Searching for apartments I’ve been taking great looping walks around the East Side of Los Angeles, and I’ve noticed some things. First, bacon wrapped hot dogs are a popular street dish among Hispanic Angelinos. Second, there are no good apartments in Los Angeles. Apart from that I read and watched the following.
The Chronicles of Prydain By Lloyd Alexander – I loved these when I was a kid and it turns out I kinda love them now too. I’m maybe going to write a review for someone, if not I’ll post something longer here.
A HIstory of the Hussite Revolution by Howard Kaminsky -- What was it, exactly, that compelled me to read a 600 page academic history of the development of Hussite thought? Part of it is that I’ve long had an interest in the Wars of Religion, and this was a piece of that vast and sanguinary tableau I hadn’t really investigated, and the Los Angeles Public Library system did not (curiously) offer a more general military/political history, and so I took what I could get. Mostly it was that having indulged myself for five books of Y/A fantasy I felt like I probably needed to eat some greens, intellectually speaking, and this was my self-punishment. Being aimed at other specialists in Czech history religious history I am obviously in no position to judge the truth or falsity of its broader claims about the development of Hussite dogma from, roughly speaking, the council of Constance to the destruction of the Taborites, but its written with reasonable clarity given the difficulty of the subject matter. Apart from that? I realized I’ve been thinking the word was Ultraquists for a really long time but really it’s Utraquists. The Taborites were pretty wacky, that’s a pretty fascinatingly modern seeming historical side story. I dunno, I don’t regret reading it, but I can’t imagine recommending it to anyone.
Lands of Memory by Felisberto Hernandez – Apart from children’s fantasy and religious conflict I’ve been working through the lights of early 20th century South American literature, among whom Felisberto Hernandez stands (I gather) in particular regard. In this selection of half a dozen of the man’s most beloved short stories, you can find a lot of threads of later authors – not only Borges’s obsession with memory and perspective, but also Bolano’s constant oblique expression of meance, and his preference for ending a story abruptly. The writing is the kind of pretty where you enjoy every sentence and then get to the end of a long paragraph and realize you have no idea what’s going on, which is to say that’s it’s both invigoratingly difficult and somewhat repetitive. I probably can’t say that I preferred Felisberto to the writers he inspired, though the stand out stories, Crocodile and the first one, about the stinky pianist, basically, are weird and mean and worth the cost of admission.
Two Serious Ladies Jane Bowles – Two upper middle class woman engage in unexpected episodes of debauchery. The prose is absurdist slapstick, which generally speaking I like but which here I found murderously dull and almost entirely unfunny. The characters themselves are so loosely drawn I literally had difficulty remembering which was which, and the debauchery itself is neither erotic nor exciting in any way. There seems a notion that the protagonist’s decision to revel down in the muck has some sort of religious implication but the thrust of it was so vague and muddled that I frankly couldn’t expound upon the theme more than that. I disliked this book so much that I feel like I must have missed something—if anyone has read this and wants to correct my math, please feel free to do so in the comments.
Eve's Hollywood Eve Babitz – Love is about half a sham, even in the best cases, a conscious and deliberate effort to keep the wool tight over the top of your face, but what’s the alternative, really? I did not love New York when I first moved there – that was why I wrote City Dreaming, in fact, as a deliberate effort to intoxicate myself on the metropolis and my brief time in it. The same effort will be required to become an Angeleno, to view my stay here as being valuable, as valuable as something can be in the stew of meaninglessness which is the human experience.
Which is to say, I suppose, that existence proceeds essence. I invented that. That’s mine.
Anyway long and short being I especially enjoyed Ms. Babitz recollections of her childhood as the children of upper class intellectuals in a vibrant post-world Los Angeles, as well as her torrid anecdotes of being the hippest socialite in the 60’s anarchy which followed. But even if you don’t need to convince yourself you made a good decision in moving cross country to sell your soul to the Hollywood machine you would still (assuming you aren’t a fool) marvel at Babitz’s sly wit and lacerating, gleeful observations about so diverse a slate of topics as LSD and Taquitos. She’s sort of a West Coast Renata Adler, and if that doesn’t make you want to run out and read it then you need to stop reading my reviews.
You Were Never Really There (2018) -- Joaquin Phoenix is a hulking trauma victim who lives with his mother and works as a (bare with me) hitman specializing exclusively in pedophiles who gets caught in a the midst of political conspiracy. So far as I’m concerned this is probably the most impressive example of the revenge sub-genre, and certainly the somewhat smaller hyper masculine vigilante saves innocent woman,’ sub-sub-genre. Lynne Ramsay is a wonder—every shot is stunning, she finds extraordinary beauty within the context of constant horrible savagery and she films action in an exciting and unconventional way. Phoenix is likewise marvelous, hulking and brutish and terribly miserable.
Indeed, it’s such a technical accomplishment that I was forced to consider the moral and aesthetic ramifications of the film far beyond what I would normally expect to do while watching an action movie. There is something peculiar, frankly, about marrying such wizardry to so absurd and unbelievable a story. As hard as they work to introduce elements of seriousness into the plot, mainly by having a lot of flashbacks to the hero’s horrid childhood, it is impossible to escape the feeling that this is basically the same plot of a Frank Miller comic, Taxi Driver without any of the ironic undertones.
Can a film be high art without making any sort of moral point? I think it can, probably—Sergio Leone is art, the Warriors is art, pure fantasy shouldn’t be condemned for that alone. That said, if the thing is pure fantasy, as I think it basically is, then much of the savagery towards children has to be judged exploitative and cheap.
None of which is to take away from the enormous marvel of the film, which is one of the best things I’ve seen in years and highly worth your time and money. Also, at the half full Saturday afternoon showing I went to last week, Joaquin Phoenix came out before hand to say hello (I gather this is not that uncommon) and after he left an employee of the theater who was like 17 came out to give a brief announcement during which he thanked Wa-Queen for his time. It was pretty amazing.
Thunder and Lightfoot (1974) – Clint Eastwood is a retired armed robber, a young Jeff Bridges is an enthusiastic car thief, after this Michael Cimino goes on to make The Deer Hunter, all in all it should have been better than it is. The first hour is a shaggy but good humored road movie, but the second hour is a rather dull heist followed by an incoherent climax. It looks good, there’s a certain amount of enjoyment to be taken from just watching the cast bullshit with each other, but basically this was pretty underwhelming.
M (1931) —Normally when I watch things from this era the best I can hope for is some broader appreciation of how certain stylistic innovations helped develop the artform, but never in my memory can I recall seeing a film anywhere close to this old which was so utterly captivating in its own right. The story of a child killer, and of the underworld syndicate which tries to hunt him down, there is so much that’s fabulous in this movie—every shot is amazing looking, the cuts are brilliant and complex, and Lang had an enormous talent for assembling a collection of weird looking character actors. Peter Lorre as the child killer is utterly horrifying, sallow and insensibly moronic except when on the prowl, when his whole being seems to light up with desire. Not only the first, but probably the best, serial killer movie ever made, an absolute and indelible masterpiece—I’m going to have to figure out what I kick out of my top 10 to make room for it (I don’t actually have a top ten, I’m an adult, but you get the idea.)