Chimera Song Mosaic
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
I'm writing as a way to wind down the afternoon into the evening. Most of the past 24 hours has been spent waiting for the proposed tornados sprouting off from hurricane Emily. It seems that the worst period has passed and that there's even less of the violent windstorm and rain that has persisted for the past 12 hours or so. I am happy, of course, to have not been visited by a hurricane, although I was prepared for it, in a sloppy sort of way.

I spent all yesterday morning tidying up the backyard, storing all the movable stuff, hanging baskets, lawn furniture, shovels and such, into the garage. Around 1:00 a.m. I made ready the small laundry room in the center of the house (which I had already idenified as perfect for tornados, no windows, attached to a bathroom) by removing a pasta maker, my very heavy standing mixer, hundreds of hangers that I reasoned might fly around the room, and fit one enormous dog bed into the room. I would have crammed a futon mattress in there, but one edge had two spider egg sacs (which burst nastily into a Kleenex when I brushed them away).

I know I have been far too lenient with the spiders. The one on the edge of my bathtub has amassed yet another pile of hollow kills, and she's much bigger than a few months ago. I do nothing but blow on her gently when I bathe, just to let her know that I am back.

I got back on Monday night around 8:00 p.m. I was probably one of the few people traveling down to South Texas, towards the hurricane, but I really needed to get back and deal with the lawn and bills. The lawn continues to be a trial. I got most of the back mowed (some of it was way too lush for the mower) before deciding instead to obsess over the things that could fly around in the wind.

I realize now that this would have been much more interesting to read about before the hurriance landed. There would have been more suspense in the telling of the preparations. I did throw up several times yesterday, not because of the storm, but because of allergies. I sort of made it into the bathroom in time. I really can't handle more than lying around and waiting right now. That and frantic spells of moving things around.

But mostly I wanted to write about more movies I have seen recently. A few days ago, I rented a documentary called Tarnation, which is about a boy's troubled youth (in Houston) and how he grew up to be filmmaker; this is one of his films. Several things were interesting about this. One was the complete transparency of the documentary making process, and not in that trite "behind the scenes" way. Early in his life, of course, there were few actual film footatges, so this was handled with montages of still photographs linked together by written narratives. The narratives were wholly engrossing as they render the events so flatly that they almost seem to contradict them. You find yourself challenging the approved explanation of the event with what you can "prove" from what is being offered visually. I was first hooked on the story of his mother and her doomed young life, which was all the more compelling because she was labeled a "beauty," and nothing really quite grabs our attention like a beauty. I think it seems that early success, in the case of a young girl, beauty, often is epxected to predict later success, and the fact that this is not always so had come to be handled as cliche, but this story does that is a way that is completely authentic. For one thing, this young beauty's life is shifted abruptly by a specific defining moment that comes to be part of the family's mythology, a way of explaining every thing that happens afterward, especially every bad thing. The young would be filmmaker's life is also narrowed by a defining moment (I won't tell you what these two moments are in case you get to see the film), and the documentary as a whole seems to speak to the danger of any moment being labeled as defining. In the cases of this mother and son, these two moments take on an overblown significance in their lives. It makes me wonder about family mythologies and how they are created and how the members of the family feed into them and off of them in sometimes very unhealthy ways.

Primer (filmed in Dallas) is another interesting under the radar film, but one that approaches sci-fi in an original way. It spends the first half of its very short length (about 85 minutes) immersed in some math and physics stuff and disorienting conversations that might make your head spin, but this sets up the premise for what these guys have been inventing on the side: a time machine. Thinky and exciting, I liked this a lot, but it could have been longer, especially in the last third or so of the film, which is where much of the action really happens. This film makes you figure everything out for yourself, but I can't help but wonder if they went over budget and had to wrap it up really quickly because there's almost too much left to the imagination. I should probably watch it several more times.

I finished reading Bel Canto, and I was overall disappointed in it. There's probably no way it could have satisfied my after several people telling me how wonderful it is, but my main problem with it is that it did not develop the characters in a meaningful way. Over and over, the author (who annoyingly felt present throughout, disrupting the very private world of the story) tells the readers that all of these people (captives and captors) are falling in love with each other, but we never see this happen. There are too many stories told that have no effect on the narrative. For instance, five pages or so are devoted to a Russian captive telling an American captive (a famous opera singer) that he loves her, tracing through parts of his childhood in doing so, through the voice of a Japanese translator (the main chratcer). However, the Russian guy's declaration has no effect on the American singer and has no effect on the Japanese guy (he keeps talking about how these words move through him and out of him in an altered form, another language, which is an interesting idea but again serves the narrative in no way). Overall, nothing seems to affect the main characters, and by the end of the novel (it gets much better in the end but not enough, in my opinion, to justify the slowness of the rest of it), no one has changed, at least no one a reader would care about. The one character I did care about, the Vice President, who is the only one who makes a charitable effort to ease the pain of other people, is treated badly by almost everyone, captives and captors alike. The stereoptyical treatment of Russians, Japanese, and "host-country" South Americans is also annoying.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm looking for action. Not that, but development. Meaning and meaningfulness. For example, I saw two movies a couple of days ago that were both romantic and meaningful. One was full of action, and one was not. The action one was a fast paced and constantly knotting and unraveling mystery called A Very Long Engagement (French, with Audrey Tautou). Unexpectedly, Jodie Foster shows up and does a convincing (in my opinion) Polish-French widow. The one without much action is called The Snow Walker, and without giving too much away, it is about a Canadian guy who crashes his airplane somewhere in the Northwest territories and is helped by an Inuit girl. It is not romantic in the traditional sense---well, see it for yourself and decide--but it remarkably well demonstrates the closeness achieved between two people in extreme circumstances, which is what, I think, Bel Canto was going for, but didn't accomplish. Well, there are things that are easier to do through film.

It seems someone has beat me to the mixed genre ChickLit gimmick! Marisa recently read Undead and Unwed and attended a "reading" by the author in Minnesota (the reading was a dud, she reports). This book is about a typical, just turned 30, heroine who becomes a vampire, and apparently this is going to be made into a miniseries or something, and the author is comisssioned to write more of these books. One day I will hit my gravy train. I feel it.

This has only taken 20 minutes, so I am not quite into the evening yet. I'm thinking of toasting some s'mores. Inexplicably, I have all the ingredients: graham crackers, giant marshmallows, and high-quality choclate. Now I just need a safe source of flame.

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