Saturday, March 12, 2011

John Ford's "3 Godfathers" (1948)

Three close friends are on a desert. One of them is on the ground, dying of thirst. Another one is kneeling next to him, trying to help. The third one seems slightly out-of-touch but his simple gesture is as grand as it gets: He shadows his friend's face with his hat. There's acceptance, distance, but also profound care, and a sense of community.

For those who have doubts that this simple gesture has such great implications, Ford makes his near-cosmic intentions very clear. When his friend is already dead, and Robert is going to lower his hand, ending the gesture, we are left face-to-face with the sun for a very brief moment. Watching this, I remembered the last line of Rossellini's Louis XIV, 'neither the sun, nor death, can be looked at directly'.

When at the end of the film the same gesture is repeated, without the sun, or the death, but a profound joy and a possibility of love (and again, a sense of community), the film comes full circle, from Death to Life. Tag Gallagher talks about 'magic moments', 'especially the finale, when sparkling cutting and framing rhyme swingy girls singing'.

Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub's "Une visite au Louvre" (2004)

Here is the voice-over we listen to over the image above (Paolo Veronese's Marriage at Cana) in Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub's Une visite au Louvre. The text, titled Le Louvre, is from Joachim Gasquet's monograph Cézanne. It is based on a visit Gasquet made to the Louvre Museum with his friend Cézanne. So, more or less, this is Gasquet's reminiscences of what Cézanne had to say about the painting. First the English translation (thanks to Sally Shafto), then my French transcription (hopefully as read in the film). The French sounds much more musical, and prophetic:

"But here we have painting. There’s painting for you. Detail, ensemble, volumes, values, composition, excitement, it’s all there . . . Believe me, it’s amazing! . . . What’s happening? . . . Shut your eyes, wait, don’t you think of anything. Now open them . . . What about that? . . . One sees only a great coloured undulation, isn’t that right? A rainbow effect, colours, a wealth of colours. That’s the first thing a picture should give us, a harmonious warmth, an abyss into which the eye plunges, something dimly forming. A state of grace induced by colour. You can feel all these shades of colour running in your blood, don’t you agree? You feel reinvigorated. You are born into the true world. You become yourself, you become part of painting . . . To love a painting you need first to have drunk it in like this, in long draughts. You must lose consciousness. Go down with the painter to the dark, tangled roots of things and rise up again from them with the colours, open up with them in the light. Learn how to see. To feel [ . . . ] My word, there was a happy man. And he brings happiness to everyone who understands him. [ . . . ] People and things pass into his consciousness through the sun, with nothing in him separating them from the light, without a sketch, without abstractions, everything in colour. In time they emerge, still the same but somehow clothed in a gentle glory. Happy as if they had inhaled a mysterious music."

"Mais voila de la peinture, voila de la peinture! Le morceau, l'ensemble, les volumes, les valeurs, la composition, le frisson, tout y est. Ecoutez un peu, c'est épatant. Qu'est-ce que nous sommes? Fermez les yeux, attendez, ne pensez plus à rien. Ouvrez-les. N'est-ce pas, on n’aperçoit qu’une grande ondulation colorée, une irisation... Des couleurs, une richesse de couleurs. C'est ça que doit nous donner d'abord le tableau, une chaleur harmonieuse. Un abime où l'œil s'enfonce, une sourde germination, un état de grâce coloré. Tous ces tons vous coulent dans le sang, n'est-ce pas? On se sent ravigoté. On est au monde vrai, on devient soi-même, on devient de la peinture. Pour aimer un tableau il faut d'abord l'avoir bu, ainsi, à longs traits, perdre conscience. Descendre avec le peintre aux racines sombres enchevêtrées des choses. En remonter avec les couleurs, s'épanouir à la lumière, avec elle. Savoir voir, sentir. Celui-là il était heureux, et tous ceux qui le comprennent il les rend heureux. Les choses, les êtres lui entraient dans l'âme avec le soleil sans rien qui les lui sépare de la lumière. Sans desseins, sans abstractions, tout en couleur. Ils en sortaient un jour les mêmes mais on ne sait pourquoi habillé d'une gloire douce tout heureux. Comme s'ils avaient respiré une mystérieuse musique."

Sally Shafto 's full English transcription of the film can be found here. And her article about the film is here. Here is the painting in better resolution.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Robert Duncan on Ezra Pound and poetry...

At the University of Pennsylvania's PennSound website, you can find audio recordings of some incredible poets such as Robert Creeley, Hilda Doolittle, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky, among many others.

I've been reading a lot of Robert Duncan (one of my five favorite poets/writers along with Shakespeare, Dante, Balzac and Joyce) and Ezra Pound recently, so it was with huge excitement that I found there an ecstatic Robert Duncan lecture on Ezra Pound. There's also a mind-opening essay by Duncan titled The Lasting Contribution of Ezra Pound in A Selected Prose, a book which includes some of Robert Duncan's essays, edited by the wonderful Robert J. Bertholf. For a long time I have considered Duncan's essays the best art criticism I've ever read anywhere. You can find my failed attempts at a similar approach to art if you travel around this blog.

The link to the audio files of Duncan's Pound lectures is here. (Unfortunately, the recording is cut just before the end of the lecture, so we don't have the full thing, but it's close...)

Here is a part of the lecture where Duncan criticizes Pound's ideas about poetry (after he strongly criticizes Pound's horrible antisemitism):

"Like I still feel very forcefully... I did not believe... Not only did I not believe in totalitarianism but I just did not believe in, at all, in order, in systematic order... I believed entirely in volition and believed in volition from a vast mass of people, factors. I wanna compose my poems... My words are inhabitants of a poem that comes up like a democracy and it throws me as I work with it because I gotta work with what the word means not what I'm gonna put into it... If I... Somebody... Some people in other schools of poetry they have an idea of an error you could make or something you could correct and my remarks about not correcting a poem have often just been totally misunderstood because they have a different basis for working. My... I substituted for any possibility of correcting, being totally responsible for what would happen in the poem. So if there... If something happened that would be an error... That is if I'm going along and I see the pattern and something happens that's not the pattern, this, working with this toward a larger pattern, this means my imagination has to make another leap to incorporate what another person would have made an error and would have changed so it would fit it in. And this is so acute that when I read poems that, you know, that are preplanned and they have squeezed in so that they carry out a theme that's up here, I turn off. I think 'My God!' I mean, 'that, of course, you could have thought that before! Who needed a poem to know that that came after that?' Because the lead for me is working with the materials there. But this has something to do with my idea of how the universe works. I mean after all I'm moving into the world of physics where we now got particle events that don't rhyme. The real thing, the root form of... Poets of Pound's generation were breaking the iambic contaminer but they were breaking a form that was intelligible when man thought the universe was formed that way and none of us believed that, I think. I mean... Or we may believe that, I believe that too, but on top of that we also believe in an entirely different universe and principle of form. And when we are intense in poetry we tend to imitate what we most deeply believe is the creative form of the universe."

Needless to say, I believe that what Duncan says about poetry is important and true for all art.

In the same recording, you can listen to Duncan harmoniously reading some gorgeous Cantos by Ezra Pound. I can't suggest those strongly enough... Also at PennSound, there is an mp3 of William Carlos Williams speaking about Pound, in his own particular way. And Jacob Waltman recently posted a quote on Pound by Stan Brakhage.

The image above is from the cover of Robert Duncan's Ground Work: Before the War. It always reminds me of Larry Jordan's films.