(originally published in The Outreach Connection in November 2008)
We moved into a new condo this week. We actually bought the place two and a half years ago, at the concept stage; then the dog and I walked past the site virtually every week and photographed the slow progress (very slow – like many such projects, it ended up around a year behind schedule) from hole in the ground to substantially-finished edifice. Actually, the wait came to be a way of life, and a rather comforting one – we got used to knowing we’d move one day into an immaculate new home and thereby tuning out the deficiencies in our old place, without having to bite the strenuous bullet of embarking on packing, preparing our old place for sale, etc.
Our List of Issues
Well, eventually they couldn’t delay any longer, and we actually moved. By then the housing market had taken a dive - so much for maximizing the value of our old place (the outcome of that story remains unresolved). But the new unit exceeded our expectations in many ways. It’s a big, bright space, twelve floors up, with a great view of the downtown core, in a diverting neighborhood. We may just stay here forever.
But first we have to get past the problems of now. We didn’t have an oven when we moved in. The bathroom mirror still hasn’t been installed. As I write, in our seventh day of occupancy, we still don’t have working Internet. I could go on about this in particular, but who wants to hear another story of bumbling corporations and ineffective customer service? Never mind high-speed – we can’t even get the dial-up to work. Even when I was on safari in Africa, I had working dial-up. This one eats away at me (can you tell?!)
Then we can’t find anything of course. Our living room looks like a conceptual art exhibit – Study In Unopened Boxes. At the rate we’re unpacking, we should be rid of the boxes by some time in mid-2011. And then we worry about the dog. He’s ten and had lived in our previous place since the age of seven weeks old, honing his daily routine virtually to the second. So far he’s done better than we expected on adapting to the new way of things, but we do worry. And then it’s not as if we have nothing else going on. I need to work more; I have to take several plane trips in the next few weeks. Like all of us, I’m worried about the economy. And as I write this, with the US election two days away, I’m in that same zone as every liberal; agonizing about a future of drastically diverging possibilities…and this, I think, is not just a matter of preferred ideology…
Ashes of Time Redux
I’m not someone who walks round with things churning in my head, but you can see why I was a little preoccupied as I sat down to watch Ashes of Time Redux. No doubt I should have skipped a movie that day (or at least settled for something easy). Well, some of us never learn.
This is a Wong Kar-Wai revisiting of his 1994 martial arts film, somewhat reedited and refurbished. I’d never seen the original version, but I’ve seen nearly all Wong’s other films. His status is beyond question. His most recent major works, In the Mood for Love and 2046, are lush, intricate romances, both rich with nuance and implication. He’s known for reworking his films, often making adjustments after their initial unveilings; you can feel this in their unique fluidity and sense of possibility. I tend to think of him in the same category as the Sergio Leone of Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America – their preoccupations are different, but they have the same facility for crafting multi-dimensional landscapes (when Wong came to America though, with his most recent film My Blueberry Nights, you got the overwhelming sense of a rather bemused director, camouflaging and filigreeing an essentially inert piece of work).
Just about every reviewer concedes that Ashes of Time Redux is confusing. Well, readers, I do try to be honest in this space, so I’ll just have to admit it – I could hardly make head or tail of the thing. I have already offered up the main body of my defense, but then I compounded my own difficulties by falling asleep for five or ten minutes. Maybe those missing minutes contained some magical key to the whole thing, but the truth is I probably could have come in there pumped full of concentration-enhancing stimulants and I would still have been – let’s say conservatively – 80% confused.
This doesn’t mean I at all regretted the experience. To borrow the Globe and Mail’s synopsis (no doubt more trustworthy than mine would be) “the film is structured as a series of vignettes over a year in the life of Ouyang Feng, who lives in the Chinese western desert, making a living by arranging contract killings.” Characters come and go, often preoccupied by loss or desire; the theme of memory as a burden on the present winds through the film, encapsulated by the notion of a magic wine that eradicates the past. It has the contours of an epic, but without the often-simplistic clarity of purpose that powers epic characters; motives are frequently mysteries here even to those propelled by them.
Ball of Confusion
The action scenes take place in flurries of movement, as if Wong’s cinematic apparatus were suddenly seized in a wind-storm; around them he creates soulful close-ups, mythical landscapes, and strangely piercing compositions. This is all amply rewarding. But, to return to my confession, I only periodically knew what was actually happening. On several occasions I got mixed up between the characters, or between present-tense and flashback, and for that matter everything else. Listening to the audience on the way out, it wasn’t just me. But if we’d all been tested on our abilities to write a coherent synopsis of the thing, I expect I would have come in near the bottom.
So I left the theatre and went to meet my wife at our old home, where there remains a long and tiring list of to-dos before we can actually list the place for sale. Then we went to eat, and the waiter screwed up our dinner order. Then we went home and both fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, wiping out most of the evening. All of this, and no Internet. But you know, I was happy. Not mainly because of having seen Ashes of Time Redux. But it did add something.