Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Odds and Ends: Stuff I'm Following

"May you live in interesting times" is a well-known English phrase of undetermined origin. Probably every lifetime is filled with interesting times. At any rate, 2011 is certainly no exception. Here are a few loose ends of things I continue to follow (in no particular order, for the most part)...

Cyber Monday was indicative of the good holiday season for retailers, possibly indicating a stronger US economic recovery even as Europe teeters toward recession. It was not a positive season, however, for the former retail giant Sears, which plans to close over 100 stores next year.

The Chinese, with typical Maoist zeal, see the "excess" of the US to be its inevitable downfall. Whether that is true or not, 2011 was one crazy year economically. Just look at these numbers. As the "lost decades" begin to stack up, ever-growing pressure is placed on the viability of democracy itself. Nevertheless, initial jobless claims are at a 44-month low. That certainly won't hurt Obama's dicey chances for re-election.

The Euro-zone crisis has led to a stronger US dollar which has driven the price of gold down considerably. I am still way ahead with my gold investments overall, but the recent correction has wiped-out a large percentage of my gains since the all-time peak gold price in August. Ouch.

Here are the best space pics of 2011 as chosen by National Geographic.

The music of The Doors is proving to be as relevant as ever. I've been listening to them off and on for the past few weeks.

The whole concept of "Personhood" is part of the zeitgeist. In Mississippi, voters decided not to apply the term to the fetus. In Los Angeles, voters decided to buck last year's ridiculous ruling by the Supreme Court regarding freedom of speech. Perhaps sanity will eventually prevail on this issue.

On a different note regarding the idea of "Personhood", 2011 was the year of protests. From the Arab Spring to the "Occupy" Movement to Moscow to Kazakhstan, the whole world seems pretty pissed off. So much so that Time Magazine's Person of the Year isn't even a person.

I downloaded Flipboard several weeks ago and it has literally changed the way (and the efficiency with which) I scan the internet for news and information. Just a fabulous app.

Ron Paul is threatening to shake up the GOP primary process with a possible win in Iowa. Currently, he is running neck-and-neck with a fading Newt Gingrich and GOP mainstream favorite Mitt Romney. Although charges of racism have recently surfaced against him, these seem to me to be more indicative of his strength as a candidate rather than anything else. The political crap rarely rises to the top unless someone is a true threat. It is absurd to believe Paul, whose campaign spokesman is black, is racist even though he did vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I think Paul's success goes beyond his Libertarian leanings and quite probably exposes the frustration American voters have not just with the President and Congress, but with the political parties themselves. I still think Ron Paul is the most interesting politician in America today and I intend to post more about him in 2012.

Arab observers have been allowed into Syria. Apparently, the shooting of civilians continues despite the presence of outside monitors. Estimates of civilian deaths in that troubled state run as high as 5,000. Reports of massacres have become common. This is an unprecedented expression of fascist brutality with minimal worldwide response so far. A stark contrast to the response by the West to Libya earlier this year.

On a happier note, I am very much looking forward to Christopher Nolan's final Batman film in 2012. Reports so far are that it will be a feast for the eye and the brain. I expect nothing less from Nolan. The six-minute "prologue' to the film is appearing during the previews of the IMAX version (only) of the latest Mission Impossible film. It is slightly tempting to go see that but I doubt I will.

Scientists claim they are close to discovering the so-called "God Particle". I'm not sure what we will do with that knowledge if and when we attain it. Quantum physics and cosmology largely remain a mystery to my feeble brain. The search for the Higgs boson has taken many years and at considerable expense. Maybe we can build a world of peace with it after it is found??? Meanwhile, astronomers are getting better and better at discovering Earth is probably not all that unique in the universe.

A Dutch architecture firm has apologized for designing a portion of a South Korean high-rise development that, to many people including myself, looks a lot like the Twin Towers exploding. An interesting design meant to connect the two buildings. But, what were they thinking?

The Iraq War (a pointless war started, in part, by misleading information regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction) officially came to an end this month. Even as the fragile "shotgun" democracy we leave behind seems to be unraveling. The last of our troops left the country a few days ago.

Somehow, Iran seems to have managed to capture an intact US Drone. As Iran apparently continues to attempt to develop a nuclear weapon, their emerging worldwide influence is a cause for concern in the US. Iran's navy is starting to flex its comparatively trivial muscles in a display of power. The threat here is that Iran might try to close the Strait of Hormuz and disrupt the shipment of oil out of the Persian Gulf. This does not bode well for future peace in the region.

US relations with Pakistan (always an iffy proposition as shown in this excellent article in The Atlantic) have worsened recently due to what was apparently a miscommunication between US forces patrolling the border with Afghanistan resulting in the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers. It is tragic and it makes Pakistan more likely to become the "Cambodia" of the Afghan War. Of course, Pakistan is disputing the findings of a US military investigation into the incident. Events like this are always big news while the constant, daily drip of insurgents from Pakistan back into Afghanistan (with assistance from Pakistani radical groups) goes relatively unreported.

One of baseball's most disgraceful players, Barry Bonds, got off with two-years of probation for obstructing justice. My wish is that he never makes it into the Hall of Fame. Wussy.

Kim Jong Il died. The last Stalinist state on Earth now mourns for the man as if he were a god.

Archaeologists have discovered an 1,100 year-old Mayan site in North Georgia, within two hours drive of my house. Fascinating and indicative of the power and reach of Maya civilization.

My current reading material includes: Patrick Alexander's reader's guide to Proust, Milan Kundera's Immortality (Kundera is my favorite contemporary writer - though he hasn't written any fiction in more than a decade), Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness, and Albert Seaton's classic Russo-German War. Jennifer's parents gave me a wonderful book on the art of Renoir for Christmas which I am enjoying. As usual, my reading habits take me in all sorts of different directions.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Stormy Christmas

The view today of my parent's yard, the rubble of my dad's barn, various sheds and outbuildings, and what's left of my grandparent's house. Taken by me from on top of my parent's house as I assisted in getting some tarps down over their exposed roof.

A little after 5pm yesterday afternoon we were hit by a large red cell in a line of storms moving through the southeast. The wind blew very hard for about 15 minutes and then it was all suddenly over. The wind, the rain, everything. But, during that brief period our power went out. Jennifer and I sat around the house, enjoy some beers and in a fairly relaxed holiday spirit.

The power didn't come back on so after awhile Jennifer decided to call my parents to see if they had power. They live about 5 miles away to the north of our land. All I could hear was my mother screaming into the phone and Jennifer saying "Oh no! Oh my gosh!"

Without knowing anything, I was already scrambling for some proper clothes to go out. "Your mom said all their trees are down and the house has been hit!" I raced out the door. It was already getting dark, near the end of the rainy, cloudy day.

I got my brother on the cell phone. He had already tried to get over to my parents but all the roads from his direction were blocked by downed trees and power lines. I took a back road over the the main road toward their house but the police shut down that road a few minutes before I could get there and would not allow me through. I went through a subdivision, knowing where I was in relation to the house but not knowing the roads exactly. After several dead end cul-de-sacs I managed to find a side road over to where my mom and dad live.

All this time my brother remained on his cell phone with me. He arrived a few minutes before me, as I was still negotiating the subdivision. "This is pretty bad. It's just really bad," he kept saying. When I finally arrived I had to swing over into a neighbor's yard to dodge a fallen tree in the road. It was completely dark when I got there but I could see plain enough that things were chaotic.

My dad was walking around trying to do what little he could. He was wearing a Christmas t-shirt with red and black plaid pajama pants tucked into shin-high waterproof boots. My mom was in the back bedroom of the house. She was fairly hysterical but I sat with her awhile to help calm her down.

Virtually all the trees around the house were down. About 20% of the metal roofing was missing off the house. It was hard to tell with just flashlights. Inside there were towels and pans and buckets everywhere on the living room and dining room floors catching about a dozen places the ceiling was leaking.

Outside, there were trees down on neighbor's houses, cars had been crushed, one house was completely blown away. My parents carport had been lifted briefly by the force of updraft wind, twisting the entire roof about an inch or so, causing some minor buckling. The carport itself was hanging with all but one of its pillars tilted or missing.

But no one was injured.

I walked around the area with my flashlight. Our barn was a pile of rubble. My grandparents house - abandoned for years since their death - had the roof ripped off it. It had been there for about 130 years, a testament to how much time had passed since anything this severe had hit this little spot on the good Earth. All my dad's storage sheds were gone. The small building we always called "the smoke house" was completely missing with hardly a trace but for the gray sodden footprint of where it stood.

This is the toughest time of the event for me personally. The realization and weight of the moment hit me hard. Of course, people die, places change, but the life memories you have from childhood are ever-treasured about the people and places of your youth. We made home-made peach ice cream under that downed tree. We had family gatherings in this now trashed room. I hauled so much hay up into that barn loft. And so on.

The weight of it came crashing on me. The past moves away from you, it becomes an echo to you, but in this case the past had been stomped on and ripped from me forever. The past had not faded, it had been suddenly, mercilessly blown away. Everything changed. My mom was crying over it. My aunt, dad's sister, who had been, like him, born in my grandparent's house, was emotionally heart-broken. I took measure of it all.

Then I was over it. Matters had to be delt with. I sat with my parents until things settled down. The ceiling started to become more stained, the leaks worse, the walls apparently having taken some water damage as well. But, gradually things settled down.

The power was still out. In fact, it was out over the entire eastern half of the county. We didn't get power at my house until today, almost 18 hours later. Anyway, I looked over mom and dad's house as best I could. Inside and outside. There was no damage on the west side where all the bedrooms and bathrooms are. The seeping water was isolated to the east side, the living room mostly. The kitchen was fine.

I couldn't do anything more so I left and got back over there early this morning. Before the circus started. The mass assault of contractors and restoration specialists. The news media in trucks and flying in helicopters. My mom and dad made both the Atlanta and Chattanooga TV news.

Meanwhile, my brother, his father-in-law, myself and a handyman that Jennifer and I rely on for odd jobs around our house got some tarps and nailed things down securely over my parent's roof. We got a jack and shored up the sagging carport, putting the pillars back where they were originally. They brought dehumidifiers and massive fans into my mom and dad's house. All the Christmas presents had to be removed, some of them soaked. We will not be having Christmas in this house this year.

My brother's Sunday School class brought a huge tray of Chick-fil-A with all the fixings. Which was a wonderful gesture. We spent part of the afternoon sawing tree limbs and helping dad get over into his pasture to check on his small herd of cattle. They were all fine but the fence is destroyed in dozens of places over the 120-acre pasture. That is an issue yet to be resolved; along with all the damage to his sheds and barn. None of his tractors or mowers or his four-wheeler were damaged. As Jennifer put it: "Everything on wheels made it fine."

The coming weeks will be tough for my parents. Their house might be structurally unsound to the point that they will need a completely new roof. At a minimum all the carpet and ceiling will have to be replaced in their living-dining area. That is the stuff that is fixable. They are retired and really have nothing better to do. My brother and I are here to help.

Tragedy breeds closeness. Human behavior in the face of natural disaster might be the best case for human goodness. It just seems to come from everywhere, a ground-swell of compassion and cooperation and concern that we just don't seem to get in the political or economic arenas of life.

At any rate, it is an exhausting and humbling experience. Especially, at this time of year. But, we will get through it. And we will learn to let go of everything that has been blown away. We will haul it off and burn or bury its remnants. And something new and promising and deserving of our most ardent hope and appreciation (like the acts in childhood that slowly became memories in adulthood) will grow in its place.

This old ash tree made a direct hit on my dad's primary shed. Splat! Other tree and fence damage is visible. My family owns the view and there are dozens of trees down across fences and everywhere else. It will be a long clean-up.

A news helicopter broadcast this shot of a home about 1/3 of a mile from my parent's house. Obviously, it was completely destroyed and blown far off its concrete pad. Three people were in the house at the time. But, they managed to get into the bathroom and survived.

Another news helicopter shot, this one of my grandparents house. It has stood here since the 1880s. Plans are to bulldoze everything now.

A local, reliable handyman, myself, and my brother get ready to start putting down tarps. At the moment we are trying to figure out what is best to do about a two-foot hole in the roof and all that wet insulation that is underneath weighing down on the living room ceiling. Some experts will have to handle that. Fortunately, we know a good one.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

From Clovis to Tebow

Recently, a high school football coach from my area won a state championship game. The first words out of his mouth after he won the game were: “I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Without Him we would not have won today.” Seems his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (LSJC) didn’t care much for the efforts and aspirations of the losing team.

A few days ago, there was a very lengthy article in the Wall Street Journal on the Tim Tebow phenomenon entitled “God’s Quarterback”. It was an in-depth analysis not just of the ever-lucky, talented Tebow but of the entire scope of Christianity versus Secularism in sports, as well as the history of religious motivation in sporting activities. For the record, it makes clear that even though Tebow publicly offers prayer to LSJC on the sidelines, God’s quarterback admits God doesn’t play favorites in football games.

Apparently, what motivates Tebow to pray like that is not to seek cosmic favoritism but, rather, to grant him as an individual the ability and focus necessary for peak performance. Even though I do not believe in the LSJC and I think that high school coach is full of shit, I respect the rights of these individuals (and any person of religious faith, for that matter) to express their faith as they see fit, publicly or otherwise. Just don't try to drag the world along behind you.

It has always been a part of our humanity to seek more control in the haphazard nature of existence or to “please the gods” for various reasons. Grant us a good harvest. Heal the sick. Forgive us for our disfavor so clearly demonstrated by recent calamities of storms and floods or whatever. Most of us are no different today than we were many millennia ago, perhaps in the Neolithic period, when apparently religious practices grew beyond mere green shoots. Religion is a biological part of our humanity and a mainstay of cultural cohesion, which – of course – is why religious people have such a problem with all the implications of secularism. Secularism often seems to threaten the fundamental paradigm of biology and culture.

At any rate, reading about Tim Tebow and considering what a prominent role Christianity plays in sports today got me to thinking about ways this has manifested itself throughout history. Perhaps the best examples of this sort of thing are the conversions of Constantine the Great and Clovis I in connection with great battles, the metaphorical equivalent to today’s combat on the gridiron.

Constantine converted to Christianity after his victory in the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. Clovis did the same at the beseeching of his wife, Clotilde, following his victory in the Battle of Tolbiac somewhere between 496 and 506. Without these conversions as a result of victory of the battlefield (as opposed to deep spiritual conviction) Christianity as we know it would have been completely different.

This is especially true of Clovis I. At the time of his great victory, he favored the form of Christianity, widely adhered to throughout Europe at the time, known as Arianism. Arian Christianity denied the holy trinity and was fundamentally at odds with Catholicism. What attracted Clovis toward conversion was not the love of LSJC but the power of the Old Testament God of Wrath. Victory proved the power of God and Clovis definitely wanted to align himself with the force that would expand his empire. Ditto Constantine. Ditto a slew of commanders and leaders before and since.

The Wrath of God, not the love of LSJC, made modern Christianity possible. Even today, it is the power and fear of the God of Wrath more than the Love of LSJC that motivates simpleton Judeo-Christian believers. For the wrath-led it is "Mercy" more than "Love" that is the divine manifestation of LSJC. Believers motivated by more modern and contemporary influences transcend these traditions by stressing love over power, perhaps a reflection of the Age of Enlightenment within postmodern culture.

The burden of the Judeo-Christian heritage is that god reveals himself in history. From the perspective of Christianity, that means how history plays out in terms of empires and wealth and progress is all a manifestation of god on earth. If things are going well for a particular culture or society then it is a reward from either God the Father and/or LSJC. If things don’t go so well then it is a sign of punishment or disfavor on society. This sort of thinking is prevalent in the news. Everything from the events of September 11, 2001 to the AIDS virus is interpreted as almighty judgment.

Not all Christians believe this way, of course. It is, as I said, a fundamental discourse between believers stemming from the burden of god’s revelation through history and whether that entails mostly wrath or mostly love.

To come full circle, this same thinking is at work today with Tim Tebow and that high school coach that won the state championship. LSJC is a force in the world and, therefore, a force in football games and such. A force in individual performance in sports, business, relationships, etc.

While I respect the rights of these individuals to express their beliefs (I do not oppose public prayer even in schools for that matter, it bothers me not), I nevertheless submit that the “truth” of all this does not lie in any specific belief but, rather, in the interplay of belief systems. Human Being is a dynamic, quite chaotic, thing really. Like the cosmos as a whole. There is projected order within a vast spectrum of scattered random events.

One of the very few basic tenets I personally hold to be true is that human truth is a competition of metaphysical value judgments. What that means is that the manifested contentiousness between Christianity (religion) vs. Secularism (humanism) on the football field is the truth. So, I guess I believe the truth is revealed in history as well, just not the way in which the Reverends Robertson and Falwell intend.

The dynamic nature of humanity is such that it is unhealthy for any one belief system to dictate the behavior and expression of humanity. To me, looking at the world multiple ways is at its core a good thing and is a natural (even logical) extension of our genetic diversity. There is a high survival value embedded in our differences in everything from disease to politics. It is also natural that each of us holds that our perspective is more exacting and clearer than opposing or diverse perspectives. Thus, each truth claim on this good Earth is part of a meta-competitive nature of truth claims.

Whether it be Tebow the First or Clovis the First, the use of LSJC as a motivator for strength or as a revelation of power is part of who we are as a whole. For my part, let Tebow pray all he wants. My guess is, in the long run, it will be more about the nature of professional football than the nature of god that will show us how great or mediocre he really is. And then we can debate over whether LSJC had anything to do with it at all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kubrick's Barry Lyndon

A delicious, slightly erotic moment whilst gambling with cards in one of the now-famous candlelight scenes from this Kubrick masterpiece. Watching these scenes seems particularly appropriate for this holiday time of year. Click for larger images. These screenshots are not, of course, of Blu-ray quality and don't do justice to the actual experience of viewing the film.

Stanley Kubrick is my favorite all-time director, as I have mentioned before. Though he only made a dozen commercial films, many of these are cinematic masterpieces. It is true that his films are more rationally constructed than emotional. But, the overall effect he achieves with each success is fundamentally emotional for me. I have no idea why this is so.

After his string of critically acclaimed, controversial, and (to varying degrees) commercially profitable films, Paths to Glory (1957), Spartacus (1960), Lolita (1962), Dr. Stangelove (1964), 2001 (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971), Kubrick had by 1972 established himself as a unique and powerful independent director. But, the film he had always wanted to make,
a film about Napoleon Bonaparte, remained unrealized for various reasons (mostly financial). Kubrick eventually collected a library of some 1500 books on Napoleon and the Napoleonic Period. He wanted authenticity in his drama.

Instead, Kubrick’s next effort resulted in the most beautiful movie ever shot on film. More exquisite than even a visual feast like Avatar, the entire experience of Barry Lyndon (1975) is one of almost gorgeous rapture. The story is thoroughly slow and (almost) devoid of action; the unconventional winding rise and fall of a common man up to aristocracy only to lose everything including his left leg. A few skirmish battles, a fist-fight, a whipping, three duels, some sharp fencing, there are some tense scenes but the pacing is extended between them by an authentic slowness that represents the sense of Time of the society depicted. Barry is lucky and also very good at fist-fighting and fencing, which help him along before his fall.

For all his faults, Barry was a superb swordsman.
Barry's troubles really started when he began to deal harshly with his step-son, who jealously hated him from the beginning.

This shot is composed in the style of classic rococo painters like Jean-Antoine Watteau.
Ever since I shifted my new DVD purchases to mostly new Blu-ray purchases and enjoyed watching films in outstanding high-definition, I have wanted to
watch Barry Lyndon in high-def. But, for years it was not available in that format. Finally, this past summer, a Blu-ray rendering of the film was made available – exclusively by as it turned out.
I purchased the Blu-ray a few weeks back and have not been disappointed; though with Barry Lyndon you have to remember that Kubrick intentionally shot almost the entire film in soft focus, with natural light and candlelight, like a painting. For that reason, even in high-def many scenes in the film are not as sharp as a typical Blu-ray. Nevertheless,
the differences between the DVD and the Blu-ray are obvious. The film is much more vivid and, therefore, ever more breathtaking in many of its cinematic moments.

Kubrick moved from New York to England in 1972 with the idea that he was going to make his Napoleon film. But, for various reasons I won’t go in to here, he instead rechanneled all his research and acquired knowledge into making Barry Lyndon, which is based on a novel written in 1843 by
William Makepeace Thackeray taking place roughly 50 years before Napoleon’s time. Kubrick would live in England the rest of his life.

Kubrick had attained a level in his career where he could make a film on almost any subject and receive some guaranteed distribution by a major movie company. There were hundreds of thousands of movie-goers world-wide that would automatically see any film he made. With Barry Lyndon he maintained so much secrecy about the film’s subject matter that he got Warner Brothers to back the film with only the knowledge that it would star
Ryan O’Neal and Marisa Berenson, where it would be shot, and dates on which shooting would occur. The story and nature of the film was undisclosed. The secrecy was soon spoiled by Variety Magazine just before filming began in January 1974. Kubrick’s agreement with Warner Brothers entitled him to 40% of the profits of the film.
Ryan O'Neal as Redmond Barry, later Barry Lyndon.

Marisa Berenson as Lady Honoria Lyndon.
By then Kubrick had resolved many problems with doing his authentic period piece. Not the smallest of them was how to use completely natural lighting throughout the film, especially nighttime candlelit scenes. For those wonderful, now somewhat iconic, parlor scenes Kubrick used special lenses recently developed by the Zeiss Company for NASA’s Apollo Program.
Authentic costumes and interiors play a major role in the effect of the film.
But, working in complete candlelight also created the problem of being unable to see what the director was shooting through the eyepiece of the camera. So, Kubrick retrofitted the viewfinder to an older Technicolor technology that allowed him to see faces and expressions of detail in low light. This was pushing the limits of cinematography at the time.

The results are stunning. “Kubrick remained adamant about shooting on location and became more and more obsessed with the concept of acquiring what he called the patina of the period interiors. The candlelight would create a purity of image, combined with actual period architecture and texture. The eighteenth century could be rendered in a painterly documentary reality.” (
LoBrutto, page 380)
Much of the film has a soft glow to it. Often exquisite.
At just over 3 hours, the film’s notoriously slow pacing is the chief complaint of most who can’t endure it. But, this pacing has fundamental purpose and it affects the viewer who accepts the film for what it is. “Barry Lyndon doesn’t breathe history – for history is something in airtight cabinets and varnished paintings. Rather, it exhales historical life. We are encouraged to ‘look around,’ take our time, find felicity in a draped curtain or awe an army’s battle formation. The camera continuously strikes up an observer’s attitude; takes are long, allowing the manners of the period to describe a way of life, not just make a plot point.” (
Ruchti, etc., page 246)
A British regiment (actually Irish) parades before a local gathering. Kubrick set it all against a giant breast complete with nipple.
The regiment later makes a very bloody charge in a realistic skirmish scene from the Seven Years' War.
It was in this film that Kubrick first pushed the number of takes in a given shot to the extreme. 20 to 50 retakes of every shot was not uncommon. Kubrick experimented more fully with the effects of prolonged repeated takes on a scene. How actors would subtly vary their performances out of sheer boredom or frustration. He would let the camera run and run in what amounted to filmed rehearsals of scenes just to capture something small but spontaneous to include in the final version of the film.

While the scenes in Barry Lyndon were rehearsed to death, Kubrick nevertheless allowed his actors a great deal of latitude in developing their own interpretations of their characters. Rather than dictate everything, he consistently guided in small details. “Now, let’s try it this way” or “more of this and less of that” were frequent reasons for further shooting but the first takes were given by each actor mostly working on a self-interpration. Constant tweaks with specific direction based upon rather self-searched acting was his modus operandi with the intent of capturing not acting but behavior.

Kubrick succeeds at every artistic level. Musically rich, as with all Kubrick works where he enjoyed complete control, Barry Lyndon is rewarding. Kubrick’s musical choices for his films are dazzling in almost every case. Kubrick’s ear was every bit as brilliant as his eye and mind. “The extraordinary sequence when Barry duels Lord Bullingdon was just one line in Kubrick’s screenplay reading, “Barry duels with Lord Bullingdon.” The sequence took forty-two working days to edit. Kubrick had listened to every available recording of seventh- and eighteenth-century music, acquiring thousands of records to find
Handel’s sarabande used to score the scene.” (LeBrutto, page 405)
The final duel in between Barry and his step-son. Barry is shot in the leg.
The iconic opening shot. The duel where Barry's father is killed.
Barry duels a British officer. He wins the slow, tense encounter.

Unfortunately for Stanley this film would not be very profitable. It made money throughout Europe, in France particularly. But, it was blandly received in the US. By Hollywood accounting standards, it never turned a profit domestically. Kubrick made very little money on the film. This lack of financial success was a highly motivating factor for him to make his next film more lucrative for his personal finances. He made a horror film based on a pop genre writer’s best-seller novel starring the best actor of that time,
Jack Nicholson. The Shining would be his highest domestic grossing film and a great money-maker worldwide.

Watching Barry Lyndon is a wonderful experience even if on DVD. But, I am very pleased with my Blu-ray upgrade of this film’s unique and supreme visual experience. Barry Lyndon is the ultimate period film. Nothing like it surpasses it. You can get a small sampling of what the film is like by watching
this youtube tribute here.

These screenshots attempt to convey Kubrick's knack for achieving scenes of painting-like quality. Click to enlarge. Though they are only web pics they are glimpses of the visual experience of the film.

No studio lighting was used throughout the film. It is all natural - or candlelight. Simply gorgeous.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Not for Sale: 20 years, One Owner

My 1991 Subaru Loyale. This was the first new car I ever purchased. It has an old-fashioned family stationwagon design.

I bought my Subaru Loyale in 1991. That makes it an antique this year. I have a little over 177,000 miles on that car. Not that many miles really for a car I’ve owned for 20 years.

It was originally Jennifer’s primary car in the early 90’s until we bought the Lumina we still own in 1995. Then it became a hand-me-down / camping vacation mobile. The Subaru has been an outstanding car. It still gets 33 MPH on the highway and about 29 around town. I usually can drive around for two weeks on one tank of gas. It handles great and has a very smooth ride. It rattles a lot and is a noisy car but, hey, it’s an antique.

My Subaru leaks a little oil and has a small brake fluid leak no one can seem to locate. I add about a half quart of oil to it every two months and some small amount of brake fluid in that time as well. The radio hasn’t worked in it for years. I drive silent wherever I go in it. If alone, I often sing to myself while driving. It is enjoyable. There is a small pop crack where the windshield (my second windshield, the first replaced about ten years back because of a perpetually running crack on it right through the center of the driver's vision) hit some flying gravel about a year or so ago, but it seems stable and is the size of a quarter.

The passenger front headlight is tilted slightly away from the center of the Subaru. In recent years it has been backed in to three times in the exact same spot. The first time I repaired everything. The next two times I left it. Notice the slightly bent front tag of the flag honoring the Cherokee Braves regiment.

Several scrapes and scratches ornament the vehicle. A couple of dents from some near-misses, a slightly bummed out passenger-side front bumper from being hit three times through the years by various vehicles backing into exactly the same spot. Last summer I made my biggest mistake in it by backing in a thick fog into a large SUV, putting a heavy dent near the middle of my hatch. Now, the Loyale’s hatch can’t open and close, though the rear lights and even the rear window wiper still works perfectly.

One of the lowest moments in my driving career was backing into a SUV and putting this dent in the hatch. So what if it no longer opens! I rarely used the trunk anyway. For awhile I thought about buying a used hatch and having it put on but...nah.

Needless to say, I have a lot of personal history with this car. It took Clint, Mark, Jennifer and I on a backpacking trip down to Cumberland Island with all our stuff one year. It has made several trips to Cumberland and to Florida beaches. It took Jennifer and me to the Atlanta airport when we flew to Cancun in 1993. I went to a ton of Braves games in this car.

This was the car in which I drove Jennifer to the hospital when she was having birthing contractions. She was threatening at one point to push and I coached, “No no no! We’re not going to push we’re going to breath!" And we both breathed deeply and rapidly together, me in the front driving on the interstate at over 80 miles per hour, she laid out across the back seat in labor, drifting between pain and ecstasy. My daughter was born 45 minutes after we got to the hospital. An exciting evening.

The Subaru took us to Swain Cabin to meet up with the ‘Dillios the first few times we went there. On roads clearly marked as “not suitable for passenger vehicles.” Of course, it is a perfect vehicle for driving around in the snow and sleet we get on occasion here. Particularly now, since the car itself is not really worth much in terms of resale or trade-in value. If it skids off the road or is hit by someone else driving in rough winter conditions I will probably just junk it. Though it no longer serves as a “family vehicle” for any kind of trips or fun, it has been my primary mode of transportation for the last 15 years. I put about 25 miles a workday on it plus a bit more on the occasional foray when I drive it 20-30 miles to a nearby large town.

Many of my extended family members and most of the people I work with snicker at the Subaru. While they respect its longevity, they think it is silly for me to drive such an old, leaking, rattling car with the painted surfaces starting to oxidize. But, I like the weathered look and the “character traits” of my car.

The oxidized look gives the vehicle a healthy, hippie feel don't you think?

They are also trapped in the American cultural mind-set that old cars are for hobbies and poor people. They consider it odd that we don’t trade our cars in for new ones. But, I am a “free spirit” in the Nietzschean sense about cars. I am not chained to the consumer prejudices that drive most people about cars. I like to buy something new, keep it maintained, and drive it forever. It is pretty much proven that this is the far more practical and inexpensive way to own passenger vehicles. Buying and trading in every few years might create a jolt of excitement and (in my view) twisted entertainment for the consumer but it is a waste of money.

Of course he never wrote about the automobile, but Thoreau cautioned against “a life of quiet desperation” fueled by human beings becoming enslaved to the things they own. “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” He advocated living more simply, proclaiming the value to keeping things, of wearing – for example – old clothes. “Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however, ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping wine in old bottles.” (all quotes from Walden, the first chapter “Economy”)

So, here’s my Subaru 20 years later still chugging along. Though I have all the belts and hoses replaced periodically and I have been proactive in its maintenance with things like changing the water pump before the old one gave me any trouble, I do not plan to have it repainted or even have the dent in the hatch fixed. Except for the radio and such, everything works. All that is essential to get me to and from work is operating fine. I am the same person when I arrive somewhere in it as I was before I got there. The car doesn’t make the man, nor does it even entertain me.

Of course, I know how counter cultural all this is. Antique cars evoke a different state of mind than what I am expressing here. They are for fixing up and polishing and showing off. That is the implied nuance of being “antique.” But, strictly speaking, “antique” is a state-of-mind and, being a (mostly) free spirit, my state of mind is my own. Let the world snicker at my antique car. It is more than paid for, costs almost nothing in taxes and insurance, I keep it cleaned and vacuumed on the inside.

True, it requires some degree of major maintenance every 4-5 years but this still works out to be far less than making regular car payments or – even worse (a sin in my book) – going the lease rout where money is traded for nothing because you end up never owning anything. That is the essence of Thoreau’s plea for freedom from enslavement and of Nietzsche’s desire to transcend cultural norms to be your own person. Not part of the TV-driven herd lusting for ever larger vehicles that talk to you and have hemi’s and parallel park all by themselves. That is all kinda cool. But, so is not owing anything on it.

I do need a new set of tires though.

Just to be clear, however, I want to stress that I am not completely immune to the whole automobile in American culture thing. My wife has a 2008 Cadillac SRX and my daughter drives a 2008 Honda Accord. Both are pretty cool vehicles. And I plan to buy a new car sometime in the near future when local dealerships get a little more desperate for consumers. Right now sales have picked up. Not as much reason to give me a real deal on price. But, I still won’t sell either my Subaru or our Lumina. Everything works and they are cheap to own. Besides, when you have to have a car in the shop it is nice having a backup.

I guess it is safe to say I am pleased with my purchase.