Saturday, August 18, 2007


I was under the weather from Monday's shots as late as Wednesday. My left shoulder muscle was still knotted from the tetanus that night when I discovered I could finally sleep on my rabies side again. Sunshine came home from classes early on Thursday, feeling ill and mildly feverish from her own rabies shot on Tuesday afternoon. She is also in the middle of her typhoid series this week. The nurse's office at the institute certified her fever was a reaction to the combination of August heat and that pink rabies inoculation. She really only needed to double-up her fluids. She did that while I ate Lebanese dinner alone (discovering a fantastic arak shrimp dish). Later, we both spent the remaining evening watching the Sopranos. She was feeling much better this afternoon--so much better, in fact, she called me up just to tell me that. I spent most of today cleaning the house for the in-laws slated to arrive sometime this evening. Yesterday was our housekeeping day, but one rabid girl goes through a lot of snack dishes. Sunshine's parents showed up about an hour after she came home from classes, bearing birthday presents and a lot of veggies so fresh from the garden that much of it still needed to be washed off of them. I did that while Sunshine unwrapped her presents, and now I have a whole clean sink filled with Depp family tomatoes, green and red peppers, string beans, and small round potatoes. Oh, and two large round watermelons. Well, not so large, maybe, but they look that way in the confines of our tiny kitchen. Then we ate a wonderful Vietnamese dinner at Eden Center (I had exceptional caramelized fish, crabmeat asparagus soup, and iced coffee), before turning in for the night. [Cavin]

Friday, August 17, 2007


Tuesday, I saw yet another Soviet post-war movie: the Cranes are Flying (Летят журавли, 1957),* another from the moviemaking period, referred to as the "thaw", which flourished after the death of Stalin and his cult of personality. This spectacular vision of war is mostly viewed from home, dealing with the hardships endured by those who never become soldiers. Boris and Veronika meet in the city to frolic clandestinely together, never once realizing that WWII is about to cut their courtship short. Their love is depicted wittily: a nimble and attractive couple darting around the austerity of downtown Moscow. Soon they are also darting around the huge metal barricades placed in the city streets. Veronika thinks the future is secure, teasing Boris about her upcoming birthday, their wedding plans, their next rendezvous--but Boris fails to mention he's volunteered for the military. He ships out on Veronika's birthday. Contrasting with the kind of film that lionizes similar patriotic fervor, Boris' family just gets mad at him, looking with pity on his secret girlfriend. All but a handful of the movie's tragic minutes remain at home with Veronika, who must endure a different hell of war. Her family is killed in an air strike that destroys her home. She is taken in by Boris' family, but then pressed into unwanted marriage with her lover's brother, prompting the contempt of Boris' parents and sister. She must evacuate to the coldest place on earth; she must nearly starve. This amazing tragedy features cleverly impressionist camerawork and unexpected performances in all the leads. Outdoor camerawork captures a document of a Russia without romance or condemnation. Scenes of fervid crowds, parading tanks, and the dynamic innards of a blitzed building are so enduringly epic and thrillingly executed that the movie blossoms into breathtaking spectacle. [Cavin]

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Another hot day today. I don't know why these keep surprising me. After Monday's shots, I've been a little under the weather. Last night I ached so bad I could hardly lift my arms. The second movie I saw on Monday was John Huston's gritty Fat City (1972),* a film so remorselessly and drably realistic that it's almost flamboyant. Tully (Stacy Keach) is a down-and-out juicehead, née contender, waking up daily in a queasy clapboard tenement on the mean streets of Stockton. Some days he works for pay in the nearby orchards, others find him down at the Y, shadow boxing and reliving the amateur fight circuit he's all but spiraled out of. One of those days he discovers lean young Ernie (Jeff Bridges), just out for the exercise. Convinced that he knows talent when he sees it, Tully suggests the young man seek out a boxing manager and try his luck in the ring. For his own part, Tully is trying to discipline himself to do the same, if only he can curb the drinking and habitual abject turpitude. Ernie really is showing signs of coming up in the boxing world, winning a few and losing a couple. At times he provides a counter-point to Tully's trajectory, but it's not all that simple. This really is Tully's heroic sports story, or as near as real life comes; the older fighter ultimately manages to follow the younger man's example, weaving around what pitfalls he can. Huston's patented environmental texturing is at the forefront in a document so steeped in grainy hardship that it's almost unendurable. Characters wallow in scenes that are surely found objects, preserved on film stock that's as cheap and tawdry as everything else. And watching this movie is the trial that it's supposed to be. [Cavin]

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I'm trying to cover as many of the multiple summer programs at AFI's Silver Theater* as possible while I'm still in this country. Look at today's date. I'm only here for an estimated two months and three days. How terrifying is that? The first movie I saw yesterday in Silver Spring was Grigori Chukhrai's WWII-area battlefield drifter epic Ballad of A Soldier (Ballada o soldate, 1959),* the very first iron curtain war movie I've seen, though produced during a second-thoughts generation of less glorified bombast--referred to as the "thaw era"--that took into account smaller themes of humanity and personal loss in the face Russia's then recent victory. Near the beginning of the film, army Private Alyosha suddenly becomes the only survivor of a German tank advance, stumbling into an abandoned fortification that just happens to be equipped with an anti-tank rifle that just happens to be equipped with armor piercing explosive rounds. A few minutes later Alyosha is a hero, refusing decoration for the preferred reward of leave to return home and fix the roof on his mother's home. The majority of the remaining runtime is dedicated to the hassles of his epic road trip. Alyosha hops trains and hitches rides, through rain and mud. In one hay car, while hiding from a commanding officer, Alyosha runs into a beautiful Slavic girl who is also making her way home. In every scene, he is thrust into situations in which he can exercise his unabashed and sentimental humanity. But if the whims of fate seem unbelievably kind to the soldier at times, we've known from the opening narration that they will run out--if indeed this whole story doesn't solely exist in the imagination of a mother whose son marched down the road one day, never to return. [Cavin]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Two more shots today: my last freezer pop of rabies and an elaborate cocktail of tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. This is a pretty disarming one-two blow to the system, and I can already feel the rabies going to work on my leg muscles while the lockjaw feels like someone hit me in the arm with a hammer. Of course, I also feel a little systemically used, and unsure whether little tics and oddities of feeling are all in my mind or connected to my four new diseases. Today's nurse wasn't great, either. For the first time since all this started, I had an injection that was worse than merely unpleasant: she had to spear a little deeper into my arm making sure it was securely embedded in muscle. When I finally took off my little round band-aids, I discovered they didn't even cover the vaccination sites. Sheesh. She did give me a frozen surgical glove to keep Sunshine's oral typhoid refrigerated in the car. Then I headed to Metro Center for coffee before taking the train to Silver Spring. I luckily managed to get my latte before a six-headed family piled up to the counter. I watched the parents order while four kids wandered around systematically visiting innocent destruction on the tables and stations: straws and napkins were scattered, trash was distributed, general chaos. I was thinking about how I might lecture my own hypothetical kids about enslavement; how forcing someone into your servitude by being too inconsiderate to pick up after yourself is no better than just assuming you are better than they are. When the family left with their drinks, the father kicked over the little yellow plastic A-frame wet floor warning, looked at it, and left it laying there as he trundled on by. [Cavin]

Monday, August 13, 2007


Can you believe I'm still talking about last Tuesday? The second movie I saw that night was Ichikawa Kon's WWII bummer Fires on the Plain (Nobi, 1959).* Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi) is being bounced between a regiment intolerant of his tuberculosis and a striped-down medical hospital refusing patients who can stand. Dispatched to the hospital yet again, he is ordered not to return: he will stay until the hospital admits him or take his own life. It's moot: after one night camping with other soldiers too ambulatory for hospitalization, the medical tents are bombed. Only those triaged across the street are fit enough to escape. This instigates a long second act following Tamura and other walking wounded through the vicious confusion of a lost battleground. The Japanese army has been routed in the Philippines. Soldiers wander the landscape, cut off, seeking formation, then information, and then food. Tamura keeps spying plumes of smoke as he wanders abandoned villages and embattled roadsides. He doesn't know if this is a good or bad sign. Neither can he necessarily trust the friends he's making or the meat they are eating. This is a powerful and harsh movie, and if I may coin a sub-genre of "battlefield drifter" cinema, possibly this movie started a movement. Yesterday, Sunshine and I saw a late evening showing of James Cameron's crucial sci-fi action figure the Terminator (1984),* a movie it's probably unnecessary to review. It was a real treat to see this now, the halfway point between the year it depicts and the future it predicted. Watching the cast flounce around in feathered eighties hair works extraordinarily well as a time capsule here, ripening the movie's central conceit into a far more satisfying state than maybe originally intended. While I'm still coining, how about: "postperiod piece"? [Cavin]

Sunday, August 12, 2007


On Tuesday, Sunshine joined me in Maryland for John Huston's exploration of rupturing domesticity, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967),* adapted from the Carson McCullers novel. Apparently, this movie comes in two color schemes: one in artfully muted warm tones with controlled blazes of color, and one in traditional Technicolor. I'm unsure which one we saw, our print being so scratchy and moldered the colors seemed unrepresentative. This didn't limit the raw psychological tension of the movie, however. Leonora Penderton (Elizabeth Taylor) is frustrated with her husband, the Major Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando). While Leonora frequently dallies with the neighbor during escapist horseback excursions, the Major seems more interested in sturdy NCOs stationed down at the base. Leonora takes the Major's disinterest as an attack on her personal charms, lashing out at his impotent repression at every opportunity. For his own part, the Major seems to be oblivious to, or relieved by, Leonora's indiscretions, but her incessant taunting is pushing him closer to the nervous edge of his own sexual identity. Plus, he's begun spying a naked Private (Robert Forrester) riding out in the woods, where his attraction seems to put paid to many of his wife's assertions. But the Private, a stable boy for Leonora, has developed his own infatuation with the Major's wife, breaking into their house nightly to fondle her things. A voyeuristic standoff begins around Leonora, who busies herself with neighborly infidelities and her social and equestrian hobbies, pausing occasionally to dote on her boyfriend's troubled wife or mock her husband. Brando is fascinating as the explosively ticking Major, pinched and withdrawn. Taylor is, if anything, even better. I would like to make special mention of the solid Brian Keith, often overlooked in his flashless and pitch perfect turn as Leonora's boy next door. [Cavin]