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The Little Review
Making No Compromises With the Public Taste
Poem for Thursday 
Thursday, 26th January 2006 12:11 am

somewhere i have never travelled
by ee cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands


I am sure I've posted that poem before, though I can't find where at the moment, but I was in the mood for it because it reminds me of Woody Allen, since he had Michael Caine's character give a book with it to Barbara Hershey's character in Hannah and Her Sisters. Back then Woody's characters still had some qualms before rushing headlong into adultery and there was a certain romance involved. I saw Match Point earlier, and while it has its good points -- mostly excellent performances and gorgeous shots of London which encompass much of my personal fantasy of living there -- I thought the movie was a hell of a lot better the first time he made it, when it was set in New York and titled Crimes and Misdemeanors.

I think Crimes and Misdemeanors is not only Allen's best film but the best film of its decade and possibly its quarter century, so I should preface all this by saying I think Allen is completely insane to have pillaged from it. It isn't that Match Point is a bad movie; the pacing's a little slow but the central drama is compelling, and I suppose that if I'd never seen C&M, I might have thought MP was quite good. But comparisons are absolutely impossible to avoid. They are both films about men who grew up poor, became rich, married British women befitting the station to which they wished to rise in life, cheated on those women with lower-class women with issues, and then killed their mistresses when the mistresses threatened their wealth and position. The scene in which Nola shrieks that she wants to speak to Chris' wife Chloe in MP is nearly word for word identical to the scene in which Dolores shrieks that she wants to speak to Judah's wife Miriam in C&M, except that the former is set indoors while the latter is set on a street in London. The crisis of MP seems inflated compared to that in C&M -- the girlfriend is pregnant, she's already making public scenes, she has more connections to the male protagonist's family, the protagonist's wife is pregnant as well, the protagonist commits the crime himself and murders another woman just to strengthen the impression that the motive was robbery -- but making the crisis bigger doesn't make it better, because we never get a clue why the main character has absolutely no moral center.

In C&M, Woody Allen doesn't only make Judah's moral decay make sense, it's what the movie's about; his affair is a symptom of his deep malaise, not the cause of it. He grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, which surfaces as a theme again and again in the film; the character played by Allen himself is making a movie about a philosophy professor trying to make sense of life and faith in the wake of the greatest atrocity known to humans, Judah's aunt insists that the Europeans "got away with" killing six million Jews because they've never been held accountable, both men are struggling with the question of whether morality is possible in a world where such a thing happened. The professor, who teaches the importance of a life-affirming attitude in the face of the atrocities he survived, commits suicide. Judah is an opthalmologist, a profession he says he chose because his father told him that the eyes of God see all, but his rabbi is going blind from glaucoma and it becomes increasingly apparent to Judah not only that God isn't looking, he isn't even there.

It's a deeply philosophical movie in which Allen's character insists that in a world without judgment, people have to take the responsibility for morality themselves -- that a murderer should turn himself in if he gets away with it -- but Judah says that only happens in the movies, and goes off to dance with his wife. It's stunning and chilling, not least because Judah is sympathetic even while he's having his lover killed -- even as I was hating Allen the director for the disposable woman syndrome, where a man has an epiphany over the dead body of a love interest, I was in awe of the way he'd made me understand what a terribly sad person Judah was, a man still reflecting the damage of what happened to his people decades before and across the ocean. I don't think anyone has ever made a better movie about trying (and failing) to live a meaningful life in a post-Holocaust world.

Match Point? Is a story about a poor Irish brat who wants to be a rich English brat. He marries a sweet but very spoiled girl ("Daddy, I want a modern art gallery!"), lives all the benefits of sharing a life with her, feels a lack of passion because he once had a hot roll in the hay (literally, in a field) with a very sexy, somewhat unfocused girl with whom he might be in love though it's hard to tell because it's really hard to see whether he's connecting with anything besides her sexiness and their common working class origins...we don't see or hear of him growing up in tragic circumstances, there's no catalyzing event to explain why material success is so damned important to him.

I mean, I'd like to live in a stunning penthouse apartment overlooking the Thames and work in an office in the Gherkin and go to the opera and on cruises and see West End musicals too, wouldn't we all? But the idea that these things represent the consummate achievement in life is really sad, and this guy isn't suffering any deep malaise over the thought, let alone the act, of murder. He cries a little, because murder is hard -- aww gee -- and he has a single night of being haunted by ghosts (which are not as well done as the ghosts in previous Allen movies), but then he brings home his wife and baby and looks out at the Thames and thinks about the scratchy opera recordings he had to listen to before he married into money, and it's absolutely repugnant. Really, everyone in the movie is repugnant. It's hard to feel much for his oblivious princess wife who loves life because she gets everything she wants and has cranky tantrums when she can't get pregnant on schedule; it's hard to feel much for the girlfriend, who storms out rather than fighting back against the snobs who put down her acting career and her person, who remains a beautiful, fucked-up enigma; and it's impossible to like Chris even before he becomes a murderer, because all he is, is lucky -- in the right place at the right time, spitting out the right words, sucking up to people who take his adoration of their lifestyle to be all the validation they need. What's the point -- that the rich and despicable can get away with murder? Thank you, but we've known that for centuries.

Anyway, I can talk about Crimes and Misdemeanors all day (in fact, I have -- I've taught it -- somewhere around here I even have my notes, and the diagram of connections between Judah and Cliff, Lester and Cliff, Lester and Ben, and Ben and Judah that I used to pass out to my class). Bottom line: if you've never seen it, forget anything else Woody Allen has done since, cinematically or in his private life, and see that one. Not only is it a vastly better film but the comedy in it is absolutely hilarious; Alan Alda has the role of a lifetime as a selfish, snotty movie producer, and there's a subplot about how maybe it's impossible to have a love life without getting shit on by those you think you love.

The reason I got to go to the movies tonight is that my mother, who unexpectedly invited me out to lunch, also unexpectedly offered to babysit tonight as my father was going to be at a meeting or something and my mother's dinner plans got cancelled. So I had lunch at the cafe in Borders (I had to be in that mall to go to the post office), came home, wrote two articles, then had leftover pizza with my husband and went out to the movies, which we very rarely get to do on weeknights (well, on weekends either, since my parents almost always have plans and it's cheaper to buy a DVD to watch at home than hire a babysitter and pay for a movie in the theater). Woo hoo, an R-rated film! So I ended up having a very nice day. And my good friend from London sent me Nelson and Napoleon, the catalogue of the exhibit that we just missed last spring at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. I have only barely flipped through it but I am squealing in joy.


Obviously since I was out so much I am way behind on comments and e-mail and stuff! Sorry! I will try to do better tomorrow!
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