Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The I Ching answers questions about THE MASTER

I just read an interesting review in the CUNY Graduate Center's Advocate about THE MASTER (2012) wherein Mike Phillips says: "It would seem that the impetus to shoot in 70mm is a fascination with film itself" (Nov. 2012, p. 41), but isn't that kind of... I don't know... both too concise and too vague? Are we sure that's why he did it. That's like saying Mad Men is about the collapse of print media. Maybe it is, but that's just one layer. Then again, how does one deconstruct a film like this without missing some of its broad panorama of meanings? If the film is really about film itself, and the transition from film to video, the loss of clarity, the refraction of image, etc., mustn't it be also about some larger issue in which such a transition figures? You could argue anything is about anything, if you were a master bullshitter, as my dad used to claim I was. Hmmm.

So why not ask the I Ching? Sure, it's kind of similar to those weird pieces like "Ask a Gut-shot cop" in The Onion, but they didn't write the book on it. Who did? Whomever wrote the I Ching. I would guess that true art is without an author, for it comes from our collective unconscious. The artist gives it shape and form, but it's ours, in the end. Aummmmm

The following questions were asked of the I Ching Online
So... what is THE MASTER really about?

You are a stranger to this situation. It is your attraction to the exotic that has led you here, but you will move on to a new vista when this one has lost its mystique... You don't know the custom here, and it's too easy to cross a line you don't know is there. Because you are the foreigner in this setting, you have no history to acquit you. Watch, listen, study, contemplate, then step lightly but decisively on.

Critics have compared Dodd's cult to Scientology and charlatanism, others believe charlatanism is important to spiritual development since we can't accept new ideas without a little side-show razzmatazz. One which side of the fence do you think Paul Thomas Anderson's sympathies lie?

Heaven and Earth move away from each other. In the ensuing void, the small invade where the great have departed. There is no common meeting ground, so the Superior Person must fall back on his inner worth and decline the rewards offered by the inferior invaders.

A lot of critics were confused by the film, although many were initially put off by There will be Blood as well and now they say that it's a classic by comparison. Do you think they are insecure bourgeoisie to respect only past work that's already stood the test of time and Oscar, rather than going out on a limb in passionate defense of immediate, new work that challenges their way of seeing, their way of thinking? Am I being snobby even asking this question? 

Gentle persuasion is the key in this instance. Though the words are soft, their speaker must be firm, calm and confident. Gentle words are worthless if spoken with trepidation. Wordless influence by example is also effective in this situation. All persuasion should be almost unfelt, yet consistent and persistent.

Is there a difference in the end between our 'found' meanings in analyzing a film like THE MASTER and the artist's intention? Shouldn't an artist be a little unconscious of their own work's deeper subtext for it to be successful? Or is it really a cut and dry issue - the Rorschach ink blot is either a woman's sexual parts or its not - where there is no division?

A playful Zephyr dances and delights beneath indulgent Heaven:A Prince who shouts orders but will not walk among his people may as well try to command the four winds. A strong, addictive temptation, much more dangerous than it seems.
"There can be no outsiders because there is no outside"

If you have questions about THE MASTER, send them to me or leave comment and I will put them on this post - or you can consult direct with I Ching Online 
Brought to you by "I'd like to get you / on a slow boat / to China" Travel Agency Inc. c.1382

Friday, November 23, 2012

Kristen Stewart in the Snow with Poison: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

Why do so many people "hate" Kristen Stewart? Note the quotes. They don't really know her so how can they hate a projected fear from their own repressed subconscious? It just means she's doing her job. The only explanation is that these are the same people who were stoning adulteresses and burning hot young naturalists at the stake (and still are in some Islamic backwaters, so the headlines scream), in ye olden tymes, or driving innocent kids to suicide through their malicious scandalizing gossip, ala PEYTON PLACE. But who are these schadenfreude-addicted bitter old gossipy finger-pointers? Do they even exist?  Does the Huffington Post and AOL just cater to them as an imaginary reader, a middlebrow projection?

I'll confess: I am the "they" who thinks the other "them" "hate" Kristen Stewart. But I can only go by what I see in the Huffington headlines, and angry feminist blogs, which with all but scream "Burn her!" in their coded subtext, and my paranoiac feminist's desire to protect the maiden faire clouds my judgment. Plus my great/x8 aunt Mary Easty was hung as a witch in Salem, so perhaps I'm her reincarnation, sworn to avenge all the women sacrificed on the altar of mob prudery.

For the hit SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012), the mainstream critics did loudly trumpet their ambivalence, as if on cue: too much snow, they wrote, too much pouting, too much CGI. Kristen Stewart's British accent alone generated a blighted orchard's worth of poison pen apples. The evil snow queen played with slow burn elegance by the great Charlize Theron could not hope to match this type of sneering evil. If they were just badmouthing Stewart's acting it would be shameful enough but a new scandal erupted shortly after the film's release that proved a Pavlovian trigger for the press to erupt in a misogynist viciousness so appalling it basically drove boyfriend Robert Pattinson to forgive her (she cheated on him! With the director! Who's married!) Calling Kristen names usually considered the height of bullying or rat-fink treachery in the high school cafeteria, the critics went way too far, way too fast, as packs of fascist bullies are wont to do, and hopefully the bloody tossers have had pause since. I mean, what had she done to deserve such bitchiness? Seriously, Popular Press, what? Answer me! She thought you were her best friend! O Popular Press, didn't her minor--but to you at the time unforgivable--trespasses not provide you with the juicy gossip you so crave?

Well, the release of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN on DVD corresponds to the release of the final chapter of TWILIGHT, and in each lies the answer -- Kristen Stewart plays young, vulnerable, awkwardly beautiful women very well, and that in itself concerns critics. Mainly it's her look. Not her looks, but the way she looks, as in outward. Her gaze like a boundary-dissolving laser beam, Stewart looks outward from the screen and weighs and judges and forgives the hearts of those watching, even the wicked stepmothers, and so those who think themselves impure, beyond saving, recoil from her absolving gaze. These secret wretched watchers-- who pretend in public to be happy and normal but deep down consider themselves odious gollums and troglodytes--blanche from her gaze. Her forgiveness hurts them the way sunlight hearts the C.H.U.D. She is Esmerelda, freshly born anew like a colt onto the barn floor, watering the rows of wracked Quasimodos with her gypsy wineskin gaze. The Frollos up in the rafters, clutching their yellowed press passes like rosaries, seethe with DSB; they never thought her beauty should be shared with creatures more loathsome even than themselves. She shares anyway, and that they do not forgive.

And I would argue that calling Kristen Stewart a terrible actress is like calling Marilyn Monroe a terrible actress. Monroe was more successful at preserving a sense of vulnerability and precognitive absence/presence onscreen than she was as a dramatic thespian of the Eve Harrington variety. Monroe was more method. She legit crazy. She seemed crazier playing sane than vice vera. Critics and audiences were more attuned to their own Freudian repressions in the 1950s, so they knew the difference between an actress able to convey a susceptibility to male attention and a "common slut." Now she's a goddess on a trillion posters and stamps. But if she came around today she'd be ostracized for exuding kitten sex. Maybe in 2050 the old patriarch critics of the day will laud Stewart's vulnerability the way they laud Monroe's now. And the way parents are encouraged now to ransack their kids' rooms and under the bathroom sink for bath salts, they'll be crucifying some new tart. Even the strawberry scented bath crystals grandma sent for Christmas must go, just to be safe

Call this prediction crazy, but Stewart shares with Monroe more than a gift for conveying shyness onscreen, both of them love, or at least 'feel sorry for' the creatures most of us have cast off. MM felt compassion for the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and didn't even mind flirting with the toad-like Tom Ewell if it meant free air conditioning. Hey, princesses have kissed worse frogs for far less incentive. That's what it boils down to, and boiling is the correct word. Stewart is like the first girl you kissed, ever, though she didn't know you, hardly, at all. She was the starlet of your Middle School's Bye-Bye Birdy, who let all the cast members--male and female-- kiss her on the lips open mouthed in the doorway of the ladies' room before the big premiere, for luck, and in your case, transcendental romantic ignition.

To make we Quasimodo-esque viewers remember that kiss, or anticipate it, the fumbling awkward magic of it, Stewart has a make-up bag full of little facial tics and micro-lip quivers, eye dilations, the looking up from her lover's lips to his eyes to the snow below in a series of deep breathing feints and attract-repulsion micro-movements, her eyes going in and out of focus, hand on fire with twitchy, muted minor key exhilaration.

Perhaps it is through this minor key micro acting that she upsets more classical-conservative critics. Monroe's exhilaration, her breathless delirium, was most definitely major key... and it helps their feeling of patriarchal ensconcement that she's conveniently dead, her womanhood no longer an active threat. Stewart is alive, young, coiling and uncoiling with a thousand breathy tendrils, altering our genre paradigms, dissolving whole wings of Hollywood's sexuality museum with her Medusa glance. But that too is an illusion. She too shall age and become the dreamy stuff of legend, shall occupy some wing in the Hollywood sexuality museum, or be helped out to the microphone for her Lifetime Achievement award, and then her magnetic attraction-repulsion divisiveness will be understood, and only then.

Lillian Gish
Or maybe if we look back past Monroe and all the way to Hollywood's infancy, to Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford-- who had to convey their girlish amor in flickering silent films with mixed emotions fluttering over and through their eyes and lips like butterfly micro-change vibrations--then we can place Stewart's gifts in a less sexual, more timeless context. Gish and Pickford were the first women to show the world the difference between acting, as in grand operatic gestures meant to reach the back row of the theater, and cinematic truth, vulnerability, intimacy, the strange sense that a camera right up in their face is no more or less terrifying than just being alone in a room with the boy they like. What the Gishes beamed at became beautiful, like their gaze was a love potion, opening the hearts of the world.

It's only natural with such silent ancestry that Stewart speaks with words halting and unsure. She fumbles for eloquence and grace rather than babbling like a bourgeois Woody Allen character. For HUNTSMAN she even surprises with a rousing Joan of Arc-esque speech toward the climax, after her true love kiss awakening, rallying her seven dwarfs and coterie of knights to a climactic attack. Starting out soft and wafting, a little wan and undernourished, she slowly coils her Kundalini in a serpentine ascent that cute, clipped adequate British accent rises in pitch and deepening in timbre, conveying an urgency and sense of exhilaration fused to courage in the face of terror that we seldom get outside of novels or Henry V.

Even without Stewart, there's a lot to like in SNOW WHITE. Like few other adaptations of this fairy tale it seems to totally fit--with a Lara Croft treasure solving gear-aligning click--into the archetypal unconscious Jungian rite of passage / heroine's journey pantheon. Chris Hemsworth's (he plays the Huntsman) youthful gravitas activates some special hormone in the nitrate of Hollywood's unconscious; he's the hero we've needed and if there was almost no romance or connection between her and Stewart in the film, why should there be? They barely know each other. With modern female heroines, romance doesn't just happen in a dissolve. They need time to think, and pine.

What we have in this instead one are some psychedelic bad trip-haunted swamp visuals; poison gas belched out by some rotten spores abounding in the swamp makes Snow White hallucinate black snake branches; "the swamp feeds on your weakness!" The evil duke looks like Max Von Sydow in THE SEVENTH SEAL or THE VIRGIN SPRING. I like the weird fairy forest with its beautiful hart, and the tender effect Snow White has on all life around her, including a big ugly troll that in a movie for boys would be slain with thunderous 3-D sword swings before it has a chance to even declare a side. Instead it's all elegantly done and if some of it is overdone, as in the dwarf's Brit character actor business, I forgive them, as the spirit of Snow White forgives me, even as I write this, and forgives you, even as you read this.

If SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN never strays from its archetypal Jungian template resonance then all the better to entrain its frequency to the experience of teenage maturation, the dangers, pains, triumphs, heartaches, and treacherous currents all of us face, or have faced, on the road to the fullest bloom of our adulthood, my precious.

So back to the Stewart gaze: I know some of my regular readers can't stand Kristen Stewart and maybe I'm blinded by my affection, but I think her appeal is deeper than just hipster hotness. She's never really been marketed as a sex symbol, wisely, and in SNOW she looks pretty bedraggled throughout. First she's a prisoner, then a half-drowned swamp rat tripping balls, then she's dead, then reborn. It takes its toll on her make-up. I don't think she gets more than one bath or shower in the whole damned film, erotic or otherwise. But like most of her fans I don't go to sleep fantasizing about dating her anymore than I think oh man Lillian Gish was hot. Rather, I identify with her. I admire her pluck, and feel protective --I love her through her own eyes. To open up to a blue screen and trust a monster or giant hart will be inserted later so she doesn't look like a homeless mime, that takes courage. Anyone can be removed and aloof to a blue screen (Angelina Jolie for example). But it takes true courage to be open-hearted and vulnerable even when you know the closed-hearted are going to send slings and arrows at you to validate their own fears about opening. We've seen coltish young starlets gambol around enchanted countrysides before (STEALING BEAUTY), but aside from her occasional moments as a side player (as in INTO THE WILD) Stewart's seldom cast as a LOLITA sex object. She is the caster.

Into the Wild
My undergrad liberal arts PC feminist brainwashing made it hard to not hate my own gender, but I find forgiveness in myself for being a man because Stewart's openness feminizes my own viewing gaze. Perhaps that's why the bourgeois critics rankle and rear like startled stallions at the mention of her name? I like that the Twilight movies are not made for me, neither my gender nor my age. Like, FINALLY! I like the Twilight films the way Kathryn Bigelow likes war movies, as a chance to morph my gaze into a complete reversal of its gender-assigned specifications, to understand that my 'eye' informs and entertains my shadowy anima unconscious as well as my masculine ego.

A classicist may prefer to follow along as a woman like Janet Leigh is gradually driven mad or sliced up by our male gaze desire and think he's understanding the male gaze's destructive drive even as he indulges it, hey, we all do that too, but it's Kristen's gaze that has the power and it actually reverses that devouring destructive Norman's mother gaze like she's flashing an S.O.S. mirror at Medusa. Her gaze may devour and objectify the male, but in a feminine, open, compassionate way. She stops the pendulum swings from phoenix to ash and back again and focuses in on some genuine romantic gazing, back and forth slowly, gently, like calming a spooked horse. And that's such a shock for some viewers they can't get over it; no matter how patiently she whispers to them they just won't gentle. They've got burrs under their leather shoulder-patched tweed suit jacket saddles. How dare Kristen Stewart, in a sense, look back at them as they stamp and snort and kick the back of their stalls in outrage, unable to shake that burr no matter how vitriolic their reviews.

Hey hoss, you can fight it all you want, but the young, vulnerable feminine awkward bravery Kristen Stewart conveys onscreen is here to stay because it never left, just dormant, ready to be awakened at the close of the century-long witch's spell. Still semi-sleepy but ready to fully flower any moment, Stewart is our Lillian Gish on the ice floe in WAY DOWN EAST. She's Mary Pickford leading her fellow orphans through the gator-filled swamps in SPARROWS. She's Judy Garland about to throw that bucket of water in WIZARD OF OZ. She's ANNA CHRISTIE, slouching and mumbling towards Brooklyn to be born again, not as some twisted version of a farm girl or milk-drinking lady but an abused and still triumphant, whiskey-drinking woman. You may moan and kvetch and sign up on the next tramp steamer out of town but it's far too late to change the tide--your gaze has lost its power. Her gaze reigns and is neither as good or as bad as you think it is, it's just a harbinger of your own spectatorial dissolution. Don't blame the messenger if she points out you're meltingggg.... oh what a world. Be kind to it, Kristen, it's only our cheap tin 'testimonial', and now its broken.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Tree Falls in Brooklyn, + New Bright Lights, + Simon of the Desert and Swar of the Saints

"Discard your lustful fantasies; waste no more time on unrealizable desires."
Bright Lights Film Journal. Issue #78. is up and there's a hilarious and heartbreaking article on slasher films by A. Loudermilk, who discusses the final girl in horror from the "Sissy Spectator" point of view, a rare and fascinating (and funny, horrifying, and affectionate) piece called Last to Leave the Theater:Sissy Spectatorship of Stalker Movies and the "Final Girls" Who Survive Them
"I watched these movies as anxious about the Stalker on the screen as the Basher in the balcony. An interloper on demographically defined turf, I was constantly looking over my shoulder much like a Final Girl. After the movie, I lingered inside to avoid bullies lingering outside, daring each other to start something, anything. I wasn't going to be caught by them again, I'd tell myself. Obviously I felt more than alienated by the "group" of filmgoers Dika assumes unified. I felt physically threatened by them...".
I would recommend you read it if you call yourself a Carol Clover fan, or just a fan of horror movies. It's a rare and important glimpse into the brutality of the early 1980s, wherein homophobia and hate crimes were all but encouraged by the reigning social order, as I remember.

But then there are bad movies and it takes a true warrior to love them, such a Michael T. Smith in his Nine Techniques for the Bad Viewer: A Manifesto:
Boredom is not benign. We need to change our concept of it as innocent, a waste of time, a minor state, ignorable, small or insignificant. It is dire, heavy, severe; it is Nero burning Rome, James Dean without a cause, a wasteful delusion of nothingness; it is not a matter of small potatoes. Boredom is a time-bomb, an uncontrolled catalyst, a solar event that cannot be bottled; it cannot be sold, and it would not be bought. It is the fall of an economic system, a flux in an otherwise operable machine.
Re-signify it: understand boredom is not a state but a potential. It is the awareness of energy but not the use. Let the screen be a fuel, a rocket, a hypnotist. Access your mind through a different door (if you can find it). A film is topological, it maps a route to an unknown destination (even a cliché picture can be viewed differently each time it is seen). Carpe diem. The energy is there. You are there. We are the children of images, of dancing lights and shuffling frames.
 Here's the link to my review of Maitland McDonough's Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, the Expanded Edition: "There are times when McDonagh becomes hamstrung by the need to justify a deep intellectual deconstruction of Argento's work: "One may well ask why it's worth expending the considerable effort needed to decode a film like Deep Red or Tenebrae whose conventionally intellectual concerns are threaded in among elements generated by crassly commercial considerations" (233). She might well be talking about film criticism in general, i.e. what some call the new criticism, wherein deconstruction deliberately probes aspects of the film that the auteur behind it most likely never considered, which some casual readers find irksome, feeling nothing can legitimately exist in a film unless the artist put it there."

2.  A TREE GROWS (and fell down the street from me) IN BROOKLYN 

Your humble author had a crazy spiritual 2012 ascendency a couple weeks ago when on election day I couldn't turn the channel from TCM (since I gave up all judgment, which makes it hard to change the channel) showing A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945), which I've refused to see all my life because I hated that family memoir small town or tenement stuff, you know, mom movies. At least I used to. Now I had earned my first shamanic merit badge, the Retired From the Bench (tm) badge that comes with the condition of no more judging, no more resisting anything just because of old tapes, old behaviors, old ideas of who you are vs. how others see you, let go of old fears, when you let go of your dread of boredom it turns out you're no longer ever bored! So I let it play on, the TREE, and within minutes I was balling hysterically. This was about me! My life as an artsy ectomorph stuck in amidst the squalor, or at any rate, humanity of Brooklyn. It might have been set in the exact Brooklyn apartment building I was watching it from, except it was apparently set in Williamsburg and I'm in Park Slope. "My cup runneth over" --indeed.

There's something very emotional about election day anyway, the way it's all volunteers and everyone's kind of doing it for the first time again, milling around wondering where to go, fascinating and reassuring to think that all of the hundreds of millions of hours and dollars spent campaigning were just for these average workaday people's lever pull. It made me, for a precious moment, stop being such a judgmental paint-yourself-into-a-lonesome-corner-with-your-hubris aging hipster and suddenly Wham - I became less like my cynical pharmaceutical market research dad and more like my open-hearted, nonjudgmental Christian Scientist mom. It's perhaps 2012, perhaps the mid-life crisis ne plus ultra of old age, the morphing into Tiresius, when the booster rocket testesterone falls away and leaves you in a nice orbit all peaceful and sexless and everything is literally rose-tinted. You were funny hats like the old King Lear-ish patriarch in RAN:

Why did I waste so much time avoiding TREE? As the intelligent girl growing up in near-poverty, Francie, Peggy Ann Garner is amazing, (she earned a special Oscar for that year) and as the stiff, occasionally cold but ultimately benevolent mom, Dorothy McGuire is among other things, a dead ringer of sorts (in beauty and rule-obeying temperament) for my own Brooklyn-Irish girlfriend. And as we say in AA, I really ID-ed with the drunken dreamer dad, Jonny Nolan (James Dunn). That's not even to mention Joan Blondell showing she had more than just moxy and pre-code vavoom in her arsenal. I didn't even mind all the period clothing. Why didn't I believe its director Elia Kazan would include nary a false or trite moment? It was a real wake-up call on how my past memories of being bored in school watching similar films had crippled me in my filmgoing life, all for no reason, except egoic clinginess to some outmoded idea of who I was.

Next step was to find this documentary on Werner Erhard, inventor of est, Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard (2007) on Netflix Streaming. I had a lot of respect for that as a kid in the 70s, because adults would come back from these weekend workshops transformed from bitter, drunken old disciplinarians into happy, young, freedom loving dads and moms who would initiate fun games with us like Monopoly, Kick the Can, and so forth. It was suddenly a great time to be a kid, suddenly, as adults were transformed by this man's work. In the documentary we learn why EST fell apart at the end, through media persecution, a bit perhaps like Scientology is persecuted today. But all I can say is that through all of our human history the only true enemy to progress is perhaps the media itself, always shrill and hysteric in trying to rabble rouse, believing its own exaggerations until it works itself up into an alarmist fervor. But then again, I shouldn't even judge. Retired from the bench I am!

So there was the Obama victory, the Sandy catastrophe --which spared my Park Slope neighborhood completely, but I'm sure the huge amount of energy in the air helped put me 'over the top' Frankenstein's laboratory-style as far zapping my inner freedom for nonjudgmental compassion along with: that crazy Scotch commercial with Claire Forlani; the crazy vindication of Carrie in HOMELAND; the crazy of Zulawski's SZAMANKA (see my twisted rant on all three here) --which showed me that bi-polar madness was 'in' so why not let it all hang out? So I been.


With a huge molecular change a bit like alcoholic DTs coupled with a day at the spa and a pink cloud of AA. I could feel the toxins of all that held-in stress swimming around in my nerves. All was/is love and light. Porn stash deleted the way one scrapes off scraps from a dinner dish into the trash no longer edible; clothes given away like Richard Burton in BECKETT; Buddha prayer print hung like Richard Gere after his first meditation class. Now I am like the foolish but noble end product King Lear RAN with his old man hat of flowers and mad clown for company; diet switched to vegan with stomach all but refusing to digest meat, just like that -- shazam; all injuries and selfishness forgiven (yours, theirs, and mine), all relatives' written to in love (soon, I promise!), hair turned white and long like Stephen Chow at the end of GOD OF COOKERY.  Fear and desire let go of with a deep shuddering molecular thunk. Then accidentally opening a book on 2012 I bought a few years ago and never read, and there it is, right on the same page I opened to: about every last detail of this huge change - right down to the ache in my chest from an expanded heart; the sudden vegan necessity itself known; the huge amount of water consumption, and fluctuating vision making seeing with or without glasses occasionally a challenge. I'm not even mentioning the huge amount of coincidental counterpoint dialogue coming from the TV. Call it pronoia, manic episoding, hallucinosis, magical thinking.... but if string theory has taught us anything is that if it feels like everything is nothing more than vibrations of various intensity, that the world is made of sound and light in constant flux, then you're not hallucinating but rather finally seeing things as they truly are. 

hmmm - (time passes)

Last week the fall foliage was gorgeous and I was busy at work but now that's all gone - the leaves are brown and the sky is gray, and the branches barren. The mood has changed, as it always does. Only a fool keeps a leaf after its crumbled. The students are all winding their way home for the break. My heart is still bigger than it was, my diet still restricting like a coiling serpent, rejecting first just milk then all dairy, first just veal than all meat, first just green vibrance then a dank forest.... but the honeymoon is already semi-over. Noooo, don't be negative, nooooo. too late - arrrgh. Am I going to lose my shamanic merit badge if I don't somehow preserve or restore my Kundalini electric prana?

 Well, not really. I managed to get down a ton of notes for a new project, all but dictated to me by the coiling metallic dragon serpent Quetzlcoatl, to create a new multi-media project involving alien chest bursters representing the heart chakra enlightenment and combining elements of Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Zen, and Hindu daemonology competing to decide which religion is the most truest . Different combinations burst out of the chest or forehead of the enlightened - ala ALIEN. If ALIEN/PROMETHEUS met at a spiritual meditation retreat. So check it out over at my new blog site MEDSITATION. I got to keep Acidemic edgy and bi-polar and media-obsessed, but Pswar will be over-the-top with nonjudgmental compassion and high strangeness, including weird ass collages, Buddhalacathological treatises, rules of this bizarre Aztec game we must recreate for Quetzlcoatl to return in full feather, and daft rambling naturalism, fillies of the lield considered.Will you come with me there now? Aummmmmmmm

If you cringe from such things, hey, I was one of you once, thrice, and maybe shall be again and I believe in separation of church and state, and I am against dogma in all its forms, though that includes the scientific dogma of materialism and overly stubborn skepticism (it's own form of dogma) and the dogma of jadedness, the wallow, the hidden heart. Awake, Q summons! Michael Moriarty hollering "eat em!" as he runs down the stairs.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Brother Bane's Sunday Counsel

(From SWAR OF THE SAINTS -- by the Yogi BruceBane)
Q - How can there be Gotham's urban blight and fear in the presence of your peace?

What else are these horrid, egregious bodily traumas for, what for the blunting pain of the pit, of class despair, if not the corresponding power of total acceptance?
The worse the pain the deeper the surrender.
Brainwashers and mystics alike know this same truth.
What is else is aloneness for, compared to which mere physical pain passes like a distant dream??
True surrender carries insufficient current without first its bitter truth.

Pain alone's a muffled scream you only recognize as yours too late.
Your voice babbled in Chinese, whatever it takes to get the torturer to stop,
your voice is now someone else's. It's given itself away.
The dread of pain, this is the true source of fear,
the preliminary hatred,
the fear the judges have of being judged
mirrored only by the force of their vehemence.

Surrender in the face of total panic creates a release of equal force.

This is how we inch our way forward, to remembering our infancy.
Tossed high in the air, the child does not imagine the 'thwack'
of falling head-first on the concrete street if daddy drops him.

So is fear of falling 'mature'
or just cowardly,

(From an interview with Eckhart Tolle)
How do you know whether a feeling you have is coming from your Ego, or from a deeper source?

Eckhart Tolle: Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. One criterion you can use is to know, if there is any negativity involved, anger, resentment, irritation, then Ego is present there. If there is no negativity but there is an underlying field of peace, then it arises from a deeper place that is not the Ego. For example, you may be in a situation, and you may feel that suddenly the right thing to do is to leave the situation – whether it’s a relationship, or a place, or a job, whatever it is – you can direct attention to the feeling to see where it’s coming from. Is there any reactivity, or anger in the essential part of that feeling? Or is there just a deep knowing that this is what you have to do, and you do it? There’s a peace that comes with that. (more)


(from The Philosophy of Batman)

In a Kantian way of looking at things, ideas of art, duty and morality share a quality of elevation and separation from the people who undertake them. Art is most successful and beautiful when it is disinterested in satisfying base needs. Acts made in the interest of gratifying the senses or causing pleasure for the agent have a lot of trouble being morally good, because these sensory responses are phenomenological, not part of the thing-in-itself.

These should be familiar moral ideas. You hear them when people complain about music being bad because it is commercial or popular, or people’s good deeds not being praiseworthy because they profited off them. They have value, but in The Dark Knight Rises, they are the Villain.

The intention that turns out to matter is not Bane’s phenomenological revolution, but the intention of the thing-in-itself –Talia’s intention, the true master of the League of Shadows. Talia is nostalgic, but disinterested in Bane’s pleasure or pain (literally suppressing his senses with the tube mask, mostly so he remains useful) and invisible to those looking at the phenomenological world. (...) In this movie, aspiring to a greater purpose separate from yourself and elevated above yourself through logic, institutions and abstractions depends on a lie — the lie that the originator of the Rational Will is disinterested — that there are effective, admirable people who can rise above their self-interest and rule and judge objectively. (more)


(from Dead Philosopher's Society)
As a privation, evil cannot be understood in isolation. To think meaningfully about an evil act, we must recognize what real or perceived good was the intended object of the act, and how the result failed to achieve the complete good that the act needed. Bane’s acts seem completely incomprehensible at the beginning of the movie, when all we see is the raw evil of their effects, but as the film goes on we learn that even this juggernaut of evil is motivated by a powerful love—one that has gone deeply astray to be sure, but a love that could have been beautiful. Bane is not the incarnation of a pure evil—he is a cruelly broken man searching for a real good that he does not know how to obtain.

This is why the Catechism—and the Church in general—never talks about evil in isolation, and rarely even mentions the subject directly. Satan may tempt us into believing that there is such a thing as pure evil, but the truth about reality is the fullness of perfection towards which God calls it, not its brokenness. Staring at the evil of an evil deed makes it more and more incomprehensible; only by seeing it in the context of the good order God desires for the world can we see the true nature of the deed. Only by knowing and loving what is right can we see how things go wrong.

As we stare in horror at the evil we see Bane do in the film, his deeds threaten to overwhelm us until we see them in the context of the good for which he is brokenly reaching; likewise, no matter how many details we learn about the events of July 20, we will never learn the truth about James Holmes—or the world around us—if we allow ourselves to believe that a pure evil has somehow sprung into being. We may never know exactly what good James Holmes thought he was reaching for, but we nevertheless look with confidence and trust at the God who has “overcome evil with good” (Rm 12:21).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A hole in me pocket - The Beatles, EST, The Buddha, the Yellow Submarine

 To act without acting, to fight without hurting, to shout quietly; these are the ways of the Tao, the ways of the Buddha, the ways of the Beatles. It's the Ascension, the 2012 Rise to higher vibrations. Can you feel them buzzing inside you like an interdimensional barber's razor?

Maybe if you are as old as I am you remember the time YELLOW came on TV, a colorful candy cane hallucination of a film that seemed kid friendly until these crazy Blue Meanies with their marching clowns, giant dinosaur mouth bellies, tall men dropping apples, and giant glove came marching, flying, and bombarding the good British music hall loving residents of Pepperland. What they did was put the poor residents to sleep, freeze them, immobilize them in glass bubbles, and thus they did create the need for one of the residents to escape in the Pepperland's only nautical super vehicle, the Yellow Submarine, to seek help. I'm still traumatized by it. The Meanies seemed like beings straight out of my childhood claustrophophobic nightmares, their immobilizing apple suffocation and glass bubbles leaving me gasping for days. The first time it came on, I recall changing the channel before the sub even found the first Beatle. How could one little bandleader effect any sort of rescue against such organized horror?

Yet looking at now it's fascinating that the Blue Meanie's war on Pepperland is-- despite the nature of conflict in and of itself-- non-fatal. No blood is shed in this film; there are no bruises created, not even hurt feelings. The citizens are frozen into--one presumes--a metaphor of the "living easy with eyes closed" unconsciousness of the average adult person with no access to good music. The vanquished (by love!) Blue Meanies are re-introduced into the fold at the end, and merge into the electric whole. The lead Meanie even finds a bosom chum in the Fool on the Hill. This re-merging of enemies into friends is essential for understanding the way of Peace, the way of children, of Gandhi, of MLK and JFK, of the New Deal and the Marshall Plan.

This is the point wherein swords are replaced with pillows; where children and adults wrestle as one in a free nonsexual, pre-oedipal, open-hearted, joyful space of total love/creative force. We may look for an example, and find one in professional wrestling, with its enactment of age-old struggles via big men in tights who telegraph their moves to each other in the locker room beforehand, all with the purpose of a good show, rather than to achieve a victory. There is no anger or animosity between them, just the ceremonial performance of it. This is catharsis and joyful participation in the sorrows of the universe at its best.

Kids see their parents succumb to the weapons of the Blue Meanies all the time: A once joyful dad sits frozen in a fog created by alarmist 24-hour news cycles, bourbon, cigarettes, and workplace stress. The distractions offered by cell phones (glued to ears) and papers and TV football games (glued to eyes) prevent the adult from engaging in wild horseplay with the children, from seeing the world how it really is: electric and candy-colored.

The important thing, which John Lennon--who up to a very late point in the film seems to be the most cranky and judgmental of the Beatles--brings up at the climax, is this: when you choose love and non-violence as your weapons, you are invincible. Love has no opposite. It is beyond duality. Hate isn't its mirror image but a distorted self perception. All hatred is self hatred. All love is selfless love.
John is not afraid to come off cranky if he is feeling that way, as he's cranky with love in his heart. Once Fred brings the Beatles to Pepperland and it's time to face the Meanies, John snaps out of his bitchy snarky funk and points out that all you need is love, and the word "love" appears, candy-colored electric and all-consuming, taking over the screen. The NO of the Meanies is given a K and a W - KNOW, and the answer to all things becomes YES. Duality and its ills melt away in the face of this universal power.

You can practice this anytime in your own life - it's easy - all you need is to recuse yourself from the bench. Cease all judgement. Stop labeling things as bad as you go through life. You were not appointed by god to vote on a reality-judging reality show panel. Surrender the power to loudly "not" like things; try what is offered, let go of old tapes. My mantra for this is "retired from the bench" - "Erich can't judge this as good or bad, he is retired from the bench. He has recused himself because he's too close to the problem." How can you judge something honestly when it's a part of you? That's what 'recused' or 'retired from the bench' is all about - if it's too close to see objectively, it's too close to judge; and things too far away are even harder to see clearly, so just love all things and people as if they were your own children, i.e. unconditionally. When the world and everything in it becomes your child, your love, your family, life gets 100% better almost instantly.

Maybe it started with you as it did with me, as a child. Maybe as a child you wanted to be different, to pull away from the herd, so one day you said you didn't like coconut when some ugly snot-nosed kid shared it at the cafeteria. Five years later you're allergic to coconut; today just the thought of it makes you ill. If a cute girl offered you the coconut instead of that kid you judged as snot-nosed, way back then, maybe you'd love it and not be allergic today. This is how arbitrary judgments today constrict tomorrow's bliss. Sooooo: Recuse yourself, now, for 2012. Let go of that original childhood decision against coconut and you're free. Allow the changes and impermanence of all things to overtake you. Allow the scissors of spiritual death to slice your old skin down the middle and burst you from your own chest anew. There is, after all, nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.


When John Lennon does go up against the big Blue Meanie with the power of love it's through touching him or gesturing in nonviolent, nonsexual, nonthreatening movements that cause the Meanie to break out in flowers. Wherever Lennon points, flowers erupt. The Meanie can't stand it because he has suppressed this childhood joy, has denied himself this simple open-handed nonviolent letting in, and now his own venomous distrust turns against him, as it always secretly has and will. The loop of karmic ill will is revealed and, in shame, he collapses. Fear breathes and lives inside him (and us) like a hateful worm, controlling our emotions and reactions in ways we feel we must own, as somewhere in the past we defined these ills as 'us'.

This is not really who we are! We forgot and turned our back on our true friends; we choose the side of the mean girls. But judging others in that us vs. them dichotomy is a spiraling addiction: you know the minute you stop pointing your finger at others, the fingers of the other pointers will turn to thee, so now you have to keep pointing! We get bluer and meaner with every gesture.

But when you point at John Lennon, he will come at you with the one thing that finger pointers can't stand, love love love - and absolute forgiveness. The pointing stops there.

But that is not the end, Lennon says to the defeated Meanie: "Hey Blue Meanies, join us." - the other Beatles echo, "Yeah, join us," and the Nowhere Man and the Flower Meanie form a special bond. This is what sets the film in such a sacred space.

The Nowhere Man, we should note, represents the academic, the aesthete, the last stop to dharma consciousness before the opening of the soul. He lingers on the threshold of the cliff of selflessness, collecting bottlecaps and volumes. "Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen" - and this is how most of us blue staters are -- we know where we're supposed to be, what we're supposed to do-- we try to be positive, but we don't feel it because we still have that core of fear and doubt, the insecurity, the loneliness, the existentialism, the longing for some golden elixir, some perfect sexual encounter or gold watch or jet ski that will complete us, the Christmas present that will erase all hurt.

Let it go... let it go....throw the jet ski over the side and join with the saints. Join with Nina Simone. Join with the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Dr. John, The Meters.. Join with the Love Supreme, the Sky Church music, the Coltranes Alice and John, the Lennon reborn as the saint within, endlessly opening flowers where once were gunshot wounds.

All that was hurt, frozen, and lost is restored.

It's not WAR

Let us call it, for lack of a better word SWAR.
Because it is war without edges, punches without fists, motion without speed.
It is the release of aggression and the resolution of conflict without bloodshed.
And if the conflict is not resolved it is, at the very least, brought up from its repressed boil simmer and performed, exercised on the stage.

....and this is how our problems will be resolved.

In becoming free we give up the right to judge even ourselves, even those who judge us.
We surrender all resistance and refusal, even violence and pestilence and death,
we accept it all in full open kindness.
Even the smelliest crap and lowliest worm,
the vilest homeless monster crouching behind the Mulholland diner,
even the brown toxic cloud and the corporate monsters spewing it --we love them all.

To get here we must flow like honey from a jar, unceasing and unresistant,
into the open mouth of Death's golden honey badger.
We are swallowed and digested into the belly of the beast, the whale, the valley of death, the dark night of the soul.
We are absorbed, transmuted, ejected
erected, emitted.
We are placed, enlightened the way a candle is lit
and placed in a window to illuminate the path.
The moths may come
too close
we will try to not burn them with our radiant love
but let this be known:
we always and eternal, burn. The lighthouse consumes us
and is us.

Now free, our muscles feel looser.
Someone's loosened our tightly wound strings.
Now the sad and closed lonely people do look blue, half-strangled,
shoulders slumped and heads lowered down into the streets.
We want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them, straighten them and
give them a gentle push into the light,
but they'd think
we're crazy.

The fear-cursed lad on the shore who gazes into the waves, afraid to surf lest he should drown,
becomes a man with no roots, no nourishment from ground or sky,
existing only for the illusive past and future -- golden memories, alive in dead photos
and anticipations of future vacations...
He dreads that, on the week he takes off from work to plan a trip to the beach, it might rain.
$299 a night he should pay for sitting inside with the rain? Aye yi yi.
He can already feel the sting of his wife's rapprochement.
Why he did not check the weather, three months in advance?
His stomach is already knotted from the anticipation of being sequestered with those monsters, the $299 a night view showing only thundering rainy pounding surf.

But the sky above him pounds on his hair like a flurry of saxophones, seeking entrance to his brain.
The ground below pulses and spins, seeking to flow its energy through his veins, nerves, fibers.
The air around him is a crowded happy party watching its lonesome guest.
In the corner he looks at books on the bookshelf, hoping someone will talk to him,
but it has to be the right someone, a pretty, smart, sensational, well-connected someone.
Not just anyone.
In his fickle judgments, his island shrinks
until he's shark-surrounded,
choking on his own chum.

The anointed air makes no distinctions in its breathers.
Monsters, saints, dogs and devils all inhale it.
The clouds are not selective as to on whom they rain.
The floods do not choose the poor over the rich.
It's all location location location,
and we have one location,
which is here,
which is now.

And here they come, the angels from Arcrturus,
from the Pleiades, from Neptune and the Great Blue Ocean, vibrating in the inner circlets of our air.
Here come the Humpback whales, the seals, the singers, the gospel choirs and kindergarten theater troupes, the Harpo Marxes, the French, the Indians, The Native Americans, the artists in Portland, the artists in Tokyo, the ones not haunted by the rays of the screen.

And then, even the haunted, and even their ghosts.

Here come the waves, the blue and red waves, the morphing figures, the dancing shiva flames of acceptance, tolerance, the removal of all fear and soot from our body chimneys.
Now are we made whole.
Those of us with glasses will suddenly need weaker prescriptions.
We will want to work longer hours, spend more time with our kids, somehow now ewe find ample time for both, without a worry of where time goes. We will
eat better, stop swearing, refrain from ejaculation during sex to preserve and increase our stores of prana for the job ahead. We will avoid meat.

When the patient is healed, he must cast off his crutch and stand, or be forever unable to walk.
The reborn lazy will shun their beds, their TVs, their junk food, in the same way...
the cheap thrills, escapism, idolatry, negativity and anger will be dropped
effortlessly, barely noticed,
the way a leaf drops from a tree in autumn
or a magazine from your lap at the doctor's office
when your name is called.

Your name is called.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

CinemArchetype 19: The Holy Madman

Okay, here is where it gets tricky. This is the last stop. This is when you finally, after that long night before the dawn, surrender your last vestige of self-centered fear and open like a full flower before the void, trusting the open arms to God to appear and warm thee, arms open to embrace even death and even your enemies and even your own twisted self. Viola! No matter how zombie-rotten you think you've grown all those decades in the dank predator basement soil of your own lacerating wit and delusions you are now as blooming with radiant joy as if you never were a moment without much hydroponics and greenhouse sunshine. Every last tendril is unfurled and unafraid, you bask radiant in the light of -----, whoops, what am I allowed to say? What can I say that won't turn off my reader? Some of my readers will wince if I say God, Lord, Jesus, others will wince if I say anything else--Buddha, Allah, Ganesha, Quetzlocatl, Kali, Indra, Sabra, Jah, Vishnu, Carmine, the door-knob--they'll say those are the wrong names and they have to burn you at the stake or on the cross or hang you from a tree to protect His holy name, but we all know, even they know, those people, the fearful of God, are on the way out. They cannot stand against the love tide. The love tide washes out the hateful fire. The burning Kundalni serpent of awakening swallows and digests the sexual-violence-promoting reptiles of intolerance and false profits. All you have to do to help is love them both without limit. They HATE that! Inverse the Lady MacBeth ratio: appear the fiery serpent but be the flower under it. If you are a man walk tall and roar your love for God and self and truth, but know this: when you hate the person who roars less, or the same, or louder, or when you praise the hottie but stinkeye her un-stunning friend, when you split the dichotomy so that you love one thing but hate its neighbor, you've already lost god, become your own enemy via duality's ugly hear rearing. You can walk tall all you want after that, but you will fool no one. You can't escape my love for you, even then, in that sorry state. May this post bring out to you what it has brought me.

1. Robert Duvall - The Apostle (1997)
I first saw this when I was first getting sober and going to AA and it was when I first realized God was and had been watching and taking care of me all this time through the movies I watched, like a stealth bomber pilot, but the bombs were of love and acceptance dropped throughout my viewing regimen. I was too surly perhaps to dig on that fully, until that moment, or this one. But Robert Duvall did, does dig it. He gets it. He got it in Tender Mercies. He got it in The Great Santini. He got it Tennessee. He got it on the moon. He got it at the diner over steak fries. He got it at the National Air and Space Museum looking at the moon rocket. He found it inside a Mockingbird birch. He found it in the worms under the floorboards in the basements, and he found it in the sunshine through the palm trees, even the smell of napalm in the morning, even the smallest flower and the largest ocean.

But even here his character still has one or two hang-ups, including bashing the cuckold in his nest with a baseball bat and then fleeing the state. In my case it was finding some hip huggers-and-tan booth blonde Scorpio and fawning over her at the exclusion of angry others, getting high on the exclusionary glue fumes of gossip. But I broke through my inner iceberg watching Duvall break through his, sensing some magic in his his high-stepping crazy dance of love for God, and I actually stood up, while alone in my apartment, and started crying right when someone else in Duvall's congregation stood up and we kind of looked at each other across the expanse of the screen like brothers who had both landed on the delivery room floor at the exact same moment.

2. TIE - Warren Beatty as Bulworth (1998)
I never liked Warren Beatty before this movie, but after it I'm a lockstep fan. The man has balls and character. I'm not sure about whether the God part is all there but the holy madness is the same. The bro takes a hit out on himself, and suddenly with nothing to lose starts telling the truth and living in the moment and events begin to crystalize around him with stunning power. His attempts to rap about social issues may be a little douche chill-cringish but get over it! Bulworth rules! I cried like a baby.

Alastair Sim as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1951)
There have been many Scrooges. A big favorite at the Kuersten house is the George C. Scott TVM version. But no one captures the full shamanic enlightenment moment as well as the 1951 Alastair Sim version. The ecstatic morning after the three visits, the sight of Sim's Scrooge cavorting around his bed chambers while his broken-down maid slowly grows hysterical from fear and confusion is a highlight in all holiday moviedom. Like so many movies on this list, it tends to show up on telly right when I most need it. Sim makes me believe the humbug avoidance of the pre-ghost visit, the closed-off heartedness melting with the past and present, the regret and the mortal terror that comes blazing through you when one is finally forced to behold  his own inescapable death in full bloom. And the ecstatic release of a second chance, when, as Scrooge notes "I finally know that you know nothing!" is palpable and contagious. One thing he thing at last he knows: loving and supporting the world around you is a pretty smart investment.

3.a. Burt Lancaster - Elmer Gantry (1960)
Burt Lancaster's performance here can be read a zillion ways because it's, like.... a total masterpiece of energy expenditure. Just praising the lord-- no matter how snarky about it all you may think you're being - is still enough to get you high high high, so high you forgive all your trespassers. Sure, Gantry's a hypocrite, but when he storms downtown to smash up the bars and whore houses he does so with love in his heart, and when his church burns, and everyone turns on him, he's still got the love in his heart, which is why he's willing to share the holy trinity number three with...

3.b. Gary Cooper as Sgt. York (1941)
York's a wandering through the rain with hate and confusion in his sharpshooter heart until he stumbles on a church, inside they're singing "That Old Time Religion" and he comes in and slowly (in a scene similar to one in Elmer Gantry) is 'found' through song and acceptance. He then has to wrestle with some weighty issues before trudging off to war.

Though directed by Hawks this is neither a Hawks film nor a war film, per se, which is why I didn't like it as a youth. It's a peace film. York's a hero, not for how many Germans he kills but for many he takes prisoner. A sharpshooter in war is a pretty serious weapon, especially in WWI, and if he's peaceful then maybe enemy soldiers will get lucky and just get shot in a rifle shoulder, and the foot if they try to run. There's no need to kill someone if you're a sharpshooter. Not if you got that old time religion.

Of course, America doesn't want to hear that kind of stuff now, maybe, but one day, America, one day you'll be hateful in the rain and ready for the sound of singing.

3.c. James Stewart - It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Then again, maybe America is in some way already saved. Here's Jimmy Stewart through the eye of the needle, ravaged by the greed and thwarted desires that for so long kept him trapped in the prison of Potter's Town. But Clarence gets his wings and Stewart's hard work in the community pays off, as it must, by karma's inexorable law. Asking for help is, of course, incredibly hard for those who usually don't need it. Blessed are the poor and meek and deformed for, in having to depend on others, they are compelled to either dwell on the snowy bridge of misery or come in from the cold to gratitude and harmony with one another. Everyone may groan and sigh at the thought of seeing such a 'corny' film, so traditional and typical, but no one escapes the cathartic rush of tears and communal ecstasy when this film is over.

4. María Alche as The Holy Girl (2004)
Lucretia Martel is a complex genius of warmth from Argentina. Their culture's rich heritage of tactile affection is so brilliantly captivated in her films that it may be years before she's ever given her true due, before she's ever elevated in critic's minds to the level of saint, for her inter-class multi-generational Altmanesque overlap tapestry woven with a forward momentum that makes you giddy even as you can't understand, at first, half of what is going on. It's about a girl enraptured by her newly found gift of prayer, and the sublime joy involved in forgiving everyone of their trespasses, even the pedophile who brushes up against her in the street. Of course that's the tragic, strange angle, the immense sadness of those still sick and suffering in their mistaken, harsh refusal to admit they need and crave human contact and acceptance. Martel captures it all in a Buenos Aires hotel at which the holy girl and her friend's moms both live and work as maids. The camera sneaks around like a restless nosy child, a tactile counterpoint to the actors who have a five AM flush from all their monkey grooming and the hot air of the laundry presses.

5. Harvey Keitel - Bad Lieutenant (1991)
Here's a movie that's like a long painful ladder, from heaven to hell and up it scales, naked, masturbating, empty, filled, vulnerable, angry, terrified, the mighty and fearless actor Harvey Keitel. I used to love to watch this movie high on Rocket bourbon, reefer, mushrooms, flybane, LSD, and Special K, but The Bad Lieutenant himself prefers crack, cocaine, gin, guns, and betting on a World Series between the Mets and the Dodgers. I've seen this movie a dozen times and it seems to be a different score every time. There's at least two different versions of the film, unrated and rated R, one with a lengthy and super strange scene where Harvey does some bad things in the company of two girls, and a Skooly D. track song sampled Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" without licensing, which the copyrights on sampling changed during the film's release--so only VHS tapes still have that version. But none of these changes diminish the gonzo power of seeing Jesus appear to Harvey and have him crawling around in the church shouting obscenities and crying because now he has to forgive and absolve two guys who raped a nun and stole "a holy thing." The nun forgives, and she counsels Harvey to do the same. In my virulently anti-Catholic days I didn't understand fully what it was all about, like Harvey's unnamed character I had to try every single damn other avenue, slowly wearing out my welcome at every purgatory pit stop. But sometimes all it takes is a spark and you're ready to roar right up like a burning midnight cornfield of heavenly absolution. When that happens it doesn't matter what else comes. The white light of love has touched you, has activated your pineal holy glandular third eye and now you're free.... free... free... BANG! You're dead, but too free to care.

6. Graham Faulkner and Judi Bowker as Brother Sun and Sister Moon
Graham Faulkner is fine and gorgeous as the solar brother, Saint Francis; his bright-eyed face contorts with spiritual ecstasy like Harpo Marx crossed with Sam Rockwell. As the lunar sister, Judi Bowker is a wispy knockout with such long gorgeous blond hair that for me the biggest tragedy of Christendom is when they decide to cut it all off so she can join their muddy little holy order.

That's where my Christianity draws the line. Would you pick the lilies of the field right in fullest flower just to cut the heads off?  Still, if I came across this nut Francis in the fields outside Assisi, what would I do? Probably join him; lord knows I've joined up with magnetic hippies far dirtier, and for far less noble reasons. Following your heart takes guts, and the best Christians are the ones who bow their heads to lions daily. The rest of us forget and run, and are ripped to shreds, lifetime after lifetime.

7. Maya Angelou, Tyler Perry, Cicely Tyson - Madea's Family Reunion (2006)
+ David Chapelle, Michel Gondry, everyone - David Chapelle's Block Party (2005)

If you think there's anything more beautiful than an elderly black man walking down a sunny Brooklyn street in his Sunday finery, then you dear sir or madame, are crazy. And seeing that level of beauty is one of the last stops on the heavenly choo-choo.  Will you join with me now in dropping your baggage and hopping aboard?

I think it's a truly beautiful thing that Tyler Perry's Madea has become such a success, and of course I also understand the baffled unease of the white critics who watch with jaws agape. I too would be like those confused critics if I had been assigned both these movies at my old critic job, and I will always be grateful to the editors for passing these films down to the second stringers like some unclean leper's foot that cures not just the leper, but the sinner washing it. I grew up in a time and place where on one hand everyone was open and loving and happy in our all-white comfortably middle class suburban Lansdale, PA community. But on the other hand--even the late 60s-early 70--it was a time when adults were openly racist, sexist, homophobic, and seven deadly sinful without ever thinking it was wrong, and after a bunch of cocktails it got worse, and I thought it was hilarious! I loved the permissive freedom, the easy and free human contact and I was high on that sugary fast food of group social bonding, racism and us vs. them-ism -- easy to find, cheap as hell, but leaves you hating yourself in ways it might take decades to even realize, or admit. So while some artsy white writers aren't racist but don't want to see Madea for its lack of artsiness, I wasn't one of them.

Madea's Family Reunion covers a lot of ground, it's got fart jokes and spousal abuse and this and that, but one thing it doesn't do, not for a minute, is back down from the Big Path, the full-on "love and forgiveness to all" angle. There's a stretch during the reunion when Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou show up, and in the back yard is the old slave shack of their ancestors, and there's so much gravitas, wisdom, strength and beauty in this scene where Tyson and Angelou speak on the issues of rising up that I just lost it, and so did everyone there in the all black Union Square audience I saw it with, not in this choking back sobs quietly with kleenexes white people way, but in a powerful spiritual transformation way where we all began to breathe in unison, into one long crying one minute / laughing the next but in always outward motion that seemed to brighten the very auditorium us with some kind of multi-colored aural radiance that gradually became silvery white light. When we walked out of the theater, we walked out together. It was not in the usual way I was used to exiting a film, all hurried and quick to get to the bathroom, before the dawdlers turned the aisled into a stalled-out traffic jam. We exited as a family, our eyes met, warm and open and unafraid...

David Chapelle and Michel Gondry also created that vibe for me and my screening's audience in David Chapelle's Block Party. Chapelle's open-hearted good nature in trying to throw this free block party for his old Bed Stuy neighborhood is truly infectious, and as it unfolds the positive energy just creates its own healing space where a secretly semi-intolerant Brooklyn dwelling liberal like myself feels like he just had about six hours of massage after being in a cramped prison for 30 years. Anyway Chappelle and Gondry must have struck a chord because since then Gondry has become a kind of saint of racial unification, at least to me. I really needed it, and he gave it to me at the right time.

8. Bill Murray - Groundhog Day (1993)
The dharma flows through Harold Ramis's heavenly vehicle thanks to a script co-written with the celestial Danny Rubin. I've seen this film at many different station stops  of life, but one thing for sure, I now know, it's all true. Heaven and Hell are spread upon the bread of the earth, the crust dug deep by the knowing hog called Punxsutawney Phil. Even his name sounds Buddhist, as if filling the heart with some purple light of forgiveness and self-acceptance. Let us now consult the divine Punxsutawney Phil, for yes, in transmuting the day into night with peace and a perfectly open heart we actually do get to sleep with the celestial Andie McDowell of pure conscious light and reasoning. But that means no more meanness, Bill. But if you are just horny for the Andie McDowell action, you shall never achieve her, because it means you are caught in desire's sticky web, so all your sweetness to her means you must be sour to all rivals for her attention, and they seem to be everywhere, oh man they are here and there to the point you get jealous even of the flowers she smells, of the kid she smiles at in passing. It's as inevitable as you care to make it. But when even the most wheezing of dirty old men in your way to see her is your brother, and you stoop to help him, throwing all the candy hearts and flowers meant for her under his head for a pillow, only then shall ye finally have her. Watching the subtlety of Bill Murray's face as he slowly goes from angry to existential to resigned to bitter to horny and desperate and finally to this blissful acceptance is one of the great transcendental joys of pop culture comedy cinema.

9. Clark Gable - Strange Cargo (1940)
There's a beautiful moment in this endearingly odd and truly spiritual MGM film when the Jesus stand-in, Cambreau (Ian Hunter) lets himself be swept overboard, knowing Gable's 'saving' is imminent. That weird apocryphal savior is to Gable is what Obama's second victory was to me, the final dusting away of the last few layers of frozen cobwebs and crap stuck up in my heart chakra's blu-ray eye retina. The cracked iconography of MLK and JFK bled together back into life and there he was, better stronger, faster, the bionic MLKFJ-Ultraman. It doesn't even matter now what happens. If you've read to the end of our country and world's story, don't spoil it. Let me radiate in this one perfect moment with the power of a thousand gongs and the humility of a single hobo's tear as his beach ball drowns in a Sandy mudslide...

The look on Gable's face makes me cry every time when I watch this film, and so I've cried, now, twice. I think of it as the opposite of the look on Joe Buck's face at the end of Midnight Cowboy - when Joe realizes Ratzo is dead, and the bus is still going, and for a little while he's just sitting there in his little bus seat, guarding his bag with a look on his baby face like a little five year old kid trying to be tough on the bus to his first day of school, trying not to appear weak in case all the other kids are looking at him which of course he feels that they are. Jon Voight has the most adorable and sad little war face on in that scene, and it breaks your heart... and we all remember that first terrifying bus ride, the time we extinguished the light of love and joy out of our eyes like a lantern during an air raid black-out of bullies, jaded teachers, busy parents, none of whom noticed the loss or cared or commented. We thought that's what adulthood was. And in our matchless ignorance we drowned ourselves in 120 proof kerosine.

Voight's war face is reversed in Strange Cargo's key moment --suddenly doing the math and realizing the guy overboard is Jesus or the next best thing, because he's a man after all and what thou dost to the smallest and humblest of my creatures thou dost to me, etc., Gable's face is first hardened to the stranger Cambreau's plight as he bobs in the stormy waves, snarling to Joan Crawford, "I wouldn't go in after him if he was my own broth---" breaking off, so beautiful there in the rain when he realizes hey, that's his brother, all right - and suddenly he's five years old again, a wide-eyed pleading look of pure innocence washing over his face - like now that I found you I can't lose you, not now not ever, no matter who you are. It's part and parcel of a spiritual awakening to have this sudden newfound respect for every last life and living thing. A single beggar in the gutter is, in a flash of pink light, more precious than a dozen emperor rubies, without question, without pause.

10. Mae West as Klondike Annie (1935)
The early films of Hollywood found this a popular theme and it went on with Mae West in the very underrated Klondike Annie. I found it a very good theme to drink to, and later to get sober to--the con artist hiding out amid some religious sect, first thinking she will scam them, only to wind up getting 'trimmed' of their clutched wallets of vice and fear. Mae West starts out the main attraction of a San Francisco Chinatown brothel, singing "I'm an occidental woman / in an oriental mood / for love..." But her lover there won't let her sail with the tide so she kills him and escapes onto a steamer out of town. Or maybe she kills him, that scene / part seems to have been just shorn clear away by censors of forgetful editors. Another passenger on the ship (captained by gruff Victor McLaglen) is Sister Annie, a missionary bound for the gold rush Klondike. The two ladies become friends and though Annie doesn't drink or smoke or screw around, she doesn't preach at Mae, and that wins Mae's respect, even some interest in the good book she's reading.

Well, you can guess a goodly portion -- Annie dies, Mae takes her place at the mission while falling in love with the mountie that's got her Most Wanted poster on his wall, and all the while the hulking ex-lover McLaglen stomps around in jealous pique. West figures out what's wrong with the current mission and get it into shape, a bit like a female version of Sky Masterson packing the mission house in Guys and Dolls. One of the big leading moments is when Mae runs into an old fellow 'working girl' from back in Frisco, who's kind of incredulous Mae's been walking it like she talks it. Mae says out of the corner of her mouth, "I quit smokin' and drinkin' too" like it's a dirty secret. But she's proud of it, and so am I. Kinda.

This was labeled at the time as Mae's attempt to make peace with the Catholic Legion of Decency, but of course they didn't budge from their urge to hang her from the yard arm, good 'Christians' that they are Doesn't matter, in the end West's willingness to extend the olive branch makes her a missionary I'd follow into any position.
(see it here)

11 John Belushi and Dan Akroyd as Jake and Elwood Blues - The Blues Brothers (1980)
The boys are blessed with a sureness that allows for complete confidence, no matter how many trillions of Chicago cop cars are chasing them or Arethas are stopping their Donald Duck Dunn's and guitarists from going on their mission from God. As a kid in the 70s I was enthralled and intimidated by the Blues Brothers on TV. I had seen them first appear on SNL as a homemade musical act, with Dan Akroyd un-handcuffing his harmonica lunchbox. I contemplated the icky thumb-printed magnetism of their first album, which lurked in a box of cassettes at the King's in Lansdale.  The film starts out strong, on that unassailable mission from God, climaxing with that spectacular concert, then things got a little crazy on the way back to the kids' Chicago Catholic school. The cop cars begin to pile up to the point of insanity, and as the testosterone engines in my brain began to rev (I was 13), I felt they had cheated me by overdoing it, like teaching a kid to hate smoking by making him smoke a whole pack in front of you. You like to see cop cars crash, well we're going to crash every cop car in Chicago so you will have learned your lesson. And I didn't get the whole mission to God thing at all, not until later, much later, when I could feel it in my bones and it could make my soul tingle with the mighty blues and the healing sounds of that Aretha and that Duck Dunn and that heavenly Cab.

12. Stephane Audrane as Babette - Babette's Feast (1987)
There's still a long list to go on this one, stuff you wouldn't even think of, maybe. Maybe I wouldn't even think of it. But here's this film, on which I will leave you. I resisted seeing it for the longest time because my mom is Swedish and a Christian Scientist and never one to go all alchemical magic with food. So everyone's like oh you have to see this film oh oh and I'm like shut up man I don't like period pieces and I don't like foodie films and I certainly don't like Christian films, and then you mix them all together with wintry desolation in Norway, now I'm really out of here. I'm too cool. These girls aren't even hot, man. There's no guns. Godard said a movie is a girl with a gun, and this gots neither, just old broads and stark painterly light. But I covered it for a database, rented it, watched it, weeped hysterically, got mad at it, couldn't figure it out, wept again, finally began to get it.

Now I got it.
Thank you .... thank you... thank you.... everyone who indulged my humors or cockblocked or cuckolded or encroached uppon me or tried to get me to come out and play when I didn't want to. There wasn't a thing anyone ever did for me, in all the years of my life, that hasn't been absolutely needed to get me here, to this point, to this now. I owe you it all, all of you all of you all of you I love you all.

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