life is biutiful

Sometimes death makes life look beautiful, it reveals it as the mystery that it really is in all it’s strangeness. Two  films I’ve seen recently manage to deal with this very delicate theme. Biutiful, the latest Inarritu, appears to be all about the process of dying, but the effect it has is that it makes you feel the wonder of being alive. The breathtaking cinematography includes moments that haunt you for a long time, like the bodies of Chinese illegal immigrants washed up on the see shore, the breaking dawn, the general atmosphere of a Barcelona that the average tourist will find unrecognizable and, most of all,  the dreamed encounter in the snowy forest. Like in 21 Grams, but more elegantly so, Inarritu manages to bring to life the drama of the human soul by setting its aspirations against the ballast of a body that gradually fails it in the most gruesome way. All the suffering, vomiting, degradation and pain do nothing but accentuate the “biuty” of life

The Tree, on the other hand, starts with a death and focuses on how the living deal with the pain and with the very present loss. The metaphor is quite obvious, but that doesn’t make is less effective. And Charlotte Gainsbourg has got to be one of the most imperfectly beautiful people in the world:

and a song I’ve rediscovered after seeing the film:

shopping the self to death

I haven’t seen many authors in the flesh, but I have seen Brett Easton Ellis reading from his recent book Imperial Bedrooms. I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to meet authors I admire and I suspect it would be quite pointless because you can’t really strike up a meaningful conversation and the kind of adoring fan attitude that people manage to put up on the spot must be quite tiresome for them. I know I get annoyed when I read interviews taken by journalists that can’t shake off this attitude, because nothing meaningful can come out of reservation-less adoration that is unable to challenge the subject of this adoration.

Anyway, I went to see Ellis taken there by a friend and without feeling any of the adoration that I have mentioned, because I hadn’t previously read any of his books. The passage he read involved a blow job and some blank eyed model as far as I remember and the crowd of “nice” people giggled like kids when the biology teacher casually mentions the word “penis” in class, the same reaction when Ellis talked about another supposedly real life blow job at the Frankfurt book fair. I left there quite unimpressed and definitely not interested in reading more from the new book, but also scolded by a friend for not being able to appreciate one of the greatest authors out there and with a lecture on why American Psycho is such a great book. So I promised to read it.

It’s strange to read a book after seeing the person responsible for it, I somehow couldn’t shake of the image of that guy in hoodie with a WASP nose thinking all this violence up and putting it down in the most gruesome detail, in his pajamas, safe in his lonely apartment somewhere. The construction of this novel is flawless; it’s a world in itself, the sick twisted world of the ugliest truths about human nature, civilization in general and a historical era in particular. It is probably one of the most powerful critiques of consumerist culture but, although I appreciated the consistency with which every character description involved an elaborate enumeration of all the brands they were wearing, I’ve started skipping over them after just a few pages. The same went for the ever more elaborate scenes of violence that I literally couldn’t stomach after a while, they made me feel disgusted with myself as if I were some kind of a silent witness and accomplice to all that. Although I was completely aware that the violence should function on a symbolic level, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that it was put down on paper with a gusto that somehow contradicts the very act of criticizing a culture that fetishizes it, by actually doing the same thing. There is some dark humor involved, but you never laugh quite whole heartedly, because the novel leaves no glimmer of hope, as the ending says there’s “no exit”. A while ago I was criticizing Colum McCann for being too pollyannaish, but the belief in the inherent goodness of human nature is probably the quality that makes his characters so endearing. Ellis is at the opposite pole of that, there’s nothing human about his characters in Psycho. They are islands, consuming automata, and there is no meaningful connection between them. The worst of it is they are replaceable and interchangeable, Patrick keeps being mistaken for other people throughout the novel and he keeps doing the same thing to other Wall Street guys.

John Updike said somewhere that American culture and literature is obsessed with youth and adolescence, it glorifies it,  it is a culture that refuses to grow up, to accept inevitable defeat and decay with grace and see it as a natural process of becoming wiser, it denies the wisdom of the aged. And I see some of this in Ellis. This absolute “nay-saying” is so adolescent like despite it’s complexity and I cannot help but laugh at it imagining the author writing another dark portrayal of the human tragedy and the “pain” of existence and then relaxing with an episode of Glee.

His twitter rantings look uncannily like they’ve been written by Patrick Bateman himself.

the sad hipsters

Girls that want to look like Audrey Hepburn instead of themselves, that dress in some other people’s old clothes as if they are trying to inhabit other worlds instead of their own and guys that wear grandpa pullovers, perfectly orchestrated messy haircuts and talk casually about fascism over their vegan lunch; there is something that makes me sad about this generation whose constant quest for uniqueness becomes their uniformity. Love to them is an aesthetic affair, like finding the perfect vintage bauhaus chair in a thrift store, love at first sight, love based on sight.

Every single frame of Les Amours Imaginaires has the narcissistic beauty of the thousands of pictures posted on flickr everyday, by people documenting their stylized selves and lives, it’s like a movie based on Hedi Slimane‘s photos. I’ve almost quit watching after 15 minutes. Another take on the threesome cliche, I thought. And it is that, too. But to me this was a film about the beauty of surfaces, the sadness of a generation of superficial hedonists that can only express themselves by a simulacrum of the past that is devoid of any signification; just beauty for beauty’s sake. Oscar Wilde would probably fit right in with this crowd.

A boy and a girl that are friends fall for the same boy. Its a visual love from the beginning and it stays so. The object of their love is like a painting that grips them and they have to have. He is the archetypal prototype of androgynous beauty, bearing a striking resemblance to the beautiful boy from Death in Venice.  I think I might be reading too much into it and the film might in the end be just as superficial as its beauty. It could be like one of those fashion photo editorials that play a bit with something serious and for a second they make you think and forget that in the end their only purpose is to suck you into that beauty, make you want to posses some of it by buying stuff. It also brings to mind the nouvelle vague cinema with the very important difference that those where rebells that were accidentally chic and these are characters that live entirely through the chic that they surround themselves with.

newyorknewyork

As a restless teenager in a small Romanian town I would read Kerouac and dream of New York. My life was ordinary and predictable and I craved for the adventure that New York represented, the multitude of people, the high highs and the low lows, the alcohol and the jazz, the sex and the rock’ n roll. My New York was a mythical, imaginary place, where everything lacking in my life was taking place. With such high expectations you can only be disappointed when confronted with the real New York. But still it is hard to get disappointed by New York altogether, there’s too much in it to be awed by, even though the experience of actually being there is not quite as life changing as you would have expected. You don’t bump into Neal Cassady and end up drinking and talking like mad in a bar, but you may bump into his shadow as you walk around, just one of the anonymous tourists taking pictures of places that give you a strange sense of deja vu.

For this trip though, I have found a perfect companion: Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. It’s a novel and an ode to the city, however lame that might sound, with its people, its gutters and its high end lofts. It’s a novel without a main character, because the main character is the city, a web of streets and of surprising, sometimes invisible connections. On the day when the real life Philippe Petit walked a tight rope between the two World Trade Center towers, the lives of several characters are changed by fortuitous encounters. A judge generously lets a young heroin addict prostitute go without charging her, only for her to end up in a deadly car crash a few hours later, the death of an Irish monk driving the car ends with his brother marrying the hit and run driver’s wife and so on. Every chapter is told from the perspective of a different character and in the end they all add together like puzzle pieces, revealing the surprising connections. Make no mistake, there is nothing forced or sensational about these coincidences, however Dickensian they may seem, although the tone often verges on the sentimental. I did appreciate the ventriloquism of the author, who writes from the perspective of a whore, a Latina nurse, an old Black woman, an Irish man, a hip young artist and a rich upper-middle class mother of a soldier who died in the Vietnam war, although at times I did have the feeling that these were creative writing exercises. My favorite was the voice of Gloria, an over weight Black woman who lives in a spotless apartment, up in a block of flats, surrounded by drug addicts, pimps and prostitutes and spends the money the state gives her as compensation for the three sons she has lost in the war, on opera tickets.

What I found touching, but at the same time a bit problematic about this author is that he has the immigrant’s unconditional love of America, there is a certain positivism in him that makes him see the light even in the darkest corners of this country, that I find a bit pollyannaish of him. Still, although I can rationally be quite critical of the book in many ways, the truth of the matter is that I’ve gotten engrossed in it all the way and it has been one of my best recent reading experiences, probably due to the context too. And I was happy to see we have the same Kerouac affinity in this interview.

My own bits and pieces of the city:

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And the appropriate soundtrack: