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Saturday, July 16, 2011

That which is Sublime.

I have great respect for language.  I worship at the altars of great writers who craft each sentence as part of an assemblage --- which when we step back, takes our breath away. How do they know which words belong?  It is my intention when writing my little blog, to respect my readers and give them something worth reading both in thought and deed.  Whatever the subject, I try to provide my readers with honest and comfortably digestible copy.  I’ve written about the power of music, the joys of theatre, the engagement of movies, becoming a Mother, honoring friends, celebrating artists and even the weather. I’ll write about almost anything that strikes my fancy in the moment.  Writing a blog is like exercising. It keeps my skills sharp for the big projects.  But I’m not kidding myself. These little vignettes are not great literature. I’d like to produce great literature someday and I’m working on that, slowly.

JMW Turner's Snowstorm at Sea
When I was in college, I took a class entitled “The Philosophy of Painting”.  It was an introduction to the philosophies of Aesthetics. My professor, whose name I cannot recall, was a rather round Danish fellow who obsessively paced the floor and never made eye contact with any of his students.  I have a vivid memory of his pastel scarves, long blonde hair, fierce blue eyes and rather sweaty forehead. He spoke with flourishes and passion while his ten students raised their eyebrows. He was absolutely bonkers and Ludwig Wittgenstein was required reading.  If you are unfamiliar with Ludwig, I would certainly understand. While he is considered one of the great philosophers of this century, most of us don’t have the time or inclination to include Philosophy in our Must Dos.  But I include him in this blog because what he said provides a framework for talking about The Tree of Life, the actual subject of this blog.

Here are three of his gems:
 1. A picture is a fact.
How can we deny that which we see?  Wittgenstein talks about vision as a personal experience. He famously asked, if I see (the color) Red and you see Red, how can we ever be sure we are seeing the same color?  Does my vision of Red look the same as your vision of Red?  Is the actual color relevant?

JMW Turner's Sunset
2. What can be shown cannot be said.
One might consider this a more profound consideration of a picture being worth a 1000 words. Wittgenstein considers that what we see is unconstrained by the limitations of language, that there is a distinct visual vocabulary.

3. The limits of my language means the limits of my world.
This is my personal favorite because it helps me to recognize the limitations of a single culture as constrained by its vocabulary. If a particular phenomenon does not occur within a culture, does it even require a name or if there is something that has a profound impact or presence in a culture, is just one name for it enough? One example, Greenland has 38 words for snow.

Sean says little
So here’s my dilemma – I don’t want to diminish the experience of The Tree of Life by reducing it to words.  I cannot possess the vocabulary to do it justice. As I sat in the theatre I so wanted to capture my experience of seeing with my words, to be in the moment, to be present.  It’s not often that a word like beatitude or transcendent are experiential or even appropriate. Yet there they were on the screen in front of me. There is Commerce and there is Art and the difference was never so apparent to me as it was    witnessing this film, a haunting and melancholy and largely narrative-free depiction of the selective nature of memory, of the profundity of loss, of the complexities of love, of the scars of disappointment, and the miracle that is creation. Yes, I’m talking about a movie.

It’s not a film for everyone. It’s two and a half hours long and will not make for a great social exchange at its conclusion. I would never call it a date movie. It speaks to each viewer intimately. It is more like standing in front of a Van Gogh or JMW Turner or walking into a Cathedral or witnessing the landscape of Yosemite and your breath is taken away and you want to hold on to that feeling in silent solitude.

Brad the Dad  -- unlimited by words 
They are those few moments in life when what we witness fills us with a sense of wonderment, and demonstrates the presence of a higher being or power, an intelligence which surpasses our expectations of understanding. We bask in that profundity and recognize genius.

There are very limited moments when we can take the marvelous word sublime off of its special mantel and apply it. The Tree of Life is one of those moments. It is that which is sublime.

Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.   – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Friday, July 8, 2011

On the FRINGE!

I am frequently drawn to crazy and if you are a Facebook friend of mine, it should come as no surprise to you that I am slavishly devoted to FRINGE, a science fiction television series created by J.J.Abrams (creator of LOST), Alex Kurtzman (co-writer of the most recent and wonderful STAR TREK and upcoming COWBOYS AND ALIENS) and Robert Orci (writer and producer of television standouts, Alias and Xena:Warrior Princess).
                                                                                                                With these three extraordinary talents combining forces behind the scenes to create FRINGE, the results are an intelligent, clever, engaging, original show with strong female characters in a genre usually dominated by male heroes.  It has been described as a combination X Files, Twilight Zone and Altered States but what FRINGE possesses that those three did not, is a campy awareness of itself and a broad sense of humor. As earnest and sincere as these scientists and investigators of the "Fringe Division" are; charged with the task of saving our world, the writers relieve the tension with juvenile jokes and character self-parody.

Consider this exchange between mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop and his son Peter:

Peter Bishop: You brought your own sweetener?
Dr. Walter Bishop: Don't be ridiculous. My medication.
Peter Bishop: You're not on any medication, Walter.
Dr. Walter Bishop: Of course I am. I've been making it myself in the lab.
Peter Bishop: Oh, I wish you were joking.

Dr. Walter Bishop, brilliant madness
Or this with a young child:

Dr. Bishop: When the Victoria, the last surviving ship, return to its harbor of departure after the first circumnavigation of the earth, only 18 of the original 237 men were on board.
Small Child: What happened to them?
Dr. Bishop: They all died, young lady. Horrible and most likely painful deaths. You see, when you open new doors, there is a price to pay. Now imagine... tonight, you look under your bed, and, lo and behold, you find a monster! And you're immediately eaten. Now, if you hadn't looked for the monster, you wouldn't have found it and you'd still be happy in your beds, instead of being slowly digested in the stomach sack of the creature. But, with any luck, your sister or your brothers might have heard your screams, and your endeavor will serve as a valuable lesson to them.

Noble Actor
The characters and their counterparts in the other world that coexists with ours are wonderfully complex and nuanced -- none more so than Australian actor John Noble.  You may recall John from The Lord of the Rings trilogy as King Denethor. Perhaps you were a fan of 24, when he portrayed Russian Consul Anatoly Markov. In FRINGE, John gets the juiciest, wackiest roles (Each actor has a doppelganger in an alternate world.)  on television, that of Harvard educated mad-scientist Dr. Walter Bishop and his other world counterpart who is the Secretary of Defense and billionaire owner of Massive Dynamic. Dr. Bishop is a brilliant mad scientist who with his partner, William Bell (portrayed by Leonard Nimoy!) did a bit of ethically questionable experiments for the U.S. Government.  This included testing a drug called Cortexiphan on a group of children; including the fair Olivia, the beautiful blonde leader of this Fringe battalion.

The Fair and Strong Olivia 
When Walter’s son Peter was a little boy, he died of a terminal illness, leading the fine doctor to travel to this parallel universe to steal Peter's double. Each actor portrays himself in our world and the alternative world where the Statue of Liberty is made of Brass and the Twin Towers still stand, except for singular Peter.

Walter Bishop spent 17 years in Saint Claire's, a mental institution, following a lab accident that resulted in manslaughter charges while his partner (Leonard Nimoy!) in this world betrayed him and built Massive Dynamic. Dr. Bishop was released into the custody of his son Peter to solve a series of unexplained phenomena, called Patterns, which were taking place around the world. His memory is sketchy because his brain is missing parts that he supposedly asked William Bell to remove and he has a pet cow in his lab.

William Bell, as portrayed by wry Nimoy, is as muted and understated as he should be. The bromance between the two, in spite of his betrayal, makes for great silliness.

William Bell - Spock
As I consider these two having much too much fun together I have to consider how well prepared they both were for these parts. In the case of John Noble, he already went off the deep end in Rings and devolved from a stern tyrant to madman much like the duality of his characters in Fringe.

With Leonard Nimoy as William Bell, I have to ask myself if his portrayal of Spock has added some gravitas to his scripted brilliance in FRINGE.

The big questions is does an actor benefit from his previous roles and the perception they created with his viewers? Is there a legacy in an actor’s series of fictionalized characters that provides a certain gravitas to his subsequent performances in ?

If you want to sample Fringe, I might suggest you try the episode:
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
(It’s available online at "" for your viewing pleasure.)
It will delight and surprise you.

I will close with one of my favorite Walterisms:
“We're all mutants. What's more remarkable is how many of us appear to be normal.”  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wha?? Not guilty.

The Gloved One

It was my mixed fortune to give birth to my son right at the start of the OJ Simpson Trial.  So those first most tender weeks were spent glazed and blissed and nursing my new son while Marcia Clark and her investigators spent 133 days stumbling over one another and ultimately allowing a cold-blooded murderer of two people go free. It was not my intention to necessarily follow the trial but I was living in New York City, taking time off from my business and home all day long with a colicky baby. Simpson and his team of truth stealers were dominating all the air-time and in 1995, it was the best Reality TV out there.  The murders also took place on my birthday, which was very annoying although my dear friend Anne, whose anniversary is on 9/11 has much more to complain about -- should she choose to.

I remember watching the trial and knowing it was doomed and I knew the same was true for Casey Anthony.  The parallels between the two cases are remarkable and bear mentioning.

Consider, when first informed that his wife had been killed, Simpson did not ask how, when, or by whom.

Consider, that the police had accumulated enough evidence indicating Simpson's guilt in the murders and obtained a warrant for his arrest.  His attorney, Robert Shapiro negotiated an agreement where Simpson was to turn himself in at police headquarters by 10:00 on the morning of June 17, the day after Nicole's funeral.  He didn’t show. He was driving around Orange County in a white Bronco (what a perfect car to be chased!) with over $8000 in cash, a fake beard and mustache, a loaded gun and a passport in the car.  Does this sound like the behavior of an innocent man?

Casey Anthony spent 31 days partying and dancing and getting tattooed, all while her daughter was still “missing”. Her labyrinth of lies to the police, her parents and reporters were ridiculous.  She lied about being employed at Universal Studios. She lied about leaving Caylee with a baby-sitter. She told police about two imaginary people she had told that Caylee was missing. She even lied about receiving a phone call from Caylee (who placed the call?) the day before she was finally reported missing. Does this sound like the behavior of an innocent woman?

Here's Johnnie!
What did the glove matter to the Simpson case? Nothing, but it was bandied about just like the duct tape that couldn’t be used to indict Casey.  They were distractions that had no meaning but to distract and confuse the jury -- just like the incest and molestation charges Casey made about her father.

There was also confusion about the chloroform and why it was so important. Chloroform is a chemical compound that can be used to knock someone unconscious and also is found in human decomposition, but prosecutors failed to make clear exactly what role it played in little Caylee's death or what it’s presence meant.

It all brought back the testimony of forensic criminalist Dennis Fung, who Barry Scheck painfully eviscerated on the stand. It was this testimony for me that sealed the outcome of the trial. Fung was painfully unprofessional and incoherent.

All in all, the prosecution lead by Ms. Marcia Delusional Clark put forward 72 witnesses. Consider that for a moment. 72? Are you kidding me? At the OJ trial, the jury was so exhausted from listening, that they spent only three hours in deliberation. 

Casey Anthony’s pathetic excuse for an attorney, Jose Baez, came out swinging; laying blame and recasting the crime in a variety of guises with a variety of conspirators both named and unnamed, mostly Casey’s poor shell-shocked family. Again, it was all too reminiscent of Johnnie Cochran’s summation for the defense in which he compared the prosecution’s case to Hitler’s campaign against the Jews; blaming racist cop, Mark Furman, as though he had committed the crimes or at the very least, planted evidence. Never proven, only wildly claimed, just like the claims made about George Anthony.
In today’s Daily Beast, Marcia Clark claims that the Anthony verdict was a bigger calamity than the OJ verdict. No Marcia, it’s not.  We can all see through your delusion. They are both equally embarrassing, even disgraceful because the prosecution on both cases did such a pathetic half-assed job that the jury was left with no choice but to let the killers go free.  -- And oh so shameful because the innocent victims will never get their fair day in court.