Terrence Malick's Tree of Life was released in May of 2011, so it must have been at least sometime in that year that I saw it. Surely I mentioned it here...oh yes, I saw it in August of that year, and here's the brief post I wrote about it. An interesting conversation follows in the comments.
I saw it in a theater--a small independent one, not a grand one made for big spectaculars, but still vastly superior to home. We didn't even have a flat-screen TV at the time. And contrary to my statement in a comment on that post I decided I really didn't much want to see it at home. The experience was so intense that I knew it wouldn't be replicated there, and would probably be diminished.
For the same reason, I haven't seen Malick's subsequent movies which have been compared to Tree of Life. Either they weren't shown in theaters around here, or I missed them, and I haven't wanted to see them at home. But I finally decided a month or two ago to try Knight of Cups anyway, as there seems to be very little chance that I'll ever see it or To the Wonder in a theater.
Well...either I was right about the Malick Experience being dependent on good equipment, or I just didn't like Knight of Cups as much. I liked it but that's damning with faint praise compared to my reaction to Tree of Life. Maybe the subject matter--a Hollywood screenwriter (I think) lost in a hedonistic wilderness, with some suggested family trauma in the background--didn't hit home to me in the way that Tree did. It's hard to say. It's beautiful, but it didn't seem as beautiful.
Still exercising what remains of my FilmStruck subscription, I watched a movie which I think was on my Netflix list at one time, but disappeared before it reached the top. Or maybe it wasn't. Anyway, it's not available on Netflix now, but it is on FilmStruck: the 1975 adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely--starring Robert Mitchum, who had always been the obvious perfect choice to play Phillip Marlowe. By 1975 he was really too old, but that doesn't matter much. This is a great film if you like this sort of thing: imagine the best of '40s and '50s crime drama, based on a classic detective novel, filmed in color and in general with more sophisticated technique all around than had been available thirty years earlier (and, of course, more explicit sexual talk and nudity, but not an excessive amount by later standards). That of course is no guarantee of improvement, and in fact could easily have been a de-provement. But in this case it isn't.
There's a Criterion Collection intro on the site which suggests that the movie may be a little too perfect, adhering too closely to convention. I don't think so. I mean, it's not some great creative leap forward, but it doesn't need to be. It certainly belongs in the noir canon, born out of time though it is. I had not previously heard of the director, Dick Richards, who, I see from Wikipedia, also directed Tootsie. Ugh.
Mitchum played Marlowe once more, in a late '70s remake of The Big Sleep, which I have seen and which I don't think is very good. Not that it's badly executed, but the filmmakers decided to set it in London and in the then-present day, which in my opinion didn't work very well. The book is just too 1930s and too Los Angeles.
I don't remember how I got there, but I followed someone's link to this discussion in The New Yorker of the recent release of several thousand or so alternate takes from Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. (See recent discussion here.) The second sentence stopped me in my tracks, and may have left a trace of psychological blood there:
It is a ten-song study in romantic devastation, as beautiful as it is bleak, worthy of comparison with Schubert’s “Winterreise.”'
My incredulous emphasis. I mean, I think Blood on the Tracks is a really good album (though not a favorite of mine, as I mentioned in that discussion). But as it happened I had just finished listening to Winterreise, and I just don't see the two works as being of the same order (though Winterreise is a song cycle, so there is that fundamental similarity of form). I suppose I can't support that claim without sounding elitist. I think Schubert's work is more complex, more varied, more profound...etc.--I don't want to belabor it, but if "worthy of comparison" means "of comparable worth," I disagree.
I figured well, you know, these pop music critics, they don't really know much else. Then I looked at the byline of the piece. It's by Alex Ross, who has more knowledge of classical music than I can dream of, in part because he has more musical sensitivity than I can dream of ("Occasionally, a stray F-sharp bleeds through, adding a Romantic tinge"). He's the author of a highly-regarded history of 20th century music, The Rest is Noise, which I am currently (and slowly) working my way through.
So who am I to disagree with Alex Ross? Nobody. But...I do. It would be interesting to know what critics and audiences of the 23rd century will think. I'd be willing to be that Schubert will still be considered a great artist. I'm not so sure about Dylan.
By the way: the Winterreise recording was this one, by Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach. It was recently given to me by a friend who was concerned that the recording I have, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jorg Demus, from the mid-'60s, wasn't going to truly convince me of the greatness of the cycle. Well, as I'm always quick to point out, I'm not all that sensitive to nuances of classical performance...or maybe I am without realizing it, because the newer recording engages me more. F-D sounds somewhat bombastic in comparison. And yes, it's a very great work. My friend has converted me to her enthusiasm for both the work and the performance.
I have just finished reading a book that I've had in process for several months. I found it pretty slow going at first, but about halfway through I got very interested and pressed on fairly quickly. The book is English Reformations, by Christopher Haigh. It might be described (very roughly) as a more concise version of Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars, in that it is a history of English religion as it changed during the Protestant Reformation. I have Duffy's book, got bogged down in it (apparently on page 84, where there is a bookmark), and wandered off onto something else. That was a couple of years ago, and my priest (ex-Anglican) recommended Haigh's book as a way of surveying some of the same territory.
The two books probably should be considered as companions rather than alternatives. Duffy focuses on the details of religious practice, Haigh on events and people. Perhaps Haigh is a good prelude to Duffy.
Anyway: if Haigh is correct, the English Reformation was in no sense a popular movement. Or, I should say, as he does, Reformations. In his view there were four:
- Henry's, which was essentially political, involved the declaration of supremacy and the plundering of the monasteries, but was otherwise meant to remain Catholic;
- Edward's, which was full-on Protestant and imposed on an unwilling populace;
- Mary's, which was full-on Catholic and, though brutal to the defiant, was more welcomed than not by the people, and would have succeeded permanently had she not died when she did, leaving a Protestant succession;
- Elizabeth's, which was Protestant but in a latitudinarian sort of way, fundamentally more concerned with the politics of the time.
I'd like to quote Haigh's very interesting conclusion at enough length to do it justice, but it's too long. One of its points, though, is that when the dust settled, the dust had not really settled. There was no real consensus. There was a minority of seriously and consciously committed Protestants--the Puritans and others--another of seriously and consciously committed recusant Catholics, another of what he calls "old Catholics"--in the main unsophisticated people, mostly well away from London, who simply wanted to go on doing what they had always done. And there was a majority of what he calls "parish anglicans" (uncapitalized), who were more or less of the same temperament as old Catholics but were willing to go along with the new ways and teachings. The first group disdained the other three, and was in turn disdained by them: a pattern still in evidence.
Given the official, decisive, unambiguous rejection of most of Catholic theology and ecclesiology by the Church of England, I am puzzled as to why any Anglicans ever believed that their Church, as church, had any claim to continuity. I don't wonder that Newman left; I do wonder that anyone in the Oxford Movement remained.
Sunset from a different angle.