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Something is Going On

June 2008

YEARS AGO THERE was an old time journalist who idly began collecting odd newspaper fillers, particularly the kind that pop up in country publications. You know, thinks like, ìMan grows turnip resembling Marilyn Monroeî. The journalist, Charles Forte by name, soon noticed a curious pattern in these reports. A large proportion were sightings of bizarre rainfalls — frogs, snails, red hail, chunks of meat. He observed, of course, the scientific explanations fro such events — an errant tornado had sucked up the contents of a pond and dumped it some distance away.

Mr. Forte was not satisfied with this reasoning and asked, in the case of frog rain, the most frequent of the episodes, why the picky wind had left behind all the other usual ingredients found in rural bodies of water: assorted fish, old tires, lizards, rusty cans. Claiming that it made a good deal more sense, Mr. Forte ventured that it was an alien cargo ship in outer space, which found itself in trouble and was compelled to lighten the ship by unloading its freight of frogs. Offering similar reasons for these events, he published them. From this there formed a loose organization of interested people, myself once included, called the Fortean Society who happily followed his career. The Society may yet exist; I donít know.

Now I relate Mr. Forteís former activity because I, too, observe that something is going on — if not bizarre, it at least gives pause for thought. Like Mr. Forte Iíve begun collecting and storing odd bits of seemingly unrelated events. And Iíve found a pattern emerging.

What first caught my attention was the catalog introduction to this yearís Whitney Biennial. This showís rather arid appearance was characterized by its curators as ëLessnessí, a term once used by Samuel Beckett in describing his work — a writer I imagined who would be unfamiliar to anyone under the age of sixty yet the two curators were no more than thirty-two.

This might have gone unnoticed except I subsequently ran across a piece in the community news of my local newspaper. A young woman of the region who attends New York Universityís film school was attempting to hold a funding event to support her proposed thesis project — a film about two homeless men who live in Central Park inspired by Beckettís Waiting for Godot. Then, to my utter surprise, I learned from my last born, also an aspiring filmmaker, that his thesis project is loaded with Beckett-style dialogue, throwing it into a filmic melding of the narrative styles of Bergman, Fellini, and B¸nel, all of this played out amid the gloomy, surreal graphic settings of the Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. This from a fellow who, as far as I know, had spent his entire adolescence playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Maybe these are no more than random, isolated incidents but how to account for the recent art house revivals of Alain Resnaisí 1961 ìLast Year at Marienbadî and Jean Luc Godardís 1963 ìContemptî with Agnes Vardaís 1962 ìCleo from Five to Sevenî rumored to come up next? And have you noted that ìLíAvventuraî and ìThe Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoiseî have been bouncing from one cable film channel to another replacing an exhausting run of ìThe Umbrellas of Cherbourgî and ìJules and Jimî? Even ìAeon Fluxî couldnít command as many encores as any one of these — although it tried hard enough.

Where is all this 60ís stuff coming from? Surely, I thought, the end of it came with Bertolucciís 1972 ìLast Tango in Parisî. Didnít we have enough of Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider introspecting until the cows came home? Has this younger generation become so blasÈ with our perfectly good film fare of sex, slaughter and toilet humor that it yearns to roll around in that old European existential malaise —the ennui, angst, emotional lassitude and endless talking — oh, so much talking? Do they really want to know what lifeís boredom is all about? Are these young filmmakers going to be the next Roemers, Malles, Truffauts knocking out films to remind us how empty and vapid we are?

Well, Iíll tell you, if thatís the way itís going I might just get in on it. After all, I am a living relic of that era and perfectly prepared to write a film script for either Soren Kierkegaardís Fear and Trembling or Albert Camusí The Myth of Sisyphus. A four-hour film should do it, I figure — maybe Leonardo di Caprio playing Sisyphus eternally pushing that olí boulder up the hill. I bet I can get my last born to direct — should be right up his alley.

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