reconsidering “LAND OF PLENTY”

Today is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 which, here in America, is still especially charged with emotion. The replayed images by the media that forever seared, the images of the after effects of the attack on the World Trade Center, into the memories, subconscious and conscious, of a generation.

I think it’s time to reconsider a film titled LAND OF PLENTY by Wim Wenders. At the time of it’s release (2004) it received only fair reviews and was not widely received and was quickly released on DVD. Maybe three years after 9/11 was still too soon for a film like this or maybe America just didn’t want to hear what the movie was saying. It is a contradictory film of desperation and quiet meditation. The title of the film comes from a Leonard Cohen song (that was also featured in the film) from his album TEN NEW SONGS which was released in October 2001. The film stars award winning actress Michelle Williams and television and film actor John Diehl . Williams plays Lana, a 20 year old who has spend most of her life living abroad in Africa and the Middle East with her missionary parents, has been described as a true citizen of the world who most recently was living in Israel and Palestine. She has a rich and active spiritual life and she has just come back home, to the United States, to see her Paul, her uncle (played by Diehl) who lives in his own home-made surveillance van and is a bigot and paranoid Vietnam veteran that spends his time spying on Arab Americans and sees conspiracy around every corner and has racist views of all people who do not represent his idea of America.

In the year 2000 America was still living as if it held and projected “a thousand points of light” – a phrase which comes from (then candidate) George H. W. Bush during his acceptance speech for President at the 1988 Republican National Convention. In the song, LAND OF PLENTY, Cohen writes, (possibly addressing Bush’s phrase?) “May the lights in the land of plenty shine on the truth one day”. And that phrase is key to this film as it seeks to shine on the truth of what happened to America in a fictional environment. What happened to American was not so much the attack on the World Trade Center but the attitudes, fear and behavioral changes that to often accompany a traumatic event where people have lost any connection to moral foundation. Now, sometimes, the only way to get to truth comes “time” and “being/looking outside the context”. When LAND OF PLENTY (film) was shot, in 2003, perhaps not enough time had passed for most people to form objective perceptions but Wenders, a masterful director of German birth, was able to be a light on the outside looking in. And that is an important factor in the truth-telling of this film. In their engagement and struggle to understand each other both main characters are constantly at odds in addressing the philosophical questions like “What happened to my country?”, “Where are we going?” and “How did we get here?” It is an engaging, challenging and important discussion if we are ever to regain our footing as citizens of the world.

There is plenty of dramatic tension thru-out the film that is balanced my moments of quiet, thoughtful meditation. Near the end of the film Lana (Williams) suggests they “listen to the voices” of those who had died because “I don’t think they would want any more killing in their name”. The characters then journey from Los Angeles and arrive in New York City at the 9/11 site (which was in the final stages of clean-up in 2003 when this film was shot). Both of the main characters, struck by the immensity and overwhelming sense of tragedy located in one place seems to bring them together into a final understanding as they “listen to the voices” . The viewer of the film is left with a sense that not only the attack should never happen again but also that our failed American response to such an attack should never happen again.

In the “making of” interview, on the DVD for the film, Wim Wenders states, “I tried to make a political film about America… patriotism, misguided patriotism, paranoia… I just didn’t want to make an opinionated film…. I wanted to depict where it was all coming from…. It’s a film with a lot of sympathy. Sympathy for the Americans, for their particular condition in the 21st century – the condition of lostness.” One of the persistent backdrops, settings, in the film is poverty, and Wim says, “It had also dawned on me that this rich country was, also in many ways, one of the poorest – not only economically but also culturally.” And speaking more about what his personal reasons were for making the film, “This film is totally from the heart and from my deepest convictions, politically, religiously, morally and it’s a relief to make a film like that.” And on the commentary track on the DVD at the very end of the film Wim says, ” I want this film to be a part of the healing”.

I think this is an important film and highly recommend we re-watch this film as we look back at the “anniversary” of one of the most horrific events in American history.

The trailer for the film (below) does not do justice so please watch the film.

Check out the Leonard Cohen song LAND OF PLENTY. https://youtu.be/YIs9rsroVas

… on… time….

2012 Marking Time
I’ve been fascinated with concepts of time and our perceptions of it. I just saw this wonderful film that is an artful exploration of the subject of time.
It is titled THE END OF TIME by Peter Mettler…. It is mostly image and music but there is some spoken word. And wow, the spoken word has so many quotable quotes I would just say watch the whole movie. Here is a trailer to entice you.

Did you know that the root word for time and weather is the same in many languages? With that in mind here are eight questions and possible answers arranged in an hourglass shape.

Q: Are you rushing because you are Late?
A: I am getting wet.

Q: Do you like the hot afternoon sun?
A: It is 3PM.

Q: Are you really 85 years old?
A: The sun is setting.

Q: What time is it?
A: It is snowing.

Q: What time is dinner?
A: The wind is blowing.

Q: Where is the sun rising?
A: The dawn comes early.

Q: When does the moon rise?
A: The temperature is dropping.

Q: Do you have the time?
A: Can’t you see the clouds in the sky?

… on… madness….

The Madness Of King George – a great film regarding the subject of George III King of England who suffered the indignity of insanity. He ruled England at the time of the American Revolution and was largely blamed for losing the colonies. This film is even more chilling when viewed again in the context of a Donald Trump Presidency. Lately there has been a rising chorus of those who question Trump’s sanity, mental stability in executing his office as President. Could we witness a replay of this scene in some fashion here in America in the 21st century? I can imagine this dialogue all to well between Trump and Doctors, “I am the President”…..”No Sir! You are the patient”.

… on… film analysis….

I’m a real fan of film analysis.  Films are more than just escapist entertainment and in many ways are the modern mythologies of our time.   So analyzing these films seems a necessary informative way to gain new understanding of our own cultural mythology.

This video is probably one of the best analysis I have ever seen.   If you haven’t seen the film yet that’s okay – this will be a good primer that will enhance your viewing experience.

Enjoy this video criticism for the film CHILDREN OF MEN [2006] – Dir. Alfonso Cuaron.

and here’s the trailer

… on … GREAT movies about art works

GREAT movies about specific art works you may have missed.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s THE WAY TO CALVARY in Lech Majewski’s THE MILL AND THE CROSS.


Rembrandts NIGHTWATCH in Peter Greenaway’s NIGHTWATCHING

…on Elia Kazan….

A great documentary about the man behind the camera and behind the typewriter. For Years I have been a fan of Elia Kazan’s films: AMERICA AMERICA, ON THE WATERFRONT, BABY DOLL, FACE IN THE CROWD, BOOMERANG, PANIC IN THE STREETS and EAST OF EDEN (just to name a few of my personal favorites). Enjoy this enlightening and inspiring documentary about a complex creative writer/director.

 

Penguin Cafe – A Replay

Celluloid Impressions X
I’ve been a fan of so-called ambient music ever since Brian Eno coined the term in 1976. And while ambient music has come to mean a multitude of things of the past few decades it is generally associated as a sort of quiet minimalism. In 1987 Editions E.G. Records released a compilation of their artists who were associated with the growing instrumental electronic music movement, many of which were associated with ambient music. This electronic music compilation included Brian Eno, Roger Eno(his brother), Harold Budd, Michael Brook, Bill Bruford, Patrick Moraz, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, John Hassell, Robert Fripp, Laraaji, Phil Manzanera and, last but not least, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. This compilation was titled ANGELS IN THE ARCHITECTURE and had extensive liner notes explaining and detailing what ambient music involved. This was my first exposure to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra (which used electronic and also folk instrumentation). I went on to collect all their albums based on the 2 tracks that were included on this compilation.

The song I want to focus on which I’ve revisited again is from the Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s debut album, MUSIC FROM THE PENGUIN CAFE. It is titled (and perhaps would be a model for the lengthy titles of later post-rock masters…) The Sound Of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away And It Doesn’t Matter. Yes, that really is the title. This song has so many nuances and it expresses what Penguin Cafe Orchestra does best in this period; taking a melody and deconstructing it then reconstructing it again – a sort of compositional breathing.

This song starts out with a beautiful melody that totally draws the listener in and wraps the listener in a warm blanket of comfort and serenity. Then it slowly deconstructs and before-you-know-it the sound has become more like a wailing child. After that harsh realization has set-in the melody returns like a lullaby to comfort the “child” and soothe the emotions. Then for a second time it starts to deconstruct and it’s not as extreme but the awareness and expectation is greater as the distance grows. Because we know the suffering that can come, based on the first go-round. But, once again the melody returns. This third time the melody does not seem to return fully but just sort of lingers on, hints of deconstruction then fades away as if it just doesn’t matter any more. Life, relationship, loss and the life that remains. It’s what makes this music so “true”.
I hope you enjoy this wonderful music.

For more info:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penguin_Cafe_Orchestra

And for the new Penguin Cafe – a project by Arthur Jeffes where he is continuing the work started by his father Simon Jeffes with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
http://penguincafe.com/music/

The featured image on this post is from a photographic series of mine titled Celluloid Impressions and features abstracted images created by photographing the moving image in cinema. This featured image is number 10 in the series.