Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Who'da thunk it?

I was looking for reviews of Solaris (Tarkovsky version) when I came across the Top 100 Spiritual Films list. I was not particularly surprised that Solaris would be on a list of spiritual films, but I was surprised that it would be on a list of the best spiritual films at a Christian website. The movie is certainly open to a multitude of interpretations, but I find a Christian one difficult to formulate.

But the Arts & Faith site is full of surprises. A lot of it is just what you would expect – The Gospel According to Matthew, John, etc., Jesus of Nazareth, Peter and Paul, the Passion of the Christ. But surprisingly, there were many films that are good by any measure and don’t jump out at you as being Christian. Then there were a few that were jaw dropping surprises, Dogville, first among them.

I like Dogville very much and can argue that it is a spiritual movie, but not a positive one. Sure, the secular humanist philosopher comes off badly, but the good church going town folk turn out to be morally flawed, to put it mildly, and they neither seek nor find any redemption. If it is about spirituality, it is about the crushing of the spirit and its rebirth as a bitter and vengeful thing. And where is the Christian message? That one should say to hell with all that forgiveness shit, join the gangsters and slaughter anyone who ever wronged you? Yea, I could be cynical and say that is what today’s Christianity is all about, but that is not consistent with the depth and independence of the list. Take away the obvious Christian movies and the ones that remain would provide a good start for many right wing Christians' list of worst movies of all time.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Just a reminder

See the look on these people's faces. This is what terror really looks like.

Television never showed what it was really like to be near the World Trade Center on 9/11. Sure, the buildings were there, and they were burning, but somehow out in TV land, the horror was in the loss of the buildings, but under the buildings themselves, the horror was at the people up there dying, and some of them falling, the same people we saw in the street every day.

And that look of shock and horror on everyone's face. And the smell. And the steady shower of paper. Those things never made the news, but those things are what we remember.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Report from the fetid streets of hell

Living in New York, you can have some really bad days. Airplanes fly into buildings, people fall from the skies. the electricity goes off for days, transit strikes add hours to already hellish commutes. There are blizzards, heat waves, rain and wind and hundreds of little hassles. You get on a subway car with no air conditioning or a homeless person who couldn’t smell worse if he were dead. The noise, the smells, the rats, the existential ugliness of the urban landscape and so many of the people who inhabit it. Yes, any time or any day, things can turn very unpleasant very quickly.

But the reverse is true as well. When life is good here it can be very, very good. Sometimes it can be very good in big ways, sometimes in small. Yesterday was one of those small-time good days that make me more comfortable being a member of the human species.

I am not the most social person, to put it mildly, so when my wife informed me that there was a neighborhood block party and it was my chance to meet the neighbors, my response was “why would I possibly want to meet the neighbors?”

Our street was blocked off and people had brought out a lot of lawn and beach chairs and set them down in the middle of the street. Three tables had been set up and were covered with food and board games. A nice lady had a grill hooked up and was making chocolate chip pancakes for the kids.

Several of the nearby businesses had kicked in some money which was used to hire a magician. Everyone brought some kind of pot luck and the Mexican restaurant on the corner provided free roasted corn, hot dogs, and a stream of taco and burrito sampler platters. The fire department sent a truck and let the kids explore it and the firemen opened up a hydrant. Throughout the day there were 20 to 30 kids running up and down the length of the block. We had a few beers. It started at 10 am and there were still a few people left when I went home for the last time a little after 11 pm.

I live in one of the more ethnically diverse neighborhoods in New York, which is saying quite a bit, and our block party was representative. There were white Americans, Germans, Japanese, Africans, African-Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, other Latinos, Polish, Russian, Bangladeshi’s, Pakistani’s, Palestinians, and Jews. There were people who owned businesses and people who worked in trades; people with menial jobs, office workers and technical types. There were students and professors, fashion designers, people who work in the print media, movie and television people, and even a couple of hipsters. Everyone got along just great but beyond that it was effortless. I didn’t even give the diversity a thought until I sat down to write about it. I don’t think anyone else did either.

Perhaps there’s a lesson there somewhere, but I don’t know and I don’t really care. We all had a good day and plan to do it again next summer.