March 2008

Under Our Newest Moons

Watching the stars come
out is so passé their Zodiac
though changing
is dial-up paced
we are all now unenthusiastic
about the prospect of romance
under the canopy of outdated
and bloated sparks
the newest moons
each packed with dead
and dying Laikas
their Promethean LED lights
cast shadows that trace us back
and forth like the officers’
penlights watching the dilated
pupils of accident victims
we are starstruck by their grace
as they watch us with
their government gazes as
we sin nightly in their vision
the moon whines in its lazy
one-faced pantomime
its craters unable to throw
late night televangelists
back to earth hurtling at light
speed like Lucifer to crash
into our homes

Ryan McGivern


Like any good lover, we aim to please you and we’ll write about anything you tell us: a single word, theme, character, nemesis, your sister, a color, texture, idea, an ivory tower of higher learning that denied you admission, two animals, three sets of triplets, fore on the golf course, five fingers, six fingers, that Seven-Eleven you used to hang outside hoping you could convince some poor schmuck to buy you Zima or Boone’s Strawberry Hill, a mode of transportation that doesn’t involve moving, a body part that doesn’t yet exist, a soliloquy about courageous but still spineless invertebrates. Anything. Seriously.

Either comment with your suggestions or send us an email privately at: mindandflowers [at] gmail (dot) com.

You maybe exist and we’d like to acknowledge that.

Haus Meeting has some stiff competition with Beirut.
This video makes my mouth and pants water.

Directed by Lars von Trier

In Kierkegaardian style, this film twists narrative voices and meshes ‘reality’ with ‘fiction’ so smoothly that its audience is played against itself. What is real? Where does the writer’s voice start and end? How much can we trust the filmmaker? It plays with the genre of a ‘film within a film’ only upon its ending we are left wondering “how much of this is a film about a film in a film? Or is it a film which is pretending to be a film in a film?” Exactly what kind of film experience one is having is never quite clear. Even at the end the rug isn’t exactly pulled out from under us as it is only given a hard tugging.

The film centers on the two real writers, von Trier and Niels Versel. It comes across as a “behind the scenes” documentary about the making of another project, The Cop and the Whore, but a computer failure dumps the completed script. So the two writers begin a mission to come up with a new script with only days available. Their new project is Epidemic, which will be about the plague of 1348. As a tongue in cheek choice, von Trier has emblazoned the title Epidemic in the upper left hand corner of the whole film. Despite the confusion he is intending, he is assuring us of a coherency.

Like in Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath where a belief or faith judgment’s veracity is not of importance, so too here is the theme of belief having weight. In terms of the coming plague, it is said that real or imagined it is a threat. The panic and madness sweeping before it is deadly enough. The mere suspicion of its coming can spark a city’s mortal despair. This is similar to Kierkegaard’s all encompassing ‘despair’. By his appraisal of our existence, we cannot escape its grip. Through his near paranoiac evaluation of our human situation, we are led a type of despair, not necessarily because of any truth Kierkegaard is unveiling to us, but because of the shadow it casts in its consideration.

Epidemic is a film of decay and ‘sickness unto death’. When von Trier and Versel enter a damp library’s basement they learn that the ‘walls are rotting’ because of saltpeter leeching in though the ground. It cracks and snaps the walls like its own plague. A friend visits the two for dinner and is an accomplished wine taster. He discusses the formidable varieties of vine rot which have plagued France’s wineries. When they travel through Germany, Versel states that the large swathes of industrialized land in Germany such as Essen are “splotches on the map” like boils on the face of the earth.

There is a greater rot and plague upon the earth: ourselves. It is said that in the plague of 1348, Milan bricked in the first affected families and let them starve to death in their own homes rather than allow the chance of the infection spreading. The story is told in Essen of the allied bombing which used the now illegal phosphorus bombs-banned because of their horrific torturous effects on flesh. There, a man describes how his dying mother finally relayed to him the horror of this bombing on her death bed. It is her last confession of the darkness in the hearts of men. “My mother was no Nazi” the man says looking over a lake where Essen came to hide from the burning effects of the bombing. “These were just innocent people.”

Of a lesser type of human cruelty, the co-writer Versel exposes a pen-pal correspondence he began with teenaged American girls. He convinced them he too was a teenager, though he was in his late twenties, and maintained a ‘relationship’ with dozens of adoring girls. Like a true seducer, he displays the trophies of his victory, audio tapes, pictures, and letters, all from young women that he had no intention of ever meeting or revealing the truth to. Whether the petty crimes of our selfish attention grabbing egos or the needless bombing of civilians ‘in a just cause’, our world pulses with a plague of despair born from our own darkness, fear, hatred, and dread.

Gertrud Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer 1964

Dreyer’s heroine Gertrud is an answer to Kierkegaard’s heterosexual imagination and also to his ‘Johannes the Seducer’. We see here a strong female who in the film’s context of 1883 is a rebellious iconoclastic forerunner of the ‘liberated woman’. Throughout the film, we are given time to view Gertrud’s search for a love whose definition is evolving. This evolution finds its way through the course of three primary relationships whereby she achieves one of love’s great aims; knowing oneself.

Gertrud is in a loveless marriage with Gustav, a well to do aristocrat who is eyeing ever higher positions in the government. He is an echo of Torvold from Ibsen’s Dollhouse, a reasonable man who embodies Kierkegaard’s ethical realm. In Gertrud’s revealing argument with Gustav, she says that the way that he treats her is “worse than indifference. It is a lack of feeling.” Gustav is absolutely stunned by her finding the marriage unsatisfactory since she has been given a life of ease and creature comforts. But she has felt alone and isolated. “Work shouldn’t exile a wife.” She says. “But it is a man’s nature to work.” Gustav replies and argues from the cultural expectation of the day. To complete the picture of Gustav being representative of the ethical sphere of existence and without any aesthetic or immediate connection to his wife, he admits, “The woman that can drive you crazy doesn’t exist.”

In contrast to Gustav is Erland, Gertrud’s passionate lover who is a famous pianist and composer who accompanies Gertrud’s professional operatic singing. Together they comprise a passionate duo reveling in the aesthetic. As is appropriate to the aesthetic sphere, Gertrude says to Erland, “Life is a dream. A long, long clamor of dreams drifting into each other.” Erland asks, “Even my kiss? My mouth?” “Yes, also a dream.” She answers. As the story unfolds, we find that true to his seductive air, Erland is merely playing with Gertrud’s affections and has many lovers of which she is but one. In this way, she has become a Cordelia from Kierkegaard’s Seducer’s Diary.

It is then revealed that Gertrud, before either Gustav or Erland, had been married to a poet laureate of Denmark named Gabe Lidmann. He is known as the county’s “poet of love” and his famous work of poetry is titled Love and Thought. At once the initial thought is to consider Gabe the ‘love’ and Gustav the ‘thought’ but it is more complicated than that dichotomy. Gabe says to Gertrud, “I believe in the pleasures of the flesh and the loneliness of the soul.” which would seem to paint him in the aesthetic sphere with Erland, but Gabe also says, “A woman’s love and a man’s work are mortal enemies.” And because of his interest in the ‘pleasures of the flesh’ to inspire his poetry, his work begins to “dry up” because of their dwindling passion. His actions are also similar to Erland the seducer in that Gertrud discovers that Gabe had steered the relationship to create the illusion that it was Gertrud who left-when in reality she finds it was he pushing her away.

Gertrud’s attitude towards love changes in the film and we are led to believe that her final embodiment of it is the best for her and a high and estimable standard. She says early in the film, “Love is suffering. Love is sadness.” and it seems that along with the sadness, there is no joy, but that changes in the epilogue. In a very Kierkegaardian fashion, when there are flashbacks in the film, there is an abstracted quality, an unreal feeling. Through the use of lighting and camera technique, the cinematography takes on a dreamy quality. For the epilogue too, this technique is used. It seems to hearken to Kierkegaard’s idea of ‘recollection’ as being projected in the past and future. In the epilogue we learn that Gertrud has lived completely independent of men and has learned, “Amor Omnia”, that “love is all”. She is not unhappy, and quite content living the solitary life. Not only has she found happiness in releasing herself from the past and from dependence on others, but we find Gustav and Gertrud’s secret admirer have also. All three at different times come to destroy the fetishes of their love-letters and pictures. As they do so, they free themselves from the ‘hoarding of an objectified love’ in the style of Kierkegaard’s seducer. As the movie closes, our attention is drawn to the beauty and religious nature of Gertrud’s new found faith/love of which she says, “there is nothing but love” with the herald of ringing church bells. Lars von Trier uses this same herald for the heroine Bess’ faith/love.

Day Of Wrath (Vredens Dag) Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer1943

In Dreyer’s film, we each are confronted with our own ‘day of wrath’. The heavy presence of suspicion, fear, and betrayal are also joined with the piety, righteousness, and faith. It is perhaps the mixing of all these elements that make the film so compelling and heart wrenching. We are left with the interrogating voice: “whom do I condemn?”

The story unfolds in 1623 when the fear of witches was at a fevered pitch and examines how a small dose of fear, even if justified can consume families, communities, and love. Hersof’s Marte, who dabbles in folk medicine, states as she mixes a pumice of herbs from below the gallows, “there is a power in evil.” This power has wider and wilder influence than even she can imagine because of its being clothed in terms of the highest piety. She is caught by representatives of the Church and is tortured into giving a confession of collusion with the Devil.

It is in this torture of Hersof’s Marte, which is depicted in shocking though not explicit terms, that we can find our own selves under indictment. The Church does this with the best intentions, to save her soul, to cleanse the community of a grave danger. How far do we go as people of faith, in our best intentions and highest pieties, to protect our own and seek the salvation of souls?

Absalon, the Church magistrate, father of Martin, and widower who has remarried a beautiful young Anne, visits the condemned in her cell waiting to be burned at the stake and tells her he is praying for her soul. The woman is outraged; “I fear not heaven or hell! I don’t want to die! I don’t want to burn!” There is a horrible disconnect between the Church’s worldview and the condemned. What is seen by the former as a great crime (potions of herbs), the other sees only as an innocuous tradition. What the former sees as the highest goal (saving one’s soul) the other sees as complete nonsense-she merely wants to live. As the burning is about to take place, Hersof’s Marte tells Absalon that because she will burn, so will Anne. This threat is voiced to no one else, but its seed is laid and no later than that very evening is Absalon’s suspicion of his wife stirred. His young wife’s behavior is purely understandable-she is told that her mother was a witch who had the power to influence others. Through her loveless and marriage and newfound love for Martin, her stepson, she is driven to fantasize that she can control others to the point of perhaps even believing it.

The film shows that belief has its own reality. All one needs to have is the firm commitment to a belief and it bears the consequences and reality of its own. In the end, fear and suspicion draped in custom, religion, and best intentions leave a trail of death and brokenness.

I’ve seen amazing things in my life including a horse giving birth to a baby squirrel and an actual stairway to heaven. I’ve even seen inside your soul, which, as opposed to popular opinion, isn’t composed primarily of coal. But never have I ever seen a youtube video as appropriate to post to mindflowers as this, an elephant painting an elephant holding a flower.

Concurrently with watching the video I recommend music from my favorite KEXP radio show, DJ Riz’s Variety Mix.

After you watch an elephant paint I suggest Thai food (spicy level 3 out of 5) , a walk in the woods, a ten dollar donation to your local Humane Society chapter, a few microbrewed beers, some sex and some lucid dreaming. A recipe for your perfect day.

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