By Viggo Mortensen and Fabián Casas - translated by Ollie and Zoe
20 January 2014
Happy New Year, Cuervo!
© Viggo Mortensen.
Does it look better from the sky? From above? Far from Earth? I don´t think so, although after years of flying all over the world, I´ve been able to see glaciers and immense forests I won´t get to explore on foot. I´ve smiled with my forehead stuck to the cold little plastic window at six years old and at fifty-five. The beauty of extraordinary landscapes, the infinity of the sky have astonished me, and also the destruction of mountains, forests, rivers and seas, that environmental disaster that we human beings are developing little by little. Although I know that the combustion from the plane´s engines contributes to the ecological loss, I like to see the clouds lit by the moon. I´m comforted by that drone within a plane, the solitude and the ceasing of linear time that I think I experience while the other passengers are sleeping and I imagine what a solitary walk on each star would be like.
Tonight I´m lucky to be flying again, crossing the Atlantic to be with my parents. It got so cloudy that I can no longer see anything outside. Well, I only see a deep blackness and the blinking of the red light on the wing of the plane. I seem to recall that the other wing, the one on the left side, has a green light. I cannot see it now because the windows on the other side of the aisle are covered. I think I´m the only passenger who´s not sleeping on this plane, and for a moment I imagine I could be the only human being awake in the whole world. Through the programmed video system, out of the corner of my eye, I´m watching Brad Pitt´s blockbuster World War Z, one of those artless and out of control financial excursions that consortiums of privileged people keep producing every year, betting enormous quantities of money to achieve a sort of huge imaginary happiness linked to unimaginable economic success.
© Paramount Pictures.
There are instances of cinematographic blockbusters that have managed to be very good movies, but that´s not common. They tend to be not very healthy shit, like "fast food," the fast/junk food you can grab in every city in the world, but they have a permanent place in our bodies and our cultures. Movies like World War Z can also acquire, thanks to the perversity of human beings - at least the ones who are film critics - the status of "cult" movie. They can end up being cherished as lost gems that the so-called experts have decided to rescue from oblivion. I almost fell asleep, but in the end, I´m watching the whole thing. It´s not a gem, but I had a little fun watching another apocalyptic vision from North American cinema, this time with zombies, those critters who, like vampires, are enjoying a new wave of popularity in English-speaking television series. This movie doesn´t take on any existential subject in a subtle or original way, but watching it doesn´t annoy me either. It´s a little trip, one more story, an entertainment with flashy settings. Although it´s supposed to be more or less "serious," it reminds me a bit of the horrible but funny productions of the 70s, like The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno, big productions peopled with leading stars from the Hollywood of the time. When they were screened, those movies also seemed more or less serious - at least they seemed serious to me when I was 12 or 13. There are many who say that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are to blame for the wave of blockbusters flourishing in the 70s and still dominating in multiplexes the world over because it's assumed that all this began with Jaws and Star Wars. I don´t agree. It seems to me that it had already started in the 50s with epic "biblical" productions spearheaded by Charlton Heston, or films like Around The World in 80 Days, and in the 60s with movies like Cleopatra, among other very expensive productions full of Anglo-Saxon movie stars and some "foreigners" like Cantinflas.
© Michael Todd Company.
I think theatrical and cinematographic productions of highly varied artistic quality have always existed, which have tried to bring together renowned actors to attract the viewer in search of fun - just like there's always been soccer or basketball clubs with big wallets that have tried to build "galactic" teams, teams that work well in sports sometimes and sometimes don't. Besides, nothing has been destroyed with the increase of blockbusters at the film theatre. There is film for all tastes and the stories that might interest you are still being produced and will be found sooner or later; they'll be dug up, remakes will be done of some and they'll fall back into oblivion. They're just cycles. In the end it doesn't matter much whether a film like Jaws or Batman XVI or an adaptation of any other comic is made or not.
Original poster for The Poseidon Adventure.
© 20th Century Fox.
The Poseidon Adventure
recounts a nautical disaster like Titanic
. Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman appeared in that one, among other well-known and respected actors of the period. That film has a memorable musical theme sung by the actress Carol Lynley (what you really hear is the recording by singer Renee Armand). The song is pure syrup (like "Eres tú" [You Are"], the worldwide hit of the same period from the Spanish group Mocedades
) called "The Morning After." The recording by Maureen McGovern ended up being a huge hit on North American radio in 1973 after it was awarded an "Oscar." This is the Renee Armand version from the film's soundtrack:
And why give so much attention to that song and its interpreters and The Poseidon Adventure
? I don't know, probably because it's four and a half hours before arriving in Philadelphia and the passenger beside me is snoring. When I land, I'll look for photos of Armand, Lynley, McGovern and I don't know who or what else to illustrate these digressions that aren't digressions to me but rather a way of getting to the heart of something that I don't want to lose time explaining to myself. I think the three performers of that insipid song are interesting and I remember they were pretty. We'll see what there is to see. (And these are the photos I found after landing.)
Renée Armand, Carol Lynley and Maureen ….
Now it's three and a quarter hours until the landing of this plane. I calculate this, distancing myself from the infinite sky and the stars that I can no longer see with my eyes, preparing myself to return to linear time, trying to adapt to man's rules, to invisible borders, making sure I have my passport and the customs declaration at hand, in the left inside pocket of my coat. I'm putting away books that I didn't read because I was watching the Pitt flick and looking for a star where I could take a walk. In the story "The Persecutor," Julio Cortázar speaks with a certain clarity and a good sense of humor about this strange time thing, about the tricks we use to explain to ourselves what is inexplicable in our day to day [lives]. I was reading it in the Madrid airport, waiting for this delayed flight. It's not necessary to describe the story to those who don't know it (but I recommend it), but rather to simply quote the lead character, Johnny Carter, a character based on the legendary jazz composer and saxophone genius, Charlie Parker.
"...I don't get lost in thought when I play. It's just that I change places. It's like in an elevator. You are in the elevator talking with people and you don't feel anything strange and meanwhile you pass the first floor, the tenth, the twenty-first and the city remains there below and you are finishing the sentence that you'd begun as you entered, and between the first words and the last, there are fifty-two floors. I realized when I began to play that I was entering an elevator, but in an elevator of time, if I can say it like that. Don't think that I was forgetting the mortgage, my mother, or religion. It's just that in those moments, the mortgage and religion are like the suit that one is wearing. I know that the suit is in the closet, but you're not going to tell me at that point that that suit exists. That suit exists when I put it on and the mortgage and religion existed when I finished playing."
"I got to thinking about the subway, my old lady, later about Lan and the guys and really, at the moment it seemed to me that I was walking through my neighborhood and I saw the faces of the boys, the ones from that time... But at the same time I realized that I was in the subway and saw after a minute more or less that we were arriving at Odeón and the people were entering and exiting So I kept thinking about Lan and saw my old lady when she'd return from doing the shopping and I began to see them all, to be with them in the most beautiful way, like I hadn't felt in a long time… If I set out to tell you everything I saw, you wouldn't believe it because it would take me a long time… Notice that just to tell you a tiny bit of everything I was thinking and seeing, I need a good quarter of an hour... Then you're going to say to me, how can it be that suddenly I feel the subway stopping and I leave my old lady and Lan and all of that and we are in Saint-Germain-des-Près, which is just a minute and half from Odeón...only in the subway can I be aware of it, because traveling by subway is like being inside a clock. The stations are the minutes, you understand, it's that time of yours, of now, but I know there's another…"
Borges wrote that the universe "...is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere" and that the universal story is that of a single man. I think that the artist can only be mistaken when he speaks about what other artists do or, especially, when he tries to analyze his own work. They are scatter shot that one produces blindfolded and how are you going to know if some tiny pellet hit the imagined target, if you were pointing at something in particular? That's not to say that it's useless to try to understand, talking and writing about art of the mysteries of the game we call soccer. In this column, we talk a little about everything, and I think that by doing that in that way, we grab hold of the world, by doing that, we're trying to understand, absurdly, our absurd existence. Or we play or we don't play, what do I know? Artistic creation or the search for art could be a way of searching for the Truth, but it's also a way of escaping from it. It's a game and what's so bad about that?
Sometimes we hear a musical composition, we see or read works of art that seem to have a very complicated construction, so detailed and well-planned that we don't know how it could have been conceived. Often it turns out that, for the artist, that work is almost nonsense, the fruit of an unconscious impulse or at least governed very little by aesthetic reasoning. Max Roach, another jazz legend, worked with Charlie Parker many times and also with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis, among other figures of the bebop movement that took off in earnest after the Second World War. Speaking of some recordings he did with Charlie Parker at the end of the 40s in New York, Roach said that Parker would write "a good part of his compositions in taxis on the way to the studio...entering and leaving immediately, because the union was always lurking right around the corner. What never stops surprising me, when I remember how we did things, is that today it's considered [to be] such profound music."
The Towering Inferno, the blockbuster that premiered the year after the success of The Poseidon Adventure, is a story about a San Francisco skyscraper that catches fire, causing the deaths of many people and great turmoil in that city. The heroes are played by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. William Holden and Faye Dunaway appear and I don't who else. Good actors almost all of them. That production tried to surpass all of the films with casts populated by North American film superstars, including any famous actor who wanted to earn a huge heap of cash by performing an obvious piece of shit.
© Warner Brothers.
I just remembered that O.J. Simpson, the famous US football player (but very mediocre actor) who slaughtered his wife (Nicole Simpson) but later was able to avoid official punishment from the courts thanks to his talented lawyers, also appeared in that film.
O. J. Simpson.
© L.A. Police.
Simpson had been an idol in that kind of rugby that's played with a helmet and looks like an infantry battle. After triumphing at the university level at the end of the 60s, he became the great star of the National Football League at the beginning of the 70s. Playing for the Buffalo Bills, he broke all professional running records in 1973. Then he made a ton of bad films, until they arrested him in 1974 for stabbing his wife and a guy from Los Angeles (Ronald Goldman) who was having an affair with her. But in the sports world, Simpson was the equivalent of Héctor Scotta who was crushing it for CASLA at the same time.
El Gringo in 1973.
Like "El Gringo," O.J., "The Juice," Simpson was an unstoppable player that shone like no other in his time.
© Philips Records.
The first few days of this year of 2014 have passed. I'm in the Northeast of the United States putting up with the cold with my family. My son came to see his grandparents and all of us are seated close to the fireplace watching the snow falling outside. I'm still thinking about the connections we have that we human beings invent for ourselves in our lives. Being a CASLA supporter eats you alive, being a creature in this universe (are there others? what the hell is a universe?) eats you alive, being a father and being a son, love and hate, breathing and opening your eyes - everything eats you alive. We eat ourselves alive endlessly. That's existence, the trajectory of our flesh and our minds, whether it's bearable or not. However, there are things that we can choose as assignments, challenges that we can set for ourselves. Or we can let ourselves die without lifting a finger. A subject that worries me and that has been commented on quite a bit in this column (taking into account that what is written here has something to do, after all, with Argentine soccer) is the barrabravas
mess and the institutional corruption in the management of the king of sports and of the country in general. After arriving at my mother's house, I read what Diego Latorre posted in El País on January 1, and it seems to me that it's worth the trouble of reproducing the whole thing:
"Argentine soccer can't take any more" by Diego Latrorre/ Jan.1, 2014
Incidents between police and supporters of San ….
© El Pais.
Dear Cuervo, I loved your writing from on high, supported by the patience of the turbines. I always thought that two thousand fourteen was going to be a good year because of a dumb thing: I was born on April the seventh. The number fourteen doubles that number and fourteen was the number on the jersey of the world´s best soccer player of all time, Johan Cruyff. I remember that in the World Cup of ´74 that I watched with my father, on a black and white TV, my first approach to poetry was to perceive that those beautiful Dutch players were playing soccer in a dynamic, unheard-of way, with the ambition to win, but not doing whatever for that [reason].
I loved reading your prose because this year started badly, serious problems at work and the feeling of confronting situations that make you rethink your whole life: your age, your desires, the people who depend on you, your ethics, your morals, and the things you discovered at one time and that you want to live for. Anita and Guada and Rita are in the countryside and I´ve been home alone for two days now. As usual, to cheer myself up, I´m reading a book, a brilliant book called Nowhere to Go by Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian director, poet and writer (so many things!) who had to escape the war, first from the Germans and later from the Soviets, along with his brother Adolfas. In this extraordinary book, Mekas narrates his wanderings through a devastated Europe, sometimes eating only a few potatoes in two long days of walking, but reading non-stop the books he was finding along the way in destroyed or abandoned houses. Mekas lives in barracks with displaced people, sleeps on the street or on the railroad tracks, all quite randomly but, thanks to the books and poetry he knew as a child, he transformed himself into a force of nature. I could pull out millions of beautiful sentences contained in those diaries for you.
On the other hand, I was re-reading the novella that I wrote on which we based the script for Lisandro's flick and I'm going to try to finish it. Now, while I'm writing you in my office at work, the TV is showing a whale that's washed up on some rocks, a gigantic whale that died on the beach. There's a great poem by Antonio de Cisneros that's called "In the Waters of Conchan" ["En las aguas de Conchan"] that relates the odyssey of a whole town that comes out to butcher a dead whale to be able to feed off of it. Our society is built on that fear. It's a mechanism that's put in us when we're kids and that we have to deactivate through our spiritual education. I'm [working] on that, my friend.
I know that Mekas autobiography well. Besides recounting amazing things, it's very well written. I read it in the original English (it's called I Had Nowhere to Go). A woman friend in New York gave it to me. What that man suffered is incredible and even more how he overcame so many obstacles during the war and the post-war, how he turned them into sources of inspiration, into art. I love his photography. As you know, he was a pioneer of "underground" cinema in New York, a creator in every sense of the word. He paints and writes very well, he collaborated with musicians, poets, film directors - with all the avant-garde artists in the 50s, 60s, 70s..., even at the present time, he still is an essential reference for the most original artists in North America, even for those who don´t realize it. David Cronenberg, whose family is also of Lithuanian origin, is a great fan of Jonas Mekas. In the 60s, inspired by Mekas and the alternative cinema he was developing, along with his brother Adolfas and other rebels in New York, Cronenberg, Ivan Reitman and Iain Ewing founded the Toronto Film Co-op and began to revolutionize cinema in Canada. If it weren´t for Mekas and the movies he made with his Bolex 16mm camera, maybe today we wouldn´t have masterpieces like Crash (and I´m not talking about the movie by the Canadian Paul Haggis who nicked that title and won the Oscar in 2005, but the one by his fellow countryman who should have already won some of those prizes but has never been nominated,) Dead Ringers, ExistenZ (a Matrix for adults, shot before and better than that one, and with a smaller budget,) Spider and A History of Violence, among other gems from the existential cinema.
© Black Thistle Press.
Look at this video with Mekas at an event in Mexico last year. A great guy at 90! I hope that we, if we get to be that age, will be that optimistic, that alive:
By the way, I just came back from Toronto, where I was last evening to do a special presentation with Cronenberg linked to a retrospective of his films. Afterwards we went out for dinner, and we talked, among other things, about Mekas. Synchronicity, brother! We had a good time and, as always, David killed me. I hadn´t laughed that much for a long time. Today, while I was returning alone in my mother's car (about a four hour drive,) I was thinking about Cronenberg´s work and I recalled a quote from Nabokov:
"A writer must have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist."
On the other hand, I see that the Valencia of Juan Antonio Pizzi was eliminated from the Copa del Rey tournament, and that the three goals against them in the two matches by Cholo Simeone´s Atlético de Madrid were the result of corners. As has frequently happened with CASLA, it seems it's hard for him to find a way to defend against set pieces in Spain.
P.S. I just finished reading a new English translation of Franz Kafka´s Metamorphosis. This version by Susan Bernofsky is very good; somehow the fucked up outcome of Gregor Samsa´s life seemed to me more amusing and at the same time more uncomplaining. The best thing about this new edition, published by W. W. Norton of New York, is the introduction written by David Cronenberg. I´m going to send you the book; I think you are going to love what David wrote. Devastating. I think you are going to laugh and cry when you read his text. He talks about things that worry us so much of late - death, family, the absurdity of life - and at the same time it´s a beautiful homage to the genius from Prague.
© W. W. Norton & Company.
At the same time Cronenberg was beginning his career in the independent cinema that was flourishing in Toronto and Montreal, Spielberg and Lucas were establishing themselves as princes in the system of the great cinema factories in Los Angeles.
P.P.S: I´m still thinking about that time thing, the different times, the time that is over and the one that never comes. As Saint Augustine said more than fifteen hundred years ago, of those we invent:
"The past no longer exists and the future is yet to come."
How nice that there´s a new translation of Kafka. It´s as if with each translation, the book is written again. Here it´s hot as hell and tomorrow I´m going to where my family is in the countryside. I won´t be back until Monday, when I´ll be able to answer what you write to me, since in the country, I have no laptop, no cellphone, no nothing. Two days ago, at night, I put some ice cubes in a glass and when I was about to pour the whiskey, my cell phone rang and it was a journalist who told me that Juan Gelman had died in Mexico, and she would like a few words. My first thought was, how ugly that your death would cause a young girl to be stressed out at a newspaper at midnight looking for statements, instead of being with her boyfriend or girlfriend, at the movies or walking barefoot on the grass. I told her I was sorry but I couldn´t say anything. Actually I told her that the universe was constantly expanding and that since the beginning, we are only separating from each other, all of us, not only the couples who are getting a divorce. That´s why those moments of bonding we get with friends, a partner, children or pets in the midst of universal expansion are incredible. All those moments are bits of eternity, Gelman told me one evening on the day of his wedding, that I attended when I was a young twentysomething.
Now I´m reading an incredible book of conversations of Juan with Roberto Mero; it´s called Contraderrota, Montoneros y la revolución perdida [Counterdefeat, Montoneros and the Lost Revolution]. Gelman´s lucidity is remarkable in describing the political process from the fifties on that brought about the armed struggle and subsequent military dictatorship. Gelman was, essentially, a political animal and a guy who, exiled in Paris and with a son killed by the dictatorship, was relentlessly reflecting on his time - which had him as a protagonist with good moves and bad ones. There´s a great thing that he tells in that book. He says that praxis must always accompany reflection. And he tells about the moment when Lenin goes into a forest for a week to write his thesis which will culminate in the Bolshevik Revolution. Like all of us, Gelman was many men. I´m sticking with this Parisian exile who thought brilliantly about the politics of his time. Of course the book is not only useful in thinking about that time but about ours, the place we have in it. One must work to cheat metaphysical thinking.
You do have to cheat, in order to create as an artist and to find art in the world - the trick of searching for truth, knowing, if we really think about it, that the search itself is an evasion of the truth. A lie, a more or less valuable, more or less transcendent pastime. You play at something in order to know what it is, to know that creative possibilities exist in day-to-day life beyond mere survival, that surviving is art, too. We have to trick death, build it into our lives. I don't know very much about Gelman's life; I only have a general idea of his political persecution and his ideological principles. I know that he supported the Montoneros [tr. note: leftist Argentine guerrilla group in the 60s and 70s] during one stage of his life and that later he moved away from them. And I know that he was, like many other artists, exiled during the dictatorship that began in 1976. That his son and his wife were victims of the military junta, two of the thousands of Argentine "desaparecidos" [tr note: people who "disappeared" during the junta. I think that he once said that poetry is a bare winter tree, leafless or dead, that still gives us shade. Something like that. I heard him on the radio about five years ago, it seems to me. A leafless tree that gives us shade. Lovely image. In Madrid, I have several collections of Gelman's poems. I wish I had them now to re-read some and share them with you, but I have to wait until I return to Spain next week. I "see" them there in my house, his books, on the shelves near the kitchen, to the left of those of Robert Creeley, Julio Cortázar and other greats of the 60s and 70s, and to the right of some of the film books, about Dreyer, Tarkovski, Cronenberg, Bresson, Ozu and other masters. I see that section of the shelves and the window that opens to the street. I imagine the cold in that room (since I'm not there, I turned the heat down). And now, as I imagine those books, I'm thinking about the plants that I watered as much as possible before I left. I hope they're OK.
© Viggo Mortensen.
I just finished reading what you wrote me on the plane, another plane. While I'm in North America, before returning to Spain, I´m taking the opportunity to go to Los Angeles because a lot of Kevin Power's friends are getting together there tomorrow to celebrate his life and his art. I'll go with Henry to the event which is a lunch where things will be read, sung and I don't know what else. It's going to be nice. Henry met him when he was about ten, when Kevin was preparing an exhibition of Cuban painters at the famous Track 16 gallery in Santa Monica, California. Tomorrow Kevin's friends are going to have lunch together and read some of his poems and the poets that he liked. I'm going to read the following to remember and honor him:
For No Clear Reason
I dreamt last night
the fright was over, that
the dust came, and then water,
and women and men, together
again, and all was quiet
in the dim moon's light.
A paean of such patience—
laughing, laughing at me,
and the days extend over
the earth's great cover,
grass, trees, and flower-
ing season, for no clear reason.
(from The Death Set - Pisueña: Green End of Green Road)
What matters of course is not what is said
and paradoxically not what is unsaid but
what is unsayable and that of course is
nowhere present in what I am saying
at most there may be intimations of the
unsayable in the unsaid and always the
sad recognition of its absence in the said
and strangely not having said
what should be said and shouldn't
I have come painfully to know more
The following day, I'll return to the northeast to be with my parents for a few more days. A new polar wave is coming, they say. Thirty degrees below zero and more snow.
© Viggo Mortensen.
Here, on the contrary, summer´s central heating is turned on full. Beautiful poem you are going to read at the tribute to Kevin. Tonight CASLA plays in San Juan, very late, like ten at night, they told me. The truth is I´d like to see the azulgrana colors playing again. Bauza is trying with the defence and forwards. Rita has a hot spot and tomorrow I´m taking her to the vet to get it treated. I guess it´s because of the heat, the stress of having been in heat or maybe it´s me who passed my January ghosts on to her. You never know. Dogs are incredibly receptive animals.
© Viggo Mortensen.
I wish one day we could get together in the cold near the St.Lawrence river where your parents live. Why not? Myself I haven´t seen my old man in weeks because I was with my family coming and going from the countryside to home and vice versa so that Anita doesn´t get bored without friends. But my brother told me that dad is going to dance tango some evenings. I don´t know how at 86 he manages that and in this murderous heat.
Cuervo, as you know, I had a female dog almost identical to your Rita. She was called Brigit. In summer she would always get hot spots. Sometimes it´s because of nerves or because they feel abandoned that dogs - especially the most intelligent ones like collies - begin scratching and having hot spots. I´m sure it´s because of the intense heat you are suffering. This morning we reached -36 degrees here; incredible the contrast with the furnace that is Buenos Aires right now. Let´s just hold on in the two extremes. Today I had to leave for Madrid, but it seems the flight is again delayed because of the snow storms and the polar cold.
© Viggo Mortensen.
I like the way Edgardo Bauza speaks. I was reading an interview they did with him this week and what he was saying about the line-up for the matches San Lorenzo is going to play in San Juan and Tansil seemed very sensible to me. He speaks calmly, with authority and very clearly. It looks like the CASLA Revolution will continue. Hold on Ciclón!
P.S. We won the two matches. I couldn´t watch them, but I read that we won the first one, in spite of playing rather badly, thanks to a big free kick goal by Navarro, and that we won the second one playing better. In that one, some of the juniors played, and Navarro scored another free kick goal. And we just lowered the spirits of Ramón and his Gallinas, who, because they had defeated an awful Boca last week, thought they were again an important team. We have won the first four friendly matches of this season by 3-0, 1-0, 2-0, and 3-1. And the thing is that even winning those matches, San Lorenzo is not yet playing at their full potential. Let´s see if we continue this way, accelerating little by little.
Last edited: 30 April 2014 13:06:04