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Showing posts from July, 2011

Back to the Garden

I watched Terrence Malick’s 2005 film The New World twice in one day when I had the flu. A historical drama retelling the Pocahontas legend, the film submerges the viewer in natural images and sounds, recreating a landscape in the last stages of its innocence. Malick’s new film The Tree of Life, shares with its predecessor an obsession with origins, guilt and grace, and a sensuous cinematographic style which intoxicates through fragments.

In attempting to stage the story of one mid-century American family against the creation and development of the planet, the film revives an old method of Epic: the nuclear family as a metaphor for the drama of all natural existence. The film begins with news of a son’s death, a grief still present as the adult Jack (played by Sean Penn) remembers his childhood in Texas. These are memories are lush snapshots of a southern boyhood which seesaws between domination by an authoritarian father (Brad Pitt), who asks his sons to kiss him and to call him sir…
It is a truth universally (but mostly presently) acknowledged that reading Dostoyevsky and red wine is the best thing to do at the end of the week. Sitting in the kitchen, on the third glass, with a happy heart. (Somewhere down Walton Street my friend A, wrapped up in bed with a cold, is also reading the Brothers Karamazov.)

The sudden changes of mode – from philosophical to slapstick, from passionate to comedic – are a delightful jolt. Here’s a paragraph during the dramatic (but mostly blustering) trial of Dmitry Karamazov which, with all its paranoid specificity, makes me think of Bolano and a host of East-European twentieth century writers:

‘Moreover, he himself hated his feet; for some reason he had all his life found his big toes unsightly, especially one thick, flat toenail on his right foot that curved down awkwardly like a hook and would now be exposed for all to see. Utterly ashamed, he became ever more arrogant and intentionally provocative. He ripped off his shirt.’

Picture at an Exhibition

I went to the Ashmolean with a friend yesterday to see the Macedonian exhibit (was largely underwhelmed). Afterwards we strolled through a few Western art displays. Though I love museums, I find them tiring. I feel like I must see everything, but one can only ever run through and experience the whole effect (the museum as a collage of people and places and periods) or focus on several pieces but try to just stay in front of them and see them. I am bad at practicing the latter approach, and tend towards the former. But yesterday J and I took our time and it was not unrewarding if only for this piece.



This is Barna de Siena’s mid 14th century Crucifixion and Lamentation which used to be a part of a diptych. The accompanying plaque said that it is rare to find the crucifixion and lamentation as a part of a single scene, and this makes it a powerful devotional image.

I am quite unresponsive to the Crucifixion (I find the blood rather comic in it’s energetic arching), and Mary Magdalene is …