Indie films ain’t shit: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Crazy in love, Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) cuddle in a sun-dappled meadow. When Ruth tells Bob she’s pregnant, he commits a robbery that leads to a shootout in a rural farmhouse, lit as fetchingly as the meadow. Ruth wounds a deputy (Ben Foster). You tell’em I did it, Bob suggests. He goes to prison for twenty-five years. Ruth has her child. It’s the seventies. Mustaches grow longer, the musical score gets insistent. Bob escapes. The deputy shows a romantic interest in Ruth.

Causality is not a film’s strength when Terence Malick is an influence. Writer-director David Lowery’s early scenes often show a character at work or play before cutting to another, creating a suspense (i.e. what is he building?) that the movie squelches. Meanwhile the score — synths and pizzicato strings — is as loud as a SCUD raid. I know a man directed Ain’t Them Bodies Saints because there’s a scene in which Mara watches Foster getting along so well with her kid; I’ve seen it in a dozen feature and TV movies. Couldn’t Foster be a great lover and lousy with children? Or the opposite? At least that one time I could distinguish the actors from the ambience. For Lowery dimly lit rooms and characters shrouded in darkness at tables signify importance. Even a scene in broad daylight in which a wounded Affleck compels a frightened kid to give him a ride is shot as if the kid were in witness protection. Ponderous, portentous, and uncertain, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is purest Sundance fare. Affleck’s pain-crinkled voice doesn’t carry over a mic. Mara occasionally gets to show shades of regret on her open face. With Keith Carradine as Bob’s protector and surrogate father; he gives the movie a shot of energy every time he appears.

Seamus Heaney: “a spirit called extravagantly beyond the course that the usual life plot for it”

Covered in the last days of a late period survey of English lit course my freshman year of college, Seamus Heany’s “Digging” shouldn’t have stood out but did because it was a pleasure to read aloud, even to myself:

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Note the quietness of effects: the alliteration of those t’s, swathed in monosyllables, in the second verse. Irish history he understood as a narrative of earth. Poem after poem in which mud, sand, rivers, bogs figure — as bony and lean as the best of Robert Frost. “Its pitch is low, it proceeds about its business without histrionics, and the sureness of its progress invests it with an underplayed self-containment,” he wrote about Elizabeth Bishop, and like most writers the occasion to write about a forebear becomes an opportunity for self-disclosure. 1979’s Field Work is the best of his volumes (I’ve cited the infidelity conceit “The Otter” here a couple times), but later ones like Elecric Light show no slackening; every poem boasted an image or poetic effect to die for.

Not much cited in a couple of the obits I’ve read are the many finely wrought essays he wrote on the craft of poetry. I’m a fan of poet’s prose: it tends towards the muscular and the exhortative. He covered the generation he was on the cusp of eclipsing (Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell), forbidding and inescapable influences (Yeats duh), unexpected ones (John Clare). A devotee of Wallace Stevens, Heaney also delineated an approach to poetry that like drops of red dye in a glass of water quietly tint its depths demanded its coloration of life; poetry should, in his words, redress — set upright again — being. In this moving and learned essay, which ends with a consideration of George Herbert, Heaney rises to incantatory heights:

…but it is when the spirit is called extravagantly beyond the course that the usual life plots for it, when outcry or rhapsody is wrung from it as it flies in upon some unexpected image of its own solitude and distinctness, it is then that Herbert’s work exemplifies the redress of poetry at its most exquisite.

“Washington will find a way to insert itself sooner or later.”

As minority leader, Nancy Pelosi was an irritant to the Bush White House. To her lasting credit she voted against the 2002 congressional authorization to invade Iraq under false pretenses; she even bemoaned the cowardice of fellow Democrats in not presenting a unified front against what was obvious to most of us then.

Which is to say this statement disappointed me and at the same time so much what-else-is-new:

“It is clear that the American people are weary of war. However, Assad gassing his own people is an issue of our national security, regional stability and global security,” Pelosi said in a statement after the 90-minute conference call with members of the National Security Council and 26 high-ranking lawmakers.

Undergirding these pronouncement is the fear of “credibility” loss, as if we’ve ignored what happened in 2003: the worst blow to our credibility since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Larison:

The U.S. has taken some form of military action against another government at least once in almost every year for the last twenty-five years. No one could have any doubt that the U.S. is more than willing to use force to back up its threats. Nonetheless, the fear among “credibility”-obsessed Americans is that someone somewhere might actually think that the U.S. can avoid unnecessary conflicts for more than a year or two. This fear is evidently baseless. No matter how unwise or unnecessary our involvement is in most of these foreign conflicts, Washington will find a way to insert itself sooner or later.

Singles 8/30 – In the summer dancing bachata

Timing helped. The hottest days of the year deserve a drink as cold and bracing as “Propuesta Indecente,” and VV Brown’s dance track is a close second. Eminem performed better than he deserved, for which I blame the backing track.

Click on links for full reviews.

Romeo Santos – Propuesta Indecente (8)
VV Brown – The Apple (7)
B.A.P – Badman (7)
A$AP Ferg ft. A$AP Rocky – Shabba (6)
Emilíana Torrini – Speed of Dark (6)
Eminem ft. Liz Rodrigues – Survival (6)
Lady Lykez – I Love My Butt (6)
Ray Foxx ft. Rachel K Collier – Boom Boom (Heartbeat) (5)
Temi Dollface – Pata Pata (5)
Jason Derulo ft. 2 Chainz – Talk Dirty (4)
B.o.B. ft. 2 Chainz – Headband (4)
Tech N9ne ft. Serj Tankian – Straight Out the Gate (4)
Daft Punk ft. Pharrell – Lose Yourself to Dance (2)

San Francisco gays deliberately spread AIDS with rings designed to cut people

I didn’t know!

Televangelist Pat Robertson claimed on his show, the “700 Club,” on Tuesday that gay people in San Francisco have deliberately spread AIDS using rings designed to cut people, according to a video published by Right Wing Watch.

“You know what they do in San Francisco? Some of the gay community there, they want to get people. So, if they’ve got the stuff, they’ll have a ring. You shake hands and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger,” Robertson said in the video. “Really. I mean it’s that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder.”

Right Wing Watch said the clip was edited out of the version of the show that was placed on the “700 Club” website and that the comments were made when Robertson was responding to a question from a viewer who was worried about driving with a man who had AIDS.

“I must confess, I don’t know all the ramifications of infection with AIDS,” Robertson said in the clip. “I used to think it was transmitted by saliva and other things. Now, they say it may be sexual contact. So, what you want to say if you’re driving an elderly man who has got AIDS, don’t have sex with him.”

Man, I ordered that gay ring in 1999. Still on back order.

Chris O’Leary explains Bowie Bonds, late nineties nostalgia

The so-called “Bowie bonds” story of the late nineties confused me, in large part because most reporters, lacking the financial acumen, reduced the deal to “Aging rock star makes truckload of dough” and, to be fair, “securitization” was as alien and complex a concept as David Bowie himself in 1972. Chris O’Leary explains how it worked. “The brilliance of the securitization concept was that it could be applied to seemingly anything, not just mortgages,” he writes. “All you needed was an asset that generated a predictable return over a set period of time.” Thinking that in an infinitesimal way Bowie, with the support of plutocrats, contributed to a post-Glass-Steagall environment in which toxic assets, credit default swaps, bad debt, and lax governmental oversight brings new meaning to future shock: Alvin Toffler’s as much as the Diamond Dog’s.

His concluding paragraphs cast a bittersweet pall:

The young man grew older. He became a parent. He had a costly split from his manager. He moved to Switzerland to reduce his taxes. He had a costly split from his wife. He married again, he would have another child. Now he was 50. How long could he keep at his racket? The papers had wanted him gone years before. So he and his financial adviser devised a scheme. He would give away the royalties to his songs for a decade in exchange for a considerable pile of money. As much as half of which, some $27 million, reportedly would buy out his old manager for once and for all. Then he (and his children) would finally and wholly own his songs.

Consider the course Bowie took in the years that he worked, indirectly, for Prudential. He performed his older songs more. He supervised new releases of his old CDs in 1999 and various 30th Anniversary reissues in the early 2000s. He recorded an album where he reworked his obscure Sixties compositions (though his label shot it down). He played 83 shows in 1997 and from 2002 to 2004, he toured almost ceaselessly, racking up over 150 dates, to the apparent detriment of his health.

And around 2006, the bonds matured and his songs returned to him, and now to him alone. By then he’d stopped recording and playing live. He had (temporarily) retired; you could say that he’d earned it.

The most pragmatic thing about poetic metaphor: you know that “your net cannot trap all of the experience in question.”

conmurrWhen I learned about the death of Albert Murray, I was ashamed not to know a thing about him. There’s a lot I didn’t. A lot. South To a Very Old Place, which I finished last weekend, collects a series of meditations on Southern cities as busing and the forced desegregation of schools forced a radical rethinking of how the races mingled. Marred by the ill-fitting and distracting conceit of prefacing each chapter with a prose poem written in second person, South To a Very Old Place boasts the freshness of a writer who has nevertheless found the ideal vessel for his insights. Coded in the genetic stuff of their leaders and intellectuals, Southern recalcitrance demanded a suicide pact of its members, a rueful point noted by V.S. Naipaul about Mississippi in his own travelogue A Turn in the South (1989): the authors of its constitution wanted the state to remain “a pastoral state, an agricultural state.” As former governor William Winter told Naipaul, “We threw various roadblocks in the path of corporate development. It had the effect of discouraging investment in industrial plants in the state.” It worked.

Like James Baldwin, Murray detested liberal self-congratulation; he reserved special loathing for white pieties about black life. The grandest bit is a pages-long rumination on William Faulkner’s idealizations of black motherhood:

Damn, man, if the mammyness of blackness or the blackness of mammyness was so magnificent and of such crucial significance as you now claim, how come you let other white folks disrespect and segregate her like that?

He cuts through the bullshit. I wonder if he had Daniel Patrick Moynihan in mind here:

…so many reporters substituting social science theory and terminology for open-minded observation nor just plain old-fashioned human interest, curiosity, and even hard-headed detective-story-type investigation.

The jazz expert who wrote novels understood the lies in “capturing reality” and the truth of fiction: “The most pragmatic thing about poetic metaphor is that you know very well that your net cannot trap all of the experience in question.” My complaints about Murray’s ungainly rhetorical strategy fades.

“If we aren’t trying to ‘fundamentally alter the nature of the conflict on the ground,’ then why in the hell are we making war in in Syria in the first place?”

Charles Pierce:

If Kerry is to be believed, the “situation on the ground” is that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people, a monstrous crime. If we aren’t trying to “fundamentally alter the nature of the conflict on the ground,” then why in the hell are we making war in in Syria in the first place? If we aren’t trying to “topple” the Syrian president so he won’t use chemical weapons on his own people again, why are we going to be firing high explosives into the country that are going to kill some of those people anyway? This is the difference between making war in a place and going to war in a place. If you’re simply making war in a place, logic doesn’t necessarily apply. Even a lot of the people proposing that we make war in Syria — even a lot of the liberals proposing it — admit freely that they don’t know what will come next, or even on whose side we will be making war in Syria. This strikes me as an important thing to determine before you commit the nation to a course of action like the one proposed, but then, making war in a place enables you to do it from an antiseptic distance, to believe in the fairy-tale McNamara concept of “sending a message” by blowing stuff up, to believe that the most important thing for the World’s Last Superpower to do is anything.

Not to mention the analysts fretting about a loss of American “credibility” as if Iraq didn’t happen and the U.S. deliberately stepping into a quagmire didn’t do the worst damage to our credibility.

Plus, at what do you aim missiles? The Obama administration has already leaked news that it’s aware of the, er, difficulty:

“That is a hairy business,” the official said. “Our interest is in keeping the chemical weapons secured. You hit a bunker that holds chemical weapons and all of a sudden you have chemical weapons loose.”

“The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.” — Bayard Rustin

Until Christopher Hitchens cited him as an outstanding example of an atheist on the God is Not Great tour, I had no idea who Bayard Rustin was. Neither did the audience, I presume. Call him the civil rights leader whose face few wanted public: a member of the Communist party as a young man and a homosexual arrested in 1953 on a sodomy charge. NAACP leader Roy Wilkins wanted Rustin out of sight at the March on Washington. Believing that civil rights were meant for all Americans, he protested the internment of Japanese Americans in California and tried to protect their property, and in his last years worked for the recognition of homosexuals as the next front in the war. “Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change,” he said in a speech called “The New Niggers Are Gays.” “The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.” Rustin deserves pairing with James Baldwin, also riven by two fraught identities (John D’Emilio wrote an estimable recent biography, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin).

Rustin, to whom Barack Obama will award the Medal of Freedom this week, gets a good biographical summary in The Guardian.

Here is a fascinating document: Rustin and Malcolm X debating.

Linda Ronstadt forced from singing by Parkinson’s: a couple thoughts

Linda Ronstadt’s seventies output — a series of albums starting with 1974’s Heart Like a Wheel that made her the biggest female rock star in the world — is uneven as hell but over the years I’ve come to love Simple Dreams, bits of Hasten Down The Wind, and a few singles that aren’t studied Motown covers like “Heat Wave.” Eighties kids knew her for baloney like “Somewhere Out There” (with James Ingram) and plushly produced trash like “Don’t Know Much” (with an Aaron Neville performance as sweet as anything from his heyday). I’m even rather fond of her massage parlor-worthy version of Kate and Anne McGarrigle’s “Heartbeats Accelerating.”

A serious onset of Parkinson’s has forced her to retire forever from singing. She already felt retired, far enough away from us to evaluate the Nelson Riddle albums, the ones exploring her Latin American roots (I heard Frenesi at home in college). I admire her clarity as a singer, her peripatetic interests. The latter is one of the virtues of not being a singer-songwriter; expectations don’t cling to her. During her seventies peak she redeemed the idea of the performer who didn’t pretend to write songs (ignore her two middling efforts on HDTW). John Rockwell’s essay for Greil Marcus’ Stranded is essential reading; it’s especially good on Ronstadt’s genuine interest in creating a sense of community for female singer-songwriters in the repellant world of post-sixties machismo.

And she could rock. I’m struck by the Waddy Wachtel-anchored band of the Simple Dreams period played tense, rhythmically thick rock and roll for Bryan Ferry’s uptight The Bride Stripped Bare.

A constitutional convention starring Tom Coburn and Mark Levin

Charles Pierce:

This president isn’t going to make it easier on you. There isn’t going to be a personal scandal that you can gin up this time. I think you should proceed to hearings — all of you fine old white people — wherein you try to remove from office the first African American president in history for the high crimes of getting a law passed that you don’t like. I think you should recall how everything except the Lewinsky stuff fell apart on Ken Starr, and then trot out the IRS and Benghazi, Benghazi! BENGHAZI! again on national television. I think this is a monumental political winner for your party. I think this may just lock things up for you the next 20 years. Go ahead. Give your slavering base what it really wants.

As for the idea of a “new constitutional convention”:

Why you’re hearing about it again now is that the delegates to The Second Worst Idea would be chosen by the various state legislatures where, at the moment, Republicans are running amuck. The reason this is The Second Worst Idea is that the last time we did it, we threw out the entire system of government, and that was with James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington running the show. I’m no raging Founder-phile, but that seems to me to be a better lineup than handing the job over to Tom Coburn, Mark Levin, and the inhabitants of monkeyhouses like the current Wisconsin and North Carolina state legislatures. Last time, we did it partly because of Shays Rebellion. This time, we’ll do it because conservatives got beat on health-care with their own ideas.)

Pierce, however, does omit mention of the plausible ways in which an unbound National Security Administration pushes presidents into shall we say extra-constitutional areas (he has, just not here).