India: The Sacred and the Sensual
India, as I have said in another Blog Post, is a land of many contradictions.
On the one hand, India is deeply rooted in its Vedic/Hindu sacred culture, a culture of inward-journey paths, self-knowledge journeys, enlightenment/liberation rituals and transformations, and a monistic view of the universe that tells us all is “one.”
Some scholars claim that the Vedic tradition is steeped in mysticism, giving the tradition an aura of otherworldliness and the inexplicable.
Islam and Buddhism have also had many followers in India. And both religious traditions include spiritual paths and codes of moral behavior. Continue reading
Baseball, says one sports commentator, has to be won “on the field.” He goes on to comment: “You have to steal. You have to punt. You have to sacrifice. You have to have men in a scoring position. You gotta bring ‘em in.”
“You don’t do that with a bunch of statistics,” he continues. Later on in the film, another sports pundit repeats a variation on that same theme: “You don’t put a team together with a computer.”
Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, thought otherwise in 2002. In Bennet Miller’s film, “Moneyball,” Beane would become American baseball’s game changer when he hires a Yale economics graduate, Peter Brand, a young, overweight self-deferential-to-a-fault geek. Brand specializes in “player analysis.” Continue reading
If it’s a dark satire like “Dr Strangelove,” or “Catch 22,” or even “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the viewer always gets the feeling in the pit of their stomach that there is something not right with the world, that some impending dark force is going to place the world in a state of implosion.
In these hard-edged satires, that dark force often exists in the possibility that a nuclear holocaust could be started by a bunch of crazies; that our revered institutions could be run by psychopaths; that maybe we all have the potential for evil. Continue reading
“Who doesn’t want to see their kids prosperous?” says the mother of Qin and Yang in the documentary, Last Train Home. This is a refrain begun earlier by the grandmother: “But who doesn’t want their children to live a good life?”
If we are to believe the mother and the grandmother, prosperity and the good life are the two goals of all families. China appears to be no exception to this rule in Lixin Fan’s brilliant documentary of one family’s attempts to achieve some form of prosperity in the new hypercapitalist China.
But it is a prosperity that has a profound emotional price tag. Over a period of thirteen years, the Zhang family becomes fractured when the mother and father leave their two children home with the grandmother as the parents pursue the Chinese dream to succeed.
And they don’t just leave home to go to a nearby city. They travel a little over 1300 miles to work in a makeshift factory in the city of Guangzhou in Guandong Province. Like the other 130 million migrant workers working in cities all over China, the Zhang couple returns only once a year to their small village. Continue reading
The central character in the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love,” is a thirty-something woman who breaks up with her husband and goes on a global journey in order to rediscover her passion for living.
She travels to Italy and has an orgiastic love affair with pasta and pizza while bonding with what we can only assume is a typical community of Italians who love their food and wine and lead rich, full extended-family lives with their significant others.
On the more spiritual side, she connects with a shaman and eventually does a retreat at an ashram in India.
On the final leg of her self-awareness voyage, she ends up on the island of Bali and finds the love-of-her-life, a Brazilian expatriate.
The message in all of these wanderings is that no woman can be complete without a man. The movie is replete with men who seem to hover around the central character like stray animals looking for a place to crash—a husband who can’t decide what he wants to be when he grows up; a young new-age, sexually pliant actor whose cuteness would make any adult woman’s teeth ache; an Italian teacher looking more like a forlorn Gucci model, five-o’clock-shadow-and-all; a disgruntled Texan and father-figure who exposes his vulnerability to the central character by telling her his story of coming home drunk and almost running over his child; and, finally, an emotionally wounded widower now ready and willing to settle down into a happily-ever-after relationship (the movie makes it quite clear that both he and the central character have gone through their own baptisms of fire—he, as a widower, and she, as a rite-of-passage world traveler sufficiently enriched by pasta and a short-lived stay in an ashram).
I realize that the central character in “Eat, Pray, Love” has no grand pretensions to make her mark on the world. Her psychological cosmos is quite small in spite of traveling to Italy, India, and Bali to reignite her passion for living.
However, the self-awareness journey she takes feels more like a mix of a bourgeois global tour and a prom-queen’s fast-forward speed-dating exercise.
And the film is quite blatant in its didactic message that men, all men, are essential ingredients to her journey—a dreamy, irresponsible husband; a care-taking divorcé; a parody-of-himself shaman; a hunky Italian teacher; and a widower who has had his own life’s tragedies. As the old song goes, “It’s raining men” all the time in her life, and I mean all the time.
Some of the men may be in the shadows as she tries to reorient herself to being single, but Hollywood is not about to let the ghosts of male availability out of the central character’s reach, even though she is supposed to be on a self-awareness journey without any intimate entanglements.
The company of men, in itself, doesn’t necessarily have to be a deterrent to her journey. However, the constant potential they have to either have an intimate relationship with her or to be a permanent codependent caretaker for her spiritual and grown-up needs tends to diminish her own strength as a character in the movie.
Her final surrender to Mr Right, the Brazilian expatriate, is not so much an agonizing acquiescence after a hard-fought soul-searching battle to find herself; it is more an adolescent girl’s surrender to the guy who just happens to be at the end of the queue, the default guy after Hollywood ran out of available male options.
This is Part I of a two-part series on Images of Women in Western Culture. This first blog post will look at the current movie, “Black Swan,” through the lens of women’s many images and prototypes in Western Culture. Part II will continue the same theme but focusing on the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love” and the image of a woman on a spiritual/self-knowledge journey).
In two recent Hollywood movies, “Black Swan” and “Eat, Pray, Love,” moviegoers have been presented with two more celluloid peaks at different images and prototypes of women.
In “Black Swan,” we have a shy, self-conscience, self-deprecating, and certainly virginal ballerina who yearns to be the “perfect” swan in a performance of “Swan Lake.” In her own personal life, Nina, the central character and wanna-be prima ballerina, lacks even a vicarious connection to the seductive wiles required of her as the black swan in the same narrative. Continue reading
Michael Haneke’s films are never easy to watch. I believe it would be safe to say the Haneke tends to assault his viewers out of their complacencies.
If you like your films to have a soft-edged, feel-good resolution, you should definitely save your ten bucks—twenty-five with popcorn and a beverage– and wait for Hollywood’s romantic-comedy summer fare.
Haneke is not your man.
That said, let me begin by saying that “The White Ribbon,” Haneke’s latest, is a tour de force. It is no wonder that Cannes gave the film its prestigious Palme d’Or award. It was well-deserved Continue reading
Those of us who are cultural-diversity followers continue to be intrigued by the global verbal battle going on between the conservatives on both sides of the “which-culture-is-superior”topic.
In the West, the Berlusconi followers continue to rant and rave about the superiority of Western Civilization. On the other hand, Islamic fundamentalists and militant jihadists believe that the infidel West is going to hell in a hand basket. Both sides have reduced their enemies to demonized objects. Continue reading
Sociologists have given us pretty accurate stats about the majority of us marrying or having intimate relationships, endogamously—that is, inside of our class, race, religion, and/or economic status. Exogamy is the exception, not the rule. Even if we know someone from another culture in the workplace, most of us still go home to our homogeneous and segregated communities.
The notion of marrying or living inside one’s own heritage and culture was constantly reinforced when I was growing up in the 1950s, an era that was in denial about how deep the racial and ethnic divides actually were.
A biopic, a non-documentary film that dramatizes the life of a real, historical person, presents a challenge not only to film-makers but to audiences as well. Accuracy issues are always at stake when a director decides to do a dramatic narrative about a famous person, particularly about someone who carries a lot of mythological baggage.
If movie audiences have even a faint knowledge of the historical character, they will come armed with predisposed beliefs about how a character should be portrayed. Hagiographers and groupies are going to be particularly difficult to convince if a film’s portrayal violates their own notions of their heroes.
Vittoria de Sica’s classic 1947 film, The Bicycle Thief, has probably been written about more than any other film in history. At one time, film audiences considered it to be the best film ever made; unfortunately, it has slipped off the charts in recent times.
I have longed maintained that films consistently use visual and auditory images as stories in and of themselves. They often become complementary social plots replete with cultural values and world-view perceptions. The central story line in many classic films becomes more than just ornamented with these visual and auditory images, it often becomes a kind of call-and-response complement to the less evident images of a film.