Saturday, August 04, 2007


Yesterday I got up early, skipped lunch, and rushed to Maryland, only to discover that the movie I was planning to see, the Misfits (1961),* actually started a half-hour earlier than indicated on the program schedule. Annoying, but they gave me a free cappuccino which managed to somewhat mollify me. If things had gone differently, of course, I'd be reviewing this movie right here; as it is, I'm a hundred pages closer to the end of my book. The second movie on my schedule was thankfully correct: John Huston's minor platonic romantic war adventure Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957),* a movie trapped on a desert island of the tropical Japanese atoll sub-genre. We meet Mr. Allison (Robert Mitchum) half-unconscious in a tension-building credit sequence: as the titles appear, we slowly zoom up on his raft, adrift in the South Pacific. Eventually the camera nods with the gentle swells--in the distance land can be seen! Soon enough, Allison has tied his shoes around his neck, and with Ka-Bar in hand, is busily searching the island's abandoned catholic mission. Here he discovers a beautiful nun, Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr), and promptly, and appropriately, swoons. After his revival, the pair must navigate first their isolation, then an occupying Japanese regiment, and finally a US invasion. All the while, their growing mutual regard prompts each to question the paths they've chosen to devote their lives to. Huston has predictably imbued this simple-seeming movie with the jaw-dropping naturalism I keep belaboring, in this case including an indelible tropical environment, the half-glimpsed humanity of realistic Japanese soldiers, and the perseverance of personal convictions. Only the explosive battlefield finale feels typically staged. Tonight we head to North Carolina for a weekend with two birthday parties and a wedding. I'll probably post again Sunday night. [Cavin]

Friday, August 03, 2007


The second movie I saw after being vaccinated on Monday was the strange little Spanish farce El Verdugo (Not on Your Life, 1963; though translated as the Hangman on this print's title card).* This is the second Spanish film I've recently seen presented in a scratchy, junky incarnation with bad subtitles, sowing the suspicion that, in this age of comprehensive remastering, these have sprung from deep within the proverbial vault. The subtitles were problematic: sometimes flashing through paragraphs at top speed, sometimes omitting phrases, words, or partial letters. Knowing just enough Spanish to identify an incorrect subtitle is particularly frustrating. Luckily, after guessing my way though three-fourths of the convoluted screwball plot, the whole movie is quickly recounted just before the finale. Normally this would irritate me; but in this case it was a godsend. After an official execution, the kindly old hangman accidentally leaves his bag of archaic strangulation devices in a young mortician's truck. When the bag is returned, the mortician meets the hangman's pretty daughter. Both youngsters seek a relationship unburdened by the stigma of their macabre world, and so instigate a convenient, if loveless, secret affair. In due course they are discovered, however, prompting a hasty proposal which is accepted when the daughter turns out to be pregnant. CUT TO: INT. CHAPEL, a Wedding. As members of an undesirable class, the morbid young lovers must hastily wage their ceremony in the leftovers of a previous wedding as ushers remove the flowers and douse the candles. Soon, the old hangman dreams of the beneficial state retirement program, if only he can convince his son-in-law to take up the family business. This is an interesting comedy in which the requisite situational jokes are set-up but discomfort and harrowing moral frailties are the punch lines. Very bizarre. [Cavin]

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Post book completion, Sunshine has had more free time, of course, and we've been able to see some movies together. Yesterday evening, after a nice Italian Café dinner, we headed to the Zombie Multiplex to see the Simpsons Movie,* which was wonderfully devoid of the knee-jerk grandiosity usually part and parcel of big screen television incarnations. The filmmakers really seemed interested in exploring themes and textures made possible by the larger format, with richer scope, deeper expression, and more natural pacing than would be possible in a similarly lengthy TV three-parter. Additionally, the movie shies away from excessive reliance on the freedoms associated with their PG-13 rating or the blockbuster gimmickry of a heightened budget. Not so with the newest seemingly-made-for-TV Harry Potter installment,* so enslaved to its episodic place in the world that it breezes by in a mostly animated fog of such underdevelopment that it works better as book illustration than as a movie adaptation. If it's got a beating heart, I never saw it on the screen. Last night I had my second* close encounter in the backyard cemetery, which doubles as my gym track. The first leg of the first lap is uphill, and I usually run it. That edge of the lot runs right next to the city street, and at the halfway point there is a traffic light. Last night, a car was stopped there, and just as I jogged by the nearest point, the car reversed to shine its lights at me. Did I mention my new shoes reflect like spotlights? It was three am, I was wearing black, and I imagine those in the car could see disembodied feet coming through the cemetery quite well. I'm a ghoooost!, they yelled at me, in a plausible Shaggy-Doo, as they sped away. [Cavin]

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


The first movie I saw in Maryland yesterday was the constrained emotional thriller Knife in the Water (Nóz w wodzie, 1962),* a movie which pretends to rely on archetypes even as it reveals true characters; a movie that builds a violence of tension never truly dissipated by the violence in action. The movie begins as Krystyna and Andrzej drive down a rural lane in northern Poland on their way to a twenty-four hour sailing holiday. Shortly after taking over driving duties, Andrzej spies an assertive hitchhiker at the crossroads and attempts to scare him off by being equally assertive behind the wheel. The hitchhiker doesn't give. Thus, Andrzej loses the movie's first battle of wills, almost running down the cast's only other character before finally swerving. The toe-headed hitchhiker, an unidentified youth, is allowed a ride out of magnanimous spite, and he's taken as far as the couple's sailboat at the lake. Andrzej imagines the overnight sailing expedition will offer plenty of opportunities to replay their earlier game of chicken; he invites the youth along. On the water, Andrzej and Krystyna lose much of the frustrated type-A squabbling that characterized their road trip, and the three engage in a shifting dynamic of cat-and-mouse mundanity that smacks of ending badly from the very beginning. This movie looks great: actually shot on a boat in a lake, the characters are usually constrained with one another in the frame, awkwardly positioned fore or aft depending on which personality is feeling the most estranged. This is offered with a ho-hum nonchalance that is methodically belied by the exacting framing and environmental nods to the character's inner landscapes. And each member of this triangle is a character: motivated by personal competencies, and intolerances that shape the fits and vanities of their tightening interrelation. [Cavin]

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Last night I choked down my last fistful of typhoid; today I returned to the institute for round two of my marathon inoculation schedule. Just two shots, today. The first was a second refrigerated helping of Kool-Aid magenta attenuated rabies. It was delivered into my right arm with a warning from the RN: whatever effects--like muscle stiffness, soreness, etc.--I'd suffered after last week's dose might increase this time around. Tut, tut; I was too tough to notice any side effects last week. For dessert I was given a subcutaneous injection of Japanese encephalitis, a boring clear disease refrigerated in glass vials rather than tricked-out syringes. This burns when it goes in, said the RN as it went in. I felt nothing. This vaccination required sticking around the office another half-hour so the RN could observe any skin reactions. Is this so they can rush me to a colony at the first sign I might become infectious? I'm too tough to become infectious: I was released in time for two movies before dinner. That dinner was eaten at the deeply odd Asian Bistro around the corner from the Silver Theater. I love this tiny, sideways pan-Asian space. When I eat here, I flip straight through the Chinese and Thai pages to order from the Japanese menu. The sushi is solid and the sake comes in a pot of hot water. The broad view of the stainless steel Discovery Channel building dominates one wall. The smoke machine at the register burbles like an Amazon thicket. Tonight, the Muzak included Don't Cry for Me, Argentina in tinkling piano. After a dinner of rainbow maki and miso soup, they brought me the obligatory coffee brandy cordial, which I sipped while reflecting on my very sore, sluggish calf muscles. Fucking rabies. [Cavin]

Monday, July 30, 2007


I spent an idle weekend working up long neglected photos of our long ago New York City vacation. Some of this sedentary work can be viewed here, where I've finally documented that first of two lovely April days in the City. More photos coming soon. The real story of this weekend, however, is about Sunshine's book, a culmination of her Venezuelan beauty industry studies, centered around the Miss Venezuela organization's annual national pageant. She's been working on this book, at least in theory, since completing her Fulbright Scholarship in 2001. Her self-imposed deadline for completion is August fourth, her birthday, next Saturday. At the beginning of the weekend she still had an estimated ten pages to write before the book could be called done. She spent the whole day Saturday writing. For dinner break we went to a pan-Latino slash Caribbean place in Ballston where she was able to eat green and yellow plantains and spurious arepas, drink mojitos, and generally preserve some watered-down Venezuelan spirit before returning to her task. More of that grind, today, except she's finished. That's it. She's written the book. See the final stats in her own succinct post on the subject. This is a big deal--for her, surely--but for the family too. For years now, certainly the whole time we were in México, she labored daily on this book. One of the reasons our spare tire was so buried* during our long drive from Monterrey was because it was under all the necessary files and resources pursuing this project necessitated. Tonight we celebrated at the nearby Indian restaurant (the first place open as late as she finished). Tomorrow, Sunshine will be able to clean off her desk for the first time in years. By Tuesday, there will be free time. [Cavin]

Sunday, July 29, 2007


The second movie I saw Thursday was Mario Monicelli's gritty I Compagni (the Organizer, 1963),* about exploited workers in a nineteenth century textile mill. These workers are tired: forced by poverty into working fourteen-hour days over loud, unsafe machinery. Their half-hour breaks aren't enough time to eat lunch. Occasionally the machines catch a worker unawares, chewing up an arm before a series of whistles brings the spinning gizmos to a clamorous stop. Fed up with long hours and starvation wages, a wearying climate that cannot but foster industrial carelessness over dangerous machines, our workers seek an industrial revolution! They toy with disobedience: will striking bring about change? Some are gung-ho, others skeptical. Many are starving and cannot imagine a loss of means will justify the end. What they need is an organizer who will inspire brotherly unity. They get Professor Sinigaglia (Marcello Mastroianni), a bearded socialist hobo who's hopped a train from parts unknown. Perhaps he's wanted by the police, a criminal agitator laying low along the tracks. Regardless, here's the right man at the right time; and it amuses the Professor to use his considerable wattage to organize his ideas of social reform. Many predictable trials are coming: threatening scabs from an even poorer town, wavering resolve, riots in the street. The lovely thing about this movie is its depressed naturalism, presenting the downtrodden workday life of the factory class in such a plausible light that the historical nature requires no suspension of disbelief. Actors characterizing workers do a magnificent job underplaying their blue collar roles without a trace of the stage. Mastroianni feels more fabricated, but the payoff is clever: the professor himself postures as a supposedly higher class, attempting to portray a leader even as he scrabbles and steals to stave off his own starvation. [Cavin]