Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Bergman's whisper

I saw Ingmar Bergman's masterful and wrenching film Cries and Whispers (1972) first in the mid-seventies during my college years at SUNY/Buffalo, and again in 1995 as part of the (NYC) Lincoln Center/Walter Reade Theater comprehensive Bergman restrospective. It's curious what I hold in memory. I have retained a rudimentary sense of the story, that a dying woman in a large house is tended to by her sisters--and that she does die. I recall, as perhaps everyone does who has seen the film, the shocking sequence wherein one of the sisters breaks a glass at the dinner table, takes a shard away with her, intimately mutiliates herself offscreen, and presents herself to her husband. But what is most probably unusual is that I retain the opening minutes of the film, an extended sequence of the ticking and the individual visual features and especially the swinging pendulums of the many old-style clocks that populate the house. And also the final, or is it close to final, image of the movie, three women on a long swing seat, something like a sofa, rocking forward and backward.

I am ashamed that I did not remember that the film has a "striking color palette made almost exclusively from shades of red, black and white", as Marco Lanzagorta reports in his essay on the film, which can be found at www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/cteq/03/25/cries_and_whispers. I wish I had remembered more of the story, as Lanzagorta refreshes my memory of it, including the fact that the dying woman (Agnes) is "young" and "virginal" ; that she is cared for by her "faithful and reliable" maid (Anna) as well as by two sisters (Maria and Karin); that both Maria and Karin have unhappy marriages (Karin breaks the glass); and that a Chaplain delivers an "unusual prayer" that "confesses his own lack of faith".

But the sound and sight of the ticking clocks was so vivid I could never forget them (I mean, of course, that I cannot forget being struck by the sequence, and I retain vague whisps of the ocular and aural experience). And I recall my elation at seeing the three women on the swing seat at the end (and something of what this looked like). For the women were in tune with each other, quietly joyful in the moment's association, and so their rocking is a vibrancy that acts against the losses Time brings, imaged in the film's first moments--the swinging of the pendulums.

I do not even remember if the three women at the end are the maid Anna and the two sisters, brought very close by their season of care-taking; or else all three sisters, including the now-dead Agnes, in a flashback relating a quietly perfect moment.

But I thought someone might like the main thing I noticed.

Labels: ,


complicated smiles

I'm unguarded and uninhibited in my response to works of arts--at a concert, or art museum, or literary reading, you might well see me beaming, smiling, tensing up. But on occasion you might see a look of delight on my face that would be somewhat deceiving. For sometimes I find myself smiling fairly broadly at a Work's inventiveness and vibrancy at the same time that I feel rather distanced (alienated) from that work--as I tell myself that I could, or that I would much rather, live without experiencing this artist's work (or a particular subset of the artist's work, this sort of thing) any time soon.

Last week I went to the "Klee & America" show (now closed) at the Neue Galerie in NYC, and was surprised not to be particularly enthused (I felt rather differently at the previous Klee exhibit I had gone to, I think in the 80s). Probably no one who observed me had an inkling of my dismay. For it would be noticed that my gaze was intent, that I was spending a fairly long time with each painting or drawing, and that I was trying not to skip very many of them (my slow progress through museums has become maybe too habitual). And that I was breaking out into smiles every once in while. I seemed interested enough that a woman, evidently an artist, alongside me looking at a drawing, exclaimed to me that she finally understood how he did it, got that ragged line in such works, something about sending his drawing through a press--she went on at some length about it.

But is enthusiasm for Klee forever lost to me? I can't even fathom what the problem is. Something about him being so so European? (The show was about American enthusiasm for Klee's art, but it was indicated that he had very little interest in us)--one sign is that he never visited).

Recent and no problem, just terrific: the David Smith sculpture show at the Guggenheim, Munch at MoMA, Agnes Martin paintings at a midtown gallery.

Labels: ,

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Creeley's "Token"

Critic Leslie Fiedler, in one of his dispatches--"The New Mutants" I suppose--from the thick of the High 60s, mentioned how much his students loved Robert Creeley's "The Token" because it so succinctly reflected their doubts about the value of Language. The thrust of this poem seems very clear, just what Fiedler & his young friends said it was. But a mistake I once found myself making in remembering the poem--it's so short and catchy that many, many people must have memorized, or thought they memorized, each word, as also with Creeley's "I Know A Man"--helped me towards a sense of its complexity.

For I thought the poem said "what//can I say to/you but words, words", a simple sense that language is inadequate. Do you know how Creeley's poem actually reads? Best to quote the entire poem:

A Token

My lady
fair with
arms, what

can I say to
you--words, words
as if all
worlds were there.

You see? The contemptuous repetition "words, words" can be considered an interruption of what has been said before at the same time as it is a continuation. "words, words" continues the sense of the speaker's doubt about what he can achieve with language in this situation--wanting to create a meaningful "token" of affection--as it makes it clearer that this problem arises not only from the possible verbal inadequacies of the speaker but also from something wrong with langauge itself. But it also may be considered an interruption of the rhetoric that comes before. For to state that there is absolutely nothing worthy one can say about the that which one finds gripping and mysterious might ironically also be a confusion provoked by words.

It's like this.

Everyone, I hope, will admit that there are indeed "worlds" of experience that can hardly be captured by words. But one might too easily slide from the sense that language is Limited to the proposition that it is Inadequate, useless for any statement about that which is most important to oneself.

The poem certainly exhibits the delights and powers of language. With three simple words--"My lady/fair"--we are plunged into an atmosphere of perhaps anachronistic "courtly" emotion. Then the word "arms" jars us, because we had been expecting something more traditionally praised, if one attribute of a Lady is to be saluted. We expect maybe some word like "eyes" or "smile" after "soft"--something that might be thought of as revealing the woman's Soul. Or elsewise maybe "breast" or "skin".

And the very contrast of "words" and "worlds" displays Language's considerable delight of sound interacting with sense.

So the poem considers the limits of Language AND its insistent pleasure. We can perhaps think of the "fair" lady the speaker addresses as someone who's "fair" to "all worlds" that exist--whether they be verbal or non-verbal. With her "soft/arms" we can think of her as having a will to embrace them all.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, May 08, 2006


r.i.p. citizen Kerner!

When I listen to classical music station WQXR ("The Radio Station of the New York Times"), here in New York City, my physical location, a certain pall is cast upon all of the station's musical proceedings by the fact that there are daily features such as "The Business Picture Today" & "Today's Advertising News With Stuart Elliott", and that the evening's advertisements too often run along the lines of "so just as Beethoven found superlative solutions to all his compositional problems, we at the Blah Blah Blah Corporation seek to discover innovative answers for every situation..."

On the other hand, there was a special excitement to reading the Village Voice classical music reviews of Leighton Kerner, who died on April 29 at age 79, because in the background of the experience of reading these intrinsically wonderful prose pieces there was the rumble of the trembling of social and political structures as recounted in the news and opinion sections of the Voice.

It was lovely how each week there was once a convocation of so many different
Arts in the pages of the Voice, and how the Rumble I have spoken of sparked the review section's vitality (of course many of the arts reviews, sometimes I thought for better, sometimes for worse, referred very directly to Important Social Questions, but that's not my focus here). But, alas, the Voice in recent years has abandoned its coverage of certain Arts it has decided are unprofitable for it to cover--and these abandonments include both the brave/upstart art of Avant Garde Film & Video, and the venerable/respectable art of Classical Music.

(For the purposes of brevity and sanity, I'm sticking to only one corner of the sad latter story of the Village Voice, and I won't get started on things like the shoving aside of Jules Fieffer--it's insane that his sweet magical cartoon satire should not be gracing the Voice to this day--and the cutting off of the monthly Literary Supplement. And FOR SURE I am not now going to get into parsing the Final Death Dance the paper at this moment seems trapped in with its ultra-coarse right- wing new owner).

I think I would simply like to tell of a resourceful prank enacted by the mensch Leighton Kerner after he was relegated by the Voice (in 2003, I think) to writing only Listings of classical music events, in the section with all the other Listings, but no more reviews. One week he listed a concert at which, among other pieces, Mozart's Symphony No. 48 (or was it No. 51?, something like that) would be performed. Of course, there was a letter to the editor (I was thinking of writing one myself, but never got around to it) asking what the hell THAT was about, since it's common knowledge that Mozart only wrote 41 symphonies. Kerner, granted his perogative to reply to printed letters, stated that in recent years there had been discoveries of certain previously-unknown early works of Mozart that could be classified as symphonic, so that some musicologists had established a new numbering system for the Mozart symphonies that was beginning to catch on. Be that as it may, it seemed like Kerner had found a wonderful witty way to get a little attention for himself and for Classical Music despite his new status as a lowly Lister.

(I should note that contemporary classical music composer/reviewer Kyle Gann is still listed on the masthead of the Voice. For a while after Leighton Kerner's reviews ceased to be printed, Gann was allowed to continue writing reviews about his special interest, "downtown experimentalist" contemporary music. These reviews, however, have appeared less and less frequently, and after a while they were only wanted when there was some sort of "pop" angle to the experimentalist concert in question. But there haven't been ANY Gann reviews in about a year, I think).

Labels: , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?