Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More About Movies

Tate asked my opinion of Kiki's Delivery Service. Patrick and I liked it a lot. It and My Neighbor Totoro are the Miyazaki movies I'd recommend for young kids. They aren't scary, and the people in them are mostly very nice. There are no villains and no human violence, though there is a bit of action adventure in Kiki when the dirigible gets loose from its moorings. Pat thinks Kiki would be better for young boys, since it has a boy in it as an important character.

We saw Smoke Signals last night. It's billed as the first entirely Native American movie. The director is Native; the writer (Sherman Alexie) is Native; and so are all the actors, except for the ones playing white folks. It's a good movie, though not the one I was expecting from the cover blurbs on the DVD. They talk about how funny it is -- "an entertaining comedy treat."

Well, it is funny, but the bleakness of Rez life goes through it, as does the vulnerability of Rez people when they leave the Reservation. A couple of young women on the Reservation tell Victor and Thomas to be sure they have their passports with them when they go.

"But it's the United States," Thomas says.

"What is more foreign?" is the reply.

A lot of the humor is classic Indian humor, mocking Native poverty and the painful history of the Native nations since 1492. An ongoing bit is John Trudell as a DJ on KREZ, a radio station in a beat up trailer. The traffic and weather reports -- presented just the way they are on a regular station -- come from the station's remote reporter, Lester Falls Apart, who is sitting on top of a broken down pickup at an unpaved crossroads. "There's a cloud going over," Lester says. "It looks kind of like a horse. Not a lot of traffic here today."

Rez humor is very funny, and Sherman Alexie is good at it. The movie is well worth seeing, and the guy playing Victor is an utter fox.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Movie Report

We rented movie DVDs a week or so ago and have watched two: Kiki's Delivery Service and Flushed Away. The first is yet another sweet and wonderful Miyazaki anime adventure, this one about magic, art, flying and being true to yourself.

The second is an Aardman movie and not easy to describe. In many way's it's a classic 30s screwball comedy about the poor little rich rat who finds life and love among the sewer-rat lower classes. However, this synopsis does not explain the singing slugs or the French frog mime or the deranged English toad who is an Ian-Fleming-like, over-the-top villain with a mad plan of revenge.

In case you don't know, Aardman is an English company that produced the Wallace and Gromit claymation shorts. They have made a deal with Dreamworks and are now producing feature length movies using computer graphics.

The first one I saw was Chicken Run. When I came out of it I said, "This is undoubtedly the best socialist chicken movie I have ever seen."

It's other things, mostly a send up of World War Two POW movies. But what I enjoy about it is the sight of ordinary, middle aged, working hens plotting together to escape their factory/prison camp and establish a utopian society Somewhere Else. I suppose you could say they didn't overthrow the status quo, but they certainly wrecked the chicken farm when they made their escape.

Curse of the Were Rabbit is a send up of a classic 30s horror movie. There a castle, a little village, a menace in the night, even a mob with agricultural implements, though I don't remember torches. I am unable to find a political message in it, though maybe I could if I tried harder.

I'm not yet sure what Flushed Away is. A lot of chase scenes, a lot of slapstick, a sweet love story, the best singing slugs you are ever likely to encounter, and a wonderful vision of London replicated underground in its own sewers.

Maybe the rats are building a new society below the shell of the old.

Lilac Report

Spring comes on like gangbusters in Minnesota. Two weeks later it's gone, and we are into summer.

Because I haven’t posted for two weeks, you have missed descriptions of the Twin Cities turning lavender. People here certainly love French lilacs. They bloom in front yards, along parkways and at the entrance ramps to freeways. I-94 between St. Paul and Minneapolis is lined with lilacs, so the cars and trucks and buses travel between two lavender rows.

As usual, it was a fine sight; and as usual, it was quickly over. The Korean lilacs as blooming now. They are a lot smaller -- knee high or waist high, rather than one or two stories; and they have paler flowers, more pink than lavender. They bloom a week or so after the French lilacs. I like them because they mean that my annual lilac experience lasts a bit longer.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Opera Update

I went to an opera yesterday: The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. I was tired, having had a long night on Saturday, when I attended the Minnesota Books Awards and my book, the fine press version of The Grammarian’s Five Daughters, did NOT win. So I dozed a little in the last act of Figaro. But I saw most of it, and heard all of it, I think.

It’s a wonderful opera about social class and sexual access to women. I am not kidding. This is not me reading in. The opera is based on the politically explosive Beaumarchais play, written on the eve of the French Revolution and banned in imperial Vienna.

Count Almaviva plots to have sex with his wife’s maid Susanna, though he has sworn to give up his noble right – the droit de seigneur -- to have sex with new brides. Susanna struggles to protect herself; and Figaro struggles to protect his fiancée. Because they have no power, they must use trickery.

Besides being an opera about the control of female sexuality, it is also about female loyalty: Susanna and the countess are very much a team; and it is about the shared interest that one upper class woman, the countess, has with the lower classes.

Anyway, there is a lot of commedia dell arte fooling around and really splendid music.

The opera ends with Susannah safe and the count reconciled with his wife. But I just know the count is going to cheat again. How can he help it, being a lascivious noble played by a long, lean, panther-like baritone with a terrific voice?

So I wrote a poem about what happens next…

After the Count Has One Affair Too Many

The countess retires to a convent;
her servants open a shop
in the little village at the bottom of the hill.
He cuts hair in the back room.
She sells trinkets in the front.
Soon enough there are children.

Once a week Susanna climbs the stony road
under the hot Spanish sun
or in a winter drizzle.
Rosina waits in a cool, grey room
“My lady.” Susanna drops a curtsy.
“My dear friend.” They sit and sew.

Mending clothing, Susanna speaks
of the children, her husband, village gossip.
Rosina sets stitches in an altar cloth and listens.

The count writes from Madrid or Seville,
begging forgiveness, a reconciliation.
“Not yet,” Rosina replies.
“Mozart is fine, but there is quieter music -- ”
Rain on the roof tiles,
the nuns’ robes whispering on stone,
Susanna’s voice, sharp with gossip and love.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spring in Minnesota

I haven't posted in two weeks, due to the upcoming audit at work. I've been coming home with not much interest in anything except lying on the couch and reading New Scientist or the latest catalog from L. L. Bean. The auditors are coming in Monday. I have done what I can.

While I was busy with the audit and performance anxiety, spring has come to Minnesota. I noticed a few trees beginning to leaf two weeks ago, when we drove down along the Mississippi. Since then all the trees have leafed out. The grass is bright green, except where it's covered with dandelions. The azaleas and tulips and daffodils are all blooming fiercely, and the lilacs will be in full bloom in another day or so.

Minnesota usually has two weeks of perfect weather in May. The sky is clear and bright blue; the air is cool; everything is flourishing. In honor of this, I will post a poem by Terry A. Garey. I am in a poetry group with Terry and other fine poets. The group reads at local cons as the Lady Poetesses from Hell, and we are currently working on a LPFH poetry collection, which should come out in the next year. Here is Terry's' poem.


the first plant up in my garden
is a dandelion
my favorite flower
a good spring tonic

all the other weeds start popping
happy to be alive
young and innocent
unaware that they are born criminals

later they will find
their sense of entitlement
leads to battle
with the element of me

Ambling Along the Aqueduct

I am adding a new blog to my links. This is a group discussion just started by Timmi Duchamp at Aqueduct Press, and I am a member. Knowing Timmi and the people she publishes, it will be feminist and analytic and interesting -- a nice balance to the Wyrdsmiths' blog, which is about getting ahead in the writing trade.