Monday, July 26, 2004

Please go to Boston...

I wish I was in Boston, and could blog with all the cool people, maybe even blog against them, with my arch and often imbecilic sense of class differences running at full throttle. I could see myself with an iBook, aloof from the suited masses, swapping swigs of liquor with a lowly, ill-dressed, delegate from the unhippest state in the country ... that would be here, right?


I've been meaning to blog all weekend, but I've been lazy. Well, not lazy -- just procrastinating, at which I am most capably practiced. I'll spend a morning doing yard work rather than face up to writing a review of a book I didn't care for. My work doesn't always show it, but I do believe that a dull book is no excuse for a dull review. Actually, truly, what my work really shows is that an inordinate amount of time should be devoted to writing about books I can't stand; I always feel I have some duty to say exactly what the problem is, and I'm never all that sure I nail it in the few words I'm given. Anyway, who can argue that raking, mowing, trimming, sawing, bagging and hauling is a better use of one's time?

That's what I did until noon on Saturday, under the general assumption that if you work past that during July and August you're just begging for skin cancer.

I managed to see a good film that afternoon, though. (In fact I've seen several interesting ones over the past few weeks but I haven't written a word about them: Lilja 4-Ever, The Red Circle, Dogville, The Passion of Anna.) It's titled Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter ... Spring, and it is as beautiful as it is classically perfect; an inspired work of visual story-telling where the total dialogue could fill, maybe, ten pages. Written and directed by Ki-duk Kim, this story of a Buddhist monk who raises a young boy is also, as the title suggests, about the cycle of human life: the five chapters are set in different seasons of different years, so that the story goes from the springtime of life to the winter of old age, after which the process begins again. The child at the beginning will become the old man at the end, teaching a new child all that he -- and we, as we've watched him -- has learned.

The old monk and the boy live in a house that floats on a river running through a lush green valley. At the beginning, the boy gets a lesson on the relationship between men and animals. After he ties a rock to the backs of several small animals (a fish, a frog, and a snake -- which Buddhist kids apparently regard with no fear whatsoever) for the cruel fun of seeing them struggle under the weight, the boy is punished by his master in the same way. Carrying a burden becomes the film's standard motif, as the boy falls in love, leaves the pristine sanctuary for the modern world, gets in all kinds of trouble, and ultimately returns.

This is a marvelously meditative work of art. Free-standing doors, the kind you can walk around as easily as you can enter, serve as visual symbols in the film; one seperates the bedroom of the old man and boy from the altar where they pray, and one stands between the river and the outside world.

There's also a magnificent scene, unlike anything I've ever witnessed, where the old monk writes Chinese characters all over the deck of a boat by taking a white cat and using its tail for an inkbrush.


Maugham's Of Human Bondage is a suckfest, but I can now safely report that it takes off about midway through.

I started it months ago, after reading The Painted Veil, which was the work of an older, more precise writer. This one is closer to something like, say, Look Homeward, Angel -- one of those novels of growing up that tend either toward obsessive self-absorption or prologed attention to the the mundane and the trite. Maugham's story of the life and struggles of a club-footed sap named Philip Carey is like a Dickens novel without Dickens at the helm, an episodic tale of growing up poor and friendless where no revelation or friendship or detail or conversation is genuine or interesting.

Thankfully, Philip has now come in contact with the character of Mildred, who is mean and vengeful and scheming and totally evil. As Philip is a self-hating masochist who seems to carry around a "Kick Me" sticker on his back, the book picks up the pace considerably.

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