Sunday, March 24, 2013

Where's My Montage?

Cinema tries to imitate life, both as it occurs and as it is perceived. When it imitates the perception of life, it's expressionist, and some expressionist marvels have been so true, so accurate to our perceptions, that they've been repeated to the point of cliche.

You know what I'm talking about, even if the terms are unfamiliar. The person in an accident on screen has everything go into slow motion. Real time doesn't do that, but we experience time that way sometimes during traumas. Some director decides, during a climatic scene, to have a single flower in a brilliant color to indicate the real way that human perceptions work, where a detail that seems irrelevant may stand out more to a participant than the materially important events.

Well, how about the early parts of "The Graduate?" You know what I'm talking about. Dustin Hoffman puts on his new SCUBA gear and walks into a party of people speaking gibberish to him and sinks to the bottom of the swimming pool. The replica of his tropical fish tank and his private metaphor (being on view, being an object), as well as the director's (being cut off, being unintelligible, having dialog streams that belong to different languages/species) is perfect. You loved it. I loved it. After all, we were always Dustin Hoffman's character, because we were the camera.

Then came the fast motion montage. You know this, too. The framing character is impassive, stunned, catatonic, and the rest of the scene is filled with a stop-motion or slow-film-stock film of people running at sixteen times normal speed and interacting. They're all doing things, while the character (you) is out of it (out of time). The point of view character has declared a separate peace.

In the days of rock videos, the technique was a cliche, if only because the feeling was a cliche. It's a large part of what adolescence and young adulthood is: being overwhelmed, like The Graduate, and incapable.

However, the heart of it, of the humanity that affirms the cinematic gesture, that makes us resonate, is in much graver circumstances than the prom or graduation. The heart of it is the inconsolable and unreasonable. The heart of it is birth and death. The lie of it is that the point of view character who becomes a cork in the maelstrom does not end up safe and saved, but farther at sea, with dilemmas that cannot be reconciled.

In short, it is a cinematic lie. It is an expressionistic truth that is a living falsehood.

Nevertheless, I sure as hell wish I could have one right now. My mother is in hospice care for her last days, and her death is all going to be on me. All the decisions are mine, and all the financial burden will land here, but, more to the point, her death will explode my life, because my life for seven years has been devoted, first of all, to looking after her. I always figured that, after that did not really matter: my job would be done. It sure would be good if the montage were true, and not mimetic.

Friday, March 01, 2013

The Crude Matter

"The Curious Joy of the Flame" Copyright & stuff to me
Each place shows hard times in its own way. Only the poor neighborhoods demonstrate the change of fortunes immediately, and eastern Baltimore went from doors to plywood masks over the wounded facades of row houses in 2002-4 as the Inner Harbor prosperity turned out to be another Baltimore County extension. Wealthy places show that hard times have come by admitting low end shopping into their world rather than by diminishing the opulence. The middle does as the middle does -- it slowly slides back and forth between fewer and more loan offices, gold buyers, gold bugs, recycling centers, and Fiat dealers.

Rural America is not very much like suburban America. It has grown like it in speech and in many sexual mores and outlooks, but the society of the small town is generally quite different from the lack of a society found in a suburb or the duress society of an urban core. Land and ownership of major businesses keep the top stratum of a rural town where it is. I could tell hard times had come when the drive from home to work was suddenly a drive through a clear cutting camp.

The SUV's don't disappear, nor the Lexis cars. The trees do, though, as rural towns are land based, and people will believe that the trees on their land can give emergency money during a disaster. In 2010, I saw an entire region sell trees. The perspective of the world got much shorter all of a sudden. I'm no fan of this thinking, but I'm no fan of the pine tree -- which is the most common citizen taken from the soil (Roy Barnes ran for governor of Georgia last time saying that Georgia was the "Saudi Arabia of pine trees"). My opposition, though, is not simply aesthetic.

In North Carolina, the botanical garden is pretty cool. They have all the pwetty flowers, but the real botanical garden is along a series of trails that go miles through the woods and rise in elevation by a couple of hundred feet. Along the way, there are plaques marking out the zones the trail is emulating and illustrating the plants of the state present there. That's how a state botanical garden ought to do it, I think. It was there that I was walking and came to a mature tree fallen over a creek, and it had a plaque.

The botanical garden explained that this mature tree fell over because of run-off. 1. People put in parking lots and roads that do not absorb rain water. 2. The rain water hits local streams in vaster amounts and at greater speeds. 3. This stream, way back in the woods, is fed by those streams running behind subdivisions of houses. 4. The water is running fast and digs out the dirt underneath the tree. 5. A tree that had been growing comfortably for 120 years falls over.

1999, outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina
My employer faced a briefcase nuke of debt. When it had needed a grant, it had gotten a loan, and the interest on that loan had consumed all of its proceeds and then some. It sold a vast lot of land that fronted the highway in 2011, and its trees of value were gone quickly, then the rest were burned before bulldozers went to work on the soil.

These last few months, I've been grimmer and less operatic in my morbidity. This is because all of the talk of lingering shadows has been closer.

My mother's condition is puzzling. She will not initiate any actions. She will sit or lie and stare, with a mind fully active. She is not vacant, and any conversation with her reveals how vivacious she is, but she won't stand up, won't walk, won't move around anywhere. As for whether or not she is confused, that is a question of which six hour period you speak to her in. One segment is good, and another is bad, and another is acceptable but trending good or bad. This means, for me, that I have to be extraordinarily involved in ways that I had and do and will dread.

Yesterday, a colleague of mine died of liver cancer.

Also, as I was coming home and praying that my car's wheels stayed on, I passed a horrible wreck, where a tan sedan had its top smashed in and torn off sideways. A large -- very large -- tree from the lot the employer had sold was down across the roadway, too. I prayed for the ambulance workers that they have skill and success, and I prayed for those involved, that their lives might be spared.

Two college freshmen had been in that tan car, and the tree had fallen on them as they were going 40 mph or thereabouts. They were both killed at the scene.

Death mocks the young. It turns the sententious old men's voices to cruelty. Those who had said, Think of your future, and Plan for your life after college, are moved from the wise to the vicious, and those who said, Listen to the voice, for you have been called here must choke. The death of young men is vinegar and ash. They die in the high tide of life, when passions are stronger than reason or body, when the heart's truths can't be contained.

The middle aged death is the explosion of worlds. My colleague's wife becomes a widow, which is no thing to marry. The children, below ten years, have to hear echoes of God's purpose and not understand that death is not a judgment, not an evil, not a sentence carried out on this person or that. They have to know that love is undimmed and undiminished by death, and that death can quiet the body, but it cannot remove a father, truly. All changes, and bills mount, and the future looks to have been written in black on black, night in night, because of the jeering interruption of death, which said "No" to plans.

Death to the old is no better, for it sounds the bell. As one friend goes or another, or as one acquaintance or another goes, the generation and all the world a person has known announces that it is passed and that you, you too, belong in that quiet. The constant funerals become death's repeated tattoo: "Isn't it time for you, too?" Then one sits waiting -- fully alert and hoping for a catastrophic blow that will spare the dribbled out life of the thousand indignities.

I am taking a break from talking about suicide and gloom, myself. Instead, let's look over at those fields. The reason the trees are worth keeping is the vast roots. They make a city underneath the surface. They are interlaced fingers of roots clasping hands. When death comes to them, it comes, but it should not be because we took the soil from beneath the roots. It should not be because rain, the life giver, has cut through our breast.