Filed under: brave new world | Tags: Ingmar Bergman, Liv Ullmann, shame, war
I found a copy of Bergman’s The Shame and watched it last night. And of course highly recommend it. It’s about a couple who are artists and trying to avoid a war but it eventually comes to them and changes their lives. I’ve rarely watched a film that so convincingly and relentlessly takes you right to the human heart. And on the surface it’s just people moving around and talking while bombs go off in the background.
The Von Sydow character Jan is one of the weakest male characters in film, and makes you think the Ullmann character Eva is strong. She is. He feels everything and reacts by retreating; she feels deeply too but is more reactive. He talks about the past and music, she about bringing a child into this uncertain world.
The action is picaresque, event to image to action to event, and the feeling is despairing that our lives in war are completely manipulated by forces we can’t see or know and then the violence arrives at the door. The hinge is Eva’s dream:
Eva: Sometimes everything seems just like a dream. It’s not my dream, but someone else’s, that I have to participate in. What happens when the one who dreamt us wakes up and feels ashamed?
An existential question for our times – what happens when? There’s her strength, she knows someone will wake up and that there will be shame.
I like this website, Ingmar Bergman Face to Face.
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: Isabelle Huppert, La Pianiste, love, Michael Haneke, sex, shame, The Piano Player
Learning to Love:
Sometime in the first 20 minutes of Michael Haneke’s film La Pianiste, we learn that the perfectionist piano teacher Erika, played by Isabelle Huppert, sleeps in the same room as her mother. Much further along, we find out that she is a regular at the live sex booth in a porn shop. Shocking images, perhaps only at first: the beautiful, accomplished piano teacher with a shameful home and inner life. Haneke’s speciality: truth masquerading as shock. Or more accurately truth that we continue to pretend is an aberration and continue to allow to shock us.
Erika is like Norman Bates (from Psycho), only a little more socially acceptable. Erika merely slept in her mother’s room; Bates embalmed his, and kept her in the upstairs room in a rocking chair. The point is both moms controlled their children, and both children went far far into their adult lives allowing themselves to be controlled. As a result of this control, Erika’s intimate life was reduced to watching other people have sex in booths and engaging boyfriends in sexual domination games.
There is an interesting side story in La Pianiste. Erika has a student, a young girl, who has a neurotic and domineering mother, not unlike her own. The teacher has a complex relationship with the girl and near the end we see her sneak into the concert hall’s cloak room, smash a drinking glass and put the shards in the young girl’s winter coat while she plays a recital in the hall. After the recital, the girl badly injures her right hand on the glass shards. It’s a malevolent act, and curiously it’s an act of salvation: maybe this injury will set you back, she is saying, will alter your life course away from the one I took of perfectionism and isolation, will cause your mother to leave you be to live a normal life.
So, La Pianiste is about Erika’s attempt to form a real human bond with a lover. It is a violent attempt, for she must confront and rebuke the control her mother and her own prolonged adolescence has over her. Ah, the violence of family life. Is it real or an aberration, a cheap trick used by a director to shock?
A Critical Coincidence:
The following quotation has nothing to do with the writing above. It is Huppert’s description of what it means to be an actor. She says to be beautiful, the story she has made about Erika and the story the director and writer have made must coincide. Here is her description –
When you make a film, actually you make two films. The director’s film is being made. And the actor’s film or actress’s film is being made. And the actress’s film is like a very intimate story that she tells to herself, which is within the director’s story. And hopefully there is a coincidence between the two stories. Ultimately, of course, it is the director’s film, but I think an actor always chases a very personal quest when he makes a film and very intimate and very secret and not invisible because I think it’s on screen, but it’s a whole personal fantasy, you know, that is not necessarily 100% according to the director’s fantasy itself, you know. And I think that the mystery, the chemistry between an actress and a director is how these two personal fantasies make a coincidence, between the two of them, and it makes a film.
-Isabelle Huppert, interview, The Piano Teacher
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: fallacy, false hope, hope, pessimism, Roger Scruton, The Uses of Pessimism
From a review of Scruton’s book The Uses of Pessimism, here are seven sources of false hope. Scruton’s list of fallacies go to the heart of our inability to couch pessimism in a way that becomes useful; as a check to delusional thinking. The fallacies make a sketch of a disturbing sociopath: always up, perfectly isolated and selfish, always right, paranoid, triumphalist, autocratic, fatalistic, antisocial and maybe a little stupid.
In our political culture, hope is topical, false hope is legion, and pessimism may be on the rise. A president wrote a book on hope, the pursuit of happiness at any cost remains the prime engine of the body politic, and despite jeremiads, we will maybe never accept the proper uses of pessimism. But what if, by some miracle, we did? Can these proper uses make us whole again?
Here is a list of the fallacies:
1. a tendency to always look on the bright side.
2. a belief that freedom is hampered by law.
3. an unwillingness to countenance refutation.
4. a belief that failure in one human quarter is directly connected to success in another.
5. an inclination to impose solutions rather than letting them evolve over time.
6. the idea that human history has an endpoint.
7. the tendency to assume agreeable concepts such as liberty and equality are mutually reinforcing.
And here is the excerpt:
Hope, especially religious hope, is an important part of human existence. But it is also, argues Scruton, the “final scourge”. “False hope” isn’t just a false friend; it is humanity’s most implacable enemy.
Scruton identifies seven fallacies that he sees as underwriting false hope. Put briefly, these translate into a tendency to always look on the bright side, a belief that freedom is hampered by law, an unwillingness to countenance refutation, a belief that failure in one human quarter is directly connected to success in another, an inclination to impose solutions rather than letting them evolve over time, the idea that human history has an endpoint, and the tendency to assume agreeable concepts such as liberty and equality are mutually reinforcing.
In the final chapters, Scruton suggests these inclinations may be ineradicable, having evolved in response to particular dangers in hunter-gatherer societies.
However — and this is his central point — in a world where such dangers have ceased to afflict most people, the mental strategies we developed to cope with them have themselves become a danger. The future needs to be tamed, but our attempts to tame it end up destroying us. There is a lot to be said for Scruton’s argument, especially when it comes to the ill-effects of top-down thinking in the political sphere. For he is surely right to say that in the area of human rights, for example, the British model of slow negotiation between competing interests was greatly preferable to Robespierre’s “despotism of liberty”.
book: The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope, by Roger Scruton
Reviewed by Richard King, Do Worry and Don’t Always be Happy, The Australian
What are the antecedents of isolation? For me, as I’m sure many people, they are plural; and surely come from both nature and nurture. Alcoholism and addiction lead to isolation, being dropped off at boarding school for years can be, sibling rivalry is, and so is professional jealousy, some cities are hard nosed and cruel, and some jobs antagonistic and aggressive, words can isolate. I think we choose it, and have been choosing it for generations. It’s become a part of the DNA of American life. It’s an endgame, I hope it’s reversible.
Here are a few other sources of isolationist thinking:
Our longstanding reverence for self-sufficiency hasn’t helped matters. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave us a sharp shove down this road with his famous essay “Self-Reliance,” and Cole Porter lyricized the uniquely American claustrophobia that danced off the tongues of a parade of popular crooners: “Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze/And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees/Send me off forever but I ask you please/Don’t fence me in.” Frontier-oriented American mythology is studded with exemplars of the lone hero, from Daniel Boone to Amelia Earhart, to say nothing of the protagonists of Hollywood westerns such as High Noon (1952). Male buddy films date back to Laurel and Hardy, but their profusion in the past three decades—including box-office franchises ranging from Beverly Hills Cop to Harold & Kumar—is a strong social contra-indicator, like the lavish outfits and interiors of movies made during the Great Depression. If something desirable is missing in life, people like to see it on the screen.
–America: Land of Loners, Daniel Akst, The Wilson Quarterly