Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ron Mann's 'Poetry in Motion' (1982)

Ron Mann's Poetry in Motion is a fun documentary sampler of poets, poetry, readings and music. As one might suspect, it's a mixed bag -- I fast forwarded through a couple performances  -- but overall a groovy experience (no joke).

Bukowski opens the ball, drinking, smoking and musing at home: 

Reading the poets has been the dullest of things. Even reading the great novelists . . . I said Tolstoy is supposed to be special? . . . I really try to understand. I mean, and many of the great poets of the past, I've read their stuff, I've read it -- all's I get is a goddamned headache and boredom; I really feel sickness in the pit of my stomach. I say, there's some trick going on here . . . this is not true; this is not real; it's not good.

Bukowski's quips are interwoven throughout the film, providing comic relief.

The performers:

Amiri Baraka (who just died in 2014) with sax and drums
Anne Waldman 
Ted Berrigan (who died in 1983)
Kenward Elmslie
Ed Sanders (also of The Fugs)
Helen Adam (utterly strange and interesting)
Tom Waits (early on)
William S. Burroughs
Christopher Dewdney
Michael Mcclure (who co-wrote "Mercedes Benz" with Janis Joplin and Bob Neuwirth)
Ted Milton
Robert Creeley (died in 2005)
John Cage
Four Horseman (a poem made of noises)
Michael Ondaatje
Jayne Cortez (died in 2012) with  guitar, bass and drums
Diane DiPrima with piano and slides
John Giorno
Ntozake Shange with piano and dancers
Gary Snyder
Allen Ginsberg with Canadian band The Ceedees (guitar, bass and drums)
Jim Carroll (died in 2009)
Miguel Algarin
One of the surprising highlights is Ginsberg singing, off-key, an outraged and joyous punk-like catalog of global injustices that feels completely contemporary. Let's just say that he would not have been too surprised by recent developments.

DVD extras include an interview with the director and Poetry in Motion II (more on the latter soon).

Today's Rune: Protection. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jennifer Baichwal's 'Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles' (1998)

"Other people's indifference is the only horror." -- Paul Bowles (1948). 

Paul Bowles (1910-1999) and Jane (Auer) Bowles (1917-1973) led, by mainstream standards, bizarre lives. Jennifer Baichwal's Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles (1998) helps us catch glimpses, hear echoes and, particularly in the DVD extras, hear directly from Paul Bowles through a series of Baichwal's questions and Bowles' answers. The latter reminds me of Gore Vidal (1925-2012) in a way -- maybe it's the wry sense of humor.

Jane Bowles wrote fiction, letters and a play. A good place to start might be My Sister's Hand in Mine: The Collected Works of Jane Bowles, 2005. In Bernardo Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky (1990), she's played memorably by Debra Winger; John Malkovich stands in for Paul Bowles, whose 1949 novel the movie is (more or less) based upon.

Paul Bowles had distinct periods in his life. Just to hit a few: in Paris with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, where one of his assigned responsibilities was to watch their pets. Still bitter about the pet-watching in his eighties, he quips: "I hate poodles anyway. I think they're revolting animals."

He was, too, a musician and composer, associated with Aaron Copeland and Tennessee Williams.

Then he settled permanently in Morocco, where he wrote several books and also did translation work. 

Jane Bowles was somewhat like Joan (Vollmer) Burroughs, whose second and final husband was William S. Burroughs -- both drank prodigiously and both died young (the latter at 28 years old, the former at 40).  

p.s. Caution: Artists on Board. 

Today's Rune: Separation (Reversed). 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Laura Poitras: 'Citizenfour' (2014)

Laura Poitras' Citizenfour (2014) is well worth seeing and thinking about. And discussing. Saw it on HBO. 
That's all for now, folks. The rest is up to you. 

Today's Rune: Separation (Reversed). 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What Happened to Kerouac? (1986, 2012)

Regarding Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdams' What Happened to Kerouac? (1986, 2012), it's no joke to say this is an "indispensable" cultural library of primary Beat Generation sources. 

Beyond the insights into Jack Kerouac as person and writer, the viewer is treated to the wide range of personalities and dispositions rendering them: from Gregory Corso, a "real pisser," to the more reserved but very serious minded Michael McLure, from the affable priest Spike Morrissette to the most cogent of all, Ann Charters. There is also plenty of archival footage to accompany the literal voice of Kerouac.

Particularly in the expanded 2012 edition, there is an astonishing array of good stuff in here. There is an accompanying website.

Today's Rune: Movement.

Friday, February 20, 2015

William S. Burroughs: Commissioner of Sewers (1991)

Klaus Maeck's William S. Burroughs: Commissioner of Sewers (1991) renders a good introduction to Burroughs, in which one may either like what he has to say or hate it -- there's little in between. The film weaves together a solid, interesting interview conducted by Jürgen Ploog, author of Cola-Hinterland (1969) and Sternzeit 23 (1975), with samples of public readings and archival film footage. Everything works together like a nifty cut-up energized by palimpsestic language.  
Table of contents:
The Do Rights
A Writer
Western Lands
The Writer
The Cut Ups
Roosevelt After Inauguration
Young Writers
Young People
The Word
Thanksgiving Prayer
Dr. Benway
The Future

This may be of interest to any writer or artist, to creative people with open minds (assuming ears not offended by colorful choice of diction). Burroughs touches on differences between The Tibetan Book of the Dead and The Egyptian Book of the Dead, class warfare even after death (only the rich and powerful get mummies, but mummies are fragile), and -- in the post-credit coda, space travel -- don't miss the jellyfish astronauts! 
Today's Rune: Growth. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dardenne Brothers: 'La Promesse' / 'The Promise' (1996)

In 1996, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne delivered La Promesse / The Promise. This film, set in their familiar, deflated industrial city of Seraing, Belgium -- smaller than Flint, Michigan, for comparison -- focuses on a father (Olivier Gourmet) and son (Jérémie Renier), their dodgy migrant worker housing-and-work schemes, and some of the international refugees situated among them. Specifically, though with minimalist style, we get to know more about how things are, and more about three people from Burkino Faso: Assita (Assita Ouedraogo), Amidou (Rasmane Ouedraogo) and their baby.  
In La Promesse, father Roger and son Igor have a fraught relationship that goes with the territory. Something's got to give . . .
Assita, Amidou (an unlucky gambler) and their small child.

In La Promesse as elsewhere, the Dardenne Brothers are masters at showing microcosms, situations teetering on the edge of disaster and coursing with moral quandaries. This is strong, laconic independent filmmaking. 

A similarly themed but more depressing film (set in Spain and starring Javier Bardem) is Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful (2010), which I also like.

Today's Rune: Separation (Reversed).  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Carlos Cuarón: 'Rudo y Cursi' (2008)

In Carlos Cuarón's Rudo y Cursi (2008), two dingbat brothers yearn for a more exciting life. One is married and both are stuck working on a banana plantation on the Pacific side of Mexico. Lucky for them, they're both good football (soccer) players, and both are recruited and wooed (one at a time, divide and conquer) to the big city -- Mexico City. Highs and lows follow. 

It's a primal storyline that goes back thousands of years, no doubt. In this case, there are touches of fraternal comedy and, girding the whole shebang, social satire. Want to know who (and what) really runs nearly everyone and everything? Follow the money trail.  
Fun performances by: Diego Luna as Beto el Rudo (who has a gambling addiction); Gael García Berna as Tato el Cursi (who desires above all to be a pop musician, even though he's terrible at it); Guillermo Francella as Batuta (their free-wheeling agent and all-around ladies' man); Adriana Paz as Toña (who hopes to hit the big time selling "homeopathic" health products); Jessica Mass as Maya (who wants always to be with the top dog of the day); and additional ensemble players as other family members, friends and enemies. 

In Rudo y Cursi, everybody wants more money, either through the sports racket, the loan racket, the gambling racket or the drug-selling racket -- take your pick. 

Today's Rune: Harvest.