Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rocking Horse Review

Film: Midnight in Paris, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and The Tree of Life

It has taken me a while to process all three of these fantastic films, hence the lateness of the following review. I was lucky enough to see all three within the course of one week, after a spell of seeing relatively few movies in the theater (mainly because of the high ticket price here in New York). The trio proved to rank among my favorite film experiences of all time.

I am not a gusher. When I don't love something, I think the best thing to do next is forget about it. There are so many innovative pieces of art being made every day, and not enough time or brain space to take them all in. So if something is sub-par, I'd rather not have it lingering around, taking up space in my psyche. So I prefer not to write negative reviews. They are easier to spit out, but why bother? I've already forgotten the stories that wasted my time.

These three films are anything but time wasters. They are all great in ways that both differ and converge. I think Woody Allen, Werner Herzog, and Terrence Malick are all very different in their directorial styles, but I was not necessarily surprised by their collective success. They're all forces to be reckoned with in their own ways. In these films in particular, all three of these aging directors boldly came forward with unmasked proclamations about the real meat of life in all of its quaking beauty, elevating their respective stories from theater to poetry.

Yet for all their unifying depth, each film certainly left me with a unique lingering mood. Midnight in Paris made me feel grateful to live my own time. Of course my mood danced and soared with all the sweeping nostalgia of early 20th C Paris, aglow with the light of literary and entertainment giants. But after being sufficiently caught up in the romance, I felt my feet being gently but firmly planted in the glorious potential of the here and now. When the lights came on in the BAM theater, I was able to look around appreciatively at the space I live in, and as I poured out into the street among the Sunday afternoon crowd who had been seeking shelter from the June heat, I found myself smack in the middle of a Caribbean food festival in Ft. Greene and rejoiced in a familiar neighborhood pulsing with life here in 21st C Brooklyn.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams left me in an absolute trance. I felt all sense of time orientation dissipate into the richness of 3-D imagery that allowed me to be enveloped in the prehistoric cave itself. The mesmerizing detail of the animal paintings made by artists thousands of years ago, backed by Herzog's dry, existential narration and interviews helped me feel what every idealist educator dreams his or her students might feel during the glow of a well-prepared lecture: reverence and gratitude for the gift of exploration. I suppose it is impossible to ever enter that French cave in person, but after Herzog's tour, I feel that not only have I been there, but I got to go in with the weirdest of guides: a man inclined to compare the human artistic impulse to the fragile, freakish existence of albino crocodiles lazing in a thermodynamic pool. After the film, everything and nothing seemed strange anymore.

The Tree of Life, it should be admitted, is easier to appreciate from a Judeo-Christian perspective. I have friends, for example, not of this philosophical persuasion, who found the movie somewhat irritating. Being a lover of eternal questions, patchwork plots, Imax-worthy cinematography (think Science Center films), and the Biblical book of Job...I was in love with this film from the opening scene. It also helps that, although I did not grow up in Waco, TX, where Tree of Life was filmed, I did grow up in Florida, so the ubiquitous sunlight filtering through oak branches dripping with Spanish moss was a surprise cinematic homecoming. The innocence and loss of childhood is actually grappled with here--not explained, just acknowledged for the devastating conundrum that it is. I appreciated that Malick was brave enough to alienate some viewers by painting a picture that so many others could and needed to see themselves reflected in.

So if you haven't already experienced these films, search them out. Revel in some of the best stories you'll ever hope to meet.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rocking Horse Prose Pasture

Escape Artist Me

Once upon a time I rode a horse, and then a plane, and then a train. I was fleeing my former habitation and needed to do so by several different means. Those fierce enemies I was compelled to outwit and outrun were both clever and brash, and it was all I could do to stand against them, but I have a fighting spirit. I’m glad to say, it prevailed.

I arrived relatively unscathed in New York City, the land of autonomy. Sadly, autonomy only works for people who trust themselves, and I don’t. I have outrun many a foe, but it’s me that I’m really trying to elude. It’s hard enough to get away from others, but it takes particular planning and route-devising to escape oneself.

I came here in the first place because I needed to escape, and in fact, I’m still escaping every day. The train is the last means of transport I mentioned because it is the way I continue to devise my daily getaways. Each morning at precisely 7:15AM I leave my Brooklyn apartment to walk 1 ½ blocks to the train. Thirty minutes later I arrive at the Lexington Ave. 77th St. station and begin my five-minute westward walk to arrive at my library by nearly 7:50AM, depending on the reliability of the train’s schedule, not mine.

I may give the impression that I am merely heading to work in a very old library for young scholars, but actually, I am a hopeless runaway. It’s compulsive. I run and get lost and recover myself only to keep trying to get lost again.

I find I am only really happy during those brief moments of unbridled athleticism and acrobatics when I can’t find me anywhere in sight, and I finally have room to see others, to take in the ideas and joys and concerns other people express in their intense old-man conversations, Peruvian flute street music, paper-cut silhouette art, or sidewalk break-dancing. I am suddenly wide enough to hold it all and let the vibrations they cause rattle me down to the soles of my shoes. It always has made the back of my neck tingle when that happens: those moments when I’m gone.

But there are other moments when I feel incredibly locked in and bolted down, unable to defy gravity. I get stuck rehearsing all my disappointments with different failed enterprises, and I think, “God! Why is it so easy for everyone to suck up mediocrity and label it glamour?”

I feel the weight of all I’ve tried to practice at and shine and exude. Then, under that heaviness, I crouch low and whine, “what is the point of learning difficult things when it’s not what people care about because it’s so much less snazzy than rap stars and iPhone apps and American Apparel and TV talent competitions?” And I’m left wondering why I suddenly really feel the need to change my hair and wear skinnier jeans.

I didn’t arrive here empty handed and expect the city to deliver happiness into my lap. I really worked at finding something to legitimize my self-expression—to trick myself into thinking there really is such a thing in the first place. I have a Master’s degree and I’m still in my twenties. Does that make me ahead of the game? Not anymore? Well am I at least in the game? Barely? Well that explains why I’m so out of breath.

I walk past a shabby but bustling bakery and think, “I could do that. I could be really good at baking delicious morsels to titillate the masses during every breakfast rush and lunch break.” Would that be a fulfilling use of my gifts? Well I would re-decorate for one thing. This shop on the corner of Lex is less than eye-catching. It needs more blues and softer assorted materials draping its windows instead of stark maroon polyester.

Now listen to me. I’m talking and thinking like a true artisan decorator. Well after all, interior design was my first imagined vocation when asked during those elementary school “career days.” Maybe my MA would lend sufficient credibility if I tried to land a job with a design magazine. That way, I could help rich people bolster and defend their aesthetic sensibilities, and—I’d hate myself.

Well hoodiddily, now that I’ve passed the bakery and am approaching the garden nursery, I don’t care so much anymore anyway.

I’ve moved on to plants, yet another interest, maybe even passion of mine (mind you, “passion” is a word I throw around far too liberally). I am living in the city, but my time in more rural settings fostered my familiarity and folkloric “expertise” on plant varieties and habitats. Could I possibly lend a hand amid the cool foliage hanging under the awning? Maybe dawn an apron and duck around misting branches and dusting leaves till they glisten with a tropic luster? I would be good at it. Like baking. So why not?

The fact is, I am a misfit librarian determined not to be boxed in by a singular career. Which helps explain why, in the afternoons, I give part of my time to helping children with crafty pursuits like crochet and knitting. So to top it all off, should my evenings be spent pruning?

By the time I arrive at the library, my head is jammed full of just what I despise, and what I planned to flee from all morning: my ego. I am overloading my brain with a ridiculous heap of eventualities that have no bearing on making this particular day real, tangible, and gratifying.

Instead, I mindlessly plow through people at the crosswalk, and I am cross. And look, see? I am making them cross too. We are all cross with each other as we cross in front of the cross taxi drivers carrying the cross people across town. And we all sigh audibly and clench our fists because we can’t think of anything worse than each other. As long as I fail to break out and escape myself, I see everybody through the bars of my own cage, and all I can do is grrrrowl at them all.

But now listen. I’m standing still on the far corner, and here comes the wind, and there is the child laughing while her skirt and pigtails billow, and there are the tiny pink flowers planted in the Park Ave. median for nobody in particular. And I can see myself shrinking down to the size of the butterfly hovering over those tiny pink flowers. And my self is so tiny I could fit on that butterfly’s back, and let the wind catch us, and there we go, up above the apartment windows, and no matter how hard you squint against the morning sun, you can’t quite make us out because we are gone.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Rocking Horse Ranting

How Do the Hipsters Feel?

Instead of feeling overwhelmed and under-dressed around my colorful new neighbors in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I've chosen my favorite course of action: pondering.

I have given these scene-baskers some serious thought over the past twenty-four hours (arguably not enough time to concoct a serious value judgment, but I'm going for fast hard first-impressions here, so bear with me). And I have decided that I am here for my egregiously hip brothers and sisters.

I present myself as a supporter and defender of twenty-something (and secretly thirty-something) up-starters everywhere...those snug-jeaned, plaid-shirted, designer tattooed, somber-faced, kind-of-still-kids young adults resisting shopping mall fashion and setting the break-neck pseudo-vintage pace Urban Outfitters is forever trying to keep up with. I like you. Heck, I may just be one of you in a way, and that makes me happy because we're a colorful bunch of people with all different religions, skin-tones, amounts of money in the bank, and critical mass of chips on our shoulders, but the thing we all share is tastefulness.

In our headlong rush to eschew pop culture, we've transformed it and made it infinitely more nuanced and inclusive. Hipsters. Who are they/we?? Is that a derogatory term? It feels like one, but I guess it's the hipster in me trying to over-analyze my generation and pick a hyper-critical fight.

Basically, it doesn't matter. I like where I live, and I like the grand display of young urbanites who are bound and determined (for better or worse) to put as much energy into their fashion as they do their philosophies. Bless their/our hip little hearts.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rocking Horse Rhymes

Fighting for light

When Mr. Milton sat to write
his epics, did he have to fight
tradition or the obligation
to create, or further reputation?

Or did he see by inner light-
more vivid visions than his sight
allowed for in its degradation—
and daily digest inspiration?

It seems unjust to expect night
to yield to sudden noonday’s bright
exposure without hesitation.
We, daily, earn illumination.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rocking Horse Rhymes

For the Gentleman in the Champagne Mercedes

When you honked the horn of your fancy car
Because you were in a hurry to turn right,
And the woman jogging across the road
Was in your way,
I was watching.

I saw your face grow read
As you shook your head in disbelief.
Honking was your way of reminding the world
How much your time is worth.

The young woman in her blue running shorts,
Sweaty blond hair clinging to her neck beneath her ponytail,
Strode across the road in front of your bumper
And stepped cheerfully onto the opposite curb
Among the dandelions.

Your horn seemed too loud and too late.
She turned at its noise
And laughed at you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rocking Horse Ranting

Who controls the people who control everything?
Why is there no check or balance on greed at the end of the day?
Why is it always up to someone else to censor which art gets heard or seen?
Why are those people so pigheaded and always, inevitably, too late?
Why is the only answer given for these questions a pedantic, "life's not fair."
Does anyone else have a problem with this answer?
Is that really what we're all willing to settle for?
I guess a better plan just hasn't been thought up yet,
But I, for one, am sick of auditioning
Trying out for the team
Being led to believe whatever they feel like telling me.
I'm sick of it always being up to other people.
I'm glad all the big industries are failing.
I'm glad new technology makes it easy for anyone to put out whatever they want.
But there's still a gauntlet to be run, as far as I can see.
It's still not really a free-for-all.
Maybe we need someone controlling everything--for quality control
But I want quality control for the quality control because it's gone to their heads.
And they're still screwing us all.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rocking Horse Rhymes

New Poem by Whitni Roche:

Riff-raff in the Park

While riding around the lake
I take in what I see and pass by
a homeless guy—stopping to share.
I watch him tear some bread for geese--
His fight for peace begins here.
I fear those geese as tall as my waist,
trying to taste anything that moves.
What would improve this urban retreat?
A smoother street? Less geese? No riff-raff with bread?
Instead—we steer our bikes away from cars;
This park is ours even if built with others in mind
a fancier kind—the public deed
favors the need of people like him,
as well as the whim of people like me.
Parks are free for the riff-raff.
I am the riff-raff.