Wednesday, March 08, 2006

beta daze in heaven

As the PB Wolf or Burns' side Project could tell you, Movie Night is a-rolling. Imagine the Sopranos episode where Carmella and the molls/gals watch Citizen Kane with the help of Leonard Maltin ("Oh! The cinematography!") and you're almost there. Granted, it's been some austere titles so far, Tarkovsky's Mirror and Terence Malick's Days of Heaven. Throw in some Timmy Treadwell and you would have a good overview of the most eloquent wind shots in the history of cinema, as the three capture gusts across grass and brush verily, showing the chill of nature's invisible breath.

Malick, like the finest wool, does not bode well when shrunk. Days is severely cramped on the small screen, as is Badlands or The Thin Red Line, but it is a reminder to maybe race towards The Lost World (though it is its own phenomenon now).

Forgot about the Ennio Morricone soundtrack, which finds the maestro at his harmonicky hootenanniest, all pickin' and Accadian hollerin', with fits of tap-danced hoedowns, too. Gere anticipates Cheney at one point, about to buckshot Sam Shepherd while hunting quail. Did I mention this all takes place in the Texas panhandle? Though I can't rightly say I recollect Amarillo ever looking so danged fertile, flowing, and well...heavenly.

The Malick Poetic Voiceover is everpresent, with his ancient-sounding young girl talking to the wheat patches; in return they visit her at night to sway and whisper in her dreams. The cinematography gets downright National Geographic (perhaps my favorite aspect of a his films (Red Line's lens is entranced with razor grass as much as its all-stars), to the point you think there'll be discussion about the grasshoppers mating cycles or their diet. (I myself get a craving for whole wheat bread untoasted mid-film). That is, until the childish euphemism for grasshopper becomes the more adult "locust."

The giant cycles of man and his tractor machinations are already wheeling and gnashing at the film's start, outing hares and pheasants to scamper from the blades. Such manmade creations are soon overtaken by the larger wheels of seasons and blight, and ultimately that great destroyer, fire. The whir of the thresher becomes the hum of pestilence, the tiny chitter of locusts grows as deafening as flame's crackle; where man and animal once walked in abundance of the land, they are now cursed to scurry over the face of scorched earth. Gere himself is hunted like an animal by movie's end. When were those heavenly days though? Out in the fields during back-breaking labor? Daydreaming among the hay and fresh-crushed wheat berries?

There are cartoon birdies a-chirp on the cover of the newest Arthur Russell set, First Thought, Best Thought. Inside are extreme close-ups of flowers in bud (taken by Russell's Zen master) and a wide shot of a wheat field. One can only wonder how many times the native Iowan wandered lost through the fields, presaging his meandering the villages of New York, spacing out on the ferries and bodies of water that echoed the flatness of home.

Space and spaciness go hand in hand for Arthur, the space in the sound of these orchestral works, the latter in how Instrumentals Vol.1 never existed, yet Vol. 2 did, only wait, it was mastered at the wrong speed. Pieces break off mid-thought, or else pick up in different mindstates. This selection is from Vol. 2, and it just picks up at random and leaves that way as well. This work evokes the recent Moondog set, in that the two men take the limitless expanse of the Midwest and tuck it inside Gotham's claustrophobia, clearing out the headspace via ears. Moondog's recordings have wolf howls and taxi horns, the din of traffic made to respond to Harding's concise orchestrations. One piece on the Russell set has a foghorn bellow caught in its amber.

A discussion the other night with Steve Knutson (who took on this Sisyphean task of releasing the vast archival work of Russell's) and minimalist composer Arnold Dreyblatt touches on Arthur's sense of humor. It's light and full of whimsy these works, never ponderous but twinkling, shimmering, almost catchy and dare I say it, twee. Dreyblatt suggests further the generous nature of Arthur and how such abundance shows up in his music. Hear how the wheat sways:

Arthur Russell - Instrumentals Vol.2 (Track 11)


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