Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Come To My Place: Great Summer On The East Coast


The feelings awakened by the scenery are unlike any others. The sky overhead is nature’s canvas. She dips into her palette and colors visions of glowing geometric designs around the sun and moon, and dancing rainbow of light across the heavens with all the brilliant hues of the spectrum. What we experience as color in the sky are solar beams passing through tiny, floating ice crystals or water droplets in the atmosphere. The striking halo involves various combinations of four basic mechanisms: reflection, refraction, diffraction, and scattering. As you look out, the water is now calm and still and as bright as if molten silver. Its surface is stirred up by the wind or by a large fish. The lofty mountains rise up in the distance with names like rattlesnake, and seem to stand in the majesty of solitude. They repose like monsters, too independent to emit a single sound. It is a place that imposes its own rules. By learning them and respecting the ways of the uncontrolled world we come to the kind of peace that brings humankind to marvel at a silent, pure capacity of nature.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sensuous Intelligence

Automobiles are an expression of the individual who buys or drives them. We represent ourselves with our cars, just as we represent ourselves with the clothes we wear. The automobile has become an accessory to our lives – a functional accessory, but an accessory nonetheless. A car is an extension of one’s personal taste of one’s style and image. When people go to special events such as the Palo Alto Concurs d’Elegance to show off their cars, it’s all part of the same set. So cars are more than a conveyance to get to from one place to another. They are a key part of our taste and its expression. If you love cars – their upholstery, their ornaments, the wooden steering wheel and shapes – as objects of art, you can’t help but be intrigued or stimulated. Many of the cars presented here inspired me at the 2012 Palo Alto Concours. In some way some of the new car designs are not as appealing when compared to some of the great old cars from the twenties, thirties, fifties or sixties. However, each car in its own way makes a statement. Whether it’s an old pickup truck or a shiny new or vintage sports car, automobiles represent an element of your total style. One of the criteria for beautiful cars or design in general is that they never look dated. Some of the cars at the PA Concours look and work as well today as they did at the time they were made. They don’t look like old, outdated cars. They look like something that makes you think, Wow, where can I get that emotive feel now? The truly great designs are designed for longevity. Good design is about staying power as well as about being current.

Friday, June 22, 2012

What It Means To Be Human: Stanley Kubrick, The Experience Of Extraordinary Visual Story And Sound

The word “visionary” suggests that an artist has a particular way of viewing the world that shows the audience something they have never seen. Stanley Kubrick was a true visionary, pushing the boundaries of both imagination and filmmaking in surprising, shocking and often controversial ways. His films, as diverse as they are, share a singular vision: humanity facing chaotic forces, ones often contained within himself. But counter to the tradition of Hollywood, his protagonists rarely prevail and he refuses to provide the audience with the satisfaction of a happy ending. Rather than heroes, Kubrick presents us with morally ambiguous characters that are more often antihero than protagonist, people who may venture the impossible but are ultimately pawns to the laws of society and an often-frightening universe. REBELLION, TABOO, SATIRE, TECHNOLOGY, VIOLENCE, IDENTITY, the SUPERNATURAL, WAR and SEX – these are the all-encompassing themes in Kubrick’s vision for presenting humanity.

SPARTACUS: Rebellion

Though the film itself is a relatively straightforward historical epic and less reflective of Kubrick’s distinctive style (he actually took over the role of director from Anthony Mann), it does defy tradition within its broader story of a slave (producer Kirk Douglas) and his uprising against Rome… or was it McCarthyism? Hollywood? In an interesting parallel, a series of events behind the scenes led to a historical event: screenwriter Dalton Trumbo – perhaps the most notorious of the banned Hollywood writers was given official credit for Spartacus, marking the beginning of the end of the blacklist.


Based on the controversial best-selling novel by Vladimir Nabokov, the subject matter had drawn both outrage and acclaim before the film’s ad campaign asked the world, “How did they ever make a move of Lolita?” The answer is: with great difficulty. Choosing to film in England, where the British film sensors were believed to be more forgiving, Kubrick also made the decision to film in black and white, which lent a starkness to the subject and, some would argue, also served to distance the viewer. In fact, many criticized the film for being “safer” than the book casting an actress physically closer to a woman than a prepubescent girl in the title role. In Kubrick’s world, everyone has their perversions, but the film isn’t a morality play by any means. It’s a comedy as much as a tragedy and an early reflection of Kubrick’s very cynical sense of humor.


Kubrick was a master of dark humor; sometimes so subtle you weren’t sure it was there. But it would be difficult to argue that Dr. Strangelove suffered from subtlety. In the midst of the clod war scare, in which both sides believed the end of the world was a distinct possibility, Kubrick created the most shattering sick joke ever put on film. Interestingly, Dr. Strangelove began as a serious script about how the government went about creating safeguards against nuclear annihilation – a subject that consumed Kubrick. It was based on the dramatic novel Red Alert by Peter George, a former British intelligence agent. As Kubrick developed the script, it became clear to him that satire would be more effective way of conveying the same idea. Kubrick insisted that the seat and the film’s elements, such as weaponry and costumes be as realistic as possible. It is this realism that makes such a stark contrast with the blatantly phallic imagery of cigars and jet planes refueling midair, a deadpan Peter Sellers in three roles, absurd character names, an enthusiastic scheme to have male and female survivors repopulate the world and, of course, the theory of precious bodily fluids. Ultimately Kubrick’s instinct for satire was correct: humor is often the only way to defuse the most deadly serious of topics and out of the pervasive fear of the loss of mankind he managed to convey the total absurdity of mankind.

2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY: Technology

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Kubrick followed up his destruction of the Earth with a story about space exploration. 2001 A Space Odyssey, the adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel explores the theme of humankind’s codependent relationship with the wonders and dangers of technology, a subject that could hardly be more relevant today. In a somewhat ironic parallel, Kubrick almost seems to have made the film solely to display what sorts of innovative special effects could be created through technological advances. 2001 used the medium of film to present a new type of experience, one that clearly defined what could be achieved through the sounds and images of a movie versus the written words of a book.

In the film, humankind’s accomplishments are demonstrated via a single cut: primitive apes accidentally discover the first tool (aided by the appearance of an unexplained monolith), and in the next frame we’re in the future of space exploration. But this is as much a slap in the face as it is a celebration of mankind. With all of our advances, are we really much more than the apes we see at the beginning of the film? Are we better off? For all the technological achievements that have been made, the characters that populate 2001 barely seem to understand what they’ve created. They are slaves to the machines more than they are their masters; to many, HAL is the most human character in the story. Yet, even as Kubrick once again displays an inherent weakness in mankind, 2001 could be described as hopeful. Humans may yet evolve into something greater. In the meantime, beware dependence on technological perfection.


Receiving the dreaded X rating by the MPAA and featuring one of Kubrick’s most depraved characters to date, A Clockwork Orange, based on the Anthony Burgess novel, fell victim to the longstanding belief that any depiction of sex and violence automatically glorifies them.

Kubrick explained to the New York Times that although he was fascinated by violence, he was not advocating it, merely portraying it. However, in Alex (Malcolm McDowell), an anti-hero as charismatic and irresistible as he is despicable, Kubrick managed to construct a character that hates him so much, do they secretly want to cheer for him? Why, if he is a sociopath and a rapist, do they secretly want to be him? Alex is little more than a walking id, but we get a sense that even Kubrick loved him. But did he condone Alex’s behavior? Hardly.

The true violence in the film is inflicted on Alex. To gain freedom, he must give up free will (not to mention his love for the old Ludwig van), a punishment Kubrick implies is worse than incarceration. Perhaps this is why the audience cheers when Alex is cured of his cure, though it clearly implies a return to his former debauchery. The internal conflict that’s created as the end credits roll to “Singin’ in the Rain” is the film’s final act of brutality, but this time it’s exacted by Kubrick – upon an audience expecting to be told how to feel.


Returning to the theme of identity in a very different context, Kubrick created Barry Lyndon, a period film based upon William Thackeray’s novel The Luck Of Barry Lyndon. Though less extreme of a character, Barry is almost as infuriating as Alex DeLarge. Like Alex, he’s an anti-hero, stumbling through life accidentally and entertainingly, but seemingly without an inner life. Perhaps it’s intentional that Kubrick changed the title to place the emphasis on the character himself. In the story, Raymond Barry takes the identity of a poor Irishman, an English soldier, a deserter, Lt Fakenham, a Prussian soldier, a spy, a country spy, a gentleman, a game master, a lover, an opportunist, a father, and once more a poor Irishman. Barry Lyndon is a series of actions and events than a person who learns and grows. The lack of character development is not a mistake. Barry’s life is finally unimportant though a first-time viewer watches with the sense that he must be important. After all, a film has been made about him, one that runs over three hours long. Why would they be watching if Barry Lyndon were insignificant? As with 2001, Barry Lyndon is a true film, it’s a simple tautology: Barry Lyndon is Barry Lyndon and BARRY LYNDON is BARRY LYNDON. What you see is what you get.

THE SHINING: Supernatural

Though Kubrick had an uncanny talent for drawing out genuine fear in the viewer, The Shining was Kubrick’s only foray into the horror genre. The Shining is, on the surface, a simple ghost story. More importantly, it’s an examination of the psychology of a tormented man and his equally tormented family. The focus isn’t so much on the nature of the ghosts, but whether the ghosts are really there. Are the visions real or alcohol-induced hallucinations? Is Danny’s friend a true psychic connection or is he the product of parental abuse? In an interview with Michel Ciment, Kubrick described why he found Stephen King’s story so ingenious: “It seems to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural in such a way as to lead you to think that the supernatural would eventually be explained by the psychological.”

With the exception of the final image of Jack (played iconically by Jack Nicholson) in the photo, the film presents little evidence that the horror is anything but imagined. It’s tempting to conclude that Jack and his family simply went mad, but that would be oversimplification. It’s the possibility of the supernatural that’s crucial to the tension of the story, because it’s this uncertainty that haunts the viewer in a way that a straightforward ghost story or psychological thriller could not. As a horror film not dependent on cheap thrills and screams, its fear comes from the unknown, and the more we try to make sense of it, the more it drives us into dark places we’d rather not visit. These are the places Kubrick invites us to again and again.


For someone who could be called a misanthrope, Kubrick even managed to make war look bleak. Based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford, Full Metal Jacket focuses on the dehumanization during the Vietnam War, beginning with a symbolic shot of new recruits having their heads shaved. As training commences, soldiers are deprived of their names and eventually their identities as they’re willingly formed into killing machines. The first scene with any sort of humanity doesn’t occur until well into the movie, when Pvt Joker (Matthew Modine) provides encouragement to long-suffering Pvt Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). Because it comes after 20 minutes of insults and profanities spilling from drill instructor at his pukes, the moment of kindness is jarring, because we’ve been transported into a world where emotion is out of place.

The audience is finally given someone with whom they feel they can identify, a soldier who’s managed to retain his humanity as he expresses “the duality of man” by wearing a peace symbol next to the words “born to kill.” Joker is a fitting name for the otherwise nameless protagonist in a movie that juxtaposes ‘60s party rock against scenes of combat and explosions.  We are not permitted to watch out protagonist escape unscathed. Instead, he becomes a bearer of a living death and the audience is left with nothing but flames and a loss of innocence.


Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Open, has been called a psychosexual thriller. It’s more of a dreamscape, a hazy series of carnal nightmares that includes one of the most hypnotic orgy sequences in film history. Where naked bodies are constantly on display. In this erotic dream, the promise of sex is everywhere, unveiling the worst in humanity: jealousy, deception and the question of whether people can ever really trust one another.

As much as it’s a film about consummation, it’s a film about being consumed. Unexpectedly, Bill (Tom Cruise) has what might be called a sexual awakening, gleaning knowledge that women, including his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman), are as capable of sexual obsession as men. He journeys through a series of events which all end in a sort of coitus interruptus. Sex, as presented by Kubrick, has nothing to do with love. It is fitting that Bill is a doctor, someone well versed in the human body but for whom it’s an impersonal part of his profession. For Kubrick, sex is a driving force, not an emotional one, a catalyst for self-destruction.

Ultimately, Kubrick provides what is debatable as a positive ending – a tenuous reconciliation between Bill and Alice. But because Kubrick has shown us little reason to have faith in humanity, the reconciliation is far from happily ever after. “A dream is never just a dream,” Bill reminds us. Alice’s last line is deliberate though she uses the term “making love” elsewhere, she reduces any intimacy that’s come before her as an act of carnality. One has to wonder whether Kubrick would have been pleased knowing this would be his final word to the world. Considering his dark sense of humor, it’s not difficult to imagine his approval. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Happy 10th Anniversary

10 years ago today we had wedding number 2 near our summer home on the East Coast.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

C'est La Juicy: Ridley Oarsmen Heading To Henley Royal On Thames

Ridley Men's 8 Heading To Henley Royal On Thames After Winning The Calder Cleland Trophy With Open Water!

Coached by Olympic gold medalist and Ridley alumni–Jason Dorland, Ridley brought home the Calder Cleland trophy as the fastest Men's 8 in Canadian water defeating strong crews from Brentwood and Upper Canada College with one length open water. The crew shall train for two weeks at the Royal Canadian Henley before embarking on a flight to London to compete with the fastest boats from the world at the Royal Henley on Thames. 

When I rowed for Ridley winning was expected. There was no such thing as a sliver medal. My room mate, Douglas Martin, trained for three years to make the Heavy 8 that won like these boys with open water. After Ridley, he stroked the Princeton varsity crew for wins at IRA's and Eastern Sprints. Most of these boys are going to be at Harvard, Brown and Princeton this fall. Well done gentlemen.

In other rowing news: USA has qualified for the London Olympics, however, the boat race isn't going to be an easy win; defending champions Canada aren't going to give that medal away. It's going to be a nail biter race later this summer.