Monday, July 31, 2006

Love of your Fellow Man

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is by far the best new film I have seen this year. An old man - Lazarescu Dante Remus - is feeling bad. He has had a head-ache for four days; his stomach hurts; he can't keep food down. He calls an ambulance, but no one comes. He has a bad life - he lives alone, with his cats, he has run out of food; he drinks; he has a sister living in another town, but they are quarrelling - they nag him for money; he has a daughter in Canada who talks to his sister but not him. He suffers. He goes next door to borrow painkillers from the neighbors, and in the middle of their lectures, their quarrelling, he starts vomiting blood and can't stand up - so they call an ambulance. The ambulance arrives, and he is prodded and questioned, lectured for drinking, and finally totters off with the paramedic, begging his neighbor, as he goes, to feed his cats. On the TV, meanwhile, half in the background, we hear a news report about a truck hitting a bus full of tourists. His death sentence. He will go to four hospitals before the night is over - the first will be full of bus accident victims, and will send him elsewhere for a CT scan, after harangueing him for drinking. The second will do the tests, diagnose the problem - a blood clot on the brain - and tell him he needs immediate surgery: but they will be full of bus crash victims too. The third hospital will earn a special place in hell. The fourth hospital will operate, but by then he will well on his way to another world.

It is heartbreaking, funny, a tour of hell with a sympathetic guide (the paramedic) and a fascinating array of people. The film has been billed as an indictment of the Romanian medical profession - it is, though it's more than that. No one treats poor Lazarescu Dante Remus with any decency - they bully him, lecture him incessantly for his drinking, blame him for his troubles, or just ignore him, treat him like a car in the shop. The neighbors and his family as much as the doctors. But for all that, most of the people, when push comes to shove, do what they are supposed to do. The neighbors whine about his drinking, his cats, the mess in his flat, but they give him medicine, they bring him food, they try to help. The doctors and nurses are rude and arrogant, but most of them do their jobs. When they see what is wrong, they try to fix it. (Though one of the themes is that most of the people who would help him can't: the neighbors don't know what to do with him; the paramedic can’t really fix anything, and her treatment might make things worse; the neurologists who figure out what is wrong with him can't do anything, they have nowhere to operate. There is an odd scene here, at the second hospital. The doctors say he needs immediate surgery, but their ORs are full. The paramedic and her friend the nurse try to convince them to let him stay - they see that he has been dragged from pillar to post too long, it is becoming cruel - but the doctors know he can’t wait for morning - it's an odd argument.) There are exceptions of course - at the third hospital, an intern and then the doctor are rude to the paramedic, arrogant, sarcastic, and completely disdainful of the old man. They try to get him to sign a waiver for his surgery - but by this time, he is very far gone. All he hears is the word "paralyzed" and he panics and starts refusing everything. The paramedic tries to tell them he in incompetent, but they are so against her, they won't listen. They tell her to drive him around for an hour until he is in a coma, then they will operate. It's a particularly vicious moment. But outside that scene - the film may be a towering denunciation of the human race, but not so much of its individuals. Who, whine and gripe and play politics though they may, do, basically, do their jobs, under very difficult circumstances.

All of this, anyway, is shot in almost documentary style (comparisons to Frederick Wiseman are apt), simple, direct, mostly hand held camera, long takes, long stretches in almost real time, with nothing much going on (we see most of the rides between hospitals in real time, nothing going on, the old man dying, the paramedic watching, taking her gall bladder medicine, sometimes making small talk with the driver). Restrained acting (though some pretty obnoxious behavior), lots of digressions (following, for a moment or two, the plight of another patient - one woman trying, I think, to hustle drugs, complaining about her prescription, another couple talking about whether their vacation would constitute strain), and lots of fairly legitimate sounding medical talk. This - the systems and routines of the medical profession - is what comes in for the most abuse. Lazarescu keeps being sent along to new doctors - who insist on starting from the beginning, asking the same questions, making the same examinations, drawing the same conclusions - he's drunk, it's his liver... It's the arrogance - not listening, not paying attention to what they see and hear, that damns the ones who are damned. The ones who act do what they are supposed to - listen, look, ask for what they don't know.

It all adds up. It is intensely sad - the lonely old fool, his rotten life, his cats, who he loves though no one else does, sinking into oblivion. He starts feisty and defiant, arguing with the neighbors, with the paramedic when they try to cram him into a dinky looking van of an ambulance, the doctors who tell him he brought it on himself drinking - but he falls apart, a piece at a time. It starts at his flat - he falls - and after that, can't walk well. Then he can't stand. He starts falling asleep, and every time he wakes he is less coherent. And do it goes. And the film watches, him, and the people around him, doing good or bad things, paying attention to detail, patient, insisting on the details, the corners of our lives, the details of a room, or the way a person sits. Its love of its characters is evident, even in its refusal to absolve them for their failures, while never slighting them on their achievements.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


I haven't put up a movie post in ages. I haven't done much blogging of any kind this summer, but film posts (like Fun With The iPod), are supposed to provide a bare minimum of prose.... Well: at this point, I am not going to run through any major reviews - just run through a bunch of recent films, with some comments. A couple of these will get longer posts eventually...

Death of Mr. Lazarescu
- the best film released this year, and one of the best of the decade. More will definitely be coming here.

Rome, Open City
Flowers of St. Francis
My Dad is 100 Years Old - Roberto Rossellini double feature, plus Canada's greatest director paying homage to Italy's greatest director through the medium of the latter's daughter. Staged as a kind of dialogue between RR's belly and certain of Rossellini's contemporaries (Hitchcock, Selznick, Fellini, all played by Isabella Rossellini), with interventions from Ingrid Bergman and Charlie Chaplin - it's a pretty good statement of the issues, and of Rossellini's positions. Interesting too for the way Maddin's surrealism pays homage to Rossellini's realism - and a reminder that Maddin's expressionistic surrealism is as far from the mainstream as anything Rossellini did, and that their stubborn individualism has quite a bit in ocmmon.

The 2 Rossellini films, of course, are masterpieces. Flowers of St. Francis is in a new print, looking about as good as films get the right to look. It's a joy to watch - direct and clear and simple, funny and generous - dwelling on faces, landscapes, the sky... beautiful and very moving film.

Nacho Libre - not so beautiful of moving... the idea of Jack Black as a wrestling priest is very appealing - the actual execution is not. It's an interesting problem, though, why this film is so bad - the absurd concept, the deliberate underplaying, the jokily cheap looking sets and costumes and effects, the use of actors for their faces and bodies as much as any kind of acting, and the willingness to have the actors pretend rather than act, so that it looks like a bunch of kids pretending to be in a movie - is slipping disconcertingly close to, well, Rossellini territory. Maybe Luc Moullet is a better example. But it doesn't work. Jared Hess doesn't seem to be a good enough director to make a real "bad" film. That's a strange thing to say, but it's the impression this one left me with - if they hadn't been trying to make it sort of look like it wasn't all a joke, maybe....

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man - somewhat disappointing documentary about the great man... interesting interviews interspersed with all star tribute concert, which never really went anywhere. With dumb camera tricks to try to make it all seem - filmed. All star tribute concerts are usually pretty lame, especially on film - though they can be much improved by the presence of the star being lauded. This one didn't have much traction... Still worth seeing, given the quality of the music, and the performers are no slouches...

Withnail & I
The Big Lebowski - as quotable a doulbe bill as one is likely to see, I guess. As the years pass, I find that the Big Lebowski rises steadily in my estimation - every time I see it I like it more. It is something of a comic counterpart of David Lynch's Lost Highway - maybe because they are both about LA, and LA in the movies, in related ways - and certainly because both seem to be better films every time I see them. Anyway.... the dude abides.

A Scanner Darkly - speaking of LA masterpieces... this is one of the great adaptations, getting the tone and ideas of the source novel almost perfectly. And being an adaptation of a great book, makes it pretty much a great film.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday, Music, Rain

This does seem to be the only time I post anything these days. Have to fix that this weekend, if I can. And - after a week of humid heat, we have the standard issue torrential downpour, with thunder and lightning and wind. Black as night out there, thick curtains of rain. Thrash and bang. Hopefully nothing untoward will occur in re the computer. All that electricy and water flying around, ya never know.

1. Charlie Parker - Out of Nowhere
2. Sonic Youth - Winner's Blues
3. Minutemen - West Germany
4. M.I.A. - Fire Fire
5. Rolling Stones - Ventilator Blues
6. Stevie Wonder - Living in the City
7. Sonic Youth - Shaking Hell (that would descriobe the weather just now, well enough)
8. Husker Du - Somewhere
9. Captain Beefheart - Korn Ring Finger
10. Nick Cave - Nature Boy

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Randomness

I see I am back on a post-a-week schedule. Sad. We must address that. But in the meanwhile, thank god for friday, since that's the only brainless post I bother with anymore - the Friday Random Ten! Hooray and all. Here's to it:

1. Minor Threat - Straight Edge
2. Dr. Nerve - Don't Call Too Late My Husband's a Baker
3. Beatles - If I needed someone
4. Big Country - Broken Heart (13 Valleys)
5. Klaus Nomi - After the Fall
6. Tom Waits - 9th and Hennepin
7. Beatles - She Came in Through the Bathroom Window (multiple Beatles! good thing! odd hearing songs from Abbey Road by themselve though....)
8. Danielson - Ship the Majestic Suffix
9. Big Country - Where the Rose in Sown (multiple Big Country though - that's weird)
10. James Blood Ullmer - Sittin on Top of the World, of course, thunder and lightning and pouring rain...

And, as this week's bonus - Minor Threat video!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Serge Gainsbourg -- Initiales BB

Happy Bastille Day!

Friday Music Stuff

This video war thing is getting confusing. First came the Shaggs video, just a little out of place - Tiny Tim doing Do You Think I'm Sexy - that's what we expect here! Star Wars crap! not - The Shaggs.

But now - lately - Dr. Seuss? Kate Bush? (Though mixed with more traditionally awful material like the Osmonds.) Klaus Nomi? Something is amiss here. Points are being missed. Someone's gonna post Matisyahu or the Bastards of the Young video if we're not careful...

And finally - I see appearances of a new trend: Friday Top Ten with YouTube links. Now - it's an obvious idea, obvious enough that I picked it up without any help at all - but - I did pick it up, 2 weeks ago! Not that anyone's ripping me off or anything - but for once, I'm not the last to the party!

Anyway: today's random ten? Not entirely randomly starting...

1. "...I don't know why I call him Gerald" - Pink Floyd - Bike - bye Syd...
2. REM - Old Man Kinsey
3. Three - Domino Days (that Dischord collection...)
4. Yo La Tengo - Double Dare
5. Bloc Party - Tulips
6. Modest Mouse - Gravity Rides everything (one of those moments there a couple years ago, when this turned up in a van commercial - strange stuff. The moment, I suppose, when they slipped across some line. I guess.)
7. Undertones - Billy's Third
8. Undertones - She can only say no (okay: what's going on here? it's a good thing, we have to say)
9. Neil Young - Words (Between the Lines of Age)
10. Devendra Banhardt - Tell Me Something

and that's that.

Well, wait - YouTube Minutemen search. There you go.

Update! Since you can't have too many Minutemen videos: let's see how this works.

Looks like it's working well. Happy day!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Goodbye, Syd

Syd Barrett has died. His story is not that unusual, unfortunately - talented and unstable young man, ruined by drugs (or nature, plus drugs), leaving a moment or two of brilliance. And the base of a band that would drag on forever with rapidly diminishing returns. Piper at the Gates of Dawn is the only Pink Floyd record I really love, and Barrett's guitar playing is one of the reasons - he was inventive and imaginative and surprising - he could keep those long jams interesting, which the rest of the band could not. His songs can be a bit much, all those gnomes and such, but that's not a very strong objection - they are clever, funny, and inventive, and bear up well over time. He was a seminal figure, he lives up to the hype. His loss - which to the music world, occurred about 35 years ago - is very sad. One hopes his life in those 35 years had its contentments.