At left, DVD cover, George Harrison: Living in the Material World
I just loooooved Martin Scorsese's documentary about George Harrison, my favorite Beatle, incredible talent and just plain awesome individual. George introduced that old-time religion to the West, and for that, he got more karma points than you and I put together. The mind boggles.
I appreciated the film's emphasis on George's spiritual journey, which was given all proper and due respect; possibly for the first time I can recall. In most accounts, it's always been some variation of "ohhhhh there's goes dreamy George off with his Indian gurus again..."
What does it mean when someone has more money, fame, attention, sex, etc than most of us can contemplate in our wildest fantasies... and yet, still feels that something is missing? George's life is an enduring testament to spirituality-as-direct-experience, that I have always found very moving and intense.
"GEORGE!!!!!!!" -- screams, squeals; Daisy momentarily reverts to childhood.
After viewing the somewhat-interesting Another Earth, I watched the second movie from screenwriter-actress Brit Marling, titled The Sound of My Voice. Great premise, as with Another Earth... but my grandmother's phrase, too clever by half, comes to mind. The movie tries to have its cake and eat it too... the ending is something of a cheat, in my humble opinion... although very clever (too clever by half). Describing the movie further, is to jeopardize the story and the ending, although lots of people have.
Both of these indie movies are similar in that they are 1) weird, and 2) ponderous and thoughtful. But more than that, one gets the impression that everybody sat around brainstorming, figured out the boffo endings first and then WORKED BACKWARD. Both movies seem to work up to the 'surprise' endings, stacking the deck in ways that seem overly obvious in retrospect.
One of the strengths of truly surprising, beloved and inventive film-endings, is NOT stacking the deck, and hitting you upside the head all at once: BAM. Think: The Sixth Sense, Fight Club. You DID NOT see it coming, or only glimmers of it, and those delicious glimmers made you sufficiently curious to continue watching. In addition, these movies were not ALL ABOUT the endings, and in fact, people continue to talk about both movies without even referencing the endings. In short, you do not have to love the endings to enjoy both films, and plenty of people disliked the endings who nonetheless greatly enjoyed the movies as a whole.
I don't think that is possible for either Another Earth or The Sound of My Voice, in which one continues watching just to see their respective endings. The actual content of these movies tends to disappear into some kind of cinematic vortex, and the END is the whole thing. The tension is ratcheted up so high, one is watching just to get to the resolution of the grand puzzle; this viewer-disposition is likely due to the fact that they imagined the ending first, and worked backwards, filling in the blanks.
To briefly summarize, The Sound of My Voice is about a cult leader who claims to be from the future. Is she? Well? And you keep watching to find out. Do you actually find out? That is the pertinent question: I think it cheats and you don't, or do, or sorta-kinda both. Huh?
If this plot-line interests you, check it out. Apparently, this was originally planned as the first film in a trilogy, and I'd be lying to you if I said I wouldn't watch the sequels. In fact, the film makes sense as one of a trilogy, in the sense that it might not (in that case) be a total cheat, but I was still a little pissed. Excuse me, but that's 85 minutes I'd like to have back, if you are not going to answer the fucking question. Hmph! (And at this point, it is not clear that they will even be able to make the sequels.)
Hello, lovely Ms Marling and company, this is what SERIAL TELEVISION is for. Maybe you should go to HBO or somebody like that next time, instead of seeking all that attention at Sundance.
I was sufficiently blown away by Damien Echols' amazing prison memoir, "Life After Death", that I did most of a podcast about it. I certainly cannot do it justice. If I had to recommend one book for the year, this would be it.
How does one keep from losing one's mind and/or being eaten up with fury, while spending 18 years (half his life) on Arkansas's Death Row, for something you didn't do? Another deeply spiritual testimony. His repeated use of the word "magickal" (for those things that transcend everyday-life and take us elsewhere), is just perfect, and aptly conjures up that momentary experience for us. If not for the magickal, some of us would shrivel up and die... and Damien was forced to cultivate the magickal in small, seemingly-inconsequential things (correspondence and pencil-sketches) and almost-forgotten memories, such as old mud puddles and songs he hadn't heard in decades.
A lesser-soul would have been completely destroyed. Many men (and yes, they are men) are completely destroyed, and he tells us all about that, too.
An uncompromising, poetic, breathtaking account. Go read it. Now.
Ayn Rand and the World She Made was some great reading, providing us with a detailed year-by-year account of Rand's life. Biographer Anne Heller obviously admired Rand, and that gives us the kind of intensity an Objectivist would deliver. The sexual abuse of starry-eyed-young-acolyte turned self-esteem-theorist Nathaniel Branden, is offered here in bright primary colors, so all you fellow scandal-mongers take note. (PS: And who knew that the former Nathan Blumenthal changed his name to one that had Rand's name embedded within? The book is full of GREAT GOSSIPY DETAILS like that.)
I came away convinced that Rand was a lifelong amphetamine-addict, which explained many of the awful extremes in her personality, particularly her ongoing personal paranoia. The fact that she surrounded herself with idolizing sycophants means that nobody challenged this facet of her character; to challenge her was to be consigned to the outer darkness, and few of her Objectivist cult/crew dared to go there.
And therefore, like so many other famous people we can name, she just got worse.
The book succeeded in making me compassionate for Rand, both as an intelligent woman who was often not taken seriously and/or understood, and as a drug addict who did not realize what was happening to her.
This doesn't mean she wasn't a horrific and selfish person; she was. But now I understand why.
And speaking of karma, Rand has plenty to answer for. Her influence on our government and economy has been widespread and damaging, starting with her acolyte Alan Greenspan getting his bullshit ideas taken seriously (while Rand herself could not) and getting himself repeatedly hired and promoted as some kind of economic genius. You can easily clock the deep influence of Rand on the Republican Party, including the fact that one of her fanboys recently ran for Vice President.
If you are interested in a thoroughly fascinating individual, a cultural touchstone and influential life--check out the Heller biography. Of all the books I have read about Ayn Rand (several), this one is the most comprehensive, descriptive and fair.
Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan, is indeed extraordinary. If you are a baby-boomer who read the popular SYBIL by Flora Rheta Schreiber in the 70s (and it seems that everyone did) and/or watched the TV-movie starring Sally Field (ditto), THIS IS FOR YOU.
Nathan's investigative account is about the genesis of the book; the psychiatric fraud/fakery and therapeutic-abuse propagated for the sake of money (and goodness, it poured in like water!). One fascinating subplot includes the details of how various psychological 'syndromes' are popularized and then streak through the population like wildfire. (Remember how "multiple personality disorder" became all the rage, with respectable stories on "60 Minutes" and so on?) Hey, when there is big profit to be made, people always materialize to make it. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear... and we might add, when the disease is invented, the doctor/cure will likewise appear, right on cue. For a fee, of course.
I am often reticent to talk about my ongoing skepticism concerning various hip diagnoses going around: bipolar disorder, ADHD, ADD, Aspergers, and so forth and so on. Everybody is depressed all of a sudden. And I see commercials for drugs, drugs, drugs, and dollar-signs are all over them.
This book renewed my skepticism, and made me feel okay about it. Psychobabble and hip mental-states/Dx go through recognizable phases and turn into fads (especially if there is profit at stake)... and somehow (just like religion) psychology always manages to renew itself and stay above the fray it creates. These charlatans never have to answer for themselves, and thus, they never do.
This is one such amazing tale. Highly recommended.
Other good books I enjoyed this year--
 We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency by Parmy Olsen, was really wonderful. I picked it up and did not put it down; all deep-internet (as in DEEP SPACE) junkies will enjoy it immensely.
 As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Diaries 1964-1980 by Susan Sontag (which I first mentioned here) has continued to shape my thoughts, months later.
One incisive quote concerning the change-in-consciousness wrought by television (and of course, even more accurate in the internet-era), which I scribbled down:
As the images multiply, the capacity to respond diminishes.Yes.
 Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman, is well worth your time. Short version: it's even worse than you think it is.
 Millennium People, one of the last books by my favorite author, JG Ballard, which has only recently been published in the USA. WE MISS YOU, JAMES GRAHAM BALLARD!. Another excellent, related volume is JG Ballard: Conversations edited by V Vale, which has also been quoted here on DEAD AIR, at some length.
I return to it at regular intervals, to keep my sanity.
I am currently reading Teachings from the Medicine Buddha Retreat by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, which is some rather dense and heavy reading... the kind of density that makes you read and re-read the same few pages, until you are sure you get it. And even then, you probably won't get it.
This encyclical contains lots of what the Baptists would call vain repetitions. The litany-reading, rosary-reciting ex-Catholic in me grimaces at still more verbiage that I must repeat. (sigh) Seriously, is there NO END to it?
Then again, it got George Harrison through. He faced his death on his own terms, unafraid. And it got Damien Echols through 18 years in solitary confinement.
And who could ask for more?