25 September 2005

Cinema: "Howl's Moving Castle"

My lady and I watched Hayao Miyazaki's 'Howl's Moving Castle' last night down in the Twin City. It was a fascinating adventure - around here just getting to a decent theatre is an adventure. Who would have expected Lauren Bacall to be the voice of the Witch of the Waste? Although I have to admit that when Howl himself first shows up he looks like Michael Jackson would if he ever had the nerve to actually dye his hair blonde, complete with pseudo military clothing and pixie nose. The work is beautifully animated. The artwork on the backgrounds was extraordinary, especially the mountain scenes. One of the mountains even looked like the Matahorn, and the society was clearly a modeled on a nineteenth century Europe in which things had gone a little wild, with wizards and witches, and steam-powered everything.

The moving castle is a character in its own right, looking like something that has crawled up from somewhere too deep. It has towers and rooms with balcony's encrusting it hide, all topped with a crazy pipe organ array of smoke stacks and pulleys supported by four little taloned feet that pump steadily away, propelling the castle up and down the Wastes. The human and not-human characters move through this landscape and architecture in a way typical of Japanese anime, yet helped by a deeply layered sound-effect. Still it's just a short step away from natural motion. The animation is spectacular in its attention to detail - just look at the toys and jewels and nicknacks on the walls, floors and ceilings of Howl's bedroom. As my lady pointed out, there are details shining and moving that don't need to be there - no one would expect them. Yet when you look, there they are. It reminds me of medieval sculptors who fully finished and detailed the backs of statues they knew would never be seen again once put into place.

It's a complex story that has left a few critics cold. A visual fantasy, an anti-war allegory, a romance, with a bit of sci-fi alternate universe thrown in. It's a feast for adult eyes and I am sorry I did not have a chance to talk to any of the young kids who were there. As usual my lady and I stayed to watch all the credits and hear the last note of the music. Anyone who liked 'Spirited Away' or 'Princess Mononoke' will love it, although some reviewers think it is a let down from those blockbusters. We loved it, despite some shortcomings in the characterizations and plot.

Seeing it brought to mind something that has been worrying me about the movie industry for some time. Only a very few places are showing this movie in our entire state. The theatre we saw it in showed it exactly twice: once on Friday and once on Saturday. It is a well received work by a world class movie maker, following on the heels of two other hits, and the four or five people who decide what to show in American theatres are not interested in taking even a small chance on it. The latest Nicholas Cage blow-em-up or the latest remake of thirty year old TV shows which were not that good the first time around are apparently more reliable. Or at least safer. Whether you are in a multiplex in Nome, Atlanta, or Jackson Hole, you will see exactly the same mix of movies. Why is this? Does anyone know? Is it simple corporate stupidity and lack of imagination? Or is the American audience really composed of male teenagers and their hapless dates?

Anyway. Roger Ebert, by the way, would not recommend this movie. I can't fault him for that, it's his job to call them as he sees them. But still. Lately it seems as if he has seen too many movies in too little time. He seems to be souring, and his eye for detail is off, as when he calls Madame Suliman 'a grotesque'. Not really.

23 September 2005

Sententiae meae

This is my blog, Sententiae, which is simply Latin for "opinions". That is all this blog intends to be: my opinions on anything I feel like. This breaks the number one rule for creating a popular blog - having a sharp focus so readers know what to expect. But then, it's my blog. Its utility is to provide an outlet for me to say whatever I want, no matter how ill-considered, ignorant, or just plain silly. It is not intended to be autobiographical.

Yet there must be some idea of who I am as an author. It is not terribly impressive. I have no special knowledge of politics, nor of popular culture, nor of any of the hot topics in blogdom. The history of the human race is what I am most interested in, and knowledgable about. History is virtually a religion for me, and the labroratory for philosophy. In fact, history is empirical philosophy and provides me with my anthropology. We have no way to test how humans behave under stress except by a knowledge of history.

What happens to a city of human beings when an atom bomb is dropped on it? Or many nuclear bombs? No amount of ahistorical imagining will tell you. Nor will your knowledge be fleshed out by a close reading of the book of Revelations, nor of the Koran. Forget Heidegger and Nietzsche. But if you know the facts of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 Aug and 9 Aug 1945, you know that it would be a very bad thing.

Such certainty kept us from blowing up the world sometime in the early 50's, when I was a toddler. It also caused Khrushchev, a man who had survived both Stalin and Stalingrad, to back down over missiles in Cuba rather than risk having Soviet cities be the next chapter in our history book on Nuclear Destruction.

That's enough of an introduction to get started.