Sunday, May 25, 2014

Film: Romantic Hipster Vampires

Only Lovers Left Alive

Romantic hipster vampires hit the scene in Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive.  The Goth gore genre has a new twist; these vampires are underground artist types.

The movie has the Jarmusch touch: the main characters are way cool. The blood addicts are scholarly with life experiences from literary highlights through the centuries. Eve is a speed reader of books from many languages. She lives in the amorous city of Tangiers and hangs out with another old soul who wrote with William Shakespeare. Adam is a  recluse musician who shuns fame. His remote Detroit house is filled with exceptional vintage guitars, records, and electronics. When the two reunite, we see the beautiful desolate streets of Detroit as they cruise in Adam's vintage car.

The movie is more about aesthetics than plot (where do they get their money? How does she get from Tangiers to Detroit overnight?).  The unhurried story is about art and beauty with an undercurrent mention of unappreciative mindless "zombies" of our present culture.  The vampires in Only Lovers are similar to the exquisite  ruin porn of the Michigan Theater and the shells of the great auto plants.  Eve and Adam are enduring and wistful.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Worst Injustice in "Silence Once Begun" by Jesse Ball ...

The worst injustice in Jesse Ball's new novel "Silence Once Begun" is the description inside the front dust jacket!  It reduces what I consider to be an achingly beautiful work to a banal page turner whodunit. Ack. Ugh.   The author bio in the back dusk jacket cover, however, is brilliant:  In addition to the various awards, "[Jesse Ball] gives classes on lucid dreaming and lying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago."

The ideas and principles in this novel are greater than people and concrete reality; the former supersedes and trumps the latter again and again. The ideas of Sato Kakuzu are executed perfectly (and in his mind are perfectly justified) even though they result in the execution of an innocent Oda Sotatsu - the taking of an actual human life to express an abstract idea and make a point about principles. Real life is less important than abstraction here, though it is still treasured. The system they live in has the same flaws. The erstwhile activist's girlfriend Jito Joo and later Oda's true love is herself incapable of intervening to stop the tragedy based on principles she, too, ultimately clings to more tightly than the love of her life, a love to transcend even time and place and life itself.  Oda is incapable of trying to even defend his innocence, trapped or perhaps liberated (depending on your viewpoint) by his own beliefs and principles.

I suppose some of this could be said to be a reflection of Japanese culture and it certainly feels that way based upon my past reading and experiences. I certainly found myself enjoying the balance between Japanese thought and social patterns wonderfully expressed here in tension with the author's and persona's Western outlook and style.

A favorite aspect of this work for me was both the unreliable narrator effect across many characters, much like in Michael Haneke's stunning movie "White Ribbon" and of course the overly-referred to Japanese classic Rashomon (this is indeed Rashomon on steriods!) as well as the intensely poetic feel and imagery invoking separation, space and action happening at a distance, barely seen and felt in the moment. There is a theme of viewing people silently through windows and glass, and the thin wheel with spokes turning in the distance while key dynamics unfold is such a fantastic image and invokes an unsettling sense of an elusive remote fulcrum of change in the relationships between people.

This novel initially struck me as potentially tedious when I perused the description and saw that there were transcripts of interviews and testimony. But he leads with a narrative punch and never lets up and yet what I like most of all is that the further you fall down Ball's compelling rabbit hole, the more you feel this work growing increasingly profound and hauntingly lovely and loving, with poetic climax found in the significant letters the characters write or the key testimony they give late in the book.

One of my favorite poems of all time is James Wright's "Jewel" ...

There is this cave
In the air behind my body
That nobody is going to touch:
A cloister, a silence
Closing around a blossom of fire.
When I stand upright in the wind,
My bones turn to dark emeralds.

And for some reason I was reminded of that in this intriguing and poignant bit from the letter Oda writes:

Where the house met the back gate, I used to hide things. You never knew that. Mother, Jiro, no one ever knew it. There is a hollow spot there, and I would put a thing there now and then. This is the kind of feeling I have now. I wanted you to know that I am not worrying any more. I am not worrying now."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Silence Once Begun

Greetings from the east coast book clubbers. I will be marking all the best  places with our PBR Book Club sticker thanks to Steve (providing me with some).

May's selection, Silence Once Begun and alternative book Long Division will be discussed in nauseating detail on June 3 at the Tap Room. With any luck I should be back in LFK that afternoon and ready to booze it up with everyone.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

PBR Book Club Is Mad Organized (bump)

What, we have a schedule this year?

Thanks to everyone who called dibs on a month in 2014 to pick what we're reading and figure out meeting details for that month.  Here's what we got (3 books are about the sea!*):

  • February: Nate & Rose, Transcendence by Chris McKitterick
  • March: Erin, The Circle by Dave Eggers
  • April: Beth, The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
  • May: Allison, On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball
  • June: Rachel, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • July: Jon
  • August: Laura
  • September: Richard
  • October: Emily Jane & Carrie, The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch 
  • November: Steve
*edit: Disappointingly, only 2 books are about the sea. Someone else pick a book about the sea!
The See

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Month of May

This month we are reading Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball. The meeting will be late, but good news. Jesse Ball has agreed to answer any questions. So read up and send your questions. This one should be good.