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Miscellany Blog


Miscellany Blog

In a few hours I will be picked up by my daughter Sarah and go with her across to Bay to Marin County, and to Inverness, that idyllic place with easy access to great beaches and scenery, a vacation place for Berkeleyans and others who need to escape from cities, even one that has as many good, anti-big-city qualities as Berkeley has. I’ll stay there until the fourteenth, the day after my 86th birthday, and then will be back in Berkeley. There will probably be no more blogs during that time, because I will be doing recreational reading, enjoying the pleasures of Inverness, Point Reyes, and the Point Reyes Peninsula (perhaps my favorite place on earth), taking it easy. This blog, then, will be only a miscellany to fill this space until I get back and can post another. So, here we go:

1. News item: Critics rate ten greatest movies of all time, putting “Vertigo” first, followed by “Citizen Kane,” Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” and Jean Renoir’s “Rules of the Game.” Then “Sunrise,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” John Wayne in “The Searchers,” one I don’t know, Dziga Vertov’s 1929 “Man With a Movie Camera,” and finally Carl Dreyer’s “Passion of Joan of Arc” and Fellini’s “8-1/2.”

This is the ranking of the British Film Institute’s critics, who have published such a list every ten years since 1952. From 1962 until this year, the top movie has always been “Citizen Kane.” I don’t argue against that; but putting “Vertigo” first is preposterous. It’s a good thriller (I watched it again recently when I happened on it on late-night movies) but nothing more than that, full of Hitchcockian tricks and unconvincing plot-turns. Putting it above “Rules of the Game” is like putting some Eric Ambler or Alan Furst novel above Proust or Zola. And they have left out a number of my favorites, which I won’t list here (see my “Movie Notes” under “Writings of JC”), any one of which would certainly top a John Wayne western. What, for instance, to name only one popular favorite, became of “Casablanca”? The real question: what has happened to the critics?

It may well be that world events have simply been too crushing for critics, or anyone else, to sustain a balanced perspective on anything at all. But then, having written that (and left my computer for a while), my upset subsiding, I return and continue:

2. The Olympics. On this big current topic I have nothing at all to write, only that I am enjoying reading about them and watching them on TV as much as everybody else. I was never myself seriously engaged in athletics--I was a big disappointment in this way for my father, who was a physical director and wanted me to be a great swimmer or some other kind of athlete. The only Olympics reference I can think of to send you to is: look back at my Responses and Reminiscences nos. 36 and 37, the ones on Avery Brundage, for remembrances of a man who was the Chairman of the Olympics Committee for a time, and had exactly the poisonous racist attitudes that have largely, I hope, been overcome--at least reading about the present Olympics in London encourages me to think so. Maybe there is something in this world that gets to be better instead of worse.

3.  Good news comes by email: From my young collaborators in China, Huang and his wife Liu Shanshan, I learn that the book we have co-authored, on representations of gardens in old Chinese paintings, is about to be published there. I can’t write Chinese on my computer, and can only say that the title, translated, would be something like: “Imperishable Groves and Streams: Garden Paintings of Old China.” It will be a picture-book, offering good colorplates of many Chinese paintings of gardens, beginning with the great “Zhi Garden” album by the late Ming artist Zhang Hong. But there will also be a substantial text--old writings of mine in translation, but more importantly, new writings by Xiao and Liu, based on their research and discoveries. I hope that the publisher, Sanlian Press in Beijing, will do an English-language version--my contact at Sanlian, Yang Le, has told me she will urge her superiors to consider that. Meanwhile, tell your Chinese friends (or yourself, if you read Chinese), to watch for this book. It will be a “first,” in that no book on this subject has (to my knowledge) been published before.

That’s it for today, off to pack for Inverness,

James Cahill

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