Archive for May, 2008

My Acidulous Body

You know what I think?
My body got stuck
In a tangle of arms and legs;
Arms need elbow room
And legs need ground
To stand on.
They get what they wish for;
As for body simple
Nothing but annoyance:
Fingers pick lint
Off navel unasked,
Or scratch the small of  back
As tho’ they did it some service.
Such complaints flying back and forth
Pile up : you think with a body
Bellyaching as mine
My head would sit as placid
As paperweight?

If not for my neck
My ears, nose and head
In an acidulous body
Broiled would have:
You know what I think?

With such incongruous  mix
Of arms and legs split and jointed
What can thoughts do but seek upwards?

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A Quote

He who puts into his  world more than what he receives  terms of advantages-material riches and family connections, is merely paying a debt of honour or has opened an account with the bank of posterity”.


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René Clair is considered to be one of the pioneers of modern comedy, particularly in French film. His An Italian Straw Hat (1927), which is considered his silent masterpiece, shows his consummate sense of timing, and there is ample evidence of it in this movie also.

The title translates roughly to “Liberty for us”. It is memorable for many reasons. As Arthur Knight suggests in The Liveliest Art, “Perhaps the first director to appreciate fully the implications of sound was the Frenchman René Clair,” a statement that is confirmed throughout À Nous la Liberté. There is little real dialogue, music being often relied upon to do the “talking.” The film however backward when compared to the present multitrack, THX standards constituted a significant development in the then-controversial movement to marry once and for all sound and image. One of the great ironies of René Clair was that he like Chaplin, had initially been one of the staunchest opponents to making the movies talk.

À Nous la Liberté is also memorable for paving the way for  Charlie Chaplin (whose Modern Times was accused of plagiarizing À Nous la Liberté by the film’s production company) and Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle, Playtime). It is a smart and funny social satire about modernization, a theme that was apt and timely for a world reeling from the Great Depression. It also showed a radical idea of freeing oneself from the controls of social and economic oppression.
‘The tale itself, M. Clair’s own account of two prison pals, first inside and then away from jail, is sufficiently lucid, but the manipulation of the incidents is quite another matter. The characters frequently give vent to their thoughts in song, whether they are behind the bars, in a factory or in a banquet hall. And unlike M. Clair’s previous hilarious contribution, “Le Million,” the humor in this new venture, despite its farcical nature, is provocative of thought rather than laughter’. M. Hall, NY times 1932
Life behind the bars is as regimented and dehumanizing as a blue-collar worker whose life is spent about an assembly line. The opening shot of À Nous la Liberté takes place in a prison, in which we see prisoners whiling away the hours putting together toy horses along a long, assembly-line-like table. When they eat, it is again at a long table, their hand movements from plate to mouth a synchronization that could only be choreographed by repetition day in and day out. And, when they get up to leave, it is in regimented fashion, one following after the other.
It is here that we meet the film’s two protagonists, Louis (Raymond Cordy) and Emile (Henri Marchand), who stand out immediately because they have the audacity to wink at each other and show signs of life. Having hatched a scheme to escape prison, they are halfway out when the plan falls apart; Louis makes it over the wall to freedom while Emile, the smaller and sadder of the two, sacrifices himself and goes back to prison.
How Louis avoids detection is delectable. The convict, once in the street, bowls over a speeding cyclist. While the dazed man is on the ground, Louis, who has disrobed down to his underwear, rides away on the bicycle. And Louis is greeted by a throng as the winner of the cycling race.

Once free Louis begins selling phonographs, quickly rising up to become the 1930s version of a media magnate, a dig at Charles Pathé, a French movie tycoon who got his start selling phonographs. Louis presides over a huge corporation that builds more and more factories to churn out more and more phonographs quicker and quicker. The prison life has at least taught him to wear a straight jacket of another sort and thanks to Mr. Ford. It is a none too subtle way of showing how dull and monotonous modern life can be.’ Quality time, anyone?
Emile is later released from prison and lives happily as a vagrant, that is, until he finds himself in one of Louis’ factories and comes face to face with his old prison buddy. At first, Louis tries to get rid of his old friend; but, after being with Emile, who is portrayed as the ultimate free spirit, his stuffy, legitimate-businessman exterior quickly melts. The rest of the movie follows a series of increasingly slapstick incidents involving Emile’s desperate-hearted pursuit of a factory secretary, which results in a chaotic climax in which top-hated businessmen scurry around chasing money in the wind while Louis turns his factories over to the workers.
In the final fade-out Louis and Emile have discovered liberty away from prison and work—they are happy tramps, glad to get a few sous with which to buy bread.
‘Throughout À Nous la Liberté, Clair structures his story along musical lines, giving his gags and slapstick situations a rhythm and flow. The delectable musical score by Georges Auric, who had previously scored Jean Cocteau’s fantastical Blood of a Poet (1931), gives the movie an upbeat tone and helps it move through some of the more extreme transitions (Clair, already a master at visuals, adds to the flow with his use of match cuts and dissolves). The film is a musical in the sense that the characters sing at various times, often variations on the film’s theme song, yet the songs and the music always feel fully integrated into the narrative.’( film desk review:james kendrick)

Henri Marchand gives a commendable performance as Emile, and Raymond Cardy is capital as the more vigorous Louis. Rolla France is pleasing as Jeanne, and Paul Olivier is excellent as the girl’s uncle.

A NOUS, LA LIBERTE, written and directed by Rene Clair;
Emile . . . . . Henri Marchand
Louis . . . . . Raymond Cardy
Jeanne . . . . . Rolla France
The Uncle . . . . . Paul Olivier
Paul . . . . . Jacques Shelly
The Foreman . . . . . Andre Micaud
Maud . . . . . Germaine Aussey
An Old Man . . . . . Leon Lorin
An Old Convict . . . . . William Burke
An Orator . . . . . Vincent Hyspa

Similar movies: City Lights, Modern Times, Playtime,The Shawshank Redemption

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A Rounded Life

Life is a bowl of salad I am told:
Fresh lettuce, sprouts and carrots raw
Or diced,- a healthy diet is eaten cold;
Whoever has his moral sense in his maw
Life so simple as some fads observed
For a vegan will do.

Doesn’t there a spirit in roots
That guides the oak to fill out in size,-
No tender greens put out their shoots
In its shade; expedient spirit of oaks
Spells death for some but gives its force
Freely to great many.

Moral sense is at the heart,- all enveloping
Spirit that gives life its shine and fullness.
Life can only be held and enriched by life.



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I can sum up this film in one line. It tells the story of 3 people on a barge satirically named for the fleet goddess. Let me see if I can interest you by enlarging it with a few details.

The story follows Jean (Jean Dasté), the captain of the barge L’Atalante and his new wife, Juliette (Dita Parlo).( Both teamed up later in La Grande Illusion). They are married, having hardly met, in Juliette’s provincial town. They set out on a trip to Paris in the barge, which functions doubly as a cargo delivery and as their makeshift honeymoon. Tensions arise with the crew, who are not used to the presence of a woman. Most of the conflict, however, stems from Jean who flies into a jealous rage, smashing plates and sending cats scattering every which way, when he discovers Juliette and first mate Jules (Michel Simon) talking in Jules’ quarters.

Once arriving in Paris, Jean and Juliette go to a music club. There they meet a street peddler who flirts with Juliette leading to a scuffle with Jean. Growing disaffected of barge life, and enamored with the lights of Paris, Juliette runs off. Jean, furious, casts off, leaving her behind. He becomes very depressed so Jules decides to look for her and bring her back.
If this film became an avant-garde masterpiece (L’Atalante was chosen as the 10th-greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound’s 1962 poll, and as the 6th-best in its 1992 poll) it must tell something of its maker Jean Vigo who didn’t live to see what we do now. (He died at the age of 29 in 1934)
The restored version is the only version and was reconstructed from many disparate bits about 15 years ago, meaning it has had running order interpretations foisted upon it.( The original distributors cut the film’s running time in an attempt to make it more popular and changed the title to Le Chaland Qui Passe, the name of a song from the time, which was also inserted into the film.) I understand that most of the film we see came from the BFI in London, remixed with other clips into some kind of logical sequence by Gaumont in Paris and sold as a Forgotten Masterpiece.
The film has been praised for its prescient poetic realist style, but it also includes surprising surrealist passages, such as the double exposure Michel Simon wrestling match and a scene in which Jean jumps into the river. it was also a favorite of the filmmakers of the French New Wave, whose films contain many allusions to the works of Jean Vigo. ( Consider the scene of bridal march from the wedding to Jean’s barge and it is filmed in a discontinuous style that predicts the films of the French New Wave.) At this juncture let me quote the reviewer of NY Times,

‘What the late Jean Vigo was attempting to illustrate back in 1933-34 when he made Zéro de Conduite and L’Atalante, the pair of Gallic importations which came to the Fifth Avenue Playhouse on Saturday, is nebulous and difficult to perceive today. Except for occasional moments of comedy, satire, and tender romance, these intellectual exercises should prove of high interest only to avid students of the cinema.

The earlier of the two, Zéro de Conduite (Zero for Conduct), a study of life in a French boarding school for boys, is a series of vignettes lampooning the faculty climaxed by a weird, dreamlike rebellion of the entire student body. These amorphous scenes, strung together by a vague continuity, may be art but they are also pretty chaotic.’( A. H. Weiler- June 23, 1947)
Let me quote two passages that serve as a sampler of Vigo’s powerful hold on ‘avid students of cinema.’ The first passage is from an essay on ‘Surfaces of Reality’ by Michael Roemer.
‘Images of movement rather than beautifully composed shots are at the heart of the medium and some of the most haunting moments in the film derive from motion. In Vigo’s L’Atlante, a bride on her wedding night ,still dressed in her white gown , walks along the deck of a moving barge. The barge moves forward, she is walking towards the stern, and the camera is set on the edge of the canal, so that there is a dark stationary line in the foreground. The combination of the silent forward gliding of the barge with the backward motion of the girl whose gown and veil are streaming in the wind has a profound emotional impact: it renders perfectly both her feelings and our own.’ We see a scene where if were given pause to think we would easily see it as not possible but yet we are carried by the poetic truth of preceding scenes to enter into a subjective state as in the processional at the end of Vigo’s Zero for conduite,’ is shot in slow motion, with the boys in their white gowns gliding through a snow of pillow feathers to the accompaniment of a totally distorted but oddly ecstatic song.’

Produced, edited, and directed by Jean Vigo; written (in French, with English subtitles) by Mr. Vigo; cinematographer, Boris Kaufman; music by Maurice Jaubert; released by Cine Classics. Black and white. Running time: 44 minutes.

With: Jean Dasté (Superintendent Hugnet), Robert La Fion (Superintendant Pete-Sec), Du Veron (Superintendant Dec-de-Gez), Delphin (Principal), Madame Emile (Mother Haricot), and Larive (Professor).
Similar Movies
* Fille De L’Eau
* Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors
* La Belle Nivernaise
* Chungking Express
* L’ Hirondelle et la mesange.
The much lauded cinematography was by Boris Kaufman. He would later go on to shoot great Hollywood films such as On the Waterfront. Nevertheless, he described his years working with Vigo as “cinematic paradise.”(Wikipedia)
compiler: benny

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Cicero was the best orator of his time. He made his name in one of the darkest periods of Rome. Sylla the dictator had decreed the sale of goods that belonged to one who was murdered with his consent. While the crier had the goods sold off at rock-bottom price to a favorite of the dictator a freed bondman, the slain man’s son protested. Sylla fearing that it will bring charge against himself for fraud had the son arrested: on trumped up charge  of parricide. No one but Cicero dared to take up the case for the innocent man. His pleading was brilliant and effective too. He won the case.

While pleading on behalf of the Sicilians against Verres( which means a boar) who sent to the orator one who was suspected of being a Jew. Cicero refused his representations thus:’What has a Jew to do with a swine?”
When asked which of the Demosthenes orations he liked best Cicero replied thus: the longest.

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To an infant still-born


Were you a water-baby

While you skimmed the fluid

By dead certainty of life

‘Mong the knotted grass of blood

And colloidal ooze

Of some primeval womb?


Death erased the name

And a few inconsequential

Particulars that perforce

Ride the tail of life

To fill a musty corner

Of Registrar’s office.

Death has spared the fret-

Those frantic cares and dull unease

The living suffer daily.

You are now one with

Flaming creatures

No matter if it be dinosaur.  

Mastodons,  perhaps some other.


Were you a water-baby

While you skimmed the sac

And fell from grace by

Exhaustion of fret, and froth

of life surround?

  benny thomas 05-18-08


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Collateral Damage of life

If so much as long life beyond

Mortal hour-glass may be burdened;

Each grain nudging an age thereof

Past its pursed mouth to eternity; enough

For hills to powder crumble

And the hollows levelled to brim

I shall still think: one brief hour was

All that needed for such a man as I:

An hour rounded off by happiness.


If so much as long life beyond

Pleasure of senses or of mind did last

Life would have lost its best part,

For a man such as I: Devoid of feel

A head though with facts be filled  

Has come far too short on living;

Unsettled as I am, one perfect hour was

All that needed for such a man as I :

An hour rounded off by happiness.


Wrapped in tears and laughter of mankind

Either way a perfect fit I may never find.



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His joining the Army was accidental. His elder brother had taken Chemistry course at the Virginia Military Institute. He had done well. When George was ready to enrol in VMI he overheard his brother telling his brother not to let George go. Because he was afraid George would disgrace the family name. More was his determination to prove his brother wrong.



In 1902 as the second lieutenant Marshall was leading a patrol by ‘banca’in the Philippines. They were heading towards a small island where an armed band had been reported. On the way he had to cross a narrow stream but deep for fording. As the patrol got moving some one heard a splash and yelled,’Crcodiles!’. In panic men ran for safety knocking Marshall over. He quietly got to his feet and ordered them to fall in, gave them right shoulder arms and faced the river they had just crossed.’March!’the lieutenant commanded. Down they went single file into the river with Marshall at their head. Having reached the other end they were kept marching back where they started from. This was repeated before they could fall out. No more the incident was mentioned. As the one in command he merely used the reflexes of discipline to restore the substance of command. 



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Ode To A Master-Builder




Bridgebuilder over sylvan shadows

What complexity shall I reckon

To St.Arachnid in part

And your native Art?





Weave me a dream as substantial

Out of your loom:

Already I am high even as you

With pride elemental

Past the seven sisters and Orion climb;

It is your universe and my plodding mind

Think it is dew, –

Oh overlook my vain presumption:

I am merely a poet in love with words

While you create new worlds

And stay fit on your gifts.




Blustery winds from North

Do blow; If the boughs of larch

In heap fall and acorns pepper

What shall you do, spider?

Between floor-boards of earth

(Stolidity begone! ) I swim

Among clouds on warpath;

Round the Sun’s rim

One can’t be too careful.

‘Malignant be your beam,’

The spider cries out, baleful:

‘Still I must spin another

Web around my naked hearth;

As long as life has its power

From this piteous hearth 

Shall my dreams flower.’




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