On the viewing list: the original Solaris
. Long, meditative and ruminative (quite possibly vegetarian), Tarkovsky’s effort is of course miles ahead of Soderbergh’s rather truncated and unspeculative version. At least in the conclusion stakes, the former is far more satisfying and consistent qua narrative setup. Tark works in his familiar themes of Home, Father and the Ideal Mother, which ultimately don’t make it that much a better movie; sniffs of Nostalgia here and there, the reach for heavy natural symbolism, the homecoming etc. A ‘personal’ film indeed.
I guess one should feel despair and insecurity over the picture of the world and its scientists which the book paints; of a humanity profoundly conflicted and lacking all cosmic sense. Alas there wasn’t much paranoia or angst in the film. Nothing smacking of cosmic insignificance. Bored cosmonauts who hate each other. No real pain. But at least Russian is a superb language for rendering bureaucratic and officious difficulty, for vocal monotony. (That said, I had trouble turning off the default dubbing and subtitling). The original Russian is deliciously flat. Just like the planet.
Natalya Bondarchuk is a wonder to look at, the personal highlight of the film for me. The other characterisations were extremely flat — for such an inner space movie, I was just annoyed with the two scientists pouting their grubby faces. Kelvin plods along from set to set, I didn’t get any sense of volitional motivation, of character-based cause and effect. Which made me think that Clooney could’ve done so much more. Given it psychological action. At least the film is incredibly true to the book, true to its explanations. Also a good if overstretched use of monochrome scenes. That guy driving his car over an Asian expressway for ten minutes of blue and B&W… what was all that about? It looked great though. It slotted in with the near-poetry of some colour scenes, water flowing over weeds, mist in the trees, a single horse etc.
Also, L’Homme du Train
. Time wasted really, because only later did I realise I’d done my usual confusion of directors (I was thinking of Claude Sautet, and got Patrice Leconte instead). This has been happening an awful lot lately (must be an age thing). So I got a fairly bland two-tone film, of dual lives yearning to swap. A few gags here and there, a lame what-if conclusion, a nice contrast of wordy and reticent, landed and roaming, safe and criminal. And of classics on the one hand and vaguely Yankee slide guitar, music wise, on the other, to connote the staid and the cowboy. Contrast, get it? Not enough gags though to keep my going.
Also, Last Tango in Paris
, again. Though this one must’ve been a recut. I distinctly remember Marron getting hisself runover when I saw it many, many years ago. Marron is Marron and Maria Schneider is the tits. I don’t care about Bertolucci ‘exploring cinema’s possibilities’ because really the film goes nowhere. Marron hates hisself, and he’s the one we really don’t get to know at all. He’s rambling pathetically half the time, all pseudo-biographical in parts, all antsy emotion and jumpy the next. His best is the churlish stage-Briton, sauntering up to Schneider with his smoothest tack (‘I apologise for intruding on you, but I was struck by your beauty…’ or such) and then hottailing it outta the tango joint with his drawers down. Great comedy. Berto finds great Parisian sets (or rather, vehicles for his tracking and dolly shots), but that whole second line with the idiot-director filming his squeeze and then proposing to her was so, so childish I just curdled. Running around the rain, like what, representing the modern youth? Framing everything with his hands? Making film out of reality? Oh dear. Erotic? Blah. Depair? Nah. The ex-lover with his identical dressing gown had more character than the lot of them.
Also, I finally got my mits around Tobias Wolff’s Old School
. Great stuff. One of the best books about writing, point. Particularly of the adolescent period which wants so much and knows so little. Tobias is a prose master, point. Great tension between not wanting to use the pale biographical facts of a writer’s life for narrative ends (cheapening it by making neat endings etc) but in the end turning it all into greater narrative cohesion, a life-like resolution. Finding the right depth. I loved the subtle but decisive shredding of Ayn Rand — as the narrator’s means of entry into understanding Hemingway. I loved the study of the humanity behind school formality (especially the teachers), and the sheer love of private school. The humane psychology of Dean Makepeace. The measured growth in sensitivity and fullness in the narrator, of conscience in the broadest sense; a key point in which is the association of conscience / self-consciousness with the Fall, and hence with the Father. And of how reality is really a lot of suffering, kept out of the school at all costs but colouring it nonetheless. How subtly the romantic dreams of the writer are dispelled by the near-feminist writer who gave it up. All the changes and strong bodies that alter one’s course to becoming writer. The strong, bearded models to aspire to. The motivations laid bare by maturity etc. But essentially a story of the growth of sensitivity: class-, interpersonal, and heritage-wise. Sterling prose. Great, occasional, subtle infusion of imaginative tangents. Loved the way the first chapter sets everything up, completes the tone and scope, drops in enough detail for later unmasking.
For the writer there is no such thing as an exemplary life… the life that produces writing can’t be written about [point: it’s important that this be stated, novel or criticism-wise. Biographers beware]. It is a life carried on without the knowledge even of the writer, below the mind’s business and noise [great phrase, that], in deep unlit shafts where phantom messengers struggle toward us, killing one another along the way [I think, definition-wise, that even Dennett would be happy with that as a basic definition for the process of conscious thought]; and when a few survivors break through to our attention they are received as blandly as waiters bringing more coffee. (p 156)
And also one of the finest hardbacks I’ve handled for a while. Great typesetting (Goudy), binding and coverwork, great paper. The US edition
differs but looks fine too. I had an orange UK hardcover version, not this one
or this one
but this duotone job
by Bloomsbury. The complete package.