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SHOOT THE SUN DOWN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHOOT THE SUN DOWN is a film I wrote, produced and directed in 1976. It starred Christopher Walken and Margot Kidder right before their career making roles in DEER HUNTER and SUPERMAN. The film had a brief theatrical release in 1978, and  at that time, could be seen on T.V. as well as VHS. It has now been remastered in high definition, DVD and Blu-ray. This special 35th anniversary release will be available on November 12. For more information and background about the film, please visit our SHOOT THE SUN DOWN Facebook page. There will also be a special one time screening of the film on November 7, at 7:30, at the AERO Theater in Santa Monica, California.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shoot-the-Sun-Down/173645399485847

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Melancholia

Caution: this post is a bit of a plot spoiler for people who haven’t seen the film. However, knowing the plot was no hindrance to my second viewing of the film, at all. I was even more impressed and awed, the next time around.


How does the world end? To quote Robert Frost via Bella Swan:
Some say the world will end in fire,
some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if you had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate

 

to know that for destruction ice
is also great
And would suffice.

If you’re Lars Von Trier, the world ends in total destruction, as it both implodes and explodes, in the opening sequence of his new film, Melancholia. The earth’s atmosphere is ripped away by the gravitational pull of a wandering, giant blue planet, named Melancholia, which literally consumes the earth, as it draws our planet in to the point of implosion/explosion, and burns it up. POINT, FIRE.

The film begins with this gorgeous, slow motion, cinematic ballet of cosmic death, choreographed to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.  As viewed from outer space, this cosmic dance of death is almost sensual, and certainly as lyrical as anything in Kubrick’s “2001.”  It’s both a prelude  to the main body of the film, and a documentation of the end. Before the first character comes on screen, we have already seen their eventual fate.
That first introduction of characters is similarly done in an expressionistic, slow motion scene that visually weaves the fate of the main character to the planet’s own inevtiable attraction to a gravitational field bigger than its own.

This is the first time we see Justine ( Kirsten Dunst.) She seems to both strain against and also be pulled toward an invisble force, just like the earth is, in the heavens above. The first part of the movie is the story of Justine’s wedding. Her mental illness, more than just normal depression is on display early, and in fact the wedding night ends with the marriage and Justine’s career in tatters.
This beautiful image, left, is part of an early montage that reflects a sense of  the morbid fairy tale that is about to unfold. The film’s visual style is ” a clash between what is romantic and grand and stylized, and then some form of reality,” according to Von Trier. Yet the melding of styles of Kubrick’s sensual, fluid, visual imagery  and Bergman’s intense, elegiac, naturalistic acting (enhanced by a lot of hand held camera shots) blend quite effectively throughout the film.
The mood and composition of the shot above is certainly a reference to the well known Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece by John Millais, called, Ophelia, below. It was painted in 1852, and is an illustration of  the death of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.


It captures the tragic-romantic-depressive mood that permeates the movie. In fact, the idea for the film was generated by a therapist’s suggestion to Von Trier, (who famously suffers from depression and anxiety disorders,) that depressed people often remain calm in highly stressful situations. It doesn’t get more stressful than the literal end of the world.

The first section of the film is entitled “Justine,” after the Kirsten Dunst character, and chronicles her wedding at the opulent, castle home of her sister, Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, and her wealthy husband, John, played by Keiffer Sutherland.



Above, the couple arriving two hours late for their wedding party, and, above, right, pausing to stare at a strange celestial object, with Claire and John, the evening’s hosts. While everyone else seems transfixed, Claire stares away, tensely and with, as it turns out, appropriately ominous, premonition. John, an amateur astronomer, explains that the object is the star Antares, hidden by the sun, and harmless.

The wedding party’s moments of joy are laced through with increasing tensions. Justine’s divorced parents, John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling are bickering, while her boss, Stellan Skarsgard, who is also the best man, and Justine, are at odds. Below, left, the groom (Alexander Skarsgard) and his best man, clearly indicate something is amiss. Below, right, Claire and John are tense and agitated, as Justine’s behavior starts to become seriously erratic.


Left, we see a last moment of happiness between the bride and groom. She demures from undressing and says she needs some time, and starts to wander around outside. Over the remainder of the evening she becomes more depressed,
unnerved, and acts out, at the end, disastrously.

Outside, Justine, Claire, and Clare’s son, Leo, become enthralled by the mysterious intruder in the sky.

Justine , however, starts to become completely unhinged, causing scene after scene. She ends up telling off her boss, quitting her job, and sleeping with a virtual stranger, all outdoors, under the watch of the mysterious celestial visitor, that seems to infect her soul. Below, she surrenders to the night.


By the end of the evening, everything has come undone. Justine’s husband walks out on her, devastated, humiliated, and disgusted. Her parents are at each other’s throats. Her brother-in-law, is furious at wasting so much money on such a lavish event, which he has done to placate his wife, who is now angry at both him and her sister. Everyone feels betrayed by Justine, whose breakdown has helped reveal the cracks in everyone else’s personalities and relationships.

Part two of the film is called “Claire.” Justine has now become so depressed that she can not even walk to the bath under her own power, or perform the simplest activities.

She comes to the castle to live with Claire, John, and Leo. Gradually with Claire’s nursing she becomes better. The focus now shifts to what was thought previously to be the star, Antares, and is now revealed as a huge planet on a rogue orbit through the galaxy, called Melancholia, because of it’s blue color. As it becomes clearly visible on its own, everyone flock’s to John’s telescope.

The mainstream scientific analysis is that the orbit will take the gigantic planet to a close and spectacular, fly by of the earth.

As Justine has improved, Claire has become increasingly agitated and fearful that the world is coming to an end. She has started obsessively doing internet research and finds data that shows Melancholia is on a collision course with the earth, and that John’s analysis is wrong. At first, the collision theory is portrayed as a kook conspiracy notion, but eventually, is proven to be true. The characters reactions to this reality and their varying levels of acceptance of it, takes up the last third of the film. John pretends it’s not true. Claire’s agitation and fear keep mounting for herself and her child, while Justine becomes almost calmly philosophical and accepting, even as the climate changes and strange precipitation falls from the sky



John can not handle the truth, and absents himself from the situation. Both Claire and Leo are now totally dependent on Justine for emotional support. The wheel has turned completely. Justine gets the two of them to help her build a “magic” tepee where they will be safe.


The three enter their magic space as the collision with Melancholia approaches. As they hold hands, Claire is almost catatonic, while Leo and Justine seem calm and accepting. The world ends.

The acting in Melancholia, with it’s great cast, is superb. As is his usual style, Von Trier does not rehearse the actors and uses a lot of improvisation. He initially operates the camera himself, hand held, on the first take. On subsequent takes, the cinematographer operates the camera, mirroring Von Trier’s movements.

The film is a rich feast visually. Kirstin Dunst won the award at Cannes for best actress, and Charlotte Gainsbourg is every bit as good. Although the subject matter of Melancholia is certainly unusual, the film itself is probably the most traditional Lars Von Trier has ever done. He has said that, ” a film should be like a stone in your shoe.”  I, however, did not feel the slightest rub in my shoes. The film’s stylistic accessibility gives it a universality, and promotes a sympathetic identification with the characters, that is not always the case in Von Trier’s oeuvre. Melancholia has a deeper continuing resonance, for me, than any of his other films. It totally absorbs you and compels rumination about the deepest questions in life. Parts of the film that Von Trier considered a parody of superficial, upper middle-class life, actually, (as in the way Ingmar Bergman often used the same milieu,) open up many touchstones with everyone’s emotional experiences. Families are families in the end, and how they deal with the messy stuff of life, offers much that compels and preoccupies us all.
Melancholia is a film that washes over you and through you and leaves you deeply moved and thrilled. The experience of it is more like viewing and inhabiting a piece of art, than merely watching a movie.

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OUT OF AFRICA; MY PERSONAL JOURNEY

I’ve never done a purely personal post before. But lately, I keep thinking back to an incredible trip to Kenya and Tanzania that my wife and I took, a year and a half ago, to celebrate a big birthday of mine. An African safari had been a dream I’ve had since childhood.  I grew up when Disney and National Geographic did countless documentaries on African wildlife. Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” was my favorite T.V. show. I was always spellbound, in love with both the animals and the exotic settings. Later, I’d read and loved all of Isak Dinesen’s novels and short stories, Beryl Markham’s “West with the Night,” Elspeth Huxley’s “Flame Trees of Thika,” Kuki Gallmann’s “I Dreamed of Africa,” Hemingway’s “Snows of Kilimanjaro,” and many other stories and histories of British East Africa. And then, there were the movies. The ultimate being, of course, “Out of Africa,” Sydney Pollock’s great film (one of my all time favorites) with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, and arguably, the best movie score ever written, which was composed by John Barry. So, when I did go to Africa, it had to be Kenya. Here we are, above, having breakfast on the Masai Mara, on the morning of my birthday. I felt like I was inside every romanticized Hollywood movie I’d ever seen about Africa – except for the tupperware!

Our first couple of days were spent outside Nairobi, near Isak Dinesen’s (aka Karen Blixen) farm. Her real famhouse, below, is the model for the one in the movie, “Out of Africa.” Her actual house was quite a bit smaller than the film version.


Left, is the farmhouse Dinesen owned, right, my wife, Kathy, at what remains of the coffee processing plant.

Between the giraffe coming through our window on the second story of an old manor house, and the view out the window, I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Our brief stay at Giraffe Manor was a smooth introduction to the idea of being an intruder in this vast animal habitat.

The property was orignally an orphanage for abandoned giraffes. Nearby there is also an orphanage for baby elephants.



After two days outside Nairobi, we flew to the Maasai Mara, for the start of our “safari.” The Mara, tucked into the south-western corner of Kenya, is the northern continuation of the great Serengeti plain which crosses the Equator, and stretches into Tanzania. It’s the home of the famous bi-annual animal migrations from north to south, and south to north, as the wildlife follows the water.

The Mara is the home of the Maasai, a semi-nomadic people with very distinct dress and customs. Below, left, is a Maasai village, right, a group of Maasai. Wherever you see Maasai, you inevitably find their cattle nearby. Cattle is the measure of wealth for the Maasai, and a central part of their culture. This time, they were in the middle of the road.



The first afternoon, towards sunset, we took a guided walk to a waterhole. We were not alone. A pride of lions approached nearby. We found ourselves closer than I had ever dreamt of being, to a lion in the wild.

It took me a while to believe we were, indeed, where we were. Experiencing lions in such close proximity, right away, made me feel like I was in one of the scores of documentaries I had seen. Having been exposed to so many films of Africa and her wildlife, I was almost desensitized to the real thing. What I felt was not just culture shock, but cellular, genetic shock. It was being transported back to an earlier time in the development of the species. The memories were still alive but covered by our veneer of civilization and remoteness from the natural world. When they were awakened, however, they were incredibly powerful. I felt alive on a different scale.

For the next four days, our young Maasai guide, Nelson, showed us even more incredible sights; cheetahs, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, among what seemed like a parade of endless wonders. Like all the Maasai we met, Nelson was warm, bright, and eager to show off his homeland to us. I was particularly struck by how the Maasai who go to school, seem to effortlessly balance their worldliness with their love and pride in traditional culture. The government mandates that schools and medical centers be located in reasonable proximity to all villages. This is an attempt to wean the Maasai from their semi-nomadic way, to develop a more ‘”modern,”  fixed, social structure, by using  a contemporary, “wired in” education, to plug young people online, into global awareness. The young Maasai we met seemed very comfortable straddling two worlds. How the tension between the two forces plays out, however, is a controversial matter in the national politics of Kenya. Here are some of the amazing animals we saw out on the Mara.


We were fifteen feet away from these cheetahs who were feasting on a fresh kill. Even Nelson couldn’t believe how close they let us come to them.
Below, hippos heading down into the Mara River, and crocs coming out of the water.


Elephants were everywhere, and for the most part, completely oblivious to people, even with their young.


Kathy and I back in camp.


A birthday celebration the staff threw for me on the Mara. Unforgettable.

The next day we sadly left our many new Maasai friends, and went to Tanzania to see the southern Serengeti, Lake Manyara, and the Ngorongoro Crater, a world heritage site.

Here are some of the marvelous animals and landscapes we saw there.


Our favorite baby monkey.

A yawning lion.


I could never get enough of zebras. They’re everywhere, especially in the Serengeti, alongside the wildebeasts, during the migration.


Here are two of the typical camps we stayed in.

The camps we used were all fixed sites. Every night, no matter which camp we were in, to get to, and from, the common dining area, we had to be acccompanied by a Maasai with a spear. We could often hear lions close by and ominous thrashing in the brush. The nights were as black as they can only be where there is no environmental light pollution, and the stars of the Southern Hemisphere shown with the most intense clarity. Night was alive with sound. One was lulled to sleep by a varied cacophony of animal noise.

It was the wildebeast migration season, and they often filled the horizon. Tens of thousands of animals on the move – and ocassionally, resting. What a sight.

There were always, however, others besides us, who just watched.

On the way to the Ngorongoro Crater, we stopped at the Olduvai Gorge, often called, ” The Cradle of Mankind.”


The gorge is a steep ravine that snakes for 30 miles through The Great Rift Valley. It has been the source of the oldest hominid fossil remains of our species and its progenitors. Louis and Mary Leakey began excavating here in 1931. Their work was continued by their son, Richard. The record for the oldest fossil remains has, over the last few decades, gone back and forth between Donald Johanson’s discoveries in Ethiopia ( eg. the famous, “Lucy,”) and Richard’s new findings, here in the gorge. Regardless, it is a magical place that fills one with awe at the thought of standing, literally, in the flow of evolution.


From Olduvai, we went on to the Ngorongormo Crater, which has been called,” The Eighth Wonder of the World.” It is a huge volcanic caldera whose area is close to 100 square miles. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site that is the permanent home of over 25,000 large animals, and  even more, during migratory season. There are game trails up the side that allow migratory animals in and out. It is basically, however, a completely isolated, unspoiled location. From the edge of the crater the view is breathtaking, from inside, the concentration of animals, incredible.



The most dangerous and aggressive of all the big animals, is the Cape Buffalo.

When they’re not hunting, lions like to sleep and cuddle. I was always shocked at how close they let you get to them. The king of the jungle is certainly not afraid of humans.



The awe and humility one feels being in this wild and ancient environment is life changing. It gives one a new sense of the order of things, and of how humankind fits into the larger environment. In some ways we have come far, but in others, we are so disconnected and out of harmony with the planet. One can’t help but feel we have been made custodians of a priceless treasure that is our duty to protect. Without this living history of our past, what kind of future will there be? We are all, “Out of Africa.”

I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. I feel such a deep gratitude to have been able to see these wonders in Africa. I hope everyone  has the opportunity, at some point, to fulfill one of their life – long dreams, as I did, with this trip. Thank you all, as well, for your terrific support of the blog.

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FLASH POST; FRIDA & DIEGO THE VIDEO.

I wanted to thank all of you for the incredible response to the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera posts. They were the two most popular pieces yet, on A Husk of Meaning. To cap it off, I wanted to share this video of the two of them together. I’m sure most of you have seen the wonderful film, “Frida” with Selma Hayek. If you haven’t, do so immediately. It’s huge fun for all of us fans of these two. But here is a little treasure of the real Frida and Diego. Enjoy it over the weekend.

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The Swimming Pool; 3 Films of Illusions & Delusions


I just recently saw, for the first time, the French film, “La Piscine,” with Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, and Jane Birkin. I don’t know how I missed it. It was made in 1968, and although it’s look and  feel is so typical of French films of that time, it was remarkably undated. And lots of fun to watch!  I loved it. Moreover, it made me immediately think of two other films that are focused around a swimming pool. One was the 2003 French film, starring Charlotte Rampling, directed by Francois Ozon, called “The Swimming Pool.”  ( It goes back and forth between French and English.) I saw this film when it first came out, and enjoyed it, though not quite as much as “La Piscine,” to which it definitely owes a debt. The third film, also made in 1968, is the great Burt Lancaster one, called “The Swimmer.” This has always been one of my favorites. It is adopted from a short story by John Cheever, with all his typical skewering of upper-middle class suburbia, and is considered one of Lancaster’s best performances.

In all three films, the symbolic nature of water, via the swimming pool is central. Water, for us humans, is the source. All life came from it, and we incubate in it for nine months. It is usually associated with release, by the fact that we float in it, and with childhood and innocence. The pull back to childhood, or the womb, is also part of a journey through time, to our more primitive, uninhibited, selves. This is the metaphor so brilliantly used by Joseph Conrad, in “Heart of Darkness,” and that appears often in literature. Remember, “Apocalypse Now” is a retelling of “Heart of Darkness,” where the journey up river is one to an increasingly more primitive, instinctual, and violent self. The swimming pools in all three of the films, function that way as well. The pool allows the characters to have an access to their unconscious and their fantasies, that they don’t otherwise enjoy. This loss of inhibition, however, becomes a dangerous channel to the inner depths of the mind, heart and soul. It has chaotic consequences for all concerned, and shows how tenuous a hold we all have on the placid surface of our own, “swimming pools.”



If you don’t like languidly paced, preposteriously beautiful, upper-middle classs French people, flirting, having sex, eating, drinking, and smoking incessantly, in a Saint-Tropez villa, in August, photographed to make you drool, with an implausibly motivated crime of passion, ( a love triangle, bien sur,)  you can forget this Jacques Deray, 1968 classic, “La Piscine.”  Not much happens, but it unfolds gorgeously. The opening sequence, around the pool, is one of the hottest and most visually interesting you’ll ever see. Most of the action unfolds there, around the pool. Lots of smoldering, flirting, competition, internal reflection, and philosophising. Placid or churning, the surface of the water echoes and presages the characters’ interior emotional landscape. There is as much, of course, metaphorically, below the surface, as on top. It’s all washed down with a jazzy, Michel Legrand score, interspersed with a dash of period French pop. The film was highly successfull when it came out, both critically and commercially. It featured excellent performances by, then, real life couple, Romy Schneider and Alain Delon, considered, at the time, two of the world’s most beautiful people, and an 18 year old, Jane BIrkin. Birkin was awkward in the film, but had just sung her famous duet with Serge Gainsbourg, “Je t’aime moi non plus.”  Both the film, and song, were an international sensation. They both had the pulse of the zeitgeist of the moment. I won’t spoil the film for those who might want to see it, by revealing more. A must see for any Francophile.

The next film, is, of course, the 2003 Francois Ozon, movie, “The Swimming Pool.” Starring Charlotte Rampling as a highly successful, prematurely dowdy, repressed, English mystery writer, and Ludivine Sagnier, as maybe, or maybe not, her publisher’s daughter. It is a thriller with as much a debt to  Hitchcock, as Delray’s, “La Piscine.” The film immediately touched off a firestorm of controversy, because of the ambiguity of fantasy vs. reality, throughout, and its unclear ending, that can be interpreted several ways. At any rate , the swimming pool, at Rampling’s English publisher’s French country house, that he has lent her, to get over writer’s block, pries open her fantasies and repressed libido. The key to her lock, is a young woman who claims to be the publisher’s daughter, who shows up unexpectedly. What ensues is a tense and sexy combination of manipulation, seduction, voyeurism, and ultimately, violence.



Sarah, Charlotte Rampling, initialy finds the arrival of Julie, Ludivine Sagnier, to be an unwanted, and annoying distraction from her solitary rhythm of relaxation and work. However, it doesn’t take long before Julie’s topless sunbahing and provocative manner elicit what almost seems like lust in Sarah, or at least, a longing for Julie’s easy and open sensuality. Soon Sarah is watching Julie, in full voeuristic mode, including spying on a series of one-night stands with locals. Sarah uses Julie, both to get in touch with her own repressed sexuality, and as a source for her new novel. Julie  manipulates Sarah to perpetuate her own fantasies and come to terms with her own repressed past. By the time they’re both after the same man, everything breaks wide open. The highly charged dance between the two then changes dramatically, as they become unlikely allies. The swimming pool in this film is both the source of life, and death. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions and shifting motivations. At the very end, we find that Julie may not be who we think she is, but may be, just a figment of Sarah’s imagination. The water in this “Swimming Pool,” is both a mirror inside, but also a portal, out of which, charges the liberated id and super ego. No lifeguards on duty, here.

Where the “Swimming Pool” is a journey from reality to fantasy, the 1968, Frank Perry film, from a John Cheever short story, staring Burt Lancaster, is its mirror opposite, a journey from fantasy back to reality. Burt Lancaster, plays, Neddy Merrill, a middle-aged advertising executive. He wears only a bathing suit throughout the entire film. The film opens with him running through the woods, then arriving at the pool of some friends. He dives in, swims a few laps, then is greeted with a cocktail as he emerges.The friends chat amicably and he announces that so many pools have sprouted in their wealthy suburban area, that he is literally going to swim his way home from pool to pool.


What transpires is an incredibly visual rendering of the metaphoric unwinding of the glittering surface of the materialistic American dream and it’s hearty, self confident heroes. Lancaster’s initial exuberance and the friendliness with which he’s met, belie a man who seems at first on a noble quest, but is gradually revealed to be traveling deeper and deeper, from pool to pool, into his own, hellish, heart of darkness. At first, stalwart and romantic, Neddy exclaims that the pools form a river, and he’ll call it the Lucinda River, after his wife. What is beautifully, and at first subtly revealed, is that, in fact, he seems to have been away for a while and things are not quite what they first seemed. He has an ugly encounter with a former mistress, and then a former babysitter, a fight over one of his children’s toys that he finds, mysteriously, at a strangers house, and then, finally, growing hints that he’s actually in debt, that his children have had problems with the law, and finally that he and his wife are no longer together. He is harrassed  and shamed at a public pool. Neddy fights hard to retain is glowing optimism and faith in his noble quest. However, when at  sundown, he finally arrives home, he quizically confronts a rusted gate, an overgrown and neglected property, and an empty, abandonned house. He breaks down, sobbing. He can no longer hide the sad truth from himself. His inner collapse seems both appropriate to his personal reality, which has hit him like a ton of bricks, and emblematic of the deepest existential trauma.

I find ‘The Swimmer” to be a profoundly compelling, poetic film. It is filled with a beautiful, lyric, visual symbolism. Lancaster’s performance is haunting, full of life, subtly, and wonder. There is something profoundly life affirming and moving in Lancaster’s vision of himself and his world and the tenacity with which he holds on to his fantasies of his best self. This film is a must see, an unexpected and unique treasure.

Although I, myself, am a Pisces, a creature totally at home in the water, even I, might start wondering if I don’t hear those infamous four notes, and sense a triangular dorsal, lurking beneath the surface, of my own, swimming pool.

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Star Trek: How I Traded My Horse and Six-Gun for a Starship and Phaser.

” Caveat Emptor”. Buyer beware. I’ve been a trekkie since the first season of the original series in 1966. I’ve seen every show of the original series in it’s brief three year run, and most of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes (seven seasons), Deep Space Nine and Voyager’s six seasons each, as well as the “prequel” to the original Star Trek series, Enterprise. I’m not going to talk about the 11 Star Trek movies, I’ve seen ‘em all, and many on their opening day.

Why? A good and fair question. Is it just a question of enduring adolesence, or something more? As a kid I was in love with Westerns.The mythos of this vast, empty, pre-industrialized landscape where individuals and not societal institutions were in charge of their own destiny and interactions, stirred something in my soul. The level of personal responsiblity, because of the inherent lawlessness was captivating, and facilitated the elevation of daily life to the mythic. There was also always something of the outsider that I identified with. The image of the lonely, wandering Samurai, both of the time, but also standing somewhat removed, spoke deeply to me. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry explicitly talked about making a Western in Outer Space. The original series’ shows were most often, obvious allegories about contemporary culture. Themes about altruism, authoritariansim, rascism, imperialism, sexism, war, and peace were abundant. In the mid 60′s these were often counter-culture rallying points, and very much in the context of the Vietnam War and the fight for racial justice. Star Trek was also the pop culture and television leader in promoting a multicuturalism of races and genders. Like most Westerns, the shows usually revolved around bullies and bad guys taking advantage of hardworking, good, ordinary folks. Someone had to stand up on their behalf, and often against a larger force of evil. By wits and bravery, good triumphed over evil.

Here are the heroic captains, their crews, and enemies.

Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the phlegmatic, instinctual, and charismatic Captain of the Enterprise. Highly emotional, he was like a barely broken stallion, but always with a sense of humor. The heat of his personality was perfectly balanced by his alter ego and second in command, the Vulcan science officer, Mr Spock. Spock, half human, half Vulcan, was a creature of logic, always trying to purge himself of the last traces of emotion from his human side. As well as a perfect foil and complement to Kirk, Spock was a powerful example of the quest for self knowledge and how to define yourself when you exist between two worlds. Joining them on the bridge of the Enterprise, among others, was Uhura, the communications officer, first of an endless stream of attractive female crew members. Romance was an element that usually balanced the action in the Star Trek universe. There was also, always a parade of interesting and memorable villains to threaten humanity and the galaxy at large.
( Below, Spock, Uhura, and Kahn.)

Appearing in the original series and the second Star Trek move, Khan Noonien Singh was one of my favorite villains. He was a product of a discredited attempt at human genetic engineering and posessed a psychotic superiority complex with a full host of sociopathic delusions of grandeur and omnipotence. He wanted to recreate humanity in his, “enhanced” image, and he had a deep, personal vendetta against Kirk. Kahn was like Ahab willing to sacrifice anything for blind revenge on the great whale (here, Kirk), who had wronged him.

The first Star Trek series lasted only for three season, and was ,”cancelled,” after each one. It was not commercially successful at the time, although it had a dedicated, cult following. In syndication, however, it became huge. Although there were a series of Star trek movies, it was 18 years until the  next Star Trek TV series arrived. This one was Star Trek; The Next Generation.


(
Picard, Data, Troi, The Borg Queen)

The captain of the next version of the Enterprise was Jean Luc Piccard. If Kirk was an untamed mustang, Picard was an Arabian. He was cultured, dignified and intellectual, as well as a resourceful man of action. He exuded gravitas. The character, Data, was the mirror image of Spock. He was an android with a computer brain who was programmed to evolve and sought constantly to understand and feel emotion. Deanna Troi was the ship’s counselor. She could sense the basic emotions at play in all all life forms. Their primary antagonist, was the Borg, led by their “Queen”, above.

The Borg were a collection of  beings that had been “assimilated” into a “collective.” They were fitted with cybernetic, mechanical, additions which changed their physical and emotional make up. They lost their individuality and became part of a “hive” mind. Their sole purpose was to “assimilate” useful life forms, and destroy the rest. Their motto was “resistance is futile.” To my mind they were the best villans of any Star Trek incarnation. The metaphor of the mechanized and dehumanized force that strove relentlessly to assimilate every life form it came across, squashing any individuality in it’s path can be associated with many aspects of modern life and culture. The battle of the individual against the forces of homogeneity has so many correlatives. Even the shape of their ship, a cube, fed the metaphor.

Deep Space Nine was unique in that it took place on a space station, not a starship, as had the earlier two shows. It was located at the entrance of a strategically important  ”wormhole” which allowed instantaneous travel to far reaches of the galaxy. The station had a large group of recurring characters as well as enemies and allies. Below are Captain Sisko, and officers Odo and Dax and Worf. Their antagonists were varied and because of their important strategic position, guarding the “wormhole,” the enemy would usually come to them. The story arcs and characterizations could get quite elaborate because of their fixed position in a station with a large population. Their existence at such an important  crossroads location meant they were forced to deal with many different cultures that required and wanted access to what they protected. This situation has many similar aspects to our own world’s agonizing multi-cultural, geo-political turmoil. So many mistrustful and misunderstood cultures at often violent discord.



Deep Space Nine overlapped The Next Generation for a couple of years, as it did with the next incarnation, Voyager. Voyager takes us back to a starship again, this time one that was stranded in the far reaches of space, by an anomaly, some 75 years away from their home quadrant . The ship, Voyager boasted the first female captain.



Captain Kathryn Janeway was deeply intelligent and reasouceful. She could be warm and understanding, but never lost her calm or steely nerve, no matter how great the pressure. B’elanna Tores, half human and half Klingon ( a violent race of warriors) struggled as had so many other Star Trek characters, to contain the conflicting aspects of her bi-species heritage. Voyager was a motley crew. Tores and Commander Chakotay had been members of a rebel group whose ship Voyager was chasing when they were marooned. The crew combined their efforts in the name of survival, although the balance of friction and dedication to common cause was often in play. Seven of Nine, above, was formerly part of the Borg Collective whose implants had mostly been removed. She too struggled  constantly with the remnants of her former identity as she fought to reclaim her humanity. Luckily, she was still able to sense the presence of the Borg, an ability which helped Voyager immensely in several encounters. Voyager is a story of survival in a hostile environment where the drive to get home is always front and center. They faced numerous forces trying to stop them and had to creatively find allies and resources. The strength of the cellular imprint to find your way home when lost at sea is such a powerful force.

The most recent Star Trek addition is simply called, Enterprise. It is a prequel to the original series with an earlier version of the famous starship. It is set in the beginning years after earth’s discovery of “warp drive”, i.e. interstellar, faster than light, travel.



Above is Captain Jonathan Archer, Commander T’Pol, his Vulcan second officer, and Archer’s chief engineer and friend, Trip Tucker. Below, is one of their main antagonists, Sillick. In this series, the team is trying to write the rules as they go. They are new to space and all its challenges and complex interactions with many new species. They are still trying to iron out the right blend of diplomacy and power. When is it appropriate to use force and how to appropriately represent earth? They live in a universe with both more and less technologically advanced civilizations.This aspect seems particularly relevant today with our struggle with “wars of choice” as opposed to “wars of necessity.” Enterprise takes place before the founding of the United Federstion of Planets, which is the organization under which all subsequent Star Trek ships and series operate. The federation was an uber U.N. dedicated to peacekeeping and the helpful development of all civilizations. T’Pol, is a representative of Vulcan, a more advanced civilization, which is basically monitoring Earth’s ability to act responsibly in space. (Would that we had such a thoughtful monitor now.) The idea of learning how to grow into your new found power and abilities is a central theme here. It’s like watching a gifted adolescent emerge into adulthood, with all the stop and starts, and issues, that are common to human development. This quality of Enterprise gives the show a real sense of watching an evolving person on a larger scale.

In the Star Trek universe, the horse may have been traded in for a starship that can travel faster than light, and the six gun for a phaser or photon torpedo, but the issues and archtypes all have the same feel as a Western. The drama of people trying to find their way in a vast landscape facing frontier obstacles, resonate just like in a Western. The good guy riding into town, helping the abused or oppressed, and like in the mythos of the Old West, riding off into the sunset, a nomad on his unending quest, lives on. Our need for certain kinds of heroic, mythological characters, embodying our universal struggles and aspirations, does indeed, reach across space and time.

 

 

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THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF HERB & DOROTHY

Herb & Dorothy is an incredible film that I would strongly urge all art lovers to see.
It’s available on most movie and download services. It is the amazing story of the Vogels and their unique passion, for art, artists, and collecting. Herb was a postal clerk, and Dorothy, a librarian.They lived entirely on Dorothy’s salary, and used Herb’s to accumulate one of the great contemporary art collections of over two thousand pieces.

In the early 60′s, before minimalist and conceptual art had much of a following, they began buying work by then, unknown artists. They followed two rules. The pieces had to be “affordable” and also fit in their small one bedroom appartment. Their sense of quality, and ability to suss out young artists who were to become world famous, was amazing. Sol LeWitt, Richard Tuttle, Christo, Chuck Close, were only a few.

In 1992, they decide to donate their collection to the National Gallery in Washington. They had no money to live out their old age, so the government, deeply thankful for their gift to the national patrimony, arranged to give them a smallish stipend. What did they do, but start collecting again. They couldn’t stop themselves. What comes through in the film is their utter lack of pretension, and great passion for both art and artists. They were recognized by all these major artists as very serious and discerning collectors, as well as friends, even though they were not buying the big expensive pieces, only the small, lowest price ones.

Their story and quest is heartwarming, and also very instructive and inspiring. If you truly let the world in, and let it take you along the path of your hearts innermost desires, you can sometimes travel to magnificent and unexpected places.

HERB & DOROTHY TRAILER

Herb and Dorothy had the collecting impulse to an extent I’ve never seen before. I’m curious how many of you are collectors, and what of. My wife has collected a particular kind of Santa Catalina Island pottery for many years. She is very methodical. I have bought a fair number of paintings, and find that, unconsciously, most of them have an element of water, particularly, ocean, in them.

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MIDNIGHT IN BARCELONA, WHOOPS, PARIS

Okay, here are a couple of important facts: 1). Paris is my favorite city in the world. ( I’ve spent a lot of time there.)  2). I love most of Woody Allen’s films, and thought “Vicky Christina, Barcelona”  was great, absolutely one of his best. 3). I’m a big fan of Owen Wilson. ( Probably my favorite of his roles being,” The Royal Tannenbaums,”, but who’s counting).

Take these facts as given. So, somebody please tell me why, except for a few parts, here and there,
I was not very amused, or engaged.

The opening Paris montage is terrific/classic, and in fact, got an ovation in the theatre I saw it in, me included. And right away, he started out with a Vicky Christina vibe, even with the Spanish guitar. What a nice twist, to flip Owen Wilson into the Scalett Johanson role, full of wanderlust, in search of his authentic, artisitic self. But here, the mismatched love interest, Rachel McAdams, along with her smothering family, are sketched in only the broadest, most cliched terms. She’s never a believable partner for Owen Wilson’s character.  Allen succedded in making all the Barcelona  characters real and interesting, even in their clichenesss. That’s a big part of his usual genius. But here, they seemed tossed off , without much conviction, only to serve  as the barest of warmups for the main act. For me, it was this very strategy; that the “real-time” part of the dramatic narrative,  which he sucks us into first, is then revealed  as really just a minimal prelude for the protagonist’s midnight fantasy adventures, that harms the movie. It’s a bait and switch which left me feeling misdirected and sort of betrayed. The real businness here is Wilson’s midnight, historical  journeys, which seemed, to me, like skits for Sautuday Night Live, inserted, uncomfortably, into a a traditonal drama. There were  certainly some moments of amusement , especially the Hemmingway character (the best non Kevin Kline, Kevin Kline performance in a while.)  But to make Marion Cotillard seem silly is hard to do. But Le volia.

For me, the lack of a consistent tone made the movie an awkward pastiche. To squander Paris, and all these wonderful actors, drove me a little insane.  I kept feeling like It could and should, have been much funnier, more engaging, and  better balanced in its realization of  Wilson’s multi-verse.

I thought that Marie Antoinette had already exhausted the ” Let them eat cake,” sentiment.
I was anticipating- and longing for- a hearty bistro meal, but got instead, an amuse bouche.

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