Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Orson Welles' "F for Fake" (1974)

In a post to a_film_by about F for Fake (one of the best films I have ever seen), I wrote:
The film has an unbelievably breathless rhythm, one that constantly forces us to feel on our toes, as if the whole film can change at any moment, as if it can veer off to a completely new direction in terms of colors, or pace, at any point, it is so unpredictable that one has to give himself/herself to the moment as if life depended on it since the next one can be only one of the infinite possibilities available.

...what is real about F for Fake is its intensity, its multiple perspectives shifting like life does constantly, and its sense of harmony that forces the human being to get closer to its full potential, whatever that means.

In the film, Orson Welles quotes (a few times), The Conundrum of the Workshops, a poem by Rudyard Kipling. You can also read it, without interruption, here.

The Conundrum of the Workshops

When the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden's green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: "It's pretty, but is it Art?"

Wherefore he called to his wife and fled to fashion his work anew—
The first of his race who cared a fig for the first, most dread review;
And he left his lore to the use of his sons—and that was a glorious gain
When the Devil chuckled: "Is it Art?" in the ear of the branded Cain.

They builded a tower to shiver the sky and wrench the stars apart,
Till the Devil grunted behind the bricks: "It's striking, but is it Art?"
The stone was dropped by the quarry-side, and the idle derrick swung,
While each man talked of the aims of art, and each in an alien tongue.

They fought and they talked in the north and the south, they talked and they fought in the west,
Till the waters rose on the jabbering land, and the poor Red Clay had rest—
Had rest till the dank blank-canvas dawn when the dove was preened to start,
And the Devil bubbled below the keel: "It's human, but is it Art?"

The tale is old as the Eden Tree—as new as the new-cut tooth—
For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;
And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,
The Devil drum on the darkened pane: "You did it, but was it Art?"

We have learned to whittle the Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg,
We have learned to bottle our parents twain in the yolk of an addled egg,
We know that the tail must wag the dog, as the horse is drawn by the cart;
But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: "It's clever, but is it Art?"

When the flicker of London's sun falls faint on the club-room's green and gold,
The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their pens in the mold—
They scratch with their pens in the mold of their graves, and the ink and the anguish start
When the Devil mutters behind the leaves: "It's pretty, but is it art?"

Now, if we could win to the Eden Tree where the four great rivers flow,
And the wreath of Eve is red on the turf as she left it long ago,
And if we could come when the sentry slept, and softly scurry through,
By the favor of God we might know as much—as our father Adam knew.

Near the end of F for Fake, Orson Welles says:
“Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash - the triumphs, the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life: we're going to die. "Be of good heart," cry the dead artists out of the living past. "Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing." Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much.”

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Robert Creeley's "Nothing New"

Below is a paragraph from Robert Creeley's Nothing New.
Creeley quotes Olson translating Rimbaud: "Can you afford not to make the magical study which happiness is?"

You can read the full essay here.

"Mine eyes have seen the glory?" Enough to stay open, certainly, but it had little to do with qualified "great moments". Somehow our elegantly secure cat Aphrodite having her kittens just as the first human stepped out on the first moon ever to be walked on is something I'll remember most specifically of that event, like they say. Is it that the so-called "personal" keeps drifting back into "self," wants the home of its own habits, recognizes even in vastness its own familiar hat and coat? I don't really know, and I is fading, intermittent signal, batteries running down. "Oh build your ship of death, for you will need it..." D.H. Lawrence got to me, he made sense, he made clear that feeling, touching, holding, seeing, being with other people in every sense, was the fact of life, what it was, literally. You could think anything you wanted to or could. Still you wouldn't, and couldn't, go far.

There's whole lot more to read from Robert Creeley here.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

from S. T. Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight" (1798)

Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

Coleridge lived between 1772-1834. How did he describe so wonderfully a medium that was yet to be created? Film "makes a toy of Thought."? Shiveringly well-said.

Of course he was not talking about cinema. According to this website, where you can read the whole poem, " In all parts of the kingdom these films are called strangers and supposed to portend the arrival of some absent friend. " So, basically, he was referring to something like a flag.

"Film", in English, means something thin. The word, according to Merriam-Webster, comes from the Old English word for skin, "fell". In Old Greek, "pelma" meant the sole of foot.

Re-read the poem. I think Coleridge is talking about Ernie Gehr's films... except that film flutters on the gate and not the grate. I guess it was a spelling mistake on Coleridge's part.

And by the way, I encountered this part of the poem in Robert Creeley's Just in Time. So a short one from Creeley:


Rippled refractive
surface leaves
light lights.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"Everlasting omen of what is"

Two Robert Duncan Links:


His book "Ground Work: Before the War" is one of my few favorite books.

Read "Often I am permitted to Return to a Meadow"

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