Saturday, August 20, 2011

August 20

Watched another movie by Ermanno Olmi, this one called Il Posto (the job, the position).  I don't know if it's that I've learned a little now how to watch his films, or if I was just in a more receptive mood, of if it was just a better movie, but this one, unlike my last, really worked for me.  Like a lot of semi-socialist working class art (the Realist novel, e.g.) Olmi's films are very much concerned with work--with what we do at our jobs.  Il Posto is the story of a youngish man who applies for and ultimately gets a job working at a fairly vast sprawling company somewhere in Milan.  (The factory and offices I learn later are based on Italy's Edison Corp, where Olmi himself worked until he was 33).  Like i fidanzati, the story is fairly minimal.  He takes the test to work at the corporation; he walks around Milan with a girl he has a crush on; he gets the job and goes to work; he tries to reconnect with the girl; he settles into the job.  That's it.  And yet the attention to detail, the versimilitude, the quiet beauty of so much of the action, elevates it into something mysterious and almost holy.  At times it reminded me of Daumier.  At times it reminded me of De Sico.  But mostly it was like nothing else I'd seen.  Highly recommended.

Addendum: in the interview with Olmi that came on the DVD, he specifically denied that his work belonged to the tradition of Italian Neorealism.  The Neorealists, he said, used outdoor locations and a documentary feel, but their main characters were always portrayed by professional actors.  Olmi on the other hand, used everyday people in making his films.  No actors.  Therefore, he claims, while he was influenced by Neorealism, he was not, himself, a part of that school.  For whatever that's worth.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August 17

Haven't watched any movies in a while, or read much.  Without input there is no output.  So I had a return to ANCIANT movie day, and watched an Italian film called I fidanzati ("The Fiancees" or "The Affianced").  Directed by Ermanno Olmi (whose work I don't know at all), the movie had very minimal story (at least in the sense of 'dramatic conflict that leads to self-realization.')  It's about an industrial worker of some sort living in Milan who's transferred to Sicily for a few months.  The literal and cultural distance between Milan and Sicily leads to tension between the man and his fiancee (who has not gone with him).  The movie is essentially a series of Neorealist-tinged vignettes about life in backwards, peasant-dominated Sicily.  The man goes to a festival, deals with a landlord, works in his factory--basically goes about day to day life.  Nothing much happens, but by the end of the film when the man returns to Milan he and his fiancee have reconnected emotionally.  Their distance and uncertainty has turned into true love, and we sense that their-long prolonged wedding will soon take place.

Like a lot of Neorealist cinema, the movie veered a bit too close to documentary to thrill me very deeply.  It was pleasant and unthreatening and undemanding, but I don't know if it did that much for me one way or another--other than making me want to go to Sicily (which is striking and beautiful, in a harsh, spare way).

After the movie, I worked--from about 3 to 10.  Trying to make the play shine and sparkle.  Right now it's a car with a strong powerful engine but with holes in the floorboard and without a working turn signal, brake light, stereo, et. al.  It'll go--even go fast, I think--but the ride isn't going to be too pleasant for whoever's inside.  So I have to get some nice fabric on the dash and figure out how to make the seats comfortable and attend to a thousand uninspiring details that make the difference between bad and good and great.  Then, we take it to the Dakar Rally, and whup up on people.

All right.  Off to go walking.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

August 14

Terrible weak of recurring medical stuff (reactive hypoglycemia flaring back up) leading to muddle-headedness and depression.  After making some diet adjustments (more slow carbs, especially in morning, careful rations of coffee) I think I've got thing back under control.  Hard to perfectly control my blood sugar and still maintain a weight loss diet, however, though I think I'm getting back to it.  Probably what messed things all up was the weekend in Vegas.  No exercise, lots of fatty foods, not enough sleep.

Also very hard to get back into writing groove.  Think that as of today I'm almost there.  Before I left I was working twelve hours a day and had no problem getting down to work every morning.  Now I find myself wanting to go check the internet every hour.  The work I have done has been all right, but I haven't done enough of it.  My hope is to have a rewrite done in a few weeks.  At which point, we'll see.

On top of all this, Bink has decided that he needs to get up every night at 3 AM and howl for a while.  Maybe he thinks the Redcoats are coming? I  don't know.  We've been experimenting with letting him roam around the house at night (instead of penning him up in the kitchen).  It seems not to be working.  The problem seems to be the neighborhood cats.  They wander through our yard in the early morning and Bink feels the need to protest.  The cats, of course, are unbothered.  Not so his owners.   The kitchen-penning must return, I fear.

Finished a very mediocre Balzac novel before going to Vegas (The Black Sheep).  Now reading Herodotus, though not intently.  Listening to Wodehouse's ultimate Jeeves and Wooster novel (Aunts Aren't Gentlemen.)  Not his best by any means--most of the plot and characters feel much-recycled--but still not without its joys.

Two great TV shows to recommend: Workaholics, on Comedy Central, and Louie, on FX.  Everyone knows about the latter, I think, but I'll add my voice to the chorus of those calling it the best show on TV.  (The recent episode featuring Dane Cook turned out to be one of the most unexpectedly fascinating and--somehow--moving 30 minutes of TV I've seen in a while.  A close second was the less recent one with Joan Rivers).  Workaholics is a lighter, sillier show but still well worth watching.  It's twenty-something guy humor, which is not a genre everybody necessarily warms to.  (My wife, e.g., tends to hate it).  But, for my money, it's about as good a representation of that kind of humor as I've seen in years.  The actor's timing is especially noteworthy.

Terrible dreams last night in which my brother and a long-ago girlfriend conspired to keep me from attending my brother's wedding (to his current wife) and rehearsal dinner.  I ended up crashing the latter, to the dismay of my entire family.  Now all day I've felt this strong urge to apologize to various people for ruining an event that didn't happen.  Hmm.

Friday, August 12, 2011

August 12: Republican Debates

Ezra Klein's article in today's Washington Post opens as follows:

The most telling moment of Thursday’s GOP debate wasn’t when Michele Bachmann cooly stuck a knife between Tim Pawlenty’s ribs, or when Rick Santorum plaintively begged for more airtime, or when Mitt Romney easily slipped past questions about his record on health-care reform. It was when every single GOP candidate on the stage agreed that they would reject a budget deal that was $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Even Fox News’s Bret Baier couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. He asked again just to make sure the assembled candidates had understood the question.
That says it all for me.  This is why I cannot seriously consider the Republicans as candidates.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 10

Every one of these articles is funny.  They'll appeal especially to my D&D/Computer Gaming Friends and fans of "Comic Book Guy" from The Simpsons.  

Sample excerpt (from "Don't Come Crying to Me When You Need Someone Who Speaks Elvish")
No, it is not easy, but you had already made some inroads. You recognized the essential difference between the Cirth "runes" of Balin's tomb and the Tengwar "letters" corrupted by Sauron upon the One Ring–so basic and fundamental a difference that many students overlook it, to their later dismay. And, although I feel the high-elven dialect of Quenya would have given you trouble and Valarin, the tongue of the Valar, would likely forever elude your grasp, I thought you certainly capable of one day becoming conversant–if not fluent–in Sindarin. But it was not to be, for you, like Radagast The Brown, have chosen the path of blissful ignorance. In so doing, you turn your back on the riches of the world. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August 9

We got back from Vegas about 3 pm yesterday afternoon.  Helicoptors swarmed above the freeway.  One of the exits near to our house was entirely blocked off.  We swung by the kennel and picked up the Monster (dirty, tired, and smelly) and took Sepulveda back over the hill.  Police had cordoned off a neighborhood en route (Sherman Oaks).  Turns out this was what the helicoptors were doing.  My first guess was it was some kind of car chase.  (They happen here with distressing regularity).  We found out later that there'd been an armed robbery at a hair extension factory (!!) in our neighborhood.  The thieves had broken in, taken 20K in high-end hair extensions, and then abandoned their van in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  The police were trying to find them.

Then, we get home. I check my iphone.  The stock market has gone down almost 700 points.  The city of London is in flames.  Waist-high weeds fill our front and back yard.  (Our yardman is out of town).  After dinner, I start to feel cloudy-headed and dizzy.  My hypoglycemia, it seems, has returned.

It is not, in other words, good to be back.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First Draft Done! Going To Vegas

The first draft of my play--the play I've been wrangling with for almost two years now--is done.  It's rough and raggedy and definitely needs a rewrite.  Said rewrite will start on Monday, when the wife and I return from a weekend in Vegas and some much-earned vacation.  Hopefully that rewrite will take no more than about a month, after while time I'll...what?  Send it out into the world to struggle and (one hopes) prosper.  Of course what 'sending it out to the world' actually entails, or how I will do that, or how I SHOULD do that...I have no idea.  But, that's a problem for another day.

I have a lot to say about that.  The play was basically scrapped in its entirety on July 3rd (a very important date for me).  I then rewrote it almost from scratch.  The scrapping and rewrite were the result of what seems to me still to be maybe the most crucial insight or discovery about how to structure long narratives that I've ever had.  In a way I feel as if I've unlocked the secret, although I now that feeling is at least in part illusory.  Still, it's been a big month.  I've understood something for the first time and I think it will help a huge amount going forward.

Also, totally unrelated as this is: I've decided that not only will I be voting for Obama next year but that I may actually give money to the Democratic Party.  The Republican shenanigans with the debt ceiling last month, on top of the increasingly persuasive proof that our current deficit is as much the fault of George W as anyone else (J Chait in the New Republic has a good piece on this right now) combined with the fact that somehow Sarah Palin remains someone who's embraced by a sizable minority (at least) of the Republican Party... it's all too much for me.  Obama hasn't been perfect, and the Democrats irk me in non-trivial ways.  But, it doesn't matter.  I'm done with them.  They showed their true colors this summer I think and I for one did not like what I saw.  (I suppose that opinion could change if the Republicans manage to nominate a moderate like Huntsman.  But, they never will.)

Okay.  Off to Vegas.  Posting to resume (I hope) next week.