Saturday, May 26, 2007

How to film time?

Philip Groening's interview with Angela Zito (sorry, I only can hit the umlaut when I accidentally mean for a fada, the long vowel accent in Irish on this silly keyboard that shows off its American ethnocentrism) opens up even more his epic effort in "Into Great Silence/ Die Grosse Stille." The "daily review of religion and the press" at "The Revealer" has an excellent talk with the director on why he had to make the film by himself, how chronology and repetition work for the editor, and the effort to come to terms with his own conflict over Catholicism. Groening learned much about his own aesthetic and spiritual tendencies, and I find it intriguing how his art reveals his own inner longing while embracing the outer swirl at La Grande Chartreuse. The interview's worth reading even if you have no interest in the film. Although after you ponder his thoughts, if you still remain indifferent to seeing this nearly three-hour pilgrimage into the Other, you must be a heretic beyond any redemption, cinematic or communicant (in more than one sense of the latter term!)...

Oh yeah. The problem with getting a keyboard to type accents and foreign characters. How our machines reflect our mindsets. Our cars show off our status. Our engines driven by our desires.

Don't get me started this Memorial Day weekend. Patriotism and scoundrels. There's this commercial by GM, buzzers of the Hummer and builders of behemoths, with the gall to simper about helping Our Troops feel needed with the GM dealers' effort to collect cards and letters for our war-weary soldiers fighting for our right not to drive 55 or 65. The thought's nice, but the action belies their charity when their lots are full of vehicles costing $80 to fill up while the GM's EV1's lie in a stack of rusting compressed tin in Arizona, all 4000 or so of the plucky electric cars being collected and discarded in 2004. Meanwhile, patents get bought out, inventors sidelined, and it looks like the automakers, American buyers, and OPEC in line with our Cheney-Bush Halliburton-Saudi manipulators will build Dubai into a Allah-baiting green wonderland of fake plastic trees as our globe warms, gas climbs to near $4 for me a gallon, and this century sees the other three billion of us on this sweltering orb climb into their own drivers' seats.

How to get us out of our seats by raising fares that supposedly will fund more trains to get us out of our cars is a Catch-22. With its outrageous increases, the MTA will lose money. Result one: the poor will not pay and hope not to get called on to produce a ticket, which I calculate is about a 1:200 chance from my observation and experience. Result two: the poor as they did during the MTA strike will find ways to bum rides. Or drive. Roads congest. Result three: the MTA will lose revenue and the congestion will increase as fewer of us take the trouble (considerable as it is even when there are now lines running every half-hour for the bus or twenty minutes for many trains; the MTA warns they will keep hiking fares and charge per mile ridden by 2012) to board the bus or train when a day pass runs not $3 but $5 and soon $6. Why double your commute, at the least, when you pay more and can drive and waste the same amount of gas for your dollar? Better air-conditioning, and you can install air-fresheners.

How will this punishment of those who take the trouble to get off the highway out of public duty, poverty, or convenience? Our motives may be mixed, but a million riders a day on MTA help a the rest of us when we drive about this LA County that grows by 100,000 people a year? How will this ease our smog as our emissions standards stringent as they were weaken due to relentless population growth? 5% of us may commute by bus and train as it is now. We all know what a few more cars only on the road can do to overload the system. The cynical fare increase for those of us trying to take local public transit, furthermore, is a spit in the eye of the vast majority of those I see with me on the MTA each day's commute as the Blue Line squeals through Compton and Vernon and Long Beach.
One appointee who defended the increases had written a letter-- he in Sherman Oaks probably avails himself little of the Orange Line-- that characterized the MTA with its cheaper fares only a "floating hotel for transients and gangbangers." I am the first to thank technology for my IEMs and the ability to shut out the sounds of transit, but this language by a member of the MTA board speaks of the attitude of those backing the fare hikes. The Bus Riders Union too errs in claiming that only "whites" (and by extension we are all rich in their lefty eyes) ride rail, and its urging of more buses to clog streets at the expense of more rail to ease commutes is again part of the problem. I admire their protests the other day against the MTA, but casting this as a racist plot against the proles I find risible. The agitproppers at Revolution Books on Pico need to take off their Ché bandannas and look about who rides the Red and Blue and yes even the Gold Line. Do the math of parity that Pacifica Radio fixates on as the Golden Mean of all measures upon us, and work out the ethnic percentages to see that indeed the rails as the buses reflect their neighborhoods. And, contrasting the average annual income of $11k for bus riders vs. a whopping $22k for railroaders does not exactly speak to the affluence of either demographic who gets to watch the Hummers and Hyundais whir past the windows in traffic.

A charade for our Green Day Heal the Earth postures in this city indulged in lately by Mayor Villaraigosa. The homeboy who can do no wrong for the LA Times, last week came to Griffith Park (1/4 burned thanks to global warming and the dryest year in 140 years) in a chartered bus to show off his devotion to public transit. He left the same lovefest in a Yukon. Security reasons, rationalized his omnipresent handlers. The wife (mine not his) used to see him with the like entourage on his jog at 5-ish in the morn, and he only a city councillor back then not Hizzoner.

All these crocodile tears about sacrificing for our boys and girls in Iraq as if putting a yellow-ribbon on our own Yukon (where'd the snow go?) or Tundra (watch it melt) SUV makes up for our hypocritical binge of conspicuous consumption brings out the reactionary g-damned independent monkey wrenching anarchist in me. Reading about the fame-conflicted narcissist-solitary Thomas Merton, the embitteredly pure pacifist Dorothy Day and the self-conscious visionary Flannery O'Connor and the by comparison dull doctor Walker Percy in Paul Elie's "The Life You Save Might Be Your Own" reminds me of the little that I have kept in my soul from my college years of reading. Picking up the Catholic Worker myself, registering with Pax Christi after my year was the first to have to sign up for Selective Service, stumbling upon "The Seven Storey Mountain" at the age of thirteen, and methodically working my way through both O'Connor's fearsome fiction and the rather arid but curiously intimate novels of Percy's Southern scions in college for and not for credit: all of these authors and so many more from that mid-century burst of Catholic culture moved me. Turning the pages of "Jubilee" in the LMU stacks as I sat at a carrel and looked out over the roof's white gravel slanting in harsh sun. They all touched me and still do, I now realize, deeply despite my carapace of gloom. My cynical crust.

I hope in my few better moments I can still cherish the Jesuit imperative for social justice, for simplicity, knowledge as opposed to information, and that the choices we make should be informed by the imagination and tempered by reason. By my teaching and writing and thinking, even grumpy aloof me tries his best to ease the way of others. Even if the Dodgers lose and my son erupts with the same relentless resignation and Irish fatalism his progenitor carries so deep it's DNA. Nature + Nurture= Niall.

I too try to cultivate awareness, as the adepts of the East (or the Westside of Manhattan and LA-- latest flyer in window at Bodhi Tree for a talk on healing the self by the magic crystals of Chakra or to that effect I kid you not) might phrase it when striving for a bit of detachment from Chavez Ravine's hapless Blue Crew (as my dear co-habitant in her own blog entry the other day has also mused). I read about Leonard Cohen up there 600o feet at the Mount Baldy Zen center a mile above my childhood home (pre-tract houses, pro-citrus groves) and how he sees the fulfillment of his own path in between a waitress's breasts as she leans down to call him "honey." I commend the 70-ish bard's insight, and his physical sight, and bet he gave her a great tip as well as a fine poem. Cohen reminds us hipsters aging along with him that the ability to see the beauty in the beloved and the erotic in the everyday is part of our salvation. If we want to detach from the world, we must love it even more. By the bittersweet separation that in Merton's phrase will hit us one day as a blast of "not-there-ness" we learn to live before that death.

As the monks and hermits and radicals and misfit writers in Elie all agree: our divine quest begins with the domestic and the habitual. More and more the labels of denominations, the strictures of sects, and the dogma of hairsplitters fascinates me even as I remain increasingly apart from the debate. Blame it on that yoga lesson my dear co-respondent makes me take once a week. Ok, ok, enough-- ahimsa.

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