Saturday, June 30, 2007


Almost a week ago, on Saturday, I saw three movies at AFI's Silver Theater* in Maryland. The last movie I saw that day was Tom Stoppard's existential ode to physics, fate, and probabilities, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990),* adapted from his own play of the same name (other movies I saw Saturday are mentioned here and here). Then yesterday, after waiting around the passport office all afternoon, I met Sunshine before the eight pm curtain at the Studio Theater* for the stage version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.... The story is an excellent, if unsubtle, contemplation of destiny's role, at least as pertains to Hamlet's childhood friends Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, newly recruited by the uncle-king of Denmark to spy on his nephew-heir, and, when that becomes fruitless, duped into being instruments of his would-be death. In Shakespeare's play, the characters are stunted to the point of being interchangeable and listless plot mechanisms bribed into extending the deceitful king's influence over his wife and stepson. The Stoppard play takes this situation and centralizes these listless mechanisms, creating a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dismayed at their own lack of influence as the forces of plot and dramatic tragedy leave them with only whatever dubious free will they can cram between the lines of Hamlet. Mostly they fritter this will away discovering what's happening around them. On stage, they ponder philosophy in their interstices. On screen they also discover important points of physics. They never quite solve the troubling riddle of their lives: that they are, in the end, inextricably bound by their passing use at the hands of Claudius, Hamlet, and ultimately, Shakespeare himself. I was surprised that the shorter movie version included so much more of Hamlet framing Stoppard's scenes. I prefer the movie, but the play was very good. [Cavin]

Friday, June 29, 2007


I mentioned,* somewhat mysteriously, that I was working on an art project last weekend. What that was: my friend James Maxey's new novel about the struggles of a human underclass in a world run by talking dragons, Bitterwood, is now popping up in US bookstores. Mr. Maxey offered me the opportunity to make an illustration for this post in his author's blog. He writes about designing dragons around natural plausibility. I was intrigued by the idea: making a fantasy beast out of bits and pieces of existing animal material. I created an illustration (labeled "figure 4" in his article) from images of animals found online. It's a collage. It can be viewed in its natural habitat as part of his post linked above, on in a larger version here. After last Wednesday's post* about sailing with ease through the US Passport Office's special issuance application process, it should come as absolutely no surprise that I had to spend nearly three hours in that office today, just picking the damn thing up. The reason? No one would answer my questions. I was told to join a group of people awaiting special passports needed tonight or tomorrow. I told two people my passport had been due yesterday. One took my name on a yellow sticky and disappeared, the other said "just a second." Later, a woman behind bulletproof glass threw her hand in my face and told me she was closed. She was the person I was later told I should have talked to. Eventually, long after the office had closed, and the last remaining travelers had received their documents hot off the press, did someone finally talk to me long enough to note that my passport was waiting for me in some other drawer. Eventually I became officially documented. [Cavin]

Thursday, June 28, 2007


After yesterday's salad, I went to see Johnny To's recent two-part gangland opus, Election (Hak se wui; literally: Black Society, 2005)* and it's sequel Triad Election (Hak se wui yi wo wai kwai; Black Society 2, Triads Value Peace Most, subtitled Election 2 on this international print, 2006).* These movies, made back-to-back, work so seamlessly in concert they feel like one epic film with an overlong intermission. This is not only because the movies share a cast and an overarching story, but also the second movie ratchets the intensity so much it acts as the first film's climax. Election tells the story of the Wo Shing Triad's chairman election in Hong Kong. Each chairman rules mob society for two years before the next chairman is chosen. As the movie begins, Lok is chosen over the best coercive efforts of opponent Big D, who is unwilling to let the matter rest. Commandeering the one-hundred-year symbol of gangland power from the outgoing chairman, he hides it from the chairman-elect in mainland China. This instigates a whirling kaleidoscope of shifting allegiances and political tolerances. Lok attempts to secure his power, and it's symbol, while dodging Big D, the police, and out-and-out gang war between factions. Election 2 starts two years later, when the winner of the previous election is facing replacement. He decides to break the hundred-year tradition mandating the chairmanship be regulated to one term. This results in an even bloodier uphill battle for the new candidates. Both films are glorious in the traditional HK way, and glossy but ultimately standard entries in the gangster genre. More disappointingly, the flamboyant action scenes of this film's more romanticized antecedents have here given way to mere violence. But if nothing else, the loving presentation of Hong Kong City itself is worth admission. [Cavin]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I did something today that came with an extra bit of good feeling I hadn't anticipated. I returned to Foggy Bottom to eat a salad. I've been improving my diet lately; and yesterday, after my doctor's appointment, I chanced into a buffet-style eatery called the Sizzling Express. "Chanced" is misinformative: Sunshine eats here because it's across the street from the home office. I ate here the day they swore her in.* It's actually right in the very same building as the doctor. I knew exactly where it was and premeditated going there yesterday, only to discover the salad bar is excellent. I returned for seconds today. The special good feeling came because I went to the doctor's office without at all having to actually see a doctor. Another of the movies I saw on Saturday was Federico Fellini's head turning la Strada (1954),* a humble and heartfelt apple fallen somewhat near the Italian neorealism tree that sprouted after World War II. La Strada's brand of realism is rather more baroque than the letter of neorealist law would dictate, and Fellini uses a trio of international polyglots to play core characters, accomplished actors who intensify the supposed unaffected scrutiny true realism seeks. Whatever its art school parentage,* this movie is brash and effective, illustrating a valence between innocence and brutality among the hardscrabble postwar landscape. Gelsomina is the innocent, an arguable half-wit, sold into the service of thuggish carnie Zampanò, and subjected to the sort of transient episodism that tests the characters' gravitational effect on one another. Slowly, they both begin to show the signs of their mutual deterioration. This ghost of a plot is as requisite for realism as the camera being realistically unaffected. But much of the acting is in pantomime, making a meditation out of narrative. [Cavin]

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I returned to the doctor's office today, where I waited an hour for someone to touch the tubercular poke in my arm, say "negative", and let me leave again ten seconds later. I also swung by the cell phone store and bought myself a new phone. I'd lost the ability to recharge my battery (which has, in turn, lost the ability to hold a charge for longer than a few calls). I broke down and replaced everything knowing I've only four months remaining within the service area. That's my day today, in just under ninety words. One movie I saw in Silver Spring Saturday was John Ford's the Searchers (1956),* a deep-photo-field ode to rough-and-tumble determination in the post-war American West. Ethan has returned from duty to be welcomed by his brother and sister-in-law, bitterly managing a dusty homestead in an iconic corner of Monument Valley. When neighbors lose their cattle to Comanche raiders, menfolk posse-up and travel out to discover the rustling was a ruse to separate the womenfolk from their protection. Sure enough, upon returning, they discover the house burning and everyone dead or, worse in Ethan's eyes, stolen. Ethan has a problem with Indians in general, possibly harkening to years spent astray since the end of the war. He's leery of his quarter-Cherokee foster nephew and hatefully vehement against Comanche marauders. He's sure fatalist about the missing woman: too much Indian company and they will become defiled and corrupted savages themselves. The two men light out after the Comanches, the foster nephew looking to rescue his remaining family, and Ethan looking for something a little darker: cleansing. The movie is harsh and magnificent, though sops to comic relief break the tone and Jeffery Hunter's supporting performance is eye-rollingly ham-fisted. One of the best westerns ever. [Cavin]

Monday, June 25, 2007


After finishing our second medical screening appointment Friday afternoon, we ate a celebratory Asian-fusion dinner just off Dupont Circle and window-shopped at the bookstore around the corner and the Japanese store down the block, before Sunshine took the green line to Washington National Airport. She flew to Minneapolis to celebrate her grandmother's ninetieth birthday. I took the orange line home, and worked on an art project for the rest of the night. I'd been anticipating this weekend for weeks, since it offered me an opportunity to catch up on some of the things I've been wanting to do: maybe finally finish putting together photos from our New York trip,* or finish brushing-up movie reviews from this Update Column for inclusion over at my review blog.* But Saturday, I actually spent the day at AFI's Silver Theater* in Maryland seeing three movies, and today I caught up with long time friends Gavin and Kelly, in town for the American Library Association Convention happening just north of Chinatown. This was great, since I had not seen these two in over four years. We holed up in one of the district's many brew pubs and talked loudly over place's cafeteria racket. Then we all walked through town and met Sunshine north of the White House, just off the blue line and just returned from Minneapolis and Washington National Airport. From here, we all walked to the storied Watergate Hotel* to have late supper and drinks in their little lobby bar. I have this to say about that: the tomato and crab basil soup and salad I ate there were fabulous, as was the little mousse-in-a-chocolate-box construction Kelly had for dessert. Who knew that the food at the Watergate would be so good? Who knew the weekend would go by so fast? [Cavin]

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Part two of yesterday's* description of my recent medical screening. The process I endured on Thursday took the form of relay stations, between which I was redeposited in a waiting room. First they took my vitals (pulse, BP, eye color, height and weight, etc.). Then I was asked to click through a computer questionnaire relating to my medical history. Easy: say yes or no to the following statements; but I'm never certain of the proper formulation: "yes, I'm never dizzy" or "no, I'm never dizzy." Next, I was given half of the following directions: two immediate lefts and a right, then down a winding hallway past some elevators; and I was on my own to wander the calming beige hallways of this faceless governmental annex searching for the blood laboooratory. There I spent more time waiting before a technician came to draw my blood. He instructed me to lay on the leatherette recliner and squeeze a rubber thing in my fist. With a fleshy latex strap, he tightly tied-off the arm they'd been crushing for blood pressure readings all day. He started poking around my inner elbow with his finger, puzzled, looking for a place to stick me. "When was the last time you actually drank any water?" he asked. The sensation in my arm faded from agony into oblivion. Eventually he shrugged, "what the hell" he seemed to say, and made ready to stab my arm. Then the fire alarm went off. We looked at each other. The needle froze. Then he released my arm and we both made our way to the nearest exits. I was annoyed at the time, but thirty minutes later I was back in that chair after several trips to the water fountain. Three units of blood were taken with no trouble. [Cavin]