« June 2007 | Main | August 2007 »

July 31, 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni Is Dead, and It's All My Fault

I'm not kidding. He didn't die because he was 94 years old. He died because of me.

This evening I was winding down at work with some desultory websurfing. Click, click, click. Hm, an obituary. Click, scroll. Antonioni Died Monday. Click. Save.

Getting home half an hour later, I reached into my mailbox and pulled out a Russian copy of his film Zabriskie Point. The only DVD copy I have ever been able to find.

I got it for the ending. I have never worked so hard to find a movie just so I could see the ending. I think all that straining might have done something to Antonioni's soul. Enough to part it from the rest of him, anyway.

I hope I don't have his soul. He probably deserves better. Better, anyway than this obituarist is willing to grant:

"As with later Antonioni films, the settings were stark, the scenes fussily composed, the shots held a few beats longer than necessary."

Now hold on there. Just hold on. If -- like this guy -- you've seen L'Avventura and Blow-Up and are salivating to write their maker off as artsy, hang on a second before you chew him up and swallow.

In a not-well-known novel called Who's Who In Hell, the characters play a game called "Oliver". The game is to think of something, then give your partner some clues to help them guess what you're thinking of. In the case of Oliver, the clues are the opposites of the words you'd normally use to describe what you're thinking of.

So. An Oliver for Antonioni:


Your classic Antonioni film does not move fast. Even if the plot calls for death, no one is in physical danger. In place of danger, people look at people, or look at things, or say things to each other. Amusement is attempted, ennui is felt. People want more, or less, or nothing. In showing what is unable to fill the soul, the soul is defined.


Antonioni's movies are the speed at which the soul moves. In an Antonioni film, as in real life, Heaven is a place where nothing happens. And Hell is a place where the same thing happens, over and over and over.



You want to see how fast the soul can move?

Watch Zabriskie Point.

I've written about this movie before. Basically, the movie is a mess that critics of the time loathed and moviegoers of the time didn't go to. It's yet another Antonioni movie about defining the soul through soullessness, only with a bigger budget and less Italian upper class.

Zabriskie Point is a place near Death Valley, California. Nothing grows there. According to the movie, however, it's a good place to fall in love because it's one of the few places on earth that human beings don't monkey with. Love is found, the desert is survived. It's when people leave it that the world goes back to killing them.

But -- unlike the classic Antonioni ending of accommodating the soullessness through resignation, or finding some small peace -- something is done. Instead of greeting yet another day after yet another party that's worn down the part of you that looks for anything in any other human being, instead of fading away in a field after losing your grip on a crime you couldn't have done anything about anyway, and, instead of doing something, fading away while watching mimes fake a game of tennis: something is done. Something is finally, finally done about all that soullessness.

I can't tell you what that ending does to me. I've tried to explain it, but I can't. If you ever find the movie and get through the first part, and the second part, and the third part -- and there are things to like in the messy desert of each -- then you're home.

Watch the part just before the famous ending. In the desert, there is a comfy vacation stop for land developers. These developers hope to turn the place into a whole colony of vacation spots. Proposals are made and denied, prices are haggled over. Rights are trotted out: land rights, mineral rights, water rights, inalienable rights. All kind of rights go flying around. Whee!

Meanwhile, the people who used to call this desert home now serve these vacationers. Bring their food and water, change their beds, wash their plates and cups and underthings. In exchange they receive an income barely sufficient to rent a room, let alone buy beads and blankets and booze. They receive just enough for a crisp white uniform.


On top of this, all possibility of love has just been annihilated.

Now. Something must be done.

Sleep well, dear Michelangelo.

July 24, 2007

On the culturally dictated applications of sticking old brains into new skulls

In the future:

Heads will become viewed less as repositories of the soul or consciousness, and more as recycling bins.

Skulls will become hinged, much like foot-operated trash cans. Of course, the skulls will literally be foot-operated.

As a result, slow dancing will become even riskier.

As usual, this development will be motivated by the defense and entertainment industries. The military will fund development of hinged skulls ostensibly to have resilient new bodies for the brains of top commanders -- along with their guts. However, the skulls will be used mainly by hawkish congressmen who desire credit for not exempting their children from war service. Before any brave congresschildren ship out for duty, their cortexes will be secretly rescued -- and the bodies will ship out with the brains of illegal immigrants instead.

As repayment for this generosity, the sons and daughters will work on their parents' home renovations and landscaping projects. Meanwhile, the sudden upsurge in non-English-speaking recruits will have no measurable effect on the ability of officers to communicate with their men.

On the entertainment side, Hollywood superstars will rush to take advantage of hinged skulls. Actors who have been typecast and want a fresh start will exchange brains with drama students who are impatient for a public. And stars who are just plain tired of fame will change brains with housepets.

As a result, acting will much more frequently be described as "uneven".

On the professional-sports end, eager children will sign up to exchange brains with their favorite basketball stars. However, the kids will soon realize that, even though their allowances get bigger, every day is just like PE. Minus the bathroom breaks.

For a while, though, trading cards will display the faces of star kindergarten dribblers. Autographs in flesh-colored crayon will drive auction prices through the roof.

In the end, the demographic with the highest demand for brain-exchange service will be aging bachelors. However, their only takers will be other aging bachelors.

Meanwhile, stem-cell researches will think all this is silly. As far as they're concerned, a brain isn't something you swap out -- it's something you grow into.

July 15, 2007

Passable opening for a very short novel

"If I was Loch Ness, you'd know as much about what's under the surface. And I'd care as little about showing you."

Not bad, if you don't mind precluding any possibility of character development.

You see? It's things like this that keep me from writing.

July 10, 2007

Mad Science and Other Miracles

Last weekend I got to see Young Frankenstein. I got to see it at the same movie palace I originally saw it in when it first came out, thirty-three years ago.

Yes. I am that old.

After I stopped marveling at the fact that every line of dialogue in that film has been burned into my midbrain for thirty-three years (hey, no wonder I never have room for anything else), and then after I stopped wondering how many people on the screen are now dead (and how many have been reanimated), I started to wonder about Dr. Frankenstein himself.

Whenever the man dies, he leaves exactly one heir. This makes probate a snap, but it could also make for some interesting family dynamics. How, after all, would Frankenstein Junior feel about having no mother, yet suddenly gaining a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall younger brother? And then gaining a six-foot younger sister the younger brother wanted to marry? Whom the Doctor disowned, and then followed all over the world? Junior would gain some interesting assumptions about family values.

He would never be able to make his own real sister. He would never even get one for Christmas. But at least he and Igor could make sweet, sweet heirs together.

Perhaps, ironically, we have to chalk up Dr. Frankenstein's production of a single heir to a failure of imagination. After all, the man could make as many heirs as he wanted.

Imagine a reading of the Frankenstein will, attended by a dozen contentious, squabbling Creatures. Which Creature would get Dr. Frankenstein's brain? Why -- the head of the household, of course. And which Creature would get the hands? Probably whichever one had become a secret criminal mastermind and needed a new set of prints to throw off the CSIs. And so on.

As the will was being read, and each Creature got something it didn't realize it had needed, the Creatures' former rivalries would be forgotten. All scars would be mended in the healing balm of the late Doctor's benevolence. For the first time they would stop squabbling about who gotten the choicest body parts or the most electricity -- and come together, as a family.

Then they would marry each other.

Lately people have been giving me things. This is a great way to remind me I have a mailing address.

My friend Dawn sent me a couple issues of Collier's. These are autobiographical graphic novels in booklet form, written and drawn by David Collier. The booklets contain vignettes about the things you did and the people you knew, if you were on the fringes of the punk scene in early-eighties Toronto.

Oh, the things you didn't know about yourself!

The issues Dawn sent me are homages to people who are now deceased. Each panel is a sort of tableau, containing a title with a narrative point and then a homely little picture to illustrate or foil the point. This is how memory works: you remember a split-second scene or a several-second anecdote, which you then fit into whatever narrative you've decided your life is. If you're lucky, you don't have to work too hard to make things fit.

One of my favorite scenes:

  • Caption: He was a great wellspring of unsolicited advice.

  • Panel: "Never ever draw another picture like that again!"

Good stuff. Thank you, Dawn.

Other things I've been given:

My family talks a lot about what's on HBO. To help me make sense of more than forty percent of their conversations, my parents help me watch some of the HBO series.

The latest offering is John From Cincinnati. So far it's fascinating. It's a sort of Being There for surfer families. It contains possible divine intervention, so it's rated TV-MA.

So far there have been no will-reading scenes of lawyers divvying up the divine intervention to mutually resentful family members, but I remain hopeful. I want to see if the surfer grandson gets the sun to stand still so he can finish his promo video for potential sponsors, thereby avenging himself on the family members who scoffed at his lack of marketability.

Oh -- I started up a MySpace page. For those of you who wonder why this weblog contains no pictures of me, visit MySpace to find out.

Then be my friend, won't you?

For a while, everyone told me that fire was my friend. Then they'd blame me when I'd burn my thumb and go on a rampage. They'd actually wave torches in my face, claiming they were here as allies to help fire confront me about my behavior.

As you can imagine, we weren't able to resolve our differences. I've been blocked from fire's MySpace page, but I've stayed in the loop enough to hear that fire has been blackballed from several national forests.

I bet you're easier to get along with than that.

July 04, 2007

Which Movie Does This Plot Belong To?

It was a dark and stormy night. I was being eaten by a giant octopus. The octopus belonged to a mad scientist who liked doing things with atoms. Then some people met the mad scientist and made him blow up.

There was some angora too.

The End.

July 03, 2007

Reflections On A Certain Upcoming Anniversary

Ten years is an accomplishment. Eleven years is just silly.