Monday, October 29, 2007

Don't Walk Away

For the first time in a very long time, I watched a film at a theatre. While multiplexes do exist in good quantity here in Paris, we ended up in a narrow rectangle, underground, alongside a cement wall marked with the names of luminary directors. No frills, certainly no concessions' stand, though our seats were still plush and red as they were probably initially intended. We couldn't have picked a more appropriate film or venue given the dreary fall weather and the looming promise of wintertime. Control generated much hype over the year after its debut during the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes earlier this May, and the hype was well worth it. Shot by a first-time director and cinematographer, acted and performed by mostly unknown actors (save for the heartbreaking Samantha Morton), it was extraordinary to see how closely the film mirrored the music: a melancholic malaise that bars the emotional depth of Joy Division's cool post-punk basslines and Ian Curtis' baritone delivery.

For this isn't simply a film about a band, nor your average biopic. There's no emollient finale to absolve viewers from the pitiless surroundings projected in from of them for nearly two hours. The "kitchen-sink" style of realism is not quite accurate a description for the style, as Anton Corbijn's vision is far dreamier in his approach to the beauty of circa 1970s post-industrial Manchester, England. The grand myth of the band includes Corbijn's iconic photography of the time, breaking the rules of glamour and choosing to view them from behind. Legend states that the young Dutchman left the Netherlands because of Joy Division's music. The film's source material, a book written by Curtis' widow Deborah, ironically adds another level of distance as it, too, attempts to make sense of Curtis' incredible irretrievable actions, travails, and tragic ending. The film is also the story of the impetuous beginnings of Joy Division, with their repeat bedroom listening sessions of Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and the Sex Pistols emblazoned in memory. Indeed, what else can one do but revel in the music on a dull grey afternoon?

Perhaps I've a tendency to romanticize the Byronic outsider like the rest of the masses. Curtis was a deeply conflicted individual, and certainly, the bizarre concoction of drugs prescribed to treat a recently diagnosed condition of epilepsy didn't help his predisposed tendency for depression. Sam Riley's gaunt, lanky frame and moonish eyes are worked to their best advantage. Riley's performance as Curtis nearly outdoes the original as he spasms, out of control so to speak, on stage, dancing without any particular rhythm and against the grain of his precise voice. Desperately seeking and seeking without filter, Control doesn't end with the malaise of dank hallways and grim, beer-soaked nights alone. Instead, it includes the fraying of other lives, including Curtis' wife, lover, and friends, as they contend with the very real consequences of a man unable to discern his desires.

Curiously, like the music that still lives on, the film doesn't adequately address the "why" we would all like to know. I initially thought that "why" didn't need to be addressed, but a day later, I still wind up empty when thinking "why" and for a fan, that will never be answered. It's easy to say that those who don't know depression firsthand will never understand that there is no easy "why," but given the myths surrounding Joy Division, it's an oversight to not protray how the rapid-fire mood swings, the consistent indecision, the mounting anxiety and its concomitant irritability came about. From one bedroom to another, Curtis shuttled back further into his mind, letting his personal demons conquer him. As someone who's lived with depression, as well as dealt with others who are depressed, I wanted to call out and say don't walk away.

** Grande Enchilada also writes compellingly about the incomplete portrayal of Curtis here.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

She moves like she don't care

There's something sinister and ironic about listening to Nick Cave crooning "Death Is Not The End" while reading about the latest development in the iconography now known, simply, as Marie Antoinette. Luscious pearls she had once entrusted in the good faith of an English guardian have resurfaced and will be on auction this week in London by Christie's. I'm currently reading Antonia Fraser's treatment, a valiant attempt to sieve through the litany of hagiography and re-read the woman who bore the brunt for her seeming frivolity. The appearance of this necklace, a rather tawdry concoction posted fifty years after their initial entrusting during the waning days of Marie Antoinette's life, makes me wonder further about those pearls and how they were held, admired, and dropped, one by one, into a small, nondescript velvet sack before being traded hurriedly between two palms. Indeed, what must have run through the mind of this Antoine, the one whom all praised for her impeccable carriage even as she was led, like cattle to the slaughterhouse, to her end?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Put Your Headphones On

Call it wonder, call it disbelief, call it naivete: I have yet to reach into my privileged pocket and pop in my iPod bugs. Whether I am walking or traversing the underground via Metro, I am almost always fascinated by the people and happenings around me. Paris is a city of numerous cultures, nationalities, and languages (though French is indeed a prerequisite for getting by), and my statements here are nothing new. Rather, what is rather unusual, even after nearly two months of expatriated circumstance, is my eerie fascination with the scenes around me: the mother with her Maclaren stroller, struggling through the non-handicapped accessible underground; the buskers with their assorted assemblage of beatboxes, spewing some sort of new Creole crossed with Arabic for a bit of change; the diligent ladies who lunch with heels, purse, and matching jewelry; the college students backpacking across Europe and through its premier station at Gare du Nord; the businessmen in close-cut suits running to and from stations en route to work at La Defense or in the suburban sprawl; and the random lovers who will always be oblivious to the world as they hold hands and gaze at one another during rush hour. I haven't expounded fully on the descriptives in this brief, yet there you have it: my growing fondness for a city of serpentine streets, alleys, walkways, and buzzing trains sliding back and forth.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dancing Days

All apologies (well really, to my pontificating self) for the absence. Limited access to the Internet prevents me from indulging in full about these adventures à Paris. In the interim since the present and previous posts, I took my first high-speed train trip, which included a weekend in London; wandered the Marais, Beaubourg, and parts of Belleville in this illustrious city; met various strangers destined to become friends, or at the very least fond acquaintances; finally (!) moved into an apartment, a surprisingly spacious place in the 18th arrondissement that's not far from the fabled Sacre-Coeur; endured the mendacity of heteronormativity by braving a trip to the Parisien-installment of IKEA; visited several more awe-inspiring national landmarks of Lutèce, including the lovely sculpture garden of Rodin; wrung my hands time and again over my inability to fully communicate with the increasingly weary merchants surrounding our home; and, last but not least, gathered together my first willing subjects for a housewarming display and homemade foodstuffs culled with grave effort from the various boulangeries and alimentations scattered up, down, and around the hill from our home.

Most momentous of all is the far-too brief time I spent in a classroom and lecture hall, re-learning French with a rather international set of students young and old at the Sorbonne, an experience I hope to repeat later this year with another set of strangers. Today marked the end of our four-weeks together, a sojourn that included confusion and hope in past, future, conditional, and imperfect tenses, all capped with loving attention to the genders of objects small and large. The connections we students made beyond the course, in and around the spirited light that's so frequently stated in Parisien texts, were what really mattered, though our dear Madame's frequent postulations and corrections were never far behind. The jardin du Luxembourg and its surrounding eateries, touristy and all, will have a place in my mind as the setting for many a crossing of minds and words all set to spiral into a voluminous display of thought. We came from places far away and removed, and who knows what came before or after these few moments of language share: the point was that we spoke.

Now, I can hardly vouch for my fluency in full, though that should be changing in the next few months. All this exercise and precision for language shifts makes me more cognizant of the grammatical excesses I excuse myself from in English. It's as though the verbage I permit myself is beginning to cross ever so slightly to thinking in French. Although I must confess: there is no rhyme or reason for calling seventy-five "soixante-quinze."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Strawberry Fields Forever

Laduree Sublime
Originally uploaded by ameliefreak

Food is a luxurious treat here. Fast food takes on an entirely different realm with ingenious chains like Quick. Wine flows freely (in no way necessarily associated with the title here). Itinerant stands offer greasy kabab sandwiches and Nutella crepes side-by-side. Rich creams and sauces keep the salmon and salads afloat, not drenched. Couscous and other cuisine of Afrique infiltrates little streets which perhaps had tables once graced only by le pain and a bottle. All of this gracious bounty doesn't come cheap, but that makes it that much more important. American me eyes the natives with wonder at their slender frames in spite of the bounty. Portions are key, and it's evident with what American me sniffs at with every Euro automatically converted into dollars in her head. The rhythms of this city hardly interfere with the pace and polish of picturesque cafes poised on corners for tourists bustling with digicams in hand for the next showing at the Moulin Rouge. Even on the most tourist-y strip in France can one relax with a fragrant cup of tea and the beauty of simple, halved strawberries perched pretty upon a pistachio and mint pastry.

Friday, June 22, 2007

There's nobody near me, there never was

Years ago, I saw a film called Paris, Texas. It was dark and uplifting, morose and humorous, quaintly American and very European, and above all, unrelenting in its depiction of one man's struggle against his own private hell: the one inside his head. Harry Dean Stanton, a perennial of seedy Lynchian plots and one memorable role in Pretty in Pink, gave the primary character Travis heft with his leonine, gangly limbs and sunken brown pupils. Though the film concentrates on Travis' search for his missing family, it also questions the sanctity of convention and companionship when the hills within cry hollow, wispy, and sullen.

One even more paradoxical fact is how the real Paris, Texas is far from any of the desolate desert landscapes featured throughout the film, a coincidence mirroring the truth of intimacy for anyone struggling with personal demons far more demanding than loved ones.

Paris, France does not inspire the solitude and remorse awakened by the dry, dusty, bleached desert of the aforementioned film. Nevertheless, its nexus of historical bohemia appears to infiltrate every stone, and the reams of historical data suggest that even some of the more famous members of bohemia likely suffered from the inertia and cold of solitary standings. Being without any particular occupation or avocation at present (not to mention an actual home, but such mundane details will be covered in a later post) leaves me with ample opportunity to dwell on the details amidst the rushing stream of tourists and Parisien(ne)s sprinting against the tide at the Metro stations. (And yes, I realize that there are likely others who share my thoughts ever so briefly as well, clinging to the valences of stranded solitary musings before shifting levels.)

Yesterday afternoon, on the occasion of this bright and sunny summer solstice, I settled into the cool solace - mind and body - at the Picasso Museum in Marais. In addition to being one of the larger oeuvres of the artist's work, gathered in part through tax "forgiveness" by the French government from his last wife and later his daughter, the museum also boasts a special exhibition on the artist's incredible fascination with the legend (and opera) of Carmen. Given my growing fascination with all things related to those Spaniards, I interrupted the chronological development of the madman's work to peruse the thematic collection.

Mythmaking abounds with grand twentieth-century artists like Picasso. He was certainly no stranger to the grandiose speculations on himself, and indeed, contributed to his own mystique. I can hardly conjecture as to his own particular state of mind, though the exhibit did due justice to showing the symbiotic relationship between life and art. It could be said that Picasso pursued hedonism with the same mathematical precision as he did analytical Cubism (a term he never devised but certainly practiced). The little brochure I got with my ticket explains the artist's fascination stemming from a lifelong admiration and identification with the tragic femme fatale, as well as a tribute to his Spanish heritage: a fantastical hispanity derived from an exile's adoration of bullfights, corridas, and Moorish pasts. Fans, mantillas, toreadors, bullish men, and a few phallic bulls filled the dozens of sketches, studies, notes, and memorabilia collected by the master while contemplating his own epic dramas, all of which unfolded somehow into masterpieces like this.

How strange. Picasso's more famous works scythe the woman's body brutally into fragments with cruel humor for measure. To think that these cleaved works were a double image folded back upon himself threw all of my suppositions out the window as I perused the galleries. Blurbs speaking about his heady lifestyle added more questions to the plate: how could a lover become the enemy? Where was the line between adoration and pathological hatred, sensuality and blatant ugliness? In truth, such binaries had no place in his life, nor any other complex life far from the maddening heteronormative voices of historians. Each image furrowed my brow more so, and riding back home, I wondered how intimacy could be such a sad, scary place. For even his primary lover for nine years couldn't escape his torturous gaze.

Nevermind that I'd been there before. I'd seen that place before, and I knew how and where my memory cleaved the bodies of lovers point blank without even wanting to, a case of trigger-happy knifing that can best be described as the easiest defense. Or the onlinest tribute when far worse things tread upon one's sanity.

** Special thanks to brimful and Ganesh for introducing me to the title that sprouted from this little gem.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I paint pictures to remember

I've stopped and started and stopped, only to start the prose again. There's a time and place for everything, and right now, I'm reading the barometer. The pressure is exact, it's time to begin. Again. Each edit steady, swift, and sure, and then, in an instant, all changed with a few keystrokes.

Several years since this adventure in navel-gazing first began, I could have hardly imagined myself to be where I am today. Things I once thought unbelievable in my life have all taken place. Yet many tenuous gaps gape at the seams here. Still: it's the exercise of analysis that makes me resist the truth of this futile typing, an electronic memento, a small glimpse into what swarms in this skull.

The hour is late. There's so much to say beyond these cryptic lines. Bonne nuit, my lovelies.