You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Thursday, April 21, 2011

THE FUDDY DUDDY ON THE STAIRS

More and more often I find myself no longer the demographic for certain cultural events. Perhaps I have less patience than I had twenty or even ten years ago. Sometimes it's the "been there/done that" syndrome. And sometimes, I admit, I am just too old. I hate to show up places where I look like some one searching for his runaway teenage daughter.

 I am using the term "cultural event" here in the broadest possible sense. Music, art, movies, books, fashion, and those new roller coasters where you strap in but dangle from the actual machine and experience the sensation of dying. Sorry, I meant flying.

Music was never that big a part of my life and now even less so. I do listen to the radio rather than CD's in the car. I want to hear what's out there on the progressive rock stations -- if they worked at it, they could come up with a more pompous term for that genre -- as well on what passes for country stations. If I  might lower the tone of the discussion here, what I really liked about music from my teenage years on were songs that made me think about fucking. I still like those songs and they are many and various.  A few years ago I taught a class of college juniors and asked them to recommend some music. Radiohead was at the top of the list. What is Radiohead least likely to make you think about? Right. Bring back The Georgia Satellites.

With visual art I see a lot of reinventing the wheel, but I remain curious to see where things are headed. And sometimes individuals have to first reinvent the wheel before they can decide to either give it all up or find their own way.

I often see movies that I am sure the producers, usually at Lion's Gate, were not counting on me to help them make their money back. After a day of business appointments, I saw Hostel  in a sold out New York City theater where I feel pretty certain I was the only person wearing a suit and top coat and carrying a briefcase. But I enjoyed it as much as the kid next to me. Other things I see in an effort to stay somewhat in tune with the Zeitgeist. The DVR has upped my consumption of such things as the Twilight films. Sex in the City 2, Adam Sandler's latest, and films starring Jason Stratham -- although there are extenuating circumstances there I choose not to go into.

With books I draw the line on keeping up with the Zeitgeist. Books take too long. I will eventually watch most if not all of The Da Vinci Code on television, but I am not going to waste my time reading it. I know it's junk. Same goes for John Grisham, James Patterson, et al. And please never tell me that you know the one Stephen King book I would really enjoy.

Sometimes my reactions to something can catch me by surprise. It doesn't make me feel old, but I wonder if on some level I am slowly slipping out of it. I am by and large unshockable. I have never closed my eyes during eye gougings or disembowelments; when Seann William Scott ate the dog turd in American Pie Number Whatever I laughed my ass off. I've seen several of those serious European films where the characters have real sex and thought some were better than others. But then there is the case of Gasper Noe.

Noe is a forty-seven-year-old French director who, if such a thing remains possible, is "controversial." I have seen two of his films. Irreversible (2002) and Enter the Void (2009). The formal trick to Irreversible is that the story is told in reverse. It starts, or ends,  with a brutal beating death in a gay bath house. The victim has raped his killer's girlfriend in one of the most prolonged and painful sequences ever put on film. As the story continues to move backwards we get to know this couple, who are not particularly appealing. We go with them to a party full of drunken French assholes. In the final, or the first, scene we learn that the girl is pregnant and we see Vincent Cassel's semi-erect penis. I left the theater feeling the film was equal parts serious filmmaking and hooey.

I watched Enter the Void about a month ago on DVD, and the idea for this now overlong blog posting came to me that night. I no longer, however, remember much of what the movie was about. It was set in Tokyo, the central characters were an American brother and sister, there was a lot about drugs with names I had never even heard before, and towards the end there was a shot taken from inside a vagina as a penis head plunged toward the camera. This was followed by a really pretty version of a sex ed film depicting the tiny sperm attaching itself to an egg. As much as I remember, the story of Enter the Void seemed to be that we all start out as zygotes and then shit happens.

I was happy to write it off as flashy nonsense, but a few days later I read on a website, for which I was obviously not the demographic, a report by a very articulate young man who said Enter the Void was the film he had been "waiting to see all his life." I couldn't write this guy off as an idiot, but I had to admit that we came from different worlds.

Two years ago, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth -- this, by the way is not a digression -- hosted a series of French New Wave Cinema. They invited me to introduce Jean Luc Godard's Breathless. I was surprised that so many of the audience were seeing the film for the first time, and I assured them they were in for a treat. But the bulk of my introduction concerned the negative responses the film drew upon its release, especially in the United States. It was immoral, incoherent, an insult to all things decent, cast with unappealing actors, etc. Bowsley Crowther, the critic of record for the New York Times, was particularly vehement in his put downs.

And so is this the formula? I am to Gaspar Noe as Bowsley Crowther was to Jean Lun Godard. Fifty years from now will the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth be hosting a Gaspar Noe retrospective, with some know-it-all standing before the audience and assuring them they are in for a treat?

Am I slipping not only into late middle age but even worse into the irrelevancy of the fuddy-duddy who just doesn't get it?

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