Review: Charles Feldman’s “Casino Royale” (1967), via BlogCritics.

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Charles Feldman Casino Royale

Casino Royale (1967), a cult classic that started…something.

The 1967 James Bond spoof, Casino Royale, has been on my mind ever since a discussion with Dan Schneider a few weeks ago, wherein he pointed out some of the film’s positives. I wouldn’t exactly call it a good film, for a number of reasons. Suffice to say that, for a comedy, it’s often short on jokes, and (even when they do appear) they are marred by poor timing, or convoluted scenes that can absolutely KILL comedic writing far quicker than they might action, as James Bond films are.

Yet despite these issues, it does many things that the Bond films would have never been able to imagine in the 1960s, given how limited they were by their own genre and reflexivity. I mean, what did they REALLY have to point to — more action, and the same old tropes, within? By contrast, Casino Royale tried more, even if, overall, it was successful at less. For instance, the film frequently uses anti-symbols instead of symbols, there are visual sequences — such as with Evelyn’s hallucinations, Evelyn’s first time in Vesper Lynd’s apartment, the odd yet really effective opening with the singing children — that point to deeper aims, as well as filmic techniques (especially its meta-fiction) that add layers to the work. No, it doesn’t mean that the film sums up to anything great, but at the very least, it is ambitious, and a good prototype for the sort of postmodern styles in film that came in vogue in the 1990s.

Too often, Casino Royale has merely been condemned, but while I partly agree with these judgments, it’s almost become a cliche to call it “messy” and “convoluted,” for it’s so obviously those things. So, I’ve decided to focus on things beyond evaluation because it’s not only interesting culturally, but presages — for good or ill! — the sort of high-budget, small-payoff, multi-actor films that would eventually become so popular.

It is also one of Woody’s first ‘major’ acting gigs — despite the fact that he appears for a few minutes, tops, and given his own much more disciplined work ethic, absolutely hated the time spent on it, and has not, to my knowledge, ever seen it.

You can find my in-depth review here, via Blogcritics.… Continue reading →

Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Fall Of The Rebel Angels”

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Hieronymous Bosch's The Fall Of The Rebel Angels, 1500-1504.

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Fall Of The Rebel Angels, 1500-1504.

I’ve been a fan of Hieronymus Bosch for some time now, but have never really given him my public due. That will change as I plan to discuss at least a few of his paintings at some point, but suffice to say that I consider him one of the first truly great painters — greater, in some respects, than even some of the best-known painters of the High Renaissance, with whom he was contemporaneous. That is because while Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael were still at times stuck in the ancient Christian world of Old Rome, replete with its rote symbolism, simple — even twee! — tales, and predictable figuration, Bosch had turned to an unlikely, even contrarian, source: that of medieval art, with its clunky figures, simple landscapes, and other elements that, in lesser hands, stifled Western art of any real potential for many centuries.

This is because, under most circumstances, medieval art was simply flat. There was, on the one hand, no real technical merit, and on the other, no real idea, either. Bosch, however, was able to reach a compromise of his own making. Technical excellence, he likely realized, meant nothing without some intellectual heft, some deeper ‘trap’ or allure that would make mere technique absolutely REAL to the observer. So, forget the new standards of painting for a second, forget some of the better rules of perspective, and forget some of the repetitions, as well as the aesthetic demand for ‘beauty’. The more relevant thing, he instinctively thought, was not ‘beauty’ — which is always a tool or a preference, as opposed to an inherent good or depth — but COMMUNICATION. And not just communication, mind, but deeper communication, which might, in the right circumstances, involve less technically accomplished figuration, or colors and ideas that were presently out of vogue. Yet, in exchange, one would get a deeper look at the sorts of things the more popular painters were trying to do, via techniques that, while less showy, complemented the subject matter in a way that was not only richer, but more relevant to art in the long-term sense. Say what you will of the technical excellence required for the best Leonardo, or the greatest Michelangelo, but these are painters that have dated in a way that Bosch has not.

In fact, if one were to draw a line from the Italian Renaissance to modernity, the Renaissance painters would clearly be a kind of blueprint for the greater things to come. After all, who is Francis Bacon, Picasso, or Van Gogh more indebted to: the ideas (if not the artist) of Bosch, who revealed a more fractal sense of what art could be, or of the polish and re-polish of the Masters? Hell, even Caravaggio, who seems to be a direct descendant of Michelangelo, is only superficially of ‘that’ world. His ideas are just so completely different, and — even more … Continue reading →

Wallace Stevens: “A Rabbit As King Of The Ghosts”

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Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens, in full. (c)

[Listen to my reading of the poem here.]

Wallace Stevens is not only one of the 5 or 6 greatest poets to have ever lived, but — after years of being nigh-impenetrable to me, as a teenager — has become one of my favorites, too. He can be beautiful without emotion, and he can be emotional with nothing but an intellectual base. Too often, such things are treated as mutually exclusive, when in fact, one can simply be a route to the other, with Stevens’s choice of ‘intellect first’ generating some interesting effects. After all, if you erase emotion — at least in the literal sense — yet still write in a way that the reader utterly wallows in it, what does this say except that the intellect is, paradoxically, one way into the heart? (And I’d argue it’s the superior route.)

No, I wouldn’t go as far as calling Wallace Stevens a “dead end” in poetry (as Emily Dickinson was, or parts of Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Blake were), but prior to Wallace Stevens’s ascent, there were few that resembled him, at least in this regard. At best, there were prototypes — perhaps in some of the direct treatment of the Chinese classical writers, some parts of Ezra Pound, something of Yeats in mid-line, or Rainer Maria Rilke, who might in fact be the closest to him of all great contemporaneous writers. Yet Stevens still reads like an aberration, and MANY writers of the last few decades have tried to emulate him. I know, because whenever I open a given poetry book — usually forgotten after a few years’ time — there are the inevitable Stevens rip-offs, since many assume that merely writing ABOUT ideas (as Stevens did) is the same as writing about them WELL (which few ever do). In such cases, jargon takes place of real language, and broken prose for genuine music, since it is those things that, unfortunately, are presently associated with ideational heft.

Yet here’s an example of the above done right, and how emotion can come in roundabout ways, even when dealing with topics that, at first glance, seem to have no real connection with human experience:

A Rabbit As King Of The Ghosts

*from Parts Of A World (1942)

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur —

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is … Continue reading →

Transcript: Dan Schneider Video Interview (Part 2) from 9/30/2014.

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*Interview can be found here
*Part 1 can be found here
Dan Schneider Video Interview Series YouTube Channel
Dan Schneider’s website, Cosmoetica

Woody Allen does his banana thing. (c)

Woody Allen does his banana thing, as Dan Schneider & Alex Sheremet explain why. (c)

Dan Schneider: Now, the book ends with the last couple of decades of Woody’s cinematic output. You have it divided into a last two eras. What are the two eras? Give me a film, pro or con, that you think is the most representative, the best, the most interesting, what critics… whichever one jumps right out at you. So what are the last two Woody eras that you tackle?

Alex Sheremet: The last two eras are 1993 until 2004, so that’s the films between Bullets Over Broadway…No, Manhattan Murder Mystery and Melinda and Melinda. And then I go from Match Point in 2005, up until 2013’s Blue Jasmine. Looking at the first time period, that film that I want to talk about most is Celebrity. This is because this is a film that’s been pretty much ignored, it’s been neglected, and in many ways it’s been much more panned, even, than Stardust Memories, or Another Woman, or similar films. It has not necessarily had this kind of revitalization like some other films might have, and it’s… I wouldn’t call it a great film. It’s not up to par with his best work, but at the very least, I would argue that it is an excellent film. It’s an excellent film for the very reasons that people deride it for. For example, you have the character of Simon, through Kenneth Branagh, and he’s been derided as this really poor Woody Allen stand-in, that he’s merely doing the Woody Allen shtick in a way that Woody Allen wouldn’t be able to do.

But this is kind of the point. If you look at his appearance, he is clearly more handsome than Woody Allen, he looks more manly than Woody Allen, and he’s somebody that would much more easily fit into this kind of celebrity life than Woody Allen would. If you see, for example, the flirt scenes that he has with various women, if you see him going around with different models… these are not things that Woody Allen would be able to pull off, himself, because if he were to do it, it would look like mere comedy. And it would look like mere comedy because here’s this nebbish that has these glasses and just looks so awkward and just acts so awkward. There is no sense of genuine romance, there is no sense that this is a realistic move for this kind of human being to make. But with Woody Allen’s stand-in, as he’s being called, he does a very good job. He’s very realistic in that role, and these are all pluses. This is not the negative that it’s been made out to be. A close viewing of the film without allowing Woody Allen … Continue reading →

Review Of Steven Pinker’s “The Sense Of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide To Writing In The 21st Century”

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Steven Pinker Sense Of Style

Steven Pinker on the written aesthetic.

Now, to be sure, I have never had much use for style guides. Yes, there was all the studying for the writing portion of the SAT, years ago, which required lots of rule-learning and — even worse — the application of said rules to poorly-written ‘answers’ that were anything but right. Yes, I’d been assigned the oft-banal Strunk & White’s Elements Of Style in college courses, and have, out of curiosity, perused a number of similar guides not only across form and genre (prose, poetry, non-fiction, sci-fi, grammar) but multiple languages, as well, just to see how the rest of the world, well, merely hypothesizes the sorts of things that are in fact REAL to me. For instance, I still recall reading Orson Scott Card’s How To Write Science Fiction And Fantasy, and finding — even as a 10 year old with a desire to impart stories — the thing too restrictive for anyone but the worst writers, to whom issues of mechanics and advice re: ‘world-building’ might narrowly apply.

Thus, I was both intrigued and a little alarmed when I read the title of Steven Pinker’s new book. Now, don’t get me wrong. While admittedly a very good writer with MANY interesting ideas across the board, Steven Pinker is a thinking academic (as opposed an academic thinker!), first, and has not, in his occasional comments on the topic, shown any deeper understanding of the arts. Yes, he’s constructed some great arguments, and pointedly done away with scientific fraud within the clarion of a mere sentence or two, but that does not really lend itself to art criticism. This is because the wisdom (not ‘knowledge’) immanent to recognizing a great poem, or the odd assortment of skills and luck that goes into differentiating a good from bad metaphor is nigh-indefinable. In short, while true creativity might be easy to quantify, if one merely KNOWS how to evaluate the works, themselves, its source in most cases isn’t. This means that no intellect, personal background, type, or force of character guarantees success in this endeavor, and Pinker’s book, to its credit, does not pretend otherwise.

Before getting into the book’s negatives, however, one must first say what it does right. Although it is easily the worst of the 3 or 4 books of his that I’ve read, The Sense Of Style is also, unsurprisingly, the best style guide that I’ve ever read. This is because it simply drops a few key hints re: usage and style, combs over the important historical trends as a kind of guideline, and thus allows the reader — at least for the most part — to draw his own conclusions on aesthetic matters, keeping the long view in mind and minimizing the least defensible stylistic errors. Too often, style guides are bogged down by dull proscriptive rules that don’t give a damn for rhythm, music, ambiguity, and subtleties of meaning that, in the end, do FAR more … Continue reading →