Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Today was one of those days that I get two or three times a year when my sinuses are so bad I wonder if I'm getting a cold. I don't think I am because there's no aches, no weakness, nothing but extreme, crippling sinus pressure and sinus butter. One of the perks of working at home is that I don't have to take antihistamines. I can keep making warm lemon juice with honey and ginger, peppermint tea and so forth, all the live long day. Cure my pain like an ancient. But I decided to take it easy tonight and relax at home rather than going out. Best not to tempt fate.
So, I finished another film in my series. There's one more Scorsese to come and, if you've been paying attention, you should know what it's going to be.


KUNDUN

Once again, I don't know of any other director that's continued to grow so late into his career from his generation. Scorsese is, in my humble opinion, creating his best work thus far right now.
Before I get to the film proper, there's another production aspect I'd like to comment on. I'm a big fan of the work of Philip Glass. I think he's among our greatest living composers. I used to have a friend who would stamp his feet like Rumplestiltskin every time somebody mentioned Philip Glass. I think he'd read a diatribe by "an authority" against Glass once and frozen his opinion in that argument. I learned to avoid bringing Glass up. Thank God that's over. There's a large strong arm of the pompous community who place the end of serious music composition with the death of Tchaikovsky, Gershwin, Ives or something like that. For me, anybody who says that an artform is dead or that there's no great current work in an artform is defiling both the artform and all those who spent their lives in the past working to push the artform forward. Anyone who says "there are no great contemporary composers" or "all contemporary composers are too post-modern or esoteric" are starving themselves to death at a Henry the VIII sized feast. This is part of why great artists are rarely noticed in their life times. It's because the mediocre like to shout down the greats when they have a chance. Some people hold onto their unenjoyment so much that it becomes their identity.
Screw them. They stink of death. The best thing we can do about those dogs is to ignore them.
Philip Glass writes music that strikes me as deeply spiritual. It uses subtle changes in patterns to express the greatness, the importance on a universal scale of tiny changes. I also think he has a real grasp of the ecstatic and lamentations.
The score for Kundun took my breath away. I have it on cd, so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't familiar with it before I rewatched the film. But it captures the atmosphere so well. It moves like meditation. It is a stream flowing beside the action that reminds us of the interior of the Tibetan Buddhists. Even when Mao is coming to murder them, there's this steady contemplation in His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The score takes on a character in this film, the character that we Quakers refer to as "the still small voice within" which we must quiet ourselves to encounter.
I think it was Olivier who said that children and animals shouldn't be used onstage. Ever. Having worked with both on stage I understand this recommendation. They're too unfocused and therefore always aware that they are in a production. It's darned near impossible to get a child to act naturally on stage or screen. Scorsese gets a natural performance out of two lead children and about three supporting children. Possibly the greatest acheivement of the film.
Then there's the cat that play the "young man" Dalai Lama. Part of the joy of this film is seeing stripped down performances by actors I've never seen before. The guy that plays Mao is terrifying in his slimy reassurance. There are great lessons to actors in this film. Stanislavski says that the first step to acting is always "work on one's self." I had the sense of deep contemplation in this film because the actors drop everything and let the story tell its self.
Then there's the unspeakable beauty of the film. I don't think Scorsese has ever matched the raw, brutal beauty of this film. There's such an attention to color, costume, camera, and movement (sorry, ran out of "c" words) that the action is often like a dance. And it features some of the best scenes of rats drinking water ever captured.
Once again we see Scorsese take a break from his explorations of violence to show his rich spiritual roots. I'm so amazed with his work in whole new ways after watching Last Temptation and Kundun. One of the common themes, to me, is that there are those to whom religion and life are but one experience indivisible. The next film in our series, his best work as far as I'm concerned, is the marriage of his two major themes.

Really, you should see about getting course credit for this.

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