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

Monday, March 23, 2009

Roxy Saint

I, like a lot of people, discovered L.A. musician/filmmaker/actress Roxy Saint on Zombie Strippers, a brilliant zombie movie parody (featuring Jenna Jameson as a Nietzche-reading lead dancer, that really deserves it own blog). Roxy plays Lilith, the Goth stripper, and I was drawn to her when I noticed that a couple of the soundtrack songs were credited to her. In the movie, Roxy has a powerful screen presence, and I wanted to see more.

I wanted to put this blog entry up last week, but I was split between two videos -- "Rebel" above, which is my favorite song from the Underground Personality Tapes, her 2004 dvd movie/video collection, or "Firecracker" below, which is my favorite video from the collection. I elected to open with the hook. But watch "Firecracker" to see what she does with video.

I can't resist the dark power of these videos. Roxy fronts an L.A. based band, and appears to be about to come out with another release; check her out on her site, or the videos on YouTube; the aforementioned dvd is available through Netflix.

Roxy Saint represents the hottest, sexiest aspect of the sex, drugs, rock and roll, vampire goth porn culture, that strangely enough sends to find its best expression on the streets of Hollywood, amongst the palm trees. I wish I knew more about Roxy, but you'll have to research along with me. Here's the antidote to your Sunday morning church or your puffy cloud Buddhism. The videos of Roxy Saint are a good way to make your way through the world of darkness alive and still make it to work on Monday morning. Just make sure to wipe the bloodstains off your oxford cloth. Enjoy!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Olympia: Remember the Body

I think that probably the stupidest criticism of any movie I've seen in that of the reviewers who have claimed that Leni Riefensthal's movie Olympia is fascist because it glorifies physicality. I've actually seen that. I mean, the movie is a documentary of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, obviously held in Nazi Germany three years before the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of war in Europe. Obviously, the Nazis are in full parade. and in fact the film was commissioned by Hitler to glorify his party and his people. And it's understandable if the modern viewer is made uncomfortable, even if fascinated, by the marching soldiers and the ever-present swastikas. The film features quite a few shots of a smiling, healthy-looking Hitler who was obviously enjoying himself, laughing and cheering the sports. Without the hindsight of history, and the images of the later, depraved and desperate-looking Hitler we're used to seeing, the film wouldn't be quite as... strange.

But it's a beautiful film. As I mentioned in the previous blog, Riefenstahl's movies were all commissioned directly by Hitler himself, and were made free of oversight of the Goebbels propaganda machine, which turned out a fairly lifeless product. At this point I've only seen the first part of the movie, which is quite lengthy and was released in two parts. Olympia: Festival of the Nations is a full two hours long and ends with the marathon. But it's another piece of Riefenstahl's genius. It opens with a lengthy video montage which begins with the ruins of the Parthenon and builds through classic statuary of the athletes of the Greek games, and movies to artful sequences with models representing the modern athletes (or maybe the athletes themselves, I'm not sure. Riefenstahl, an athlete herself who qualified to represent Germany in cross-country skiing but opted to make the film instead, appears uncredited as one of the nudes). I would've posted a video from YouTube, but the only version I could find was re-cut with Vangelis in lieu of the original music, and I think this art deserves to be seen, as made.

As everyone knows, the Nazi's intended this Olympics to serves as propaganda for the German race, and the irony is that it was the success of Black American athlete Jesse Owens which was its big story. The Germans do well, though. And I've seen nothing in the film derogatory of the other races involved. The marathon which closes part I was won by the Japanese, with a Brit in second. In view of Riefenstahl's work as a whole, I find it hard to believe that she was a racist. A thrall of Hitler, yes, as were many, until disillusioned by later events. But it's pretty clear to me that at least for the artist, this film - which is indeed art - was a celebration of the athletic celebration of the human body, a subject to which Riefenstahl was quite close, and that was for her, as it should be for all of us, a celebration of the human spirit.

I can't let this go without mentioning that this film, a good fifteen years before TV, was the advent of modern sports coverage. You really should see it, for its groundbreaking methods as well as for its artistic beauty, and for its fascination as history. It takes you into a part of the life and the soul of 1936 quite unlike anything else I've seen. And it leads me to want to investigate further certain oddities - why no Russian athletes? And anything that motivates us to reduce our ignorance is worth our attention.

And, to get back to that idiotic reviewer's comment with which I opened: It's a sad critique of our intelligentsia that someone could say that a celebration of athleticism is fascist. And it's said that anyone could hear this without being offended, as a human living in a human body. I'm no athlete, but I do work out frequently for the pure joy and immediateness of the human experience. I've been doing various forms of cardio since about 1986 when I was 28; at any age when a lot of people are starting to let themselves go to seed, I truly got in shape for the first time in my life, and experienced a level of consciousness, awareness and benign brain chemistry that I've tried to maintain, more successfully at some times than at others. When I've lost that practice, things go badly wrong. Just recently, I've thrown a good part of my energy in that direction, and with the resulting new clarity of mind, am not surprised that the rest of my life has improved. I've been doing yoga for about nine years, not because I'm good at it, but because I'm bad at it. It's the experience of being here, now, that comes from becoming our bodies rather than just inhabiting them, that makes the human experience a true one.

The longer I practice zazen, the more I am struck by the experience of no longer living in my head, but in my body and in the world around me. Personally, I think the value of a good exercise program, one which involves meaningful movement rather than just flailing to work the heart muscle, is underestimated in Zen, and that any good retreat should involve some yoga or some dance or some martial arts or step aerobics or something just to shake the head and body loose and keep us aware. Sadly, many of us who are drawn to philosophy and its kins are so dominated by logos, by the demon Language, that we can't experience ourselves and our worlds in any other way. If it were up to me, we'd throw the books in the fire and learn to tango. Haven't you had enough words?

I just noticed that Olympia: Festival of Beauty has gone, between yesterday and now, to "unavailable" on Netflix. The censorship continues; alas, I have to buy another beautiful film from Amazon.

So, if you can find a copy, go see this amazing work of art. And get some exercise. Truly live in yourself and in your world. Shut up. Touch something.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Leni Riefenstahl

I stumbled into the remarkable life, art and career of somehow on the internet, and saw a remarkable biopic about her before I saw the full versions of any of the films she made. I write this blog entry with some trepidation, not having seen the films for which she is best known and most infamous - Triumph of the Will, her record of the 1934 Nazi party Congress in Nuremberg, widely known as the most powerful film ever made; and Olympia, her documentary of the 1936 Olympics (which, as you may or may not recall, were held in Berlin and featured the amazing Black American athlete Jesse Owens). I decided to go ahead and write this before seeing those films, based on The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993) and two of the films she directed which are, uh, less controversial, and try to reserve my judgment on those other works til I've seen them in their entirety.

I'm wondering if Leni is one of those artists whose biography ultimately overshadows her art. Her life story is in itself fascinating. The first link above is an excellent wiki bio, but to summarize: Leni was born in Berlin in 1902, and not only saw but was a part of, an amazing period in history. She started as a dancer, and attracted the attention of German director Arnold Fanck, who after he found her made her the star of most of his films. Most of early early acting career was in silents, of course. She specialized in a genre known as mountain films. It's fascinating to watch clips from those movies and realize that she did her own mountain-climbing and that all of those scenes are real!

What amazes me is how quickly Leni rose on her own; with Fanck's help and learning from his style, she begun to direct her own films - in the 1930's The first film she directed is the most beautiful black and white film I have seen to date, bar none. If she had done nothing else, Leni should be revered for The Blue Light (Das Bleu Licht), a 1932 film she directed and in which she plaid the lead role. The Blue Light is a fairy tale set of course in the mountains; based on an old German fairly tale which was later incorporated by the Brothers Grimm, it concerns a girl who is perceived as a witch by villagers, who lives high in the mountains in a cave of beautiful blue crystals. Her contact with the villagers leads to the ruin of all, and is seen by some as a foretelling of the then imminent future of Europe. Probably not, but it is truly gorgeous.

Like most Germans in the 1930's, Leni was enamored with emerging politician Adolph Hitler. This is not the place for a discussion of the historical and socio-economic inevitability of Hitler's rise; the parallels between 1930's Germany and the current world situation are way too much for this little article. The uncontroverted story goes that Hitler was also a fan of The Blue Light, and upon meeting Leni, he asked what her goal was. She replied that she wanted to make great films. Hitler replied, "I want you to make them for me." And to all indications, she did.

Leni is known by some as the Mother of Modern film. From what I've seen of Olympia, I can understand how it changed the filming of sports (and thus modern sport itself) forever. The reason I haven't seen Triumph of the Will is that it isn't available on Netflix. Amazing how we, in our supposedly free society, will censor a film on the basis that it was propaganda for a political party and a government that we see (justifiably, of course) as opposed to freedom! Are the folks at Netflix truly afraid that Hitler will rise again, based on this film? That must be some amazing propaganda! I understand that the entire 1934 Nuremberg rally was staged around the film itself - I can't wait to see it.

Leni herself denied that she was an active Nazi, the girlfriend or collaborator of Hitler. It's certainly true that if you were a German in that period, if Hitler wanted you to make films, you either made films or ran like hell. And if you're the true artist that Leni was, if you're going to have to make a propaganda film, you'll make the best damn propaganda film you can.

From her bio's (and I intend to read more, as I intend to see more, as my fascination is ongoing), history disputes Leni's lack of complicity. The reports indicate that she was starstruck by Hitler and continued to support him well into the war. On the other hand, her career as a war correspondent for the Nazis ended abruptly when she protested the abuse of some Polish peasants (if you weren't a favorite of Hitler, that kind of protest got you dead). Another interesting point: all Nazi propaganda including films was under the aegis of Goebbels, but Leni was responsible to Hitler only. Thus the massive budgets and films made carefully with time and care.

Leni was widely seen as a Nazi collaborator, though cleared as such by the tribunals after the War. She was banned by Hollywood and by film companies worldwide, and never released a film after the War until Tiefland, made during the War but not released until 1954. Tiefland is another very visually interesting film, made under the harshest and most bizarre of historical circumstances. Its filming moved from Spain where it was set back to Germany, for obvious reasons when War broke out. Leni herself plays the leading role -- remember that she was around 40 at the time -- which was obviously written for a much younger actress, because all the actresses she wanted were unavailable. It's a disappointing, although very interesting film, mostly for that reason of casting. Leni has also been reviled for this film because when she requested extras, she got concentration camp inmates, most of whom later died at Auschwitz. She denied this, and how much she knew at the time of course will always be unclear.

Despite the ultimate blacklisting, Leni lived on until she died of natural causes just after her 102nd birthday, in Germany. In her middle age, she had turned to still photography and produced a remarkable body of work on the Nuba, an African tribe she adopted. Her last film was of undersea creatures.

I really can't recommend the aforementioned biopic enough, for a portrait of a remarkable woman. Leni got her scuba-diving certification at the age of 70 by lying and saying she was 50. As an athlete and an artist, a strong person from a strong time who emerged as the strong female that even Camille Paglia probably never had the guts to praise as a ground-breaking feminist, Leni's place in my personal pantheon is ensured. I'll let you know more after I see some more films, read some more books.

Interesting, one of the works I keep running across in my research on Leni is a book called The Films of Leni Riefenstahl, by David Hinton, a professor (and I believe, Dean of Students) at the Watkins Film Institute (or whatever it's called now), here in Nashville. Mr. Hinton, whom I know somewhat, is also a leader of a Buddhist group here, and I intend to try to pursue a discussion on the subject with him when I eventually get further into my research on this fascinating artist. I'll let you know.

Friday, March 06, 2009


Well, since I posted here last I've gotten enough of the things done to which I'd (over-) committed myself, to at last do a few things for myself. The much-debated and agonized-over Nashville Zen Center website is now up, warts and all. Yeah, I stretched the pics. Deal with it. Where's your website? But at last, with the help of someone who understands the tech, I managed to use some free software where it wasn't supposed to go and created a dark and timely expression of what we feel to be our group's true nature. So go see the original face of the NZC.

Our April retreat is now for real. It's set for April 10 - 12 at Penuel Ridge Retreat Center, near Ashland City. Brad Warner has committed to being there pretty much the whole time, and to stay over for a book-signing at Davis-Kidd the Monday after. I'm pretty sure he'll be more than willing to sign copies of Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma (his third book) - or I'm sure the other two). Plus, our own teacher, Taiun Michael Elliston, Sensei, from the ASZC, will be around for the last part of the retreat and initiate some brand new (or used) Buddhists. If you're interested in the retreat, which involves 7 to 9 hours a day (at least) of zazen, you'd better let somebody know soon.

Plus, I got sucked into doing some financial stuff for the NZC, and let me warn you now: whatever else you do, if you're thinking about opening a bank account, DO NOT do it at Bank of America. They lie to you, and they suck ass. Consider yourself warned.

By the way, the NZC MySpace page is up and running. So come be our friend. You don't even have to practice. Your loss.

Oh, yeah. My own life. My job has actually gotten tolerable, as jobs go. And in this economy, that's OK. I'm pretty lucky; most of my friends still have jobs, and the ones who don't aren't trying too hard. I'm pretty tired of trying to help people who don't want to be helped, with jobs or otherwise. It's your life; live it.

I've been trying to tell people for several years now that things were going to get Different. Strange. But most of them kept living in their heads, breathing in flowers, breathing out kittens. The one day you run out of puppies and kittens. Now what?

But when I have to do too much of this stuff which is external to the core of my life, no matter how rewarding it may be, my own life suffers. I'm not gonna miss any more workouts (back to the hated YMCA; I love my instructors, hate the institution) or any more morning zazen. The main mistake that most of my smarter friends, and sometimes I myself tend to make is, they tend to live in their heads. Live in your body. I've got a lot of slack to make up in that regard. I was quite aware of it not so long ago, but life needs constant tending.

What else can I say? I'm gonna try to blog more, but I don't feel like political rants at the moment, and the Zen stuff is what it is. I'm trying to read a book which is a dialogue between a bunch of scientists and philosophers and the Dalai Llama because my Zen teacher recommended it to me. So far both sides are a full of crap; we'll see if it improves. I was much better off reading Njal's Saga. So read that, and watch Tideland and Zombie Strippers. I'm sure I'll be more verbose later, after these blisters heal....

Oh, and you must start downloading and listening to Aural Apocalypse. Music for the Final Days. More on that later.

Oh, and here's some Zombie Strippers for ya.