Thursday, March 14, 2013

Glenn Gould's Bookend albums

My last blog post about Paul Auster's memoirs reminded me of the two versions of Bach's Goldberg Variations recorded by Glenn Gould: his 1955 debut album and the 1981 recording--done a year before the pianist's death.

Like the young Auster, the young Gould (in his early twenties) is brilliant and fascinating. He plays most of the thirty variations with speed, zeal and an intriguing accent, showing off a devilish charm of a math genius.

The most noticeable difference of the 1981 version from this earlier one is its tempo, which may appear to suggest that the once restless young musician slowed down later in life. But what is astonishing about Gould is the fact that age did not mellow him at all. To the contrary, his individuality seemed to have been sharpened over the years and became even more assertive while remaining equally bold. His strokes grew more articulate and his musical interpretations edgier. The unique characteristics of each variation is beautifully accentuated in his later interpretations.

Some of my favorite pieces in Goldberg Variations are the airy aria that initiates the variations, which is rendered particularly tender and contemplative in Gould's 1981 version and returns at the end of the whole set with an aching longing to stay on. Variation 15 is mournful, almost gloomy, but it never ceases to search for an answer, until the very end where it ascends to midair and simply evaporates. Variation 25, known as the "black pearl" of Goldberg Variation, is quietly Romantic, or passionately reflective, or perhaps both.  

As a note to self, Evan Eisenberg wrote an exquisite piece on Goldberg Variation on Slate. It's a pleasurable read.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Paul Auster's Bookend Memoirs

This winter, I read two memoirs by Paul Auster back to back. They were published approximately thirty years apart from each other. The first one, written in the third person narrative, launched the young writer's successful career; the second one, done in the second person narrative, contemplates about entering "the winter of your life." If the death of the writer's father and the end of a marriage instigated The Invention of Solitude, his mother's death and the bliss of his second marriage make up the backbone of Winter Journals.   

The first memoir, by the struggling writer in his early thirties, are edgier and more haunting; the second one feels mellower and more intimate.

Because I read 
the second one on a library copy, I'm adding some quote from the book here--as a memoir about a memoir, if you will: 

"You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen to everyone else."

“Some memories are so strange to you, so unlikely, so outside the realm of the plausible, that you find it difficult to reconcile them with the fact that you are the person who experienced the events you are ­remembering.”

"We are all aliens to ourselves, and if we have any sense of who we are, it is only because we live inside the eyes of others."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cinematic Perspectives in 'There Will Be Blood'

Watching There Will Be Blood for the second time, I was particularly impressed by the long narrative distance P.T. Andersen places between the viewer and the character(s).

The opening sequence of the film observes the struggle of the oil worker with a documentarian detachment, which reminds me of the opening of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey depicting the battle of apes. The tense modern score almost forced upon these scenes make the whole experience stranger than looking at the world through the eyes of an alien being.

This sets a perfect tone for what follows. Throughout the film, the camera examines the character from afar rather than inviting the viewer into his internal world. Daniel Day-Lewis's acting style cooperates perfectly with this. His Daniel Fairview is a man who wears calcified mannerisms like a mask stuck to his surface.

This general style--of distancing--is brought to the extreme in a few refreshingly jarring moments. In a scene where Daniel tries to save his son from a burning drilling rig, the film suddenly and uncharacteristically takes Daniel's point of view (or should I say his point of "hearing") by going completely silent to emulate his aural experience after an explosion, but then quickly pulls us out of his perception to a strict third person point of view, giving us an almost physical sense of separation between Daniel's and our experiences.

In another truly bizarre scene, Daniel embraces his son in an intimate gesture, but we see it only from far away across the vastness of the wilderness while his voice speaks right into our ears. This mind-boggling mix of intimacy and alienation demands our attention and highlights the difference between being there and being here.

Even when the story progresses and the camera starts taking more conventional approach, occasionally going closer to the characters, we are kept on our toes. A good example is the scene where Daniel speaks with the man who had misled him to believe he was his brother. At this moment of heightened emotional intensity, Daniel is photographed from such a strange angle that his face is almost hidden and we can barely catch the tense grimace at the edge of his face.

There Will Be Blood strikes me as an astounding experiment on cinematic perspectives and a true feat. Even the title of the film is steeped in dramatic irony--it reminds us of the epistemic gap between the characters, who are living though their lives, and us, who gaze at the events through the distance of time.