Mahershala Ali’s acceptance speech

Earlier tonight Mahershala Ali won a Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role, in Moonlight. His acceptance speech rocked the house:

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for the murdered and wounded of Orlando

The end of Derek Jarman’s memoir At Your Own Risk:

I’m alone again. I sit watching the sun go down, peach as my grandmother’s table-cloth behind the nuclear power station. A great orange moon hangs over the sea and the winds die bringing in the night.

LOVE

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun;
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away… O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; and the singing will never be done.

Siegfried Sassoon’s poem was written at the end of the First World War.

I am tired tonight. My eyes are out of focus, my body droops under the weight of the day, but as I leave you Queer lads let me leave you singing. I had to write of a sad time as a witness – not to cloud your smiles – please read the cares of the world that I have locked in these pages; and after, put this book aside and love. May you of a better future, love without a care and remember we loved too. As the shadows closed in, the stars came out.

I am in love.

bowing to maestro Bowie…

… for making his entire life (and now, we realize, death too) into a work of art.

Blackstar — what a gift to leave as the last one. To know it would be the last and to go out as innovative and protean and inspired as ever. That breathtaking title track: one of the most astounding things he ever did. I have watched the video of it multiple times today, along with listening to the rest of the album (released three days ago on his 69th birthday). Filled with moments of brilliance and unforgettable images: the astronaut concealing a skull laden with jewels; the juxtapositions of glowing cosmos, stylized Middle Eastern towns, shadowy loft, gyrating figures; a skeleton flying towards an eclipse… The refrain with its fragment of medieval chant, the driving breakbeat, and that sax…

“in the centre of it all, in the centre of it all…”

And then (as if you thought that was it!): a big hush. What on earth is next? It’s an image almost indescribably perfect: the camera panning Bowie holding a leather-bound book reminiscent both of a Bible and a Communist catechism (but note his left arm against hip…), its cover bearing only the eponymous black star; the previously gyrating figures (one white, one black, one female) staring with him in the direction the book/star is pointing; the sun comes out. The lighting and tableau remind me of that opening slow-motion shot in Blue Velvet somehow in its sense of wonder, innocence and the technicolor quality of the blue painted sky alternating with ground level shots of vegetation.

And then … we are back in the loft, and Bowie is clasping his hands, as if in prayer. He sings, and his falsetto is as gorgeous as ever, the voice childlike at first: “Something happened on the day he died…” Followed by — what genius — gazing back on his whole life, he makes a kind of declaration, but more about what he’s never been rather than what he “is.” The backing singers provide this (as far as it goes and in wonderfully murky harmony): “I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar.” But he thumbs his nose at the line “you’re a flash in the pan,” and his dancing — 68 at the time, and very ill — is still elegant. You want to bow.

“I see right so white, so open-heart it’s pain/I want eagles in my daydreams, diamonds in my eyes/(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”

And the trio of scarecrows, lined up as the Crucifixion: what startling composition and colors in that frame, and the subtle slow-motion swiveling hips of them, fantastic…

“at the centre of it all, your eyes, your eyes…”

Evidently part of what the song (and video) are about, according to someone who spoke to Bowie, is the Islamic State. In the latter part of the video we see a group of women reacting instantly to the jeweled skull, which has reappeared: whenever it is held in front of them they gyrate, hop, or raise their fists (I found myself remembering that ceremonial scene in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut also). And the opening music returns, but this time without the breakbeats. It has followed on from the middle section so seamlessly that you hardly notice. But the song is about much more than that, and I could keep going on about it, but I’d rather just let it speak for itself.

And Lazarus… Few words. It’s too raw. No one has ever put out anything like this before: Bowie sings from, as it were, his very deathbed, and he sings about what it feels like to die.

And then he stands, and even makes a dance move or two, and gets inspired, and writes, and finally fades into the wardrobe. Is it a Narnian wardrobe? Where is he going? None of us can say, and that is what he gives us as our final image of him.

Apparently Bowie was often too ill to attend rehearsals for his musical Lazarus (his other final project), but according to the director, Ivo van Hove: “Bowie was still writing on his deathbed, you could say. I saw a man fighting. He fought like a lion and kept working like a lion through it all. I had incredible respect for that.”

(More in the next post.)

meeting with the (l)lama

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Just discovered this photo lurking in one of those “untitled folders” waiting to be properly filed. Having recently re-watched Season One of the still sui generis phenomenon of weird televisual genius that is “Twin Peaks,” it seemed appropriate to post. Those who have seen the series will remember the moment — one of so very many unforgettable ones — as vividly as yesterday. Alas, it would seem that Dale Cooper ultimately failed to comprehend the teaching he received here from his (l)lama — whatever that was, precisely…

Twenty-three years after the 29th, and final, episode aired, David Lynch and his collaborator Mark Frost announced a new, limited series of nine episodes, all written by Lynch and Frost and all directed by Lynch. These will be airing on Showtime sometime next year. Lynch’s imagination has only gotten more gloriously rich and strange in the interim. I can’t wait to see what he does with this. (Though as I am tv-less, I must hope that it is available before too long online.)

guess the movie – answer beneath the still

Click to enlarge. (If you’ve seen the movie you will probably get it.)
cymbals, eventually

Correct: it’s from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (the 1956 version). Not one of the great Hitch films, but it has its moments. I like the beginning of the scene in Ambrose Chapel, ie the congregants singing what is surely the most dreadful hymn ever written – a minor-keyed dirge vacantly rendered with all the gusto Calvinist life-hatred can summon, in a church completely devoid of color, furnishings, display. Knowing Hitchcock, surely staged for humor? Either way, it made me laugh.

As for that terribly exciting cymbals part you see – yes, something is destined to happen in that final bar…

extensive interview with David Lynch by Mark Cousins

What a strange, inscrutable genius is David Lynch. There is no artist like him in the world, not even close. His mind has generated so many scenes of such visceral demented horror that sometimes you can’t help but wonder a little about the soundness of their creator … but then – later in the same film – suddenly a moment, or a stretch, of unimaginable beauty. Above all his films display an endlessly astonishing inventiveness that keeps me riveted to them even when they are – as they often are – exceptionally uncomfortable to watch. And a degree of almost unmatched cinematic purity which makes talking about them seem almost sacrilegious.

Certain scenes in Lost Highway or the Twin Peaks series, very much including the prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and one scene in particular in Inland Empire (I think those who have seen it will know which one I mean) have terrified me more than just about anything I’ve witnessed on the screen.

At the same time, Mulholland Drive (also not without its heartpounding moments and atmospheric dread) is one of the most extraordinary and thoroughly fascinating movies I will ever see: inexhaustibly rich on multiple levels, exquisitely designed and filmed down to the last detail, still not quite (after seven or eight viewings) 100% narratively explainable, yet all the more satisfying for that. A luscious, deeply mysterious, ultimately sacred journey for me – and at least once every time its beauty reduces me to tears (very often during the scene at Club Silenzio, for example).

I can’t say I love everything of his. Lost Highway is one disturbing nightmare… Full of brilliance, no question, but also about as deranging a cinematic experience as one can have. Blue Velvet is another work of real artistry but I always walk away from it feeling a little queasy, if that’s the right word. The nastiness is so vivid while the 50s-esque small-town-American innocence with which it is contrasted never convinces to the same degree, so I’m invariably left with a sense of vertigo at the end – of a manichaean world tilted the wrong way, as it were. Whereas at the end of Mulholland Drive, which for me is unquestionably his masterpiece, I emerge in awestruck wonder at a perfectly realized artistic vision.

Then there is Eraserhead … and Inland Empire … about which I still can’t say much (having seen each only twice thus far) because they are both sui generis and so unutterably, stupendously weird – even for Lynch! – that they almost defy commentary. (For anyone interested in a superb – though ultimately, inevitably, inadequate – Lacanian perspective on Lynch’s whole oeuvre, I can recommend Todd McGowan’s The Impossible David Lynch, though this was published before Inland Empire came out.)

Then there is the tenderness and warmth of The Elephant Man, unlike anything else Lynch has produced apart from The Straight Story. But contrast that with a recent music video he has released for his own song “Crazy Clown Time” (and yes that is his own eerie singing), and I find myself wondering about him all over again, because, I’m afraid, that video is one of the creepiest, most nihilistic things I’ve seen in quite awhile… (Such cognitive dissonance watching that a second time: can this man I know to be a great artist really be producing something so pointless and seemingly juvenile, or am I truly missing something somewhere?)

So who on earth is this guy? From time to time I try to find out more with some biographical querying, but he remains an enigma. An extra on the Inland Empire DVD films him preparing one of his favorite meals (quinoa and broccoli, which I’ve made by the way and can recommend, although you have to reduce the amount of vegetable bouillon down to about an eighth of what he suggests unless you really, really, really love the taste of salt…). A nice homey insight into his daily life you might think, except that even that ends up being rather spooky to watch!

However, I was pleased to just discover a long interview he did in 1999 with Mark Cousins (and yes, that fish tank, presumably in Lynch’s own home, is full of sharks). Famously averse to talking about his films, he says more there about them than I’ve ever come across, so if you are a big Lynch fan like me you are in for a treat…

“My Reincarnation” (documentary)

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This one took me by surprise. It’s a film documenting the relationship between the Dzogchen teacher Namkhai Norbu and his son, now known as Khyentse Yeshe (Dzogchen is a term indicating the pinnacle and most direct path within the ancient Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.) Filmed over the course of 20 years by Jennifer Fox, it surely must represent the most intimate visual portrait of a Tibetan lama to date. At times watching it, in fact, it’s hard to fathom how a family would put up with that degree of intrusion for so long: we see them at the dinner table, preparing for teaching events, and discussing all kinds of personal matters. It caused me to remember a comment in one of Trungpa Rinpoche’s books, to the effect that a bodhisattva has no room for privacy in their life at all, is completely open to the demands of the world.

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Namkhai Norbu, like a number of eminent teachers but unlike so terribly many more, managed to escape over the mountains from Tibet in 1959, during the Chinese invasion. He ended up in Italy, where he still lives, and married an Italian woman. At the beginning of the film his son Yeshi – as he was then called – is about 17, deeply respectful of his father but not all that connected to the practice of buddhism. We hear him lament the relationship he has with his father, which lacks the kind of ordinary, Italian familial warmth he wishes for.

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But that relationship contains an added wrinkle, because Yeshi, when still in his mother’s womb, was “recognized” as a tulku, the rebirth of a lama – in this case Namkhai Norbu’s own uncle, Khyentse Rinpoche (not the most famous such with this name, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, but a lama who died in Tibet at the hands of the Chinese). Without pressuring his son either to take up his vocation or even to practice, he nonetheless has made it clear how important a responsibility he feels is on Yeshi’s shoulders. And many others around him, too, have high expectations and await the time when he will begin to manifest as a teacher. Yeshi himself remembers many dreams he had at a young age of particular places in Tibet he had of course never seen. However, he chooses a job in the business world, marries, and begins raising a family.

The film moves leisurely through the years, giving us glimpses of Namkhai Norbu teaching and relating to his students.

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We see him, very ill, in a hospital bed, and then well again and out in the world (having decided, he says, that he needed to stay alive and continue teaching). And we also see – a highlight of the film – wonderful and equally up-close footage of the Dalai Lama during a visit to Italy (in the stills below Yeshi at about 17 is in the foreground).

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At a certain point I realized the film had crept up on me in a remarkable way. Yeshi begins involving himself more and more in Dzogchen practice and helping his father during teachings and empowerments. And then one day, without particular fanfare, he decides finally to visit Tibet, where he has been awaited by students of the previous Khyentse Rinpoche for over 40 years…

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Those for whom the entire tulku system is alien and maybe even suspect might not know what to make of this portion of the film. I place myself somewhat in the middle between such a group and those who have strong faith in that system – though probably a little closer to the former – yet I found these scenes very moving.

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The film ends with Yeshi beginning to teach as a lama himself – in a casual, 21st-century-style. He comes across as very genuine and open throughout the film, and in a scene between him and his father at the end there is a greater ease between them that is lovely to see. Here, Namkhai Norbu is playing the flute and joking that it would have been “much easier” if he’d chosen to be a musician instead of a teacher…

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In fact, I liked this so much I ended up watching it again a couple of days later… All in all, quite a beautiful look into the life of a beloved Tibetan lama, the pressures and difficulties of being a son of whom very much is expected, and the journey which the latter takes to come fully into his own.

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