Monday, April 27, 2015

Picasso and Me

Si l'on sait exactement ce que l'on va faire, a quoi bon le faire?
 - Pablo Picasso.  Oui, oui, d’accord.  Absolument

If we knew exactly what we were going to do, what is the point of doing it?  — Picasso.  Yes, yes, I agree.  Absolutely.

Men Women Athletes


Don Juan loved women,
women of all size and form,
young, grown, mature and old,
blonds, brunettes, women of white hair,
tall, short, fat, and thin,
ladies, vamps, matrons and maidens. 

Women come in all size and shape.
But, believe it or not, so do men --

blonds, brunettes, white, and, ah, bald,
stocky, scraggly, strapping, and, ho, sagging,
fat and flabby, rugged and raw.
You see them bare, for all to behold
on a beach and at poolside, unguarded.  

Riding subways in New York where I live
I gawk at men and women, unobserved,
and marvel at their infinite variety.

There are women of towering height.
There are men of gargantuan girth.
But some men are slim and sleek,
and some women are of solid build.


Men and women are more alike than unlike
much more than we are likely to assume.
Yet most men did believe,
and, alas, many still do,
in the world of sports, above all,
that women are fair as in the fair sex,
that men are stouter and stronger,
that men carry authority by their sheer size
that manly activities are unfit for women,
speaking categorically,
speaking generically,
speaking unthinkingly.

True some women are gentle and fair,
but others are fierce, full of force.
Many women can endure brutal pain,
like the pangs of delivering a child.
Not all women are fit for men’s work,
but some are, yessir,
and they do it and they do well.

Time was when it was believed
that only men can be tailors,
that women are too tender to drive a truck,
that they are hazards at construction sites,
that they lack stamina to conduct an orchestra,
that they can compose little songs but not symphonies,
that they can cook at home but are disqualified to be chefs,
that women who dare to do men’s work
were failing in being womanly.

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
Some can’t and some can; but why should she at all?


In the world of sports ethos still prevails
that manly sports are superior to women’s
because they exhibit such prowess,
that girls and women simply don’t possess,
that manly sports are the real sports, and
figure skating is frivolous if not downright silly.
If women want to play rough games,
OK, let them have their own tamer teams.

All sports, manly or womanly,
executed by best champions,
exhibit power and precision,
speed and finesse,
and stamina and endurance.
and, above all, discipline and grace,
no less than the classical ballet.

Playing pianissimo is no less strenuous than
pounding the instrument for fortissimo.


When we speak of men and women,
we are tricked by these words
into thinking that all men are of one cut
and all women come in one size.

So, some men naively believe
that men are strong categorically.
and women are weak generically.

It’s a trap but convention dies hard.
What do we mean when we say manly, womanly?
How men do and act mostly, most of the time?
How women behave for most part?
How some men expect women to be?

Such words are abstractions,
words of statistical generalities,
with no substance in the real world.
Words delude us; they always do.

Let us learn to avoid saying men and women.
Let us learn to say some men and some women.
Let athletes, men and women, compete equitably
on the basis of their real capacities and potentials.

There are women who would drive a race car
if only given a chance.
There are women who would coach a male team.
Some can, some can’t.

There are women who like being cheerleaders.
Some do well, others don’t.
Some men like cheerleaders
only because they are women.
Some women find cheer-leading only demeaning.
Abilities vary across genders.

Let us celebrate athletes individually,
for what they can do, what they excel in,
free of any of those misguided rubrics:
male, female, men, women.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jauja Film Poetry

Jauja (pronounced Hau-ha) by Lisandro Alonso, 2014, featuring Viggo Mortensen and Viilbjørk Malling Agger, is a film many in the audience might find insipid or irritating or both.  It is actually a terrific film, refreshingly original.

Image result for jauja

The photographic camera, in its infancy, was believed to capture reality with such fidelity as no realist artist ever could, and so the movie through its history also saw realism as its special mission, and to this end the cinema for commercial consumption, on the one hand, pursued in its historical development the simulation of reality, first the sound in the talkies, then the technicolor, and more recently the wide screen and 3-D cinematography to encompass more of the real world, and, continuously favored, on the other hand, in the choice of subject matter, the narrative in the tradition of the novel, the realist storytelling, even in dealing with the material of documentation and of fantasy as in science fiction and digital spectacles.  Various sound and visual effects and digital projection further enriched the cinemas presumed illusionistic character. 

I found Jauja singularly remarkable in this regard, original in attempting a film that tries to be neither illusionistic nor novelistic despite the cinematically inevitable mimetic images, and it succeeds. First of all, it adopts the academy ratio rather the widescreen, which is the standard today, despite the panoramic landscape that the frame encompasses through the film.  The frame, moreover, is given rounded corners going against the idea that what we see is fragment of the real world captured by the viewfinder; here, the image we see is an artifice.  Jauja is also sparse with speech, with hardly any spoken dialogue in the main body of the film, and it is also parsimonious with music and other non-diegetic sound; and, little happens narratively, rendering the film excruciatingly boring to casual viewers.  Without actions and events that develop a story, the images, staring at us, invite us to linger and experience imaginatively what is about to happen. This is poetry.

The first shot of any well-designed film serves as an intimation of the story and its mood in the film to follow, a sort of an overture. The first shot of Alonso’s Jauja (above) does more; it is, as we eventually find out, the summation of the entire film.  Father and his daughter sit on the ground surrounded by a vast and open terrain.  They sit close together but facing the opposite directions, they are close but apart, proximate yet distant, as she reads a book and he looks out toward the distance, alone together in the barren, forbidding landscape.  The image expresses their mutual alienation most economically; as the film progresses we learn that this is what the film is all about.   

Image result for jauja lisandro alonso

The young daughter, fifteen as we soon learn, in response to her father’s ineffective caress leans on him and says that she would like to have a dog for her birthday.  After a long pause, the father asks “What kind of dog?” and she explains “the kind of dog who follows me around everywhere.” The father is a general from Denmark who came to this South American hinterland to engage in the Spaniards’ territorial conquest in late 19th century. After a brief preliminary set-up in which we find the daughter elope with a young soldier, the film is the father’s seemingly vain search for her all over the wilderness, following her trail obsessively like the dog she wished for her birthday.  

The endless pursuit, shown in interminable variations of the image of the man going round and round in the wilderness, is the substance of the film, and these images move slowly, and in their languid pace, engages the viewer to imagine, segment after segment, the potential narrative development. We are in suspense wondering what will happen next, and, given ample time, we keep thinking because we are never told.  The images, in short, don’t illustrate the narrative, as films images conventionally do, but like framed paintings they only evoke narrative possibilities.  Stated differently, the viewer, instead of being told a story, is teased into making stories.  These are images that invoke imagination as no illustrative images in narrative films could.  In this lies the peculiar richness and singularity of this film; it is a cinematographic poetry, an artistic construction only this medium and none other could create.

I’m looking forward to seeing Alonso’s earlier films — Los Muertos (2004) and Liverpool (2008).