I’ve been dragging my feet on this one; it’s a sad and complex movie. I think of the three films in the BRD trilogy this is the most dispiriting, the most enervated, the most torn. It’s shot in Sirk-esque Technicolor, which seems to point simultaneously forward to a bright future and back to a melodramatic swamp in the past. It draws its storyline from von Sternberg’s Blue Angel, which again seems to suggest both evolution/transformation and the idea that nothing is new under the sun. An optimistic and aboveboard building inspector moves to town, prepared to take on corruption and get the city’s fathers to conduct business honestly. But there’s no hope; everyone is who they are. Whores are whores and crooks are crooks. We might enjoy the ideas of progress and enlightenment, but they’re really just fantasies, fan dancers in the nightclub of history. A beautiful tragedy on par with Fassbinder’s best.
Well this is just terrific. Montaigne can come across as requiring no interpretation, since the essence of his m.o. is to appear artless, but Bakewell’s efforts to place him in his historical, cultural, and literary contexts were for me both supremely helpful and thoroughly delightful. I was particularly engaged by her concise sketches of the Greek philosophers from whom Montaigne drew his inspirations, and the way she traced his reception by different audiences over the centuries, from Descartes’ horror at his nonchalance to our contemporary thrall over the idea of him as a proto-Modernist bricoleur. Every age decides afresh what he means, while he continues to contain his multitudes. I’m sure scholars will find this book a bit breezy, but for a middlebrow like me it was a joy. Bakewell’s got a great sense of humor, too, and a very inviting and engaging style. I have to note too what a hoot it was to read in the late going Bakewell’s amused account of one of Tom Conley’s rakish riffs on Montaigne. It involves teats, turrets, and a wolf. I’m not going to list any other specific pleasures because I’m stealing them all for future poems and I don’t want you to figure out that I didn’t just make them up on my own. (I’m as much a magpie as Montaigne, but not nearly as willing to own up to it.)
It’s not a fancy idea. Renaldi approaches people, asks them if they’re willing to pose touching a strangers, and then he photographs them with his 8×10 view camera. But I do love a lot of these. Moral of the story would probably be something like it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it. The series is here.