Lawnswood Gardens online

" Lawnswood Gardens"
  A ghetto bound tram on the streets of Warsaw.   

I have created a VOD vimeo page that will have a few of my productions.  The first is a documentary about Zygmunt Bauman.


truth versus glitzy

 "American Beauty" written by Alan Ball, directed by Sam Mendes

Watched again, 15 years later, the film has made the same impression on me as it did the first time.  And the impressions have been huge.   Almost a perfect masterpiece.  The confusions (in both viewings) came from the video parts, which were taking me out of the flow of the film.  

Down deep, the film seems to be a pretty much a loose connection of haiku like epiphanies circling around not beauty, not values, not culture - but rather around transformation, overcoming, transcending.  It is not the development of the plot (although there is one) that drives the experience of watching the film.  It is rather, the emotional impact of most of the scenes.   As if the brilliance of the execution sidetracked the underlying intellectual efforts to convey meaning through the story. 

Every major character in the story is on a wild inner ride.  Everyone except Ricky, the kid next door, who is the only smart one, or the only fully realized from the start.  And it is probably through Ricky’s weed that Lester finally breaks through his inner walls.  Ricky’s presence seems to carry the “official” meaning of the film - the beauty in the mundane - as in the plastic bag.   While the idea is noble, the execution seems problematic.  The plastic bag is videotaped in a pedestrian way while the everyday life which is supposed to be criticized gets dazzling directorial and cinematographic treatment.   This contrast is something I wonder about.  From a logical point of view the stylistic choices for showing both realities are correct, but their juxtaposition rises questions.  


Bauman and the Cross of Valor

“Lawnswood Gardens”, 
a portrait of Zygmunt Bauman

As Marlan Warren, a screenwriter for my teaching reading video series “The Reading Planet” wrote in one of its episodes - “Don’t knock ignorance till you've tried it!” The line comes form a Lethard, an inhabitant of a planet Lethargia, where everybody hates reading.

Back on the planet Earth:

The frame above is from a 2011 documentary I made about prof. Zygmunt Bauman a giant world class intellectual figure of the past several decades, who for the current political regime in Poland became the archenemy. They claim that Bauman received the Cross of Valor, the highest military honor in Poland, for his work in the military communist internal security forces.

“Lawnswood Gardens” makes clear the Cross of Valor was given to Bauman for his participation in a May 1945 battle against Germans. Since 2012 the film has been shown a dozen times in Poland on television (Planete +.) Wikipedias (English and Polish) also correctly identify the 1945 origin of the medal. Yet, many still attack Bauman with the misinformation about the source of his military honor. Clearly for some ignorance is politically more useful than knowledge.


The Master's Style

Carlito’s Way
A perfect match of a narrative set-up (the story takes place in a mind of a hero as he lays dying) with the stylistic choices for many scenes which often emphasize slightly detached, dreamy POVs.

Particularly one scene sticks in my mind: the palatial garden party conversation between a conniving lawyer-Dave Kleinfeld and Carlito. In this scene the fate of Carlito is set: Dave begs Carlito to assist him in helping a gangster to escape from prison, which just has to end up badly. The talk between the two man is preceded by a long, wide take of Dave’s girlfriend walking toward the alcove where the two men will be talking. For now however she finds there only Carlito and asks “What are you doing here by yourself Carlito?” The question has a double meaning should one seek it.

Everything in this one minute set up foreshadows the impending doom. It is however done in a subtle way. It’s realism, as if filtered by the memory of a dying Carlito who remembers the key situations in his life but does not allow the memories to dwell on the outcome to the point of narrative vulgarity, balances on the representation and interpretation of what’s being told through the camera. I find this balance fascinating and very satisfying as a storytelling devise.

Brian dePalma said somewhere that he considers Carlito’s Way his perfect work. I can see how this movie could be considered the ideal crafting of a subjective story.


The clash of visions

Budapest, Liberty Square

In addition to the above seek out a piece by Nora Berend and Christopher Clark on the Hungarian government’s attempts to rewrite the country’s past.  It's in the London Review of Books.  Here is a quote:

"The European Community was founded after the darkest period of European history, in the hope that it would safeguard democracy, create prosperity and foster reconciliation. Under the ‘Copenhagen criteria’ agreed by the European Council in 1993, the conditions for accession to the EU include ‘stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities’. In the last decade or so the EU has acquired new members in regions that have only a fragile democratic tradition. Some of them, like Hungary, don’t meet the Copenhagen criteria."

Similar tendencies are at work in Poland and could start rolling in the US.  

I can't believe it's happening.  My deepest suspicion is that it a delayed global reaction to the revolution of the 60's.  A vision of empathy, acceptance, love, understanding, respect for others is challenged by fear and hate. 

Which side are you on?


Genius in cinema

In a documentary "Student Andriej Tarkovsky" which follows Tarkovsky's notes from his time in WGIK he, among other things, muses on what makes a genius.   Genius represents quality without which we can't do, says Tarkovsky.   On the other hand if a writer or an artist (his oeuvre that is) is not absolutely necessary he is not a genius. 

These ruminations sound weird when uttered by somebody who hasn't done anything yet, particularly when its pretty clear the subject is on his mind most likely because he's set to explore it personally.  In another documentary "Rerberg and Tarkowski, the other side of Stalker", Rerberg recalls Tarkowsky intimating he thinks of himself as a genius.  It is already after "Andrej Rublow" and "The Mirror", so his reported claim  could have some factual support, still such self analysis sounds weird coming from the guy whose philosophical and artistic concerns seemed boldly transcending the pettiness of human nature. 

Then in a yet another documentary: "Directedy by Tarkovsky" I found a quote from his book "Sculpting in time".  The quote is so powerful that it instantaneously validates self absorption of its author. 

Here it is:

"Time cannot vanish without a trace for it is a subjective, spiritual category."

When Tarkovsky in his book talks about time in film it is not that shots and their arrangement represent time - it is that within a shot time is mold-able, it is time within a shot that is the basic building element.   And as such is flexible, could be elongated or shortened.  Could also, be a subject of other manipulations, found in Tarkovsky's films. 


True Television

True Detective, season 1

I have got to see the True Detective with huge delay. I am glad I didn't skip it all together. It is a fantastic piece of television. At times. I was riveted by the main positive characters. On the other hand the bad guys were way too cartoonish and I was bored by the rest. TD2 layered by male death wish of its three characters seemed way too predictable and simplistic in its psychology.

In TD1 A concept of “psychoshpere” as the playground for ritual conducting alchemists (hopefully not being true) on a purely narrative plane deserves a more sophisticated set of tools, props and procedures than those offered. Even if they are scapegoats.

Both series proved that it’s easier to stage breathtaking fights and suspense sequences than to give justice to the - I assume - complex realms of occult and psychology. If our inner and outer mysteries are so vulgar as the show wants us to believe and on the nose, than we are indeed in huge trouble. On the other hand it’s only television and as such it was a hell of entertainment.

The TD1 famous six minutes tracking shot is incredible so is the TD2 shootout. The action still rules.