Archive for October, 2011

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Charlotte Rampling: The Versification of a Letter Never Sent

The great poet, a madman, produced, during the course of his long career, and violent life, a number of images–potent mirages/One I loved was about the heat in his apartment, he could grow a palm tree in it/And I wonder about the palm at the end of the mind Wallace Stevens spoke of/did it fan out, into an atmosphere of thought, eventually dried out by two much sun?/ I imagine that palm in Egypt, I don’t know why/ Probably because of Cavafy and Alexandria, the dust around his feet, a cup of mint tea, and thou/He was your type, that working stiff/Who wouldn’t take your beauty for granted/But he wouldn’t have made a fuss about it, either/Sitting there smiling, you reach for his cigarette every once in a while, your eyes narrowed against the memory of other cigarettes, your former beauty, and your great loves/Who are now pensioners who sit in a park in Paris/Wondering who this Anglais is that changes the atmosphere just by walking by/Cavafy gives it a thought/And so do I, watching you in the “The Look,” a documentary self-portrait with friends/To be released in New York in early November, naturally/The month of Scorpios/Man and ladykillers who insist on their own innocence/And while there are a number of commentators in the movie who discuss your look–those eyes–no one talks about your voice/Which should read poems aloud/Because it’s the kind of voice poets would kill for–mellifluous and disciplined all at once/And no one talks about what I feel (it’s a secret) looking at you now: that your beauty is greater now than it’s ever been/Your face lives in itself/It’s terrible history and joy/Like other boys I fell in love with you in the film, “Georgy Girl”/Your self-interest there was so outrageous/What man could resist?/Even as you screamed about your unwanted child in the maternity ward/Your hair a perfect halo of hate/I had sister like that/A poet who was fascinated by the idea let alone reality of her own power vis a vis men/Including myself/Who could not and would never get over her slim frame/And inability to forgive/Your father wasn’t a military man for nothing/Also an Olympic swimmer/And there are shots of you in the film swimming/Broad breast strokes/It’s in your blood/Along with silence/In the film you talk about how/At age 10/You were sent away/To a French school/You didn’t know the language/No one helped you understand it/And it took you nine months/Or ten months/To speak to anyone other than your sister/Who killed herself eventually/And whose self-death you kept from your mother/Until she died and you fell apart/Only to end up whole and cracked sitting in a cafe/With your colored friend, the Alexandrian poet/A queer/The only man for you/A performer/Which is to say a person who wrestles with words in front of other people/Just like and unlike poets who are ashamed to be seen/And then insist on it/O! The birds follow you/ And pull the sky along with them/As you put on your lipstick/”Just a little” you say as the other cinema object used to say/Sometimes sitting in a cafe with colored poets/Putting it on just a little/Before she stood up and changed everything with a look, too.

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Queer Story

The young man sporting the checked cap, the one with the pale skin, ruddy cheeks, and dark facial hair, lives alone, in a flat that’s one step up from a council flat. There are windows in the sitting room and in the bedroom, too, but not much light gets through: it’s England, after all, and the sky is like lead. The young man is gay, and hangs out, for the most part, with people he doesn’t assume will understand them–they’re all straight–but he loves them just the same–the young, chubby Mum, his friend, the Dad, and the little baby. After he smokes a little dope with his friends, he takes a night bus to a club, one of those dinky little places where nothing exciting happens, and where, if you were to score, it wouldn’t necessarily be with Mr. Right; indeed, this club is so beat you’d probably meet Mr. Wrong, a fact you’d struggle to forget the next day, under the double weight of a hangover, and remorse. Certainly that’s all you’d expect Russell (Tom Cullen) to dig up in that atmosphere of flashing disco lights. But then, out of the man made fog, he sees Glen (Chris New) a small person with a pushy way about him. The two men–they’re in their late twenties, maybe–go to Russell’s place, and they make love, and before you know it, their defenses start to fall away–particularly Glen’s. Despite or because he’s the more-experienced -in-the-gay-world dude, Glen does everything he can to alienate Russell–standard distancing stuff, like talking about other sexual experiences, and saying shit like, “I don’t do boyfriend.” But that’s precisely what they’re doing–becoming boyfriends. And then Glen lays it on Russell: he’s leaving to study in America in two day’s time. There’s something about Russell–innocence? A powerful need to believe in love, certainly–that keeps him there with Glen, while Glen squirms and tries to avoid being a bride stripped bare by only one bachelor, even. In “Weekend,” director Andrew Haigh’s emotionally true, and unsettling, debut feature, Cullen and New play men who are shaped by an alienation that comes less from being queer than with their failure to turn away from the looking glass that reflects their own limitations. An old story. In Russell and Glen’s brave new gay world, the couple’s needs and fears and miscommunications generally have nothing to do with the status quo. (And when their story partly plays out in the straight world, it’s about violence. Standing on an outdoor train platform with Glen, Russell, gives his tormentors and thus the audience a look of defiance, and incomprehension, and powerful male eroticism: he will protect his love at any cost.) Russell doesn’t talk about his desire much. Perhaps this has something to do with being raised in a number of foster homes. Whatever the reason, he shies away from telling his co-workers, friends, and so on, who he is. Still, he’s the more authentic of the two men, the more exposed, despite Glen’s propensity to verbally challenge blokes in straight bars, let alone putting Russell on the defensive about shy nature. When Russell recalls his hard upbringing, Glen laughs, and you want to strike that little person. How many times has one sat in queer bars the world over and had one’s vulnerability laughed at because it’s at odds with some queen’s idea of self-preservation? Glen can’t stand to feel and yet Russell’s steadfastness and silences makes him feel. And it’s Cullen’s and New’s remarkable acting, and Haigh’s long takes and understated visual sense, where he films a world where splendor happens spontaneously, as it does and should, that makes “Weekend,” so satisfying to watch and reminiscent of certain gorgeous nineteen-eighties stories about England during the age of Thatcher, such as “Mona Lisa,” and “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.” But those movies were made more than twenty years ago, and “Weekend” is no throwback. Instead, Haigh has learned something important from those powerful character-driven projects: how to separate sentiment from the sentimental.

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Contagion: For Valda

I went to see “Contagion,” the new Steven Soderbergh movie tonight, and thought of you. I always think of you, always, but images bring certain feelings to mind more quickly than others. Images are notorious memory triggers. I earn some of my living watching people pretend to be something other than who they are “ordinarily,” and then I talk about the truth or the falseness of their imagination, the strange business of being called a name not one’s own. The only way one can repair oneself after this hard work–that is, telling the “truth” about certain falsehoods–is to avoid dinner parties and movies: both places where people gather to pretend. But after taking in one theatre piece for the second time this afternoon, I went to the movies; I didn’t want to hear actors shouting (Godard has said he loathes the theatre because actors seem to be screaming) and it was raining and the streets of the town looked so small and curved, like a hunchback laying on his side, I would have sought comfort in the memory of your arms, your hands, running over what you used to call my “beautiful woolen things,” and other times when we were as you called it pal-ing around, not talking, just walking, and the world came through our eyes, but I didn’t want those memories jus then, somehow. What I wanted was to go to the movies with you so we could not talk some more, and I thought you’d meet me in the little town where “Contagion,” was playing, you get the tickets, I’ll get the popcorn (your side dish of salt wrapped in a paper napkin). I thought “Contagion,” was definitely something you would want to see, medical issues in films always did it for you, you loved movies like “Safe,” and I can’t remember others, but women trying to live in a challenged atmosphere appealed to you for obvious reasons: in your world, no woman was safe. You would have loved my response to the film’s first five minutes: relief that Gwyneth Paltrow dies from a mysterious virus nearly straightaway. Soderbergh links her death to the AIDS epidemic (without naming it) because, even though she’s married to Matt Dillion, who’s excellent in the film, GP’s having an affair with a man we never see. We know that but Matt doesn’t. And then the coroners scalp her and look inside her brain and they can’t believe what they find there. At this point i would have turned to you and said: “Nothing. They found nothing in her brain,” because Paltrow is a contraption, not an actress–certainly she’s no Blythe Danner. You would have loved Kate Winslet of course, you always fell in love with optimistic women, and she’s certainly that in this film, right up until the moment she’s about to die and she hands her parka to a man shivering next to her death cot. But the woman you would have fallen in love with completely is played by Jennifer Ehle, a scientist in search of a cure who wears stockings with bad patterns who eventually shoots herself up with her own medicine, she shoots up in a bit of her thigh that’s just above her black stocking, the white flesh of heath that might become ill in a moment if her vaccine is all wrong but she’s not afraid, she’s sort of thrilled to inoculate herself with a cure that might be wrong because she has a boy-like interest in risk, throwing her chips up in the air and seeing where they might land. Clearly Ehle’s character was a girl who liked woods driving, just like you, and who adores her (dying) father, just like you. In one scene, after she shoots up, Ehle visits her father with the look of an accomplice who will survive her father’s death but not the death of their shared time. It is an extraordinary cinema moment, beyond words, and in that moment Ehle seemed to be the possessor of certain memories about you, too, my own memories, in fact, it felt as though she was manifesting you, and even though she couldn’t see me, she gave me you, which made the moment that much more precious to me: she couldn’t see me, but I saw you again in her rolled down stocking, the healthy part of her thigh, her father’s eyes, in her hope that had everything to do with the facts.

Here is Wallace Stevens listing another set of facts about you. “So and So Reclining on Her Couch.” He can’t see us, either: