December 17th, 2007

Into the Great Silence

In 1984 Phillip de Groning wrote the Carthusian Monks at the Grand Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps that he wanted to make a documentary about the cloistered life. He received his answer, a qualified yes, some sixteen years later. The qualifications were that he abide by the rules of the monastery, use only natural light, and have no crew. The result of his efforts is a two hour and forty minute film without narration or voiceover called Into The Great Silence.

I must admit to having been raised Catholic, to have been taught by nuns and Jesuits, and to have fallen away from the Church in subsequent years; so this obviously colored my view of the film, though not necessarily negatively. In any case, almost three hours is a long time to spend in a monastery, no matter how beautifully it is shot...and this is a beautifully shot film of almost otherworldly way of life, each frame incorporating the feel of the great painters of the Renaissance, detailing the modest, contemplative existence, a scenario so serene that a monk eating lunch plays as a set piece and a sprig of celery on a table seems a green shout amid the calmer colors of the monastery's interior. You gain a sense of the monks through the filter of piety and devotion, and the impression is a good one that resonates with the best traditions of the Church; but as the film moves into its third hour, I began to have impure thoughts and, ultimately, the impression I was left with was of a group of useless men, oblivious to the suffering around them, completely unmindful of any implicit duty to assist their fellow man. The film's basic mechanism is one of simple observation, so it's difficult to attribute any subversive motive to de Groning, but I wondered whether my feeling was the product of subtle manipulation. It's an interesting movie. I watched it for purposes of research, and viewed as such it's a remarkable document. But I came away with the idea that a monastic order such as the Carthusians is as purposeless as a vestigial tail and that their existence is a kind of orderly refuge.
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Lesser-known Icons 34

[Click for a difference]

* That dapper Robinson Reminders creature has a very scary "face."

* Uncle Ned's repair bill will be much bigger than he estimated.

* Duckworth's hat appears to be made of wood.

* For a supposedly Christian country, we have a lot of Devil logo's. As for Hot Dr. Pepper--eeyeeuw!

* Is that a model of a house the Chamberlin Man is carrying, or is he a giant?

Posted by Paul DiFi.
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Magic catalogue 8

[Click away!]

IN AGAIN OUT AGAIN CUFFS: The secret? They break all the bones in your hand!

STRETCH ROPE: Useful for B&D enthusiasts!

SKELETON RABBIT: Why does it have a human head?

MESH EGG BAG: Very tiny chicken not included.

DYNA!: Get extra laffs if word chosen is a swear!

Posted by Paul DiFi.
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Magoo as Scrooge for Lucius and Others

Serendipity rules! After Lucius's comment that he had never seen Magoo as Scrooge, I discover that this was just posted four days ago! The film appears to be in six parts. I found all six with some searching. Here's the first segment to kick things off.

As a kid, I watched this avidly every year with my siblings. It doesn't seem to rate a network broadcast these days. Looking at this first part, I find that I still have almost all the scenes and dialogue totally memorized.

Posted by Paul DiFi.

The Monkey's Tale...

Here's a story. Years ago, I was in a group called the Cathouse Band. It was a damn good band and we had a hell of a time. One of our roadies, this guy named Gordon, was a biker. (Our other roadie was Tom Sherred, the son of science fiction writer, T.L. Sherred, but that's another story). Not a gnarly old biker. He was eighteen or nineteen, and it was his philosophy that fighting was the purest form of physical expression. He put this philosophy to frequent test. During one of earliest gigs, at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, I was onstage singing when I saw him come into the back of the room and he waved to me. His right hand was gloved in blood. Another time, at the Golden Hatchet Saloon in the old lumber town of Bad Ax, Michigan, he saved our ass by shooting the fender off a car full of guys who wanted to kill us because they thought we had trifled with their womenfolk. Anyway, Gordon was actually kind of a sweet guy, though that may be hard to swallow. He looked upon me as an older brother and came to me for advice on worldly matters. Once he was told he had been given probationary status with the Cleveland chapter of Hell's Angels, something he had long desired. The only trouble was that in order to become a full member you had to kill a cop, and he wasn't altogether sure he was up to it.

"How many members in the Cleveland chapter?" I asked him.

"Seventy, maybe."

"So you think the Cleveland cops have seventy open police homicides on their books?"

He looked at me, his brow furrowed.

"No way they've got that many," I said. "The Angels are screwing with your head."

"Fuck," he said after a while.

One day Gordon came to me excited and told me he'd found a place where he could fight a monkey. It appeared there was a ranch down near Monroe where one could fight a monkey for fifty bucks and shoot a buffalo for, if I remember correctly, two hundred. Gordon had signed up to do the former. He asked if I'd come with him. I said I didn't know if fighting a monkey was such a good idea, but Gordon was determined, so I agreed.

The next afternoon me and a couple of other guys in the band and Gordon drove to Monroe. The ranch proved to be a concrete block structure with a couple of outbuildings in the back and a pasture where some stupefied-looking buffalo were standing around. In one of the outbuildings, which stank of animal waste, was a walled pit floored with sand. Gordon was given a pair of boxing gloves and ushered into the pit. He was in good spirits. A few minutes later, a half-grown chimp was shoved through a door in the pit wall. The chimp sat on its haunches, making "ook-ook" noises, while Gordon circled, his gloves held high. When the chimp did not attack, he said, "This is bullshit," and demanded his money back. The owner, a lean, balding man, told him he had to anger the monkey to make it fight. Gordon adopted a boxer's stance and nudged the chimp with his foot, whereupon the chimp leaped up on Gordon's shoulders and began ripping out tufts of hair from his his head. Gordon fell facedown and the chimp jumped up and down on him, screaming, beating him with its fists, until lured away by the owner.

I didn't see much of Gordon the next couple of days, but his girlfriend told me he was very depressed. Finally he showed up at the practice room. He said he'd been reading about monkeys. He'd learned that they had a massive advantage in a fight with a man, because they were pound for pound much stronger, their muscles more efficient. The thing was, he said, to neutralize that advantage. He had a plan.

Though once again I'd advised against it, two weeks later we drove down to Monroe again. Once again the monkey was shoved in through the pit door. Once again Gordon pulled on the gloves and--putting his plan into action--fitted a football helmet to his head. The chimp made "ook-ook" noises. Gordon, tentatively this time, gave the chimp a little kick. The chimp jumped up onto Gordon's shoulders, ripped off the helmet, and began beating him with it. By the time we managed to drag him from the pit, Gordon was a serious mess.

Thereafter Gordon wouldn't talk about the chimp. But after he left Ann Arbor for Texas, after the band broke up, I spoke to the girlfriend and learned that he had bought the monkey. She said he fed it and cared for it and now and then would go into its room and fight it. He always emerged bloody and bruised. Apparently the monkey went with him to Texas.

Reason I'm telling this story is that Gordon is asleep on my sofa as I write. It's the first time I've seen him for over twenty years and I finally learned what happened to the chimp. Gordon said it got too much to deal with, so he sold it to a bar owner in Laredo. The bar owner let the chimp keep fighting for a while and a sore loser shot it, though not fatally. The chimp now resides with his mate in a glassed-in cage behind the bar, retired from fighting, though occasionally he becomes infuriated with some patron or another, and pounds on the plexiglass. He is well cared for and, for the most part, seems happy.

As for Gordon, his hair is graying, but he's more or less the same, though he now walks with a limp, the result of a serious bike accident. He says he intends to hang around until Wednesday or Thursday. I suspect I'm in for a couple of interesting days.