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*Font of Inspiration for the Muses near Mount Olympus

A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pyrean Spring*:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

The Third Man

Screenplay by Graham Greene

This is Film Noir most terms of cinematography: chiaroscuro, long shadows, angular framing...and in terms of setting: opening and closing in a cemetery, underground locations, bombed out locations...and also in terms of plot: chasing after a dead man. But there is something not so noir about this film, and ironically, it’s a bit unsettling. Is it the score? Is it the flippant characters? Is it that irony itself? The thing is, while The Third Man is absolutely intriguing and throroughly enjoyable, there is little that is sufficiently gripping about it...let alone menacing.

Fast forward 42 years to Lars von Trier’s Zentropa. Zentropa is gripping; it is menacing, and in many ways similar to The Third Man. In both the protagonist is an American who’s just arrived to the bombed out rubblescapes of post WW II Europe. Both have a phantasmagoric quest; Holly Martins is trying to find his friend Harry Lime who’s supposed to be dead, but keeps appearing all over the place; Leopold Kessler is trying to find something a little more elusive...his purpose...indeed his life. Both men also find themselves involved with femme really wouldn’t be Noir without them.

Overall, I find Zentropa preferable. The storyline is much more opaque, but it is also much more layered and critical. I also was rather impressed with the cinematography, which has already been best summed up here:

...Lars von Trier's bag of cinematic tricks...include old-fashioned film techniques mixed with modern high tech. Some of the dialogue and interaction are arch and distant, resembling an old 40s B movie, while some is devastatingly personal. Occasionally, the film shifts from grainy, newsreel black-and-white to spurts of color – most frequent during the scenes of violence. There is even extended use of the old rear-projection format, complete with spinning, disorienting camera work.

This reviewer criticizes the film for having a story that is secondary to the cinematic tricks, but I absolutely disagree. Others are even less charitable and charge von Trier with so much cinematographic masturbation. Nonsense. The techniques used have several outstanding effects: one is that the layering of the narrative is given visual form; another is the impression of speaking through symbols, which I think universalizes what is being portrayed; and finally the viewer is rendered less passive and is actually drawn into the movement within the narrative even to the point that you can come to believe are on a train in Germany...


n: something that covers, screens, or guards. v: to veil under another appearance.

Ah, the Shroud of Turin, one of those parts of pious legend that I neither really accept nor deny. I’m open to its mystery, but also cautious of all the efforts to both prove or disprove its authenticity. Four thoughts:

I find it most incredulous that the shroud should have been held under wraps until 1357, a time, furthermore, rife with forgeries of relics. Still, that in itself is conclusive of nothing.

That Leonardo da Vinci was such a genius and trickster. Maybe so, but he was a genius who was born in 1452.

The 1988 C-14 testing of the shroud’s fiber was supposed to be scientific proof that the shroud was a forgery. In fact, it was more proof that careless scientists produce junk science. The sample tested was from a medieval reweave, and so naturally it produced a medieval date. More than this though, the cloth may with all likelihood be completely undatable using the C-14 method. The 1532 fire that the shroud survived would have saturated the cloth with micro-fine carbon particles that would radically skew any test results.

Now the latest discovery is all very bright and skeptical (in the most Scewtapian sense). So it has been demonstrated that a natural manufacturing process using the sun’s radiation can produce an image on cloth. Once again, all hail science, but how does this disprove that the radiation from a resurrecting god-man didn’t produce an image on cloth? The supernatural would still have all of the laws of nature at His disposal...laws that He would understand infinitely better than us.

Update March 16, 2005. Elsewhere, Xon writes:

Yes, mcmlxix, but Wilson himself is quick to point out that he hasn't "proved" the Shroud to be a fake. But, he does say that his experiment might very well take away one of the major elements of the Shroud apologia, the claim that "nobody knows how this could have been faked." Wilson appears to show (though more tests are needed) exactly how it could have been faked by a medieval. Does that mean it was faked? Not necessarily. It just means that Shroud believers can't continue to say that it couldn't have been.
And Wilson is hardly a "all hail science" kind of guy. He would stand with you against modern scientism.

This is a good point of clarification, but I don’t think that my contention was with Wilson or his hypothesis. I realize that he acknowledges that he hasn’t proven anything. My reaction had to do more with how others will read and understand his conclusions. Given my experience, I’m more concerned with the amount of cynicism (of that self-satisfied Screwtapian sort), as well as that ready and uncritical acceptance of whatever is in print or on The Discovery Channel. Innuendo of what one wants to believe is usually more convincing than facts of what one doesn’t.

Third Eye Blind

Lisa: Can I ask you about that dot?
Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilon: What would you like to know?
Lisa: What's the deal with that dot?
Bart: Can you see out of it? Does it turn color when you’re ticked off?
Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilon: You tell me.
Bart: Nothing yet...
In Vedic thought आज (ājñā) is the nexus of intuition...the third eye, once awaked, can come to look upon the divine...

...exit stage west...

...unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe. But the Word...reveals Itself only to he who loves is revealed only for a moment and only to Its lover. The eye opens...the eye closes.

The problem with tolerance

Imagine hearing from a parent, child, spouse, or just about anyone really, "I tolerate you." What the hell...

Tolerance has become the preeminent virtue of our age, but the problem with tolerance is that it’s not even a virtue at all. It’s really a just clever bastardization of that genuine virtue brotherly love. Of course to grow in any virtue, we really need to also overcome its corresponding this case envy. Ironically, the paradigm that has imposed the dogma of tolerance on our culture has as its source the Gramscian politics of identity and division, which in turn has at its very core envy. What’s even more ironic, the high priests of tolerance won’t hesitate to excommunicate dissenters under mortal pain.

How terribly sad to be merely tolerated, we want to hear that we’re loved...or at the very least, admired or liked. More than this, the word once spoken needs to take concrete shape, and there is much that genuine love simply can never tolerate...this includes behaviors and attitudes that are injurious to self or others. To begin in understanding the sources of injury we need to look at the vices...the seeds that produce bitter fruit. How much better to cultivate virtues...even as we may be deeply aware of the messiness of the human condition...they are the sign posts.

Foucault's Pendulum

Umberto Eco

I didn't really know what to expect with Eco. While I find the topic of esoterica and secret societies fascinating, often the result is puerile this novel itself acknowledges. Also, my concern was with Eco's notoriety as a preeminent postmodern novelist...what with postmodernism being a bugaboo of mine. What I learned from reading this novel however, is that like it or not, to some extent, we're all postmodernists now.

This is the long (the setup to the story is the first 500 pages) story of three men who work at a Milan publishing house who conspire to weave together all of western esoterica and secret societies into one total narrative...really as a hoax to be gobbled up by those with itching ears...and proclivities. What our three protagonists learn at the conclusion is that life imitating art is a metaphysically profound understatement. As far as I'm concerned, the mere 5 pages of chapter 110 hold a powerful key to the entire narrative as well as much understanding..."so we attempted to do what was not allowed us, what we were not prepared for. Manipulating the words of the Book, we attempted to construct a golem," but it wouldn't make the sense that it does out of the context of the 640 some odd pages, so jump in if you want, but also know that the dénouement has all of the dreariness of a resigned existentialism.