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Showing three separate, colored, stylized shots from Larry Blamire's "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra"

More Ambition Than Talent (& Knowing It!): Larry Blamire’s “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra” (2001)

There’s nothing like a young artist’s early ambition whose talent has not yet come to fruition. Often, with pretension abound, the results don’t equal their enthusiasm and so what ultimately results is something less than amateurish. But hey, at least they are trying so who can fault them? (Only their embarrassment years later, perhaps? e.g., Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire, anyone?)

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a film that, much like Frank Whaley’s The Jimmy Show, has gone overlooked in recent years. While garnering initial praise, (unlike The Jimmy Show, which also debuted in 2001) Roger Ebert only gave The Lost Skeleton of Cadavara one and a half stars, noting, ‘The writer and director, Larry Blamire, who also plays the saner of the scientists, has the look so well mastered that if the movie had only been made in total ignorance 50 years ago, it might be recalled today as a classic. A minor, perhaps even minuscule, classic.’ […]

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Henri Matisse on horseback in Morocco, where he would paint the classic Les Marocains (The Moroccans) in 1916.

Black Sunshine: Matisse in Morocco (Les Marocains, 1916)

Matisse had a miserable time in Morocco. In fact there was rarely a moment in Matisse’s life where he wasn’t miserable. During a 1941 interview he talked about seeing everything (in) “black”; his chronic insomnia, his depression and fear of failure. Common stock when it comes to creative types, but generally not the sort of things most people would associate with Matisse or his paintings. Tellingly, he would later prohibit publication of this interview citing editorial disagreements. It seems that he preferred to be seen as cute and cuddly rather than dark and brooding.

For Matisse, life was a series of disappointing (and occasionally spooky) vacations. Reading his biography puts one in mind of the horror writer MR James, for whom Matisse would make the ideal protagonist—stentorian, standoffish, and constantly menaced by the notion of ‘presence’. What a letdown Tangiers must have been: nothing at all like the hipster fantasy of French literature. He arrived in the city halfway through a month-long rainstorm. Most of the time, he told the poet Gertrude Stein, he stayed in his room. […]

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From the director of "Oppenheimer" (2023) and "Following" (1998), a snapshot of Christopher Nolan's latter film, featuring a black-and-white portrait of a man staring out into a city.

Vanishing Act: Review of Christopher Nolan’s “Following” (1998)

Having watched this year’s 3-hour-long Oppenheimer a few weeks ago, I decided it’d be neat to go back to the very beginning, to Christopher Nolan’s first feature, 1998’s independent Following, the tale of an unemployed, would-be writer who gets caught up in the schemes of a charismatic criminal. At a miniscule 70 minute runtime, one might be tempted to think that the two are wildly different. On the surface, yes, they are, but even in Nolan’s debut his cinematic brand is evident.

Jim Emerson’s point that Nolan arrives here nearly fully formed as an artist isn’t far off the mark. All the tricks (sans the lavish budgets and big-name casts) of his trade are present: the fragmented, dove-tailing plot(s); un-telegraphed cuts (the film was shot by Nolan, and edited well by him alongside Gareth Heal); his affinity for doubles; an icy femme fatale; and the presence of a conniving mastermind who manipulates the events unfolding onscreen unbeknownst to either the characters or the audience. (Sometimes this mastermind is the protagonist, sometimes the antagonist, sometimes Nolan himself.) Nolan is one of those puzzle-box directors, less keen on profound themes and deep character portraits than he is on malleable chronology and upending audience expectations through deft narrative turns. When he does try to tackle big themes, such as with love in Interstellar, he fumbles, although the end result is almost always still entertaining. […]

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A stylizaed triptych of Joan Didion, author of "The Year of Magical Thinking", in sepia, blue, and orange-red hues.

Where Else Is There? Reviewing Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking”

Actor Keanu Reeves, when asked in an interview the question of what happens when we die, truthfully responded with, ‘I know that the ones who love us will miss us.’ Reeves’ response, while honest, was likely not what the audience expected. Many, unless having experienced the death of a loved one, never conceptualize it happening, as it remains a far-off abstraction. As a 19-year-old, I didn’t think about ‘being gone forever,’ or ‘being missed.’ Romanticized in literature, it’s not uncommon for thoughts on death to change over time. From the young artist who wishes to be immortal (often tragically dying young, e.g., Keats, Shelley, Plath, Van Gogh) to the older adult hoping she can easily pass away in her sleep—these perspectives will shift with age.

In March 2012, my beloved orange cat, Apollo, died suddenly while at the vet. He’d had some obstruction in his gut, but in no way did I think my dropping him off that morning would be the last time I’d ever see him alive. Struck with heartache, I called my mom who recommended I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. She informed me that this was an excellent memoir on grief and that she’d just read it in her book club. While reluctant to read anything recommended by my mom’s book club given its propensity for convention, I knew of Didion’s work and that she wasn’t the typical MFA writer. So, I placed that book on my mental ‘to-read’ pile and then didn’t think about it until 11 years later. […]

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A stylized snapshot from Rob Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap", where the group performs "Gimme Some Money".

POEM: “Thought Our Film Would Say It All”

THOUGHT OUR FILM WOULD SAY IT ALL

And then some scumbag wanted money for the footage
Of my friend. Well, HIS friend, as a fact
Was a ponderer’s poet, while he cannot

Think. Well, he IS thinking
Of himself, bobbing down a perfect sea
Storm loosened from the surface

Of our lens. Guess which had a brain
Injury and you’d guess wrong. Say CHEESE
Bitch! Or that’s what HE did at any rate

Offered. Not even poets deserve riches. […]

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The manuscript copy of William Stafford's "Traveling Through The Dark", written in long-hand in a notebook.

Improving William Stafford’s “Traveling Through The Dark”

Decades ago, when I first came stateside, & was catching up studying the collected works of mostly great American poets I had only heard about, since I didn’t have access to their books in Zimbabwe, one of the poems I stumbled upon in an anthology, pre-internet, & liked a lot, was William Stafford’s very American Traveling Through The Dark – since all across this nation roads such scenarios are quite numerous. Myself, then, an idealistic, young but naïve poet who had a handful of decent to good poems under my wing – & having written for less than five years, I simply lacked the technical competencies, poetic instincts & wisdom to see the glaring flaws inherent in it.

Now let me be brutally honest – no matter what you’ve read, heard or seen elsewhere this isn’t a great poem, nor is it even near-great! At best it’s a solid &/or good poem but what prevents it from greatness of, say, W.B. Yeat’s Leda And The Swan is its documentary style which, in the hands of a lesser poet, leaves little room to expand on its themes, its clunkiness, repetitive verbosity & William Stafford’s need to explain then overstate instead of trusting the reader to make their own quick connections by just giving us the necessary facts succinctly, efficiently & in the right sequence, so the words heighten each other in their setups into that purview of poetry not prose. Also, there’s no sustained vigor which is a by-product of brevity & being bold with the materials at hand. Yes, as poets we often love words excessively to our own detriment in their use so I’d advise to only love them to the same extent you’re willing to ruthlessly cut them, if need be. While I like the English language – I come to it as a second language so I’ve no qualms editing it rigorously. Tellingly, in this short video Stafford explains how it came about, his not knowing how to finish it, but upon taking it to a writers’ group & noticing their reaction to his reading of it, wisely stuck to his ending, yet unfortunately in the same breath, gave up revising it anymore. Then, he sent it off for publication, into this its famous but overwrought version – I no longer objectively like, at 157 words: […]

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A stylized portrait of Lord, a lilac-colored Scottish Fold with orange eyes who lived between 2010 and 2023.

Like The Last Words Of A House Cat (Lord’s Story)

After Lord had made his decision, he wished to see the world a little. One might as well, he thought. Ever since the arrival of Cookie, he felt agitated, if only with himself. Lord had never been a jealous cat, but watching King—his older brother—groom Cookie, and chase her, and beat her up, he suddenly missed the rough of King’s tongue. He missed the sound of Dad cleaning loosened hair. He missed how Mom would separate them, for he never took this as a punishment. After all, Lord loved to think, and right now, the season was pensive. Yes, summer was ongoing, but the longest day was long behind, and each sunrise felt a little colder. It would soon be Grandmother’s birthday. Had it really been that long? A cat uses up its days so quickly, though there is still so much to do. Lord understood he would not have time to start anything new, but why, he wondered, is everyone obsessed only with beginnings? His mind was of one project—one map—and he intended to complete it. […]

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A stylized shot from Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory", as Kirk Douglas and a general argue.

An Examination of Egos: Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” (1957)

Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre has often been labeled ‘cerebral’, wherein emotion remains not the primary objective. Feelings are there, of course, but to witness them one must remain patient because quite simply, unlike a lesser director, Kubrick is not going to instruct you on how you should feel. Rather, his films have been compared to a game of chess—intricate, meticulous, and deliberate, where the moves unfold the narrative slowly, as one scene leads into the next. Paths of Glory is the fourth film within Kubrick’s corpus, having directed The Killing only one year prior. As noted in my review of The Killing, this earlier film contains no fat and it succeeds because of the sharp narrative intricacy—one scene into the next, like a deliberate game of chess—all this, in addition to Sterling Hayden’s performance. Now, we’ve got Kirk Douglas who, within his first shot, made sure to have his shirt off. (Apparently, shirtlessness was a requirement in his film contract.)

Paths of Glory is set during World War I, in 1916, in a place where the Germans and French have been fighting, with both sides yielding bloodshed. However this is a film about egos, where one’s rank is all that matters, and intelligence, ideas, and inventiveness matter only insomuch as one’s hierarchy. (How often have you, reader, experienced something similar at a toxic workplace?) The area that centers on the battle is the Anthill, for which the men are ordered to attack, only with one problem—to do so is pretty much a suicide mission. Yet in the Generals’ minds, only the dead are brave. To be alive is akin to cowardice. ‘If they were brave, they would be at the bottom of the trenches,’ they claim. Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax who is opposed to the mission, but he begrudgingly follows orders, as he keeps his anger in check. And so what is in it for them? Well, a promotion. To summarize: […]