Friday, December 12, 2003

It might take a while before I get to the final Scorsese film in our series of reviews. By "a while" I mean like a week. I had in mind to do them all consecutively in chronological order, but then I was at the library and found two other films that I wanted to see.
This morning was the usual blur of shipping and stocking that these holiday weeks have become. People continue to order books. It's like I'm collecting a tax on foolishness.
Today got a little heavy in the middle. A little on the "dwelling on things" ish side of me.
Then I got Chinese food for dinner that made my insides feel like a cat sleeping in front of a fire.
Tonight I went to Zany Brainy, which is going out of business. Dude behind the counter said that all Zany Brainy stores are going under. Education/creativity can't compete with pre-fab giant chains. Not that Zany Brainy isn't a giant corporate chain. They just focused on a cooler class of toy. And they had cheap day-glo paint that I used to buy a lot. So, the bad news is that soon we will have to make do with Imaginarium. The good news is that Zany Brainy is cutting back prices to 1997. So get while the gettin's good.
I came home and read. Savoring the Nick Cave book I am. I'll probably finish it tomorrow and I really don't want to. I don't want it to end.

Today I was thinking about Lucifer. I got that card at the womanspirit fair the other day and I've been reading Mike Carey's astoundingly good series of graphic novels on Lucifer. One of the important points about Lucifer is that he is never connected directly in the Bible to Satan or The Snake in Genesis. Theologians have found this difficult and, in my opinion, solve the problem by making them all one character. Suddenly Lucifer, Satan and the Snake in Genesis get put under a big blanket with "The Devil" written on it.
The story goes, culled from bits of the Bible and a straightforward extrapolated narrative from Milton, Lucifer was the most beautiful being ever created. God's favorite. Then Lucifer decided that he wanted more power, to be an equal with God or a creator. This would not do. So God threw Lucifer out of Heaven along with those who sympathized with Lucifer.
I think about the story of Lucifer and what occurs to me is that Lucifer's number one trait is Free Will. I don't think the point is that Will is bad by definition. I think it's an illustration of how Will leading us beyond our powers can end in great pain. So Will could sometimes be the shadow aspect of Faith. Or, rather, as most of the good theologians (i.e. any theologian I'd ever want to listen to) would tell you, the answer probably isn't in blacks and whites, but in the balance of the two. To have Will without Faith is nothing more than an overinflated self importance. Faith without Will can keep you from acheiving any forward motion in your personal life.
What I get from it is to beware of "either/or" world views.
As a side crackpot hypothesis here, maybe this is why the stupid often call Aleister Crowley a Satanist, even though he didn't really believe in Satan. His whole spiritual walk revolved around finding the true will and following that.
In short, I'm not going to win Survivor on just faith or just will, but by a mixture of the two. Plus being enough of a character that the producers don't let me get voted off right away.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

I guess ultimately it doesn't matter if I fought off a cold or just had terrible sinuses. I got less than four hours of sleep last night, but today my sinuses are calming. Still painful and uncomfortable, but calming down.
I shipped a buttload of books this morning. Also got a buttload of books in stock. I got more than I shipped so I more than compensated for the buttload. The butt is loaded tighter with books than it was before I went to the post office this morning.
Some sentences you look at in amazement that your life has lead you to a point where you wrote such a thing.
I don't know why people are still ordering. For shipping we're right at the wire. At this point I wouldn't trust anything to arrive in time for the holiday that I'm presuming people are ordering for. But I get paid just the same so it doesn't really matter.
I'm very tired. I'm going to sign off for the night rather than prattling on any further.

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.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

This afternoon I got the fourth Lucifer collection from Comics Unlimited.
Tonight I went to Chas and Phish's and made the best chili in the state. Sinus problems then forced me home to where my tea is. Home is where the tea is.
When I arrived, I surprised Bizarro Boingo. Bizarro Boingo is a cat that looks kind of like my cat, Boingo, except with longer fur. Tonight Bizarro Boingo was after the left over cat food that was on the porch. I gave chase, but he eluded me.
Tomorrow I'm unna try and sleep in (I know. Every time I say that I'm going to sleep in or I'm going to let up on work I end up waking early and working even harder. Puritan work ethic.) Depending on where the day takes me, I may end up at the beach at some point to burn the fungus book. I'm serious. I don't want that thing infecting any other book anywhere. It's my civic duty. I'm against doing this type of thing to humans and animals, but I'll execute a book so that its fungus doesn't infect other books. End its reign of terror before its evil touches a book I love, like my sock monkeys book.
First off is my crackpot idea. I decided to apply to be on the next Survivor television show. I haven't finished the application or made my 3 minute video yet. The reason it's a crackpot idea is that were I to get on the show, somehow making past the thousands of other applicants, it wouldn't matter to me how far I would go in the show. This is because they pay you like $8000 just for being on the show, along with the Letterman and morning show interview paychecks. Do you know how long it takes me to make eight thousand dollars? Like ten months or so. So just getting on the show would make me rich by my standards. Plus the book of poetry I could write about the experience. But mainly I'm doing it because it seems silly.
Anyway, back on earth I've had a few strange business items in the past two days. The first was that yesterday I ran across a stash of advanced reading uncorrected proofs of some books that are either just published or not yet published. I always feel strange selling these because they say right on them that they're not for sale. I half expect to run afoul of a lawyer any minute. One of them is by a self proclaimed famous chef that I haven't heard of for some reason. One is by some dude that's on the Trading Spaces show. And one, my favorite, is called Pandora's Keepers which is a book about the guys that made the atomic bomb in the first place. It's the uncorrected proof of a book that the publisher pulled because many authors came out and said that the book contained several plagiarized passages.
Today I got a book of Paul Newman's favorite recipies that, as far as I can tell, Newman had nothing to do with the writing or publication besides getting his picture on the cover. I also got a copy of "What Would Buddha Do" that has highlighted passages and margin notes that suggest to me that it was assigned reading in a religion class was owned by somebody who objected to buddhism. I assume that the previous owner had their own religious dogma because their main objection seems to be that they don't see how the buddha has the authority to say what he says. Interesting little story that copy tells. I also obtained a Henry Rollins poetry book that included a ticket stub to a Rollins spoken word event which got me all excited that it might be signed. But no.
Also had my first return due to a printing error. Apparently I sent out a book with several blank pages that should have had writing on them. I'm usually pretty good at checking my books, but that one flew low under my radar and now I have to eat the shipping (Sorry. I hate to mix metaphors like that.)
Then I had one of the biggest scares this afternoon. I bought a book and brought it home with large amount of other books. This book in particular seems to have, I think and might be erring on the side of caution, the dreaded book fungus. There's this fungus that makes ugly spots all over a book and spreads to any other book you set it near. The offending book is sitting next to me right now and I'm not sure what to do with it. I don't want to give it to the library because I buy books from them often. It's a cool little book of California Indian legends. I don't want to put it anywhere near any of my books, personal or inventory. Maybe I'll burn it and dance around like Pan.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Not a lot happened today besides reading and packaging books (including a book that sold for $127.) And hanging a picture of two wolves on my wall above my bed. It's a painting of two wolves in snow. One wolf looks like he hasn't eaten in weeks and is snarling as if he's about to jump out of the painting and tear into your throat. The other wolf looks like he's just had a massage, a doobie and a cup of hot cocoa. I like it.
So, since there isn't much else to report, I'm ready for a major review here. I believe this is the first review of a film I'd seen before.

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

I had to go back and rewatch this after seeing Taxi Driver. I first heard about The Last Temptation of Christ when I was in junior high. It was at a church picnic and there was the local busybody, who I think was named Wilma, going around with a petition. The petition was to get the Edwards Cinema chain to keep this film from playing in Orange County. Wilma said that there were scenes of Our Lord having sex with Mary Magdalene. Needless to say, Wilma had not seen the film, had no intention of seeing the film, and her only source of information about the film was this knee jerked out petition, put together by some "to the right of Attila the Hun" religious organization who also hadn't seen the film.
In my religious education I took a class on the Images of Jesus through history, art and literature. Long before this class I learned that Kazantzakis' book The Last Temptation of Christ was required reading in nearly all Protestant seminaries and most Catholic ones as well. I'm proud to say that I have read the book. It's a beautiful book, well written, well translated and one of the more thought provoking, nay thought inciting books I've ever read.
In the Images of Jesus class we had to have a major project on images of Jesus. Mine was to show films once a week, in the evening after classes when we could all meet up with popcorn. I'd introduce the films with info on the making of, theological implications, and so on. It ended up being a showing of some of my favorite films of all time. Last Temptation was one of them. Naturally, Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth was another. Life of Brian, Jesus Christ Superstar and Jesus of Montreal rounded it out. Some of my favorite films. But Last Temptation might be my favorite Christ film. I don't know. Life of Brian is a close second. Last Temptation has the most interesting interpretation of Christ I've seen, but it doesn't have the funniest scene ever filmed. Biggus Dickus.
Anyway, Last Temptation has an awesome script and one of the greatest living directors at the peak of his craft. It's a visually beautiful and haunting film. I think the cast is pretty close to one of the strongest I've ever seen. One of the best scores this side of Lisa Gerrard as well.
We get to watch Willem Dafoe craft the centerpiece of his career as one of our strongest underused living actors. Harvey Keitel never matches his role here and I'm saying that as a big fan of his work... well, most of it anyway. There are two actors who have a scene or two each who blew me through the wall with their performances. One was Andre Gregory (yes, that's My Dinner With) as John the Baptist. His performance has the stink of madness. The other is Harry Dean Stanton as my namesake: Saul/Paul.
The story is basically this. It's a restructuring of the story of the gospels around the concept that Jesus was the Messiah, Son of God and, especially, a man. I say especially a man because he has all of the doubt, fear, cowardice, and uncertainty that any of us would face with a burden such as his. He tries to weasel out of his burden a couple of times, just like any of us would. The film starts with Jesus betraying his people by, as a carpenter, making crosses for a living. Judas (Keitel) is both the foil and the impetus to get Jesus into fufilling his destiny.
Christ is tempted in the desert, after being baptized by John the Baptist (who I can't mention enough. Really, if it were just the scenes of him it would be worth owning.) Coming out of the desert Jesus just starts reacting to the highly legalistic religious world around him. He ends up on the cross (hope I'm not blowing it for anybody.) A neat twist is that Jesus convinces Judas to betray him so that he can die on the cross for the sins of all humankind. Judas, now Jesus' closest friend, has a hard time with this and asks, "Would you be able to do this if you were me?"
Jesus replies, "No. That's why I got the easy job."
The Last Temptation part comes on the cross where a being convinces Jesus to come off the cross and live the rest of his days as a normal human being (and this is where Jesus has intercourse with Mary Magdalene within the bonds of matrimony. AND JUST AS IT APPEARS IN THE BOOK WHICH EVERY MINISTER HAS TO READ! Or, in my case, gets to.) The other great scene is when he meets Paul, who is preaching about the crucified and resurrected Jesus in spite of the fact that the real life Jesus came off the cross.
I won't go any futher lest I ruin the ending. Oh, and David Bowie is Pilate. Oh, oh, and John Lurie is the disciple James. So you know it's cool.
I love this film because, like most of those who grew up in a Christian church, I grew up with the cartoon story of Jesus being born, speaking only in a classical music radio station dj voice, and dying cleanly, heroically like a trooper clean skinned on a cross of sanded wood that could have come out of a Home Depot. I love this film because it shows Jesus as being as scared, confused, angry and cowardly as I am. I love it because it suggests that the foundations of a faith I've found so lofty and cold that for years I could hardly admit sharing some belief with doesn't need to be inhuman. And the anarchist in me loves it because it tears down the mythology that so many Ned Flanders I've know protect like wounded mother bears.
But that's just me. Even if you hold no stock in anything biblical, this is a film you should see. You should see it because it offers a difficult and unpopular perspective on western civilization's scapegoat, the person in history that everybody who is interested in molds into their own image. On top of all of that, it's one of the most visually stunning films I know. I really hope that everybody sees this film, even if they don't gush about it afterwards as much as I am.