Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)

Bale stairs

Here, Sisyphus meets John Bunyan’s Christian.

Or something like that.

Terrence Malick, for me, is a bit like T. S. Eliot, a forager through resonant, mythic fragments, pieced together into something that, while offering a reader a whole Thing and an often intensely emotional experience, also spins that reader off into multiple directions at once.

With something like “The Hollow Men,” for example, I first trace the Fisher King threads, and then I follow a Dante and Beatrice path, and then I’m sent to re-think Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, and then to grasp at remnants from Julius Caesar. All of these literary references are in “The Hollow Men,” and knowing them enriches my experience of the poem. But then, I also find that the poem works on a level that doesn’t seem to need any particular literary knowledge. Many of my students who’ve never read any of those other works love Eliot’s wasteland vision, those hollow whispering men; they can take the line “not with a bang but a whimper” and savor it. Just for itself. That line reaches directly into the feelings.

And so there’s meaning and there’s meaning and there’s meaning. Eliot is someone I will read my whole life and still find dark corners – that will very suddenly light up. Even Eliot himself, when a reader noted that he must have taken the “shadow” lines in “Hollow Men” from a poem by Ernest Dowson, agreed, “This derivation had not occurred in my mind, but I believe it to be correct, because the lines… have always run in my head.” It delights me to understand that even an artist cannot know everything contained in their own work. Eliot was an artist who was a receptacle who then poured himself into his work, at a conscious and unconscious level.

Malick is like that, I think, an artist, giving himself to his work utterly, and the result is a rich work that grows only richer. It is a richness that will make watching and re-watching and re-watching his films a life-long pleasure.  Continue reading Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)”

Francofonia (Alexander Sokurov, 2015)


Playing for the next two weeks at the SIFF Uptown is Russian director Alexander Sokurov’s look at The Louvre, a companion piece to what remains his most well-known film in this country, 2002’s Russian Ark. That film, shot in an elaborate and still impressive single-take, weaved through The Hermitage, the museum in St. Petersburg, crossing seamlessly through Russia’s past and present, a guided tour of the fluidity of culture and the ways art, and our collections of art, keep the past alive into the future. Francofonia is no less thematically ambitious, though the single-take approach is abandoned in favor of more conventional shifts between documentary-style glides through the galleries, dramatic recreations, and meta making-of looks at those recreations. The film is framed with a film director (Sokurov himself) in the editing stage of the movie we’re watching, attempting to talk to a ship’s captain caught in a storm at sea (Captain Dirk, seriously). The ship is apparently transporting precious works of art, an extension of the final image of Russian Ark, with the museum as a ship floating in seas of time. Captain Dirk has a bad Skype connection, so the director ruminates about the museum itself, covering, in somewhat random order, its founding as an anti-Viking fortress, its various expansions and decorations, its transformation into a museum filled with the spoils of imperialism and finally its modern state. Taking up the bulk of the film is the story of how the museum’s director (Jacques Jaujard) and the Nazi in charge of cultural artifacts (Franz Wolff-Metternich) kept the collection safe and out of Hitler’s hands during the Second World War.

Continue reading Francofonia (Alexander Sokurov, 2015)”