Month: September 2014

The Pursuit.

15th Feb.

A cloaked woman dining alfresco, is shrouded in a cloud of her own smoke, a smoke which then prowls, slowly, to the pedestrians a few feet away. The outside décor of trees and plants are lucky to be plastic in this superficial world, otherwise they’d have more than likely choked on the encompassing smog.

A clove cigarette she lit, not a second ago, is the source and she draws it in, then calmly releases it a to be a thick grey veil enveloping her whole being, as if to conceal her identity. She’s doing well to obscure your vision, I mean, of course she’s achieving this, you are standing by the cashier of the café. Through squinted eyes, you peer beyond the glass to the alfresco dining, and through the foggy mass, to see a long, thin fountain pen, writing on a notepad on the table; ‘Ah!’ you think, ‘she’s in tune with quality stationary.’

Go on, get closer. How can you expect to pin her down, to squeeze as much information out of her as you need, without even being within talking distance? Come on! Reader, you have the power.

You draw up a chair behind her and choose to have your back facing hers, honestly, you decide, this cloud of smoke is too unsettling. Like Prufrock’s yellow fog, you are unsure of when it’ll pounce, or settle.

Before speaking through the fog you reach for your pen and hold it to your mouth. Beep. Whisper. “Interview commenced, 1600 hours.” For future reference, of course. Note everything, Reader.

“No, I won’t help you if that’s why you’re here. She’s my sister and you’ll do well to leave her alone.”

“But, I’ve fallen in love with her. Lotaria, I’ve not done anything to you, yet, you’ve lead me on a wild goose chase all over the world, the least you can do  is grant me some peace.”

“Ludmilla, is the prized beauty, the jewel among the rocks.” Lotaria turns, and through the haze, you see no eyes. They lie concealed behind large designer glasses. “Do you not think I know this? I’ve been the other, the second sister. I’ve been in her shadow for years.”

“…yeah, and I-”

“And I’ve see men fall for her, they’ve come and go, but they’re not up to her standards. She is unattainable, she is everything you will strive to be.”

‘Thank you, Lotaria’ you think to yourself, ‘kind words of inspiration, to salve the soul.’ This stance of Lotaria’s, however, comes as a surprise. This rebellion was not forseen, I mean, she’d always stuck by her word.

“I wanted to help. I was in for the long haul, to see her find meaning to her life, but I figured, hey, she’s ideal and definitely too good for you. You want her? I’m done. You pin her down yourself.”

Lotaria pulls out of the conversation with the grey cloud simpering behind her.

Sigh.

“Interview suspended 1608 hours.” The pen slides back into your pocket, waiting for another day. Looking over to her table, you see the paper Lotaria was writing on; a Japanese puzzle- Sudoku.

Personally, I can’t solve Sudoku. It’s just not my forte and I find, it tiresome. Just when I think I’m answering the puzzle, there’s another loop hole where I’ve lost my track and you must start again from square one.

Actually, there’s an uncanny connection between my failures in Sudoku and your recent complications with Lotaria. You notice the pen beside the puzzle and have a closer look. Well, obviously, Lotaria has focused on the completion of this riddle and has shaped the pen’s actions, she’s controlled the pen to write her preferred numbers. She shapes the pen’s meaning and yet, the pen has shaped her outcome. Frustrated ink blots and scribbles tell you that Lotaria, evidently found that she was not in control of this Japanese conundrum. It defeated her and shaped the course of her pen. Upon completion, Lotaria gave up. It is now, sitting with you, the reader’s hands, incomplete.

21st Feb.

You had Lotaria sit opposite you, in the café last week and she told you to find your own way around. Reader, where to now? Well, you thought it was her. She did have a logical and realistically plausible conversation with you, but remember I emphasized the smog. You never did actually see her face. Alas, you found her Sudoku puzzle. I mean, I could’ve had her writing a perfect simulacrum of a Victorian novel, but no, I gave her a Japanese riddle to complete and the poor girl failed, entrusting it to you. I gave it to her to complete, because I sure can’t. You haven’t tried to, in the past week, either? Have you? You think you’ve deciphered de code, and yet you’re lost to infinity as well.

You were told to find this woman, Lotaria. To have her, means to find her sister- the ideal woman.

Ludmilla. She’s the ocean breeze on a blistering summer’s day by the beach. She’s the floating islands of marshmallow in a molten lake of chocolate on a winter’s day. She’s perfect.

Stop.

Stop thinking about her. The more you think, the more Ludmilla eludes you. I’m sure your visit with Lotaria last week told you that. But I think you should be more preoccupied with the identity of Lotaria for now. She is the link between you two. In my opinion, you should’ve asked straight out- who are you? Can you even be sure of who Lotaria is? Every time you felt you inched closer to the truth of her being, you were opened up to an abyss of more questions and the bloodhound lost its trail scent again.

Alas, Reader, all is not lost. You feel like throwing in the towel and screeching to the heavens, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

But you do give a damn. You’d give anything to ride past miles of a beavered-dam, lake lapping against the road as the motorcycle zips through an autumn-leafed tunnel on the scenic route, Ludmilla on the back.

And you’ve managed to grasp a trace of her and successfully follow it to find the illusion has eluded you.

Your pocket is getting heavy. I think you should stop carrying Lotaria’s notepad that you picked up from the table and only take that Sudoku sheet. At least you had the sense to take the puzzle, though. Actually, in my opinion, I think you should flip the Sudoku page. But don’t mind me, I’m just the author, following your path, wherever that leads you.

You pause in your tracks and flip the page.

…on a winter’s night, I like to sit by the fire of a travelling circus…breathe for a minute, see where I’m going, what path I’m taking. I often sit in self-reflection for a while…

 

That’s Ludmilla’s handwriting, on Lotaria’s notepad. This plot has picked up pace.

I think, I’ll go have a macchiato while you figure what to do with this information.

8th March                                            The Search- The Circus.

Well, I see you’ve decided to think over Ludmilla’s musings. Can you even trust that it’s her contemplations? You walk over to the fire and feel the warmth embrace your icy skin as you hear the crackle of the fire’s licking the log in the grate. The smoky night air reminds you of the smog that stalked behind Lotaria that day, however, this smoke is natural, fresh and wood fire-like.

But Ludmilla’s not here. You pull out the Sudoku and realize the scrawl at the top wasn’t a date, 8th of the month, rather a symbol-

I advise you go, look for where she can sit in self-reflection, if that’s the path you wish to take. Where one may see themselves more as reality than fiction.

Turning your back on the fire, you walk against the crowd that trickles out as the night circus draws to an end. The fairground becomes quieter and quieter…and you , you, don’t know where-

Stop it. You’re stumbling. I think you should ask that man over there, by the ticket stand, the one wearing the same trench coat as you. As you draw nearer and notice he has the same pen, in his front pocket… and he is wearing the hat you chose not to wear this morning. You shake your head uttering, ‘nothing is original these days’ then, ask him directions.

“Good man, can you tell me where the sideshow alley is?” you inquire. The man looks around. Reader, clear your throat. “The magic mirrors, in the Fun House?” He points over your left shoulder and you turn to a contrasting yellow and red tent that protrudes from the gloom with a fanfare of bright lights.

As you saunter beyond the arch of flashing lights at the entrance, you reach the eerie glow from a kaleidoscope of reflective surfaces. A stream of moonlight from a single slit in the black curtains above you provides enough light for you to see just in front of you. Light bounces off anything reflective and as you walk, you find yourself to your left and your right, beside you and behind you. Don’t doubt yourself, Reader. You are within yourself as well. This uncanny darkness is perhaps a little disconcerting and I could very well just hand you a flashlight for your convenience, but that would, indeed defeat the purpose of this suspenseful moment.

You’ve found that place, where your image presents a perfect image of you. It’s no wonder Ludmilla chose to stay here. This space you stand in surrounds you in eight mirrors. It’s an image of an image, and yet they are all you. But where is she? She’s obviously not here, because if she was, you’d have already seen a flicker of her eight selves. This labyrinth of people, are all but one; the lonely minotaur within- you.

You turn, continuously, in circles, wondering how you got there. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see a flicker of movement. You look, into each mirror, analyzing your reflection for the briefest of moments then shifting to the next, walking up to it, pressing your warm hand against the cold of the glass and watching the foggy outline of your hand disappear as you take your hand away. They are all you, they all depict you. You are in control. You have the power. Reader, I have given you the power. Place your hand on the next mirror.

This one.

It’s not so cold, this one. Compared to the others, it’s tepid and you look deep within your reflection, to find that the glass not only reveals a mirror image of you, but beyond this is an image of someone else.

Lotaria.

Lotaria?

Lotaria moves through the mirrors, from this mirror, to the one beside it, her image becomes stronger as she shifts between each of the eight mirrors, then spins away, to leave you, alone, in the gloom once more. You saw her, last, by that mirror, to your left. Follow her, Reader, before she gets away. You walk over to that mirror and find it has a space of darkness between the glass and the next mirror. You ease yourself through. Careful! Don’t catch your hem on the corner.

Blackness. Nothingness. You could be on a spacecraft, hurtling through space and you wouldn’t know the difference. Except, of course that you’d have pin pricks of light from glow worms and ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ in the background, to be sure.

Alas, you are in the original room, the room you entered in. it has but one mirror, a warped mirror, one to make you look-

-like you should. Your reality. How you are. It shows what you really are. Doesn’t it? Reader, are you sure, you should dismiss this image? Look closer. That’s better. From this angle, it’s you, distorted to perfection. But from this angle, it’s Lotaria. Wait- what? Lotaria? And, hang on, from this angle, its, Ludmilla! They are one.

But, you move an inch to the left, and her image is gone, beyond reach. She has, eluded you again.

I could’ve told you that.

Louise

Three year old Louise sits on the verandah. She should be wearing slippers because the smooth varnish of the wood has flaked away, exposing aggravated splinters. Nevertheless, she pretends she’s a faerie and tip-toes, ever so lightly, to the chalky deck chair.

Sunrise. Her Mummy hasn’t yet emerged from her duck-down cave. Neither has her Daddy. But Granma has. Granma’s fixing warm nutella toast. The sticky gloop is a special treat for little Louise, who isn’t allowed it at home… too many trans-fats. Louise, cheeks smeared with nutella, sits smug, like a temple cat.

She swings her legs to the rhythm of the classical piano playing. After a while the crackling stops, the tape has to be turned over. But Granma leaves the silence.

Leaves the last of the night to slowly ebb away.

With sunrise come warm rays of rose and saffron, but Louise still thinks it’s a little chilly and pulls Grandpa’s overcoat tighter, so it just covers her knees.

Pahh. Another piece of toast for Louise’s little tummy. Granma hands it to the little one and walks past the painting of Van Gogh, the one where he painted her name as a flower- the one where the Irises are so delicate and soft. They almost dangle out of the painting, inviting you to carefully cut their stalks and place them in a vase for all your guests to admire. But cutting them out of the painting would be silly, because cutting off the flower from its roots will kill it. Leaving the Irises in the painting means it lasts forever.

The view from the verandah is spectacular. If Louise leans down over the balcony, she can see snow drops and flaming flowers that brightly blaze. If she looks further, the colours change hues through the swirling clouds of violet haze of the fog that drifts through the Blue Mountains.

Grandpa Jack did well to build the house here. He’s still playing around with renovations out the back, but the house is almost nearly ready.

For now, Louise decides that watching the sunrise is no fun when you’re by yourself.

She retreats inside, to sink into the worn cream sofa, where Grandpa Jack pretends to snore.

Hmm. He pretends to sleep, but peeks out from under his thick-rimmed glasses. The corner of his mouth may have twitched, slightly. But Louise wouldn’t have noticed. She was busy curling up under his coat, to share the warmth of his arm.

You, The Living -(2007) Dir. Roy Andersson

image

Directed by Roy Andersson, You, The Living (2007) is a Swedish film that explores the complexities of the human condition with a dry sense of humour and all the idiosyncrasies of Absurdism. Andersson’s film runs on two levels; a surface level with slapstick visual humour a la Charlie Chaplin, while deep undercurrents flow, deeming this film a whole lot more intricate than initially perceived. Some may find the fifty or so isolated, slow-burning comic vignettes a little tedious as the film doesn’t follow a traditional narrative structure. That said, this film is an excellent study of the human condition as Andersson frames the universal desire to be loved and needed as both understandable and unattainable. He leaves the judgement of his characters up to the audience, neither explicitly condemning them, nor validating their actions, (or rather inactions). Whether you go to laugh at the low-culture comedy, or you are touched by the intertextuality, or you begin to ponder questions of the existential kind, Andersson has succeeded in engaging you on whatever level you feel comfortable with.

Cinematically, You, The Living communicates on a number of planes. On a very basic level, the film presents itself as a series of oblique narratives; non-sequiturs in relation to their position in the overall narrative structure as well as the enigmatic nature of each scene. For example, a man working in an office asks aloud if anybody had said his name, knowing full well that the space was silent. Immediately after, a school teacher enters a classroom in tears. These two images have but one theme that links them; the overwhelming desire to be loved and needed. While these snapshots of society seem incongruous when placed side-by-side, there are other sequences where we follow a certain cause and effect; we see a man present flowers to a Mia, a character in the slough of despond, who rejects his advances. A scene later, we see his crying in a stairwell.

Although the film had no post-production edits to the cinematography, the sequencing and editing helps reveal Andersson’s sensibilities. These scenes juxtapose how people can live in such close proximity, having such similar needs for love and connection, with how they are so distanced, living in their own bubbles of self-containment, something that becomes their Achilles’ heel. The long length of shots adds to the dry irony of an expected ‘punchline’ that never comes, thus making the audience feel discomfort as we try to make sense of what we see. Indeed, what we see is an everyman’s story that we are challenged to reflect upon.

Aesthetically, the film communicates an absurd reality that mimics, but doesn’t reflect our known reality. Andersson exercises his control as a director by creating an artificial fish-tank-like arena for us to observe, where the characters often look back at us- challenging our own perceptions of ourselves, our known reality and the dream spaces we escape to. He creates a space that is conspicuously artificial by using wide angles and a deep focus to keep the camera at a respectful distance from the characters through medium-shot tableaux. The monochromatic colour scheme of drab muted blues and yellows further accentuates the bleak, bland and sterile atmosphere that lets the audience engage with a clinical gaze. Throughout the film, harsh bright lighting leaves the characters exposed without shadows, beneath the ‘light without mercy’- a term coined by Andersson referring to the nature of the light as leaving the characters open to constant scrutiny.

The film’s exploration of ‘light without mercy’ can be taken both figuratively and literally, and in doing so, Andersson has created a film which can be accessed by anyone. Cinematically, the harsh lighting literally creates a comedic ambience, leaving the frame awash in outdated bleak pastel hues. Symbolically, however, the clinical style is indicative of purgatory, where the revealing of hidden ‘shadows’ or ‘darknesses’ becomes a social commentary disguised as a running joke. For example the first dream sequence where a construction worker reveals two swastikas while enacting a magic trick with a table cloth literally ‘brings to light’ darker elements of Swedish society. Moreover, the frame compositions are from a mixed perspective and an unexpected gravity, as they offer secondary sightlines through doors and windows, highlighting a hidden depth.  This causes us to question, what is on the surface? Are there any undercurrents? Because of the work we have to do to find meaning, we become involved in the creation of meaning in the film.

You, The Living is so overtly fabricated through lighting, frame composition, aesthetics, style and set that instead of alienating the audience, we engage more with the film through Affect, as we emotionally engage with the drab characters and their inconsequential existences. In fact, the artificial nature of the film helps make the real emotions more intense, makes their familiarity more vivid, (for example befuddlement, pity, fatigue, envy, desire and impatience to name a few). Furthermore, the hand-painted backdrops offer a tactility to the frame, creating a sense that something monumental has been achieved through the placement of bodies and objects in a finite space.

The placement of mis en scene is rather sparse and flat, which forces the audience to actively engage. Because of such long takes for each scene, the static camera creates a sense of live-action newspaper, possibly even a cartoon panel of sorts. The audience is invited to examine the surrounds, search for and interpret meaning for themselves. Drawing influences from modern art, specifically Matisse, Andersson eliminates everything that isn’t required for the frame so as to streamline and help synthesise meaning for the audience to interpret. In anything, the mis en scene reveals more about the characters and their lives than the minimal dialogue does, because seeing what little a character is surrounded by deems the scene a more tragic character study than previously thought.
While much of the film may seem like a bleak commentary of life, there are indeed promises of hope and the ideal of potential. The film communicates this through a soundscape where Andersson exploits the comic potential of certain instruments, such as bass drum, banjo and sousaphone. Mixing these with the music of city, thunder, rain, even the musicality of the Swedish language, Andersson is able to gain the audience’s attention with feel good tunes of the Louisiana Brass Band which tend to counteract the negative psychogeography of the gloomy place. In this way, audience members can’t help but feel good when leaving the cinema. The music, the snapshots of comic timing, the repeated dialogue that ‘Tomorrow is another day’ deems the final scene a positive one, despite its ambiguity. You, The Living is a wonderful film by Swedish director Roy Andersson, which hopefully relates to anyone because of its superficial humour and universal themes.

Image credits- http://cinefilz.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/roy-andersson-du-levande-aka-you-living.html

Noellene

Let us go, then, you and I

Leave this scene in the blink of an eye:

Be where ocean spray breathes clear-

Can’t stand this haze, not one more year.

Everything is vague you see,

Memories o’er shadowing me.

For years I’ve longed to kick them off

And yet I’m stuck here in this trough.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes

Come closer now.

I miss the days of endless fields,

Of thumbing the notes Las Vegas yields.

I miss the shock of water blue-

Holding hands, me and you.

The wedding ring I used to twist,

Our babe’s odd quirks- I still can list.

At least there was some contact there,

Our screams across the Boardwalk Fair.

In the hall they come and go

Shrieking of that All Saints show.

I have a dolly. She is mine.

She’s my long lost Valentine.

She’s the Knight in Shining Armour,

A Gardener and Taxi Driver.

She even has a strong heart-beat

Boom bidi boom (small, discreet)

And when she falls I pick her up

I dust her off and offer a cup

A remedy to aid her way.

‘Thanks,’ her crocheted smile does say.

Does someone care like this for me?

With honeyed cakes and sweetened tea?

Without this doll, I’d sit forlorn.

My smell my vision my taste

Has

Gone

In the hall they come and go,

Mumbling of “The Letterman” show.

I miss the life before all this.

Here I have to bang my fist

Even then, I won’t be heard

O’er the clatter when lunch is served.

Their hands are rough, they’ve left my skin

To scale and blacken, I’m wearing thin.

And visitors? None. I’m left alone.

Few come and go, or text on their…

Modern technology, I’m not up to date

Everything is                         so fast of late.

It’s hard to

keep up

So

I

don’t.

In the hall they come and go

Chatting of cars on Top Gear.

I am a freight train.

I am a freight train that rips past suburbs and stations and I pause between stops. I am manned by a solo driver- one who has been driving for too long without a break, one who had been driving for not long enough to deal with a real emergency situation. I am the freight train that require time for the compression brakes to screech to a halt because there’s too much cargo to stop at whim. My full force can kill, leaving a grease stain on the side bar.

The statue.

“O please to keep thy lovely eye

on all poor creatures born to die.” –Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood.

Level 1. Halt your journey, peer down the winding stairs and observe the bricks and mortar of this place.

Our Lady has been stationed to man the lower corridors of the Ground Level in The Nursing Home and to begin at the beginning, the Home was once a Convent. She stands, as one of the many variations of herself, fervently placed around the Home and in her days, she’s seen more than enough. If you listen… just quietly… you can hear the Nuns’ scurries through the bowels of the palace. It was majestic in its day, this, I can account for. The out-dated yellow windows offer a soft, muted glow promoting a certain golden warmth in the shelter of the Lord.

At present, she stands beneath the spiral stairs next to the visitors bathrooms, her arms calmly outstretched to reach for her lost sheep to guide home. As she stands, she bears a tarnished set of rosary beads. A white veil, frozen in all its glory, holds every crease and fold since they day she was made; the silvery material sustained gently behind her all day and night. She is a heavenly presence made of earthly materials, deeming her a solid icon to last the ages. But if you were to cradle her beckoning hand in your own, it would surely crumble. Care taken to polish feet and shower in floral bouquets now becomes an ephemeral memory of long ago. Dust appears. Not a sprinkle, but layers of years of abandon and neglect.

Such layers tell stories.

Chinatown Noodle Restaurant

There is a hole in the wall. It is a restaurant.

There is a group, a people directed there after the previous restaurant turned down their number.

In this hole in the wall, there is plenty. Not seats, but people. Not seats, but dumplings. One in the group calls them ‘dumps’, another dubs her crude.

After previously to-ing and fro-ing over the location of their next feed, the herd has settled on a place which lives and breathes and rearranges itself to accommodate their number of six in a long table, nearly the width of the shop. The herd wipes their rain-sodden shoes on a flattened cardboard box and are absorbed into the organism that will later provide their nourishment.

They’re familiar with this place. They’ve been here before. They take their places and order some dumplings. No, they don’t, but they want to. They’re only back because the one time they ate here they enjoyed themselves. But they can’t enjoy yet. The number is incomplete.

Girl #2 doesn’t like dumplings and opts out of the communal meal. She orders stir-fried noodles. The noodles she orders are plural. Girl #1 is hungry for more than a boiled dumpling. She orders a dumpling soup. Boy #1 and Boy #2 wait for Girl #3 to decide, but Girl #3 must wait for Girl #4 before ordering. Girl #4 is printing at the library. She said five minutes. The clock is ticking.

The noodles (plural) arrive and the communal dumplings are not yet ordered. Girl #3 announces: “She wanted pork buns.”

It is decided. The buns are ordered. The earth resumes its slow waltz with the sun.

Girl #2’s plate of hand-made stir-fried slip and slide. Boy #1 and Boy #2 are hungry. Boy #1 audibly inhales and examines the menu further, even though their buns and dumplings are boiling away.

“Caw, blimey, I could do with a good feed,” says Boy #2. That’s a false. He doesn’t say that at all. Instead he sits and Girl #2 perceptively perceives his hunger. The table stares at the plate of noodles (plural). Girl #3 checks the window for Girl #4, then her phone. Girl #2 acknowledges the universal truth that Boy #2 is in want of a noodle and since she has plenty to spare, they negotiate.

“How ‘bout-”

“no.”

“Grab a fork and-“

“there are only chopsticks.”

“Well grab summa those and help yourself in your little bowl there.”

“are you sure.”

“I’m positive.”

“are you sure sure.”

“I won’t be able to finish them anyway.”

“really.”

“Yeop.”

                It is done.

The chopsticks are fumbled between forefinger and thumb but the noodle is squeezed in a vice-like grip.

                The table watches.

Boy #2 methodically pulls at the noodle, sparrow at a worm, but the worm proves too long, not an earth worm but a tape worm. His arm rises up, exposing the noodle in all its glory. Alas, there is no end.

It appears that the plate of noodles (plural) is in fact one noodle (singular).