Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"You have to have a little faith in people"

This is a line from Woody Allen's movie Manhattan.  I think Mariel Hemingway's character says it to Woody Allen's character.

I bring this up because Gordon Willis, cinematographer nonpariel, died a couple of days ago, and Manhattan was one of his masterpieces.  So too, if we're counting, was The Godfather.  This is the opening scene ...

Which actually starts at the :45 mark, if you're not interested in the titles.  I love the business with the cat.  I'd forgotten that part.

But that's not what we're here for.  We're here because I want you to look at this image from Manhattan ...

And read this bit of prose ...

It might have been midnight.  We were sitting on a park bench not too far, oddly enough, from Le Cygne Noir, staring across the dark surface of the canal at Cholon.  
She slid her hand gently up and down the inside of my arm.  
“No, Jebby.  It’s okay,” she said quietly.  “I think I was half-zonked through most of it.”
On both shores an assortment of boats gently rose and fell in accordance with the laws of nature, illuminated from above by the street lamps that lined the banks and from below by the reflective iridescence of the water.  In front of us a woman appeared on the deck of her junk and pulled up a small net.  A handful of fish caught the light as they thrashed.  A bit of fireworks filled the sky a ways down-river.  A woman with her hair pulled back in a ponytail jogged by, ear buds in place.  It was beautiful.

All of Saigon was beautiful, really, if you looked.

The first being Willis' most iconic image.  The second you will, of course, recognize as an excerpt from "Saigon: Too Big To Fail."

One of the fundamental themes of which is portraying Saigon in 1969 the way Woody Allen portrays Manhattan in 1970.  Or Scott Fitzgerald Paris in 1922.  The idea being that you can draw a bright line from the bridge scene in Manhattan to the canal scene in S2B2F.  I tell you this because part of why people read The Year of Magical Painting is to glimpse the underbelly of the creative process.  To taste the flat, coppery taste of terror without actually biting your tongue.  To feel the nausea burn the back of your throat without worrying that you might actually have to throw up.  This is my gift to you, you rear-echelon mother fuckers.

It should be noted that the above shot was designed for the movie poster ...

The actual shot is wider and significantly darker ...


"They don't know it's like jumping off a 12-story building every day"
--Willem de Kooning


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