I originally posted this on July 14, 2008. I've been annoyed because the links went down after a purge from YT. As I was attempting to repair it I decided to repost with new clips--the effect this time is not quite the same--the end of the excerpt of the section of Obama's memoir were illustrated with links to "Manha de Carnaval" sung 1st by Breno Mello and then by Doris Day in english, standing on a large map...
I happened to be near MOMA on Friday with some time to kill. I thought I would take a quick look at the Dali/Film show but saw that "Black Orpheus"--which I've mentioned here previously--was playing. I've noted my ambivalence about the film but for this viewing I really enjoyed it. The screening was worth it just for the beautiful, wasp-waisted dresses and new-lookish big skirts on the women, the amazing color and mise-en-scene and the swirling, frenetic editing. The music moves the film along at an incredible pace. The story is mythical and the characters beautiful and flat...the whole thing is lovely. But that's not really why I'm here. My intention last night was to write a teasing post suggesting that the French would love to claim responsibility for the invention of Democracy, the Cinema and now Barak Obama! I wanted to cite a passage that appeared in several articles culled from Obama's memoir, Dreams From My Father,where young Barak attends the film with his mother.Obama remembers the film, set in Brazil and helmed by French director, Marcel Camus, as condescending, depicting blacks as "childlike". He realizes, watching his white mother joyfully watching the film, that her images/imaginings of black people were formed, partially, by her experience of the movie, leading to her subsequent marriage to an African man, Barak's father.
Trouble began as I googled the pages from Obama's book. I found the excerpted passages quoted repeatedly in conservative blogs, and websites. They appropriated the pages (frequently and apparently without having read the rest of the book) to disparage Obama, supposedly proving his troubled (and troubling) identity, shaky psyche, shadiness and opportunism; illegitimacy and ultimately his racism towards whites. These numerous sites, to which I will not link you, traffic in casual racism, ignorance ("Community Organizing, what's that?!") and idiotic and insensitive attacks on both Obama directly and sweepingly on people of color, under the guise of some sort of political dialog. Why, like Claude Rains, am I so easily shocked? This comes on the heels of an article I wanted to write about by Armond White, who inexplicably disses the candidate and links his "post racial" campaign to another black fantasy movie. White legitimately (film/cultural critique-wise) but harshly tears Will Smith a new one for his superhero summer gig, "Hancock".
Can we afford to be disillusioned so soon and so thoroughly?
So, having recovered my nerve and after more searching, I found the full excerpts from the book--thank goodness I didn't have to type them myself (which was the whole lazy rationale)! Here is a rather dispirited version of what I had intended...
Apparently, we have the French to thank for Democracy, (the Cinema) and Barak Obama!
Barak Obama’s mother has a life-changing encounter with a movie, Black Orpheus (1959) by French director, Marcel Camus:
"One evening, while thumbing through The Village Voice,
my mother’s eyes lit on an advertisement for a movie,
Black Orpheus, that was showing downtown. My mother
insisted that we go see it that night; she said that it was
the first foreign film she had ever seen.
“I was only sixteen then,” she told us as we entered the elevator.
“I’d just been accepted to the University of Chicago
-Gramps hadn’t told me yet that he wouldn’t let me go
-and I was there for the summer, working as an au pair.
It was the first time that I’d ever been really on my own.
Gosh, I felt like such an adult. And when I saw this film,
I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”
We took a cab to the revival theater where the movie was playing.
The film, a groundbreaker of sorts due to its mostly black,
Brazilian cast, had been made in the fifties. The story line
was simple: the myth of the ill-fated lovers Orpheus and Eurydice
set in the favelas of Rio during Carnival. In Technicolor splendor,
set against scenic green hills, the black and brown Brazilians
sang and danced and strummed guitars like carefree birds
in colorful plumage. About halfway through the movie,
I decided that I’d seen enough, and turned to my mother
to see if she might be ready to go. But her face, lit by
the blue glow of the screen, was set in a wistful gaze.
At that moment, I felt as if I were being given a window
into her heart, the unreflective heart of her youth.
I suddenly realized that the depiction of childlike blacks
I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad’s
dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii
all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies
that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas,
the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different.
I turned away, embarrassed for her, irritated with the people around me...
“Kind of corny, huh,” Maya said as my mother went to the bathroom.
“The movie. It was kind of corny. Just Mom’s style..."
...She stopped and laughed to herself.
“Did I ever tell you that he was late for our first date?
He asked me to meet him in front of the university library at one.
When I got there he hadn’t arrived, but I figured I’d give him
a few minutes. It was a nice day, so I laid out on one of the benches,
and before I knew it I had fallen asleep. Well, an hour later-an hour!
-he shows up with a couple of his friends. I woke up and the three
of them were standing over me, and I heard your father saying,
serious as can be, ‘You see, gentlemen. I told you that she was
a fine girl, and that she would wait for me.’ ”
My mother laughed once more, and once again
I saw her as the child she had been.
Except this time I saw something else:
In her smiling, slightly puzzled face,
I saw what all children must see at some point
if they are to grow up-their parents’ lives revealed to them
as separate and apart, reaching out beyond the point of their
union or the birth of a child, lives unfurling back
to grandparents, great-grandparents, an infinite number
of chance meetings, misunderstandings, projected hopes,
limited circumstances. My mother was that girl with the movie
of beautiful black people in her head, flattered by my
father’s attention, confused and alone, trying to break
out of the grip of her own parents’ lives. The innocence
she carried that day, waiting for my father, had been
tinged with misconceptions, her own needs.
But it was a guileless need, one without self-consciousness,
and perhaps that’s how any love begins, impulses and cloudy
images that allow us to break across our solitude,
and then, if we’re lucky, are finally transformed
into something firmer. What I heard from my mother that day,
speaking about my father, was something that I suspect
most Americans will never hear from the lips of those
of another race, and so cannot be expected to believe
might exist between black and white: the love of someone
who knows your life in the round, a love that will
survive disappointment. She saw my father as everyone hopes
at least one other person might see him; she had tried
to help the child who never knew him see him in the same way.
And it was the look on her face that day that I would remember
when a few months later I called to tell her that my father
had died and heard her cry out over the distance."
This is not really imvii#1--for a couple of weeks now I have been posting clips on facebook forecasting my imaginary self, into a cinematic italian culture during my very real upcoming residency in Umbria this summer. But the continuum is really the right place for this sort of musing so I'll work backwards then forwards from here!
Here’s a sample of one of the many terrific projects that came from my and my co-prof’s freshman Lab class at Parsons the New School for Design this spring. This group project that considers urban/park coexistence was particularly successful in building on iterations and incorporating class feedback. I’ll include the initial mapping of the site:
and the final project. (There is a middle sketch-like film that I hope to include later.)
A Dynamic Relationship:
In September, although you are hopeful, you and the class think you are never gonna make it--but you do! And when they say matter-of-factly; “Professor, I am going to miss you.” or "Thank you for teaching the class" you find yourself fighting back the tears. At least I do!
Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969) dir. Herbert Ross
Sentimental old fool, I admit to it…
I was sorry to hear that filmmaker, Sid Laverents, passed away but I love that he made it to 100 years! I had recently posted his Super-production "Multiple SIDosis"on facebook to brighten a tired and uninspired Monday morning. It worked, at least for me! Just the shots of his wife ("Save the ribbons!) makes my day. I hope we'll get to see more of Sid's films.
A cheery little miracle of self-production and technological play, easier said than done, here's Multiple SIDosis 1970 dir. Sidney N. Laverents
You'll be humming and whistling this tune all day!
As I’ve recounted here, my sainted mother loved nothing more than a movie where an old lady was being pushed down the stairs in her wheelchair, having her head cut off and put in a hatbox by a charming sociopath, or where innocent children are being menaced by a murderous fake preacher. But there was another more sentimental genre she also really enjoyed and so for mother’s day the Continuum presents:
And here's selfish, mean, little Veda from Mildred Pierce (1945):
And murdering, awful, little Rhoda Penmark from The Bad Seed:
One of her favorites was Stella Dallas which she often spoke about and which she may have seen with her mother. I watched part of it with her once when it happened to be on television. At the finale, when Barbara Stanwyck’s sacrificial mom watches her daughter's wedding from the street outside the window as it pours down rain and a policeman shoos the crowd away, we were both choking back tears. For some unknown, emotional reasons, both of us were determined not to be moved by the movie in front of each other. This now seems to me rather sad and unnecessarily stoic—kind of like in the film.
Anyway, from one ungrateful daughter to another, I am deeply grateful to you mom for my eclectic and kinda great taste in movies!
It’s mother’s day and I’m off to NR. I’ll awaken the links and then more later!