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Category: films to ponder

who’s afraid of the subjunctive

impression-sunrise.jpg!Large

Impression, Sunrise” (1873)

Claude Monet

________

who’s afraid of the subjunctive

much like Elizabeth Taylor as Martha
in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”,
my answer is, I am, George, I am

the subjunctive is an esoteric mood,
even more abstruse in English than
in other languages, where the verb’s
conjugation highlights its presence,
in English, it’s nearly identical to the
indicative, the mood everybody
instinctively speaks in, facts

the subjunctive is about aspiration,
like the conditional, abstract, not
real, but its intention, rather than
the conditional’s inherent
impediment, a condition, shoots
for the stars, isn’t introspective,
but adamant, imperative

it is necessary that one be, it is
urgent that one have, it is
important that one effect, a
particular thing or event, all
subjunctives after the
doorkeeper word, “that”

one finds the subjunctive in
Shakespeare, master of grammar,
perhaps unparalleled in English,
a lot – O, that this too solid flesh
would melt, / Thaw and resolve
itself into a dew!
– and follows
with Elizabeth Barrett Browning –
Pardon, o pardon that my soul
should make, / Of all that strong
divineness which I know / For
thine and thee …,
for instance,
who is so profoundly indebted to
Shakespeare for her aesthetics

one wondrous day, I realized that
Proust’s entire À la recherche du
temps perdu
, his “In Search of
Lost Time
“, my Bible, was set in
the, French however, subjunctive,
the mood, there as well, of
possibility, therefore rather than
the definitive recreation of an
earlier time, Proust was
describing a sensibility, a personal
interpretation of a previous reality,
however bolstered by intimate and
apparently precise recollection of
shimmeringly imprecise, though
personally accurate, impressions

note here the similar preoccupations
of Proust’s contemporaries, the, aptly
named, Impressionists

everything, Proust was saying, as
were also the Impressionists, is in
the eye of the beholder

the subjunctive is the mood that
sets this instinct in motion

R ! chard

psst: Somerset Maugham I remember
being noteworthy as well for his
immaculate use, in his South
Pacific tales, of the subjunctive,
extremely elegant in its refined
construction, even with its
English austerities, like making
lace out of mere cloth, impressive
despite its impracticality, or
perhaps even because of it

the conditional

if-once-you-have-slept-on-an-island-1996.jpg!Large

    “If Once You Have Slept on an Island (1996) 

 

           Jamie Wyeth


               ________

 

the conditional mood is easy, it always

follows if 

 

     if I had a hammer, for instance

 

or

 

     if I were a rich man

 

it is not a real event, as Classical 

representation would be in art, were I

to make that synesthetic juxtaposition,

which is to say, were I to replace the 

visual sense with that of letters, but

rather like Surrealismfor instance, 

in that other context, a superimposed

idealization

 

here’s a poem you’ve probably 

already heard, or heard of, through 

its final, and epochal, verse, Kipling’s

If“, a towering instance of moral 

suasion on our culture

 

       If you can keep your head when all about you

           Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

       If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,   

            But make allowance for their doubting too;  

       If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

          Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

       Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

           And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

        If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

            If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

        If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

           And treat those two impostors just the same;   

        If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

          Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

        Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

           And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

      If you can make one heap of all your winnings

            And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

      And lose, and start again at your beginnings

           And never breathe a word about your loss;

        If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

          To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

       And so hold on when there is nothing in you

          Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

        If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

           Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 

        If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

            If all men count with you, but none too much;

        If you can fill the unforgiving minute

           With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

        Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

           And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

   

in the spirit of juxtaposition, compare 

that to Polonius’ admonition to his son,

Laertes, upon that young colt’s imminent 

return to France, where he had earlier

been, reputedly, carousing

 

       Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!

       The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,

       And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!

       And these few precepts in thy memory

       See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

       Nor any unproportioned thought his act.

       Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

       Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

       Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

        But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

        Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware

        Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,

        Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

        Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

         Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

         Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

         But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

         For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

         And they in France of the best rank and station

         Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

         Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

         For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

         And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

         This above all: to thine ownself be true,

         And it must follow, as the night the day,

         Thou canst not then be false to any man.



from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”act 1, scene 3,

all, incidentally, in the imperative, the mood

of command, authority, however consequential

there, or not

 

 

 a film called “If…” is also worth visiting 

in this context, from the 1970s, with an 

iconic soundtrack that gripped the

generation then that heard it, listen,

watch, the Missa Luba, be gripped

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

the indicative

grammar.jpg!Large

        Grammar 

 

              Gentile da Fabriano


                          ____________

 


since I’d only recently vaunted both the 

infinitive and the imperative moods of 

verbs in this venue, you might’ve 

expected that the indicative would 

soon follow

 

and here it is, the indicative, the mood 

of narratives, storytelling, the default 

mode, essentially, where most of our 

communication takes place, be it

oral or written

 

famous first lines of novels will attest

to that, lines you’ve probably heard 

before, however only incidentally, if 

not actually read

 

        It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,

 

from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities


and the rest is so good, I can’t, in all 

consciousness, exclude it

 

        it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was 

        the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the 

        season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the 

        spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. 

 

or

 

        Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. 

 

from Daphne du Maurier’s eerily Gothic 

Rebecca“, heiress to not only Charlotte 

Brontë’s Jane Eyre“, but also to her 

sister Emily’s, to my mind, much more 

accomplished work, Wuthering“, and 

indeed wonderful, Heights“, whereupon 

I’ll refrain from continuing to follow the

sentences, however compelling, for 

lack of space and time

 

but

 

        I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

 

from Out of Africa“, Karen Blixen’s

unforgettable novel, however brilliantly

translated to film, must take its place

here among towering introductory

sallies 

 

       Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure. 

 

Proust’s answer to Homer, his “À la 

recherche du temps perdu“, his

Remembrance of Things Past  

 

      For a long time, I’d go to bed early.

 

which, as I read on, no less than

changed my life 

 

but that’s another story, however

totally engrossing

 


everywhere above, let me point out, 

the mood has been indicative, to a 

very verb, so unobtrusive you 

probably didn’t even notice 

 

in music, a counterpart for the 

indicative would be the allegro, 

the baseline, not too fast, not 

too slow, the tempo listeners 

would most easily respond to

 

but more about that only later, after

a traipse through the speculative 

conditional, then  the aspirational 

subjunctive

 

meanwhile, check this out, The

Heart of the Matter“, the Eagles, a

ballad, mostly indicatives, but with

here and there an infinitive, and a

peppering of conditionals, however

might these be signal, to utterly break 

your heart

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

“A Delicate Balance” – Edward Albee

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      “Theatre Drama 

 

             Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin

 
                           ___________

  

there are only a very few 20th-Century

American playwrights who’ve weathered

the rigours of time, two with several 

successes, Eugene O’Neill, and 

Tennessee Williams, but only one to 

tower above those two with only one 

work to outmatch them, Edward Albee,

his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

is every inch a king

 

this is not an impossible feat, Margaret

Mitchell wrote her only book, Gone 

with the Wind“, a contemporary Iliad“,

which will find its rightful place again 

in world literature, note, when our own 

too reverberant still times cede to the 

concerns of another, less pertinently 

fraught era, like reading “War and

Peace“, for instance, now that 

Napoleon is long gone

 

Gone with the Wind, quick, name 

another 20th-Century novel to top it, 

seconds are too long, Gone with 

the Windis in our bloodstream, 

like Walt Disney or Marilyn Monroe

even if you’ve never read it, which 

you should

 

but Edward Albee wrote another play

which deserves some attention, and 

with redoubtable performances from 

both the consummate ever Katharine 

Hepburn, and from our own Canadian 

tower of unutterable talent, Kate Reid

abetted by masterful presentations 

from no less than the revered Paul 

Scofield and the iconic Joseph Cotten 

when their supporting numbers come 

up, here is a show to watch for, if 

nothing else, those individual stellar

contributions

 

but A Delicate Balance“, also an 

incontestable masterpiece, is about 

friendship, and tells a lesson you’ll

not soon forget, friendship is more 

than, for better or for worse, just 

knowing each other, it says, an 

idiosyncratic, indeed recurrent,

Albee theme

 

 

cinematography, note, is, here

dreadful, though actually in that 

manner conceived, however 

improbably, by an otherwise 

noteworthy director, you’ll even 

think they’ve shrunk his frame

 

but visual style shouldn’t let you 

forego the play’s profound substance, 

nor the triumphant work of its illustrious 

cast, at the very top, mostly, of their 

considerable, even defining, powers

 

watch

 

 

R ! chard

at the movies – “Phaedra”

phaedra-and-hippolytus-1802.jpg

     “Phaedra and Hippolytus (1802) 

            Pierre-Narcisse Guérin

                   _____________

Phaedra, according to Greek myth, fell
in love with her stepson, and, of course,
ruined, for everyone, everything 

she’s been represented in music by
composers from, at least, Rameau,
1733, to, here, now, Benjamin Britten,  
1976by way of even Tangerine
Dream, 1973, however peripherally, 
and the hits just keep on coming

in literature, the story goes back to 
Euripides, 480 – 406 BCE, through
Jean Racine, 1639 – 1699, poet at 
the court of Louis XlV, the version 
that I studied in French Literature,
along with, in English, Shakespeare,
who was doing courtiers, rather, 
and royalty there, then, incidentally, 
instead of the Continent’s iconic 
Mediterranean figures – it remains 
my favourite play in my mother 
tongue, next to, for me, its only 
other equal, Cyrano de Bergerac

but I’d never seen a production of 
Phaedra until this searing, 
modern, rendition, set in, relatively 
contemporary, Greece, London, 
and Paris, with the irrepressible, 
the irresistible, Melina Mercouri
torrid temptress, the very goddess 
Herahereand Anthony Perkins
perfect as her suitor, a youth still, 
pulsing with a young man’s 
unbridled intentions

sparks fly, from moment to 
incendiary moment – I had often 
to pause to catch my breath – 
portents of an inescapable, and 
eventually epic, indeed mythic, 
apocalypse

watch, if you dare


R ! chard

Piano Concerto no. 5, opus 73, “Emperor” – Beethoven

v1.bTsxMTIxMTMxNztqOzE3ODE0OzEyMDA7MTEyNTsxNTAw

     All About Eve (1950)

            _______

while I’m on the subject of concertos,
there’s one concerto that cannot be 
overlooked, the very epitome of 
concerti, their summit, apex, their 
very pinnacle, Olympus, compared 
to other less mighty compositions,
Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto,
the piece I would take with me to a 
desert island, used to even walk 
along the seashore in the privacy of 
my headphones nights, after dinner, 
taking in its cadences, its wisdom,
under the moon, the stars, along 
the, however temperamental, 
ocean waters, transported 

indeed this very version of it, Glenn
Gould’s, Beethoven’s, in my mind,  
oracular equal

Beethoven made literature out of 
music, progressed to the point of
delivering a very philosophy, 
Gould took the prevailing 
Romantic aesthetic of the time,
Arthur Rubinstein being a prime
example, for instance, and gave 
us the music of the Information 
Age, the mathematical precision 
of computers, people could hear 
it, perhaps not even knowing how,
why

briefly, Gould eschews – Gesundheit
the hold pedal, the sustain pedal, on 
the piano, he’d grown up on Bach, 
made him his specialty, but Bach
had no sustain pedal on his 
harpsichord, Gould transferred this 
process to later, more rhythmically 
malleable, works, making obvious 
thereby their inner workings, 
something like reading blueprints, 
his interpretations give us the bare, 
and revelatory, bones of these later 
masterpieces, without the sometimes 
facile effects of Romanticism, think 
of rubato, for instance, the ability to 
stretch a note, not possible on the 
harpsichord, but often overused in 
Romantic renderings, a cheap trick, 
like paintings on velvet

Gould would have none of that, he
shows you the composer’s 
compositional brilliance, without 
fanfare, just the facts, no pedal, 
which at the time was completely 
revolutionary, much like computer 
science was thenand algorithms 

here’s something else about Gould,
more savourymaybe, he was called 
in at the last minute to perform this
piece when the planned pianist, of 
considerable renown, wasn’t able to 
make it, Gould hadn’t played it in a 
number of years, but showed up the 
next morning to deliver, the rest is,
as they say, history

that’s All About Eve up there, but 
for pianists, Glenn Gould is Eve 
Harrington, though without her
predatory instincts, nobody now 
remembers the other pianist
unless you were there, interested,  
listening, piano’s Margo Channing, 
even if I named himhowever 
consummately accomplished he 
might’ve been, a man I profoundly 
admire, remains, cruelly, essentially 
unremembered 

imagine


R ! chard

“Something for Everyone” – an intermission

Neuschwanstein_castle

 Neuschwanstein Castle

                   __________

to my mind, the already formidable 
then Angela Lansbury, 1970, 
should’ve been at least nominated 
for an Oscar, not to mention won 
it, for her indelible impression of
Countess von Ornstein, an 
aristocrat if there ever was one,  
in the delightful Something for
Everyone

she has no money left after the 
Second World War, but lives still 
in her castle, which remains, as 
stipulated in the relevant 
documentation, in the family 
into perpetuity

but she has trouble getting the 
strawberries which she feels 
are her right still, among other 
threatened entitlements, out of 
her sheer nobility 

the young Micheal York, as Konrad,
on a bicycle trip through Austria, 
sees the castle – Neuschwanstein,
in actuality, Ludwig ll‘s pied à terre
in Bavaria, standing in for the one 
supposed to be in Austria – and sets
out to transform it into his own 
domain 

there’s yodelling, and dirndls, and 
lederhosen aplenty, not to mention
a great deal of skullduggery, but it’s
a fairy tale, and, as such, leads to a
happy, of sorts, ending 

don’t miss it


R ! chard

Cello Suite no 5 in C minor – J.S. Bach

the-cellist.jpg!Large

        The Cellist (c.1917) 

              Max Weber

                 ______

what struck me immediately upon hearing
the bow’s very first strokes on the violin in 
this Fifth Cello Suite of Bach was that the 
mood was not only brashly Romantic, but 
quite specifically Russian Romantic, right 
up there with Dostoyevskyand Fiddler 
on the Roof, dark brooding colours at 
first, followed by long plaintive musical 
phrases, you can even hear the sound of 
the steppes, I thought, stretching out into 
the endless distance, this performance,  
surmised, is not, other than 
compositionally, Baroque, not to mention 
not even German 

yet as played by Mischa Maisky, it’s one 
of the best versions of the Fifth I’ve ever 
heard, and if it works, who’s to complain

but more context – Bach never gave not 
only textural indications, but not even 
tempos to his pieces, apart from the 
very dance terms that identify the 
movements, so what, therefore, is the 
specific pace, you’ll ask, of a courante, 
for instance, you tell me, I’ll reply

in other words, the modular terms were 
significantly looser in the early 18th 
Century than later, when metronome 
markings would begin to demand more
accurate replication of the artist’s 
explicit specifications – Beethoven 
especially made sure of that, by 
requiring accurate renderings of his   
mood or pace indications, largo,  
allegro, andante, for instance, still less  
strict than the stipulation later for exact 
musical beats per minute – trying to 
keep pace with a prerecorded tape, for 
example, as in again the industrially 
driven, which is to say emotionally 
indifferent, context of the seismic 
Different Trains“, masterpiece of a 
more technically conditioned era

I don’t think that Bach would at all have
been disappointed that the heirs of his 
fervent, though more genteelcreations 
might’ve morphed into something 
profound for other groups, be they 
national, or of a class, or of even a 
generation, of people, which is to say 
that these works have superseded 
their merely regional intent, and have 
reached beyond space and time, the 
very purview of music, to speak a 
common and cooperative, indeed a
binding, language

I said to my mom the other day that if
we all sang together, we could save
the world


R ! chard

psst: Maisky’s encore,, incidentally, is from  
          the Bourrée” of Bach’s Third Cello  
          Suitenote this contrastingmore  
          courtly – more refinement, more 
      reserve – rendition, you can even 
          hear, not to mention see, in this
          particular instance, not Russian 
          steppes, but European trees on 
          their baronial estates, if you lend  
          an attentive ear

String Quartet, Opus 33 no 3 – Joseph Haydn

the-music-lesson.jpg!Large.jpg

        “The Music Lesson (c.1769) 

             Jean-Honoré Fragonard

                       __________

by 1781, Haydn was, along with Mozart,
the most celebrated composer in Europe,
and via publication of his musical scores,
his compositions would’ve been played 
even in smaller communities, where 
string players would’ve blossomed 
everywhere for there being no television

only two generations ago, my own family
sported, if not violinists, remarkable 
fiddlers – see, for comparable example, 
Deliverance“, I have old movies at home 
of my own kin doing such wonders

the Opus 33, no 3 is no longer, you’ll note, 
especially courtly, this is music to heed,
pay attention to, not meant to be 
background

nor is it

in the first few bars of the very first 
movement, Haydn’s got you riveted,
you know you’re going to get your 
money’s worth, and you do, in 
exponential spades 

you’ll note there are no dance 
references, cerebral tempo markings 
only allegro moderato, scherzo: 
allegretto, adagio ma non troppo, 
finale: rondo – presto – which means 
the music will be entirely edifying, 
not carnal, sensual, music is 
specifically becoming an intellectual 
exercise, a new, as it were, language, 
no longer doing tribal tribute around 
bonfire, it’s speaking rather than 
pulsating

pay attention to the vehemence,
the stark contrast between the 
opening statement in the second
movement and its response, a
nearly unnerving juxtaposition

pay attention to what Haydn does 
to the entire first section of the 
adagio ma non troppo, the third 
movement, with the recapitulation 
of the themes by introducing very 
magic in the superimposed 
peregrinations of the first violin,
to entirely enchant and exalt the 
original musical proposition

and that final exit in the last
movement, after so fiery a
rondo presto, urgent and 
even confrontational

but ever so brilliantly, in the last  
few moments, rendered courtly, 
respectful, deferential, indeed 
the very Classical spirit of 
Haydn


R ! chard

Dmitri Shostakovich – “Symphony No 4” in C minor, opus 43

portrait-of-joseph-stalin-iosif-vissarionovich-dzhugashvili-1936.jpg!Large

   “Portrait of Joseph Stalin (Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) (1936)

                   Pavel Filonov

                           _________

if you’ve been waiting for a Shostakovich 
to write home about among his early 
symphonies, here’s the one, his 
Symphony no 4 in C minor, opus 43 will
knock your socks off from its very 
opening gambit, have a seat, settle in, 
and get ready for an explosive hour

the Fourth was written in 1936, some 
years after the death of Lenin, and the 
instalment of Stalin as the supreme, 
and ruthless, authority, after several 
years throughout the Twenties of
maneuvering himself, cold-bloodedly,
into that position 

from Stalin, Death is the solution to 
all problems. No man – no problem.

fearing retribution after Stalin had 
criticized his recent opera, Lady 
Macbeth of Mtsensk“, Shostakovich 
cancelled the first performance of 
this new work, due to take place in 
December, ’36, others had already 
suffered internal exile or execution 
who had displeased the tyrant, a 
prelude to the infamous Great Terror

the Symphony was eventually played
in 1961, 25 years later, conducted by
no less than Kirill Kondrashin, who’d
partnered Van Cliburn a few years 
earlier in Cliburn’s conquest of Russia
but along with this time however the 
long-lived Leningrad Philharmonic 
Orchestra 

to a friend, I said, this is the biggest
thing since verily Beethoven, no one 
has so blown me away symphonically 
since then

he looked forward, he replied, to 
hearing it 

the Fourth Symphony has three distinct 
movements, to fit thus appropriately the 
definition of symphony, though the first 
and third have more than one section, 
something Shostakovich would have 
learned from already Beethoven, it gives 
the opportunity of experiencing a variety 
of emotions within one uninterrupted 
context, add several movements and 
you have a poignant, peripatetic musical 
journey, more intricate, psychologically 
complex, than many other even eminent
composers, Schubert, Chopin, 
Mendelssohn, even Brahms, for instance 

it’s helpful to think of film scores, and 
their multiple narrative incidents,
brimming with impassioned moments,   
however disparate, Shostakovich had 
already written several of them

let me point out that Shostakovich’s 
rhythms are entirely Classical, even 
folkloric in their essential aspects, 
everywhere sounds like a march, 
proud and bombastic, if not a 
veritable dance, peasants carousing,
courtiers waltzing, and repetition is
sufficiently present to not not 
recognize the essential music 
according to our most elementary
preconceptions

but the dissonances clash, as though 
somewhere the tune, despite its rigid 
rhythms, falls apart in execution, as 
though the participants had, I think,  
broken limbs, despite the indomitable 
Russian spirit

this is what Shostakovich is all about, 
you’ll hear him as we move along 
objecting, however surreptitiously,
cautiously, to the Soviet system, like 
Pasternak, like Solzhenitsyn, without 
ever, like them, leaving his country 
despite its manifest oppression, and 
despite the lure of Western accolades,
Nobel prizes, for instance, it was their 
home

and there is so much more to tell, but
first of all, listen

R ! chard