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Friday, December 23, 2011

Fiesta (the sun also rises) - Ernest Hemingway = a fun, tipsy and sentimental summer

Hemingway is my favourite author to read during summer.  Whether perhaps his books are often infused with exotic drinks, food, fishing and the beaches or that many summers ago while I was just an adolescence with a delicate mind and his books had stirred up something in my unsettling mind and quivered the immobile fibres of my young heart.  This summer, after many years of being away from Queensland and now had decided to settle back, I again picked up a familiar novel by the author …‘Fiesta’.  While I am already well acquainted with the plot and sceneries from my first reading, the emotion of the characters this time, somehow, stirred a little harder, a little deeper and make my summer, this time, a little bit more pleasant and sad.

In Fiesta, Hemingway provided very intimate accounts of the cafĂ© life in Paris where he worked, in Burguete where he did his fishing and finally in Pamploma where the bull-fighting fiesta took place.  Amidst these accounts, the relationships of Jake, Mike and Robert Cohn toward Brett, an attractive, nonchalant and flamboyant woman are revealed.  Her character is famous for always getting what she wants.  While it is well known that that Hemingway’s sentences are shorts, his writing is simple with concise descriptions, the complexity however, is suffused within the words, the emotion of the characters and their actions.  And the poetry is hidden between the words, it requires from the readers a certain understanding of beauty, grace and masculinity.  His poetry is magical in that you can actually see it in reality, it requires not an ounce of imagination …“Each time he let the bull pass so close that the man and the bull and the cape that filled and pivoted ahead of the bull were all one sharply etched mass.  It was all so slow and so controlled.  It was as though he were rocking the bull to sleep”.

While Fiesta is unlikely to please the faint hearted vegetarians and vegans, it requires from the readers a difference sense of sensitivity, a sensitivity that respects traditions, culture, humanity and a delicate understanding of masculinity.  In this novel, Hemingway revealed his religious character and carefully contrasted this to Brett, who has no appreciation for religion.  This careful contrast was not made with calculation or contemptuousness.  It was made with a simple difference in their understanding of life.  One perpetually chases after her desires and immediate needs, the other lets the currents of life rock and serenade and carry him away.  Yet in Brett, there is something that Hemingway felt is essential to life, hence Jake the protagonist could not help loving her, whether it is her innocence, her desire to live, her oblivion to happiness or her unwilling resignation to anything else but her individuality.  While the presence of religion is their obvious difference, the difference of their hearts and spirituality left undiscussed.

At this time of the year (December 2011), there has been much speculation about how 2012 will continue to be difficult for everyone in term of employment cut and the perpetual downfall of the economy.  I wonder if optimism is the key to get through it all or does it depend on your perspective of life and how much effort one is investing into one’s life.  However 2012 will turn out, however difficult life might get, I do hope that we, in all of our adversities, remain sensitive to traditions, cultures, humanity and each other gender/s; ascriptions that so far have brought much poetry and kindled the eternal flame of life.  Though this may only be a thought, but isn’t pretty to think so?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Francois ozon, le temps qui reste ---a time to leave---leaving with a lesson

Francois Ozon’s sexuality at times intrigues fans and critics world wide, a reason may be the fact that his films are often littered with a gay character who takes on an important role. "A Time to Leave" is no exception, and moreover within this film it is the gay man that takes centre stage.
"A Time to Leave" is set in chic, modern Paris, where Romain (Melvil Poupaud), an extravagantly handsome gay photographer with a high rising career is suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer. Upon acquiring the news, Romain abandons his high profile job and goes through a self-reflective phase. The film flashes back and forth, showing fragments of his life before and after the knowledge of his diagnosis.
Being a fashion photographer, Romain often has to capture the superficial beauty of the fashion world, of the idea of status, the colours and the attitudes that the clothes and runway models depict. Prior to his self-reflective phase, Romain uses his money and success to drive away his lover, a man of renaissance beauty, and often quarrels with his sister. Going through his self-reflective phase, Romain acquires a different understanding of beauty: a carelessly happy young boy running on the shore with a beach ball; the radiating light of the setting sun, a mother softly breast-feeding her infant, of his lover peacefully sleeping with his belly softly rising and falling, of the honey coloured sunlight pouring through the orange his lover hair, these all take on new poignancy. His newly acquired understanding of beauty also shows in his interactions with his family as Romain subtly says his farewell without really disclosing his condition. Through the various situations which Romain is forced to face, he begins to understand the meaning of humanity and its purposes, his courage to face the end is both beautiful and heart warming.
In "A Time to Leave, Ozon uses a collection of eclectic music, most noticeably ‘a perfect day’ by Lou Reed, in order to capture the tender and fragile moments of the film, delicate melodies of Symphony no. 3 and Fur Aline by the magnificent Estonian composer Arvo Part are also perfect little boats to gently ferry scenes to the audience.
Overall the film is a self-reflection of vanity, youth, and what is often forsaken when one is too busy living in the outer world, a world where success, money and power are highly regarded. A great film, I believe allows you to filtrate from it an emotion, a thought or a philosophy that hadn’t yet surfaced on your mind. In our current society where beauty in appearance, youth and financial status are often celebrated through media while the simple poetry of life and beauty of the heart are often neglected, Ozon cleverly uses ‘A time to leave’ to gently remind us that we don’t have to wait till our endings to start appreciating simplicity of life and its natural poetry. "A Time to Leave" led me to think that the progression of the body, its beauty, is often contrary to the heart. While one is diminishing, fading away, and growing brittle like the autumn branches waiting for the wind to snap it in any moment, the other like a young scarlet rose, blooming and blossoming. Unlike the rose, the beauty of the heart does not die but lingers on, now to be seen in an embrace between a father and his son, a mother and her daughter, a lover and her despair, a playful child and his dog, a man and his ending.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Arthur Schnitzler, Games with love and death…

How often does one play games with death and love? How would one make up the rules for such games? What are the prices and what are the consequences? What dangers, and what rewards might there be? All these questions, I guess, would depend on what are your definitions of love and death? Is love simply an act of sexual desires or adventure? Is death simply an ending to life? (I see you shaking your head Mr Murakami…hehehe)...Ah the luxury of frivolity and precarious living…hehehe…if only we can afford such thing…while love and death are the most discussed subjects among the human, literatures, films and arts, Arthur Schnitzler is more concerned with ‘playing games’ with them. Toying around the idea that perhaps, we can take love and death lightly, that we can take an adventure and let your guarded self be tempted, that as long as diplomacy and intelligence are implemented, then perhaps the consequences won’t be so bad; after all if life is a stage as Shakespeare once put, then it’s isn’t too bad a to assume a role that one has been fantasising about. The question is ‘what is the distance between the reality of the stage and the reality of life?’ And in four short stories, Dr Schnitzler bravely stated the prices, the consequences and the dangers of playing games with love and death.

Mother and Son – a young mother who recently lost her husband, becoming protective of her young son who was at the age of frivolity, discovering love and sexuality. The reason she became protective of her son, was the very same reason she feared of her own gender. She feared the advantage which the female beauty often had its effects on men, she feared the flippant nature of the bohemian women that would break her son heart and turn his soul black and blue. Being governed by these fears, she felt the need to loosen herself, and one day, inadvertently she found herself in the arms of one of her son friends. Then one night, her son was humiliated and as the air was thick, black and bruised, mother and son took a promenade and subsequently ended up in rowing boat, she wanted to talk to him about the idea of leaving the place and travelling abroad, alas the conclusion is frightening, hinting the fear and emancipation which for a long time had been well locked up in the Freudian chamber!!! Schnitzler’s description of Austria is almost a paradise, a place where one could walk, row on the quiet river at night and weaving one’s thoughts as a loom spinning fabric of silk, enveloping the moon.

The Man of Honour – described Alfred, a young barrister, quite content with his current lover (Elise, a correspondence clerk of a Viennese shop), yet when he saw a possible chance with the beautiful daughter of a wealthy manufacturer, Adele, he decided to pursue her love. What started out as a playful, innocent intention, later brought about some serious consequences. The wealthy manufacture advised the young man that he should perhaps travel for a year and if their love hadn’t changed upon his return, then he would be happy for them to be man and wife. Throughout his journey with Elise, Alfred wrote many love letters to Adele and closer to his arrival, Alfred murdered his Elise while on board at the bright prospect of uniting with Adele. At this point of the story, there isn’t much honour to be credited to Alfred, at the conclusion however, similar to the story of ‘the prodigal son’, Alfred’s approach to repentance truly shows his honour.

A confirmed Bachelor – Edgar Allan Poe once said ‘The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis’. For Dr Graesler, however, it is part of his nature to thoroughly dissect analysis, even those concerning love. The lonely Dr Graesler, in his late fifty, looking for a life partner, was drawn to the lively family of one of his patients. He then fell in love with Sabine, the oldest daughter of the family. It took him a long time to disclose his feeling to her, alas when Sabine sent him a letter disclosing her feeling for him and a possible plan for their futures, Dr Graesler ran off in fear to his old home town, thinking perhaps that there were more options for him to choose from. There, he met a beautiful and precarious prostitute (Katharina) and a widow of a sick child (Frau Sommer), in knowing these two women, Dr Graesler became appreciative of Sabine’s virtue and intelligence. When Dr Graesler came back, planning to accept Sabine’s proposal, it was too late. At the conclusion, Dr Graesler was like a drowning man, grasping onto anything that would keep him alive. Similar to the above statement by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Schnitzler projected this philosophy onto Dr Graesler’s character, a modern man equipped with sharp morality and intelligence, yet when it comes to ‘love’, is there a need for such analysis and civility?...For ‘he went on to talk to her…The wind, which stirs on these shores even on the calmest days, blew away the next words – and many more of the same nature’

The Spring Sonata – Frau Bertha never had her heart quivered and delicately trembled like how it meant to be when one is passionately in love. Soon after her husband passed away, Bertha missed her musician life and decided to initiate correspondence with a past lover who was becoming a famous violinist in Vienna. She made regular trips to Vienna, hoping to spend time with him, and spent most of the time dreaming at the prospect of being his lover. Simultaneously, Bertha was getting to know a couple living in close proximity, Frau and Herr Rupius, a disable man who has a beautiful, young wife, and she too made regular trips to Vienna. In moments of contemplation, Bertha imagined that perhaps Frau Rupius was having an affair in Vienna, she also witnessed the Herr Rupius’ despair as he believed that Frau Rupius would leave him any time soon…the dry reality of Bertha’s life encourages her to play a little game with love, with the idea that perhaps, her heart would one day be trembled in happiness and that her womanly fruit was still ripened and hang free, waiting for a violinist’s hand to pluck it. At the conclusion, many tragedies took place and Bertha understood that virtue, like most firmament qualities, could be restored by faith and self-respect.

Arthur Schnitzler was raised in a highly educated, civilised environment where he studied medicines and literatures, but later abandoned the former to write full time. In such an environment, diplomacy is highly regarded and exercised on an everyday basis, and when it concerns ‘love and death’, what is the use of diplomacy? These short stories of Dr Schnitzler perhaps are protests against the mechanical ways of living life where the heart is neglected, and the analytical mind is over used, or that human has becoming too pragmatic, a little desensitised towards love and death, hence dignity and virtues are just derelicts, or perhaps beautiful objects being put on a shrine and observe from a distance. There is a marked characteristic of diplomacy in Dr Schnitzler’s writing, it was almost as though one is reading a court alibi, or an official account of autobiography. Amidst these diplomatic accounts, there are strong poetry and subtle philosophy trickling through the pages, Arthur Schnitzler only let out enough poetry and lyricism to keep the readers going, and that…is pure intelligence in writing composition.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sex + Religion = A meeting by the river – Christopher Isherwood

Literary skills were not the only thing that raised Christopher Isherwood to the pedestal of fame and led to his celebrity status. This stardom was also influenced by his involvement in films, a sex scandal (Christopher dated a teenager who was almost thirty years younger) and his public exploration of homosexual identity. The trouble for Mr Isherwood was that he was not just any ordinary gay man, in accordance to his literary view, the ordinary gay man is vain, fashion and image conscious, and sexually driven (you are allowed to disagree with Christopher, but in general, think of all the DNA magazine covers with their almost naked men posing, staring sleazily to the camera lens, and who buys those magazines…yes that’s right!). He explored this own stereotype of course but he was also very devoted to Hinduism and befriended many significant swamis as result. The combination of religion and gay men/women may not make the most simplest of dishes, yet ‘A meeting by the river’ harmoniously and cleverly creates both a delicious and intriguing one.

The book is a collection of letters and diary entries written by two brothers. Patrick is a film producer who is temporarily away from his family in London, working in Los Angeles and having an affair with a sweet, handsome youth. The other, Oliver is a Hindu follower in India who is on the brink of committing a life to Hinduism and about to become a swami. Through the exchanges of these letters, diary entries, internal dialogues, thoughts and opinions, we discover the fears and delicate vulnerabilities of the two brothers.

In the 1950’s when homosexuality was strictly forbidden and severely judged, Patrick’s acceptance in society is at risk due to his sexual relations with a young man. He is of course afraid of people judgements, especially those of his family. Oliver’s dignity is at risk as he is about to commit his life to Hinduism, he is afraid of failing his own courage and dignity if he’s not able to abide to his commitment. He’s also afraid of being humiliated by his family for being a young, juvenile idealist who may not be able to live up to his ideals. When it is agreed that the brothers would meet in India on Patrick’s return journey to London, the story reaches it’s climax, with both of their fears somewhat uncovered. In an effort to put a drapery over their fears and vulnerabilities, they each place many assumptions and condescending opinions on each other’s life and choices. An example is Patricks declaration that

‘The plain truth is that these little swamis have never had sex of any kind themselves and therefore they simply cannot imagine what sex means to two people who love each other, how much more than sex it can become…”

I am of the opinion that misunderstandings like these from those who do not appreciate religion can easily create conflict, fear and set illusionary boundaries upon life. Mr Isherwood cleverly points out that a life must have a balance of duty, responsibility and human connections in order for it to kindle desire, passion and pleasure. For a life that concerns only pleasures and desires, it is no more than a beautiful garment being placed over a coat hanger.

While writing ‘A meeting by the river’ I believe Mr Isherwood was having an internal dialogue between his two-selves, one was sexually driven and the other was the spiritual exploratory self. Though there are many obvious contradictions when one puts ‘religion’ and ‘sex’ together, Christopher was able to break down the conceptual meanings of the two ideas and find a foundation, a common ground, for both to stand on. Consequently he was able come to an understanding of peace and internal harmony. That foundation is simply an unfathomable sense of acceptance, and an unconditional love for life and the hidden currents that drive it.