My friend Paul Zahl introduces this talk by a guy named Tullian Tchividjian about the exhaustion of the world. It’s nominally a Christian message but you’d do better not to think of it that way because it’s a message you won’t hear preached by very many Christians these days — it’s too radical . . .
Paul Zahl, a friend and contributor to this blog, is interviewed by CNN on Good Friday about drone warfare.
An Easter message to Barack Obama from various religious leaders, including my friend, and a contributor to this blog, Paul Zahl.
My personal objection to Obama’s drone policy has to do with its opacity and lack of judicial (or any other kind of) review but the more fundamental objections in this message need to be part of the conversation, too.
Los Straightjackets have a new album! Fun dance music of superior quality — and it’s in stereo!
With thanks to Paul Zahl . . .
Paul Zahl reflects on what’s not being talked about in this year’s campaign for President — basically, everything that’s really important:
In the 1982 movie entitled Missing, directed by Costa Gavras, the “Ed Horman” character, played by Jack Lemmon, says to two U.S. Embassy culprits, “At least I live in a country where people like you can be prosecuted for crimes like this one.”
The line becomes ironic, as no one from our country ever was prosecuted for complicity in the murder of Mr. Horman’s son, Charles, in the aftermath of the coup against Salvador Allende in l973 in Chile. The complicity of United States officials in Santiago was later confirmed when a previously classified State Department memo was released during the Clinton administration.
Because Jack Lemmon’s performance as “Ed Horman” is so poignant and so real, it is hard not to identify with him, the grieving father, a devout Christian Scientist businessman from New York City, no matter what your politics are. You identify with the human drama — it really happened, and I myself knew Ed Horman and Charles personally — and you are filled with feeling for him, and you agree with his indignation. He left Chile with the faith that justice would be done, at least in America. It wasn’t. Justice was never done. Mr. Horman died without seeing justice done on behalf of his son.
And what about the violators of habeas corpus at Guantanamo Bay? And the makers and approvers of the “hit lists” of people to be eliminated without capture during an undeclared war? And the idea that extreme distanced combat, conducted by robots and therefore as impersonal as you could almost possibly get, is a good thing? (I grant you, it is an expedient thing.)
Or our “hit makers’” confidence that the lynching of a North African dictator without a trial, in the immediate aftermath of a US drone attack, was justified? (What did our forefathers and foremothers fight for in 1776? Why did they come here?) Or the people who decided to assassinate a world-historical terrorist, no matter how heinous his crimes, without even the possibility of a trial? (Why did this country take the trouble to try war criminals in 1945 and 1946 at Nuremberg? We knew they were guilty. Why try them? I ask you.)
Poor Ed Horman in retrospect! “I knew him, Horatio.” I remember the week that Charles, the Hormans’ only child, was accepted at Harvard College. Mr. Horman was as proud and beaming a father as you could ever see.
Last night, after my wife and I had watched Missing, viewing the movie doubles for people I grew up with, I went over to the bookshelf where I keep my childhood books. There it was: Howard Pyle’s Men of Iron.
The plate inside simply reads: “This Book Belongs to Charles Horman.” (I’d written my own name in pencil over his — I was about seven.) Charles’ plate has a drawing of a dog over it, the kind of drawing he liked so much, the kind of drawing that his Jack Lemmon father, at the end of the tale, is gathering up to take back home, to his mother.
It seems that our two, or is it four candidates to become President of the United States agree on a point that cries out from the earth for debate. They agree about drones, and Executive decisions to kill without trial (and without oversight), and “Let’s lock the door and throw away the key now” (Jay and the Americans).
Why is there no debate on the new American morality? It has nothing to do with sex and nothing to do with food. It has to do with Double O Seven — the license to kill. On that point, on who exactly is “like a tree planted by the waters” (Psalm 1:3), there is no difference at all.
My friend Mary Zahl, widely known as a professional designer of magical gardens, has been spearheading a beautification project in her hometown, Winter Garden, Florida. In the midst of all the crap going down in America these days, here’s a little glimpse of green and hopeful dreaming about the future.
The second part of a talk with Paul Zahl about Grace in practice — the first part of the talk can be found here.
Paul Zahl talks about Grace in practice. A brief addendum to the talk can be found here.
This is not one of the great Hollywood epics but, boy, is it fun. If you watch it on a decent-sized TV in the Blu-ray edition by Twilight Time, the lunatic spectacle of it all will carry you comfortably through its general silliness. You can bask in the technical virtuosity of the 20th-Century Fox studio at its zenith, marvel at director Michael Curtiz’s elegant professionalism, and gaze in awe at what stars could do with less than stellar material . . . and at how non-stars, like the ill-chosen leading man Edmund Purdom, could be given a kind of imputed charisma by their surroundings. The whole thing is just a hoot from start to finish.
Elsewhere on this site Paul Zahl (of The Zahl File) has written a more sympathetic evaluation of the film — Walking In Memphis — with some fascinating observations on Jack Kerouac, who saw it when it first came out and hated it!
[Let me take this opportunity to apologize for the erratic formatting of many old posts here -- the unavoidable by-product of a switch to a new blogging platform. I am trying to regularize the formatting of these old posts to the degree that it's possible, but it will take me some time to get around to all of them.]
[Photo by Mary Zahl]
Above, Paul Zahl in front of the Cocoa Beach Playhouse in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Paul's visit to the theater, not too far from where he lives, in the Orlando area, was in the nature of a pilgrimage, since the Cocoa Beach Playhouse figured prominently in one of his favorite movies, Matinee by Joe Dante, where it doubled as the Strand theater in Key West:
There was a real Strand theater in Key West (now closed and turned into a Walgreen's) but for logistical reasons it was decided to dress the Cocoa Beach theater to represent it when Matinee was shot in 1993.
Matinee is a really enjoyable movie — check it out if you haven't seen it. Hard to find for many years, it was re-released on DVD in 2010.
Here, Paul Zahl takes a look at an undervalued film by Jacques Demy, and finds much value in it, indeed:
HIS ODD BEAUTY
people seem able to say no to Jacques Demy's vision of life as reflected
in wonderful movies such asThe Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and Lola (1960). A phrase that seems to cover his vision is “optimistic romanticism”. Those are two good words for it.
made several more films, however, and three of them,A Slightly
Pregnant Man (1973), Lady Oscar (1979), and Parking (1985) are
considered bombs. I've seen them all recently, though only segments of Parking, and can well understand their bad reputations.
But I disagree about Lady Oscar!
Lady Oscar is a beautiful movie, an opulent, visionary movie, about a
cross-dressing aristocratic heroine, played by Catriona MacColl, in the
Court of Marie Antoinette, who sees and hears the great events of the 1780s in her role of Captain of the Guards, while all the while loving the faithful, kind, courageous stable boy 'André Grandier', played by Barry Stokes.
The movie was directed and also partly written by Jacques Demy; and its lush, sentimental musical score is by Michel Legrand. Most of the actors were English but the film was filmed in France,
much of it at Versailles. An alternate title for the movie was The
Rose of Versailles.
The big stunner, when you
sit down and watch Lady Oscar, is the opening credit revealing that it
was Toho Studios of Japan that produced the film. At first glance, because of that familiar logo, you expect Mothra to come flying into the film. But
no, or rather, “Non!”: it's the fashionable, swirling, and almost
feminine style of the man who directed Catherine Deneuve, Françoise
Dorléac, Anouk Aimée, and later, Dominique Sanda.
In other words, this is a mélange, an improbable
mix of commercial and historical elements, which, taken together,
produced an odd movie — at least, if you stop to consider the
ingredients. Turns out Demy was not getting much work at the time; that the
Japanese had a popular commercial property on their hands, which was a
comic book entitled The Rose of Versailles; and that Lady
Oscar was made entirely and by design for domestic consumption in
Japan, even though it was filmed in France, with English actors, English
dialogue, and a French crew. Lady Oscar's being owned by Toho of
Japan is the main reason it hasn't been seen very often in Europe and
America — until now, that is, with the release in 2008 of a “Jacques
Demy Integrale” boxed set in France.
Long story, isn't it? Has all the makings of a colossal flop, right? Too many cooks spoil the broth, “n'est-ce pas”? You might think so. And many do. But I think Lady Oscar is a touching, lovely, sexy, beautiful movie.
Click here to continue reading and find out why:
Paul Zahl continues his look at Lady Oscar, an undervalued film by Jacques Demy:
HER ODD BEAUTY
it is lovely to look at. There is not a bad or ugly composition in it,
for a master is directing the camera. As always with Demy, there is
the iris effect at the beginning and the end; the women's fashions are
gorgeous; the lens is fluid but not falsely fluid. (I love the Vertigo
effect, half-way through, when Marie Antoinette finally succumbs to her
“youthful passion” in the garden pavilion. It doesn't feel out of place
at all.) The ball sequences are fairy tales of movement and pastels,
especially blues; the outdoor scenes at the Queen's Versailles hameau
or retreat are pure “70s pastoral”, soft-focus, but not like
advertisements; and the actors, who are mostly wooden, fit when you
understand they are meant to be decoration for . . . “Lady Oscar”.
Now I come to the two chief goods of this film,
which leaves, with its many faults — such as the woodenness of the
plot, the script, and the actors, to name just a few! — a lasting impression.
The first great plus of Lady Oscar is the
“gender-bending” situation of the main story. “Lady Oscar”, a daughter born
to a noble mother after five girls have preceded her in birth, has been raised a boy. Oscar is a beautiful young woman in the
garb and robe of a young man. But Oscar knows she is really a girl, and
understands herself to be a girl. Nevertheless, she plays
the part of and dresses like a man, in order to please her father (who
had tired of having so many daughters, and longed for a son).
is no sub-text here, in other words, or at least none that I
can see. When Oscar takes off her shirt, for example, to examine her
body after a duel, we see her female chest. Demy dwells on Catriona
MacColl in this scene. Later, she is able to confess her lifelong love
for 'André' to André, and they make love. There is no ambiguity or
and I think it is an important “yet”, “Lady Oscar's”
role-playing, hermale clothing over a woman's body, gives her insight and involvement in
the life of both the sexes at Court. We therefore see the highest world of female fashion,
through the eye of the Queen's Body Guard, “Oscar”, who is a woman. Maybe
this reflects Jacques Demy's own persona. I don't know. He certainly
shows, in the stunning visuals and moving camera, a secure comfort with
Whatever is going on under the surface, or
which we might have more light to shed today, what you actually see in
the movie is the tale of a yearning female adult who is doing her duty
(and performing it well) as a cross-dresser, yet never stops loving . . . André.
Now to the second and final point, the core of “Lady Oscar for Today”. A
theme I see again and again in the films of Jacques Demy is the
contrast between private domestic intimate drama, between individuals;
and the bigger social and political struggles that surround people at
points of history. Thus, in The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), the
romantic longings of the twins, played by Catherine Deneuve and Françoise
Dorléac, are lightly contrasted with readings
from the newspaper, by their mother, concerning threats to world peace. In A Room in Town (1988) the fated
romance of Dominique Sanda and Richard Berry is played out against the
background of a shipbuilders' strike in a French port. The
focus is on the intimate drama, not on the social conflict; and that is
reflected concretely and bitterly at the end.
scenes, such historic events as the first meeting of the Estates General
and the fall of the Bastille, the director's focus, almost
against the screenplay, is on “André” and “Oscar”. That relationship is
where your emotional attention is, from the beginning to the end. And
the ending of the movie reflects this personal focus most
acutely, and painfully, and memorably. No wonder almost everyone
deplores the ending. I can well understand why. Nevertheless, I love
the ending. Mainly because I can't shake it. I wake up sometimes
thinking about it, crying out “André!” and waking our neighbor's dog,
not to mention Mary.
The ending of Lady Oscar says something
important about life. The “devil is in the details”, or rather, the
heart of life is in the personal — the intimate, the one-to-one, the
“hopes and dreams of all the years” . . . in a gently crying child, in
mourned romantic love, in a blue-and-red uniform of the Queen's Guards,
with a lovely actress secure within it, looking not for “Liberté!
Fraternité! Égalité!” (which are wonderful ends,
we know), but rather for the stable boy of her heart, the man whose heart
never left her and whose heart she never left.
Whenever we get together my friend Paul Zahl and I like to amuse ourselves by collecting severed heads in sacks — an activity that's not as easy as it sounds! This summer we had a few very successful collecting expeditions — no records set but lots of fun all around!
My nephew Harry and my friend PZ discussing movies — the subject here, Kurosawa!
My mom and my friend Mary Zahl discussing smocking in the living room of my sister's house in Hampstead, North Carolina.