Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Here's To Looking At You, Mr. Kane: An Exploratory Comparison of "Citizen Kane" and "Casablanca" [ENLG 1205H]

While both CASABLANCA and CITIZEN KANE are excellent films, when it comes to battling it out for the title of my “favorite,” KANE easily emerges the victor. Each is magnificent in its own respect, and while I understand the reasoning behind those who argue for the films’ similarity to one another, I believe that it is their disparities that provides the best contrast  between them.

CASABLANCA is riveting, but, of course, so is CITIZEN KANE. While the former’s brilliance in this respect revolves predominantly around the proverbial “axis of evil” (personified by the Nazi presence and the shady dealings of the power- and money-hungry black marketeers) and the multifaceted struggle of the protagonists against it, KANE’s suspensefulness is less overt and builds much more effectively than that employed in CASABLANCA. Fall Out Boy’s outstanding 2006 song “Of All the Gin Joints in All the World,” exquisitely explores the clandestine and tortured romance shared between Ricky and Ilsa:
You only hold me up like this
‘Cause you don't know who I really am
I used to waste my time on
Waste my time on
Waste my time dreaming of being alive
(now I only waste it dreaming of you)”

“Turn off the lights and turn off the shyness
‘Cause all of our moves make up for the silence
And oh, the way your makeup stains my pillowcase
Like I'll never be the same”

The mystery and romance of CASABLANCA provides the backbone of its enjoyability and quality from a critical perspective. CITIZEN KANE’s mystery and misery take entirely different forms and succeed in eliciting a similar emotional palate from the audience as we watch the protagonists’ hopes and dreams being rended in twain. CASABLANCA wrenches this emotional response from the viewer; CITIZEN CANE only coaxes it, and in doing so succeeds in being a much more evocative masterpiece.

The themes of honesty and trustworthiness explored with the omnipresent undertone of an unnerving lack of certainty about the motivations and identities of the characters themselves provides for a somewhat similar backdrop shared by both films, but, once again, CITIZEN KANE succeeds in portraying this in a more effective manner by making it less apparently manifest in the dialogue.

As I must reiterate, KANE is the better film in my view, but this sentiment should in no way cause the reader to draw inaccurate conclusions in regard to my respective view of CASABLANCA. CASABLANCA is indeed a superb gem of the silver screen. It is, however unfortunately, a gem just a few carats short of CITIZEN KANE.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Great, but Not the Greatest: A Brief Essay on Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" [ENGL 1201H]

    There was so much about CITIZEN KANE to appreciate. The film is well made in all respects, especially in comparison to many of the other (often lackluster) films of the era. What really jumped out at me first and foremost was the very unorthodox and active, for lack of a better word, cinematography. The fact that much of the film itself acts as a frame tale for exploring the various vignettes from Kane's life provided great opportunity for this approach. While I have noticed that overly-animated and distractingly involved scene-to-scene transitions were legion in many films (and especially film trailers) in the infancy of film and certainly up to
through the 1940s, I was pleased to see that CITIZEN KANE did not employ any such overzealous techniques; rather, I felt that the well-executed fades and contrast cuts served to perfectly transition between the present and the windows into Kane's past.
    Apart from the "mechanics" of the film, the story itself was certainly good. Keeping the audience in perpetual, frustrated ignorance as to the significance of "Rosebud" until almost the very end of the picture was on one level maddening yet it provided for a very satisfying "ah ha!" moment there at the end when we are not told outright what it meant, but given the shot of the sled being slowly incinerated, allowing us to figure it out for ourselves. This was (to me, at least) much more fulfilling as a viewer than simply being spoon-fed the answer. Charles Foster Kane is (rather, was, I should say) a driven, obstinate, legend of a man who is portrayed perfectly by Welles. This is due, in part, I believe to that fact that Welles created the character himself. Nobody knew Mr. Kane better than his literary progenitor, so who better to bring him to life?
   It is easy to see why so many hold CITIZEN KANE in such a high regard. The film was ahead of its time on its every facet. It openly and unabashedly explored the American obsession with yellow journalism, it portrayed political scandal and marital infidelity, and it honestly examined the meaning of a life that was in every respect "larger than life" itself.
    Yes, I enjoyed CITIZEN KANE a great deal, but I cannot honestly say that I would go so far as to call it the greatest film of all time. Even in my limited experience, I seriously doubt that it would even make it into my Top 10 list. Film has come a long way since 1941, and while I don't think that Kane can hold a candle to Oskar Schindler, Tevye, or Jean Valjean, if I were myself watching it in 1941, I can say with confidence that it would easily top my list.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Modern Cryonics in Theory and Practice

Modern Cryonics in Theory and Practice

A brief informational lecture by Jackson David Reynolds, CPT given on Monday, November 5, 2012 in Professor Jerry Drye's Communications class at Dalton State College.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Loaded Gun Can Never Whimper: Exploring the Human Side of Dickinson’s “My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -” (English 1102)

The words of Dickinson’s “My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -” reverberate in my mind not for their intrinsic power or wit, but rather for their maddening ambiguity throughout.

My Life had stood - a Loaded gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried me away -

The opening stanza of the poem paints a relatively clear and potentially metaphorical picture: the speaker either is a personified firearm, or rather (and I’d say much more likely so) the speaker feels that his or her life is best metaphorically portrayed as that of a loaded weapon - a gun not particularly cherished, but serviceable to its master nonetheless. Plodding along into the second stanza, things are still acceptably clear cut. The image of the rifle seems to become a bit more literal, but as it does so, the undercurrent desire of the speaker to feel important to, and some sense of camaraderie with the gunman, as emphasized by Dickinson’s characteristic unorthodox capitalization, becomes more pronounced.

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him -
The Mountains Straight reply -

The personification of the mountains’ echo serves, in my mind, to further romanticize the picture painted in this stanza, which is one of the speaker envisioning him, or more likely I’d say herself, as a literal gun being used for the purposes of literal predation on the part of the huntsman. Elements of nature such as the “Doe” and “Sovereign Woods” are emphasized as sacred by the speaker through capitalization just as the speaker’s aforementioned desire after personal import is, with the capitalized emphasis on both “We” and “Him.”

It is only once the third stanza is reached that I feel the general air of the work beginning to descend into some seriously gray area.

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through -

The best image here is unquestionably that of the “Vesuvian face” letting “its pleasure through” after eons of imprisonment behind the tomblike, ashen veil of Pompeii. Is this how the speaker feels when she is “fired” by her gunman? I certainly think so. It is as though, in that moment of furious release, that she momentarily feels her true colors are allowed to break the surface and alight upon the surveyable portion of her terrestrial domain. Though she relishes this short-lived euphoria, it seems that she also wishes to will herself into believing that her importance and ability are greater than they indeed are, as evidenced by the picture painted in the subsequent stanza.

And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master’s Head -
‘Tis better than the Eider-Duck’s
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

Well? What is she? Is she an actual gun or simply a human tool of her “Master?” Dickinson’s artful blurring of the line between the inanimate and the anthropological here is exquisite. I think that in truth the speaker here is not literally a gun, but rather than Dickinson’s never allowing this to be explicitly understood and continuing to seed doubt in this regard serves to highlight just how much the speaker feels like nothing more than an object. After all, a gun is of no use without someone to operate it, so it is fallacious of the speaker to feel that she (as a weapon) is able to “guard [Her] Master’s head” at night, for she is utterly impotent to provide him with any protection whatsoever if he does directly utilize her as a means of defense.

So it is better in the mind of the speaker to “stand guard” over her “Master” than to share his bed with him? This is nothing less than a poor attempt on the part of the speaker to explain away why she has been so devalued by her “Master.” If she cannot be the recipient any of his affection or affirmation, it is because in her mind she has a more important task to attend to (namely providing a hedge of protection for her “Master”).

This air of a desire to be needed by her “Master” is further highlighted in the penultimate stanza in which she begins to move away from a state of association with her “Master,” and into language that insinuates an assimilation into his very being.

To foe of His - I’m deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -

In the opening line “To foe of His - I’m deadly foe -,” her being is still separate from that of the “Master,” and it continues to carry with it the connotative umbra of unconditional protection. Moving to the last two lines, however, the speaker seems to have become one with her “Master:” “On whom I lay a Yellow Eye - / Or an emphatic Thumb -.” The yellow eye suggests an icteric alcoholism of the master (which would explain a great deal of the speaker’s clearly wounded emotional state), and the speaker’s indirectly stated ability to see through these eyes suggests a vicarious incarnation of him, as does the first-person use of his “emphatic Thumb” (alluding to trigger-pulling, perhaps?) by the speaker.

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--

Again with the ambiguity. It seems here that the speaker is lapsing back into her inanimate self-understanding. True, it is very likely that the “Master” will not outlive the speaker (especially if he is a drunkard), but his psychological imprint on the life schema of the speaker will remain immortal (“He longer must - than I -”). The speaker, in this perception of herself, still continues to fallaciously refer to her own “power to kill,” which she in fact does not possess. Only can she kill when another uses her as an instrument to achieve such an end - never independently.
Ironically, the last line of the poem proves itself even more fallacious in that the speaker’s view of herself as inanimate has provided her with the false notion that she herself is not simply immortal, but immortal because she is incapable of death. True, the nonliving cannot die, for one cannot achieve a resultative state without having first experienced its prerequisite, but the speaker fails to realize that she is indeed experiencing it. She is alive. She is only boxed into this  narrow view of existence because of the state of mind at which she has allowed herself to arrive. She does have the power to die, yet fails to realize that every day without this realization is simply one day closer to its inevitable arrival.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Midsummer Nihilist’s Dream: Transcending the Literal and Breaking the Surface of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (English 1102)

       In his 1849 poem A Dream Within a Dream, Edgar Allan Poe brilliantly posited that “All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.” Deep? Indeed. Beautiful? Unarguably. Nihilistic? Debatably.
Every time I read this poem or hear those frequently quoted lines from it, I cannot help but think of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The drama elegantly and artfully explores the various states and ideas that “dreaming” can embody, and in doing so delivers a message of nihilism in a fashion that is wholly non overt and downright delightful. Shakespeare’s genius rendered him able to produce unfailingly engaging works of spectacular entertainment value that simultaneously carried with them several deep undertones of metaphorical meaning, attributes of literary works that tend to exist as, more often than not, mutually exclusive states.
       From the nihilist standpoint, dreaming is not terribly different from existence itself. The world of dreams is one of love, lust, terror, euphoria, and wonder, all transpiring (from a psychophysiological standpoint) so rapidly that their occurrences are nearly simultaneous, but to the dreamer, each can be separated by seconds, minutes, hours, years... Events of varying personal significance, all transpiring in one giant, beautiful conglomeration of thoughts. Though the events of our dreams are without congruity or connection, we create connections between them and subsequently justify those conclusions in our own tossing and turning dreaming mind. Then the dream is over and all that remains is but its memory, fragmented, distorted, and useful only for purposes of inspiration or retrospective self-entertainment. Such is life itself, for what else has our self-cognizance brought us but the realization that it is only ours to ponder for a short time? To live is to go, to do, to experience - to find connections between circumstances, to question ourselves, and to savor our fortuitous position in the amnion of this habitable sphere. Shakespeare, however, hardly confines his audience to the literal definition of dreaming. No, to dream in Shakespeare’s magnum opus of comedy is indeed to enter the realm of creative slumber, but it is also to wish, to hope, to desire things of the future, to be in a trance. Under the spells of the mischievous Puck and Oberon, Titania and the young Athenian lovers find themselves adrift, begins something less than a plaything of the gods, but also momentarily void of not only discretion, but seemingly free will as well. In this way they dream. In this way, the love of Lysander and Demetrius for Helena and Hermia is shown to be the fickle self-delusion of preference that it truly is. Free will, even when present, fails to seem so free after all.
       Who is to say that all that we see or seem is not but a dream within a dream? Well, rationally we can collectively conclude that this is almost certainly not the case. But this alone fails to be of import. What is truly significant here is that such could be the case. If such were true, the effects would be, however, nil. One would only need awaken to leave the laughable dream of all humanity behind.
       Metaphorically parallelling this implausibly remote, but nonetheless stimulating thought with the telos of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, what A Midsummer Night’s Dream truly shows us is that through love, hate, lust, deception, and everything else that psychologically defines the human experience, all is but (in a figurative sense) a dream. We dream literally, yes, but each and every day also embodies the concept of dreaming in the sense that we all perpetually dream of the future, dream of our desires, all of it underneath the umbra of our semi-illusory free will, a dream in and of itself, just as dreaming that one was having a lucid dream would not result in the actual liquidity of the dream-imagined dream state. In this sense, nothing can be quantified or qualified except through our own pre-qualifications and qualifications of the quantifiers and qualifiers we implement. In this, attaching innate meaning to life necessitates circular logic to a certain degree, but even the assertion of that very point does as well from that model.
       In light of this, it is far from surprising that Shakespeare chose a humorous mold in which to examine this philosophy, for if we cannot laugh at our own inability to truly find purpose, what purpose is there to be found along the way?
Row, row, row your boat
gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
life is but a dream. 

A Calm and Rolling Fury: A Self-Reflective Examination of Anne Sexton’s "The Fury of Overshoes" (English 1102)

Childhood. One of, if not the, most influential years of our lives, but so often, tragically, also some of the most poorly remembered. Sympathizing with children is not a difficult undertaking, but empathizing with them certainly proves more difficult. The simple recall of events from our first several years of existence is not the hard part; it is remembering how it felt that many seem to find so perplexingly evasive. As for me, I remember exactly how it felt.

If my memory serves me (and I have good faith that it indeed does so quite well), childhood was a very frustrating experience. My retrospective dissatisfaction with the way things were owes its genesis not to factors for which anyone can be held culpable. My environment was superb: Loving, nurturing, educated, well-to-do parents who desperately wanted for child. I was, in a sense, born into open arms. The undivided and wholeheartedly affectionate attention of my progenitors was the very amnion of my youth. I was loved and I knew it. No, childhood was frustrating for me in that very early on I became self-aware of my own childhood and its unequal status to that of adults, in authority, ability, and the fruition of will. I disliked the idea of childhood altogether, even more so upon my realization that escape was impossible on all fronts, the laws of biology and chronology being as they were.
Nothing so beautifully and simply expresses the sense of entrapped suffocation that the very essence of a childhood self-aware of itself engenders as Anne Sexton’s “The Fury of Overshoes.”
Its lines are choppy and abrupt. A beautiful stream of breathless run-ons only fully, truly experienced out loud. Childhood has no one face, no, it must be projected, personified, talked around, not about. Such accomplishes the overshoes:

They sit in a row
outside the kindergarten,
black, red, brown, all
with those brass buckles.
Indeed! There they sat, meaning nothing to the passer-by, but in their inanimate silence screaming, proclaiming the fiber of the speaker’s childhood!

Remember when you couldn’t
buckle your own
or tie your own
Yes! I remember!

or cut your own meat
and the tears
running down like mud
because you fell off your
Yes! How horrible it was to suffer such inabilities and be aware of it! Even more maddening was the inability to impart this frustration at all, all the time realizing that the inability to impart was only due to the state of mental infancy that was its own causation. How circular, how wild and optimistically imaginative the endless stream of thoughts that flooded through the mind of a child, a child that it seems hard to accept was, is the same physical person that I am today.

Remember, big fish,
when you couldn’t swim
and simply slipped under
like a stone frog?
The world wasn’t
It belonged to
the big people.
No, I could not swim. None of us could. “Like a stone frog” indeed, we all couldn’t stop jumping, for we thought that reaching for the stars was a literal proposition, but we all slipped under in the end. Too young to have the strength to stay afloat on our own, yet too young to realize it. What wasn’t achievable, attainable when only we became “big people?” Nothing. Childhood! The great equalizer! Some of us were razor sharp, years ahead of the pack, but still not dealing in the real world. When everything is achievable, so also everything is possible. How terrifying, but how real the terrors seemed.

Under your bed
sat the wolf
and he made a shadow
when cars passed by
at night.
Yes, only at night, for the demon wolf wouldn’t dare to threaten us during the day - in the hour of the big people. Yet the knowledge of one’s own immaturity was scant in the provision of immunity from the irrationality of the limitless malleable mind. And the big people? Our protectors how could they turn on us so; to hold us so close yet leave us as tantalizing prey for the creatures of the night?

They made you give up
your nightlight
and your teddy bear
and your thumb.
Our only protection! The fiber of our self-created safety net!
But the monsters never came. How could this be? All ritual had been abandoned. The wide-eyed vigil of self-preservation from the creatures of the night had given way to the exhaustion of our minds, and into sleep we would drift, somehow, remarkably, out of harms way in the ignorant bliss of unconsciousness.

Oh overshoes,
don’t you
remember me,
pushing you up and down
in the winter snow?
Yes - sinking with every step, pressing forward with a determination unmatched.
Oh thumb,
I want a drink,
it is dark,
where are all the big people,
But now I am awake, my awareness recreating the danger nonexistent in sleep!
when will I get there,
taking giant steps
all day,
each day
and thinking
nothing of it?
Why aren’t they scared? Who holds their hand. No one! Then why must mine always grasp? I am young, I am weak, but we are really the same, I, me, you, us, them - just the same as the big people. It’s all just one step at a time.