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 © 2020 by James Clark

 

    The films of Ingmar Bergman have elicited from his loyalists a bemusing history. At the point where a consensus about the remarkableness of his skills and heart was at full tide, there also began to occur some battle fatigue in face of waves of other demanding presences of his. A pantheon readily arose, by way of influential critics who jumped to the idea that the mother lode had been reached and that the latter flood was secondary and not worth the strain. That Bergman began to produce films by way of television, also seemed a sign of losing it. (Also a sign of the viewers’ easily losing it, was the myopia about films predating 1957, regarded, if at all, as quirkily overreaching.)

For what it might have meant, the television series of Scenes from a Marriage (1973) became a last hiccup before finding other entertainments to go with popcorn. The soap opera (with a difference), in question, displays a couple of patricians and their on-again, off-again liaison, ad nauseam. But Bergman-being-Bergman, he inserts another couple, very different from the silver spoons. The protagonists host a dinner party for their friends, Peter and Katarina, who proceed to humiliate each other. After the hosts are rid of them, they stage a rededication to their superiority. “Peter and Katarina don’t speak the same language. We speak the same language…” Peter and Katarina, played by different actors, in German rather than Swedish, resurface in the 1980 film, From the Life of the Marionettes, in order to elaborate what heterogeneity can look like and feel like. Peter, another silver spoon, manages to remain another Peter Pan. His malaise with a Katarina drawn from one of his staffers, drives him to butcher a prostitute, perform necrophilia upon her and end up in a mental hospital holding his teddy bear. His wife is left to be an adult. Few of the original loyalists would have seen this film. Too bad, because it’s easily as brilliant as Scenes from a Marriage and any of the other films thought to be great.

The immediate shock, so unlike Bergman’s usual sophisticated procedure, signals, I think, a new form of traction bidding to surmount the dilemmas of a perverse planet. Doing something that new, the project would suggest, might occasion a rich departure. (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

 

    There are Bergman films that seem to be like ancient frescos, disappearing the moment they encounter our atmosphere. Thanks to a few devotees, such apparitions reappear by way of streaming and deep space, allowing us to confirm that everything he touched was very important.

The film, Dreams (1955), is not only a beautifully crafted and powerfully ironic evocation; but it is at the apex of a clutch of early 1950’s filmic gems with a strange and wonderful weave about actors, names, habits, habitats and humiliation. (The concentration there would spread out into many of the factors of later Bergman films.)

A brief description of this patterning can get us underway with the specifics being buoyed by a universal frenzy, however masked. Our protagonist, Susanne, owner of an haute couture concern, first comes to us as stressed and morose, putting much use to her opera-length cigarette holder aflame and asmoke. Less than a year before, in the film, A Lesson in Love (1954), we saw another frustrated Susanne. But whereas the latest to have that name is played by actress, Eva Dahlbeck, the Susanne of A Lesson in Love is played by actress, Yvonne Lombard, while Eva Dahlbeck portrays there, “Marianne,” a flakey, violent and patrician wife to one, “David,” a patrician gynecologist, played by Gunner Bjornstrand. In Dreams, Bjornstrand portrays Otto, a multi-millionaire, who picks up one of Susanne’s models, played by Harriet Andersson, a cynical, infantile gold-digger. In A Lesson in Love, Andersson portrays “Nix,” daughter of David, far more balanced than her parents. Andersson also portrays, Monika, the eponymous protagonist in Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953), who plays an unbalanced crocodile. Life going round and round; but going nowhere anytime soon.

(more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

 

The film we’re about to come to grips with, namely, Ingmar Bergman’s, A Lesson in Love (1954), has by all and sundry, maintained that its action amounts to  be a “comedy”—a whimsical romance confirming a matrimonial imperative. That would be a validation of mainstream life.  Where, pray, comes the idea that Bergman strives for such an outcome? I think I know.

A Hollywood film, from 1940, namely, His Girl Friday, under the auspices of Howard Hawks, a figure nearly as talented as Bergman (though nowhere near as profound), became a “screwball classic” for an era needing some laughs. It had to do with an ex-wife still tangled up with her newspaper editor, being so adept and delighted with the work as to be indispensable. Notwithstanding, she’s about to remarry and leave the job, a prospect the boss can’t contemplate. The ensuing skirmishing, between the incomparable, Cary Grant, and likewise, Rosalind Russell, are an epiphany of old-time, rapid-wit and cynicism. With their barrels of charm, they end up staying together, and the customers applaud with gusto.

Had the customers, of Bergman’s film here, taken a look at the three preceding Bergman films, they might have curbed their zeal about A Lesson in Love being an effort to live up to Hawks’ His Girl Friday. The newshounds are already in their heaven of advantage. Hawks was as flush an adjusted giant as Bergman was as flush a maladjusted giant. (A bit closer, though, to our helmsman, was Howard Hughes!) Though Hawks was, in addition, a daring sportsman, for sure, he would not have wanted any part of the rigors which Bergman faced all his life. As such, Bergman assembles an action with many formal aspects of the 1940 film, but only to display how very different such domestic conflict can careen into long-term emptiness. Gunner Bjornstrand and Eva Dahlbeck, though handsome enough, are not built for swooning, but instead for bloodless self-mutilation. Once in a while a bit of mirth escapes, but only to emphasize the loss of real sustenance. (This seems to be the moment to take to heart how badly served the commentary of Bergman films through the years have been left. A few ridiculously overrated pundits have managed to disfigure the work beyond recognition, to be followed by the quick and the dead. One of the more egregious and destructive faux pas along this slope is the daft reflex to the assumption that early works [like the one here] are minor and dispensable. Bergman was ready to shoot out all the lights from the outset. A Lesson in Love is as brilliant and indispensable as Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal and Persona.) (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      Ingmar Bergman’s breakaway film, Summer Interlude (1951), introduces not only startlement amidst stick-in-the-mud proclivities; but one lone young man who heeds its uprising. He dies young, but his legacy is a diary, a diary that will almost certainly be lost within the purview of the action. But that action holds forth in Bergman’s enduring output, an output confined now to very few takers. However, it only takes one to make a breakaway in this world of ours.

Knowing very well that his more than difficult interest will be fumbled in this world of ours, his career takes aim upon a myriad of filmic constructs, in hopes that a vector, somewhere, will be taken to heart. The film following Summer Interlude, namely, Summer with Monika (1953), bears several imprints from the earlier film. The helmsman’s fastidiousness undertakes, in this first of many couplings, a measure of variations playable within couples (human intent being a possible buttress of primal dynamic), at significant ease, where the women initially occupy considerable zeal for gusto, only to subside into hard and frivolous entities; while the men obliviously squander their affection and fail to show enough courage. For the sake of a more specific introduction of the method, let’s recall that the musical composition of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Swan Lake, is frequently heard, in a theatre in, the first film, though not played with distinction. In the second film, two buskers—one playing an accordion, and the other playing a guitar—play a polka in a low-rent courtyard, and the verve, body language and love in the performance (unloved by the spectators) becomes a moment of magic. The diary of the first entry becoming a small matter along with the statements of “glitches” no one notices, Bergman counters, by way of the second film, on tap today, arguably the most optically dazzling parade of his whole evocative career, under the auspices of brilliant cameraman, Gunner Fischer. Here, before taking his stand within the full-scale sophisticated sagas that would define his hegemony, Bergman would unleash, again and again, breathtaking visions to hopefully gain recognition from the patrons that the questionable melodrama, on the surface, could dovetail with something they had failed to recognize and develop. (Perhaps this is the moment to dismiss the likes of Jean-Luc-Godard and his political cohorts, who disseminated the utter insanity that Summer with Monika involved a new and powerful revolution to sweep away antiquated societies.) (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      The films of Ingmar Bergman always present difficulties—difficulties of narrative (as with nearly all films); and difficulties of theme (as almost unique). Unlike virtually all other film artists, his communications presuppose that each of his works vitally contribute to the one being viewed. Unlike normal conundrums which may be absolutely resolved, the interest Bergman has attended to will never disappear. His embrace of his theme is complex to a degree almost unimaginable.  But in the case of those who have devoted time and energy to hopefully grasping the heart of those haunting depths, it remains a shock and a dismay that the range of these films have not been recognized. (The situation here, is likened to Reichardt’s Wendy mired in narrative, while Lucy makes a hidden difference.)

Though our helmsman leaves movie buffs bemused, he is, in fact, far from the only practitioner of his ilk. In ancient Greece, there were thinkers who drove their sensibilities along lines familiar to Bergman. They encountered the advantage-zeal-simplism emanating from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and their Judeo-Christian offshoots with their punitive style. The so-called Dark Ages were not only about Neanderthals, but also furnaces of inquisitional pedantry. By the time of the 18th century, and the overrated Age of Enlightenment, a form of surreptitious opposition to throttling of what the pre-Socratics had discovered, had become a shadowy form of rebellion, known as Freemasonry [free building]. One of the artistic giants of the era, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was, in fact, a Freemason; along with a close associate, Emanuel Schikaneder, who became the librettist for the Mozart opera, The Magic Flute (1791).

Bergman was, as you know, an inspired builder of filmic innovation. But, with his version of The Magic Flute (1975), his muse abandoned the totally new, in delight with a sort of sidekick, namely, Mozart. The film we see today does put out a vigorous recommendation on behalf of classical rational power, in accordance with a clientele besotted with Age-of-Enlightenment righteousness. But Mozart, while giving due to the status quo in the opera, evinces, with Mozartian elegance, a subversive counterattack. Aptly, then, Bergman, always subversive, will alight upon features of the modern world in his scenario, having made no significant progress beyond the days of Mozart. But he must also acknowledge the rare, if quixotic, daring, spilling out from one, remarkable modest source, being food for thought in a world convinced that only a mob can get things done. (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

 

    The films of Claire Denis tend to elicit a tribute to her audacity. On the heels of that given, there is the thrill of a supposed pronounced modernity. Viewers and reviewers directly understand that narrative means virtually nothing to her, because her forte is “mood” and “texture,” being apparently applied in such a way as to constitute a new and superior logic.

A film like, Trouble Every Day (2001), our challenge today—and quite widely thought to be her breakaway magnum opus—happens to be suffused with not only the narrative of Ingmar Bergman’s film, Scenes from a Marriage (1973), but also Bergman’s, The Passion of Anna (1969); and more Bergman to come. Those infrastructural crises therewith, which Denis handles—as always, with sophistication and delicacy—do not, in fact, countenance cannibalism  as a cosmological method. Nor do they countenance a mobilization of neuroscience to develop a medicine to curb sadistic murder by which the gratification remains, but free of messy bloodshed and messy law.

It must be made clear from the outset that Denis has no time, per se, for the infantile fantasy-pastime of vampires. Two broad hints concerning that matter should suffice. In connection with the stately Japanese filmmaker, Yasujiro  Ozu, she shuts the door in this way: “I dislike cinephilia and the cult of auteurism” [which is to say, genre, tried and true entertainments, like horror movies]. A second distancing, from a BBC broadcast on the subject of violence in, Trouble Every Day, says a mouthful: “This film concerns what happens when you tangle with something that is stronger than you are.” (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      Way back, when Ingmar Bergman was a hack by necessity, he found himself (being an acute student of Hollywood flutter) ready at last (around 1950) to speak his piece. The vehicle he chose for this debut, namely, Summer Interlude (1951), involves all the treachery and emotional violence mowing us down for the next forty years. Although his portfolio would include marvelous instances transcending destruction, those marvels would be hedged in a way that protracted evil would seem to triumph on planet Earth. But what is planet Earth but a sick puppy in face of the infinite potential of the cosmos? In the days of Summer Interlude, however, we should not neglect the singularity of heartiness putting in a dynamic (perhaps) never to be seen from him again. This singularity is the special gift and the special task of our film today.

Whereas, at the outset of a saga like Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972), there is a piercingly beautiful rendition of the grounds of a large estate in early morning light, only to become promptly swallowed up by vicious interaction and horrific physical decline and death, the tyro matter goes to sheep-dog persistence to show us that an agency of uncanny love is very much in the mix. Not being able to deploy (as with the film of 1972) remarkable chromatic effects, our preamble reveals an estate of some opulence, rich foliage including daisies in bright sunlight and gentle breezes, benign white clouds and, particularly, a body of dancing water with a rocky shore to be displaced with the sea looking back toward the now distant structure, touched by a carefree flute motif. (The last detail to note here, is three chevron-form windows at the mansion’s upper floor. That they resemble jaws as well as a formation of dialectics indicates how early Bergman’s instincts for synthesis were in play.) (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

         I seldom remark upon the actors in the films I touch upon. Of course, many of them are geniuses in striking the tones to propel a cinematic vehicle. My interest, however, is the entirety of the work; and that is the domain of a screenwriter/ filmmaker.

Why I cite the actor, August Diehl, a protagonist in the truly majestic film here, namely, A Hidden Life (2019), is his resemblance to long-departed star, Henry Fonda, and specifically the Henry Fonda of the film, Twelve Angry Men (1957), directed by journeyman, middle-of-the-road, Sidney Lumet. That latter melodrama is light-years distant from Terrence Malick’s production of uncanny hiddenness; but they share the format of a solitary investigation daring to negate a fondness that is catastrophically wrong. The film today, however, casts Diehl not merely casting umbrage about the Nazism of Adolph Hitler, but (only feebly understood), all of world history. That a hidden life transcending the news could obtain here characterizes this film as a communication far from moralistic and sentimental dogma. (Fonda, bucking  relatively simple odds, wins over the hearts and minds of his fellow jurymen-detractors. Diehl, far from eliciting expertise in face of his challenge, tears apart not only himself, but his family and an encouraging cosmos.)

Before he became a filmmaker, Malick, as a young philosophical academic, had impressively attempted to deal with the disarray which was the edifice of the philosopher, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). In his, “Translator’s Introduction,” to the Heidegger essay, The Essence of Reasons (1969), Malick underlines the peculiar difficulty of the sense of “world.” In the text therewith, Heidegger comes to a showdown of sorts with the phrasing, “The decisive origins of ancient philosophy reveal something essential to the concept of world. Kosmos does not mean any particular being that might come to our attention, nor the sum of all beings; instead, it means something like “condition” or “state of affairs,” i.e., the How in which being is in its totality. Thus, Kosmos houtos does not designate one realm of being to the exclusion of another, but rather one world of being in contrast to a different world of the same being, eon (being) itself kata kosmon (in relation to the cosmos). The world as this “How in its totality” underlies every possible way of segmenting being; segmenting being does not destroy the world but requires it.” (more…)

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 © 2019 by James Clark

 

By the year of 1973, Ingmar Bergman had crafted a remarkable wave of trenchant and thrilling films, not to mention an auxiliary career in theatre. He had no conspicuous need to produce a television series; but he did. Figuring out what possessed him to do that, becomes our job today.

The singularity (at that point), namely, Scenes from a Marriage, became a hit. But we must add that a television hit is not a Bergman film hit. He promptly pared that melodramatic jag into a feature film, of the same title; and something very strange and demanding came to pass. The two protagonists, Marianne and Johan, remain the patrician piece of work who ramped up those ratings. But, with Marianne’s caseload, as a divorce lawyer reduced to only one client to be seen, the Bergman we’ve come to know trains his concern about how a pair like Marianne and Johan (the latter being a professor of psychology) and their somehow lofty ilk manage to rule, not only modern life but all of world history.

The only adult on the screen being that client of Marianne’s—readily forgotten by the young and the restless in thrall to the seeming endless riot— a middle-aged woman who presents a need which Family Law (shored up by clinical psychology) does not touch, becomes a hit and run casualty, bound to self-remedy. (Later on, Johan makes an unintentional joke when declaring—bold as brass—“I don’t know anything about reality…”) The certified expert in the room (a room with Marianne’s beige apparel on beige décor) sits down with the client wearing black with a small yellow scarf. “In the first meeting we usually establish the issues and look at how to solve them,” Marianne explains. “I want a divorce,” the composed customer already concludes. The solver, with a process which may not avail itself to pat solutions, takes a statistical slant. “How long have you been married?” (The answer being, over 20 years.) “Do you have a profession?”/ “No, I’m a housewife.”/ “Why do you want a divorce?”/ (After a long pause, Marianne looks up from her notepad and sees the stranger twisting an envelope. Eventually, within a transaction she was perhaps not prepared to give reasons, she states, “There is no love in our marriage.” Cut to the lawyer, wide-eyed. “Is that the reason?” the far younger fixer asks. “Yes,” the somewhat nonplussed lady replies. Smiling professionally, our protagonist asks, “You’ve been married for a long time. Was this always the case?”/ “Yes, always.”/ “And now that your children have left the nest, you want to leave as well.” She nods, not looking directly at Marianne. “My husband is a responsible man. He’s kind and conscientious. I have nothing to complain about. He’s been an excellent father. We’ve never quarreled. We have a nice apartment and a lovely summer cottage we inherited from my mother-in-law. We’re both fond of music. We belong to a chamber music society and play together…”/ “It all seems idyllic.”/ “But there’s no love between us. There never has been.”/ Marianne in close-up and her notes, as she asks, not looking at the puzzling client, “Forgive me for asking, but have you met someone?”/ Cut to the lady in close-up, her candid eyes directed at the lawyer, measuring up Marianne. She smiles, more relaxed. “No, I haven’t.”/ With the lady onscreen, there is the questioner asking, “What about your husband?”/ “As far as I know, he has never been unfaithful.”/ Marianne in close-up, looking tired, says, “Won’t you be lonely?”/ “I guess… But it’s even lonelier in a loveless marriage.”/ Marianne, with pursed lips, and eyes down to her notes. “Have you told your husband you want a divorce?”/ The lady becoming quietly annoyed by the tenor of this interaction. “Of course.” Her eyes direct, and slightly ironic. She adopts a resolved smile. “Fifteen years ago I told him I didn’t want to live with him anymore, since there was no love in our marriage. He was very understanding.” (The lady’s eyes drift into a void.) “He merely asked me to wait until the children had grown up. Now all three have grown up and left home. Now I can have my divorce.”/ Marianne speaks while we still see the petitioner. “So what does he say?”/ “He keeps asking me what’s wrong with our marriage. And I tell him I can’t go on with a relationship that lacks love. Then he asks me what love is supposed to involve. But I tell him I don’t know. How can I describe something that’s not there?”/ Cut to a rather blasé, smug lawyer, lipped-pursed and pedantic. “Have you been on good terms with your children? Emotionally…”/ The lady now back onscreen. Her gaze at Marianne suggests that she knows she won’t be more than an item of cash-flow here. “I’ve never loved my children [her face being stricken by more than that]. I know that now [her mouth tight]. I used to think I did… You always do… But now I know that I never loved them. Still, I’ve been a good mother… I’ve done all I could, even though I never felt anything for them.” As she looks downward, the paradox of her discourse begins to bite. That standoff can’t continue. Her divorce and its solitude comprises a crucial daring, far from readily resolved. (She’s neither as severe nor as discerning as she likes to think.) She’s ready for the inevitable critique from a fat cat (late for the appointment due to a lunch with Johan being a bit prolonged due to her mooting an exotic trip, for the sake of doing something about her malaise, having been broached on the car ride into town; then dropped, as if nothing). The lady addresses the girl, “I know just what you’re thinking” (brief cut to Marianne, with a strained smile). The girl with the profession says, “Really?”/ “A spoiled woman with no sense of humor… She has everything she could possibly want—but still she goes on about love. What about friendship, loyalty, security?”/ Cut to a smiling Marianne. “Something like that, yes…”/ This elicits a hard look across the universe. “Let me tell you something. I have a mental picture of myself that doesn’t correspond to reality.”/ Being reminded that she recently made a short cut through that path [in the sprawling TV version—not to be too caught up in its soap opera; but not to be entirely ignored], Marianne wakes up a bit. “Pardon me if I ask you a personal question… Isn’t true love…” [She rubs her brow, looks down]/ “What were you going to ask?”/ “I’m not sure. Forgive me” [lips pursed]./ From the lady’s punishing depths to a precinct of control, there is the notice, “I tell myself I have a capacity to love [hands closed]… but it’s been [open hands] bottled up…”/ (Cut to a bemused Marianne)/ The errant lady oracle, invading a corporate sanctuary, recounts, “The life I’ve led has stifled my potential…”/ Clearly unimpressed now, Marianne wants this to end. The stranger—like those of the string of other oracles of past films by an artist so adept in weaving discursive presentation into scintillating film—knows intuitively that nothing avails with the Marianne’s of the world. But, for the sense of a semblance of intelligence, the payer continues, “The time has come to change all that. The first step is divorce. My husband and I cancel each other out.”/ “That sounds frightening,” the solver declares./ “It is frightening. Something peculiar is happening. My senses—sight, hearing, touch, are starting to fail me. This table, for instance… I can see it and touch it. But the sensation is deadened and dry…”/ (A very quick slide pan catches Marianne with a visage of fright.”/ “Do you understand?” the bidder for change asks./ “I think I do…” [at least while emoting, “I’m not certain I  know who I am,” in the simplistic version]./ The real thinker leaves us with, “It’s the same with everything, music, scents, faces, voices. Everything seems puny, grey and undignified.” (more…)

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 © 2019 by James Clark

Our return to an old Christmas blog, from 2013, must (due to corporate regulations)stand without  the YouTube referred to.  But the point of two great writers at this season can’t be denied.

    You might think that having the likes of Dylan Thomas (he of, “Do not go gentle into that good night”) drop by at Christmas would be tantamount to exclusively broaching Scrooge’s Christmas Eves prior to that special one. Just in case our unlikely courier of charm might, to some, fixedly and unwelcomely portend a variation of The Nightmare before Christmas, we also have in our sack the sure-fire James Herriot and his just-right reminiscence about The Christmas Day Kitten. I’ll keep my enthusing, about Thomas’ visit, to a minimum, whereupon there is the YouTube of the author’s 1952 reading; and, then, to some hints about Herriot’s doing so much more than damage control.

As good a place as any to reach the nub of Thomas’ going back to the ways of Christmas celebration when he was a boy in Wales is the moment—somehow still compelling to him as an adult—when he and his friend, Jim, “…patient, cold and callous… waited to snowball the cats.” This glimpse of cold-weather crudity striving for gratifying sizzle sets the tempo of every incident recalled. A fire breaks out from an errant bid for hospitality, and a maiden aunt asks the firemen, “Would you like anything to read?” Young Dylan brags to younger children there, about the unique wild side of winters past, postmen past, Christmas presents past and the uncles past (“There are always uncles at Christmas. The same.”), galvanizing a domestic, even ascetic celebration like that into a spectacle of slightly eerie departures from a long-standing sedateness. After the luncheon feast (where the uncles shone at over-indulgence), the boy-adventurer would go out for a walk with a few chums. A wiser Thomas describes such a moment as that in which the callow, irrepressible little show-off would tarnish beyond fruitful recognition the unembellished magic of life around him and within. “The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea. Now we were snow-blind travelers lost on the north hills, and vast dewlapped dogs, with flasks around their necks, ambled and shambled up to us, baying, “Excelsior.” On the “poor streets,” the children “cat-called” after the stuffed revellers, their cries, “…fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay.” At tea, Auntie Hannah “laced hers with rum… and the ice cake loomed in the center of the table like a marble grave.” And after that, “tall tales… we told by the fire.” And it is at this point, instead of the perennial standbys, that there is a once-in-a-lifetime encounter that can’t be forgotten (just as Herriot’s once-only and never-forgotten Christmas outsider). Carolling in the night, Dylan and his friends take into their head to go to the front door of a “large home” (a place bringing to mind the homestead of Edward Scissorhands). The kids decide against the ethereal “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” in favor of “Good King Wenceslas.” Soon after starting, they were accompanied by “a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door, a small dry voice through the keyhole.” They ran away until they arrived at Dylan’s house, where they hoped that some jelly was left. An even tipsier Auntie Hannah inadvertently reminded him of the recent shock that was too hot to handle, in singing about “Bleeding Hearts and Death” and singing that her heart was like a bird’s nest—causing the sated revellers to laugh. In bed and ready to sleep, Dylan looked out at lights in windows and the music rising up from them, but only seeing those “on our hill.” There was “moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow.” There was “close and holy darkness.” And there was a sweep of love that proved impossible to brave. (more…)

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