...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Word of the Day

Court poetry and Folk poetry were bound by the common tie that both were made by hand and both were intended to last; the crudest ballad was as custom-built as the most esoteric sonnet. The appearance of the Public and the mass media which cater to it have destroyed naive popular art. The sophisticated "highbrow" artist survives and can still work as he did a thousand years ago, because his audience is too small to interest the mass media. But the audience of the popular artist is the majority and this the mass media must steal from him if they are not to go bankrupt. Consequently, aside from a few comedians, the only art today is "highbrow." What the mass media offer is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish. This is bad for everyone; the majority lose all genuine taste of their own, and the minority become cultural snobs.

- W.H. Auden, "The Poet and the City" from The Dyer's Hand

Action Alert


Monday, November 16, 2009

The Apartment

125 min. | Dir. Billy Wilder | NR

Might as well say what can’t be defended: The Apartment is the greatest American screen comedy ever. Jack Lemmon plays an office worker with a charmingly lecherous boss (the never-better Fred MacMurray) who, along with his cronies, uses Lemmon’s apartment for extramarital assignations. Though not happy about it, Lemmon’s professional ambition keeps him from intervening until the elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine, in a role that explains why she became a star) gets in the way. The screwball-like dialogue, clearly an influence on the Coen Bros., keeps the action humming along, even when things turn dark. In the later, more desultory seasons of The Office, the lesson is that the system corrupts: Jim gets promoted and succumbs to an incompetence rooted in the desire to be liked, just like Michael Scott. This movie makes a similar case but without the Kafkaesque endlessness of a sitcom. The last scene is hopeful and bracing, suggesting that clear-eyed (i.e., sweet but not easy) love is the only way to escape. [This Wednesday at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.] // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[To be published this week in the print edition of The District.]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Word of the Day

Bresson's Movies

A movie of Robert
Bresson's showed a yacht,
at evening on the Seine,
all its lights on, watched

by two young, seemingly
poor people, on a bridge adjacent,
the classic boy and girl
of the story, any one

one cares to tell. So
year pass, of course, but
I identified with the young,
embittered Frenchman,

knew his almost complacent
anguish and the distance
he felt from his girl.
Yet another film

of Bresson's has the
aging Lancelot with his
awkward armor standing
in a woods, of small trees,

dazed, bleeding, both he
and his horse are,
trying to get back to
the castle, itself of

no great size. It
moved me, that
life was after all
like that. You are

in love. You stand
in the woods, with
a horse, bleeding.
The story is true.

- Robert Creeley
[read it aloud!]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


153 min. | dir. Fritz Lang | NR

The story of a futuristic, vertically oriented mega-city, where the rich live in the heights, enjoying the luxuries of “eternal gardens,” while the poor who finance their paradise live in the depths below, it’s hard not to read this movie, anachronistically*, as a parable of our current global inequities. The workers in this film inhabit a literal version of William Blake’s “dark Satanic mills.” Dwarfed by astonishing sets, they move in precise rhythms, like gears in a machine, until they are worn out and fed into the maw of the sinister, insatiable god of industry. The movie manages to be both time capsule (check out those pantaloons!) and prophecy, anticipating, in 1927, the day we would prefer man-made avatars to humans. Its influence is all over popular cinema, most obviously in George Lucas, Tim Burton, and Stanley Kubrick. You should take this rare opportunity to see this movie in a theatre, especially as it will have live musical accompaniment from Long Beach’s Creative Artists Collective. (Friday at 11:55pm at Art Theatre; more info at mondocelluloid.com.)//CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Published today in the print edition of The District.]

(*Did I mean to write "archetypally"?)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Word of the Day

From today's Slate:

Rand expresses, with a certain pithy crudeness, an instinct that courses through us all sometimes: I'm the only one who matters! I'm not going to care about any of you any more! She then absolutizes it in an amphetamine Benzedrine-charged reductio ad absurdum by insisting it is the only feeling worth entertaining, ever.

This urge exists everywhere, but why is it supercharged on the American right, where Rand is regarded as something more than a bad, bizarre joke? In a country where almost everyone believes—wrongly, on the whole—that they are self-made, perhaps it is easier to have contempt for people who didn't make much of themselves. And Rand taps into something deeper still. The founding myth of America is that the nation was built out of nothing, using only reason and willpower. Rand applies this myth to the individual American: You made yourself. You need nobody and nothing except your reason to rise and dominate. You can be America, in one body, in one mind.