SILENCE HAS A NAME - Poetry Chapbook and CD, with Music by Mark Hanley

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Tribute to the Beauty and Magic of Silent Films

If you see no other film this year, see Hugo, Martin Scorsese's homage to the transcendent magic of silent film. Hugo was adapted from Brian Selznick's children's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabaret, and is about a wily, sensitive orphan living inside a Paris train station at the turn of the 20th century whose exchanges with a toy store owner become life transforming.

Hugo is based on an actual filmmaker, Georges Méliès, who was best known for the special effects of his silent films that combined magic and theater at the turn of the 20th century. Méliès became fascinated with the medium after seeing a demonstration by the Lumière Brothers in 1895. Subsequently, he ran his own studio and made hundreds of films, the most famous of which, A Trip to the Moon (1907), is referenced several times in Scorsese's tribute.

Silent film buffs will relish not only the actual snippets of great silent movies, featuring Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton among others, but the many references to famous silent movie moments in imagery in the actual story, and the use of classic techniques, such as slapstick. But, like the machinery discussed with so much fascination in Hugo, everything is finely tuned here, with no extravagance or excess. Hugo is a major work of art about a medium and the magic it captured.

Hugo is in 3D, which only helps to place you in the story (as opposed to freak you out, which sometimes seems the point of 3D), and features 14-year old Asa Butterfield; Cloe Moretz, who looks in the film like a very young Ingrid Bergman; Emily Mortimer; Sir Ben Kingsley as Méliès himself; Jude Law; and a standout performance by Sacha Baron Cohen, the wildly funny and often brilliantly wacky English comedic actor (of Barat fame), who lends quiet ferocity and tenderness to his role of a Clouseau-like inspector with a squeaky metal leg and a rusty heart of gold. Cohen looks a bit like Freddie Mercury, and, as it turns out, is scheduled to play the rock artist in an upcoming film about QUEEN. Supposedly, Executive Producer Johnny Depp -- whose greatest film portrayal in my view, Edward Scissorhands, echoes the human beauty of the artistic automaton in Hugo -- plays the part of a painter who helps the children out on their adventure in the film. But if so, I missed him. Darn!

As a friend and I discussed after Hugo, there are so many occasions where a scene might have gone wrong, resorting to modern tricks or dirty innuendos, but Scorsese's tribute never fails to please and never steps down from its perch of high artistry. There is, for example, the moment when two characters who are attracted to one another introduce their dogs to one another in a cafe, a moment when, being well versed in American modern cinema, one might wince imagining what tackiness might ensue for a laugh. But the scene is played gracefully. There is the moment at the end of the film when, during a close up of the automaton, with its curiously human and moon-like visage, you half expect to see it wink at the audience for a final special effect. Thankfully, this doesn't happen either, for Hugo is a film of classical nuances not cheap tricks; it's about film's hopeful beginnings and its potential, not its tacky reprises.

Let me say one more thing about ambience. It's what silent film focussed on and what has been all but forgotten in modern movies, where pyrotechnics and visual spectacle are all the big deal. Ambience, many filmmakers forget, is what places one in the heart of a story, and makes the experience of it, real and lasting. Hugo has it in spades. You will feel a part of the Parisian milieu at the turn of the century; you will feel like Hugo himself, lost in the conundrum of a clock, in the machinery of time, in movies themselves.

Cheers to Scorsese and all who had anything to do with Hugo. I smell multiple Oscars!

Thursday, November 24, 2011




Open up the streets
Let them be
For pedestrians again
Protestors with tall signs
Whose yelling can be heard
From one block to the next

Open up the streets
Let the people

Let the people’s voices
And footsteps be heard
All across the cities
And suburbs of America
Wherever White people and
African Americans, Latinos, Asians,
American Indians, wherever friends
From anywhere across the globe
The streets are the plains
And they are open to everybody 

The streets are the great table
Across which we lay out
The feast of our hopes and
Our anticipation

I say, Come
March with us
Come, eat with us
Come, let us create
A new America together 

Open up the streets!


Everywhere is home 

The fountains

Are open to everybody

And so are the parks 

No exclusions anywhere –

How’s that for a revolution?

-          by Arya F. Jenkins

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I spent more money than I should at Barnes and Noble last night, as I have been doing more and more recently, knowing this bookstore too is going to close shortly.

I feel like weeping, I really do. I will have to get on a highway just to find a bookstore. That place of solace, comfort and refuge I used to thrill taking with a demitasse of espresso will be miles away from where I live.

The other reason I feel like weeping is the realization that books and the art of reading and talking about literature may become defunct in my lifetime.

I'm so glad my mother, whose love of literature and writing inspired my own, didn't live to see this -- although, of course it didn't happen overnight. It's been decades since The New Canaan Book Shop closed its doors. It proudly displayed my mother's books, had a sophisticated selection, and its saleswomen were sharp as university profs. And it's been decades since the pink Remarkable Book Shop in nearby Westport with its slanted wood floors and endless nooks full of literary charms, closed. No, it's been part of the steady decimation of our culture, which, sad to say, will soon bypass language, art and conversation in favor of the most expedient message, the bottom line -- until we are all dots, as in a computer program.

You would think it's because nobody cares about books that B and N is closing, but that's not the case. The cashier at Buns and Noodles informed me that "every single customer has been telling me the same thing you are -- they're all upset."

Maybe all those customers weren't buyers all along as I have been. I've looked at book buying somewhat like supporting my favorite charity, for a few years now. Any time I go into a bookstore, I spend money. I buy espressos and desserts; I sit with magazines that I usually purchase. Inevitably, I buy at least one book.

What do we do with books anyway? It used to be that after reading one, I tossed it aside. After that, it would be open to lending, even getting lost. Once, after I had moved back to Connecticut from Ithaca, I went back to get my storage and found I had way too many books to lug back with me, even with the help of a friend. I got rid of the excess by setting the books in piles, according to category, around the Commons, hoping students and avid readers like me would pick them up eagerly, enjoying the surprise. In one stack were Plato and Nieszche. In another, Millet and Steinem. In yet another, collections of short stories and essays. There grew to be so many piles, I began to wonder if I might be arrested for a new form of littering.

I can't fathom giving away a book now. I am already treating them like collector's items.

Now, I read a book, and if I like it at all, place next to me on my nighttable, where it is likely to get a second read, and be perused at random.

And now I will lend favorite books to no one.

I've read Gabrielle Hamilton's exquisite and inspiring (for a writer) memoir: Blood, Bones and Butter at the Kitchen Table twice. And other books. Patti Smith's remarkable Just Kids is next for the second time around.

It's not as if I imagine that the writers whose works I read will know my private actions, know that I respect, value and appreciate their work. It's that I understand especially now how great literature really does open up spaces of knowing, care and intuition in one's being, and helps one to grow. I appreciate how magical literature is, and I want it always to be a part of my life, in whatever form.

What would we do without words, the art of them on a page? Even letters are beautiful to me, each one a caricature and a unique possibility.

I admired the quills on sale at Barnes and Noble last night, everything on a 30 percent discount. I thought, Wouldn't it be lovely to write with a quill, make calligraphy out of a story or a poem, make it look as precious as it really is? For, as we move forward into the future, it's possible, it really is, that we may forget to take note of who we are, may no longer care to leave traces of ourselves in letter forms to our children. It's possible, just possible that all that may remain of what I once loved, this mammoth, centuries old experience called literature may be symbols and short cuts, texts in a nonverbal and nonliterary age.