The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

By Alcman
Translated by Sherod Santos

The rills and gullies and saddleback hills are sleeping now,
the talus slopes of the mountain are asleep,
and the low scrub thickets, and the riverine glades.
Sleep gathers in the sound of the water's fall,
in the trade winds riffling the coral shoals;
and all four-footed creatures the black earth breeds--
the race of bees, the gathering tribe of broad-winged birds,
the monsters plundering the bloodshot sea--
all are asleep in the depthless conjuring of that sound.


From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World. "This poem by Alcman, a pre-classical Greek poet, has the quality of immediacy, that sensation of nothing coming between experience and feeling," writes the critic. "'Hypnos' describes various forms of this sensation. The hypnotic sound of the falling water seems directly connected to the sleepy feeling invoked by different terrains and animals: mountains along with thickets, rivers along with coral shoals; animals and insects, birds and fish. The poem's language feels transparent, creating another kind of immediacy: My feelings as a reader seem to grow directly from the poet's imagining of these landscapes and creatures. That sense of an unmediated feeling, from nature directly to the emotion, and from the artist's imagination directly to the audience, is a powerful creation: the illusion of no distance. Other kinds of art are gloriously dark, mediated, gradual. With "Hypnos," the effect of immediacy is especially pleasing because the closeness is paradoxical; the poem is among the most distant from us in time, written in the 7th century B.C.E."

We saw King Kong this afternoon and I feel like I sat through three separate hour-long movies. I absolutely loved the first one, really didn't like the second and was a little confused by the theme and tone of the third, though overall I would have to say it was enjoyable and I am glad my family persuaded me to see that one on the big screen (my vote had been to rush to The New World opening weekend, though it was 60 degrees here and there was almost nobody at any movie, so I imagine this weekend's box office is going to be a disappointment to Hollywood at least in the DC area). King Kong confirmed my fears that Peter Jackson has gotten rather self-indulgent and has no idea when his film might benefit from some editing by someone not in love with the material -- something I felt during The Return of the King as well -- though with ROTK, I don't think the excess hurt the film artistically since Jackson had already sold the universe so well in Fellowship and Two Towers. But to a non-historical fan like me, I was left so cold by parts of this King Kong that I wasn't as moved as I might have been later in the film when it was more emotional.

I think King Kong might have been a brilliant two-hour film without the dinosaur flick in the middle. The opening movie, the one about the Depression and the entertainment industry and the steamship voyage, is utterly delightful -- my favorite Jack Black performance ever, and Naomi Watts is lovely and sympathetic and the rest of the cast is quite good too, though I felt Adrien Brody was somewhat wasted in a role that could have been so much more developed. There's a decent blend of humor, drama and historical detail and such beautiful filmmaking, particularly the lighting...during the first hour I was wondering whether everyone I knew who had hated the film might have been nuts because it was so well done and the title character hadn't even shown up yet.

Then the dinosaur flick started. I had going in, and continue to have, qualms about Skull Island, a place where flamboyant racism can be exploited first via the brutish vicious natives, then via King Kong himself, but given that that's in the much older source material, it's not something for which I particularly blame the filmmakers, though I can't help but feel that if they could update the special effects and turn Ann from a screaming victim into a compelling character, it wouldn't have killed them to play around a little with our expectation of island savages. And wouldn't it be amazing if someone made a King Kong with a woman of color as beauty to the beast -- it wasn't unheard of for actresses to put on wigs and pass, and that would add a whole different level to the idea of illusion and self-deception where love and beauty are concerned. We're supposed to buy that Ann's hair stays fluffy, that her flimsy gown never rips, and that she doesn't get a single major blemish let alone any serious bruising from being tossed from one of Kong's hands to the other and all that, so given the suspension of disbelief already necessary to believe in Ann, asking me to believe that she's not a pretty white girl beneath the surface would hardly be a problem.

Anyway, accepting for the moment that "beauty" means "slender pale blonde female with big blue eyes" -- I'd like to say it's just Carl and his ilk who believe that, but the portrayal of the dark-skinned, dark-eyed natives underlines it -- I still think that the touching story of how Kong falls for Ann and vice versa is dramatically undercut by the dinosaur flick. Carl and Bruce's Excellent Adventure contradicts the half-assed Heart of Darkness theme where the kid actually articulates that it isn't supposed to be an adventure story at all; of course it's cool that they go into the jungle and see dinosaurs! Of course we're supposed to relate more to Carl wanting to chase and photograph the dinos than Bruce wanting to run away! And what's at first set up as a nice subplot -- the relationship between the first officer (and token good guy person of color) and the boy he'd adopted -- gets thrown out in favor of lengthy shots of stampeding dinos, which might be forgivable if they weren't followed up by just as long a sequence with creepy gigantic bugs. Don't tell me that this is Kong canon, because even if it is, the dino sequence could have been ten minutes and the bugs three. In exchange for endless cool creature effects, we get the kid mourning his mentor and growing up and learning to use a gun and...disappearing entirely out of the film, all in the space of five minutes! What the hell!

I was a little tired and drained by Act III, which should have been the climax of the film, and by the time Kong actually fell off the Empire State Building, I was long past being able to be moved enough to cry. The sequence in the Broadway theater, with Kong breaking free, is wonderfully done -- intercutting between the poor captive ape and Driscoll (who's been parallelled halfheartedly with the ape all along; he sails to the island in an animal cage, he falls for Ann's warmth and humor, he wants to be her rescuer). But then there's that cutesy-absurd ape/girl romantic sequence with the swelling music! I realize that everyone takes their dates skating in Central Park in every romance movie, but when the woman is wearing a sleeveless dress and the ice is not cracking under a massive jungle ape, I'm rolling my eyes at the preposterousness far more than I'm sighing over the sweetness. By the time Kong climbs the skyscraper of the mysteriously people-free city which is suddenly reminding me of Minas Tirith in long shots, I've long since strained my credulity past the breaking point, no matter how realistically he moves.

And he is remarkable; I was totally believing in King Kong until that skating business. I totally believe in the dinosaurs too. The special effects are so stunning, so seamless, that it's like someone forgot to notice that there are just too many, that there's a point where it's overkill; those realistic insects started to make me think that Jackson wanted to outdo Aragog, not that he wanted to make any sort of dramatic point or even thrill in the moment. It detracts from the phenomenal achievement of Kong when there's so much attention to vine-climbing and avalanches and pop-up Sarlaacs.

And the final shots just plain irritated me. Of course Ann and Driscoll are supposed to end up together, but her throwing herself into his arms right then feels wrong to me...she's still mourning Kong, the central character of the film, as are we, she's just risked her life to try to save his...I wanted her to be accepting Driscoll's hand and letting him help her down the ladder maybe, showing that maybe now they would finally talk, but not some cheap embrace with the city around them implying they get married and live happily ever after. And then Kong lying intact on the intact street below...did Jackson not see any footage of what people looked like who jumped from the World Trade Center, what happened to their bodies, what happened to the sidewalk? Showing a perfectly intact dead body threw me completely out of the film and took away whatever I might have been feeling for Kong -- at that moment he became just another special effect. So much better to have let us see the fall and then never shown the aftermath up close.

Anyway, I am always happy to see a movie with a well-shot ocean voyage and I have nothing against dinosaur flicks...I just think that if Jackson wanted to make Jurassic Park, he would have been better off doing so in a separate movie. So while I like King Kong in bits and pieces, it's nothing that will ever make my personal favorites list, despite a very good cast, some stunning cinematography and absolutely breathtaking creature work.

Otherwise I wrote a couple of unenthralling Star Trek articles, updated several web pages -- I wanted the Barbie Tarot at The Little Review and realized that I needed to move the photos somewhere other than my Livejournal scrapbook to do that -- played with my kids, ate dinner and sort of paid attention to the Maryland game (I still cannot believe Georgetown beat Duke -- Georgetown is my father's alma mater so I loathe them as a matter of principle but Duke is the bane of all ACC teams!) I am sad about the whale but I had a feeling yesterday that it was headed to this sort of ending. There are probably parallels I could make with King Kong but it would probably also be tacky. Instead some other urban animals:

Remember the cheetah cubs at the National Zoo last year? They have grown up into these big rugby-playing cats! (That one lying down is devouring a ball.)

A second litter was born later in the spring. Here they are trying to lounge in the shade.

While one tiger rests, the other paces. There were three tiger cubs born at the zoo a couple of years ago, but they have been sent off to other zoos, I think to gear the parents up to try to produce some more.

Neither of the lions, however, could be bothered to sit up and roar even a little; they were too busy doing what cats do best.

Now that I have finished with the Barbie Tarot, I am thinking about doing a Fine Art Tarot -- I may limit it to European art from the 18th-19th century for simplicity's sake, since that is what I know best and I will feel less awkward leaving other eras, styles and locations out. I am very open to suggestions and would love to make this a collaborative project if people are interested.

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