See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Zen Noir

One of my many pet peeves -- along with small children in restaurants, women who douse themselves in perfume, and bad unannounced fitness instructors -- is reading about some obscure art film that can't be found in Bumfuck, Egypt, which is just anywhere outside of New York or California. Until recently, such was the case with Zen Noir, an independent film by director Mark Rosenbush, evidently a friend of Brad Warner. Brad wrote about it in his blog in 2006, but at the time it was only available at selected screenings, and then on DVD by mail order from the website. But at some recent point, Netflix snuck it out, and I finally got to see it yesterday. If you're a Zen practitioner or anything close, it's a must-see.

Zen Noir was made on a low budget and shows it at times, but it's well done, quirky, funny, and remarkably true to Zen. As for the "Noir", the premise is that a down-and-out private detective is called to a zendo to solve a mysterious death. It's a comedy, and for the first few minutes, despite Brad's recommendation, I thought it was going to be reinforcing the stereotype of Zen teacher spouting meaningless conundrums; after a while I realized it was mocking those perceptions, including mine.

Of course there are problems with the film. If you do sit zazen, the first thing you'll notice is that none of the actors know how to do it correctly. They sit there with splayed legs, curved spines, and have their chins stuck out like suicidal rock-em-sock-em robots. I'm amazed at how this got past the director, since he is obviously no novice. The only thing I can think of is that the film claims inspiration by Thich Nhat Hanh, and from what I hear, the local group at least doesn't really do zazen. Other than that, pretty much everything rings true, in a surrealistic sense of course.

Normally I'm no fan of movies with a mission to expound any particular philosophy, including that of Zen (which does have one, though... well, see the previous blog entry). In terms of spirituality, I think filmmakers handle it better when they tell it as a story, like Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, or my own favorite of all time, The Razor's Edge. Usually, you wind up with total crap like What the Bleep Do We Know? (a badly concealed infomerical for some rip-off about some shitheads channeling a fake entity called Ramtha) or The Secret (for the extremely gullible). But don't get me started on the prophets of the New Age. Even in the fiction realm, you usually get stuff like The Peaceful Warrior, which makes Kung Fu look pretty damn profound.

But Zen Noir has the wisdom not to lecture us about Zen, but merely to suggest some of its unhidden secrets; and has the temerity to suggest that practice might be the key to understanding. Now it's hard to do Zen in a short (70-minute!) comedic film without the intimation of kensho, which rubs at my Soto parts, but this film is the best I've seen on the topic. It also has a commentary with the director and Brad Warner, which I admit I haven't listened to/watched yet, but it's waiting on my Ipod.

So watch this thing, and let me know what you think. Or come sit with us at the Nashville Zen Center on Tuesday night and tell me about it. The NZC web page hasn't been updated in a coon's age, but contact me for info or join the Yahoo group for notifications and information.

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