Notes on “1917”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


There’s plenty to appreciate in director Sam Mendes’ “1917,” but it doesn’t amount to much as a movie. The one-shot scheme is good for showing soldiers making their way through trenches and over battlefields. Tracking shots add an element of time to movies, which in turn generates suspense; and Mendes and his team do a nice job of keeping the frame filled with arresting visual details. These scenes are engrossing in a primitive way; we feel compelled to stay invested in them, the way a child might feel compelled to persist in unrolling an illustrated scroll. What will be revealed by the next roll? In dialog scenes, or really in any scene that wouldn’t likely be done as a tracking shot, or a series of tracking shots, in any movie, the technique is a distraction; we can feel Mendes trying to think his way around the gimmick, and at that point it’s hard not to wonder about the point of it. There’s no reason to impose this limitation on a movie. Because the technique (really a faux technique, because there’s a fair amount of computer trickery) turns movies into things akin to first-person shooters, and limits expressiveness by doing away with traditional editing, some might call it anti-cinematic. It may also be dumb: It strikes me as ludicrous to do a Griffith-style race-against-time narrative while depriving yourself of cross-cutting. Technical stuff aside, there’s little to invest in. The story is as basic as they come and serves merely to put the spectacle in motion. It’s the “Mad Max: Fury Road” of war movies. Also of note: This is the only WWI movie I can think of (other than fantasy things like “Wonder Woman”) that treats the Germans of the era as cartoon baddies. We’ve inherited an estimable tradition of humanistic WWI movies. Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns seem unaware of it.

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Thoughts of a Semi-Self-Quarantiner: If You Don’t Like the Weather Wait a Few Minutes

Fenster writes:

Earlier thoughts from semi-self-quarantiner: 1234. 5.

Twain’s comment about the weather in New England is appropriate in the context of the virus.  If you don’t like the situation, give it a day and see what changes.

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Ships Ashore Before Morn

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


On the third of November, a few days after this visit to the Why Not?, the wind, which had been blowing from the south-west, began about four in the afternoon to rise in sudden strong gusts. The rooks had been pitch-falling all the morning, so we knew that bad weather was due; and when we came out from the schooling that Mr. Glennie gave us in the hall of the old almshouses, there were wisps of thatch, and even stray tiles, flying from the roofs, and the children sang:

Blow wind, rise storm,
Ship ashore before morn.

It is heathenish rhyme that has come down out of other and worse times; for though I do not say but that a wreck on Moonfleet beach was looked upon sometimes as little short of a godsend, yet I hope none of us were so wicked as to wish a vessel to be wrecked that we might share in the plunder. Indeed, I have known the men of Moonfleet risk their own lives a hundred times to save those of shipwrecked mariners, as when the Darius, East Indiaman, came ashore; nay, even poor nameless corpses washed up were sure of Christian burial, or perhaps of one of Master Ratsey’s headstones to set forth sex and date, as may be seen in the churchyard to this day.

Our village lies near the centre of Moonfleet Bay, a great bight twenty miles across, and a death-trap to up-channel sailors in a south-westerly gale. For with that wind blowing strong from south, if you cannot double the Snout, you must most surely come ashore; and many a good ship failing to round that point has beat up and down the bay all day, but come to beach in the evening. And once on the beach, the sea has little mercy, for the water is deep right in, and the waves curl over full on the pebbles with a weight no timbers can withstand. Then if poor fellows try to save themselves, there is a deadly under-tow or rush back of the water, which sucks them off their legs, and carries them again under the thundering waves. It is that back-suck of the pebbles that you may hear for miles inland, even at Dorchester, on still nights long after the winds that caused it have sunk, and which makes people turn in their beds, and thank God they are not
fighting with the sea on Moonfleet beach.

But on this third of November there was no wreck, only such a wind as I have never known before, and only once since. All night long the tempest grew fiercer, and I think no one in Moonfleet went to bed; for there was such a breaking of tiles and glass, such a banging of doon and rattling of shutters, that no sleep was possible, and we were afraid besides lest the chimneys should fall and crush us. The wind blew fiercest about five in the morning, and then some ran up the street calling out a new danger–that the sea was breaking over the beach, and that all the place was like to be flooded. Some of the women were for flitting forthwith and climbing the down; but Master Ratsey, who was going round with others to comfort people, soon showed us that the upper part of the village stood so high, that if the water was to get thither, there was no knowing if it would not cover Ridgedown itself. But what with its being a spring-tide, and the sea breaking clean over the great outer beach of pebbles — a thing that had not happened for fifty year — there was so much water piled up in the lagoon, that it passed its bounds and flooded all the sea meadows, and even the lower end of the street. So when day broke, there was the churchyard flooded, though ’twas on rising ground, and the church itself standing up like a steep little island, and the water over the door-sill of the Why Not?, though Elzevir Block would not budge, saying he did not care if the sea swept him away. It was but a nine-hours’ wonder, for the wind fell very suddenly; the water began to go back, the sun shone bright, and before noon people came out to the doors to see the floods and talk over the storm. Most said that never had been so fierce a wind, but some of the oldest spoke of one in the second year of Queen Anne, and would have it as bad or worse. But whether worse or not, this storm was a weighty matter enough for me, and turned the course of my life, as you shall hear.

I have said that the waters came up so high that the church stood out like an island; but they went back quickly, and Mr. Glennie was able to hold service on the next Sunday morning. Few enough folks came to Moonfleet Church at any time; but fewer still came that morning, for the meadows between the village and the churchyard were wet and miry from the water. There were streamers of seaweed tangled about the very tombstones, and against the outside of the churchyard wall was piled up a great bank of it, from which came a salt rancid smell like a guillemot’s egg that is always in the air after a south-westerly gale has strewn the shore with wrack.

This church is as large as any other I have seen, and divided into two parts with a stone screen across the middle. Perhaps Moonfleet was once a large place, and then likely enough there were people to fill such a church, but never since I knew it did anyone worship in that part called the nave. This western portion was quite empty beyond a few old tombs and a Royal Arms of Queen Anne; the pavement too was damp and mossy; and there were green patches down the white walls where the rains had got in. So the handful of people that came to church were glad enough to get the other side of the screen in the chancel, where at least the pew floors were boarded over, and the panelling of oak-work kept off the draughts.

Now this Sunday morning there were only three or four, I think, beside Mr. Glennie and Ratsey and the half-dozen of us boys, who crossed the swampy meadows strewn with drowned shrew-mice and moles. Even my aunt was not at church, being prevented by a migraine, but a surprise waited those who did go, for there in a pew by himself sat Elzevir Block. The people stared at him as they came in, for no one had ever known him go to church before; some saying in the village that he was a Catholic, and others an infidel. However that may be, there he was this day, wishing perhaps to show a favour to the parson who had written the verses for David’s headstone. He took no notice of anyone, nor exchanged greetings with those that came in, as was the fashion in Moonfleet Church, but kept his eyes fixed on a prayer-book which he held in his hand, though he could not be following the minister, for he never turned the leaf.

The church was so damp from the floods, that Master Ratsey had put a fire in the brazier which stood at the back, but was not commonly lighted till the winter had fairly begun. We boys sat as close to the brazier as we could, for the wet cold struck up from the flags, and besides that, we were so far from the clergyman, and so well screened by the oak backs, that we could bake an apple or roast a chestnut without much fear of being caught. But that morning there was something else to take off our thoughts; for before the service was well begun, we became aware of a strange noise under the church. The first time it came was just as Mr. Glennie was finishing ‘Dearly Beloved’, and we heard it again before the second lesson. It was not a loud noise, but rather like that which a boat makes jostling against another at sea, only there was something deeper and more hollow about it. We boys looked at each other, for we knew what was under the church, and that the sound could only come from the Mohune Vault. No one at Moonfleet had ever seen the inside of that vault; but Ratsey was told by his father, who was clerk before him, that it underlay half the chancel, and that there were more than a score of Mohunes lying there. It had not been opened for over forty years, since Gerald Mohune, who burst a blood-vessel drinking at Weymouth races, was buried there; but there was a tale that one Sunday afternoon, many years back, there had come from the vault so horrible and unearthly a cry, that parson and people got up and fled from the church, and would not worship there for weeks afterwards.

— J. Meade Falkner

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Thoughts of a Semi-Self-Quarantiner: But if You Go Carrying Pictures of Chairman Mao

Fenster writes:

Earlier thoughts from semi-self-quarantine: 1, 2, 3, 4.

It is hard for citizens to know what is going on with the virus.  You can argue citizens need not know that much, and mostly need to follow the sound hygiene advice on offer.  Such behaviors have been touted as Everyman’s contribution to flattening the curve, or whatever the broad strategy happens to be.  And there is wisdom to that approach.  Sometimes citizens need to be managed in a crisis, even in what used to pass for a Republic.

But while in quarantine my mind wanders, and whether it benefits the polity or not I cannot help but reflect on the broader issues.  I like to think, even if fancifully, that I may have civic interests, and even obligations, beyond mandating family use of hand sanitizers and not hoarding too much toilet paper. So I offered up four posts, all of which were virtually outdated by the time they came out.

Despite the risk of instant obsolescence I even sent the first two to The Unz Review.   I felt that its idiosyncratic publisher, Ron Unz, might take to material somewhat similar to his own articles:  too long for the format’s conventions, somewhat discursive, unafraid of the autobiographical and structured as a citizen’s exercise–a close reading by an amateur of available material in the hope of presenting useful alternative approaches to important issues.

I got a nice note back from Ron saying he liked the articles but the journal was all set with virus material for the time being.  So I was surprised to see that the posts then appeared as an article–in short order, too, as befitting the subject, but already getting to be out of date.

I then hit “pause” on writing further for a few days to see if I might make any sense out of the fast moving developments.  Here is my update.

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Notes on The Unz Review

Fenster writes:

I recently had several blog posts on the Ch*nese Virus published as an article in The Unz Review.  That raised some eyebrows among my progressive friends, and even some less-progressive ones.  So here is a note explaining my affection for the Review.

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Notes on “Contempt”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


“Contempt” probably doesn’t work. But is it intended to? Director Jean-Luc Godard is rare among filmmakers of the sound era in his ability to treat movies perfunctorily. He’s a doodler, a sketch artist; ideas flit across the screen with a breeziness that can leave you gasping; at times the contents of Godard’s head seem to have been spilled out for our perusal. Which is to say that it’s possible to take “Contempt” in parts, disregarding what doesn’t work for you. Godard’s commentary on the commercial side of movies is shrill and more than a little trite, and the connections drawn to Classical art are half-baked, but the relationship stuff is just about unique in movies, particularly in the way in which it activates the picture’s weirdly disparate elements. Godard’s feeling for Anna Karina (the real subject of the movie), and his disappointment at the limitations of mere feeling, give resonance to the themes of both “The Odyssey” (the subject of the film-within-a-film) and artistic compromise. A sense of longing, of hopeless nostalgia, is inescapable, especially when Georges Delerue’s mournful score swells on the soundtrack. The longing is not for Ithaca and home but for stability and permanence — for art as an end rather than as a fraught and subjective process. The long scene in which Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot argue in their characters’ under-construction flat is the sequel to the similarly long scene in “Breathless.” The earlier scene was a seduction, the latter a death match. Godard stages it in sections, like a play intended to condense into parts the complexity of an entire relationship. You can feel the entropy devouring the union. Though the marriage is highly conceptualized, Godard manages to imbue it with facets of realism, some of which stick in your gut. For example, I can’t think of a movie that better demonstrates the manner in which small husbanding mistakes (in this case, the Piccoli character’s failure to object to his wife being left alone with his boorish producer) can cascade into insurmountable differences.

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Notes on “Ford v Ferrari”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

“Ford v Ferrari” is nearly 200 minutes long, ludicrous for a car-racing flick, and its narrative incorporates a fair amount of padding. The scenes centering on the family of driver Ken Miles are particularly unnecessary. Watching them we can feel director James Mangold straining for a context beyond the dudes-tinkering-with-cars frame of the material. Despite some nice work on the part of Caitriona Balfe, deliciously MILF-y as Miles’ wife, these scenes never don’t feel schematic, and they detract from the real heart of the film, the relationship between the temperamental gearheads played by Christian Bale (Miles) and Matt Damon. Damon, as automotive designer Carroll Shelby, delivers a solid and generous performance worthy of the workmanlike character he’s playing. He knows he’s there to support Bale, and we never catch him trying to steal the limelight. As for Bale, he provides further evidence that he’s one of the most impressive actors in movies. He’s very technical, and something of a showoff, but he’s the rare actor who’s capable of creating depth through technique. Like Lon Chaney, he conjures his characters by screwing himself up — by sidling up to grotesqueness. More often than not, Chaney needed makeup. Bale seems to get there purely through some interior process, and his characters are strengthened — vivified — by the joy he takes in mugging. He’s the opposite of Meryl Streep, whose technique is often an end in itself. Because the movie is about men testing themselves against danger, it’s been compared to the work of Howard Hawks, but to my mind it’s closer in spirit to a heist film or “The Right Stuff”: it’s a brash tinkerer-schemer’s Odyssey, a movie in which we root for the heroes to put one over on the world. It has what few movies today have: a sense of game, of manful dauntlessness and pride in getting your way. These traits come through in spite of Mangold’s instinct to overdraw every detail, an instinct that sometimes makes the movie feel caricatured. (Some would say this is an upshot of Mangold’s devotion to realism, but his movies often strike me as mannered and overly punched up.) This comes through most clearly in the portrayal of the Ford hierarchy, whose constituents are trotted out mechanically whenever the heroes need a foil. Jon Bernthal, who plays Lee Iaccoca, foregrounds the character’s smugness, but he doesn’t seem capable or sensitive enough to give that smugness a facet worth appreciating. Fortunately, he fades as the movie progresses.

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