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12
Jan

Being Biblical and Also Tolerant

Let’s start tonight with a disclaimer: this post will be about Biblical interpretation, so those who read my blog for comments about books or movies might want to skip it.

In my good friend Rachel Held Evans’ blog, she does Sunday Superlatives every week, and this one from Richard Beck of “Experimental Theology” interested me.  He writes,

The problem at the heart of Protestantism is that the bible is unable to produce consensus. This isn’t a  theological claim. This is an empirical fact.

Sola scriptura produces pluralism. The “bible alone” creates doctrinal diversity. Biblical literalism proliferates churches.

 And five-hundred years of Protestantism is Exhibit A.

The only way to get a single, unified church, as the Catholics will tell you, isn’t the bible. What you need, rather, is a magisterium, a teaching authority that says, for everyone, “this is what the bible says.”

And that’s why there is one Catholic church and tens, thousands or tens-of-thousands of Protestant churches (depending upon how you count them).

Back to me:  I grew up in the Roman Catholic church, so I know a thing or two about authority.  I’m currently allied with the Episcopal Church, which doesn’t have a magisterium or a Pope (the Archbishop of Canterbury being more the guy who chairs the meeting than the guy who makes the rules or appoints cardinals — the Episcopal Church has no cardinals, though we do have bishops).

Crowd in St. Peter's Square, Rome

Crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Rome

As I’ve said to people dozens (hundreds?) of times, many of them my students in literature classes, the written word doesn’t interpret itself.  The long Jewish\rabbinical tradition of midrash illustrates the ongoing controversy about what this or that place in the Scripture might actually be saying and what it might mean.  Same with poems, short stories, and plays.

On to the more-recent past.  In a church I used to go to, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in High Springs, Florida, we experienced a schism in around 2004-2005 in regard to the New Hampshire church elevating Gene Robinson, a gay priest, to the position of bishop.  I always thought that the situation was pretty much New Hampshire’s business, but my pastor thought that what they’d done violated “the clear meaning of Scripture.”  When she said that, I laughed so hard to I nearly passed the sandwich I was eating through my nose — the goal of class clowns everywhere.  My point is, Scripture’s meaning is anything but clear, and both is and has to be the subject of interpretation, argument, disagreement, dispute.  That’s just the way it is, with literature, Scripture, any interpretation of the written or spoken word — including letters, emails, conversation, bumper stickers, billboards, and blogs (to name just a few).

 

5
Jan

Penny Dreadful

The show is called Penny Dreadful, and the name implies that it should be lurid and trashy — “penny dreadfuls” were the little booklets sold on the streets in Victorian England, costing a penny and containing lurid stories of monsters, vampires, adventurers, prostitutes, werewolves, etc.

Or I could just say, EvaGreenisinitiEvaGreenisinitEvaGreenEvaGreen, Dreadfulthe actress about whom film director Bernardo Bertolucci (who directed her in The Dreamers), said “she’s so beautiful it’s obscene.”  Don’t see what’s obscene about it, but she is, indeed, beautiful — enough to be a Bond girl in Casino Royale  and a very good witch named Serefina Pekkala

Eva Green in "The Golden Compass"

Eva Green in “The Golden Compass”

in The Golden Compass.

Green plays Vanessa Ives, who with explorer\adventurer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton, who played James Bond twice, in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill) and adventurer Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), fights all sorts of supernatural beings in Victorian London.

I Netflixed a DVD with the first 3 episodes, and was introduced to characters & setting.  The second episode brings in both Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein — he’s talking to Murray about the only goal of science being to distinguish between life and death, solve its mystery; later in the episode, having manufactured and re-animated The Creature, he introduces himself to his creation, “My name is Victor Frankenstein.” As said Creature, whom Victor names Proteus, there’s a very nice turn by Rory Kinnear, who must be Roy Kinnear’s son (judging by the resemblance), though he has not Internet Movie Database bio to confirm that.

The third episode, “Resurrection,” gives us rather interesting backstory on Victor Frankenstein.  He’s a 10-year-old boy, being put to bed by his mother.  As they’re talking, a dribble of blood comes out of her mouth, and then she coughs blood all over herself and him.  She’s consumptive, the situation quickly gets worse, and there’s a funeral.  Victor plunges into the obsession with re-animating dead flesh that will consume the rest of his life.

2
Jan

Benedict Cumberbatch

So, an awareness of Benedict Cumberbatch was gradually dawning on me.  I’d not seen him in anything, but the new iteration (or “rebooot,” if you must) of Sherlock Holmes was all over the Internet, with praise for his performance.  And soon it turned out that a lot of the women I know uttered long libidinous sighs when speaking of him — which puzzled me, since I saw the pictures in the newspaper and on the Web, and found him perhaps a little plain, a little odd-looking.

Then the Alan Turning movie came out, The Imitation Game (Turing’s title for the article that introduced what we now call the Turing Test, a test to see if someone has made a computer that most people would think was a person).  I’ve long been fascinated with Turing, Turingwho not only broke the Enigma Code, by which the Nazis sent coded message during WWII, but was instrumental in creating the modern computer.  And he was a major social loser, a first-class weirdo (a genius mathematician); I’m quite the computer geek myself, so interest in Turing’s life was a done deal.  And, perhaps most significantly, Turing was gay at a time when homosexuality in England was a crime, and he was harassed and oppressed for that.

The Imitation Game is excellent, and Cumberbatch is beyond great– he gets inside Turing in ways that are hard to believe.  So the guy is a genius with math, with codes, with highbrow intellectual stuff, but he can barely understand how humans interact.  His colleague Joan Clarke, played in the movie by Keira Knightley, takes the opportunity to explain flirting to him in a pub — her friend is flirting with Hugh, one of Turing’s Enigma Project associates, and poor Alan has no idea what’s happening, no idea how body language and facial expressions are a part of human communication, at least as important as (maybe more so) than words.  She explains to Alan how you make other people like you, and he wonders why someone would do that — “I’m a woman in a man’s field,” she explains, ‘So I have to.”

Intrigued, I Netflixed a Sherlock Holmes DVD, and I very much like the episodes I saw.  This version is not a period piece from Victorian London, but instead takes place in the 21st Century.  Holmes uses both cell phone and computer, has John Watson as his friend\associate, and both helps Inspector Lestrade and has a rivalry with his brother Mycroft Holmes (just as in the original Holmes stories, so the big twist is re-setting the story in the present).

Holmes is as arrogant and dismissive as he’s always been, Sherlockthrough the b\w Basil Rathbone films and all the other versions, but he’s arrogant and dismissive in interesting ways.  Watson, whom he always calls “John,” accuses of him of not caring at all about the people he’s working for, helping– Holmes asks, “If I cared for them, would it help them?”  John wants to know if he actually can help them if he doesn’t care about them; the answer is a quick “Yes.”

As you can see from the picture to the left, Cumberbatch is quite stylish as Holmes and has great hair.  He’s quite the thing onscreen, an actor that I pretty much can’t take my eyes off.  And as Holmes, he has much better hair than as Turing.

Martin Freeman, he of many screen and TV credits, including playing Bilbo in the recent Hobbit movies, is also quite good as Dr. Watson.

I might even go see The Imitation Game again.  It’s stuck with me all week, and I’ve taken every opportunity to talk about it with friends.  G.W. and I had a nice conversation about Turing tonight — he’s very knowledgeable about him.

And it’s such a tragic story; Turing was a war hero, to whom England owed rewards and gratitude.  Instead, he’s convicted for homosexuality and given a choice between “chemical castration” and two years in prison.  He chooses the castration, and it leads to very bad results (which I won’t spoil for you her — go see the movie).

28
Dec

The Shelf Life of New Year’s Resolutions

The topic of New Year’s resolutions has come up a couple of times lately, understandably since New Year’s is in 4 days.  In one of my A.A. meetings it came up, and my friend Hugh said something along the lines of, “A resolution for a whole year!?  I have to make a resolution every day.”

And on the last Friday Five (a set of 5 questions) sent to the Dead Runners’ Society listserv, the poster, Douglas Barry in Ireland, asked if anyone makes New Year’s resolutions, and if so, what?  Most of the respondents pretty much denigrated the notion of resolutions, in that they tend to dissipate much sooner than the year comes to an end.

I was speaking to friends David and John yesterday about this, and I told them I was going to post about the shelf life of New Year’s resolutions.  So I queried the Dead Runners’ Society list, and got responses so far from Charles, Cher, Lynn, JimP, and Martha.  All noted that it’s kinda hard to get any space in the gym right after New Year’s, since many have resoluted (resolved, I mean) to begin an exercise program or to be more faithful to their current exercise program.  So the gyms are full of new people.  (I’ll have to test that at my gym, Gainesville Health and Fitness Center,

Gainesville Health and Fitness Center

Gainesville Health and Fitness Center

on Friday or Saturday (January 2nd & 3rd).

But the new people, who made New Year’s resolutions to exercise, seem to drift away, and by spring it’s a lot easier to get space in the gym.

I’ll have to do an observation about whether or not the population of runners or cyclists seems up on Friday and Saturday as well — I plan a run each day.

I think it’s intuitively obvious that New Year’s resolutions are well-intended but don’t by any means end up observed 100%, all year.

But I’m interested enough to observe the numbers, continue to ask my Dead Runners Society friends about their experiences, and do a little research into the topic.  Perhaps the research will simply come my way in our local newspaper, on Slate.com, or on Buzzflash.com.  Surely the media will cover the phenomenon, as it does every year.

I wonder if the picture below was taken right around the new year?  As for me, I didn’t see greater numbers of runners in my neighborhood when I ran on New Year’s Day, January 2, and January 3 (today).  I did go to the gym yesterday (January 2), though, and at just a random observation it seemed to numbers were up.

A Crowd of Gainesville Health and Fitness Members

A Crowd of Gainesville Health and Fitness Members

14
Dec

Cheryl Strayed a Household Name

And it’s about time, too.  Strayed’s memoir, Wild, is now a movie set to go into wide release and starring Reese Witherspoon, whose presence should guarantee  an audience.  (I saw it yesterday, and it’s an excellent rendering of the book.  Reese Witherspoon is excellent, and Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl’s mother Bobby, is a lock to get an Oscar nomination — she just radiates grace.)

The Internet meme this week was about the contrast between John Kracauer’s Into the Wild and Strayed’s Wild: From Lost To Found On the Pacific Crest Trail, as if they were actually comparable.  In my brain Christoper McCandless of Into the Wild is batshit crazy, not to mention suicidal, whereas Strayed is pretty thoroughly mis-guided but not insane..  Yes, both go into the wild without adequate preparation, but their reasons for doing so are dissimilar — McCandless is unhinged and doesn’t have any idea where he’s going, while Strayed just wants to hike the Pacific Crest trail.

I’m a huge Cheryl Strayed fan — after reading Wild, I read Torch.  As an online reader of The Rumpus (a magazine of literature, interviews, cartoons, etc.), I became part of the Dear Sugar “cult”;  Sugar was the advice columnist at The Rumpus for years, and when her tenure was coming to an end, Sugar was “outed” as being Cheryl Strayed.

Tiny Beautiful Things Cover

Tiny Beautiful Things Cover

There’s a collection of Dear Sugar The Rumpus pieces (seems a little dismissive and inaccurate to call them “columns,” as they’re pretty substantial) titled Tiny Beautiful Things, and it’s on my bedstand, where I’m re-reading it just because it’s so damned good.  Strayed often replies to those writing in for advice by telling interesting stories from her own life, which she maneuvers into answers to the life and love questions asked.

Anyway, Strayed is soon to be a household word, and it’s a good thing, too.  In fact, I was listening to NPR the other day, and they were interviewing her and Steve Almond, who’s a Rumpus editor.  They said there is now going to be “Dear Sugar Radio.”

29
Nov

Gillian Flynn

So, the first of her novels I read was Gone Girl, about 6 months ago, well in advance of the movie’s release.  I thought it was a page-turner, abundantly mean, interesting characters — Nick Flynn, who as we all know is accused of his wife’s murder (Amy Flynn, Amazing Amy) when she disappears, Amy herself, Amy’s parents, Nick’s sister Margo.  All sorts of evidence keeps turning up that makes it look as though Nick (who’s a bit of a snob, a sexist, and a pig, as well as a bit of a drunk) probably murdered Amy and disappeared her body.

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

Won’t say anything more, ’cause maybe some of you haven’t read the book or seen the movie.  BTW, I eagerly awaited the movie’s release, since I’d enjoyed the book and since David Fincher (of Fight ClubSeven and Panic Room, among others) directed, and Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike starred.

I next read Flynn’s Dark Places, or at least I started it — had to put it down about 70 pages in, because I found it just too grim (which is sort of a compliment, really).  It’s about the survivor of a serial murder — Lily was a small child when her family was murdered, and she managed to hide in a closet.  Her brother Ben is in prison for the murder, but she’s doubtful about whether or not he did it — but also strapped for cash and therefore willing to take money from a group of weirdos obsessed with the murder for making a speech and answering questions, for handing over family pictures and other artifacts.  Yuck.

Just too grim, but I picked it up and finished soon.  In her acknowledgments, Flynn thanks her husband, whom (she notes) still sleeps with her every night “even though he knows how my mind works.”  Funny, in an arch and somewhat mournful way, huh?

A couple of weeks ago my friend Sam passed on Flynn’s Sharp Objects to me, and it’s my favorite of the three Flynn novels — it’s protagonist and narrator, Camille Preaker, is a reporter in Chicago.  Her editor assigns her to go back to her hometown, Wind Gap, Missouri, and rustle up a story on the murders of two young girls there.  Stephen King, known for his generous book jacket blurbs and forewords, says that he “dreaded” the book’s final 30 pages but couldn’t stop turning them.  He notes that afterward, the book “coiled in my mind like a snake.”  Exactly.  Camille Preaker is in just about every significant way a mess, and returning to her hometown and her mother’s house to investigate the murders doesn’t mitigate her unhappiness one bit.

Recommend all three books and the Gone Girl movie.  Hope someone decides to make a movie of Sharp Objects.  Camille’s mom, Adora, would be a great role — Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, are you listening?

14
Nov

Begin Again

Does it sometimes seem as if Mark Ruffalo is in every movie?  Well, he has done 30 movies in the past 10 years, according to Internet Movie Database (imdb.com).  But I like him, it seems as if he’s always good, he gets award nominations, and he’s especially good in last year’s Begin Again, a movie also starring Keira Knightley, about music and written\directed by John Carney, who wrote and directed Once.

 

Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley

Knightley plays Greta, an aspiring singer\songwriter, and Ruffalo plays Dan, a “de-frocked” record company executive and music producer.  He’s “de-frocked” because he’s a drunk, and he’s mis-behaved his way out of a job and a marriage (Hallie Steinfeld plays his daughter, and Catherine Keener is his ex-wife).  Greta is from England, and she’s 90% out of a relationship to the musician who’s come with her to New York (played by Adam Levine, the frontman for Maroon 5).

“Begin Again” might be a musical instruction — to start over and play the piece one more time from the beginning. But of course it has more global connotations related to relationships and starting over, and so it is here.  There’s a magical scene early in the movie in which Greta is performing in a bar, and Dan is in the audience.  She’s clearly not a polished performer and is a little tentative, but as Dan watches you can see him come alive — he’s taken with the strength of the song, and she (being Keira Knightley) is truly quite beautiful.  As he watches, suddenly there’s a drumkit and drummer behind her, then a bass player, then a violinist.  At first I was confused — is this really happening?– but quickly I realized that Dan, being a music producer, is mentally supplying the song with the other instruments it needs for a realized production.  As in Once, Carney is interested in how music works, how a song is composed and put together, and shows us just how that might be done with Greta’s song.

If you’ve seen a few movies, you can easily see where this is going — Dan and Greta “meet cute” (as the expression goes), experience a little conflict, but ultimately agree to work together, recording her songs in a number of New York City locations.  Dan rustles up backup musicians (including his daughter Violet, who surprises him by requesting to play guitar on a song, a skill he, absentee dad that he is, doesn’t realize she has.

Thoroughly charming, and Knightley can really sing — as I noted, she’s a little tentative in that early song, but she gets better, becomes more assured as she goes on.

So both Greta and Dan get to begin again.

13
Nov

Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge”

I’ve been reading and very much enjoying Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, recommended to me by Jesse Kornbluth, who provides a service called Head Butler (headbutler.com), where he makes weekly recommendations of books, movies, music, and occasionally products ranging from hair dryers to stereos.

Maugham’s book is about the 1920’s, mostly in Europe, a period that’s been interesting me more and more in the last year, which puts me in range of the cultural zeitgeist (another movie version of The Great Gatsby was out recently).  It started when Head Butler sent me  Harold J. Arlen’s Exiles and Amanda Vaill’s Everybody Was So Young.  The latter is a brilliant book, about American expatriates in Europe in the 1920’s, especially Gerald and Sara Murphy, the prototypes for Dick and Nichole Diver  in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book Tender Is the Night (which I read for the first time actually in Paris in 1972 and reread last summer).

The Razor's Edge book cover

The Razor’s Edge book cover

When I mentioned The Razor’s Edge to my friend Doug at lunch yesterday, he noted that it was the film that almost sunk Bill Murray’s career — he was in a weak and not-so-popular remake of it in the 90’s (it was made in 1946 starring Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney).  I can’t remember if I ever saw it — hardly a recommendation if I did.

The novel is about equally divided among Elliott Templeton, his cousin Isabel, and her temporary fiance Larry Darrell.  Elliott is a socialite, a guy who gives great parties, flies from Paris to London when he needs new suits, and would rather die than miss a party where “important” people in society will show up.  I don’t find him very likable, but he’s amazingly generous to his friends.  Isabel is a Mid-Western girl trying to find herself in life, and when Larry and she break up, marries stockbroker Gray Maturin (who manages to lost just about everything in the Crash of 1929.

Larry Darrell is a seeker, something of a mystic, a 1920’s prototype of the hippies we’re more familiar with from the 1960’s.  He has a small income and no inclination to work, instead reading books, studying languages, traveling to India, etc.

Pretty sure I read The Razor’s Edge when I was in college, don’t  much remember doing it, but glad to re-discover it and enjoy how well-written and entertaining it is, even though there have been times I wanted to reach into the pages and slap Larry, or slap Elliott.

15
Oct

Why I Love “Clueless”

Well, is it because I love Jane Austen, and Clueless (1995) is an insanely-dead-on riff on Jane Austen’s Emma?  Yeah, in part, but mostly because I’m a huge fan of Amy Heckerling’s movies (she directed Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Making Mr. Right), and Clueless is a brilliant addition to the Heckerling oeuvre.

And it’s so funny.  Austen is the patron saint of funny, but Clueless takes it a step further, imagining Austen’s heroine (Emma) as a Beverly Hills teen named Cher, obsessed with clothes, shopping, hanging out at high school, and (especially) re-arranging everyone’s love lifes.

Cher re-negiates her grades, helping teacher after teacher understand how the grade she was originally given wasn’t the actual grade she deserved — and receives plaudits from her father (a lawyer, a litigator, played by the always-solid Dan Hedaya) –“You re-negotiated your grades?  Well done!”  And she successfully match-makes one of her teachers, played by Wallace Shawn.

Clueless2

But finally, as it happens in Emma, Cher is dreadfully wrong in her matchmaking career — she fails to notice how Travis Birkenstock (love that name!) is the perfect match for her friend Tai, played  by Brittany Murphy (now sadly deceased).  They’re party girls, thinks Cher, and will match up best with the glittery boys, the most popular guys in the school.  Cher’s other BFF, Dionne, is played by Stacey Dash.

Truth is, Cher is snobbish and class-conscious, and her politics are less than admirable.  She thinks that Travis, who’s a skater and overall a bit of a hippy, is below her friend Tai, who like Cher is a rich girl, mostly interested in shopping.  And Cher completely overlooks her stepbrother, Josh (played by the admirable Paul Rudd) — after all, he’s a bit of an environmentalist and a supporter of liberal political causes (but he’s also a lawyer and does some work for her father).

Like Emma, though, in the end Cher wises up and actively promotes that Tai\Travis alliance — and hooks up with Josh, whom she has had comfortable conversation after comfortable conversation with throughout the movie without realizing that she’s in love with him.

As the title has it, clueless.

 

 

 

13
Oct

Post Secret

It’s a Website, one I look at regularly, described as follows by its founder, Frank Warren:

PostSecret is an ongoing community mail art project, created by Frank Warren, in whch people mail their secrets anonymously on a homemade postcard. Selected secrets are then posted on the PostSecret website, or used for PostSecret’s books or museum exhibits.  Frank also tours, doing live PostSecret shows all over the country.  He shares secrets from the site on a large screen that enables the audience to see them, and answers questions.  (Videos online of the shows are worth a look.)

New secrets are posted on Sunday, and I usually look at them on Sunday.  Sometimes the secrets speak of, or reveal, severe mental health issues, and thankfully the site has a suicide prevention aspect, a link to suicide hotlines, etc.

That’s not where the fascination is for me, though; it’s the sharing of secrets that are, first, something never shared before, and second, true (no way of assessing either of these, but for me and I imagine, most Post Secret fans, if it’s plausible, then it’s true, and as far as never been shared before, who knows?)

The address is http://postsecret.com, and here’s a picture:

Post Secret

Post Secret

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