Thursday, October 22, 2015


Kirsten Dunst was always a mystery to me until the second season of Fargo came rolling along.  Directed and written by Noah Hawley and scattershot-based on the Coen Brothers' masterpiece of the same name, Fargo has offered Dunst a chance to become sordidly iconic, playing the role of a dimwitted beautician's helper in a small town with a thwarted, off-kilter desire to "actualize" herself in the late 70s.  That combination of anxiety, ambition, and stupidity is a beautiful thing in Dunst's performance so far, 2 episodes in.  She captures an unhappy disco glow in almost every move she makes; there's a plastic/tragic neon flicker inside her eyes.  Before, in other movies (especially the Spiderman ones), Dunst has seemed tentative, a little too victimized even when she wasn't being victimized, but in Fargo she is full-force, authentically vulnerable, but also alive to her own need not to be:  she is in survival mode, and even more vibrant than that, she's grasping for some kind of meaning outside of what she's told she's supposed to feel.  Jesse Plemons plays her sad-sack butcher-boy husband, and the scenes they have together have a worn-in/worn-out sadness to them and yet also feel vitally alive.  He wants kids; she wants something else, some form of personhood (maybe feminism, maybe not) that will allow her to escape. 
"Desperation" is the mode Dunst is in here, and she gives that desperation an incandescence while also fleshing it out ruthlessly.  Her face is both kewpie-doll unnerving and moon-shaped sensual, her silvery blonde hair so tinsel-tight it could cut you.  But it's the expressions and those intense glances Dunst is giving us that don't allow us to comfortably assign her character to cliché status.  Dunst works her way out of that trap simply by going with it, becoming the desperation, understanding it in multiply tricky and invisible ways. 
The director and writer Hawley does the same thing in Fargo:   he takes situations and characters that seem hell-bent on being flagrantly and impossibly cornball and he invests in all of it a sort of intense belief, an energy that guides his camera-moves, the music, the scenarios, and everything else, toward kitsch and then out of it, into a realm of distinct, cinematic dreaminess, a heightened reality that gets into your way of seeing things before you have a chance to judge any of it.  In fact, the first 2 episodes I've seen of this season of Fargo are the best movies I think I've seen all year -- on TV or at the movies.  Hawley has built on the Coen brothers' legacy by elevating the homespun banality and blood-hot violence into a visual language that keeps repeating itself without getting boring, a staccato back and forth between what it means to be a good person and what it means to be an evil one, loving small-town life while hating living that way.
And then suddenly a UFO appears...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Deep in Their Roots

I take pictures with my phone of stuff I see as I go about my day.  
I don't search for beauty, and I definitely don't search for any kind of meaning when I do this.  In fact, I try very hard not to think about anything at all.  A little spasm goes off in my head, and I think:  what the hell?  The most uninteresting shit is what I'm looking for, to be honest:  the interregnums, the gaps between moments that don't really justify jpegs but still I do it, and then I look at it and post it and it's gone.  It's kind of like a form of prayer, like I'm absorbing meaning by cancelling out the pursuit of it.  And posting them on Facebook lets them come back at me as if they never were photos in the first place, just little digital burps trapped inside other nonessential information. 
If you stare at things long enough you find what you need to find, but still you won't have any idea what you've found.  These stupid pictures are evidence of that.  A solitary silver light-switch menacingly daring you to talk to it, fluorescent tubes above a urinal humming themselves to sleep, a couple of cigarette butts staring at each other longingly on a parking garage platform.  These images don't lie because they don't have to.  They just do their jobs, being meaningless and factual and then gleaming toward a poetry you can't really publish or even most of the time translate into actual poetry.  They don't need language and they really don't need you. They are pretty close to unconsciousness and yet they are fully aware of what they are, what they are supposed to be doing.  It's like that last beautiful glimmering burst of knowing something right before you forget it and it's gone forever.  
So here are some of these pictures I've taken.  I used to do the same exercise back in the day with a Polaroid camera.  And those milky-shiny pictures turn into jumping-off points for short stories, novels, poems, whatever.  Maybe some of these will spawn something else, not too sure, but they make me feel sharper somehow.  They give me a reason to contemplate without connecting to common sense.  One of my favorite poets, Theodore Roethke, wrote this in his journal:  "Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light."
That's kind of what these photos are:  unobtrusive and homely flowers keeping the light deep down inside a network of roots and tunnels and tributaries that flow into and out of one another without anyone noticing, caring or even feeling the need to see. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

War Babies

(Bill makes a special guest appearance with some serious stuff, beautifully conveyed...)

Looking at this picture, I can't help but think what war babies we were.  To anyone else this may not be so easy to see.  We were born into a war our dad waged against our mom.  By the time this picture was taken the war was nearing it's 25 year.  With no real understanding as to why, we of course did our share of internalizing what we saw happening as being our fault some how.  At least I know I did.

I have beautiful memories of our mom of course.  She was a kind woman.  She loved to laugh.  There was peace in her silence.  She was smart and beautiful, especially in her younger days before we were born.  These memories, the sweet ones, come in fragments and to retrieve them, I must reach through the times when I would see her blackeyed, bruised, teeth knocked out, scabs on her scalp from hair being pulled out, pushing a cart in a store with no money or washing clothes in the kitchen sink by hand for us.

No amount of effort could pull her away from her life with him.  The reasoning probably too simple to consider a real reason.  She was forced to quit her job, not allowed to drive.  As isolated as we were, where would she go? Our older brothers and sister would try to get her to listen to reason, offering refuge in their tiny newly wed apartments, only managing to give $5.00 or $10.00 to buy some food...cereal suppers.

Dad only worked when he took a notion.  So living without electricity or phone or food was just the way it was.  He wasn't a drinker.  He didn't take drugs. I only saw him drunk once after a party with a company he worked for from time to time as a welder. He was sickenly sweet. My fear of him just turned to disgust.  But when he was in a rage they could last for days and sometimes weeks.  When beating on mom was not enough we got our share too.  There are of course the shooting rampages he went on from time to time, taking out our pets, our cats and dogs.  This happened more than once.  This happened more than twice. It happened...gunshots echo through the hills, broken glass, broken plates, coffee on the walls, bury the dead.

Again our older brothers and sister would take us in like war babies for a weekend or a week till things died down.  No one could really help.
One night late around 11:00, I remember grabbing up Kathy and running out the front door, barefoot down the gravel road in complete darkness.  He had started in on mom.  I heard him kicking the the kitchen door towards the back of the house.  Glass breaking...that scary yell full of pure stupid fury...I heard him say in a matter of fact voice, "I am going to kill our kids!" We ran and ran down the road across the bridge to a neighbor's house.  The police were called.  They showed up, but dad had left.  Nothing was said.  No one talked about it...forget...everything gets buried.

This summer we had a family reunion.  It was great to see the family.  Mom and dad are both long gone now.  We all have our scars, our lonely burdens.  We joke, we drink, we laugh and use whatever fragments, like this picture to realize we survived!  We have moved on.   We use our time together basicaly asking what the hell was that all about?

The world is full of war babies.  So, I'm sharing this to recognize a history that still makes me feel weird at times.  Plus I just need to say it.  And I want to forgive.  It's taken a long time, but I am now at a point in my life where I can look at this picture and be OK.