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I was unrolling and spreading flat my last week in San Francisco with the side of my hand. If I am ever again as unhappy as I was during my San Francisco years, I hope it is because I am being tortured for information which I heroically refuse to release. Every hour of the last week is in my memory.

I went to see a Jodorowsky movie. I rode the bus. Black sky, fog like a car compactor. The Muni jingling inside itself and the laser gun pluck of its pole on the wires it ran along. Mostly empty and some warm humans leaning.

At the little shopping center in the black. Wide shallow stairs. An empty fountain. I asked the man at the theater window if there were any tickets left. He gave me the look people gave me back then. Clothed against the cold, I’m sure I looked like a Christmas gift wrapped by six-year-old Laura Ingalls Wilder in rabbit fur and rope. The corners of the empty fountain, white at the L and black in the mouth.

Big chocolate and a big bottle of water. Slid down, my knees against the seat in front of me. A few human bodies like clothes in a dim closet. Somebody was smoking. In the movie Jodorowsky as a boy comes to a cliff in pain. Jodorowsky the man comes behind him and embraces himself, grips himself across the breast and they roll in pain and comfort. They roll from the strength of the feet of the man like wire spun in a fist. The movement is skilled and knowledgeable; and this skill acted as proof for the idea and the scene and the act. The skill of the man’s movement and the man’s feet was the veracity of his claim.

Outside the theater, the sound of the sky and the shopping center was like the thick ground above subway. Concrete the breadth of a state. The density of a state of land if the state were a body of a human. Air like a soundproof room.

You sons of snakes, have you got told / to run before you get what’s yours?

Here comes John, clavicle first. Seventeen years old, big head. The starvation round his mouth makes him look like he is always smiling. He points with his finger straight from his voice – his prophecy, accurate or inaccurate, is honest prophecy, which is to say it is descriptive. Aesthetically he might be telling, “this here is the American bullfrog”.

Abruptly John-Baptist stops walking and gets up into the low tree, blue knees hanging. It’s shady in the tree. He holds a balancing tree limb and his walking stick in the same hand. His fingers crawl like unique animals against every important side of the tree and his baton. John prophesies from the tree for a while then sits without speaking, swinging his feet past the air to cool them down.

donatello john

Head

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My feet are bleeding because I wear heels wherever I go and because also I walk wherever I go. You can’t tell, because my shoes are red and my toes are painted red.

The blue sky is pressed between the walls, and the walls shine. The shutters are open. “Madonn’,” invite the men, leaning toward me. That dense and best name. “Oh Maria.”

I have a lover who sweetly asked me at lunch some days before I left, did I hope to find a holiday lover? “You can be honest with me. Do you fantasize?” I am and have always been a plug gone half in the socket, snapping white.

There is a John by Giuliano Vangi striding beside the Arno, opposite the Arno’s flow, pointing and speaking. Addled, restless, and open-mouthed.

I walk at a good clip in every country and I hurry in the Tuscan hills and I hurry in the city. My Los Angeles lover goes like sparkling rain over the landscape and crosses orange buildings like light and shadow. Men say “Bella, bella donna, bella donna.”

– all over the country which seems, unlike any other place I have been to, populated by woken people. They seem to be people like me and therefore I say woken. Maybe it is untrue or unfair but to my particular soundlength I say and it seems to me that the whole of America is shut and not listening and making no sound.

Here is the brown Arno and John putting his foot down – “Madonn’,” sighs the policeman with his big gun.

I am at San Marco understanding beauty and I wonder what it is I ought to do and asking at the fresco of the two thieves to do what I wish to do, well and virtuously – for all this time I have gone as I would, and not glad, sullen and pushy and hurt.

Brown clean halls and Brother Angel’s lines, and –

across the whole wakefulness of time and history, all the cactus’ open rose flowers, the standing eels, the black cobras’ hoods, split papayas and their black seeds, feet stretching their toes, the filled cup and the water in the well and the sea at the top of the sea, which is white like the light at the socket –

Passion

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I think of the Catholic body. Lately I think of the hobbies and pass-times at which people become excellent simply because of practice over sufficient time. To become excellent – at anything – is to be made better, made virtuous. That we’re made better by love –

I think of the body in the Catholic church and hanging in the Catholic church. And the body in the Catholic artwork and in the Catholic imagination. In Florence I am surrounded. In my own life, the martyr in the children’s book – the suffering body and the dead body, and the dying God and the dead God, on the wall and on the neck and called more habitually into thought than perhaps those who aren’t Catholic perceive. There is a museum-going practice which must be common to Catholics but which I never considered before now, crowded as I said I am at this moment by Florentine Catholicism: that of reflexively entering something like the Stations or the Mysteries in front of Catholic art.

Half-consciously fingering for a way into the scene, a habitual devotional exercise – habitual, and so distinct from the perfectly natural practice of deciding to imagine what an art-character must be feeling and distinct also from the transport one sometimes experiences caught up by art. This happens instead the way compulsive reckoning of floor dimensions happens to the carpet-layer in any new room.

Catholicism fosters this kind of habit more than the Protestantisms. The Protestants don’t have the practice of repeated prayers nor the kind of ritual which gets the body kneeling without processed consideration. I understand why this might seem distasteful or even immoral to a Protestant or moreso to a person without religion. I understand how this horror can exist in people who share some of my outlooks in part because I understand that my own Catholicism might put off other Catholics. My Catholicism may be heretical; certainly the basilica which asked to me to spend mass with a modesty-smock shoveled over my clothing would say I am in the wrong.

Habits run on honest circuits: I don’t think it’s possible to form a dishonest habit. There is a unique holy humility in habits, I think, since habits spring from the defenseless part of the mind which can only do what seems right for survival, and I am sure that the things which are least protected are the holiest. The circuit along which my religious habit runs is sensual and sexual, like the rest of my empathies. This is what I have and this is what I bring and this is the way I come in – by love into the dead God, by going again and again into the dying God made good at that kind of going, and by that excellence made better, refined.

Scusi, Prego, Grazie

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At the country station in the chilly morning. There is blue air on the trees on the mountains. Behind the rise above the station, invisible, a drunk is lowing. I can’t see him. The rise is absolutely locked with vines and low shade plants.

I don’t speak the language. In the train along the way, over the windows of farmland and blade-white water parting the farmland like hair, I watch the language center of my brain lose its reason. Green 8-bit phosphor rolls out words from every language I have ever heard. BITTE, it sends. No, I say. There is a pause and my brain keys back, and more slowly, green by green, B I T T E.

In the city I use my three words thick and arbitrarily. My French, my only language approaching something like the incarnation of my English, mostly hides from me. It pulls itself into a wall jam and jerks its shoulder away when I grab for it.

I wait for a ride at the end of the day against an orange wall in a tight street. I stand in my socks beside my shoes. Before me, on another orange wall, open screenless windows, and the shadow inside the windows and the sky on their ice-cube glass. Swallows, their calls like tongs on dishes, dive and loop and go up over the blue sky between walls and over the walls and the windows, amongst each other and in wheels.

Creature

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I had my first job the autumn I was seventeen. A friend got me in. I played a monster at a theme park’s Halloween event.

Through the staff entrance, under the roller coaster: in the morning, before the park opened, the coaster cars ran empty, stampeding down to your head and up again. Later a human scream would swing over you: a group scream, female in composite, down and up.

My little team worked in Hollywood town. One day my colleague tipped facefirst off a fence and smashed his wrist, leaving my boss and me alone together for the rest of the season. Decades apart, fiddling and mostly silent. My boss was friendly with the freaks. They would stroll round for a visit and he would cheer up. The freaks were really freaks, an independent business of two which the company would rehire each fall – the big man put pins into the little one’s ribs or something like that. They leaned in our trailer and rode swinging their ankles on the end of our parade trolley. Big man meat-armed, a backcountry goatee; little man white like a pitbull, wore a glass eye.

Park events are subcontracted to theatrical companies: this company specialized in disaster recreation for emergency professionals and also fright amusements. It called its fright actors the Creature Crew. The company owner rode white-bearded and weed-smiling in a golf cart between towns; my boss anxiously shook his hand. “Put something on her,” said the owner when the cold hit. My boss hooked a fur over me.

The gate to Hollywood town burbled dry ice at an extraordinary volume. Standing with my boss in the fat clouds – dry ice smells of maple syrup. It ground up our throats and lowered our voices. One of us instituted a policy that we would limit our exposure to a certain number of minutes: my boss set his watch. We stood beside the spookhouse, whose outer walls shook with the noise inside.

“What are you?” asked visitors angrily.

“Action!” said my boss, smacking his clapperboard. I waved.

“You’re not scary,” visitors replied.

At the start, I came to work wearing my school clothes. Eventually I began to wear my black dress to and from the park. This gave me time enough to nap on the couch in the trailer before putting on my makeup. My makeup did not take long: I painted my face white with purple eye cavities and a Clara Bow mouth. “Smooth it out,” said my boss. “Huh?” I said. My boss took a sponge and touched cold makeup onto my cheek. He knit his brow.

We took our breaks in a frigid shed. Its shelves were lined with Daffy Duck character heads. We sat kitty-corner to one another on folding chairs. My boss rose and bent to look at the beetle at the center of the floor, on its back and winding its black legs. My boss crouched and carefully turned the beetle over. He returned to his chair and sat, lacing his hands.