Sunday, May 15, 2005

"Cosmic Gall" by John Updike

Neutrinos, they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me. Like tall
And painless guillotines they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed—you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

(Knopf) © 1960, 1988 John Updike.
Originally in The New Yorker. All rights reserved.

Note: in the meantime, it seems neutrinos do actually have some mass, alas - but that was a pretty big surprise.

John Hoyer Updike

Max Ernst: a Retrospective

exhibit at the Metropolitan in New York - April 7, 2005–July 10, 2005. See the review by John Updike in the New York Review of Books

"The Robing of the Bride", 1939 130 x 96 cm., Venice

Europe after the Rain II. Oil on canvas. 54 x 146 cm. 1940-42. Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, USA

Europe after the Rain, we are told, was begun by Ernst in a European prison camp and finished in the United States—a precarious transit, in that dire time, for a crusty canvas two feet by five." says Updike in his review.

Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels view the exhibition of "degenerate art", Munich 1937

Hitler was definitely not a fan, Ernst happened to be Jewish:

Max Ernst (French, born Germany, 1891–1976)
The Blessed Virgin Chastises the Infant Jesus Before Three Witnesses: A.B., P.E. and the Artist, 1926
Oil on canvas; 77 1/4 x 51 1/4 in. (196 x 130 cm)
Museum Ludwig, Köln
© 2004 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

According to Updike's review, "The original exhibition including Ernst's assaultive painting The Blessed Virgin Chastises the Infant Jesus before Three Witnesses: A.B., P.E., and the Artist (1926) was closed by church pressure because of it; at the Met, alone on a large wall and protected by glass against possible Christian vandals, it exerts a sensuous spell."

"The House of Flying Daggers" a film by Zhang Yimou

now out on DVD.

Zhang Yimou's early films, "Red Sorghum" (1987), "Ju Dou" (1990), and "Raise the Red Lantern" (1991) were intimate, beautiful, devastating films centered around the oppression of women in pre-revolutionary China. His most recent films "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" are very different indeed. Martial arts spectaculars with big budgets and strong female fighters in lead roles, they are much less effective emotionally. The oppressed women in his earlier films were defiant, but they were completely powerless and their vulnerability made their strength of character impressive indeed. The newer films seem quite shallow in comparison.

However, "Hero" did have some of the most beautiful scenes I've ever seen in film, especially memorable were several scenes with ravishing depictions of water. Zhang Yimou's visual style is unmistakable, starting with the gorgeous shots of freshly dyed fabric sheets in "Ju Duo". But a big share of credit for the look of "Hero" has to go to cinematographer Christopher Doyle. He's shot so many stunning films, including "In the Mood for Love", directed by Wong Kar Wai.

The "Making of" documentary on the Flying Daggers DVD wasn't particularly striking, repetitiously filled with comments that all amounted to "Zhang Zimou is really, really good". However, it did explain one fairly odd transition in the film, the climatic fight scene takes place in a fairly substantial snow storm. But the scenes before it, essentially on the same day, were quite temperate. Apparently there was a freak October snow storm during the filming, totally unexpected of course, and the director just went with it.
Ang Lee is another talented director who succumbed to the lure of the big-budget martial arts blockbuster with his "Cringing Tiger". That film's critical and popular success was a total mystery to me. Chow Yun Fat is great in Hong Kong gangster movies, but he was utterly unconvincing in a costume period piece, never mind his deficiencies as a martial arts player.

The DVD cover

Beautiful watery scenes from "Hero"

Freak snowstorm in "Flying Daggers"

You can see a beautiful trailer for "Ju Dou", you might have to endure an annoying ad first, but it's worth it.