Archive for December, 2010

For completeness, here are some films I watched in 2010 that didn’t get a “Jon watches” post of their own…

Ghost Town – Ricky Gervais vehicle. Not bad though.
A Single Man – Probably most stylish film of 2010.
The Runaways – Kristen Stewart is better than Twilight.
Empire Records – The Breakfast Club in a music shop.
The Ghost – Turning trashy airport fiction into a film results in a film that feels like watching trashy airport fiction.
Dan In Real Life – Steve Carell vehicle. Mediocre story but a good heart.
Slums of Beverly Hills – Standard Jewish comedy.
A Serious Man – Coen brothers Jewish loser comedy.

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I don’t really do very well with keeping up with the latest in music so this is just the songs I kept coming back to this year. Turns out I mostly like nostalgia-tinged music by female singer-songwriters… Read the rest of this entry »

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After the stylish but flat Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola returns to Lost in Translation territory with this slow, considered study of the mundane reality of the life of Hollywood star Johnny Marco. In a media landscape obsessed with moving on to the next scene, plot point or action sequence, it’s refreshing to watch a film that takes it time and Coppola certainly knows how to do that with substantial parts of this film being devoted to beautifully composed, almost photographic sequences in which nothing much happens. This all serves to highlight the main character’s increasing boredom with his supposedly enviable lifestyle of fast cars, pretty girls, parties and world travel.

Combining the lovely visuals with a sparse but excellent soundtrack gives us the style we’d expect but it is the relationship between Johnny Marco and his daughter that gives the film the heart that makes it work. The tender depiction and development of this relationship is what pulls together the vignettes of Johnny’s existence into a film worth watching with a message that’s worth remembering – it’s in our relationships with the ones we love that we find out who we are.

Phoenix’s “Love Like a Sunset” from the soundtrack…

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Based on the true story of a group of French monks caught up in civil war in Algeria, Of Gods and Men is one of the most affecting portraits of what it means to be people of faith you’re likely to see on film. It ends with extracts from this letter written by the head monk as he became aware that the decisions they were making were leading them to martyrdom…

If it should happen one day – and today could be the day – that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that I have given my life for God and this country. I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to associate my death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value either. In any case, it no longer has the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems to prevail in the world, even in the evil which might blindly strike me down. I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg the forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart those who would strike me down. Of course, I would never choose such a death. It seems important to me to stress this. How could I rejoice to see the people I love indiscriminately accused of my murder? It would be too high a price to pay for what will perhaps be called the “grace of martyrdom” to owe to an Algerian, whoever he might be, especially if he feels he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately. I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters. It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience by identifying this religious behaviour with the fundamentalist ideology of extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.

I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel which I learned on my mother’s lap, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers. Obviously, my death will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!” But those persons should know that my most avid curiosity will finally be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, God willing: immerse my gaze in that of the Father to contemplate his children of Islam with him just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and restore the likeness, juggling with the differences.

For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything. In this thank you, where everyone is included, from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families – you are the hundredfold granted as was promised! And I also include you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing. Yes, I want this thank you and this good-bye to be a “God Bless” for you, too, because in God’s face I see yours. May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both.

Amen! Inch’Allah!

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Neither the whole of truth nor the whole of good is revealed to any single observer, although each observer gains a partial superiority of insight from the peculiar position in which he stands.

What a great way to end any and all arguments! Kind of what I was trying to say here. We’ve all got something to say and we’ve all got lots to learn.

Also, as a complete aside, I was thinking about how often the best books and films are the ones that teach you (or reveal to you) something new about yourself that was already there. Pretty cool.

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Our faith is faith in some one else’s faith, and in the greatest matters this is most the case. Our belief in truth itself, for instance, that there is a truth, and that our minds and it are made for each other,—what is it but a passionate affirmation of desire, in which our social system backs us up?

Our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds; for to say, under such circumstances, “Do not decide, but leave the question open,” is itself a passional decision,—just like deciding yes or no,—and is attended with the same risk of losing the truth.

To claim that certain truths now possess [objective evidence], is simply to say that when you think them true and they are true, then their evidence is objective, otherwise it is not. But practically one’s conviction that the evidence one goes by is of the real objective brand, is only one more subjective opinion added to the lot. For what a contradictory array of opinions have objective evidence and absolute certitude been claimed! The world is rational through and through,—its existence is an ultimate brute fact; there is a personal God,—a personal God is inconceivable; there is an extra-mental physical world immediately known,—the mind can only know its own ideas; a moral imperative exists,—obligation is only the resultant of desires; a permanent spiritual principle is in every one,—there are only shifting states of mind; there is an endless chain of causes,—there is an absolute first cause; an eternal necessity,—a freedom; a purpose,—no purpose; a primal One,—a primal Many; a universal continuity,—an essential discontinuity in things; an infinity,—no infinity. There is this,—there is that; there is indeed nothing which some one has not thought absolutely true, while his neighbour deemed it absolutely false; and not an absolutist among them seems ever to have considered that the trouble may all the time be essential, and that the intellect, even with truth directly in its grasp, may have no infallible signal for knowing whether it be truth or no.

We must know the truth; and we must avoid error,—these are our first and great commandments as would-be knowers; but they are not two ways of stating an identical commandment, they are two separable laws.

Believe nothing, he tells us, keep your mind in suspense forever, rather than by closing it on insufficient evidence incur the awful risk of believing lies.

He who says, “Better go without belief forever than believe a lie!” merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe.

Wherever the option between losing truth and gaining it is not momentous, we can throw the chance of gaining truth away, and at any rate save ourselves from any chance of believing falsehood, by not making up our minds at all till objective evidence has come.

But in our dealings with objective nature we obviously are recorders, not makers, of the truth; and decisions for the mere sake of deciding promptly and getting on to the next business would be wholly out of place.

if you want an absolute duffer in an investigation, you must, after all, take the man who has no interest whatever in its results: he is the warranted incapable, the positive fool. The most useful investigator, because the most sensitive observer, is always he whose eager interest in one side of the question is balanced by an equally keen nervousness lest he become deceived.

Science herself consults her heart when she lays it down that the infinite ascertainment of fact and correction of false belief are the supreme goods for man.

The desire for a certain kind of truth here brings about that special truth’s existence; and so it is in innumerable cases of other sorts. Who gains promotions, boons, appointments, but the man in whose life they are seen to play the part of live hypotheses, who discounts them, sacrifices other things for their sake before they have come, and takes risks for them in advance? His faith acts on the powers above him as a claim, and creates its own verification.

Wherever a desired result is achieved by the co-operation of many independent persons, its existence as a fact is a pure consequence of the precursive faith in one another of those immediately concerned. A government, an army, a commercial system, a ship, a college, an athletic team, all exist on this condition, without which not only is nothing achieved, but nothing is even attempted.

There are, then, cases where a fact cannot come at all unless a preliminary faith exists in its coming.

Scepticism, then, is not avoidance of option; it is option of a certain particular kind of risk. Better risk loss of truth than chance of error,—that is your faith-vetoer’s exact position.

We have the right to believe at our own risk any hypothesis that is live enough to tempt our will.

What do you think of yourself? What do you think of the world?… These are questions with which all must deal as it seems good to them.

We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist, through which we get glimpses now and then of paths which may be deceptive. If we stand still we shall be frozen to death. If we take the wrong road we shall be dashed to pieces. We do not certainly know whether there is any right one. What must we do? ‘Be strong and of a good courage.’ Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes…. If death ends all, we cannot meet death better.

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