Steven Riddle: July 2006 Archives

Every now and then, despite the better powers that drive me, I end up making some stupid or overstated remark, usually on matters about which I know nothing. And more and more recently those matters expand to encompass nearly everything. I really have no standing to say anything about war in the Middle East, aesthetics, morality, philosophy, or, in fact anything except what I like or don't like. And perhaps it would be wise for me to remember this is the future before making any more such remarks.

But then, I wouldn't be being me--overreactive, bristly, and perversely irritated by nearly everything. And perhaps taking a vacation from me would serve both me and the blog community well. A little more humility, a lot more restraint. It's one of the reasons for so many reviews recently. I can't think of any other way to at once say something and not make a complete fool of myself.

So this is by way of apology and entreaty--I'm sorry, I have said, I say, and I will say stupid things--overgeneralizations--I am not one for making very fine distinctions--it isn't the way I think about things--I think in broad strokes in the generalizations that hold things together. It isn't an excuse, it's an explanation. I will try to curtail these sorts of remarks. Of course, if offensive, they are easily enough skipped--but it were better that they were never made in the first place. I won't promise anything because my restraint is poor (I'll blame that on Linda's absence as well), but just don't take anything I say too seriously--always consider the source.

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I can't afford to hate people. I don't have that kind of time.

Among the many lessons that can be derived from this beautiful, compassionate, and sensitive Kurosawa film of 1952, the sentences above resonate both in post-war Japan and in the world today. No one has the time to hate people.

Ikiru means "to live." And the story traces the end of life for one man, Watanabe-san, who has been diagnosed, but not formally told, that he has stomach cancer. He is introduced to us via an x-ray of his stomach and we are told that he has not lived in the past thirty years, he is dead already.

The story follows Watanabe-san's awakening through a night of drunken revel and a few weeks of dating a young woman from his office. About two-thirds of the way through the movie Watanabe-san dies off-stage and the remainder takes place through flashbacks and at his funeral.

It is at the gathering of office workers at the funeral that we get the other piece of wisdom that has not changed in lo! these many years. "Doing anything but nothing is radical." That was the root of Watanabe-san's radicality, he did something other than the nothing that bureaucracy is erected for.

I've already said more than enough about the film and given away too much perhaps because this is a small and intimate film; little details tell too much. Every moment is fraught with meaning, every line carefully considered, every gesture, every action choreographed to the lustrous end. And yet, fraught as it is, it is never heavy nor depressing. It is at times positively light and playful and at others deeply felt. Particularly poignant is a scene in the park where Watanabe-san swings in the snow and sings a song introduced earlier in the film, only this time quite differently.

Don't trust too much the liner notes that talk about this as a modernist existential film tract. As a professor once told me about Shakespeare: bring to it any ideological system and you can make it light up--feminist, socialist, homosexualist, you name it. I have a feeling the same may be true of this film. For the time, it is remarkably forward thinking in the portrayal of women, hence feminist. And already there are the signs of the "think globally, act locally" cant that runs the rounds in many circles today pretending to be thought.

Our lives would all be immeasurably better if we could remember Watanabe-san's words quoted beneath the header. We might consider them the Japanese equivalent of, "She would have been a good woman if there’d been somebody to shoot her every day of her life." Let's rather choose not to make this our emblem and to take after Watanabe-san--a Silas Marner, an Ebeneezer Scrooge, a Watanabe-san after his own fashion.

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Jeff Culbreath might not agree with Chief Joseph's statement above, but in the close examination of conscience and with a clear eye as to what was happening to his people, Chief Joseph made this promise. I think he was considering the same things Jeff writes about in two posts.

And the answer to Jeff's question is very simple--unless that little girl was walking into your house, country, public place, with a bomb strapped onto her back and the trigger in her hand, it is never licit. Collateral damage is one of those horrible Minitruth phrases that covers up the hideous reality. When we condone even the use of the term "collateral damage," we are complicit in depriving mothers of their children, fathers of their families, and innocents of their lives. The proper term is "civilian deaths and casualties."

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Granted none of us are good, but surely some of us are good enough to recognize that the slaughter of innocents is not "collateral damage"--it is sheer evil dressed up as necessity. Any person who does not mourn when this happens has become a monster.

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An Apology of Sorts

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Perhaps it is more an explanation.

I feel also bad posting so many reviews and talking about so many films because so many people cannot indulge in them; however, the reality is that there will come a time in the not too distant future (praise God) when I'll return to my more infrequent reviews.

Presently my wife and child are not with me. During their absence I sleep a lot less than is normal for me. I fill up all of that "extra" time with my writing and reading and watching of film. When they return, the patterns of life will resume and the reviews will slow to a trickle.

So, I don't really apologize, except in the sense of offering an explanation for, because I know no one was chiding me; however, my guilty conscience observes that this is not normative behavior and it isn't available to all. Take heart, it soon won't be for me either and I look forward to that time. Film, no matter how well crafted or beautifully made is a very small consolation in the absence of those we love most.

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Kingdom of the Ants


Small, lovely, and in Africa, at least, potentially deadly even to cattle and humans. One marvels at the small wonders all around.

Go and see.

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Seven Deadly Wonders


Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful, dreadful, dreadful.

One of the worst written, most sloppily composed pieces of diatribe and bad research to hit the anti-Catholic bandwagon. Matthew Reilly, the master of this prose, makes Dan Brown look like a genius in comparison. In addition to the requisite human-sacrificing evil Jesuit, sent by the Vatican to secure the pieces of the golden capstone of the Great Pyramid, the Catholic Church is seen as the sister cult of the Masons, and the two are seen as mere extension of the cult of Amun-Ra. I suppose you all probably weren't aware that "Amen" is a corruption of "Amun" because they didn't include vowels in their writing.

The concept of the story--the golden capstone of the Great Pyramid has been split into several pieces and hidden with the remnants of the seven wonders in places around the world--was intriguing. And this aspect of the plotting is intriguing.

All I can say is I don't think the Catholic world has much to worry about with this one. What I can't understand is how dreck like this gets published while the novels of a certain writer I won't name languish on the shelves (and I'm not referring to myself). Less and less of worth is published and more and more of this type of stuff. What is most difficult is that the premise is so interesting and so promising--and the vitriol aimed at the Church is so acceptable. When people tell you that prejudice is nearly eradicated in the U.S., I would respond that perhaps, except for the oldest one of our nation--anti-Catholicism. Of course, Matt Reilly is Australian, but he's not stupid, he's writing what he thinks will sell. But anti-Catholicism alone isn't sufficient to get a lumbering spineless blob like this off the ground.

NOT recommended, not even for laughs.

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Hail the Era of the DVD


Not so long ago, perhaps twenty years, perhaps a bit more, the literature of film was largely inaccessible. We were left to the tender mercies of local television statements to broadcast whatever it was they had available or that they felt would make a splash with television audiences. With the advent of videotape and now DVD, the incredible richness of the cinematic world became largely available. I can think of time during which it would have been impossible to see Rashomon or The Hidden Fortress or Throne of Blood or Ran. In fact, I would guestimate that more than 90% of film literature was inaccessible to most of us.

Now we are at Hollywood's mercy determining what will be trnasferred and thus made available. That's why it is very good to have smaller DVD companies, such as Criterion to find and rescue some of the great old films. In addition to those listed above, Criterion also made available Carl Dreyer's remarkable and moving Passion of Joan of Arc, the haunting Les Yeux sans Visage (Eyes without a Face), and The Seven Samurai among others. In this short list are the films that gave rise to Star Wars and The Magnificent Seven

And lest you think they are simply snootyville, they've also produced the "authoratative" edition of Armageddo.

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I know, a lot of reviews, but when you have a lot of laundry to take care of, and other relatively immobile housework/repair, one has time for movies. And what a movie!

Akira Kurosawa's 1950 masterpiece remains as relevant and as pointed today as when it was first made. Based of two stories by Akutagawa (who is sometimes called the "Poe of Japan"--I'd say he is the de Maupassant of Japan) Rashomon tells the story of the forest rape of young woman and the murder of her husband. And all of this with neither overt sexuality nor overt bloodshed.

But the events of the story are less important than its telling. The main events are narrated by four different narrators--a bandit, the wife, a witness, and the dead person through a medium. It is this last that gives the film some of its creepier moments, as the medium is a pretty Japanese woman speaking in the voice of a Samurai.

Naturally the four stories do not agree on the details and particularly not on the manner of death of the Samurai. And what you realize is that there is no way for an observer outside the scene based upon the stories alone to say what really happened.

When I finished watching the film, I thought, "Wow, it's just like reading any modern political commentary--Ann Coulter, Al Franken, Pat Buchanan--most are documented to a greater or lesser extent and yet look at the same presidency and the same actions and see entirely different things. And each of the things they see redounds to their greater glory and honor, just as in the film. Odd, no?

Kurosawa managed to give the film a "happy" resolution, which is more than I can hope for from the American Political scene or news scene. I remarked in an email to TSO one time that I didn't see any reason to read a book by John Cornwell because I felt upon finishing anything I had to go and check out everything that had been written.

Kurosawa aptly taps into the human condition, and he does it in the context of a beautifully filmed movie. This is one of those films "in glorious black and white" that just shimmers and explodes off of the screen to come alive in the mind. The questions Kurosawa poses and the lack of a substantive response are disarming and to those unconvinced of the fall of humankind, perhaps a bit disheartening. But they are eye-opening and they are the necessary questions even for today.

Highest possible recommendation--even though you will have to read it and perhaps watch it several times for it to sink in. Also, the Criterion package (I love Criterion produced DVDs) includes a booklet that contains the short stories "Rashomon" and "In the Grove" on which the film was based.

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Trois Coleurs: Bleu

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The first of a series of three films thematically connected by color and by the meanings of those colors as represented in the French flag stars Juliette Binoche as ayoung woman who loses her husband and her daughter in a car crash. The rest of the film builds on this simple premise, peeling away layers of character and layers of meaning.

Juliette Binoches seeks the liberty that blue represents. But the liberty she seeks is not mere political or economic liberty. She seeks the liberty to live life without really living it--to do life as a walk-on, unattached to anyone or anything. Typical of her approach, "Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing. I don't want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps." And yes, they are traps--tender traps, the traps that make us human, as Juliette discovers in the course of the film.

The film presents another kind of liberty as well, a kind of counterpoint to the main theme (which is appropriate because Juliette's husband is hailed all over Europe as one of its finest composers). Ultimately, Juliette discovers the liberty that may only come when the truth is told all around. Her life has been a continual hiding from one truth and another, but as the movie unfolds, she begins to see and understand the truth. And the truth really does set her free from her misconceptions about freedom and how to live.

This is a hard film, there is a new cinematic language in parts. There are about four moments in the film when there is a cut to black that then cuts to a continuation of the same scene. These scenes are shot through with the portentous music that is being composed for the celebration of the Unification of Europe. You know they are meaningful, and yet their meaning is not necessarily what you think until you have seen all of them.

This is a film I will have to rewatch, but only after I have seen the other two. White or Blancis next in order, but I already have Red or Rouge in my possession so that will probably be next. While the films are called a trilogy, they share no characters and don't even occur in the same country.

The director Krzysztof Kieslowski died in 1996 leaving these three films as his final work. And it is hard to imagine how anything before might have compared with the wonder of this one. I can't wait to see the other two.

Highly Recommended--ADULTS ONLY, there are several scenes that would not be appropriate for any child of any age.

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Blogging Difficulties

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One of the most difficult things in the world for me is to keep on topic when writing an entry. I find my mind going a million different directions. If I'm ranting, I want to rant about everything. If I'm writing about the spiritual life, I want to treat the whole of it synthetically.

Blogging is training in mindfulness (to put it in Zen way). Awareness of what you are about, concentration on what you mean to say. A successful entry is one that accomplishes a single thing. Now that thing may be a broad survey or a laser-like minute point. But the successful entry says what needs to be said and quietly ends.

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The Worst Mistake

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TSO makes an interesting and cogent point in this post from which an excerpt foloows:

But the Native American holocaust was a much bigger mistake. The Spanish-American war and the Mexican war were arguably much bigger blots on our record. And yet the ironic thing is that this war is seen as intolerable sin; a co-worker says some scholars say Bush will go down as the worst president in US history. I think whatever error we incurred with respect to Iraq is pretty mild compared to some of the errors of our past, such as slavery. I'm completely at a loss at how this war for an arguably good principle (overthrow of a despot) is somehow more obscene than taking other people's lives for a baser principle (land, power, money). That doesn't make this mistake right but the lack of perspective is astonishing. I feel far more squeamish about our use of the nuclear bomb in WWII than enforcing the ceasefire conditions Hussein repeatedly broke.

I think there is much here to think about, but what I wanted to reflect on wasn't the contention that we have done worse in the past, which I believe to be true, but the perceptions then and now, and why they give me hope.

I think TSO is right in our past blunders. The annhilation of the Native American, the long slavery debacle, and more debatably the Spanish-American War. But the reality is that in the past these were not regarded as blunders, and the people who undertook some of them were regarded as heroes. After the atrocities they committed in the Civil War, in which Sherman and Sheridan proved themselves, they were sent out to the west to commit even worse upon the Native Americans who were already near starvation and being crowded away off of traditional hunting and farming lands. At the time, the explanation, which remains in some part today, amounted to eminent domain. This land could be better exploited for larger numbers if only it were freed of this pesky nuisance.

Slavery was supported and preached about in the South, largely because the rice crop in South Carolina depended nearly exclusively upon the labor of slaves. Certainly, there was probably a good deal of special pleading in some of these sermons, but some were given by solid men of God who had a grave misunderstanding of what scripture spoke of.

Today we are embroiled in a war that could be called at best a mistake and at worst, according to Pat Buchanan (and I won't defend his opinion, because frankly, I don't know), playing into Osama Bin Laden's hands. Buchanan points out that 9/11 was all about getting us involved in a war like the one we launched in Iraq to our detriment, and eventual demise. I don't know that it will happen, nor does Mr. Buchanan seem to think it inevitable, but I think it has been shown that despite laudable goals, it was essentially an unjust war, and we are now reaping the whirlwind we have sown.

But what is wonderful about this is that so many are willing to speak up and express their disapproval. People are no longer being shoe-horned and steam rolled into accepting any party line. Where once we went along with slavery or went along with the annhilation of the Native Americans, now we protest a war some see as imperialist and others view as protectionist (of oil interests.)

I don't know if we are becoming more devisive, more aware, or simply tired of acting as policemen for the world. But I think it will help to promote a good deal more circumspection from those leading the country in the future. At least I pray so. And I think that this war has been very helpful in clarifying the concept of "just war."

For all of these reasons, I find the hue and cry heartening. It may not mean much of anything in the long run, but I hope that it is a sign of some slight maturing. Now, if we could just recapture any real sense of morality with regard to sexual matters and life in general, we might progress overall.

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How the Right Went Wrong

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Patrick Buchanan makes some cogent observations about the present war on terror and the state of conservatives in general.

I was most profoundly disturbed by the brief history of terrorism, and our propensity to forgive it if it was in the "right" cause. Significant recent examples: John Brown's "Bloody Kansas" and Harper's Ferry, Sherman and Sheridan in their march across the south, the fire-bombing of Dresden, and dropping of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Even more disturbing is the propensity of some to use the exact same language as Robespierre, Marat, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao to defend these actions. Yet more sobering, some of these commentators (at least I infer from Zippy's Blog) are "good Catholics." It's amazing what we will allow for our own convenience. And lest you think I'm chiding everyone out there as well--I have to admit the greatest source of disturbance is the question of what I might have done in similar circumstances. I don't exempt myself from the indictment, which makes it all the more important to reflect upon seriously.

Daunting and a little depressing, but recommended.

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What I remember most about Pleasant Hill was not the two stark building, one for women, one for men; nor the building where trays of mulberry leaves were spread as far as the eye could see and women wearing delicate face-framing bonnets picked at cocoons that had been boiled and slowly unwound their slender threads into large spools; nor the meeting house where they demonstrated the dance and the song and thinking about how this society had dwindled to a mere seven in Sabbathday Lake, Maine; nor the administration and guest house where the prefect spiral staircase rose in the atrium, seeming floating without support; nor the green pumpkins the size of small carriages still clinging the the vine thought now rimed at times with frost; nor the chill of the wind or the color of the trees as we rode the riverboat up the Kentucky river to see the wonders of autumnal nature spread before us; nor the bee-hazed cider press that buzzed louder than any modern machinery as a man in round black hat turned the wheel to crush the leavings of the apples; nor the straight ladder-back chairs that so many others oohed and ahed over.

No, what I remember best was a small obscure awninged shade where a single woman sat with what looked like a completely wooden paper cutter and golden straw. And when her visitors would approach she would rise and take some of the straw and lay it across the ridges and valleys of this not-paper-cutter and swiftly chop down on it as if to slice it in two. And the outer peel of the golden straw would break and with some deft movements of her fingers, she would peel it away to reveal the golden threads that lay within. She'd take carding tools, like those for working wool and pull the threads between them over and over and over again. And when she had a puffy ball of the stuff, she'd grab a wooden top she had sitting to one side and pull the fluffy cloud into fine white threads, pausing every now and then to wrap the threads around the spindle.

And when she was done, she would take them to the woman at the loom, who would wind the threads onto her bobbin and race them through the warp and weft of the fabric she was making.

And all around was the clamor of no-noise at all--no radio, no television, no tractors, nothing--the thundering roar of sitting before God in a simple task, and perhaps humming under one's breath:

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right

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My friend told me that in their town they would bring an elephant with a golden headdress and seat that was empty.

But what I remember most about the Hare Krishnas, more even than the saffron robes, more even than the dancing and the odd Indian drums they would play, more even than the bald heads with one knotted tress, more even than the chant-chant-chanting, the chant and be happy cycle, more even than the prayer wheels and the images of Ganesha and others, more even than the curious resemblance of their Lord's name and my Own--what I remember most is breaded cauliflower fried in ghee.

From talking to them I learned that ghee is a type of clarified butter. From my own palate I learned that ghee is a type of tangible sunshine, a taste unlike any other. Cauliflower, meek mild, inoffensive, mostly tasteless cauliflower in ghee became the mightiest of vegetables, indeed, perhaps the mightiest of foods excepting only double chocolate chocolate chip cake. Ghee had a way of turning everything that was wrong right and making all things come into harmony. I looked deeply into the mysteries of the east and for a moment understood them as I rolled the ghee-imbued cauliflower around in my mouth.

What I remember most about the Hare Krishnas is the promise of endless meals of ghee cooked marvels--and for a while that was a temptation. But not enough. Nevertheless, I've been granted a taste of heaven here on Earth and it was amazingly simple.

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The Fog

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No, not either one of the two versions John Carpenter made, this is rather a wierd little ditty from Bollywood--kind of a corss between a 1950s-1970s Spanish/Italian Horror movie complete with ketchupy blood flowing at all the wrong times, and a chaste Madonna video (talk about oxymoron).

That is one thing that truly impresses me with Bollywood films, and perhaps it speaks to their audiences. The embraces, the close encounters, the amount of skin shown is about what one could have seen in the U.S. pre-1965. And that's refreshing. Another refreshing point is that these films are so darn sincere. When everyone gets up and dances, you want to dance with them. It's hard not to like Bollywood.

Now I have a question for those who know more about Indian film--what language are most of these films in? Half of the time I'm hearing English words, phrases, and sentences that need no subtitles. The other half there is some other language. Is this a creole or a patois that would make the film more comprehensible in a nation that has more languages and dialects than all the erst of the world combined? (Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but not by much.) I haven't figured it out and its a bit disconcerting because I find myself half understanding and half in the dark and by the time I realize they've trailed off English, I've missed the subtitles.

Well, for films that explore the challenging territory of the bare midriff AND disappearing and reappearing corspes and monsters, this film must be one of the very finest. Nevertheless, it is lengthy and I can give it only a half-hearted recommendation as an odd blend with some great Bollywood musical numbers and some really bad horror cinema story and acting. But, it makes for a unique and interesting blend.

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The Daddy of The Matrix

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Dark City 1998--take a dollop of The Matrix mix thoroughly with about a half gallon of The Forgotten and a small dose of The Truman Show and you have the daddy of them all.

Dark City is an odd little film--Australian/United States Production with the talents of Rufus Sewell, Keifer Sutherland, William Hurt, and Jennifer Connelly.

Man wakes without memories in a hotel room wherein there is a murdered prostitute. And he travels about in a city where it is always night and where no one is the same from day to day.

Innovative, interesting, and surprising even after you've seen all that derives from it. One of those obscure films that help you to trace the origins of dozens of others. And perhaps rather than influencing The Matrix it shared the same Zeitgeist--but its motifs show up again and again in other films.

Adult subject matter, recommended for adults only, and only for those with a penchant for quirky SF.

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Lest We Forget


the sheer marvels and prodigies of grace:

Xyloplax turnerae and X. medusaformis


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Aesthetic Tyrants

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Zippy and Rob will be happy to know that other than this there is nary a mention or an intention toward them. I'm sure Tom, shaking in his boots, will breathe a sigh of relief when I say the same is true of him. In fact, this is not directed at anyone in particular, but toward and peculiar attitude that crops up every now and then, which I consider to be worse than many of the aesthetic foibles we have paraded across the floor in the past few days.

Some people, usually a small group, feel it incumbent upon themselves to infringe upon the small joy others take in any given work of art. They take it upon themselves to be the gatekeepers of the objective artistic merit, and those with the checklist of what qualifies and what does not. Frankly, this attitude sickens me. They usually proclaim years of experience in the field or a string of letters behind their names that give them some oracular ability to pronounce whether or not a work is "good" or not.

I hate to tell them this, but they aren't the gatekeepers. No experience and no string of letters gives them the right to rob anyone of the pleasure they experience from licit entertainments. They have the right to their opinion and to substantiation of that opinion on the basis of their understanding, but they are not allowed the codicil, "And anyone who does like it doesn't know what they're talking about and suffers from a terminal case of bad taste." What presumption--of course I know what I'm talking about when I say I enjoyed a book, film, or piece of art--and it may be that what I enjoy about it is precisely what brings these aesthetic mavens to the verge of apoplexy. Too bad. I'm sorry to make them distraught, but whatever they say, I'm going to like the work anyway.

I read J.D. Robb and Georgette Heyer with nearly the same enthusiasm and enjoyment as I read James Joyce. I can name a myriad of reasons why the latter is more important, more literary, and better taste than the latter. So what? I can enumerate countless reasons why Agatha Christie is a lesser writer than James Gould Cozzens. However, at the present time, it appears that Ms. Christie will be a writer for the ages whereas Mr. Cozzens has practically disappeared.

I went through college courses that enunciated to me why I must despise Charles Dickens and love Thomas Hardy. Sorry to say, I must not have been listening too well. I love Charles Dickens, and Thomas Hardy.

The reality of the matter is that every person is entitled to his or her own opinion and enjoyment or lack thereof in a work. For example, while I can train my eye to understand and even appreciate some of the works of Picasso, there are very few I can truly be said to enjoy. There's absolutely nothing of the work of Robert Motherwell that means a thing to me, and a Jackson Pollack--in my estimation, mind you--is a massive waste of time. Now, that doesn't mean that there is something deficient in my critical faculties nor in my taste. It means that I find the aesthetic appeal of these artists harder to grasp and not so accessible as say Magritte, Gaugin, Rousseau, Corot, and Courbet.

Personally, I would class most of Thomas Kinkade in with those for whom I have little appreciation. But what would I waste anyone else's time outlining the deficiencies of style, subject matter, depth of light, etc. (Well, only so Linda won't put them up on the walls, but that's a different issue.)

People are entitled to their enjoyment of licit pleasures. The critics are entitled to their opinion of what makes good art. Personally, I am more interested in a critique of the moral appropriateness of the art. Is the pleasure truly licit--or is the subject matter essentially immoral?

Critics and scholars are entitled to their appreciation or lack thereof of works of literature. Harold Bloom, whom I consider to be brilliant in other ways, shows an unaccountable lack of access to the work of E.A. Poe. He tries to convince everyone these works are somehow inferior to other works that are a great deal more tedious and deadly to read. Just stop it!

When I critique a book, I try to give some sense of why I did or did not like it and what I found problematic about it, if anything. I often include a recommendation. I expect those who have read enough of my writing to know what I like and dislike will weigh that evaluation and say, "Well, HE didn't like it, so I will." I would not presume to judge the person who found something to enjoy where I did not. In fact, that is the person from whom I wish to learn.

A few years back Jonathan Franzen, author of an enjoyably mediocre tale of family angst The Corrections bemoaned the fact that Oprah had picked him up for her book club. "It's so middlebrow." Frankly, if Oprah had breathed a word of my novel or short story to the world, let along made it her book club selection, I'd build her a statue from the money I'd be rolling in as a result.

Watch for words like, "middlebrow," "bad taste," "I have twenty years experience," "I know what constitutes good painting," "I have a Ph.D. in semiotics and symbology. . ." what follows is sure to be a tedious, uncharitable tirade and detraction of another person's opinion.

If you (the general and vague "you", not YOU gentle reader) don't like what I like--you're entitled. Tell me about it. Let me learn from you, or talk to you and tell you what I saw. Don't tell me how you have twenty-two years experience teaching English and can recite "My Last Duchess" backwards and forwards, and you have a Ph.D. in "Post Modern autodeconstructive hegemonic theory." I don't care. Don't waste my time. Tell me what you want to say and give good, solid reasons. Or refer me to where you have provided good, solid reasons. And be charitable enough to recognize that you are not the center of the universe, nor are you the last word on theory and practice of aesthetics. In short, don't be a boor. Here, at least, you'll wind up being ignored or summarily deleted. I haven't the time nor the patience, and I don't wish to subject my readers to a diatribe about why some obscure homosexual feminist transvestite from Akikasho Japan is the only filmmaker who even makes a real movie any more. It's unbearably pretentious, precious, and more than a little bit sad.

So do yourself and everyone else a favor, lighten up--stop taking yourself so seriously and chill. (Advice I could do with following myself.)

[End spate of vituperation and frustration]

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TSO links to Ulysses meets Fred Flinstone, a prime example of how art advances by the interactions of one artist with another. A modification to which no exception should be taken, and extremely amusing.

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Art as Children

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Many artists often compared their works to children. When asked what their favorite novel or painting is, they would respond with something like, "How do you pick a favorite child?"

But to my mind, what makes art difficult is that the products are closer to a person than children. When someone asks me "What poem is your favorite?" it strikes me as asking, "Which toe do you like best?"

This sounds dramatic, and I don't mean it to be so. One of the things that makes publication very hard for many, myself included is that it is akin to standing naked on a soapbox at the corner of the village green and shouting, "I have something important to say." You are completely exposed to the world. Every work I have produced still feels as though it is a part of me. And reading the older works, I become for a moment the person I was when I wrote them, and the person that I still am as a result of writing them.

So, I probably overstate, but for me, the metaphor of children fails, because as much as I love my son, I feel somewhat differently--not love precisely--about my big toe.

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I've given the matter yet more thought and have concluded that part of the anger at the result of the CleanFlicks lawsuit stems from the fact that film is presently under a perpetual copyright. Supposedly the copyright last the life of the author plus 90 years, but I don't know the rules when the copyrighted work is owned by a "legal" person such as a corporation.

If things progressed as the Founding Fathers originally saw fit, films would enter the public domain at a steady pace. But the reality is no film is likely ever to enter the public domain (there are a few silent films, but that's it). So, there is never the opportunity to "edit for suitability" because copyright is eternal. And it is here that I balk at the judgment against CleanFlicks. The Courts have given both monopolistic and eternal rights to the companies that produce a work. It would seem to me that if they are forever, they should not be all-inclusive. A previous commenter pointed out that copyright was a trade-off allowing the owner a short period of exclusive use in exchange for the work entering the public forum.

I'm thinking that the only way this will cease is by concerted civil disobedience--but I can't think what form that might take. Anyway, the anger seems justified because many are left powerless in the face of this all devouring perpetual seizure of intellectual property.

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The Eye


Subtle shades of the Cassandra theme played out twice in the course of this low key suspense/supernatural thriller. I hesitate to call it a horror movie, because it most certainly is not. More the atmosphere of The Forgotten

A young woman, blind since the age of two, undergoes a corneal transplant that restores her vision. Along with the restored vision comes the ability to see the forthcoming death of those near her.

Very nicely played, and very coherent. I can't imagine what the American studios will make of it. The woman who was the star of My Left Eye Sees Ghosts played the sister of the heroine in this film.

Recommended for adult audiences looking for style and fun with a very tiny dollop of substance thrown in.

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Habemus Canem and The Eye

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My Latin is dreadful; however, my new dog is wonderful. A stray found by another, named Lucky (Sam has decided to keep the name), a delightful and sweet companion. A bit of a shock going from alone to caring for a baby. But that's okay. Linda and Sam back soon.

later this evening: The Eye another Korean suspense film. Heard it was licensed by Tom Cruise and associates to be made into another dreadful American rehash. Let's see what they're hashing up.

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Tom likens Art to a cultural conversation, or rather someone has slipped that metaphor in along in the discussion. And that seems quite reasonable. Tom goes on to ask the question, "Is it reasonable in the course of any conversation to assume that every person engaged has the right not only to be heard, but in a sense to dominate the conversation as the only one whose word not only must be heard, but must be held sacrosanct and inviolable?" I paraphrase, but I hope I caught the essence of it.

Because Tom's definition of Art starts off much broader than my own, that question is reasonable as well. But where the difficulty comes in is that the cultural conversation takes not merely minutes, hours, days, months, years, or decades; it can, and often does take centuries and millennia.

While it is unreasonable to hold one person's view as more valuable or more sacrosanct than another's, when I argue for the preservation of the original, I am not saying that there cannot be other contributors, but rather, because the conversation takes so long, it is only right to hear the conversants in their own voices--as unmediated by another as is possible.

I make an inference here that Tom may be describing art as a kind of dialectic a kind of theme, introduced by the initial artist and modified through the years by responding artists in harmony or dissonance. And that may be a reasonable view of the process over all.

It is not the production of new works that bothers me. But let me try to explain just why I hold the view I do. St. Thomas Aquinas produced a large compendium of theology and philosphy, and I suppose natural science, and many other things related to theology and understanding God. This is the remarkable Summa Theologiae. Through time, many, many people have responded to this work, both positively or negatively. However, if I only read Farrell's study of the work, have I really come to terms with what St. Thomas Aquinas said? If I read only the two abridgments prepared by Peter Kreeft, do I have a clear idea of what Aquinas taught. Perhaps, perhaps not. But if I don't have the work of Aquinas to refer to, how can I know. If we allow the original to be so truncated to to be compiled in Kreeft's Summa of the Summa how will I understand the conversation?

Now the creation of the Summa of the Summa MIGHT be what Tom would refer to as a modification of the Summa Theologiae, if so, we have a different terminology for recognizing the validity of the same thing, because I would argue that Kreeft used his skills as writer and editor to produce from Aquinas not just a modification of Aquinas, but what is, in essence, an entirely new work. Yes, the bulk of it is Aquinas (there are notes and comments by Kreeft) but the process of editing picks highlights and reshapes the corpus of the work in such a way that it no longer fully represents the original. With this type of continuing conversation, I have no problem. Part of my ease comes from the fact that if I wished to know what Aquinas really said, I need only pick up one of several critical editions and learn Latin and read it. (Well, perhaps only wasn't a particularly good modifier in that sentence.) But the reality is that I have the original contribution to the conversation to play off of all the others and to hear the overtones and undertones.

But let's assume for a moment that an evil band of Kreeftian adherents stole all extant copies of the Summa and destroyed them. Then those initial remarks--the conversation starter is completely lost to me--and the conversation starter is indeed the seed of all that followed.

This is where we may part company, because I sincerely believe that it is good to know the full nature of that seed and even of the subsequent branches when we begin to engage in the conversation.

Now I've been queried about whether I would confer the same protections on Cheaper by the Dozen as I would on the Hagia Sophia. And the answer is an unqualified yes, with a codicil. I think it good to preserve as intact as possible all of the works of art so that future art has it as the "conversation starter." Ideally, that Art should be the authentic expression of the artist who produced it--complete and unchanged--but ready now to be modified by the future artist who encounters it. The codicil is, do I think Cheaper by the Dozen is as important as the Hagia Sophia. No! Rather I confer on Cheaper by the Dozen the protection I would like to offer the Hagia Sophia, not because CBD is necessarily worthy of that protection, but because if I have to choose between releasing all and keeping all, I choose keeping all. CBD is the side beneficiary of the protection I would like to see conferred on all great works of art.

A great work of art is a conversation starter--it is interesting to see the conversation develop, but I often lament things like Fragments from Paphias that give us enticing snippets of what could have been a most interesting whole. I regret the loss of many of the Pindaric Odes, though they may not have been worthy of a second thought. Who would have thought a minor comedy of an ancient Roman would have been worth recreating as a musical. And yet, it works.

So, if I am a protectionist, it is both for the good of Art as a whole, and I believe, the good of humanity. Some conversations are finished, have long since been but to rest and now are nothing more than footnotes in long abstruse studies of ancient Hungarian fragments or lesser Scholastics of the 14th century. There is a natural lull in the conversation. But the texts are there, ready for a resurgent interest that may uncover in these "lesser" scholastics insights that were far ahead of their time. If these works are redacted into nonexistence, this fertile field is destroyed, and part of the ability of Art is destroyed with it. I think of art as akin to John Donne's paean to everyman, "No man is an island, but all be part of the whole. If a clod be washes from Europe, Europe is the less." The loss of an original artwork is a great shame and a great loss. The centuries-long conversation that occurs around this artwork enriches Art, and if done properly, all of humanity.

That is why I suppose I impose my two categorical statements--(1)The willful misattribution of a work of art that has been changed to the original artist is sinful; and (2)The redaction of any original, no matter how seemingly trivial, out of existence is a great loss.

That said, I now need to come to terms with the very real part of me that says, "Some works don't deserve to exist at all. Would the loss of all of the pornography of the 20th century really be a bad thing." And perhaps it is in the distinction between Great Art, Good Art, Mediocre Art, and Bad Art, that I could find some answers to that question. (Bad art here meaning art that is both seriously, grievously mortally flawed, and art that while unflawed morally is so completely flawed technically as to be worthless.)

And perhaps my answer would be that Art in the first three categories deserves to have the original preserved, and that in the last, particularly if morally reprehensible should be consigned to the dust head of history. But then my statement wouldn't be categorical. And perhaps, with further reflection that's just fine.

All I really want is to be able to see what was originally there if I have cause to. As I once commented to TSO, reading a book by John Cornwell was a waste of time because I felt I had to go back and try to find all of the originals to see, what if anything, was true about it. But stop and consider. If we redacted everything out of existence and all that remained to say of Pius XII were the half-truths and less of Cornwell's book, then we would have done a great injustice--and I believe the nature of that injustice is related to Art itself.

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Make Your Own!

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There seems to be a divide between some philosophers of Art and those who argue from the point of view of the artist. The philosophers see absolutely nothing at all wrong with altering a work to make it aesthetically better; the artists (or those who argue from that point of view) disagree. And this may come down what precisely we mean by "altering a work of art."

There are two species of alterations: one of which is always objectionable, the other of which is the traditional way in which art grows--the way which present copyright law is trying to squeeze off entirely.

One form of alteration is to take an extant work and make a change to it. This is objectionable on a number of grounds:

(1) It misrepresents the view and the work of the original.
(2) It argues that alteration to make a bad work mediocre is a laudable act--thus propagating the endless galleries of Thomas Kinkade art with which every mall seems to be burdened.
(3) It is hubristic--pretending to know with some certain what objective artistic merit is. I've seen Zippy throw the term around and then actively support the burning of all Picassos; I've come to suspect that he has no better idea than I do of what this objectivity looks like.
(4) It is lazy.

Which leads to the second form of alteration--derivation, parody, and satire, [added later] or attributed alteration of a copy of the work--most traditional means of altering extant works. When one thinks one can do better, this is the path to take. One doesn't tinker with the poems of Robert Frost seeking to improve them, one writes ones own poems in the same vein, on the same theme, or even in parody of or homage to Frost.

This is the means by which art progresses. Most of our modern works are derived in some way. They are written as a response to, from the wealth of, or as adaptations of great works of the past. I think of Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres which can be seen as an adaptation of Lear. I think of G.B. Shaw's Dark Lady of Sonnets in which he fights his lifelong battle with Shakespeare with some considerable venom. How many Romeo and Juliets have there been (itself a derivative work from Arthur Brooke's 1562 The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, which in turn derives from earlier sources, and ultimately from Greek Mythology--Pyramus and Thisbe.

The right and proper work of the artist is this continual modification of tradition and addition to it. Hemingway is quoted as saying that "Mediocre artists borrow; great artists steal." Which is to mean that they take the work entire and make it their own. In this sense, the greater crime might be borrowing, in which we change this word, or that line, or this little scene and then pass on silently, having altered the work to our satisfaction.

At Disputations, Tom brings up the notorious "sash-painting" across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, only recently restored to the right and proper vision of Michelangelo. This form of debasement of art is what one supports when one says that arbitrary changes may be made to improve the aesthetics of the piece.

The reality is that there are vanishingly few people who have the standing to make judgments about the aesthetic value or objective artistic merit of any given piece, and most of those are who they think they are. It's a catch 22 in my experience, if you believe you are qualified then you are most certainly not--a point M. Night Shaymalin makes along the way in Lady in the Water. If you think you have the right to change a work that will be presented to the public, you should rethink--you don't.

I stand opposed to the alteration in any way of a received work. If you don't like it the way it stands, don't participate in it. If you think you could do the same better--do so. Just don't alter what has become public property. And public property is not individual property but the right and due of all the people. No one person has the right to change this heritage in the first way. Every person has the right, and if endowed with the skill, the responsibility to change or contribute to this heritage in the second way.

If you can make a more moral, upright, or proper film do so. Don't change the one I'm watching. If you can make a poem better, then do so--set yours alongside the original and show me the improvement. I have yet to read an altered, bowdlerized, or expurgated version of any work that made a substantial improvement to the aesthetics whatever it may have done to the morality.

If you feel the urge to change someone's work, cowboy up and make your own. Don't tinker. Don't play at artist--you demean art and the artist with such playacting. And don't be tiresome and pretend you have some bead on the truth that will vastly improve a given work. Prove it to me--write your own. Jane Austen took on the melodramatic and overwrought Gothic genre to produce the magisterial Northanger Abbey and made a contribution far more profound than legions of gothic novelists. (However, she did not surpass Anne Radcliffe whose work she sought to parody. Ms. Radcliffe's work stands and beside it the parody that is almost a tribute. In a sense we have Ms. Radcliffe to thank for one of the finest novels in English--if only indirectly.)

So, hands off. Let what enters the public square live or die on its own.

And now the second part of part II. Copyright law. Our present copyright law seeks to keep everything out of public domain for approximately 150 years, at this point. With the next renewal that time will extend. Applying that to the past, we would not have been able to make films or derivative works of things like A Christmas Carol or Tess of the D'urbervilles until a few years ago. Yes, there's always the possibility of licensing the work, but what is the writing struggling with keeping food on the table to do when the very clay with which he or she works is locked up, just within sight. The modern copyright law is a travesty--a mockery of law, and a mockery of the purpose for which copyright became the rule. The most recent Supreme Court ruling on it, in every way a deliberate and conscious misreading of the intent and purpose as outlined in the Constitution itself. It is clear from precedent up until the 20th century that there was absolutely no intention of an artist holding copyright for 90 years after his or her death. And, as I said, with the lobbies and the free grant of the Courts, this is only like to be extended. This does wholesale damage to the common good, removing from the sphere of play thousands and thousands of works. I think of what might have happened had Jane Eyre not entered the public domain--we might never have seen Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea. The examples are countless. Congress has, for the interests of megaconglomerate businesses removed the right and proper heritage of art from the people, and we stand by and let it happen--unconcerned because so erudite a matter has no real meaning for us. (Okay, end this month's diatribe on copyright law--sorry).

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"New Again"

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I have not read about this song at TSO's and, darn it, I should have. Shame on you TSO for not talking about it! (Or shame on me for not noticing it when you did.)

The above-titled song is a collaborative effort between Brad Paisley and Sara Evans, two of my very favorite country music stars. It occurs on the CD The Passion of the Christ: Song. It takes the form of a dialogue between Jesus (sung by Brad) and Mary (Sara). And it is, simply splendid and beautiful.

"Whatever happens,
Whatever you see,
Whatever your eyes tell you has become of me,

This is not
not the end,
I am making all things new again."

Go to your library and get a copy of this CD (if that is possible in your local library) if only for this song.

"Behold, I make all things new!"

(Hope you know it was just a ribbing TSO, haven't written to/about you in a while.)

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My Left Eye Sees Ghosts

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Incorrectly described by Netflix as a "horror-film," My Left Eye Sees Ghosts is more along the lines of a light romantic comedy with ghosts.

After a car accident, May suffers from a blood clot that allows her to see ghosts--out of her left eye only. Once the ghostly realm is aware of her she is barraged by a panoply of ghosts who simply want to be seen, or who want something. For example the ghost of an overweight woman wants to know what it is like to be thin if only for a moment.

The only ghost she cannot see is the ghost she most wants to--her husband.

If you want an idea of what this film is like, think 30s screwball comedy (á la Topper) made in 1990s Hong Kong. The film production value is high and I'm beginning to see that Hollywood may be losing its monopolistic grip on the film media. I'm seeing more and more films from Asia that have themes and presentations that make them not only palatable but popular among western Audiences. Witness the success of Ringu and Gu-On not to mention works like Bollywood Hollywood and Bride and Prejudice. This is a welcome relief as an industry without any competition tends to stagnate, and we've been mired in the entrenched mindset of Hollywood far too long. It's about time that the doors opened up and allowed in a breath of sweet fresh air.

And that is exactly what My Left Eye Sees Ghosts is--sweet and while not absolutely fresh (we must remember that "there is nothing new under the sun") certainly with a fresh presentation.

I don't recall anything that would preclude teens to adults from enjoying this film. Younger children may be put off by having to read it and by some of the conventions of Chinese film.

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Three Extremes

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Let's start with a hearty NOT recommended for the weak of stomach or heart, nor for those not into Asian cinema and fairly graphic and gritty horror. The second segment of this three segment film (one each by a Chinese, a Korean, and a Japanese director) is by far the weakest and oddest. The third segment, directed by Takashi Miike (of The Happiness of the Katikuris and Audition fame) is remarkably understated for one of Miike's work. Subtle and twisting, it is a full movie in a short space and might be unpacked in many interesting way. Miike is one of those to watch to get a sense of the new Japanese cinema and the new Japanese aesthetic.

The segment most worthy of mention, however, is the one directed by Fruit Chan, called "Dumplings." Problem is, that it can't really be discussed without giving away everything and so I'll have to stick to a couple of generalities.

Upon first watching, once again, as with the book discussed previously, I had no idea what to make of it. But I've come to the conclusion that like F. Paul Wilson the road Chan is leading us down here is remarkably pro-life given its Asian origin (not generally a pro-life group of societies--never have been). When I thought about it at length, I decided that "Dumplings" was a modern-day "Modest Proposal" combined with an atomic blast indictment of the society and the people we have become.

Problem is, is what I'm seeing in the film, or am I reading it into the film? Did the author mean for me to come out with this idea, or was he simply playing with an idea and I've made of it something that was the farthest thing from his mind.

I'm not certain it matters ultimately. If some good may be derived from it, then I will take the good. But will I claim that it is good--there's the problem.

Anyway, I don't expect very many of you will see this any how and so my question will probably never be addressed.

And now I'm off to read my way through a Chinese Ghost movie that sounds rather like Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. Title--My Left Eye Sees Ghosts. I can't wait for Linda to Get home so I can stop reading my movies.

Coming up Krzysztof Kieslowski's White, Blue and Red along with The Decalogue, The Gospel According to Matthew and a few others that have been on my list for a while.

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The whole reason for the speculations encapsulated in the Triune integrity post were the problems presented by the end of this book by Dai Sijie.

The novel is about two young men who are sent away for reeducation at the height of the Cultural Revolution in China. The crimes of their parents--one boy's father was Mao's Dentist, the other boy had two doctors--"intellectuals"--as parents. These young men are sent away to a remote village where there is not even electricity.

From time to time the village master sends the men into a nearby town where they view films and retell the story for the amusement of the village. There is an itinerant tailor whose daughter is the seamstress of the title and with whom one of the young men falls in love.

To say more would be to give away many of the interesting plot twists and turns. I don't know if this should be read as symbolic tale, allegory, satire, or simply a short tale well-told. However, the ending is problematic to me. And, at first, I was angry at the book and ready to reject it because of the end. However, thinking about it more, it seems that the chronicler merely made clear the horns of the dilemma posed by the law in China.

A short, quick read--fascinating and far more readable than Ha Jin's interminable Waiting or some other recent works out of China. The author himself underwent "reeducation" during the cultural revolution, so he knows whereof he speaks.

Recommended, with some reservations, for those with interest in the modern history of China.

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Lady in the Water

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It is easy to see why critics deplore the film, the one person harmed in the course of its filming is a critic. And the important point here is not so much that he is a critic as that he is a hubristic know-it-all. Hubris and humanity, the themes of the film.

There's no need to try to outline the plot--it makes no sense outside of the film. And I won't claim that this was the very finest film M. Night Shyamalan has made--although it may be close.

It is a film with a tremendous philosophical appeal, and that may be the flaw that makes it, perhaps a lesser film. Sometimes, the veil is torn away and one gets the "lecture" that has been hiding in some of Shyamalan's other films. This may be what bothers critics, but if so, it seems a case of intellectual laziness.

I will have to watch this film five or six more times before I begin to understand all of the things that I might want to take away from it. But once again Shyamalan introduces his ideas of faith, hope, love, humanity, meaning, fallenness, and a host of others. If you've seen Signs you know the drill--much of it is repeated here. But the oeuvre as a whole is not repetitious.

Recommended for smart teens to adults. Younger children will likely be alternately bored and frightened if the sounds I heard in the theatre are indicative.

In our ongoing debate about censoring and changing films, this is an example of a filmmaker we should support and for whom we should show out in great numbers even when the work may not be the very finest (although, as I said, I found this one quite fine). If we want quality cinema that takes our concerns seriously, then it is high time to shell out the money at the Box Office to light Shyamalan and directors like him have a fair chance at future films.

Go and enjoy.

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Jesus rarely speaks to a crowd as a crowd. Rather, when He makes His statements, it seems that they are made to the group at large to be applied by each person individually. For example, the header to the post above makes no sense whatsoever viewed in the context of the Saints of God. How many ways, how many paths, how many different means of being did they find all within this supposedly straight gate and narrow way.

But the gate IS strait and the way IS narrow for each person. For the gate is knowing and loving Jesus Christ and the way is the particular path designed by God for the individual. There is no deviation from this path which is the Way of Jesus Christ. There are an infinite number of decisions to make as one walks it. However, these decisions are guided by the strict laws of the Decalogue and the words of Jesus Himself. Because the entry is tight and the way is narrow, it is hard to get lost on it.

Many worry themselves over minor decisions in their lives. "What is God's will for me?" They look for some oracle or sign, they play Bible Roulette, anything that will reveal the particular way. But when both choices or all of the choices are licit, it is by no means certain that they aren't all available unless God decides otherwise. There are many ways to serve Him and many, many ways of being ourselves in Christ.

Once again, the paradox of Christianity. The entry is tight, the way is narrow, but the way is Jesus Christ Himself, infinite and complete. It is a narrow way of following Him in all of His broadness. We are not cramped by this narrow way because compared to the way of the world, the avenuse along which the trees of life grow are as broad as the sea itself.

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Integrity in the Triune

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According to Plato the integrity of any given thing is made up of three separate but overlapping properties--truth, beauty, and goodness. Lacking one of these three, an object cannot have integrity in an objective sense. But one of these three overrides the other two--if a beautiful and truthful seeming object lacks goodness, then it is neither beautiful nor truthful. However, an object can lack perceptible beauty and still be good and truthful and hold its integrity. Likewise an object or idea can lack seeming truth (at least truth as we're inclined to recognize it) and still be good and beautiful (and these might be clues to its truth.)

This idea, as poorly articulated as it is here, is important in dealing with "important" works of literature and film that lack one of these dimensions. During our book-group meeting yesterday, we discussed Reading Lolita in Tehran as something worth our attention. And I asked the question, "Why Lolita?"

The problem with Lolita is central and not avoidable. Nabokov writes a well-constructed even beautiful story around an essentially immoral, sinful center. The point is not to condemn Humbert Humbert for his depredations--and, given modern parlance, there is even some implication that Lolita is responsible in some way for her own despoiling. This is repugnant to the sensibilities and renders the novel an aesthetic nightmare, being beautiful and true (within itself) but lacking any core of objective goodness outside of the writing itself.

It is possible to construct good and worthy fiction around essential immoral acts, but it is always necessary to emphasize the objective immorality of the central act for the work to have integrity. I think here of both Anna Karenina and The Scarlet Letter. In Anna Karenina there is the struggle with Anna's adultery and love of Vronsky which ultimately results in tragedy. So, too, with Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter the essential message is not that Hester Prynne's adultery is excusable but that Dimmsdale should have suffered similarly. It is only Hester's nobility of spirit and independence that protects him from being ousted from the community.

But Lolita and works like it--we would do well to warn the world that no matter how lovely the surface, the core is corrupt. We would do well to remember ourselves that Satan may often appear as an Angel of light. But we must balance that impulse with the impulse that judges all things by their appearances, condemning The Scarlet Letter for the same reasons as one might condemn Lolita. The aesthetic and moral impulses that drive the two are completely different.

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Because Linda is away for the summer, I have the opportunity to view films with which she would have very little patience (i.e. Horror films and films you have to read) and I am amply rewarded in this delightful film.

Set in Jerusalem during the feast of Succoth (The Feast of Booths), Ushpizin is the story of Moshe and Mali, two impoverished Chassid who are casting about for a way to properly celebrate Succoth. During the feast it is required that the people of Israel live is succah, or booths, to recall the Exodus from Egypt. Moshe and Mali are too poor to have a succah (or booth). In fact, they are too poor to pay their ordinary rent.

Moshe and Mali pray, and a miracle occurs. A succah becomes available and Moshe is given a gift of $1,000. There are elements of the prayer scenes and the reception of the news scenes that bring to mind Fiddler on the Roof, but they are delightful.

Add to this mix two escaped convicts, one a former friend of Moshe, who arrive as Ushpizin for Succoth. Ushpizin means visitor or "holy visitor." The havoc begins.

Moshe spends part of the money he receives on a citron that is considered the most beautiful ever seen in the city. It cost 1,000 shekels and Moshe buys it as a blessing for his marriage to Mali that it might bring them children.

To cut to the chase, the film is a serious and yet light-hearted look at what it means to be a person of faith and what the trials of a person of faith are all about. While the subject matter is a youngish Jewish couple, the theme is universal and beautifully played out. If you are interested in films that treat the life of faith seriously and present it with respect and you are tolerant of having to read your way through a film, you might find Ushpizin to your liking.

Highly recommended for all viewers.

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Some Maitenance Items


Comment approval has been a real pain. I found two or three of my own comments that haven't gotten through. The present system allows for no filter whereby a previously approved address might continue to be approved.

That said, please let me know if you don't see your comment after a day or so. There are very few legitimate comments that I do not approve. In the entire time I've run the blog I can think of three that I have had to delete for unsuitable content that were really comments on the material at hand. So, I'm not trying to prevent anyone from having their say. In fact, my theory of blogging (and perhaps one of the reasons this blog is so sloppy at times) is that the blog is an invitation to conversation. If your comment doesn't make it, there can be no meaningful communication.

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Artistic Integrity

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In in this post, Zippy states that if one does not believe that artistic integrity is not finally decided by the artist one is an anti-essentialist.

Well, I disagree with Zippy, not because I am an anti-essentialist, but because I believe we're using one term to mean two different things. I'm not certain I fully understand what Zippy means when he uses the term "artistic integrity," but I'm fairly certain that it is not the same thing I mean. So, in fairness, let me say that when I use the term artistic integrity, I use it to include both the aesthetic dimension of the art (over which the artist is not the final word) and the integral dimension of the art: that is that the final message, meaning, or communication (intention) that the artist intended to convey in the production of the work is, in fact conveyed. And it is over this dimension of the art that the artist is, in fact, the only arbiter. That is not to say that one's understanding or interpretation might not differ from the artist's intent, but that what the artist meant to say in the piece is said in the piece as it stands--the final work is integral to the understanding of the intent. In short, the final version of the work conveys the artist's vision.

It is in this dimension of things that we can enter into a discussion of what it means to change a work in some way. While we might improve it aesthetically, we might completely undermine its integrity because we contravene the artist's intention.

Does undermining the integrity of the art constitute an offense against art? It MAY not, but it always is an offense to the artist and it often becomes an expression of pride (I know better how to say what you intended than you do.). If, indeed, you do know better how to say what the artist is getting at, it would be better to produce a new work of art that does so rather than altering the artists. Thus the difference between artist and ethical editor.

When we claim to know the artist's vision better than the artist (a portion of the claim we make when we say that any given change "improves the work," we arrogantly proclaim that we understand the vision better than the artist.) The other half of the claim of "improvement"--we've improved the aesthetics carries no such onus.

Let's examine a specific case. Let's say I'm watching Saving Private Ryan or Full Metal Jacket and I've decided to eliminate all vulgar language and replace it with "shucks," "darn" or simply to leave silence. We may have made the work more acceptable to some audiences, but we have changed the reality the film reflects. Suddenly we're out of the realm of (perhapd unnecessarily) gritty realism and into the realm of the fairy tale. This clearly violates artistic integrity.

On the other hand, let's say that we change the first Harry Potter movie to have Malfoy refer to someone's "butt" rather than their "ass." Has any irreparable harm been done to the movie or the character? Some would say yes, some no. Personally, I wouldn't make the change, but assuming that it were properly licensed and noted, (some of the language has been changed to make it appropriate for children), I wouldn't get in a huge huff over it either. But I could understand those who might.

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Morality and Ethicality

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It has been stated by many that the arbitrary changing of a published work (erroneously termed editing) is not an immoral activity. I have demonstrated that it can be. I believe that it often is because it involves theft and deception.

But let's assume for the moment that the given instance is not immoral. I have taken the works of William Shakespeare and I have updated the language, deleted scenes I don't care for, changed around characters, added language to smooth transitions, and given the entire oeuvre a feminist/homosexualist agenda. I then publish the book as The Complete Works of William Shakespeare without any acknowledgment of the changes I have made, my name appears no where on the work, neither as editor nor as interpreter.

The work is in the public domain--there cannot be a question of theft because you cannot steal what belongs to all. One cannot libel the dead, and Shakespeare's reputation is well enough established that this will more likely result in outrage from the literary community than in damage to Shakespeare's reputation.

Still, what is lacking here is ethicality. When one chooses to make changes to a work and publish that work not as one's own--Steven R. redoes David Gopperfield or even David Goldmeadow: A Glancing Blow at Dickens--one has not adhered to the ethics even of the artistic world.

Ethics may be a lesser hurdle than morals. Ethical conduct demands something less of one than truly moral conduct. But the ethics of a situation are such that when one alters the work of another artist (not uses it for a jumping off place) it is meet and just that one puts one's name on it as "Editor." (Again, the more appropriate term here is "redactor" but I bow to the popular ignorance of the difference between the two and to the common usage that tends to conflate them.)

The ethics of the artistic world are simple--if you change a work, acknowledge that you have changed it. And for the most part the egos of the artistic world are such that there's usually a scrambling for credit rather a sly hiding behind anonymity in the production of a change.

However, I like the modern policy in cinema of noting when and how a film has been altered. (The standard disclaimer that "This film has been altered to fit your television screen.) This tells me I'm seeing something less that what the original artist conceived. So, if I'm dissatisfied with it in some way, I have recourse to the original to see if my dissatisfaction is with the revision or with the original. This is ethical conduct--it informs the person who is interested in the art of the production that what he or she is viewing is not the work as it was originally conceived. That is a valuable piece of information. And the placement of these sometimes annoying announcements is an ethical practice. It tells us that there is something awry in what we're viewing. And if we're watching for mere entertainment, then we acknowledge or ignore that and move on. If, however, I am a film student, I now know that this is not how the original was framed and I need to see something other than what is showing on my screen. (That should go without saying, but it is none-the-less good practice and ethical practice to acknowledge the truth of it.)

So, while the alteration of a work of art is not necessarily immoral, I would tend to say the unacknowledged alteration of a work in public domain or even for a licensed work is probably unethical.

This stands apart from the creation of a new work based on an older work. I always think of the classical pairing of Samuel Richardson's barely readable Pamela with the sparkling delight of Henry Fielding's Shamela. I have not yet read it, but The Wind Done Gone might be an amusing or interesting play on Gone with the Wind. And in younger days, I remember howling over Bored of the Rings--I don't know if I would do so now, one is eventually released from the follies of youth because one enters the follies of middle age--but at least they differ in kind if not in number.

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A Retraction

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My apologies to all. By my arguments I have apparently misrepresented facts in the case. Read the comments to the posts below.

There are two arguments here, each of which presents different merits, one of which is more important than the other in terms of consequences. In cases that I have described, where the changes made by an outside party are unilateral and unacknowledged I DO believe, whether the changes are made for reasons we might consider good or for reasons we might describe as evil, such changing (with a certain leeway for alteration in the creation of a work under contract or work-for-hire clauses) can result in misrepresentation of an artist and thus amount to an evil. Editing without consultation (except under conditions mentioned and carefully defined above) is a substantive evil. It may do more harm to argument and integrity than to person. They may not rise to calumny and scandal, but they should be avoided and the person so treated has been treated unjustly. There is a recognizable wrong done--whether that amounts to moral evil or not might be questionable--I honestly don't know. I know in most cases it seems clear to me that such misrepresentation is evil.

The other argument is aesthetic. When we ask whether or not an editorial change in the course of the creation of a work is aesthetically allowable and whether it constitutes and improvement or a reduction of the work, I think the case depends on where the art is in the first place. If you're trying to improve, even from a moral point of view, "Frat Boy Vacation," just give it up. There are small changes that can make the work more palatable, but may not "improve" the work. But this area is much more grey than that described above.

My bottom line, the argument I've inappropriately used CleanFlicks to make, is the unacknowledged usurpation and alteration of another's work subsequently attributed to them is a moral evil, regardless of the purpose for which it was done. Taking the sex and violence out of the Marquis de Sade without saying you have done so wrongs the Marquis by telling a substantive lie about him. (Now, why you'd even attempt to do this is another matter entirely.) That is an evil. You may have "improved" the work morally, but the end does not justify the means. And one is protected from this by a simple acknowledgment of "abridgement" and a forward that sets for the aesthetic theory under which this attempt at a miracle is conducted.

By issuing the original along with the altered version, CleanFlicks passes this test of morality--a question I confused in reading the arguments.

Once again, my sincere apologies for any confusion I may have created in making my arguments.

I still stand with those who hold that the works of artists should not be altered for our convenience--but this is an aesthetic not a moral issue. And the aesthetic argument is necessarily more nuanced and perhaps more subjective. I leave that to better minds than my own. For the time being, until convinced otherwise I will quietly hold my aesthetic theory even as I trumpet forth the moral argument. Editing is not necessarily a morally neutral activity. And this is still contra what I have understood Zippy and others to say on the matter.

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Request for Prayers

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Last night I was involved in a traffic accident a little more serious than a fender-bender. Let's call it a fender crusher. But as the little push I was given could have resulted in me being pushed into a moving stream where much more serious damage could have occurred, I am somewhat shaken, hence the tone of the earlier posts this morning. Hope they were somewhat coherent. Just keep me in mind today please for serentiy and coherence. Thanks.

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CleanFlicks again

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Hollywood is amazingly persuaded by money and had they been approached by this company to license works and "clean them up" I have little doubt that they would have allowed the work to progress with some sort of disclaimer at the beginning of the film such as one sees every day on Televsion--"This work has been altered from the original--" with a list of how the alterations had occurred. In this case one might complete the list with some like "to remove elements offensive to the alterers and produce a film with a lower rating." I could see Hollywood demanding to see the film before release or to at least detail exactly what was removed--3 minutes of sex and nudity, 5 expletives--on the packaging.

But this company, working under the notion of moral superiority took it upon themselves to do this. (Well, perhaps not, but one must assume that the lawsuit occurred for SOME cause.) That seems to me to be the bone of contention.

While there is a legal aspect to all of this, I will contend that not all alteration is morally neutral, and my argument stands--to make an anti-Catholic sound pro-Catholic, to make a normal person into a racist/supremicist both are fundamental injuries to the dignity of the person. One might think one acceptable and the other not--but lying about a person, it would seem to me, is always morally questionable.

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This is extremely difficult, so please forgive the following for whatever it lacks in cohesion, it is excerpted from my part of a private correspondence:

But let me tell you about my experience. Someone took one of the poems I wrote, altered a few words akin to the example I published regarding racism and published it in their own magazine. The magazine was a marginal one anyway and I didn't have the money to go after these people, but they took my poem about the glory of diversity and changed it into a hymn to conformity and supremacy and left my name on it. The poem may not have been high art--in fact, it may not have been particularly good--so Art doesn't enter into it. But someone took my words, edited them for their own sense of suitability and then proclaimed the work to be my own. I only found out when I started to get angry looks/comments and letters about the poem.

Now, naturally, I have to repudiate the entire poem, and I don't even mention the incident lest it bring up the whole subject.

In other words, I know what it feels like when one takes it upon oneself to alter the work of another without proper acknowledgment of what has been done. And it hurts--tremendously.

This isn't mere wounded pride or vanity. This is stomach-churning horror and sickness. This is nauseating to the extreme because I have been saddled and labeled to with the name of racist for something I never even did. This hurts--a lot. It hurts because I have a child who may find this out in the future. amd if he does, what is he to think--that his own life with me has been a lie, or merely a means of atonement for past sins? It hurts because there is always the remote possibility my friends or acquaintances may discover it and make me a pariah. Sure, I can explain it--I can show copies of the original that even have comments on them from the professor who originally read it--so they can see its authenticity. But I can never escape from the shadow of it.

So none of this is theoretical to me. It is all factual--harsh reality. I know, as you do in a different way, whereof I speak. This is what impels me to the limits of politeness when I talk about the subject.

And it impels me to judge that the practice is immoral, unethical, and completely unallowable. This is what we are discussing here--the unilaterally transformation of a work and the republication of that work as the work of the original author. If what has been done to me is not immoral or unethical, what description might it travel under?

Later--I see that I did not make clear one essential ingredient of this stew. The poem that was published was not merely edited. It was taken from a previous publication and altered beyond recognition without my consent and republished with my name on it. This makes it the equivalent of the case I have been mistakenly referring to. We're not talking editorial changes in the act of creation, but rather usurpation with misrepresentation. Neither the orginal magazine nor I had any capability of fighting this legally--and fortunately (I hope) the incident was local and the publication that reprinted it hopefully remanded to the compost heap of time. But I lived with the consequences of it for several years.

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I suppose it goes without saying that I feel pretty passionate about the subject of artistic control of a work (to the extent that is possible).

Perhaps a future review of The Kite Runner will help me to detail why.

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Let's consider a final, very real, very plausible case of what we are talking about.

This time, let's look at the works of Flannery O'Connor--most particularly The Violent Bear It Away. The novel ends when young Tarwater has a rather unsavory, well. . . how shall we put it on a family blog? Let's say Deliverance encounter with a character we can take to be Satan himself. While it is all very veiled and euphemistic, there can be absolutely no doubt about what has transpired and, in fact, in makes much of the point of the book.

However, because our sensibilities are assaulted by this "gratuitous scene," we deem that it might be better to prepare our children with versions of it that excise the "naughty bits" but don't really hamper the end of the novel.

Now, I ask, wouldn't the better practice be to leave the novel intact and allow our children to encounter that novel at an age appropriate to their understanding. But, I'm countered with, no, that would be ghettoizing our children, so we need to alter the work so that in the course of their conversations they will not even realize that they are talking with their peers about the same novel. They're out of the ghetto, but they're fully in the dark.

Once again, because I feel passionately about it, it is always and everywhere inappropriate to make available to the public at large works that have been altered against the will of or without the consent of their authors. It is most especially bad to do this while retaining the author's name and crediting the now antithetical work to the artist.

I really don't understand why this point is so difficult to understand. Public misrepresentation of an artist's work is simply wrong. Changing a work without the artist's consent constitutes a grave misrepresentation of the work.

I even object to doing this in private--but then, it is absolutely none of my business because presumably one has right and proper access to the work for one's own enjoyment, and if one's enjoyment is enhanced by deleting or eliding certain parts, I have no right to say anything about it; however, I'd prefer those who feel the need for this kind of alteration to keep their hands off of any of my "controversial" works. (I've a sum total of exactly 1 bad word in all of my published work; however, there may be a lot of implications people don't particularly care for.) (By the way, I make the final point about privacy not to chastise or berate any one who chooses to make these changes, but to state that my opposition is categorical--if a person, child or adult, is not prepared to consume the work in as unaltered a state as it can be delivered, they would do well not to bother with it at all. If their enjoyment is enhanced by deleting a "gratuitous sex scene," I feel compelled to ask, why would one be watching a movie in which any moment is "gratuitous?" Doesn't that counter the definition of a work of art? And more especially, why would one choose to watch a movie in which the gratuitous is morally objectionable? Doesn't such a moment render the entire work morally objectionable--especially if such a moment is put in only for the thrills and for the higher rating (hence, higher earnings)? )

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With regard to PUBLIC alteration of the work of an artist (the whole point of the CleanFlicks suit), perhaps a series of thought experiments may help elucidate:

You run across the works of G. Protestant Catholicbasher, who is a renowned Protestant theology and who has the very best explanation of grace you have ever read in your life. Included is this passage: "As a result, Catholics will not see heaven. They will not know the fruits of grace. They do not know God as God. They do not give Him sovereignty."

You decide that the work is really very good--the very best. But, it has a little problem on the Catholic side, so, to make it acceptable to your children (and to other children) you publish a version of the work, with the author's name attached that presents his arguments so:

"As a result, Catholics will see heaven. They will know the fruits of grace. They know God as God. They give Him sovereignty."

After all, in a work of two hundred pages you've excised six words for a total of sixteen letters. Surely not much of a change, and it does make the argument a lot more palatable for your audience than it was originally.

Case 2: A publisher of considerably less integrity than the OPC decides to publish the lyrics of the hymn Amazing Grace changing the line "that saved a wretch like me," to the more life-affirming and up-beat "saved and set me free." They attribute this change to the original author. (OCP had not done this in any older hymnals--so I do think they are a publisher with integrity, it something lacking in taste.)

Case 3: You've written a thousand line poem in praise of God, Country, Motherhood, Apple Pie and all things American. Within your poem are the following lines:

"It is not right to hate and fear
It is not right to judge by color
It is not right to despise another."

Your local hate-group reads the poem and decides it is absolutely perfect for their "Patriotism" issue, but to reach your audience and boost sales, it's necessary to remove nine letters, three "gratuitous" words leaving:

"It is right to hate and fear
It is right to judge by color
It is right to despise another."

But they leave your name on the poem and publish it in their blockbuster seller issue.

Case 4: A publisher, favoring the NAB for its clunky language and tin ear, decides that he would do everyone a favor and remove the famous Catholic bias against having fun and against sex by more closely attending to what the original author's intended for us to derive from their writings. Thus, every time the NAB descretely uses the biblical "know" or some other euphemism, our helpful publisher decides to use the vulgar Anglo-saxon fricative. He then publishes the book without noting this "minor" editorial adjustment to the text.

I think these illustrations get the point across. When anyone other than the author assumes the authorial role and changes the authorial intention and publishes that work as though representative of the thought of the author, then they are "bearing false witness." They are constructing a lie for one purpose or another. And usually they are profiting from that lie at the expense of another. For example G. Protestant Catholicbasher is drummed out of the Church of Anywhere but Rome. You are branded a racist. And the hymnist is accused of a lack of spine.

The CleanFlicks case is not about innocuous change. It is about a company usurping the role of the studio and deciding what should air and what should not without consultation with the film studio. These things are done on their own. People ask, "Well what about edits for television." The Licenser may grant permission for alterations to be made, they may demand a list of such alterations for approval before the work can be released. In short, they maintain ownership and control over how their work is represented.

Say I decided I liked the movie Chocolat (I didn't). But I sure didn't want Samuel to get a negative impression of the Church and I altered the film so he could see it. Within my own home, that is a question of my own integrity and for me to talk to God about. But say I let news of this slip and then started peddling the film to all my friends who really wanted a cleaned-up version. Part of the purpose, intent, and integrity of the film is the anti-Catholicism. To alter that and sell the work as the original does a number of injustices. (1) It misrepresents the film maker. (2) It steals another's work and profits from it. (3) It misinforms its recipients about the agenda of the artist from whom it came.

This last is one of the more insidious consequences of altering the film. Suddenly you've made an unacceptable director palatable. So now we'll go and see the next film. (What a shock that might turn out to be.)

What is at issue is the artist's control of his own work and the artist's right not to be misrepresented in any way--even in a way that we might think enhances the work.

I've been asked, "Well what's wrong with eliding a gratuitous sex scene?" My answer is, "You know the artist's mind and the work at hand well enough to know whether or not the scene is gratuitous." The whole point of Tristam Shandy is made by a "gratuitous sex scene" at the beginning of the book. No one, apart from the artist, has the standing to determine whether or not something is gratuitous to the point of altering the work in public. If, for your own enjoyment, you determine that it would be better not to view such a scene--that's a matter of personal choice. You probably aren't watching an art film any way. But to take that out and peddle it as the original without the artist's consent. . . I'm sorry, I know you'll disagree, but it just isn't right, and it may, depending upon extent and intent, be a sin.

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The Rights of an Artist

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Elsewhere much brouhaha about the Cleanflicks lawsuit and its entirely expected and unexceptionable result.

Several questions and ideas regarding this:

(1) An artist's work is the work of the artist. If the artist should consent to change in order to alter marketing, increase audience share, or meet a distributors requirements, it is the choice of that artist. Some, like Kubrick, refused to do so. They were pariah's in the field; however, I'll take a pariah like Kubrick over the director of a film like Frat Boy Hooter Dreams any day.

(2) Who says children have a right or even should be exposed to the films that are being changed to make them suitable. You don't like the language--don't let your children watch. If you object to the language, there are probably equally unsavory messages elsewhere. Why would you want to show a bowdlerized subversive film? Does cleaning up the language of something unsuitable ultimately make it acceptable?

(3) The changes the artist makes are the choice of the artist. The changes the artist allows to be made, are the choice of the artist. Smart Hollywood studios would simply license this service and make money from it. However, it is not for a group outside of the studio to alter a copyrighted work and not return the profit from sale to the studio that produced it.

(4) I find the question of Church support of such unilateral alteration vexing. I hardly think they would approve of someone going through the NAB or Jerusalem Bible and plucking out anything that might be offensive--says verses contra homosexuality and then presenting the thing as the work of the Author. Nor, do I think, would they support a wholesale alteration of psalm 51 which talks about how I'm Okay, You're Okay before God, using the translation they have prepared of the work.

If the Church is not ready or willing to recognize a certain responsibility to the author or artist of a work, perhaps their thought on this matter needs serious reconsideration. Altering the words of a work amount to "bearing false witness." When the Church has chosen to do so the result has been a travesty (Sistine Chapel being a primary example.)

So, while I can prepare no moral argument that suggests that such alteration cannot be allowed, neither do I approve of it, nor would I support anyone who would choose to profit from the works of others in such a way.

The responsibility of protecting a child from potentially harmful works rests squarely with the parent. I see films before Samuel does in order to determine whether they would be all right for Samuel. I do not want the works changed before hand.

The prime example I can think of is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles which, until recently I had only ever seen in the "prepared for television" version. I watched the DVD and saw a significantly different and more substantial film than the one that had been altered. If the work is a work of art, even bad art, choices have been made in the presentation of the work that should be respected. Unilateral alteration of artistic work is not to be left in the hands of people who did not have the original vision. Or, if done so, those people should take responsibility, even while paying royalties to those whose work they had altered.

After all, with sufficient work, one could produce a version of A Clockwork Orange that could be viewed by everyone. The question becomes, would it be worth viewing by anyone?

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A Moment


At my desk the sounds
at nine-twelve--double thunder--
promise they've come home

Not a great haiku, but a small way to remember the sound that says "We're back."

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by Dai Sijie--

Let the beauty of the prose speak for itself:

The tailor lived like a king. Wherever he went there would be scenes of excitement to rival a country festival. The home of his client, filled with the whirr of his sewing machine, would become the hub of village life, giving the host family the opportunity to display their wealth. He would be served the choicest food, and sometimes, if the year was drawing to a close and preparations for the New Year celebration were under way, a pig might even be slaughtered. He would often spend a week or two in a village, lodging with each of his diverse clients in succession.

Luo and I first met the tailor when we went to visit Four-Eyes, a friend from the old days who had been sent to another village. It was raining, and we had to walk carefully along the steep, slippery path shrouded in milky fog. Despite our caution we found ourselves on all fours in the mud several times. Suddenly, as we rounded a corner, we saw coming towards us a procession in single file, accompanying a sedan chair in which a middle-aged man was enthroned. Following behind this regal conveyance was a porter with a sewing machine strapped to his back. The man bent to address his bearers and seemed to be enquiring about us.

Imperial China? Not quite. The China of the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s. The book tells the story of two young men sent away for reeducation in a small mountain village. Their parents had committed a crime against the state--they were intellectuals. And the father of Luo had been the Chairman's dentist and let slip some indiscreet remarks about repairing his teeth and the teeth of his wife/consort.

What a blessing to live in the United States. When I'm given to fretting about he shortcomings, I need only spend a moment anywhere else in the world to be humbled and reminded to be ever-mindful of the blessings that have come to me just by accident of birth.

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel


The Patronal feast of the Order.

I'm at a loss for words, fortunately. Contemplation is difficult when yammering is a priority.

May you all be blessed this day with some sense of the peace and joy that comes with imitating the most Blessed Virgin Mary.

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On Stephen King's Cell

Flying has its advantages. One feels the need for occupation. So, on this trip out to CA, I borrowed from a friend his copy of Cell.

Let's start on a positive--this is much better than many of the more recent works by Mr. King for reasons I hope to be able to articulate in a moment. The only thing I've read of recent date that I liked better was the very uncharacteristic Colorado Kid.

Cell shares much with other King works. It is post-apocalyptic and a true "romance" in the classical sense of that term. Indeed, in broad outline, the entire story follows the main line of The Stand. Thematically, it touches on some fairly classic Stephen King obsessions and ideas--the band of brothers/sisters, the "alien" if perhaps human calamity, who we are and who we aren't as a race and as a people. In all of these things, the book comes through shining.

But I can't help but notice that Stephen King has lost his authorial voice in much of this type of fiction. He makes serious slips with regard to character--having one extremely prim and proper character burst out with one of the obscenities that Mr. King is wont to pepper his works. There are moments when the reader is jarred out of the "vivid and continuous dream" by unnecessary detail, unnecessary and unconvincing metaphor and simile, and unnecessary editorializing on politics present and past. Should Mr. King feel the need to inform his readers of his views on abortion, birth control, fundamentalist religions, George Bush, and/or Richard Nixon, I would personally prefer it in a political essay that I could then choose to ignore.

Cell is, as said above, a post-apocalyptic novel about the disaster after "The Pulse," a powerful EMP begins to wreak havoc on helpless humanity. One is never told the origin of the pulse and characters speculate on it--but the origin isn't really all that important. The scenario plays out like The Stand or the truly dreadful (in a bad cinema/delightful way) Maximum Overdrive. As our intrepid band of explorers moves away from their initial location in the big city toward the country in search of relatives of the main character, the speculations slowly unfold, and the reader is treated to a glimpse of an alternative evolution.

Ultimately, the plot and the conclusion are gummed up by the fact that no one really knows the origin of the problem and it leads to difficulties explaining or dealing with anomalies resulting from it.

While a good book, it is like most of King's Horror fiction from Bag of Bones to the present, a disappointment. The command and the subtlety that shaded some of the early work is missing. Some of the dialogue and opinions are shrill. The language is unnecessarily vulgar at points, contributing nothing to either our understanding of or sympathy for the characters. Indeed, it seems to me, that Mr. King has lost his voice for this kind of fiction.

If that is so, it is no great deal because The Colorado Kid showed a new maturity of language, theme, and intricacy that we have been vouchsafed glimpses of in such works as The Body and Heart in Atlantis. Perhaps Mr. King should reconsider the direction in which he deploys most of his effort. The world of literature would benefit a great deal more with a few more works like those mentioned above, and a mite fewer of the now-feeble attempts to attain his former glory in the Dark Fantasy realm.

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In addition to touring south Florida, I'm spending many of my evenings with my good friend watching movies. He had recommended The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and while I had regarded the prospect somewhat dubiously before, the weight of his recommendation was sufficient to convince me that the move might be worth viewing.

It is a well-crafted, interesting, indeed compelling film. While there are very intense moments, and while one might have some small quibbles with the way certain details are handled (for example the new-agey explanation of possession), the film is rock solid and well-acted.

The story centers around the trial of a priest who is accused of negligent homicide (or reckless endangerment, or something of the sort) in the death of a young woman. Most of the story unfolds in the courtroom. There are a few melodramatic scenes here and there, but nothing that is so out of tone with the film as to derail it.

The story told is interesting in a great many ways. It asks questions about the supernatural world that we would be anxious to know the answers to. It explores the reactions of different people to the tale of possession and it ends on a rather nebulous note. So nebulous indeed that one can come to all sorts of conclusions about what the makers of the film were trying to say. Ultimately, moments just before the end credits roll make it fairly clear where they are coming from.

A finely acted, occasionally frightening film. Well worth seeing, but certainly not for children.

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Another pristine stretch of sand, arcing out between Naples and Fort Myers. From this beach Fort Myers and Sanibel are clearly visible. Even more clearly visible, our friend Limulus polyphemus, sand dollars, coconuts, and clouds. An osprey's nest, roseate spoonbills and Scissortail Kites.


From this beach a long spit of shallow beach leads out into the channel. Walking there it is only knee deep, but in the waters two huge fish--sea bass or groupers--suggest that other large, less friendly fish might also find their way between the spit and the beach.


Walking back, a live whelk, and six or seven species of sea-bird. All on this lonely, lovely island.

And a gift from the sea


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Proud to Be an American

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A great egret--distinguishable sometimes by the size and with some certainty in the adults by having black feet as opposed to yellow feet for the Snowy Egret--struts his stuff in the back-island wash. Beautiful birds, intent on their courses, unconcerned about their intersection with humanity because they can end the conversation with a single flight.

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The Shuttle Ascends


And what a view from external-tank-cam. Most interesting. Today the space station, soon the Lunar Colony and finally we make it to Mars.

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Door into Everywhere



There are places, quiet places ringed around with time. Still standing, still. Quiet backwaters of places that are hidden just out of sight. A thousand cars pass before even one person notices a cream-colored building and says, "What do you suppose that is?"

And what that is opens the door to the past where those who made the buildings and peace that surrounds live still, working, living, loving, moving forward, carrying on their shoulders the quiet they have built--building a barrier so that the highway does not intrude even when one stands close.

The still pool that is the Koreshan Unity with its Planetary House, its rectiliniator, and its Fort-Myers-beach triumph which showed the world how turned in upon itself it was--how really very closed the universe is calms and cools. Inviting the weary traveler to "jest set a spell" and see what time has fashioned.

And looking into the house where the Planetary Court ruled, serene, matronly, ordering all things in the community and directing its work, its recreation, its contribution to the world at large--a door into everywhere opening in a field--opening up the treasures of the past and quieting the dread of the day. The gift of peace and slow silence. The still of the night in the brightness of day. The slow bell tolls to call to dinner and each ring moves out to be quickly muffled in the vast green and in the buildings still standing, still breathing the past and distilling it into the present. The still of time, the door into everywhere.


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Tigertail Beach

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South of Marco Island, the coast of Florida sheers off, like unraveling satin, with threads of islands that form a myriad of inlets, rivulets, aits, and channels overarched by the ever present white and red mangrove saplings. The water can be dyed tea-brown by the leaves of these mangroves, and the slender bean-like seeds wash up on the shores of many of the southern beaches.

Long endangered, to these waters have returned small numbers of the American Salt Water Crocodile, the least aggressive, most reclusive members of the crocodile family. Among the intertwined branches of the canopy one finds the nesting sites of the brown pelican. And in the shallows between the islands, anhingas, herons, egrets, woodstorks, and many other kinds of birds. Facing oceanward, some beaches accumulate the fine white sands that the currents bring, and these are, in turn, populated by waving lines of sea oats and other dune grasses that anchor the islands in place.

Standing on the shore of this beach, on the inlet behind the barrier, and looking east one can see the high rise resorts that bring visitors and their money to Marco Island. Behind these towers the puffy, inimitably beautiful clouds of the Florida sky, tinged with grey as if booding over this coastline.

Pass through the shallow channel and climb over the barrier island, following the path made by many feet--the single path--to find the ocean, ice-green, strangely translucent in comparison to the tannic waters of the mangrove swamp. In these shallows, shells of whelks, conchs, clams, snails, schools of fish smaller than tadpoles flash and turn as one.

The gentle waves lap as though the shore bordered a lake rather than the ocean. The water is warm and cool. Light dancing surface-ice green waters are transformed to fathomless depths with the passing of the clouds.

This is the envoie. Beyond this the ocean to the west, and to the south, the accumulation of that tattered fabric that is the coast of Florida, lovely, fragile, changeable, glorious--as different each moment as only time and tide can be.

Nursery to the young of birds, fish, shrimp, and sea turtle, the estuary that is the wealth of the sea, here exposed to the ancient rhythms of the sea and adjusting to the newer rhythms of human life. Holding breath, in anticipation of the worst, or in hope for the best--whatever the cause--breathlessly beautiful.


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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Steven Riddle in July 2006.

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