This campsite is definitely surrounded and I need to get out of here now.
Big Sur - 6/95
or just some movie
you once rented
on a Tuesday night?
Is it history
or just a lie
you once told
to cover your
tracks in an
Is it fact
or just something
you keep shouting
really, really LOUD
BECAUSE YOU NEED
IT TO BE TRUE!?
Is it love
or just guilt
dressed up in
its sunday best?
Is it a dream
or are you still waiting
to finally be able to sleep?
The rain stopped
the Santa Anna's
have blown in
clearing the sky,
leaving it crisp,
Why is it
the day after
the first storm
It seems every day another trailblazer of the power that was 20th Century art is leaving us behind. For those who are curious - and perhaps have never heard it - Max Roach's "Garvey's Ghost" is an incomparable and unsurpassed drum solo in the history of music. You can find it on the "Red Hot on Impulse" album available for download on I-Tunes.
I was fortunate enough to also see Roach play once while I was in school in Massachusetts and his power and daring, even in his seventies, was awing. Roach is not very heralded now by pop culture standards, but without him there would be no Funk, R and B and Hip Hop as we know it today. Dare I say John Bonham and others would not have been the drummers they were without him either. Roach was a giant step, fearless, opening up drumming the way Brando opened up acting. Simply put: There is before Max Roach, and there is after.
From the New York Times
Max Roach, a Founder of Modern Jazz, Dies at 83
By PETER KEEPNEWS
Published: August 16, 2007
Max Roach, a founder of modern jazz who rewrote the rules of drumming in the 1940’s and spent the rest of his career breaking musical barriers and defying listeners’ expectations, died early today in Manhattan. He was 83.
His death was announced today by a spokesman for Blue Note records, on which he frequently appeared. No cause was given. Mr. Roach had been known to be ill for several years.
As a young man, Mr. Roach, a percussion virtuoso capable of playing at the most brutal tempos with subtlety as well as power, was among a small circle of adventurous musicians who brought about wholesale changes in jazz. He remained adventurous to the end.
Over the years he challenged both his audiences and himself by working not just with standard jazz instrumentation, and not just in traditional jazz venues, but in a wide variety of contexts, some of them well beyond the confines of jazz as that word is generally understood.
He led a “double quartet” consisting of his working group of trumpet, saxophone, bass and drums plus a string quartet. He led an ensemble consisting entirely of percussionists. He dueted with uncompromising avant-gardists like the pianist Cecil Taylor and the saxophonist Anthony Braxton. He performed unaccompanied. He wrote music for plays by Sam Shepard and dance pieces by Alvin Ailey. He collaborated with video artists, gospel choirs and hip-hop performers.
Mr. Roach explained his philosophy to The New York Times in 1990: “You can’t write the same book twice. Though I’ve been in historic musical situations, I can’t go back and do that again. And though I run into artistic crises, they keep my life interesting.”
He found himself in historic situations from the beginning of his career. He was still in his teens when he played drums with the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, a pioneer of modern jazz, at a Harlem after-hours club in 1942. Within a few years, Mr. Roach was himself recognized as a pioneer in the development of the sophisticated new form of jazz that came to be known as bebop.
He was not the first drummer to play bebop — Kenny Clarke, 10 years his senior, is generally credited with that distinction — but he quickly established himself as both the most imaginative percussionist in modern jazz and the most influential.
In Mr. Roach’s hands, the drum kit became much more than a means of keeping time. He saw himself as a full-fledged member of the front line, not simply as a supporting player.
Layering rhythms on top of rhythms, he paid as much attention to a song’s melody as to its beat. He developed, as the jazz critic Burt Korall put it, “a highly responsive, contrapuntal style,” engaging his fellow musicians in an open-ended conversation while maintaining a rock-solid pulse. His approach “initially mystified and thoroughly challenged other drummers,” Mr. Korall wrote, but quickly earned the respect of his peers and established a new standard for the instrument.
Mr. Roach was an innovator in other ways. In the late 1950s, he led a group that was among the first in jazz to regularly perform pieces in waltz time and other unusual meters in addition to the conventional 4/4. In the early 1960s, he was among the first to use jazz to address racial and political issues, with works like the album-length “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.”
In 1972, he became one of the first jazz musicians to teach full time at the college level when he was hired as a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. And in 1988, he became the first jazz musician to receive a so-called genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
Maxwell Roach was born on Jan. 10, 1924, in the small town of New Land, N.C., and grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. He began studying piano at a neighborhood Baptist church when he was 8 and took up the drums a few years later.
Even before he graduated from Boys High School in 1942, savvy New York jazz musicians knew his name. As a teenager he worked briefly with Duke Ellington’s orchestra at the Paramount Theater and with Charlie Parker at Monroe’s Uptown House in Harlem, where he took part in jam sessions that helped lay the groundwork for bebop.
By the middle 1940’s, he had become a ubiquitous presence on the New York jazz scene, working in the 52nd Street nightclubs with Parker, the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and other leading modernists. Within a few years he had become equally ubiquitous on record, participating in such seminal recordings as Miles Davis’s “Birth of the Cool” sessions in 1949 and 1950.
He also found time to study composition at the Manhattan School of Music. He had planned to major in percussion, he later recalled in an interview, but changed his mind after a teacher told him his technique was incorrect. “The way he wanted me to play would have been fine if I’d been after a career in a symphony orchestra,” he said, “but it wouldn’t have worked on 52nd Street.”
Mr. Roach made the transition from sideman to leader in 1954, when he and the young trumpet virtuoso Clifford Brown formed a quintet. That group, which specialized in a muscular and stripped-down version of bebop that came to be called hard bop, took the jazz world by storm. But it was short-lived.
In June 1956, at the height of the Brown-Roach quintet’s success, Brown was killed in an automobile accident, along with Richie Powell, the group’s pianist, and Powell’s wife. The sudden loss of his friend and co-leader, Mr. Roach later recalled, plunged him into depression and heavy drinking from which it took him years to emerge.
The personnel of Mr. Roach’s working group changed frequently over the next decade, but the level of artistry and innovation remained high. His sidemen included such important musicians as the saxophonists Eric Dolphy, Stanley Turrentine and George Coleman and the trumpet players Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham and Booker Little. Few of his groups had a pianist, making for a distinctively open ensemble sound in which Mr. Roach’s drums were prominent.
Always among the most politically active of jazz musicians, Mr. Roach had helped the bassist Charles Mingus establish one of the first musician-run record companies, Debut, in 1952. Eight years later, the two organized a so-called rebel festival in Newport, R.I., to protest the Newport Jazz Festival’s treatment of performers. That same year, Mr. Roach collaborated with the lyricist Oscar Brown Jr. on “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite,” which played variations on the theme of black people’s struggle for equality in the United States and Africa.
The album, which featured vocals by Abbey Lincoln (Mr. Roach’s frequent collaborator and, from 1962 to 1970, his wife), received mixed reviews: many critics praised its ambition, but some attacked it as overly polemical. Mr. Roach was undeterred.
“I will never again play anything that does not have social significance,” he told Down Beat magazine after the album’s release. “We American jazz musicians of African descent have proved beyond all doubt that we’re master musicians of our instruments. Now what we have to do is employ our skill to tell the dramatic story of our people and what we’ve been through.”
“We Insist!” was not a commercial success, but it emboldened Mr. Roach to broaden his scope as a composer. Soon he was collaborating with choreographers, filmmakers and Off Broadway playwrights on projects, including a stage version of “We Insist!”
As his range of activities expanded, his career as a bandleader became less of a priority. At the same time, the market for his uncompromising brand of small-group jazz began to diminish. By the time he joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts in 1972, teaching had come to seem an increasingly attractive alternative to the demands of the musician’s life.
Joining the academy did not mean turning his back entirely on performing. In the early ‘70s, Mr. Roach joined with seven fellow drummers to form M’Boom, an ensemble that achieved tonal and coloristic variety through the use of xylophones, chimes, steel drums and other percussion instruments. Later in the decade he formed a new quartet, two of whose members — the saxophonist Odean Pope and the trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater — would perform and record with him off and on for more than two decades.
He also participated in a number of unusual experiments. He appeared in concert in 1983 with a rapper, two disc jockeys and a team of break dancers. A year later, he composed music for an Off Broadway production of three Sam Shepard plays, for which he won an Obie Award. In 1985, he took part in a multimedia collaboration with the video artist Kit Fitzgerald and the stage director George Ferencz.
Perhaps his most ambitious experiment in those years was the Max Roach Double Quartet, a combination of his quartet and the Uptown String Quartet. Jazz musicians had performed with string accompaniment before, but rarely if ever in a setting like this, where the string players were an equal part of the ensemble and were given the opportunity to improvise. Reviewing a Double Quartet album in The Times in 1985, Robert Palmer wrote, “For the first time in the history of jazz recording, strings swing as persuasively as any saxophonist or drummer.”
This endeavor had personal as well as musical significance for Mr. Roach: the Uptown String Quartet’s founder and viola player was his daughter Maxine. She survives him, as do two other daughters, Ayo and Dara, and two sons, Raoul and Darryl.
By the early ‘90s, Mr. Roach had reduced his teaching load and was again based in New York year-round, traveling to Amherst only for two residencies and a summer program each year. He was still touring with his quartet as recently as 2000, and he also remained active as a composer. In 2002 he wrote and performed the music for “How to Draw a Bunny,” a documentary about the artist Ray Johnson.
will ever again
it once was
with the secrets
of the universe
into your pants.
Broken into frame.
Constructed centuries and generations,
at first it was an innocent game.
The sculptor had his assistants
strike the plaster from the cast
and set what remained
atop the city's steps.
Now you believe
you could be anyone
because you are no one
the same time.
Korea Town, Los Angeles - 5/23/05
I'd like to write a little more about this, the actual process of writing, the day to dayness of it when you're really in it, as I haven't seen too much written about it, but perhaps I haven't searched hard enough. I'm not talking about the bending of words to meet your needs, visions, ideas, but what you do in the between time, when you're not quite ready to write or rewrite, but you're not ready to shut out the light and turn on the teley.
I think one of the things that I'd most like to write about is the actual transitioning out of the writing mind set, especially after the longer stretches I've been running lately. I guess I'd call it the "come down..." This is so very difficult for me, always has been. It seems that hours after I "retire" my mind's still blowing at about one hundred fifty miles an hour, continuing to run its race. I'm seeing possibilies, opportunities, things I missed, sections to switch around, sections that can be cut...And, of course, all this thinking burns you for the next day's work.
I know others go through this, and I'd be interested to know how people "transition" out of their own writing/creative mind and back into the world. Me, I haven't figured it out yet (obviously.) Dare I say this is why a teacher once told me that the greatest occupational hazard for a writer was alcohol, and no, that's not a cliche? Have there ever been any studies done on this phenomenon of the come down. I've read where the Greeks referred to it as a tunnel, and it seems the farther in you go, the harder it is to come out.
Just some thoughts and a reminder that I'd like to write more about this transitioning between regular life and so-called creative life...Is there really a division? Does there need to be?
guess if I want the dishes done and the bills paid...
Arguably the greatest "unknown" Jazz trumpeter who ever lived, I was deeply saddened to hear this news. Saw him play once when I was seventeen at two a.m. in Philadelphia's Ortlieb's Jazz Haus...He was obviously suffering from years of horrible addiction, but for the few people who were there, he was unforgettable.
Thomas "Tangier" James, Jazz Trumpeter, Dies At 66
By Damon Gryka
Published: August 7, 2007
Thomas "Tangier" James, known as a "the trumpeter's trumpeter," passed away yesterday at his home. Mr. James, 66, had been suffering for sometime with heart trouble, his wife said.
A bridge between the be-bop tradition of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, and the World Music influences that emerged in the late 1960's and 70's, Mr. James, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recorded with Jazz luminaries such as Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and Hugh Masakela, as well as James Brown. He is widely regarded as one of the last great trumpeters of his era.
Said music critic Nat Hentoff in 1989, "Although little known outside of jazz circles for most of his career, his major achievement is that he opened up music to a whole new generation, he fearlessly took his influences from his travels and created an unmistakably unique sound."
Thomas Nelson James was born in Philadelphia in 1941 to Etta and Reverand Thomas James Sr. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer he remembered, "I was a troublemaker, typical preacher's son, no direction, just another kid destined to be a dime store hustler on the streets. Then, one day after my father kicked me out of my house for Lord knows what, I saw a trumpet in a hock shop in my neighborhood. I don't know what it was, but I had to have it. I went home that afternoon, cleaned up my act and started working after school to buy it. Six months later I did, and the first time I put the horn to my lips, that was it, I was done."
In 1962, he attended and dropped out of The University of Pennsylavania after less than a year. "Nothing against them, but they try to can you up, stick you in a box and ship you out. It just wasn't for me," is all he ever said of his music education.
Mr. James travelled extensively through Europe, the Middle East and Africa throughout his life picking up musical influences almost everywhere he went. His nickname "Tangier" was given to him because when asked where he had dissappeared to, it was said he almost always replied, "Tangiers." Ironically this was one of the few places James never made it to.
Mr. James, who never led a band of his own, began his career with the late pianist Bobby Timmons. The two artists' midnight shows at Philadelphia's Ortlieb's Jazz House, just before Timmons death from alcoholism, have become legend within the jazz world, the two sometimes playing for five straight hours with no break. There is no known recording of these shows, a fact which has only added to the myth of them. Said James in 2002, "I don't know if they were all they were made out to be. I was so young and Bobby, he was so free. He was just doing what he was born to do, and I followed his lead."
But nothing would effect Mr. James' music as much as his friendship with the cult sculptor and multi-media artist, Elias Myers. Mr. James once said of Mr. Myers, "When I saw his work for the first time a whole new world opened up to me musically. Maybe it was the fact we were working in two different mediums and there was that distance between us. There was no competition. He (Myers) could get more feeling in a piece of plaster than most people could get in a football field. I wanted to play music like he sculpted, every note a life and a death by any means necessary, and that's what I always tried to do."
But by 1985 James had largely disappeared from the music scene and many believed him to be dead. After battling addiction for nearly two decades, Mr. James re-emerged to live what has been called a triumphant re-birth over the last three years. His music has been sampled by many hip hop artists including Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan, and Kanye West. In 1995, in one of his last interviews, Tupac Shakur acclaimed the rhythms of Mr. James trumpeting as a direct influence on his vocal style.
Mr. James last concert was recorded this past Spring over three nights in Brussels at Jacques Pelzer's Jazz Club with Andre Vida, Ravi Coltrane, and J.D. Parran who said of James, "I wouldn't be the musician I am today if I hadn't heard his recordings as a young man. (James) lived to have his redemption and he cherished every minute of it. He'll be missed as much for the person he was as his mastery of the music he gave his life to."
Mr. James commented last year, "The explosion of digital music rescued me from the void and introduced me to a whole new generation. Without it, I don't know where I'd be, certainly not here. I have many, many regrets, but what's happening to me now, I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Mr. James is survived by his wife, Joan Farber, and his five year old son, Elias. A private memorial will be held at James' home in Philadelphia on Sunday.
To love is to be led away
into a forest where the secret grave
is dug, singing, praising darkness
under the trees.
To live is to sign your name,
is to ignore the dead,
is to carry a wallet
and shake hands.
To love is to be a fish.
My boat wallows in the sea.
You who are free,
rescue the dead.
"Rescue The Dead" - David Ignatow
Timothy Leary: Did you take the LSD I gave you?
Melodious: Yeah, man, I took it last night.
Timothy Leary: And how did you like it?
Melodious cleans his fingernails. Without looking up...
Melodious: You got anything stronger?
From Fishbowl L.A.
Tuesday, Aug 07
NY Post Will Correct Theresa Duncan Story
The New York Post will be running a correction to their Theresa Duncan/Jeremy Blake story by Cathy Burke, after she gets done figuring out which quotes came from where. The LA Weekly got credit for quotes from the Washington Post,and so on and so forth.
FBLA wonder why Google doesn't have a quotes feature? So much easier.
NY Post on Theresa Duncan/Jeremy Blake
Posted by Kate | 10:41 AM | Newspapers
Then, in what I'm assuming was later in the day, she posts this letter to (http://modernkicks.typepad.com/modern_kicks/2007/08/follow-up-there.html to the blogger) for misinterpreting her article in the Weekly.
"It's a bit harsh to say Theresa Duncan lied--she did write some wonderful things that could have been or should have been true. I think she knew that fiddling around with her resume and age--rude facts--would bite her in the butt."
That's great, Kate. And nobody else has ever fiddled with the "rude facts" of their resume and age before. Funny thing is, as far as I can tell, the only reason it's coming back to "bite her in the butt" is because you decided to smear it all over the internet for the world to see after she was dead.
Kate goes on:
"But she did admire the poetic and the theatrical, and I think, at least at first, she wrote about the wonders in the world, not the horrors."
Glad you think so after you stabbed her corpse in the back. How would she write about that? But it's okay, you knew her (kind of? maybe a little? met her and old Jer once...or twice?) What does "know her" mean, anyway?
Kate goes on some more:
"I didn't hear much about the stalking and the conspiracies from her, and until I started on the story, I really didn't know how much was true and how much was embellished. Quite a bit was embellished, but she was a very good writer. Her blog inspired many people."
What an underhanded, passive/aggressive pile of shit.
I was going to let this thing go, but wow, Kate, wow! You are some piece of work.
So tell us, Kate, what exactly is your vendetta against this dead woman, and how exactly do you sleep at night? If there's any justice in the universe, Ms. Duncan is haunting your dreams.
RE: "The Theresa Duncan Tragedy"
Dear Kate, et. al.,
Like many I've been following the tragic story of the double suicide of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake since the news broke of her death, and then, just as tragically, his own just ten days later. One reads their story with deep regret for two people who were obviously extraordinarily talented - Blake through his breathtaking visual art and Duncan through her witty, acerbic and intuitive writing, especially on her blog, The Wit of The Staircase (http://theresalduncan.typepad.com/).
Admittedly, it's hard not to become a complete voyeur when news like this breaks. "How could two such incredibly gifted people who seemed to have it all cut short their lives like this?" is only one of the many questions one asks. Of course we search for clues and want answers, lets' face it, more for ourselves and our momentary entertainment then for them.
But after reading your article of 8/1/07 (http://www.laweekly.com/news/news/the-theresa-duncan-tragedy/16942/?page=1) I must ask you, Ms. Coe, at what point does public interest go over the edge into a very public character assassination after the fact?
I don't know that I believe in the concept of bad taste or moral high ground, but really, I wish you'd let the two have their peace and not follow up this article with even more personal details about their relationship and/or supposed mental health issues that the world does not need to know now that they are gone.
What did we learn from your article exactly? That like most highly creative people they were both sensitive, troubled and disappointed in their own unique ways; that she didn't always tell the autobiographical truth, but tended to mythologize herself (she lied about her age, my God!) that she could be difficult to work with, that he loved her deeply and may have entertained any delusions she might have held rather than shot them down point blank...
Yeah, and, so...?
What are all these sordid personal details adding to their tale, and what about their families who are having to endure their tragic deaths and, at the same time, have to read this unsubstantiated hearsay smeared across media web sites all over the world that link to you?
Let's call a spade a spade here: your article is sensationalism of the worst kind because it's dressed up in the worst pretension known as "cultural importance," not to mention the fact neither of them is around to defend themselves against many of the accusations from the people quoted in your article who seem to have their own motives for telling "the truth" about the two of them now that they're dead.
Ms. Coe, I can only hope somebody waits until you're at your most vulnerable to interview your rivals and enemies, quotes them vigorously on every flawed detail of who you are while they simultaneously go digging through your closet so the world can see what gets pulled out.
I just hope they do it while you're alive so you can suffer the indignity in real time, and not in the afterlife.
With All Best Wishes,
Blow Up? Confusing, but the women were beautiful and David Hemmings sure seemed to be having a good time for a guy who was growing more paranoid by the minute.
La'Ventura, loved the clothes - and I'm a sucker for black and white, sunglasses and smooth hair - but how could these people be so unfeeling and narcissistic to simply not care that their "friend" had virtually disappeared without a trace?
The Passenger, what an idea. A spiritually dead international reporter fakes his own death, takes on the identity of a dead man in his hotel room, and later finds out he's become an arms dealer. Jack Nicholson is the coolest thing on two legs and he's got Maria Schneider along for the ride...But it seems to go nowhere.
Much later, I saw "The Eclipse." Fascinating images, slightly boring, Alain Delon and Monica Vitti, what a couple. But again, what the Hell was going on? A series of events that rang flat and uninteresting. This was only a few years ago when I saw The Eclipse for the first time, so I can't blame my non-response to total mental immaturity. But that was it for me. Antonioni...whatever.
And then I ran into Martin Scorcese's "Two Voyages To Italy." At some point he covered Antonioni, and in particular, the ending of Eclipse, that, because of him, has become one of my favorite endings of any work of narrative, along with Fanny and Alexander, I have ever seen or read. I'd also include Tim O'Brian's "The Things They Carried," and Hemingways's "The Sun Also Rises" in that list.
Just some context for the ending of Eclipse: throughout the film we follow the affair between Delon (a stock trader,) and Vitti (who knows what she does?) Their relationship turns the whole concept of Hollywood coupling on its head. Their's is a cold and unfeeling meeting. We long for hot steamy passion, they're so fucking beautiful, like the Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie of their time, but we never get it. There's some stuff about Vitti breaking up with her ex-fiance reminscent of Godard's apartment scene in "Contempt," the Italian stock market crashing and Vitti's mother losing a boat load of money, Vitti's ennui at the impossibility of connection (there's an unbelievable scene of her and her two girlfriends playing in her apartment, pretending to be African tribesman, and then Vitti lamenting that when she makes love with a man, most of the time, she feels nothing. The friend I was with, a woman, at hearing this monologue suddenly blurted out, "How does he ((Antonioni)) know so much about women?!)
And, finally, the affair ends, "not with a bang but a whimper." We are left for almost, what(?) ten minutes with shots of landscape, empty of life, stolid, cold and rigid. Beautifully composed yes, but somehow drained of beauty.
And that's it. Fade out. The End.
Then, by pure accident, about a year later, I watched Scorcese analyze the film, and, without him, I don't think I would have understood anything nor ever gone back; this man would have made a great teacher. As he explains, in paraphrase, these shots are of all the places that Vitti and Delon visited, went to, shared together. Now these places are devoid of them and they will never return. They are simply spaces, perhaps a map of the past should they ever choose to look, but lifeless and dead without them. And they will never look. And so those spaces are simply, spaces, beautifully voided; they know no history nor will anyone else, ever.
Take Los Angeles. In spots, especially at night, it is reminiscent of Antonioni's landscapes in its sheer alien emptiness...An urban desert of its own, if you will. On top of that, with the real estate boom, rising rents, etc., over the last eighteen months I've seen so many places closed down, changed, boarded up and demolished. Places that I used to go to with some of the people I've been involved with, whether it was years or days, whether these were fulfilling affairs or not.
But you look around and you see these places, the places you used to go to, and now they are different, changed, gone for forever. For the places that do survive, have you ever tried to go back to these spaces you once loved with someone that you are involved with in the present? It's never worked. It's like trying to re-capture a magic that could only exist once, or, worse, an attempt at re-writing history. To me those places are haunted, never to be the same for the chemistry between you, that one you first shared and discovered that space with and that particular time in your life, created the specific and uncopyable energy of that space in your memory. For me that cannot ever be recreated, and the space cannot ever be resurrected into another no matter what I try.
This is a very specific human emotion we've all experienced or will experience, I think. These haunted feelings in a space of the past, the true ghosts of our lives. Antonioni identifies this quiet longing for the past in space, and, through his poetic gifts, somehow captures this emotion. Perhaps it is age and a little experience (another word for our losses great and small) but gone from his work is the unrelatable and austere landscape and emotion that was inaccessible to me. Now his images are filled with meaning: longing, loss, and passion never to be fully claimed or owned but for a moment in the kaleidoscopic tapestry that is memory. A memory that, as it inevitably grows longer and longer, seems to fade away more and more except in dreams.
And so, because of Scorcese, the door opened into Antononioni's work, and I see more and more truth in it as I get older. This quiet surrender to loneliness in so many of the people he captures; there are the ones who have fought against the loneliness, and the ones who never fought, but they all seem to end in the same psychological/emotional place. A specific type of human being, yes, but one I see all the time...sometimes in the mirror.
Find his work cold, look closely, Antonioni is one of the geatest chroniclers of what it is to be alive, try to connect and fail, we've ever had. The "coldness" in his work is is simply the denial of sentimentality in his observations of our illusions and loneliness. His poetry is the truth his denial of this sentimentality allows for.
His work is by no means pretty in the conventional sense; fashionably existential, perhaps, but pretty, no.
His work is an autopsy of being human in our age, and quietly bloody in its precision. Like the great poets, Antonioni was a surgeon of the soul on his own terms, with his own language.
Let me come between the sirens,
between the clouds,
between the earth and the moon.
Let me come to you between
the bodies of
your lover and you.
Let me come to you
between your lonelininess
and your sleep.
Let me come to you between
and your forget.
Let me come to you between
your dreams of what was
and your regrets
what should have been...
your chains and your skin,
your desire and your sin,
don't be afraid
Trust me one last time,
even if this is the
of your faith.
Let me come to you
wherever you are
in this endlessly
the only thing
we ever had
to call ours.
Let me come to you
one last time,
I'll be done with this
I've read a lot about these two over the last couple days, a lot of recollections, synopses, surveys, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc...And, well, they've been interesting, and have said mostly nothing that I can relate to on any personal level. They use words like "trailblazer, " "personal," and "art film," but mostly, I don't know, it's all heartfelt and most of it could probably be said about any of the masters of that era. I don't want to be unduly harsh as I'm still trying to get my head around their deaths, but I can only say that for those who don't like either/or, one or the both, it took me a long, long time to fall in love with both, only in the last couple of years, but when I did I knew it was forever.
I didn't "get" Bergman until about seven years ago. I had tried to watch some of his films like Persona and could never be patient enough to sit through it...Like a lot of people who have and continue to shit on Bergman's work, I found it pretentious, boring even torturous. The only reason I kept trying is because some filmmakers I liked sang his praises. I was ready to all but write him off when back in the winter of 2000 Sherman Torgan decided to show "Fanny and Alexander" over two nights at the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles. Fanny and Alexander, what was that? I had never even heard of it? "What the Hell?" I figured I'd give Bergman one more try and if I couldn't stand it I'd walk out and never look back at the guy again, write him off as another critical fraud.
And then I was sitting in that run down, half empty theatre with a couple of friends, the lights went dark, I heard those first notes of Schumann's mournful violin, and the film faded in on young Alexander Ekdahl as he moved through his empty house, calling for his family who were not there, and, perhaps, never really would be.
Was this a dream? Was it reality? As I continued to experience the film unfolding, instead of this question of reality vs. dreams being answered, it was only amplified and reinforced up until the last sliver of the movie, where Alexander's grandmother reads from the introduction of Strindberg's "Dream Play," for the last time calling into question all we have seen and felt, and yet making the work even more heartfelt in the questioning, for isn't this the eternal question of life?
"Merrily, merrily, merrily - Life is but a dream..."
Has there ever been a better ending to a film that wasn't "clever?"
That was it. It was over for me. I looked at my friends and I don't know...I was awe struck, even if to them it was just another film: Mostly okay, long, some of the characters, especially the reverand, too much...But me, I was so enraptured and related so fully to Alexander's imagination that I returned the next night to sit through the 3 plus hours again just to make sure I hadn't fooled myself. I was, of course, even more enthralled. After that night I crawled back over Bergman's work as best I could, slowly trying to see every one of his films I could get my hands on, and even more slowly trying to understand all that I missed. This was before DVD so a lot of the films were very poor pan and scans I was watching on a twelve inch TV, but when I turned out the lights the mystery and the magic endured the circumstances of my poverty.
Somewhere along the way I became convinced that films were art and that I wanted to be a part of it. (I'm still trying to figure out if this was the right decisions or if I really did arrive too late for the party.)
So what was the the essence of life distilled into Bergman's films? All of this has been well gone over by the critics over the years: blood, sugar, sex, magic (as the Red Hot Chili Peppars once so aptly put it,) not to mention loyalty, betrayal, adultery, death, love, intimacy and everything else a human being can experience. All of it there. All of it sculpted out and so specific in the small world he created. All of it waiting to be discovered again and again.
Memory: While their father is dying Fanny and Alexander are in the kitchen with one of the old maids. She is writing a letter to her friend in China, reciting it out loud while the other maid is not listening, caught up in her own world. Finally, the old maid finishes writing the letter, slips it into it's envelope and hands it to Fanny. Fanny proceeds to lick the ends of the envelope and hands it back to the maid who seals it. I swear I've had this same moment with my own grandmother. Just that small nothing moment so carefully observed, so real, so true...Only someone who knows can create a detail like that.
Then, in 2005 The Los Angeles County Museum of Art had a Begman festival. Every Friday and Saturday night for a month they showed Bergman's films from the Late 1950's to 1960's...To see films like Shame, Persona, The Magician on that beautiful screen in all their glory...The one that really did me in was The Virgin Spring. The Virgin Spring. God, The Virgin Spring. A film Bergman later renounced for it's ending, he believed it was false, the smallest redemption offering too much light. But to me a masterpiece of acting, writing...humanity. I wept at the end. Speechless. No other film, let alone work of art has ever done to me what that dark little film did to me. Smiles of a Summer Night? I laughed as hard at this film as I did at Caddy Shack it was so funny and true. Shame? One of the best war films I've ever seen? Persona...I have never, ever seen anything like it in my life, and yet, we all feel we've lived those moment, been the one who refuses to speak as well as the one who cannot stop speaking...
And, like a gift, these films came to me at a particularly poignant time of my life, a time where I was wounded and open, suffering a destruction of my own making in the sense that I felt I was living my own Bergman tragedy, all be it without the subtitles, but with just as beautiful and passionate a woman as any found in his films. Those films were terrible and comforting, I don't know how both at the same time, but that is magic.
I could dive into the culture war, modernism vs. post...But it all seems silly to me. One either believes art can be redemptive to the spirit or one doesn't. Call me a modernist, a sentimentalist, call me any ist you want, but I believe there is a spirit and the greatest art of any era simultaneously proves it and continues to redeem it, if you're open to such an experience.
Bergman was a magician. It's the only word. A magician of humanity.
I'll try to write more about Antonioni in the next couple days...But for now I'll leave it with this:
Ingmar Bergman, thank you, thank you, thank you...Forever.