Friday Food for Thought: 10 March 2023

Life has a way of confusing us, blessing and bruising us.

Topol as Tevye, Fiddler On the Roof (1971)

Terribly sad that Topol passed away. I know he was brilliant in Fiddler On the Roof, but I first saw him in For Your Eyes Only (1981), and he was so good I would love to have seen him play a recurring character in the Bond films.

I re-watched The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and my opinion hasn’t changed from my first viewing years ago. As much as I want to like the film, I have two major complaints. One, all these white actors don’t convince me I’m seeing people from the Middle East two thousand years ago. Willem Dafoe is a brilliant actor, but he looks like Jesus of Kansas, not Jesus of Nazareth. Two, the movie feels oriented too much around staging important scenes/moments rather than telling a coherent story. We’re told up front, via screen title, that this movie is not based on the Gospels. Yet much of the movie involves revisiting the Gospels, meaning viewers like me who skipped Sunday School will struggle to keep up. The character of Judas particularly bothers me – why is he so obsessed with Jesus? His original motive is never presented, he’s just there because he needs to be.

Continuing to watch Babylon 5‘s first season and it’s definitely growing on me. I love seeing guest stars like David McCallum, Robyn Curtis, and Walter Koenig. “Infection” (S1E4), the episode featuring David McCallum, reminds me of the Star Trek Original Series episode “The Changeling.” And Walter Koenig, as Bester in “Mind War” (S1E6), makes a direct reference to the series The Prisoner, when he touches his forehead and says, “Be seeing you.” That can’t be an accident. Is it just an in-joke, or positioning his character as Babylon 5‘s version of Number Two? And is “Mind War” intended as a metaphor of the civil rights movement? William Allen Young’s character Ironheart just wants to be free to establish his own identity without harming anyone. Ironheart was a victim of medical experiments, something that was disproportionately done to Black Americans without informed consent. One day Ironheart sees his oppressors for who they really are and escapes. “You cannot harm one who has dreamed a dream like mine.” Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Either way, by episode 8 I’m finally beginning to see the longer story arc.

Number Two from The Prisoner and Bester from Babylon 5

Re-watching the first season of The X-Files and with every episode I’m fascinated by Mark Snow’s brilliant music. “The Jersey Devil” (S1E5) is the first episode to directly confront government – via law enforcement – as a protector of privileged capital interests, in this case the Atlantic City gaming industry. Off the top of my head, I don’t remember another episode making a specific link to corporatism, but with 11 seasons I may be misremembering. “Ice” (S1E8) is clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), and the prologue seems like a very dark twist on The Thing‘s ending.

Visited Edward Hopper and Guy Pène du Bois: Painting the Real exhibit at our local art museum. Of course, I’m somewhat familiar with Hopper but had never heard of Pène du Bois. The two were contemporaries and good friends. I’m still drawn more to Hopper’s work, but it was a real treat to see both artists’ work and get more insight into their lives.

Road in Maine (1914) by Edward Hopper, and Juliana Force at the Whitney Studio Club (1921) by Guy Pène du Bois

Still reading Up From the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times by Aaron Sachs, and still fascinated by it.

  • Sachs, p. 138: “The typical suburb not only lacked gathering places, Mumford noted, but also tended to be ‘a one-class community’ – in other words, hardly a community at all. It represented a ‘collective effort’ by privileged people ‘to live a private life’ removed from difference.”
  • Sachs, p. 156: “Though some economics textbooks still teach that demand drives supply, modern history shows clearly that capital investments often come first, and then businesses use advertising to create more demand for their products. The supposedly archetypal American desire for homeownership did not arise from any ‘natural’ inclination or grassroots movement; it is largely a construct of the real estate industry, which really started flexing its muscles during the boom of the 1920s.”
Herman Melville, 1860 or 1861
  • Sachs, p. 211: “From Melville’s perspective, the frontier, like a whaleship, was a place for bracing physical activity and enriching cross-cultural exchange, but it had been corrupted by smooth-talking men peddling the righteousness of individualistic opportunism.” [This gets me thinking about the discussion of John Wayne westerns in J. Hoberman’s book The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties, and if you’re a movie fan you should drop everything right now and read that outstanding book.]
  • Sachs, p. 212: “Alas, it was one of Melville’s core convictions that unsettled principles were precisely the mark of a mature intellect; everything he ever wrote was addressed to the kind of ideal reader who would want to consider long discourses on unanswerable questions. He freely acknowledged the human desire for certainty, the yearning to take leaps of faith. But he couldn’t even tell whether it was water or vapor that came out of a whale’s spout: ‘My dear sir, in this world it is not so easy to settle these plain things. I have ever found your plain things the knottiest of all.'”
  • Mumford [in 1944], p. 221: “The danger to human society today does not come solely from the active barbarians: it comes even more perhaps from those who have in their hearts assented to the barbarian’s purposes.”
  • Sachs, p. 244: “Drawing on his reading of Melville, [Mumford] pointed to a general distancing of individuals from the consequences of their actions: modern citizens seized the main chance, consumed whatever was made available to them, assumed their own innocence as mere cogs in a grand machine, and thus trained themselves not to worry about where their food, or land, or bricks, or paper, or oil, or comfort, might have come from. It seemed to Mumford that as our machines had gotten more powerful, we had simply started deferring to them.”

I made some delicious oatmeal-yogurt bread from recipe #2 in this video.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s