Monthly Archives: April 2010

40’s movies marathon – part 92

Ivan the Terrible - Part 2 (1947) - Nikolai Cherkasov

Ivan the Terrible – Part 2 (1946, USSR, Eisenstein) – Josef Stalin, Tsar of Muscovy, is now at the peak of his power, but there are very few people left he can trust.  Only fear keeps his underlings in line.  Watched it all.  There isn’t a single frame in this movie that isn’t carefully composed to the point of absurdity.  It’s like this isn’t a movie at all, but what movies could have been like if they’d been invented by painters.  This second part wasn’t shown until 1958, because Stalin didn’t like what he saw in the mirror.

Monsieur Beaucaire (1946, USA, Marshall) – You know, in addition to all the comedy teams of the 30′s and 40′s I don’t like, I don’t think I particularly like Bob Hope either.  I don’t ask much, only that the jokes be funny.  Watched: 12 minutes.

Bedlam (1946) - Boris Karloff, Anna Lee

Bedlam (1946, USA, Robson) – Boris Karloff is the sadistic head of an 18th century madhouse.  He clashes with an idealistic woman who thinks the inmates should be treated humanely.  The acting is stiff, (apart from Karloff), but the mood is enjoyably grim, and reminds me of Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death.  Watched it all.

Tangier (1946, USA, Waggner) – Sure, take the name of an Arab city, and throw in some Thousand And One Night-ish fonts and music.  That should do the trick.  Watched: 6 minutes.

Black Angel (1946, USA, Neill) – Some fancy dame has been murdered, and her admirers and lovers are all suspects.  I think the police should look closer at that Peter Lorre fellow, he looks fishy.  Watched: 15 minutes.

Where are the offerings of those who made vows and perished?

Once a man’s understanding has settled on something (either because it is an accepted belief or because it pleases him), it draws everything else also to support and agree with it. And if it encounters a larger number of more powerful countervailing examples, it either fails to notice them, or disregards them, or makes fine distinctions to dismiss and reject them, and all this with much dangerous prejudice, to preserve the authority of its first conceptions. So when someone was shown a votive tablet in a temple dedicated, in fulfilment of a vow, by some men who had escpaed the danger of shipwreck, and was pressed to say whether he would now recognize the divinity of the gods, he made a good reply when he retorted: ‘Where are the offerings of those who made vows and perished?’

The same method is found perhaps in every superstition, like astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgements and so on: people who take pleasure in such vanities notice the results when they are fulfilled, but ignore and overlook them when they fail, though they do fail more often than not. .. Even apart from the pleasure and vanity we mentioned, it is an innate and constant mistake in the human understanding to be much more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives, when rightly and properly it should make itself equally open to both; and in fact, to the contrary, in the formation of any true axiom, there is superior force in a negative instance.

- Francis Bacon, The New Organon

Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts

Gene Wolfe - Book of the New Sun - Sword & Citadel

Reading the second part of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun has for me been a dreamlike experience.  I gave up on the first part once because it got too weird, but now that I’m attuned to Wolfe’s style, that is no longer a problem.  Now it works like hypnosis.  A few paragraphs in, and my brain shifts to a different gear: Slow, focused. Dreamlike.

The story takes place at the end of Earth’s life, when the sun is cooling, a setting introduced in Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories.  Everything that could happen has happened, and people are surrounded by monuments from greater times.  The end is coming, or possibly the birth of a better world.

Events follow a jagged path that seems random but at the same time full of meaning.  There are echoes of mythology: Christian, classical, and modern.  And there are events that seem meaningful at first, then turn out not to be.  The protagonist, an exiled torturer, is given a magnificently named sword at the beginning, which he carries through all his adventures.  And then he loses it, and the story continues.  It was just a sword.

A gem that brings dead people back to life is possibly just a gem, or possibly magical.  A boy that shares the torturers name seems to represent something, but we never learn what.  Questions remain unanswered, and what I’m left with afterwards is mostly the feeling that I’ve been through something wonderful, something that resonated deeply with me.  Just like a dream.

.. rather than admit their own incapacity

Nor should we attach much value to consensus itself and its longevity. There may be many kinds of political state, but there is only one state of the sciences, and it is a popular state and always will be. And among the people the kinds of learning which are most popular are those which are either controversial and combative or attractive and empty, that is, those which ensnare and those which seduce assent. This is surely why the greatest geniuses in every age have suffered violence; while men of uncommon intellect and unerstanding, simply to preserve their reputation, have submitted themselves to the judgment of time and the multitude. For this reason, if profound thoughts have occasionally flared up, they have soon been blown on by the winds of common opinion and put out.

The result is that Time like a river has brought down to us the light things that float on the surface, and has sunk what is weighty and solid. Even those authors who have assumed a kind of dictatorship in the sciences and make pronouncements about things with so much confidence, take to complaining when they recover their senses from time to time about the subtlety of nature, the depths of truth, the obscurity of things, the complexity of causes, and the weakness of human understanding; yet they are no more modest in this, since they prefer to blame the common condition of man and nature rather than admit their own incapacity.

- Francis Bacon, The New Organon

Max 256 Blog expands with five extra words

When I launched the Max 256 Blog nearly two years ago, the purpose of the word limit was to make it easy to post regularly.  All my previous blogs suffered from spiralling post lengths, to a point where, by some estimates, the length of each post, and the interval between them, increased by as much as 40% for each post. The growth was unsustainable, and drastic action had to be taken.

Judging by the number of posts since, the word limit has been a resounding success. But the success has come at a price.  In order to write blog posts that are 256 words or shorter, I often have to delete some words.  And they’re the most interesting ones too.  Exciting adjectives are first to go.  Next are repetitions, rephrasings that don’t actually add anything to what came before.  And, you know, those interjections that give writing sort of a friendly and conversational character, well, they too are deleted.

Entire paragraphs never even get written in the first place, just because the message would stay the same without them. If it doesn’t serve a clear purpose, there’s no room.

As anyone who has seen Amadeus knows, true artists never delete anything.  That’s how I remember it, anyway.

I do not plan to abandon word limits alltogether, because there are usually just a few deleted words I wish I could have kept.  So, starting with this post, I am expanding the word limit by five words, to 261.  That should be sufficient to meet my writing needs for the new decade.