Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tom Cruise : under the surface, more surface

Tom Cruise continues to inspire wonderment and mockery  among the celebrity obsessed public at large, with the attending press coverage and think pieces continuing in the relentless attempts to pierce the impermeable membrane that surrounds the world's most quizzical movie star. Slate magazine has gotten into the act and  says that the real Tom  Cruise biography, the definite one, does in fact exist, in the form of the movies he has made. Not surprisingly,  Cruise's religion, the cringe inducing cult of Scientology, figures in the article's  research. There are, one reads, a plenitude of  movie plot points that reflect the tenets of the secret  theology of  founder  L.Ron Hubbard's  intriguingly  hodge podge of a faith.I'm not surprised that a good number the plot points in Cruise's movies echo themes that appear in the confounding mythology of his religion.

Certainly one could also harp on the Catholic themes in the novels of Graham Greene and yield a bounty of evidence ; we don't, however , tend to get bent out of shape over the religious overtones of the novels or their more sinister implications and instead prefer to enjoy a good yarn. Greene was good at writing good yarns.

The main concern with Cruise isn't whether his movies have a subtext endorsing a controversial cult, but whether Cruise is consistently adept at choosing good movies to star in. Like anyone else in the public eye and who stars in movies, his track record is uneven, although his batting average is better than Nicholas Cage's. For Cruise himself, he is a puzzling man in terms of his public persona, but my principle concern is if his movies are fully realized entertainments worth the money I work for. 

He is not my favorite actor,  although I think he's been decent in a couple of things, although I think his best performance, his most legitimately autobiographical (if there is such a thing) was as the quirky  hit man in Michael Mann's reasonably sublime. In a grey buzz coat and portraying a sociopath who assumes personalities and points of view whimsically , much the way people change shirts.I suspect Mann had Cruise in mind when he realized he had a character who was all mask and emotional subterfuge. I wonder if Mann's direction of his lead actor included the phrase "just be yourself".

Saturday, April 27, 2013

ANATOMY OF A MURDER by Duke Ellington

The reviewer at the All Music web site opines that premiere genius Duke Ellington rose to the occasion when he had the chance to compose a full movie score for Otto Preminger's film "Anatomy of a Murder". This was not a case of saying that Ellington sustains his brilliance as a composer solely already established criteria, the implication that Ellington not just rose to the challenge of writing music for the moves, but showed himself to be the equal of genuine film composing giants, bumping shoulders with Bernard Hermann and Alfred Newman. Insert your favorite composer.
What bothered me especially was the claim that Ellington composed his music that served the scene and that it was discreet, unobtrusive, intuitively supportive of the narrative and the emotional dynamics under view. I disagree; I do consider Ellington to be America's greatest musical gift to the world in the  20th Century and consider him an American Master of his art, the good maestro doesn't seem to have had any idea of how to compose something that was meant to augment a filmed story. All the classic touches, coloration, impressionistic sweeps and slyly insinuated improvisations are here--as an album, this is a fine work of ensemble concert jazz composition--but the don't just intrude on the scenes and sequences, they stomp on them. 
There is a struggle for attention. The final effect is that of being in a crappy hotel room where the neighbors are playing the radio too loud for too long. It would be nice if this resourceful innovator could claim with pride that he had artistic success in the movies besides all the other forms he greeted and seduced into becoming his very own expression. Some shoulders remain could to the seduction. Remember that the name of his memoir is "Music is My Mistress".  Mistresses , in the movies at least,have minds of their own and will keep their own consul.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Free Will

There is nothing to do except park the car and ponder the blue-grey of the sky, but one needs a car first. Failing an automobile, one instead walks out the front door, goes across the lawn until they reach the street. One sits on the curb,  under the portion of the canopy the large, old oak tree provides, and            then pull out out a box of wood matches from a shirt pocket. 

One , though, does not have a shirt, so one rises up from the curb they'd been sitting on and turns to walk back to the hose. This time, though, a decision is made to cross the lawn and not the        walk way to the porch, the hope being that a wonderful texture of green grass between the toes of bare feet would create a sensation that would remove one's memory for a moment and allow one entrance into a glorious sphere of what-if. There is only pain, though, as one has stepped on a nail from some past repair job rendered loud and sloppy by drunk contractors. 

One looks at the wound, a bitter puncture blossoming blood, and then one looks up to the porch to see one's mother, staring hard, her mouth a strict, straight line, her hands , clenched into mighty fists, resting on her hips. She told one to wear shoes before going outside and now one must realize that there is nothing free about free will.

Into the Void, Ordering Room Service

Wishful thinking , the act of  lolling around and contemplating each  fancy you take fulfilled at the moment of inspiration, is the idea behind Jeff Skinner's poem "Distant Wants".This bit of elusive whimsy    seems a trifle at first , but what I got out of after the second read was that it amounts to an anti-bucket list. 

While there are millions of fictional elders chasing the down the items that they'd like to see, do or feel before they pass  on to the Life of Eternal Diffusion,  the hero in this reverie takes this impulse in a relaxed stride and considers them not so much as unfulfilled goals as much as things that are the equivalent of impulse buying:  in a perfect world where whimsy dictated the nature of things, these might be worth going after, absurd though they may be. 

But these are distant wants, products of day dreams and the mind-wandering results of taking a moment to stretch out and allow daily duties to wait their turn for attention. Suitably, these are wants set in the metaphysical realm where the idea of a thing is more real than the material representation. 

Skinner gives a nod to Wallace Stevens and for a minute or so considers rearranging the world of perfect arrangements; this is a child's instinctive musing on what would happen if this button was pressed, that door opened, this loose brick at the bottom of the wall removed.It would have been interesting if the poet had shared the imagined results and revealed what , if anything, would be going on if the order of the world at the most banal level were to become unhinged, although I am grateful for this poem's brevity, staying well within the limits of a semi-sonnet form.The shortness of breadth is exactly the weight these yearnings need to carry. I believe these are musings on how to make arrangements in the perfect world even more artistic, further underscoring their lack of gravitas. Lack of importance is the one thing that makes these musings worth wondering about.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Upon Hearing of Another Marriage Breaking Up

Upon  Hearing of Another Marriage Breaking Up  is a poem that reads as if he had been edited with a wrecking ball.  Author Dean Young reads this poem in something much less than a resounding manner--to say that his recitation was sing-songy would be a comparative compliment. And it would be a lie, at least of the sort you tell your ordinary friend with artistic manners so to not hurt or offend them. What the poet offers on this soundtrack has the flat, expressionless timbre of someone in shock, before they passed out from the loss of too much blood. 
As a poem nominally considering the dissolution of "another" marriage--it's implied that the narrator has had a number of couples in his social circles disband their unions and that he his tired of it, bored with it, angry, perhaps , that they don't appreciate his standard of the good life--the poem considers not tragedy or heartache or the sullen self-recriminations and lashings-out , but rather the notion that insane lack of passion and a profusion of mired boredom proves a fatal combination for the soul. 

The passing details, like junco feathers, dog food, bat wings, other people engaged in public affection, or at least public cooperation, are things regarded with an off side glance, in peripheral vision. The narrator sounds like someone who is had has made ennui their kingdom and , in the course of applying the psychology as philosophy, cannot truly grasp the world and the people , places and things in it. There are murky attempts to address what is clearly seen with poetic indirection, what is not entirely broken down or entirely caked in mud remains clean and useful, what makes no noise makes no problems and is perfectly okay to remain as it is, not bothering me with petty detail. The moral of this story is that the narrator, a witless husband, an Asperger's tainted poet, is unaware of the world as is and cannot see that his universe is falling apart; the flimsy assumptions are flaking , bending, curling up, cracking, blowing away . 

An ambitious scene to undertake,but it is a pity that Young cannot give you a sense of the life that is lacking in this narrator's existence. He writes as compellingly as he reads aloud. The best compliment I can pay this that this sounds like a third rate imitation of Ron Silliman's and Rae Armantrout's work; the two of them are Language poets, a school that is controversial even to this day. But think what you may, there remains strong poetic styles behind each of their work, a shrewd and hard intelligence working in their seeming obscurity. Young is merely oblique. His accomplishment here is that he cannot make you care much for his poem about not caring.Humor is evident when there is laughter. Otherwise it is attempted humor; what Young often does is attempt to engage a habit of speaking that results in ambiguity and unintended irony. This is the sort of banter the hip geek humanities major with a hard dose of reconstituted deconstruction allegedly indulges in more often than not, a pile on of dead signifiers and post-Tarantino prolixity to obfuscate a simple request, command or observation. 

The results, I'm sure, are often hilarious to a circle of friends tuned to the same punch lines or who have seen the same movies, the same books, the same tv shows, but if humor isn't able to reach beyond the camp fire circle and hit a broader population with funny bones, it is merely snark and sarcasm, regardless of apologetic explication. This is not to say that poetry need be as clear as sports writing; but sometimes a muddle in a poem demonstrates , for me, muddled thinking , a consciousness without an apparatus, a useful style. The muddle thinking goes beyond what the poet writes,though, as seen in the critical vocabulary that makes the production of the weak tea Young okay. The ought to cease that practice and so stop the insanity.

THE FUTURE OF POETRY (from "You Call This Lunch?!?")

You need to carry a bigger stick if you're going to talk to me about the blues. Everything in the backyard has a price tag on it, It's the way you grind your teeth when you sleep that makes the mornings a welcome advent of stalled traffic at the freeway entrance, loud radio blasting partisan blame, a coffee mug between my legs. Magic tricks with coins at the behest of fingers dancing between the back of the ear and the tip of her nose makes the child wonder who’s been placing quarters in her hair as she dreamed of her pretty ponies and afternoon teas with her network of dolls. She told me that you were coming over, and now here you are, and I still don't like you, so there.  A mailman sneaks past the apartment building with the lightest steps he can manage.  Cats come from the bushes to see who’s making all the noise.  The clown at the party faints under the summer sun. Needless to say that there's no use  telling the truth, so I'll shut up and allow you to sit there on the prosecution couch, arms crossed and tight lipped, filling in the stony silence with  a vibe that's louder than  any screaming you might have done. Hey, I just learned how to speak in tongues. A sandwich made from a recipe for alphabet soup. In the right disguise, I thought my voice might rise and ride on the wind with the leaves and smoke. For a quarter more I can give you enough fries to gag an off duty cop. All this gangsta rap is punchy, I mean, so honkin' in yer face, ace.  Sentences cannot be jail terms when what you mean is a statement of justice meted out like finger treats and cold cuts. Let's go be with the others at the party, all of us gathered together like pearls around a long, rich neck.  Sorry, but you are talking to someone who is smarter than the average bear, but an idiot with regards to taxes and dating tips.  Be useful and go far, far away. Here's my entry in the bad Hemingway contest: rain. Close cover before striking. Call me Spider. Woke up this morning with those Phenomenology of Spirit Blues.  Superman has moved into the Telephone Booth of Solitude. You think you can take me in a game of Groan? Yes, I never want you to leave in a bad mood, I prefer my relationships pure, like blank job applications.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Logan Heights

 I think that William Logan is a passable formalist  poet .  That’s all I can say abou the man’s efforts to write memorable verse, as there is  the sort of straining you detect that makes you think of someone conspicuously hurting themselves trying to make the heavy lifting their doing appear effortless. You could say that his poems are as poetic as a hernia, which is fine for those who love hernias and their propensity to make bodies bulge in extrusions of varied grotesquerie  I  give him credit , however, for fashioning as a nicely cutting prose style and a talent for the put down. It doesn'tmatter that you disagree with him, think wrong headed or willfully provocative; like the chronically snarky John Simon or the brilliantly acerbic polemics from the late William F. Buckley, he is fun to read . It’s  not a little like rooting for the villain in a professional wrestling match, or slowing down to gawk at a bad auto accident. Ill will and unkind cuts, real or show biz artifice, are what get and keep our attention. His remarks, though, rather too quickly revert to sarcasm, albeit sarcasm of a elevated sort; you wish he'd deal less with surface attributes of a poem and delve into thinking that is more off the charted course.

His review of the most recent work of British  Poet Laureate  Carol Ann Duffy .
is a prize example of Logan 's  synapses firing in the service of frontal assault. I wouldn't mind normally, since Duffy's work interests me not at all; I'd rather consider draining a cesspool than be obliged to read her treacle. Logan, though, goes on too long and too loudly over the word  "swooned". Sarcasm crowds out a subtler tact, it crowds out real criticism. There’s no doubt that Logan knows why he thinks the word is useless as a matter of practical poetry-making –a man as resourceful with cadence and comment as Logan cannot help  but be plagued with many an interesting idea. A paycheck , though, favors the fastest typist, and so his notions are turned into compact little landmines that go off quick, loud, one after another. All   that boom, pow, and kabam  grates to an extent and you  find yourself taking a deep breath and letting it out loudly , overwhelming the noise of the wisecracks ; you wish he’d taken a deep breath himself and explained his thinking more fully with the rest of the class.

"Swooned" is a perfectly fine word for a poet to make use of; Logan's error in that he implies that the term is hopelessly dated because it is of another era, an example of old fashioned sort of poetry. He'd have been on firmer ground had he argued that it is a word that needs to be in the hands of a poet with an ear for newer and older lexicons. For myself, I'd have no problem using "swooned" regardless of its age because it has a beautiful , melodic, fluid sound, and it's effectiveness needn't be consigned to the post-modern habit of knee jerk modernism to justify its use. Straight forward or ironic, it is a fine word and what matters, really , are the language the poet musters up--is there a sequence of well chosen images and metaphors, agile word choices that service a scenario--and the efficacy of the perceptions and attendant emotional resonances. Regular people in every day speech mix their terms, old, new, obscure, clear as glass, all the time and I don't see why some words are banned merely because they are no longer favored for common use. The point is the sound of the word and the effectiveness of its deployment; talent matters most of all. Carol Ann Duffy isn't that poet , but Logan isn't the man to tell anyone what ought not be done.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Nice ones

John McLaughlin is a gifted musician who has that strange knack for either delighting me to no end with his guitar playing, or giving me pause to fall asleep  The latter condition is not a compliment. This is a swinging, energized set from the man; he manages to stay out of the riff-ruts he sometimes favors and moves ahead, straight ahead.When the master guitarist gets away from his neurally entrenched riffs (which, dazzling though they are at first listen, become repetitive and fail at bringing us the melodic theme and variations that would keep a solo interesting) and sets himself in a more straight ahead  context, free of devices, pedals, and other digital distractions, McLaughlin is a fleet, quick witted improvisor. His customary ratta-tat-tat style , a huge influence on a generations of guitarists who were more obsessed with speed than inspiration, becomes enjoyable. This is alacrity in service to ideas.

  I did not go to sleep.