Courage in the Face of the Mob

With Otto!

When you exhibit courage, you feel better and sleep better.

Poem of the Week

Do the Others Speak of Me Mockingly, Maliciously?

by Delmore Schwartz

“As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man”

Do they whisper behind my back? Do they speak
Of my clumsiness? Do they laugh at me,
Mimicking my gestures, retailing my shame?
I’ll whirl about, denounce them, saying
That they are shameless, they are treacherous,
No more my friends, no will I once again
Never, amid a thousand meetings in the street,
Recognize their faces, take their hands,
Not for our common love or old times’ sake:
They whispered behind my back, they mimicked me.

I know the reason why, I too have done this,
Cruel for wit’s sake, behind my dear friend’s back,
And to amuse betrayed his private love,
His nervous shame, her habit, and their weaknesses,
I have mimicked them, I have been treacherous,
For wit’s sake, to amuse, because their being weighed
Too grossly for a time, to be superior,
To flatter the listeners by this, the intimate,
Betraying the intimate, but for the intimate,
To free myself of friendship’s necessity,
Fearing from time to time that they would hear,
Denounce me and reject me, say once for all
That they would never meet me, take my hands,
Speaking for old times’ sake and our common love.

What an unheard-of thing it is, in fine,
To love another and equally be loved!
What sadness and what joy! How cruel it is
That pride and wit distort the heart of man,
How vain, how sad, what cruelty, what need,
For this is true and sad, that I need them
And they need me. What can we do? We need
Each other’s clumsiness, each other’s wit,
Each other’s company and our own pride. I need
My face untamed, I need my wit, I cannot
Turn away. We know our clumsiness,
Our weakness, our necessities, we cannot
Forget our pride, our faces, our common love.

Violence in Chicago

My brother just told me about this series of short documentaries looking at the tragedy of violence in parts of Chicago. Each focuses on one of the 10 Most Violent Neighborhoods in the Second City. Back of the Yards is number 10.

I live north of the city, but it’s still troubling that others must live in a war zone.

I agree with the reporter that if you don’t understand a problem, you can’t solve it.

The Rules of the Game

Rules

I had to watch The Rules of the Game under strange circumstances. My DVD only would play the film with the commentary going. Thus I read the subtitles and once in a while got a snippet of dialog without English commentary. I prefer first viewings without the expert’s take, but perhaps in this complex film the commentary was best.

 

Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game depicts two parallel classes, the upper middle class and the servant class. From the bourgeois Christine, Robert’s Austrian wife has disappointed her would-be lover Andre, an aviator who’s just completed a round the world journey. Andre gets no satisfaction from the clamoring crowd or the inquisitive press. Christine didn’t come so the whole flight was for nought.

Christine’s been in her Parisian home with her husband Robert and her maid Lisette. Robert’s tiring of his lover Genevieve and Lisette’s tired of her husband Schumacher. All are leaving for the countryside where a web of relationships will tangle creating a fine mess pulling the film from farce to tragedy with a surprise ending.

Renoir saw WWII coming. He also saw his society drunk on frivolity, careening over an edge. The Rules of the Game is a rare film that begins with light-hearted, harmless fun, but ends with broken hearts and a tragic death. The characters who all play at love see the consequence of their erroneous worldview.

The film is beautiful and many scenes are complex dances. Renoir was ambitious to offer such sophistication and it wasn’t till decades after it was made that The Rules of the Game was considered a masterpiece, one of the finest movies of all time.

If you think you’ve seen the actor playing Robert before, you have. He was ran the roulette table at Rick’s Café in Casablanca.

I’ll definitely watch this one again.

Notes from the Underground

Yesterday I attended my library’s Great Books discussion. We talked about Fyodor Doestoevsky’s Notes from the Underground is a troubling book to read but a terrific book to discuss. The narrator is neurotic or possibly psychotic. He introduces himself saying:

“I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased. However, I don’t know beans about my disease, and I am not sure what is bothering me. I don’t treat it and never have, though I respect medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, let’s say sufficiently so to respect medicine. (I am educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, I refuse to treat it out of spite. You probably will not understand that. Well, but I understand it. Of course I can’t explain to you just whom I am annoying in this case by my spite. I am perfectly well aware that I cannot “get even” with the doctors by not consulting them. I know better than anyone that I thereby injure only myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t treat it, its is out of spite. My liver is bad, well then– let it get even worse!” 

Part One of the story continues with this tone as the narrator, whose name we never learn, rants and raves about society. He’s a 40-something civil servant who delights in being rude to the public he’s supposed to serve. (Haven’t we seen those types in government offices and private sector customer service desks?) He has no filter and like a Russian Trump will call a spade a spade, the stupid, stupid.

In Part Two, Doestoevsky switches from a monologue to a narrative and goes back in time to when the narrator was 20. He’s (no big surprise) alienated from his peers, unhappy with the world, which fails to see how brilliant he is, and manages to misread every social situation and make problems spread and grow.

Now why would anyone want to read about such a misanthrope?

The answer’s because Doestoevsky makes us think and delights us with fine prose. He poses interesting questions:

“And why are you so firmly, so triumphantly, convinced that only the normal and the positive–in other words, only what is conducive to welfare–is for the advantage of man? Is not reason in error as regards advantage? Does not man, perhaps, love something besides well-being? Perhaps he is just as fond of suffering? Perhaps suffering is just as great a benefit to him as well-being? Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering, and that is a fact.”

His book still is relevant as it shows the shortcomings of “enlightened self-interest” or rational egoism, philosophies that aren’t quite dead, that fail to show the need for sacrifice and empathy and the limits of rationality on its own.

Gosford Park, No Downton Abbey

Gosford-Park

I began watching Julien Fellows’ Gosford Park with high hopes. After all, I love Downton Abbey and Fellows won the Oscar for this screenplay.

I was disappointed. Sorely. Despite an all star cast, Gosford Park lacked a single character I found charming or likable. There was one Scottish maid who seemed mousy but nice. She wasn’t enough to carry a film of this length. The characters all came off as cold, greedy and indolent. The upperclass people spent money like water and had nothing but disdain for each other and got no joy from their money.

The downstairs servants weren’t much better. Though not as spoiled they were all out for themselves in a different way. No warmth at all. They just wanted to get their work done with as little fuss as possible. Anyone who upset their system was glared and scoffed at.

One theme that rose was how the servants felt overshadowed by their employers. I can see that, but the grass isn’t always greener. If they worked in offices, their lives would also be precarious and as one of my new colleagues asserts if you work for one company for a long time, that company forms your identity to a great extent. So if they traded their apron for a factory uniform it’s not sure that they’d be happier or more secure.

Sexual harassment was rampant as the lord of the manor couldn’t keep his hands to himself, but in a store, office or factory women run into that too.

For the first 75 minutes we see rich people bicker, whinge and finagle for money. Then the plot picks up when the lord who’s a churl gets murdered. Yet the investigation is so incompetently carried out that I just couldn’t buy it. In the end we do learn who did it, but by then I barely cared.

Fellows sure deepened his understanding about character and plot by the time he started Downton Abbey.

The Ballad of Narayama

narayamaThis 1955 movie was a hard one to watch. It’s about an old woman of 70 who’s intent upon following her region’s tradition of going up the mountain to die. Spry and sharp, you’d think she’d resist like another man in her village, but no. While her son is heartbroken about having to carry his mother up the mountain to leave her to starve, her insolent grandson, who’s newly married keeps taunting her with songs about her good teeth. Repeatedly, the overgrown brat, who does no work and contributes zilch to the family, unlike his grandmother, sings about his grandmother’s “devil teeth.”

Though well done, I found myself stopping the DVD often. I watched in short spurts hoping the woman could stay with her family. But no, it would be too much of a disgrace to be alive after a great grandchild was born. The whole village would gossip.

I like to be culturally sensitive, but this test I couldn’t pass. The director clearly wanted to show how horrid it was to abandon the old in this ritualized way. How despicable the neighbor who threw his father out refusing him food since he didn’t want to go up the mountain to a slow death. Granted food was scarce and Japan was a poor country until it industrialized, but societies are judge by how they treat their weakest members. While I watched I thought of the short comings of our own system. Still this seemed so cruel. Seventy seems far too young.