Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Being Human in 2049 - and at Other Times

Our recent trip to the High Plains had a science fiction underside - sort of. During much driving time, on often deserted string-straight roads, we listened to an audio version of a volume of short stories by famous sci-fi master, Arthur C. Clarke. One of my favourites, History Lesson written in 1949, can be read in a pdf file HERE.

On the last afternoon of our trip, with a storm threatening, we hopped into a cinema in northern Oklahoma to see Blade Runner 2049.

The original Blade Runner movie, now thought of by many sci-fi fans as "iconic" has melted from my memory, almost completely, apart from the fact that its lead actor was Harrison Ford. I'm not too sure I enjoyed that movie, back in the 1980s, otherwise I'd recall it more easily. The 2049 sequel/update movie might prove to have better staying power in the old memory banks. The new story picks up some 30 years after the original ended.

Were the 2049 movie one of those big, pretentious coffee table volumes, I'd love to wander and linger through the photographs, again and again, ignoring most of the text. The visual interest of the movie far outshone the story-line, for me. Fascinating, yet chilling and easily imagined views of what the future might bring, came one after another, and were made somehow beautiful, while remaining also heartrendingly sad.

Flying vehicles, imagined by the 1980's original story's author Philip K. Dick should have been flying overhead right now - as I type. As in the case of so many early sci-fi writers' flights of imagination , they pre-supposed a much faster rate of progress,in certain areas, than has actually happened. Driverless cars are on the drawing board now, but still will remain earth-bound.
Philip K. Dick's ashes, by the way, were buried in a cemetery in Fort Morgan, Colorado, one of our two-night stop-overs.

We both thought there were several iffy assumptions going on in 2049 - unless we'd missed something crucial in the dialogue that is (not at all unlikely!) Ryan Gosling, as I've probably written before in these pages, is not a favourite of either of us, though in this leading role he did....alright. I can't think of anyone who would have better fit this particular character and story-line.

No detail of the plot here from me - spoilers would definitely spoil this one. A quick read through the synopsis of the original Blade Runner, before seeing 2049 wouldn't go amiss, however.

Apparently the deeper layers of Blade Runner 2049, and its predecessor, are meant to relate to the question: what does it mean to be human? Perhaps so... perhaps. For me though, a movie we saw on TV back in the hotel room, later that night, offered another way of seeking the answer to that particular "what?" - Monster's Ball. Wow! There was some really first class+ acting going on in that one, by Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton, and the lost, lamented Heath Ledger. All our human faults, failings and yes - our better sides - were on show, and in-yer-face. Some scenes were hard to watch, but all worthwhile. Monster's Ball is an excellent movie, a no nonsense look at our all-too-human frailties!

As I finished typing that paragraph an old post of mine from way back popped into my head - from 2008 - a post about a song. I recall it easily because, at the time, it gathered lots of comments. Are We Human or Are We Dancer? It was memorably performed by The Killers. I don't think the theme of Blade Runner was in the mind of many listeners back then, but maybe now....?

Monday, October 16, 2017

High Pains Drifting

Home again, home again jiggity jig.....

We enjoyed a longer than usual trip - a drift around the US's High Plains, travelling through, or in, three panhandles: Oklahoma panhandle, the Texas panhandle, and the Nebraska panhandle. The latter was a new one for us, and very nice too - possibly one of those "hidden gems" travel writers sometimes mention. We also hit the plains of Colorado in Fort Morgan, and the eastern edge of Wyoming at Torrington; home again via Kansas and northern Oklahoma.

We'd have ventured further into Colorado or Wyoming but for the weather forecast. Snow arrived in the Rockies. We experienced just an icing sugar scattering in Scottsbluff, Nebraska where we were staying at the time.

(Clicking on them should bring up clearer versions of husband's photos below.)

Fall has definitely fallen in parts of Colorado and Nebraska. The area around Scottsbluff was especially bright with golden Maples plentiful and practically fluorescent. I like Nebraska! Don't know exactly why, I just do - it feels like "me". I wondered if, perhaps, the feeling connected to the state's latitude. It is nearer to England's Yorkshire latitude than is south-western Oklahoma, for sure, but I'd have to be well into Canada to find similar latitude to my birthplace in the north of England.

Points of special interest were: Carhenge in Nebraska - someone had the peculiar idea of building a kind of stonehenge (as in England) from old cars. The morning of our visit was very windy and plenty cold, though not quite bad enough to keep us inside our car.

Later in the trip, in Kansas, we stumbled upon what was once known as the Cathedral of the Plains, now slightly downgraded from Cathedral to The Basilica of St Fidelis because it's not the seat of a Bishop. In any city the huge church would seem quite unremarkable, but rising from those barely populated plains, it stands out some...well...actually it stands out a lot.

We also stumbled upon Greensburg, Kansas without, at first, remembering its recent history. The cinema caught our attention, named after me too!

"Looks brand new, but who would build a new cinema in a tiny town these days?"

Hey, look - they spelled theatre the British way - just noticed!

The whole of Greensburg looked new too - strange indeed, in these parts, where dilapidation and abandonment are common. We found the small town's antique store where the answer awaited, in newspaper cuttings and photographs in the store's entrance. "Of course! I remember now - a tornado devastated this town some years ago!" Ten years ago, in fact. The antique store owner told us that the town had been in the middle of painting and tidying itself up, when the tornado hit and undid the handiwork. Still, Greensburg looks great now, and, we were told, it has been rebuilt to be, appropriately enough - "green". Locals have no argument at all when they see the drop in their energy bills each month, we were told.

We arrived home Sunday afternoon after our High Plains drifting. We forgot to take our whip along but, happily, didn't meet this legendary fellow-drifter! We did have a little "excitement" one evening though. Husband accidentally pressed the emergency button on the phone in our room, while shifting the telephone. Next thing : cops at the door wanting to know....Oops! Indeed!

A little contemplation of where the next trip might take us needed a hat (TSK!) and a drink:

Saturday, September 30, 2017


So would we! I'm not sure how far we'll get this time (if we ever get on the road, that is) probably not as far as we did on our last big adventure in Colorado, back in 2006. Posts about that trip are 11 years old, but I'll link to them, and to some of husband's photos on Flickr, in the highly unlikely event of any passing reader being short of reading matter.

"...all this travelling and seeing things is fine but there’s also a lot of fun to be had in having been. You know, sticking all your pictures in a book and remembering things."

(Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic)


Photos at Flickr

Also, from a later trip, in 2010, to a different area of Colorado.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Arty Farty Friday ~ Anthony Green R.A.

Anthony Green R.A.
(born 30 September 1939) is an English realist painter and printmaker best known for his paintings of his own middle-class domestic life.

From Alfred Hickling in The Guardian, 2001
(SNIP) - -

Anthony Green may be one of our least fashionable senior painters, but he is no square - nor any regular shape at all. Green is a homespun visionary, the Stanley Spencer of the Pop generation, who decided in the 1960s that since he did not dream in rectangles, he should not paint in them either.

Green's highly keyed images have a peculiar intensity, the kind of second sight that comes from contemplating your cabbage patch for too long. He paints his cottage in Little Eversden, Cambridgeshire, and domestic life with his wife Mary with an obsessiveness that makes Spencer's relationship with Cookham look like a passing interest. But it is neither this, nor the Pre-Raphaelite palette, that makes his work so distinctive; rather it is his hallucinatory tendency to twist the very outlines of the paintings askew.

Many more examples at Google Image.

Mr Green loves angles doesn't he? He loves angles as much as Jean Arp the sculptor, featured Friday 15 September, seemed to dislike them!

A 12 noon natal chart (as no time of birth is known) for the day of Anthony Green's birth, 30 September 1939, in Luton, Bedfordshire, UK. Moon position and rising sign here will not be accurate.

It's tempting to relate the artist's love of angles to the several hard (square, 90 degree) angles in his natal chart, but that could well be simple coincidence. A more reliable astro-indication of the man's personality is the fact that his natal Sun, Mercury and Venus were conjoined in charming, Venus-ruled Libra. There's an opposition from jovial Jupiter in impulsive Aries, indicating that while of a charming and tactful nature, this is balanced by a fun, ebullient side. I'll hazard a guess that Mr Green was born before noon, putting Moon somewhat earlier in Aries, which would further underline a warm and enthusiastic nature. There's lots more, but that'll do for now!

Snips from this interview highlight something of Anthony Green's personality:
.......The man himself exuded enthusiasm, warmth and charm, similar to the atmosphere he creates in his vivid narrative paintings. However the magic well and truly begins when he speaks to you; it’s a flow of eloquent words delivered with passion and bursting with excitement. The first thing I notice when interviewing Anthony Green is how utterly down to earth he is, despite his eminence in the art world. He has achieved success on a grand scale; from being elected Royal Academician, being appointed trustee of the Royal Academy and being elected to the New English Art Club, to name but a few........

But what inspires such a talented artist? His answer is simple: “Love”. Green describes the dilemma that hit him in 1960 after he left art school, “I didn’t know what artist I wanted to be, I could be Picasso, or Damien Hirst, or Tracey Emin. So I came up with a question; what am I really interested in? And the answer was; I had fallen in love with this girl – so basically I was a young man in love and I thought I ought to be painting about that.” And that is exactly what he did. The first few paintings of his future wife were very raw, but Green says that once you’ve got the reason for being an artist, then you can start refining your work and it becomes a journey through your life........

Green is keen to point out that he never got up in the morning and thought; “What art shall I create today?” he simply got up and thought; “I’m telling a story about me, and my life.” This is how he creates such personal and emotive paintings: art is his life and life is his art. Green says “Everyday that happened I was a day older and it was a different story. As I’ve gone through life, the story has evolved, so there is always something fresh to add to the mix.” Almost all of Green’s paintings in his current exhibition portray his wife, daughter, himself and his early married life, as “That is what I care most about in the world”.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

American Fable ~ "...The darkness drops again..."

As mentioned in Tuesday's post, more on a recent film in which Yeats' poem The Second Coming is recited in full.

There's American Beauty, American Graffiti, American Hustle, American Gigolo, American Gothic....and on, and on.... many more. 2016 delivered American Fable, written and directed by Anne Hamilton- it's her feature film debut. Ms Hamilton had studied philosophy and law before turning to her first love - film. She acquired internship with Terrence Malick on the set of The Tree of Life, and as was quite likely to happen, some of that director's technique embedded itself into Ms Hamilton's new-minted style. I'd categorise it as pleasantly arty-farty but still accessible on several levels.

American Fable - the "fable" part of the film's title has to be highly significant, so should be kept in mind while watching the story unfold. A fable = a short story conveying a moral, message or lesson, same kind of thing as a parable or allegory, often containing supernatural or mythical elements. This tale is set in Wisconsin farming country in the early 1980s, when farmers in the United States were confronted by an economic crisis more severe than any since the Great Depression. Many of those who relied on agriculture for their livelihoods faced financial ruin. The epicenter of the downturn was the Midwest.
The film's story is told from the perspective of "Gitty" (short for Gertrude), 11-year old daughter of farmer Abe and wife Sarah, young sister of Martin (an absolute psychotic monster of an elder brother if ever I saw one!) The performance of Peyton Kennedy, 13 year old actress playing the part of Gitty, is something to behold - and worth seeing the film for that alone. She's in almost every scene, and carries the weight as effortlessly and as skillfully as any seasoned actor or actress.

Getting down to brass tacks, as my grandmother used to say: (spoilers ahead) Gitty's father's farm is in deep, financial trouble, many neighbouring farms have already failed, land has been bought up by developers, rumours of suicides become common, any remaining farmers are desperate, trying to hold on to their legacy, and their way of life. As a way of fighting back, and with the help of a shadowy female character, Vera, about whom I'm still puzzled, Gitty's father has managed to trap, and hold captive in an old crumbling silo on the farm property, an official (CEO?) of a huge agribusiness development company. We suppose that the intention was to use hoped for ransom money to save their farm...though quite how this could work out wasn't clear to me! Never mind, this is a fable, with a message.
The captive guy, Jonathan, is played by lovely Richard Schiff (who, for husband and I, will forever be known as "Toby from The West Wing"). Scenes between Jonathan and Gitty are some of the best in the movie in my opinion. It is in one of these scenes that Jonathan reads William Butler Yeats' poem, The Second Coming [see Tuesday's post] to Gitty from one of the pile of library books she has brought for him - to assist in his escape rather than for literary reasons.

The main arty-fartiness in American Fable, comes from many dreamy, mystical shots and sequences, also in some colour coding, a particular colour is associated with each character. For me, the colour thing, discovered only after having seen the film, seemed a wee bit superfluous, not to mention pretentious. Who has sufficient immediate insight to be watching a movie for colour coding?

There's a trailer HERE - but I don't see it as a good representation of the movie.

Without giving any more of the plot's detail away, I'll move quickly on to try to define this modern fable's moral message/lesson - nutshell-wise, as I perceived it:

The ages-old right versus wrong, good versus evil contest has shades of grey rather than being a sharp, clean black and white affair. Who, in this fable, is good; who has a good side and a bad side; who is bad, simply out of necessity, and who is downright evil out of no necessity at all? Perceiving the differences in these fictional characters, in these fictional circumstances, should assist us, in real life, to see the grey shades more clearly.

Others could well perceive the film, and its fable's lesson differently, it is left largely up to the viewer to decide. A brief review of the film in USA Today included that: The timing of its release, within weeks of Trump's inauguration as the 45th president, makes it all the more prescient, given its look at the hardscrabble Rust Belt. From the same piece:
No, we aren't revisiting the jolting results of last month's presidential election, in which Donald Trump successfully railed against the elitist culture and punched a ticket to the White House. Many have hailed his ascent as redemption for the forgotten American, the Rust Belt.

But a generation ago, in 1982, the situation was eerily similar: Ronald Reagan had been ushered into the presidency in 1980 through the overwhelming support of what Richard Nixon famously coined the Silent Majority. But his populist message also had a downside.

"Yet, we still have to choose what kinds of people we will be and what we will fight for — without certainty," Hamilton says. "American Fable is about a girl making that choice, and it's a very difficult one. Even she gets blood on her hands."

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"...Vexed to Nightmare..."

Irish poet William Butler Yeats was born on 13 June, in 1865. His natal chart and brief biography are at astro.com. William painted in words - his father, John Butler Yeats, was an artist in the more traditional sense.

Rather than concentrate on the story of W.B. Yeats, his life and loves, a ponder upon one of his poems:

The Second Coming. This is a poem containing several memorable phrases which tend to pop up here and there, in quotation marks, in the work of other writers, so evocative have they become. Today's ponderings were first made some three years past, in 2014. Since then I've noticed Yeat's poem coming up more and more frequently in writings on the internet, and in TV shows and, as it happens, it was quoted in full in a movie* we watched at the weekend, and about which I shall scribble in my next post.

The Second Coming was written in 1919, published in 1920. The title could imply a Christian theme, but Yeats was a mystic and occultist, not particularly impressed by organised religion, including Christianity. The poem goes deeper.

When Yeats wrote The Second Coming the world in general was in a state of shock in the aftermath of The Great War (1914-1918). His own, Irish world, was in the throes of upheaval as Irish revolutionaries, many of whom he counted as friends and/or lovers, attempted to rid Ireland of centuries of British rule. Those facts indicate the poet's state of mind and emotions as he wrote. This poem, though, can be enjoyed like a painting from which each viewer draws a slightly different meaning, or like some modern song lyrics which, on the surface, seem nonsensical, but from which each listener is able to find their own meaning.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The gyre, at the heart of this poem refers to something those keen on astrology's principles understand well - cycles - here further expanded to the form of an ever-widening sprial.

The gyre reaches a point wide enough that a symbolic falcon flies beyond control of its keeper and becomes destabilised. Astrology's 2,100-year Ages fit the gyre imagery, I think.

Yeats had lived through the opening of the 20th century - 2,000 years from the birth of Christ - and speculated that a new "coming", or awakening, or major change of some kind, was to be expected, though not an exact repeat of the last one. I understand that Yeats' book A Vision details his beliefs in this direction.

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold": each generation might see a different reference there. Things going too far....too much excess, too much progress, too much control, too much technology, more and more until..... "mere anarchy" emerges (the word 'mere' is used here in its ancient meaning of pure and unadulterated).

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." We can all relate those words to something familiar today, to apathetic and passive citizens as against the overly intense on both sides of the political divide.

The second part of the poem proceeds to speculate "what next then?" The poet has a vision of what seemed like the Sphinx in the desert, birds wheeling overhead, but representing what? Life as it was lived before Christ - a pagan world? Then darkness fell as Christianity emerged to bring about change? 2,000 years on Yeats expected another "coming", some as yet unknown event or "beast" to emerge and change things yet again, as Christ's coming had changed things last time around.

The "slouching" imagery indicates to me a slow, murky advance with no glorious overtures. I can easily identify that something coming, advancing slowly, while the best of us lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity; something which will, inevitably, change things for us all.

See? Time, even since 2014 ponderings, has given the poem a potential newer meaning, something which Yeats could never have envisioned in detail. An original meaning is still there, but exists a little further back on the loop of that ever-widening gyre. As the gyre continues to widen, scenes will further change.

Regarding that *movie I mentioned - more in next post.