Better Call Saul, The End

I'm having an unusually busy week, so instead of posting something more substantial about this great show, the last episode of which appeared on Monday night, I'll repeat what I said on Facebook after watching it:

So Better Call Saul comes to an end, and joins Breaking Bad and The Wire among great American novels on video. It's some compensation for being alive while the republic comes apart.

And this, which I said, also on Facebook, to a friend who said he'd never seen any of the three and wasn't much interested in doing so:

Personal taste is personal taste, but I think you're missing some great stuff. I'm far from alone in thinking these are the best work ever done specifically for television. I don't say "great American novels" idly, as I do think they bear comparison to great literary works in their exploration of character, and of good and evil. They're Dostoevsky-class in that respect.

Saul is a "prequel" to BB but mostly a very different kind of story, and it's pretty amazing that the producers and writers were able to produce something as good as BB.

All that said, I always warn people that BB has some very violent scenes and is generally a very dark and painful story in which some bad things happen to some good people. And some worse things to worse people. As much as I admire it, I don't really want to watch it again.

Perhaps I'll regret that Dostoevsky comparison someday. It strikes me now that I didn't say, in making the comparison, that, unlike Dostoevsky's work, the TV shows do not directly engage religious matters--not at all, as far as I can remember. And that is a major difference. For Dostoevsky, Christian belief was very much a live question, its decline a matter of grave concern, and hope for its renewal a significant element in the novels. In contemporary America as seen in the three shows I named, that struggle is over, and the characters are flailing around in a godless universe. That is not of course true of the actual America, but it's the culturally predominant worldview.

And of course it's not the exploration of big themes that makes great art--it's the skill with which the exploration is done. And it's the artistry of these shows--writing, direction, cinematography, and acting--that makes them great. If they are great. 


Trainwreck: Woodstock '99

I'm about two thirds of the way through this three-part Netflix documentary on the 1999 attempt by some of the original Woodstock promoters to revive, twenty-five years later, the glory that was Woodstock in 1969. I was vaguely aware of the 1999 festival, saw news reports that it had not gone very well, and that was about the extent of my notice of it. But apparently it was much worse than I had realized. 

I have a pretty jaundiced view of the original, and am of the opinion that Woodstock was not really Woodstock until the movie and the soundtrack album came out. My college roommate at the time had attended, and had no particular illusions about it: "A lot of people doing drugs in the mud and listening to music coming from a distant stage." According to him, it was not the hippie bands that got the most enthusiastic reception, but the good-time funk of Sly and the Family Stone. The movie made the myth. But though it may not have been the dawning of the Age of Aquarius (or maybe it was, and maybe that's not necessarily a great thing) it was not a trainwreck. 

The further I get from the '60s counter-culture, the more negative my view of it has become. How dense did one have to be to believe that peace and love are the natural and probably inevitable result of  turning people loose to do what they really feel like doing? The film features interviews with promoters, employees, and attendees who emphasize that the whole thing was badly planned from the beginning. And I have no doubt that it was. But the explanation for the fact that things turned so dark has to take into account the change in American culture, particularly in pop music, over the thirty years between the two Woodstocks. 

It seems to me that this is a much meaner country than it was in the late '60s. I won't explore that question in detail at the moment, but I think it's a valid generalization to say that although there was certainly plenty of meanness prior to 1970, it was not as generally diffused and intense as it is now. The political and cultural polarization which are so much a part of life now was just taking shape at the end of the '60s. And there is no question that by 1999 there was a whole lot of violent rage in popular music that was not there in 1969. 

In 1999 various forms of extremely angry metal or metal-influenced music were quite popular--nu-metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit. If you've never heard these bands, or, even more convincing, seen them perform, watch this clip of Limp Bizkit's Woodstock '99 performance. You won't be the least bit surprised that the festival ended in violence. This was the only the second day. Things would get worse. 

There is no pleasure to be had from watching this documentary, but as a cultural artifact it's fascinating. I don't think the particular kind of rage on exhibit here is still as much a part of pop music as it was then, but from what I occasionally hear it doesn't look as though the change represents anything I would call progress.


The Most Beautiful Phrase In the English Language?

One of the most, anyway:

    Poor Clare of Perpetual Adoration

I remember the first time I encountered it, many years ago, and being struck by its beauty. Like anything that gets pulled into everyday use, it ends up being taken for granted; losing its luster, and even, maybe, depending on where and how you encounter it, having unpleasant associations. But if you can clear all that away, it shines. 

The phrase Perpetual Adoration alone is rather wonderful. I am happy that once a week, at least, sometimes more, I am able to participate in something that is called by that rich name.

Today is St. Clare's memorial, and here is a good post by Amy Welborn about her. I was struck by the advice she (Clare) gave to St. Agnes: appealing to her vanity, in a backwards, poverty is wealth, sort of way.