January 20, 2005

Notre Musique – A Movie Review

An Amorphous Challenge To Artistic Quality
By Fred H. Arm
At first, I did not want to review this movie. After 79 minutes of patiently viewing this pure unintelligible and dark celluloid cinema terriblé, I thought it my duty to comment on this thing. For over fifty years the French filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, normally made a fairly decent movie, albeit somewhat to the south of mainstream. He has acquired an immense following, mostly consisting of an audience seeking an alternative to the crisp, formulaic style of his Hollywood brethren.

I am sure Godard had a theme in mind when he conceived this pseudo-philosophical aberration; however, his cinematic bumbling left me cold and agitated. It was bad enough that the setting was shot in decrepit buildings and in an abandoned library in war-torn Sarajevo; but the sub-titles were often omitted, the somber black and white shots added to the depressive mood of the film, and it lacked any kind of cohesive story or orderly flow. It seemed more like a by-product of a C- film student who could not quite grasp the elementary concepts of filmmaking.

The film spends a great deal of time showing grainy and Photo-shop filtered clips of the ravages of war and terror, illustrative of the Hell portion of his exposition of this so-called trilogy- Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. The Hell portion is quite vividly and tenaciously screened. Much more horror than would be reasonably necessary.

The Purgatory is nothing more than a series of unrelated and depressing scenes with much of the dialogue given in other languages without the benefit of sub-titles in settings that seem to darken rather than enlighten the tale. Occasionally, we are presented with the appearances of American Indians that present another incongruent obscurity that only distracts from this already dysfunctional parable. The Heaven portion is literally a walk in the park where supposedly all is good; however, the black and white of the film drag this supposedly inspiring element down with its dreary presentation.

The sub-titles ramble on with what would appear to be Godard’s own philosophical poetry that if presented by themselves would be quite profound and inspiring. However, it is obvious that when one mixes the finest of gourmet meat into a cheap hot dog, much of the filet’s unique flavor is eclipsed by the ordinariness and consistency of the dog. The film is so badly crafted that the message is drowning in mindless dribble.

Of course, the many Godard fans who are drawn to this film will no doubt expound on how wonderful it is, what a great message it sends, and how they were uplifted by the experience. I am sorry, but I just cannot go there. “Different strokes for different folks” makes this a film that I cannot in good conscience recommend to anyone. If you want to see a film that seems to be shot with a hand-held 8 millimeter camera, that is patched together here and there with Scotch tape, and that omits much of the dialogue translations, this movie is for you.

Posted by fredarm at 11:52 AM

January 15, 2005

An Open Letter from Sam Hamill

New Years Day, 2005

Dear Friends:

The war drags on. Fallujah has been destroyed in order to save it, shades of Vietnam. A man who presented the argument in favor of ignoring the Geneva accords, a man who would authorize torture, is now our Attorney General. More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, many times more wounded, homeless… And American soldiers who have served their tours of duty are being post facto drafted to remain in combat.

We can look forward to Bush’s new secretary of state continuing to… who knows what? And there will be supreme and other high court appointments, and of course a Patriot Act II, with attendant incursions into our constitutional rights. Tax cuts for the rich? Permanent. The environment?
The worst policies in our history. What a ghastly litany.

Four more years, indeed.

A number of organizations are encouraging January 20 demonstrations and teach-ins and contra-Bush celebrations around the world. I hope you will all join me in joining them.

Check out and please post any events scheduled for that day. The more we can reach out and work with other organizations, the broader the audience for poetry and the broader our message of peace.

We’d like to post a list of host organizations working in cooperation with Poets Against the War to make that day memorable.

As of January 1st, I am leaving Copper Canyon Press. Over the coming
months, I will devote a lot more time to working with PAW board members to build a sound infrastructure and strengthen our organization.

Like kindred organizations in countries around the world, we have reminded millions of people of the noble traditions of poetry, of its role in every culture. I have seen time and again tears of gratitude in the eyes of the Italians, French, Lithuanians, etc, and have received innumerable messages of hope, support and kinship from all over the world. These people are grateful to be reminded that (at least) half of the U.S. objects to the direction this country’s taken, and that we are eager to listen to and work cooperatively with them so that all of our voices (and various positions) may be heard while we stand together.

In the ecology of the soul, thrift is ruinous. We look forward to a
productive new year filled with mindful actions, generosity of spirit, heartfelt compassion, and of course a lot of good poetry.

This winter solstice I will close with a handful of poems by Soufie, who is 12 years old and lives in Tehran and likes haiku and wants to learn Japanese and live in Japan. The translations are by the Iranian editor Ali Samavati (with a little help from me).


Sam Hamill

Soufie’s poems (no titles):

How poor are the children!
All the time,
they have to learn
they have to be careful not to be blamed
and they have to fear God’s punishment
Even on Fridays when nobody works
children have to work
they have so much to do
that they don’t realize
when they are dreaming
or when they are awake

Lucky are the trees
who have nothing to do
but to turn yellow and green

At night, they are not afraid of the dark
They don’t die like grandfathers
and they have many good friends
like the wind, rain and sunshine

And a friend like the dew
who always puts its head
on the shoulder of their leaves.

Sometimes I get a chocolate
and sometimes I get a beating
and I never know
when I’m asleep or awake

But now I’m very depressed
And I wish I were like angels
or I didn’t exist at all
then I wouldn’t always need to say "Hello."
I wish we would never lose each other
but could be lost in one another.
In children’s eyes
a park is nothing but a green lawn.

In old men’s eyes
a park is nothing but a few yellow benches.

Children should run in the parks
so the trees would not see the canes
and leaves
would not fall from their eyes.

God, with all his light,
walks in the darkness!

On the trail of his shoes,
trees grow.

And on the trail of his thoughts,
autumn appears.
On the streets
You see eyes with clouds inside
of wrinkled faces

And the faces of the mournful
are full of heavenly tears.

And those black, heartless clothes
that have nothing to do with poems.

Publish your poem against the war. Since August 1st, over a thousand new antiwar poems have been added to the Poets Against the War web site. Go to http://poetsagainstthewar.org/submitpoem.asp.


To change the email address we use to send you news or announcements
about PAW, or to give us any additional info, please go to http://poetsagainstthewar.org/authoredit.asp.

Posted by fredarm at 03:27 PM

January 13, 2005

The Merchant of Venice – A Movie Review

Pacino Gives The Bard A Tantalizing New Flavor
By Fred H. Arm
Set in the lavish era of 16th century Venice, Shakespeare’s most powerful play comes to bare in Michael Radford’s THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, which traces the interlocking lives of a captivating assortment of classic Shakespearean characters. Bassanio (Joseph Finnes) is the typical Elizabethan lover and aristocrat – young, impulsive, and romantic –whose lavish lifestyle has left him deep in debt and desperately in love with the fair Portia (Lynn Collins) of Belmont. Yet to win her hand, he must prove his mettle by not only raising money he does not have, but he must also correctly solve the riddle of matrimony bequeathed by Portia’s late father.

Desperate to win Portia as his bride, Bassanio employs the support of his closest friend Antonio (Jeremy Irons), a supposedly successful merchant also residing in Venice. However, with no word from his trading fleet, Antonio is a trifle short of resources and must use his credit to apply for a loan. Alas, this loan comes in the shape of Shylock (Al Pacino), a Jewish loan shark who, like the rest of his people, is compelled to live in a “ghetto” and has access to the city only during the daylight hours. Yet, all is not as it appears between Antonio and Shylock. Antonio has publicly insulted and denounced Shylock along with other Jews for their practice of usury (loaning money at exorbitant rates of interest). The desperate circumstances, along with the persecution of Jews at the time, have made the spiteful Shylock seize upon the opportunity to have Antonio in his debt.

The wily Shylock decides to offer his loan without interest; however, he demands a pound of actual flesh from Antonio if his loan is not repaid precisely on time. Confident that Bassanio will return his good fortune three times over, Antonio agrees to the bizarre terms.

As Bassanio travels to Belmont with Gratiano (Kris Marshall), to woo his beloved, other events unfold threatening to ruin his quest before it is fulfilled. Portia, in the company of her lady-in-waiting Nerissa (Heather Goldenhersh), has already been welcoming potential suitors, who at any moment might solve the mystery of her father’s legacy which decrees that she must marry the man who correctly chooses one of three special jewelry boxes.

Unexpectedly, Antonio’s several trade ships have been sunk and thus fail to produce any profit for him. And at about the same time, Shylock’s daughter Jessica (Zuleikha Robinson) impulsively elopes with Bassanio’s friend Lorenzo (Charlie Cox). In the process, she escapes with a fair amount of her father’s personal wealth. Shylock is devastated to the core, which causes him to obsess all his energy towards the repayment of the Antonio’s debt, seemingly desirous of exacting the ultimate retribution for a lifetime of discrimination by Antonio and people like him.

Upon hearing of his friend Antonio’s tragic set of circumstances, Bassanio leaves Belmont and rushes home to find a solution to Antonio’s predicament. However, before Bassanio can arrive home, the loan is declared in default by Shylock and the distraught and semi-deranged Shylock forcefully demands his pound of flesh from Antonio in order to fully satisfy his revenge.

The Duke (Anton Rodgers), the reigning power in the city, has called a legal expert to the court to proceed over these extraordinary hearings to ascertain whether Antonio is truly in default on his loan. Is the payment that Shylock is asking for justified? Can Bassanio return in time to save Antonio? In true Shakespearean fashion, all is not as it seems in a story wrought with morality, revenge, redemption, and love.

Al Pacino gives a magnificent performance, perhaps one of the finest of his long career. Everyone will be riveted during the court scene finale in front of the Duke. It has all the drama of the O.J trial, however, with much more flair, drama, tension, and outrage. Shakespeare is a genius in weaving deceptive and dramatic plots with hints of comedic relief and convoluted plots. We are at once outraged by the despicable treatment of Jews like Shylock and then repulsed by Shylock’s unmerciful demands for “a pound of actual flesh”.
Like most of Shakespeare’s plays, a great deal of the material is sadly diminished by the archaic way of expressions that leave much of the story to confusion and ambiguity. This film manages to bring more of the pretty boy look to Bassanio and his entourage, thus producing more of a Hollywood flow than traditional live plays. The director has timed the sequences quite expertly allowing the stream of drama to flow quite briskly and naturally without the usual tedium of Shakespeare’s dramas. To see Al Pacino’s masterful acting is by itself worth the price of admission.

Opens in the Bay Area June 14, 2005

Posted by fredarm at 06:58 PM

January 02, 2005

Off With The Old On With The New

A Happy New Year To One And All
By Fred H. Arm
And now it’s 2005! My how the year just flew by. For many of us, 2005 was not quite such a good year. The world registered its shock when the earthquakes and Tsunamis reaped death and destruction in Southern Asia. We were stuck once more with four more years of Bush as the exalted leader of the so-called free world. The bloody and foolish war in Iraq became even bloodier. We lost one fascist Attorney General only to be replaced by one a little farther to the right than Attila the Hun.

Our coasts have been lashed by multi-billion dollar hurricanes. Millions of jobs have been sent overseas. America’s deficit is the highest it has ever been. Gay marriage and abortion rights have suffered major setbacks, perhaps not to recover during this administration. We have the highest per capita homicide rate in the world. We also have the dubious distinction of having the highest per capita rate of citizens serving time in prisons. I would suppose it couldn’t get much worse, yet one never knows does one?

Perhaps there is something to be learned from all this. Unfortunately, those in power seem to like the direction we are heading. The rest of the Planet has lost a tremendous amount of respect for Americans these last couple of years. The animosity towards Americans is quite palpable to anyone traveling abroad nowadays. We used to set an example for the rest of the world. Now it seems to be Europe that is most respected.

The European Union (EU) is having a renaissance that will most likely surpass the United States as greatest country on Earth. They have abolished the death penalty in all their nation-states; yet have a far lower homicide rate. They have fewer people in prisons. They are not as obsessed with religion as Americans. Their Constitution will be totally secular, whereas our Constitution is replete with references to God. They seem to have a more solid economy as the recent rise in the Euro against the dollar have illustrated. They haven’t sent their jobs overseas. On the contrary, they have generated many new industries with the labor forces in their own countries.

So what if 2004 has not been so great. Is it too late for a turnaround? We seem to have recovered from similar crises in years past. Can we do it again? On the other hand, it’s a completely different ball game today. No longer are we the only big kids on the block. Europe, China, Southeast Asia, and India are formidable economic engines that no longer need to solely rely on the United States for technological, economical, and military support. This could very well be the end of the American hegemony. In the past, most other nations who more or less led the world seemed to have a life of about two hundred years. Those 200 years are now over.

Perhaps it will be a good thing for all of us. Being the world leader for so long has created a despicable arrogance among us. Perhaps with a more level playing field we may stop being the world bullies we have since become. Perchance we will have more respect for the environment, the civil rights of all peoples, and leave room in our hearts for the poor, the sick, and the not so fortunate. The rich may have to share some of their bounty and we may not wallow so much in the materialistic or other selfishness. In fact, it could be a darn sight better for the whole world. It is possible, maybe probable. Why not go with the flow.

Posted by fredarm at 10:18 PM

A Very Long Engagement – A Movie Review

A Long Movie, But Worth Every Minute
By Fred H. Arm
Both the director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the star, Audrey Tautou of the hit French film, “Amélie” are back again in a totally different type of love story in “A Very Long Engagement”. If you remember and loved “Amélie”, you will also recognize some of the other actors from that picture.

As the wretchedness of World War I draws to a close, our heroine’s heroic struggle is about to commence. Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) has received word that her fiancé Manech is one of five wounded soldiers who has been court-martialed and ordered to be put to death. Unwilling to accept that her beloved Manech has been lost forever, Mathilde embarks on an extraordinary search to discover the ultimate fate of her lover. At every juncture, she receives a different heartbreaking account on how Manech has spent his last days. Still she pushes on with a determined hope to find him or at least uncover word of him.
With steadfast faith, strengthened by hope and a stubbornly cheerful disposition, Mathilde follows the results of her investigation to its surprising conclusion, all the while convincing those who might help her and ignoring those who will not. As she delves deeper and deeper towards the truth of the fate of the five condemned men and their brutal punishment, she is drawn down into the vortex of the horrors of war and the indelible mark it leaves on the lives it has affected. Just when it seems that all hope is lost, another clue or lead presents itself and a hopeful Mathilde is off on a tangent of her mission once more.

Although two and one half hours long, this film seems to fly by, assisted by the clever techniques of the director Jeunet. As he did so brilliantly in “Amélie”, his mini-flashbacks uniquely explain the details of each segment of Mathilde’s quest for Manech as the story unfolds. He was able to capture the precise mood and realism of the despondent troops lying exhausted in the trenches at the front lines. One can almost taste the foul, musty air of the waterlogged bunkers and trenches. His distinctive technique of occasional comic relief never seems to be forced or out of character for the actors or the scene.

Just to see Audrey Tautou act and flash those adorable innocent big brown eyes is by itself worth the price of admission. Jeunet brilliantly weaves every scene into a fine tapestry of hope, adventure, revenge, horror, and humor that never seems to bog down or overwhelm the audience. A small, yet significant part played by the talented American actress, Jodie Foster is quite engaging and surprising, given that the movie is all spoken in French.
It is brilliantly written as an adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Sebastien Japrisot and adapted for the screen by Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant. “A Very Long Engagement” is a film of Academy Award stature that will live in our hearts forever. Don’t miss it.

Posted by fredarm at 09:14 PM