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A still from Shohei Imamura's The Insect Woman

On Shohei Imamura’s “The Insect Woman” (1963): Cycles, Transitions, Ellipses

The first time I watched Shohei Imamura’s 1963 classic The Insect Woman, it took me a few seconds to understand why its strange ending works. As there were only two or three minutes of the film left, I kept looking at its runtime, thinking “How the hell will this movie end?”, and then it did.

It ends in an ellipsis, but not the sort of cliffhanger one would normally think. It is not like the one closing Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, which immediately makes sense, as there is a hovering hint of disaster that would be missed were that film “resolved”. Instead, The Insect Woman ends where one would least expect it; in the middle of a long walk the main character is taking. Not only does there not seem to be a logical conclusion to the events in the narrative, but there is no closure at an emotional level, neither.

The reason such an ending works is that Shohei Imamura’s film is about cycles, found between generations, without origin or completion. Were the film to conclude more traditionally, its themes would not be as hard-hitting as they are. Life does not have beginnings or endings as much as it has “transitions”, and although Imamura’s film is, like all art, artifice, it commits to framing this reality. It may be because of this commitment that, although the film sometimes seems like a stream of tragedies in the life of its main character, it never overwhelms nor devolves into melodrama. […]

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Jeanne in handcuffs from Robert Bresson's "The Trial of Joan of Arc"

Crossed Examination: On Robert Bresson’s “The Trial of Joan of Arc” (1962)

Few historical figures have occupied as many works as that of Jeanne d’Arc. For someone having only lived 19 years, her death in 1431 is considered both iconic and cruel—that this young, illiterate peasant girl from a small French town could somehow be summoned by angelic voices to lead the French Army in the One Hundred Years War. Even as I write this, the events within such a deeply misogynistic society seem implausible—the story of legends.

And yet, there really was a Jeanne d’Arc and the events as we’ve been told really did happen. Perhaps this is why so many have attempted to relay her tale—each imbuing themselves into whatever image one imagines. Just as there are no known images of her—no paintings, no pictures—we are faced with the dilemma of constructing our own idea of Jeanne. Just who was she?

Robert Bresson admitted in a 1962 interview with Page Cinema that he’d always been drawn to do a film about her. “An attempt to make her present,” he said. “We are kidding ourselves if we see Jeanne as the little peasant girl of the legends. I think she was very elegant. Witnesses, people around at that time said this. I see her as a modern young girl,” he added. […]

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A soldier on the beach from Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk (2017)

Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” (2017): Style, Not Substance

Is there a better example this year of a film carried along by pure technique than Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk?

Let’s get the goings-on out of the way, first. Luckily, there’s not that much to explain:

It is World War II. Allied forces have been effectively ousted from France by the Germans. The last of the French hold the Germans at bay, while the British await evacuation off the port town of Dunkirk in Northern France. Home is a Channel away, but as falling pamphlets early in the narrative indicate, the Germans surround them with Luftwaffe, U-boats, and infantry. The film is divided in three parts: Land (“The Mole”), Sea (“The Sea’) and Air (“The Air”), interconnected by event, but not necessarily by time. Typical of Christopher Nolan, the film’s conclusion contains a dovetailing of each section, tying the plot, and diegetic time, neatly together. We mainly follow a few officers, infantrymen, citizens on volunteer vessels, and RAF pilots, each in their respective section. Essentially, the officers fret over time and attack, the infantrymen die in hordes and attempt to escape, and the RAF pilots pick off attacking Luftwaffe until the citizen volunteers arrive, and the British ferry around 300,000 to safety across the Channel. The film ends with the surviving ground forces back in a celebratory Great Britain, one of the officers overseeing the evacuation of French troops, and one of the RAF aces captured by Nazis after his plane is downed.

And that’s the plot, really, save for that we follow select individuals along the way…and yet, do they matter all that much? […]

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A stylized photo of Hazel Hall

Curtains On the Wall: The Poetry of Hazel Hall

“All art is political.” Oh, yawn. Not again with the politics. Why are people occasioned to state this? Would it be any different to claim that all art is religious? That where one sees politics another sees Jesus? What would be the difference? Allow me to explain. Not about politics or religion, as that is a different essay. But rather, I immediately was reminded of Hazel Hall, a poet who has been largely overlooked, but my hope is that future readership will alter this.

Hall was not a political poet. (Nor was she particularly religious for that matter.) In fact, her poems are, on surface, easy to overlook. Many involve her love of stitching or the sound of footfalls, or even watching others walk. She is, in fact, anti-political. Why? Because she remains outside the regular clamor and din of political chatter. Spending much her life within a wheelchair, Hazel Hall is the utmost poet of observation. She sat and looked and reflected, and then wrote about it later. Who knew her? Who looked up into that window that housed this not so silent woman? Many compare her to Emily Dickinson, and there are indeed some similarities. Both engaged in reclusive lifestyles. Both wrote in a somewhat rhyming form (which you will see later), and neither longed to engage much past their private windows. Hall perhaps had more opportunity to engage others, but with so little known of her, readers can’t be sure. […]

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Bob Dylan in color tint, singer of "Blowin' in the Wind" and "I Contain Multitudes"

I Want to Make it Big: Analyzing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” & “I Contain Multitudes”

Bob Dylan told a fan when he was starting out that he wanted to be “big”, really big. That he has done. Winning a Nobel Prize as Dylan did in 2016 is a pinnacle in anybody’s career. Over seven decades he has brought light and life to the world with his spellbinding songs. Jesus preached three years. What does it take to stay in the limelight for over sixty? There are many answers to that question; I just understand it as a God-given gift. Dylan is a gift and others have blessed him with gifts in return, very expansive gifts. The question might be, why Dylan? And the answer would be that he put himself in that spot. I’m going to analyze his road with two of his songs, Blowin’ in the Wind, and I Contain Multitudes, songs at either end of his career.

He positioned himself into the spotlight with the anthem Blowin’ in the Wind. Although it’s truly laudatory in its own right, Dylan needed the help of Peter, Paul, and Mary to popularize it. Soon it was adopted as a theme song for the Left. But why? Dylan claims he never intended that. Instead it was only a song that he wrote in ten minutes according to him. Why the greatness associated with it? Let’s take a look. […]

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A collage of Simone de Beauvoir, with sepia tint to indicate entropy and passage of time

Entropy and Simone de Beauvoir

In this COVID Age, entropy is especially on my mind.  That and the deliciously bold derrière of author, philosopher, and feminist, Simone de Beauvoir.

Entropy is, put simply—if not simplistically—that quality of a system which exhibits increasing disorder and randomness, a decline into senile smoothness.  It is the broken egg on the kitchen floor, never to be whole again.  It is the spilled cup of coffee which will never rise from the floor, full and steaming.  It is the running down of Everything.  For us humans, it is aging.

Entropy is a fact of this universe (and any parallel ones), but knowing all that doesn’t ease my transition out of bed into the morning’s waking world.  It seems to me that this decade of my life came sneaking across the threshold of my reality unbidden, unannounced and, until it was taking up residence in the house, unremarked. But that’s the way of things for humans, isn’t it?  We flourish, follow our trajectory, and never give thought to our demise, let alone the long (if we are lucky) downhill slope which precedes it. […]

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Character pointing gun in John Sayles's Lone Star

John Sayles’s “Lone Star” (1996): Racial Drama, Greek Tragedy, Western

At its core, John Sayles’s Lone Star is about such demarcations, and who, ultimately, gets to do the demarcating. It’s also about the oftentimes tense relations between the multi-ethnic populations of a small town on the US-Mexico border, as well as the corruption that stems from evil; and, as if those weren’t enough to handle, there’s enough time for a tender tale of star-crossed lovers. It’s a testament to Sayles’s skills as an artist that Lone Star manages to juggle all these narratives (and more) while still coming across as a coherent whole, its themes bold enough for most audiences to detect their presence but deployed with such subtlety to reward repeated viewings. It’s the above quotation, however, that reveals John Sayles as not only the great American independent filmmaker but one of the medium’s keenest observers of societal conflict, whether it be in urban cityscapes (City of Hope), the colonial tropics (Amigo) or more fantastical, rustic settings (The Secret of Roan Inish). That he puts these words in the mouth of a mildly bigoted bartender, in a moment of seemingly throwaway comedy, shows his attention to detail, as even tertiary characters are given more than one dimension and are treated not as window dressing but as ordinary people with their own wants, aims, and philosophies, despite their brevity. It’s ordinary people, after all, who live among such demarcations, and it’s ordinary people who suffer men like Charlie Wade and Buddy Deeds to administer, encourage and/or expunge them. […]

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Stylized photo of Helen Vendler next to a checkmate chess board.

The Issue To Create: Debunking a Helen Vendler Myth With (Good) Poetry

“The issue of a good poem must be urgent to the poet.”

– The Art of Shakespeare Sonnets by Helen Vendler

…and the issue of literary critics is how they make banalities or bullshit sound pithy. Thus we have the above statement, which, in essence, translates to: “Poets make good shit when they care about their shit”. Contextually, this is excerpted from Helen Vendler’s analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 01, where she makes the case that the sonnet is more limited than Shakespeare’s No. 17, because 17 deals with “issues of mortality and corruption”, which Shakespeare gave more of a damn about, as opposed to the “dynastic question” of 01. Well, Helen is half-right. Sonnet 01 is worse than Sonnet 17. Only, the mechanism is less a matter of the shit Shakespeare cared about, than that, simply, Sonnet 01 was made when Shakespeare’s mind was snoozing, and 17 when that same mind was musing. Having reached the stage where I can call myself a poet who has written a couple good poems, or better, two of which you can see over at Cosmoetica’s Vers Magnifique section, I now have the privilege of saying: Helen, YOU’RE FULL OF SHIT.

Let me clarify a couple things. This article serves as a poetic self-evaluation of my current scant successes in the realm of poesizing. What it isn’t, though, is a step-by-step guide for other amateur poets. Maybe you’ll find clues, a couple of useful hints here and there. What I’ll be focusing on is what didn’t matter. Some myth-busting to prevent the Helen Vendler types from clogging things up with distractions. With the biographical fluff, in other words. Stuff like whether you should write by hand or type. Whether extensive research helps. Whether having a strong stance about your subject really matters. And, unlike other writers who tend to be coy and mysterious about their actual craft, I intend to be thorough and lay it all out, to the best of my memory. […]