect: the characters are pure congeniality and charm, everything goes smooth at work, the boss never yells at anybody, conflicts are worked out, highs are not so high and downs are gentle… An entirely make-believe world.
So why am I commenting? Because its director, Nancy Meyers, has the courage to vindicate men and ask for them in a world where personal choice, independent of sex, with the accompanying taking of responsibility for one’s actions and decisions, should be the way to go.
I’ve said before that we need, more than ever, strong women who stand up against the rampant sexism (and racism, bigotry, intolerance, authoritarianism) of this time of receding freedom and giving up of individual agency we’re passing through. Strong men, too.
In an otherwise perfectly unremarkable film, Lion (2016) (good interpretations aside, especially that of the young boy, Sunny Pawar, and Nicole Kidman of course), it made an impression on me how the starving five year-old, lost and alone in a hostile city, after having been trapped all by himself in a decommissioned train for as long as two days, before eagerly putting the food in his mouth when he finds some partially-consumed leftovers in a Calcutta park, leans his head down and puts his hands together in a brief act of thanksgiving.
There’s a film that’s not bad, Dragged Across Concrete (2018) – IMDb —and Mel Gibson is outstanding in his role. Two cops are mounting guard in their car. One of them (Vince Vaughn) is taking ages at finishing his meal, but when the other one (Mel Gibson) gets (understandably) mad at him for doing so, he says that’s the right way of eating —you’re ruining it if you take your next morsel before the aftertaste for the previous one is gone.
I’m guilty of that. M. told me once I walk so fast through the countryside that I can’t and don’t enjoy the scenery, and he’s right. The same with food —I tend to gulp it down, without concern for the aftertaste. That’s a mistake I’ll intend to mend.
Good play of some version of the prisoner’s dilemma —if he (Gibson) had only taken Tory Kittles’ word for what was worth and shaken hands with him instead of putting a gun on his temple…
I’ve declared a moratorium on current Hollywood films and on TV series from Netflix et al. Don’t get me wrong: I actually love being educated on pluralism, lgtbism, feminism, intersectionalism; I enjoy being shown how bad, aggressive, sexually predators white men are; I love watching male buttocks and what not, and wouldn’t dare want to see a bit of female flesh with filthy, lusty eyes; I can’t but applauding when the Asian character, the lesbians lovers, the African-American gay couple, the husband humbly backing up and sacrificing all to his empowered and outwardly Ennui woman’s career, show up. They invariable do, as of course they should.
But I…, I know I shouldn’t but… —I get bored. I’m ashamed of myself and I’m sorry and I say so. It’s a bit like the Catholic mass of my youth —necessary, rightly compulsory, predictable, and reassuring —but what a bore! I apologize and promise to reform and like the shows and internalize the truth and re-socialize myself in the right way. In the meantime, though,
Episode 6 of season 1 of Upstairs, Downstairs, A Cry for Help, stands out in the series. Written by Julian Bond, the lines spoken to Lord Bellamy by his solicitor showing him how he would serve himself and his family better by way of retracting his rape accusations against a fellow nobleman and by dropping the defense of his pregnant young maid are devastatingly brilliant. And directed by Derek Bennett, what could have been another common story to cater to the audience turns into a bitter yet way more satisfying one, in which upstairs is beaten, both in knowledge of the ways the world goes round and in generosity and goodwill, by downstairs.
Likewise, episode 15 of season 1 of M*A*S*H, Tuttle, is a joy to watch. Also masterfully written and directed, you could say it’s a novel take in the classic, for a reason, The Emperor’s New Clothes‘ tale. Hawkeye and Trapper make up an entirely fictitious Captain Tuttle, who nonetheless ends up being buried with honors, with the whole platoon claiming his friendship or acquaintance.
J’accuse (2019), by Roman Polanski. Polanski takes the focus away from Dreyfus and puts the light on the army officer who started to unravel the plot; it’s a dull officer conducting a dull investigation presented in a dull way, but I think the director does this on purpose, as a way to highlight, against this background of dullness, the core of the matter —the evil of injustice and the importance of honor. Score: 7.
Inside Man (2006), by Spike Lee. Nothing of value here —a pastiche not very competently made. It’s the kind of film I dislike to see —not too bad to drop but not good enough to watch, so you end up wasting your time. Available on Amazon Prime Video. Score: 5.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939), by Howard Hawks. If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know I like films who depict masculinity well, virtues and vices of it all along —and this film does exactly so, in section coping with grief. Plus: a good story perfectly told and played. Plus: Rita Hayworth, of course. Plus: a final sequence that surprises you and give full meaning to the film. Score: 9.
Fitzcarraldo (1982), by Werner Herzog. Sorry guys at the IMDB who so highly regard this film —I couldn’t finish it. Score: 4. Available on Amazon Prime Video.
Walk the Line (2005), by James Mangold. Life-story of Johnny Cash as told by himself in his book Man in Black. Kudos to Joaquim Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon for his great singing of all the songs in the film (and their acting, too). The problem with this film is —Cash, as depicted here, is neither an interesting character or a likeable one; furthermore, his character isn’t well constructed —it’s somewhat incoherent. Slight spoiler next: stop here —I liked the scene when he at last kills his father, in the Freudian way of course. Watch on Prime Video. Score: 7.
An Honest Liar (2014), by Tyler Measom & Justin Weinstein. Watch on Plex for free. Documentary about the life of James ‘The Amazing’ Randi, made possible thanks to a Kickstarter funding. Randi was a believer in truth, and those are precious; he was a giant in courage, intelligence and defiance. Don’t miss the part when Randi’s magicians fool once and again the scientists who are testing them. Score: 8.
Nelyubov (Loveless, 2017), by Andrey Zvyagintsev. Very interesting film, very well made, slow-paced but never boring. It has one of the most shocking, powerful scenes I’ve ever seen, out of the blue. Beautiful cinematography, too. A terrible story, more terrible because so ordinary. Score: 9.0
I’ve happened to see two films in a row starring, and being about, those deplorables of yours.
The first one you can see it on Amazon Prime Video, name’s Mud (2012). It’s, in the director’s own words, as if Sam Peckinpah had directed a short story by Mark Twain.
[Twain, of course, is not read in American classrooms anymore. Right so.]
The other one is Marty (1955).
Main character in Mud is the son of a white trash man who reminds me of Loquillo when he sings that of
No vine aquí para hacer amigos
pero sabes que siempre puedes contar conmigo.
Dicen de mí que soy un tanto animal,
pero en el fondo soy un sentimental.
Mi familia no son gente normal;
de otra época y corte moral,
que resuelven sus problemas de forma natural
—¿para qué discutir si puedes pelear?
[Y vive Dios, que escrito está: si te doy mi palabra, no se romperá]
Marty, on the other hand, is not only a butcher but a Catholic, who has nothing better to do on his weekends than search for a woman to marry to. He even tries to force a kiss on her. And he shows no sign of any intersectional conscience altogether.
And is not silly Marty a lot like Horace, as they sing in the song?
Late again today,
he’d be in trouble;
though he’d say he was sorry,
he’d have to hurry out to the bus.
Horace was so sad,
he’d never had a girl
that he could care for;
and if he was late once more,
he’d be out.
Don’t be afraid,
just knock on the door.
Well he just stood there mumblin’ and fumblin’,
then a voice from above said:
Horace Wimp, this is your life,
go out and find yourself a wife.
Make a stand and be a man,
and you will have a great life plan.
Horace met a girl, she was small
and she was veeeery pretty,
he thought he was in love;
he was afraid, oh oh.
Asks her for a date,
the café down the street tomorrow evening.
His head was reeling when she said:
Horace, this is it.
He asks the girl if maybe they could marry.
When she says:
Everybody’s at the church,
when Horace rushes in and says:
Now here comes my wife,
for the rest of my life.
And she did.
Now go and cancel that.
Within a month of signing my appointment papers to become an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, I was well on my way to madness; it was 1974, and I was twenty-eight years old. Within three months I was manic beyond recognition and just beginning a long, costly personal war against a medication that I would, in a few years’ time, be strongly encouraging others to take. My illness, and my struggles against the drug that ultimately saved my life and restored my sanity, had been years in the making.
For as long as I can remember I was frighteningly, although often wonderfully, beholden to moods. Intensely emotional as a child, mercurial as a young girl, first severely depressed as an adolescent, and then unrelentingly caught up in the cycles of manic-depressive illness by the time I began my professional life, I became, both by necessity and intellectual inclination, a student of moods. It has been the only way I know to understand, indeed to accept, the illness I have; it also has been the only way I know to try and make a difference in the lives of others who also suffer from mood disorders. The disease that has, on several occasions, nearly killed me does kill tens of thousands of people every year: most are young, most die unnecessarily, and many are among the most imaginative and gifted that we as a society have.
The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast you first must make it beautiful. In some strange way, I have tried to do that with manic-depressive illness. It has been a fascinating, albeit deadly, enemy and companion; I have found it to be seductively complicated, a distillation both of what is finest in our natures, and of what is most dangerous. In order to contend with it, I first had to know it in all of its moods and infinite disguises, understand its real and imagined powers. Because my illness seemed at first simply to be an extension of myself—that is to say, of my ordinarily changeable moods, energies, and enthusiasms—I perhaps gave it at times too much quarter. And, because I thought I ought to be able to handle my increasingly violent mood swings by myself, for the first ten years I did not seek any kind of treatment. Even after my condition became a medical emergency, I still intermittently resisted the medications that both my training and clinical research expertise told me were the only sensible way to deal with the illness I had.
My manias, at least in their early and mild forms, were absolutely intoxicating states that gave rise to great personal pleasure, an incomparable flow of thoughts, and a ceaseless energy that allowed the translation of new ideas into papers and projects. Medications not only cut into these fast-flowing, high-flying times, they also brought with them seemingly intolerable side effects. It took me far too long to realize that lost years and relationships cannot be recovered, that damage done to oneself and others cannot always be put right again, and that freedom from the control imposed by medication loses its meaning when the only alternatives are death and insanity.
The war that I waged against myself is not an uncommon one. The major clinical problem in treating manic-depressive illness is not that there are not effective medications—there are—but that patients so often refuse to take them. Worse yet, because of a lack of information, poor medical advice, stigma, or fear of personal and professional reprisals, they do not seek treatment at all. Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it; an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide.
I am fortunate that I have not died from my illness, fortunate in having received the best medical care available, and fortunate in having the friends, colleagues, and family that I do. Because of this, I have in turn tried, as best I could, to use my own experiences of the disease to inform my research, teaching, clinical practice, and advocacy work. Through writing and teaching I have hoped to persuade my colleagues of the paradoxical core of this quicksilver illness that can both kill and create; and, along with many others, have tried to change public attitudes about psychiatric illnesses in general and manic-depressive illness in particular. It has been difficult at times to weave together the scientific discipline of my intellectual field with the more compelling realities of my own emotional experiences. And yet it has been from this binding of raw emotion to the more distanced eye of clinical science that I feel I have obtained the freedom to live the kind of life I want, and the human experiences necessary to try and make a difference in public awareness and clinical practice.
I have had many concerns about writing a book that so explicitly describes my own attacks of mania, depression, and psychosis, as well as my problems acknowledging the need for ongoing medication. Clinicians have been, for obvious reasons of licensing and hospital privileges, reluctant to make their psychiatric problems known to others. These concerns are often well warranted. I have no idea what the long-term effects of discussing such issues so openly will be on my personal and professional life, but, whatever the consequences, they are bound to be better than continuing to be silent. I am tired of hiding, tired of misspent and knotted energies, tired of the hypocrisy, and tired of acting as though I have something to hide. One is what one is, and the dishonesty of hiding behind a degree, or a title, or any manner and collection of words, is still exactly that: dishonest. Necessary, perhaps, but dishonest. I continue to have concerns about my decision to be public about my illness, but one of the advantages of having had manic-depressive illness for more than thirty years is that very little seems insurmountably difficult. Much like crossing the Bay Bridge when there is a storm over the Chesapeake, one may be terrified to go forward, but there is no question of going back. I find myself somewhat inevitably taking a certain solace in Robert Lowell’s essential question, Yet why not say what happened?Prologue to Un Unquiet Mind: a Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Professor Kay Redfield Jamison
It was a low budget, low profile film, All the Bright Places, by Brett Haley (Netflix available) that draw my interest in the maniac-depressive condition and allowed me to understand it better. Quite a film, by the way — blunt, truthful, sad.
KISS ME, STUPID (1964)
Dean Martin, Ray Walston, Felicia Farr, Kim Novak, Cliff Osmond.
An extraordinary film, fun from start to end, tender and deep, so good-humored in its criticism that you may not notice it, and brave and defiant at the mores of the time — indeed a piece of art.
TOKYO STORY (1953)
Chishû Ryû, Chieko Higashiyama, Sô Yamamura, Setsuko Hara.
‘Isn’t life disappointing?‘, asks one of the characters, ‘Yes, it is‘, answers another. And that’s what this film is about —disappointment as a matter of fact, as the way life develops itself; an existential, not particular, disappointment, and as such accepted and not resented it. Beautiful quiet acting upon an almost nihilist script, in which very little happens, devoid of bluntness and drama, and so real and deep for that very reason.
ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019)
Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch.
Fun, which is rare.
THE MISFITS (1961)
Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter.
Splendid filming, acting and scripting. The story goes deep under the pretense of everyday life.
William H. Macy, Debra Eisenstadt.
The dystopia this film announced in 1994 has become the world we live in in 2020. Masterful use of the telephone interruption technique. Great acting.
JOJO RABBIT (2019)
Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson.
A wonderful film, moving and fun, original, made with an unusual forgiving human touch which makes it truly enjoyable.
SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER… AND SPRING (2003)
Yeong-su Oh, Jae-kyeong Seo, Young-min Kim, Yeo-jin Ha, Ki-duk Kim.
Beautiful, surprising, profound… and beautiful. Astonishingly so. Never miss your doors.