Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Movies make the medicine go down

I saw M. Biologique's girlfriend today as I was making my way to the ATM machines. She stopped and said hi and looked like she wanted to chat. Wave back and smile, I told myself, and keep walking. She's a nice girl and I know I can learn to appreciate her militant views on organic farming if I ever considered wearing brown corduroys to go with my yellow tractor, mais pourquoi? I don't think I have to like her as a person if she sucks by proxy since I don't want to have anything to do with her boyfriend. I mean, she ruined a perfectly good day gracing me with her presence. Okay, not her fault. But surely, my reaction is understandable. It's like having a baby you never wanted and giving him to your mother to raise and then seeing him grow up to be just like his father and ultimately hating that child for who he reminds you of in addition to being told he's suspected of raping a woman with a knife. (So I stole that from last night's episode of Law & Order: SVU. It still captures my situation better than I can right now.) I thought I could take the high road and continue being persistently poised under the most strenuous conditions. I thought I had to endure his insufferable appearances like a good host should. But nothing changes a woman's mind better than pure, undiluted hate. He's anathema to my health, a plague upon my house. Next time he shows up, it's going to be all, Senor ... quien? No se. Oh, puta tu madre, me acuerdo de ti ahora: el gringo estupido! Well, I'm not home so go away! I have a dictionary and I'm not afraid to read from it ...

***

I bought four books today: Colour by Victoria Finlay, The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir, Joseph E. Persico's Nuremberg, and finally, Martin Amis's The War Against Cliche.

There were thousands to choose from organized under umbrella headings like fiction and non-fiction. I combed through the tables thrice over, only to keep returning to a novel by James Joyce until my indecision became a sign to make a decision. I looked at the cover forlornly before putting it down for the last time. I feel great about the books I ended up picking out of the litter though because the entire purchase came up to be only 29 dollars after tax. That's 20 bucks less than a bar of soap and a moisturizing cream from LUSH (which I also ventured out to acquire earlier in the day). You win some, you lose some: the price of vanity and brains. Spinsters can't escape them, they're the twin gods of my reign.

And by that I mean, How embarrassing! Train Boy approached me in school today. That's the extent of the story. But since I'm in the mood for sharing, I'll share with you the most creative pick-up line I received this week after being dismissed from film class a few hours ago: "Hi, Lily. Do you know what kind of filling was in that bun she was eating?" Answer: Yes. Red bean paste tucked inside a [mantou]. "Oh! Thanks! I thought it might've been cabbage. My name is ..." Smooth, real smooth. (And under 30 for a change.)

***

Professor G screened Ming Liang Tsai's Goodbye Dragon Inn tonight. I want to say it was strung together using solely montage shots, a la Eisenstein, but that's really not the case (although the static framing made it feel eerily similar). Tsai films the entire movie using ponderously time consuming long takes. The camera rarely moves, except for some very subtle tilts and pans. Dialogue doesn't appear until past the 30 minute mark and doesn't last. Scanning the comments page on IMDb, I shook my head at the formulaic interpretations left there by (understandably) confused viewers. But it is still infinitely more than an "end of the movies" parable. It is deeply nostalgic. It is self-referential of Chinese culture and reflective of the movie-going experience. I remarked to the professor that the last shot, which contains the crippled ticket taker walking in the rain and the only time non-diagetic sound appears, is a wake up call for Asian cinema. The lyrics speak of better days and the music evokes Shanghai during wartime. That's not a coincidence. The years between 1933 and 1949 represented China's Golden Age of film which provided entertainment without resorting to cheap editing tricks and dressed-up aesthetics. Instead, lingering long-shots were used to generate emotion (and perhaps an obsessively contemplative mood). "Goodbye Dragon Inn" utilizes that maximally to achieve chilling minimalism. In contrast, 1966's "Dragon Gate Inn" (the movie being shown inside the theatre in Tsai's piece) is kitschy and flashy with elements of Beijing Opera. Why is it that the Chinese Arts are fantastical, yet the people who enjoy them tend to show self-restraint and deference to avoid any form of confrontation? Tsai seems to be reminding us of our true natures, the real rhythm of our lives. And it's not about whether celluloid is dying or theatres slowly losing their appeal, but if we can ever relegate Asian filmmaking back to a form of serious art independent from intrinsically Western embellishments (like the showy MGM lion egged on by a full orchestra during opening credit sequences). I feel like he's saying, Let us use our own stock characters and thematic choices: we're more than one gigantic exotic commodity.

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