Sofia Coppola: Priscilla

Contemplative experience for the viewer

A beautifully made and suffocating film with details which from the start breathe luxury into the scene, the wealth and stillness that surrounds the life of Priscilla, Elvis' little toy and future wife.

She is at the same time a very ordinary school girl and a sheltered, adored figure, placed into E's glamorous world to convey a sense of home, a safe space to which he can return from his populated whereabouts. She is a benchmark for innocence, which is what the king desperately needs within his life in entertainment, what we probably all sometimes need. The scenes of his reappearances with a loud team of friends, coworkers, partymakers each time burst in and splash against her silent passing of time among designed objects, while she is painting her nails, walking barefoot on the soft carpet or trying on countless stilettos to fit the perfect, feminine and fragile appearance that he allocated to her. The man she is constantly waiting for is never alone – even after weeks of waiting for him to return from film shootings, she only has his divided attention, and is – as everyone else that surrounds him – the audience for his performance, him constantly acting for the world and himself.

I have no interest in E's personal life and consider fanship a sticky, lazy habit of focusing one's yearning into seemingly lush and pulling famous lives. But Coppola's film manages to attract me despite being about E's life and girlfriend – the director's signature is recognizable already in Lost in Translation with the special pauses she creates within the film's pace, the bubbles of breathable stillness, a certain tranquility that a viewer can embrace and fill with dreaminess.

Coppola has the ability to slow down the action and make us consider: consider an individual's life, their innermost being, their solitude. It is almost as if the main character, Priscilla or Charlotte, is surrounded by an immovable air through which only occasionally an outside world pierces.

It is this feeling and attention to small things, the details that tell the story on their own, the soft light and colors of the scenes as well as the perfected photography that keeps the attention and turns it inward, into contemplation instead of breaking and losing it through entertainment and action.


Gerd Kvanvig: The Day That Didn't Happen

Of Innocence and Aggression

"I could have begun this by saying it was an accident. Self-defense. [...] But it’s the aggression I remember most of all, and what I recognize. [...] The furious pressure. The automatic reactions – as if I knew exactly what I was doing. The killing left a sense of calm [...] as if I had never done anything else."

The narrator of the story takes the unusual approach of connecting the act of killing with evolving weather changes; the heat of late August breaking into September chill. I find this sometimes ambiguous but also enchanting to the point of being seductive; the story is written in a direct and at the same time elusive style, using raw and dreamy poetic language to give a sense of reality which is different from the exclusively human world. The writing allows the environment, the climate to interfere and sometimes overshadow the first person storyteller, a young girl and an adult woman reflecting on her childhood; the weather bleeds into and fills the persona which is the aspect of the book I find most unusual and rewarding.

A twelve-year-old girl is threatened, cornered, fights back. She undergoes a trauma in a very isolated home environment, her closest person being a detached and somehow dysfunctional mother, who leaves her to her own solutions. There are a few firmer points in her life to which she can pinpoint her struggle, relations that emanate love through which she is able to survive: the time spent with her granddad; her new neighbor, the investigator of the crime with whom she falls in love.

The frame of the story is simple and the repetitions provide new views of what happened, similar to how the weather changes; the clouds, the light, the sun, the rain, and the clouds again help to propel the story, making it possible to evolve, even possible to tell what happened: "And yet it seems to be this nothing between me and the rhythm of light and wind and earth that can make the incident clear, and possible to talk about."

Each time the narrator gets closer to the night of the incident, she tells about the increasing late August heat; "the air was so bursting with growth that, if it hadn’t been for the drought and the almost imperceptible hint of chill at night, the world would have opened and withered like a plant. [...] And that’s how the world was balanced, just about. The growth was held back." Then she makes a spin, another cycle, avoids telling what was 'cut out' of the mind of the child for her to be able to survive, but which at the time also compromised all her interactions with the world.

Until the cycling, the circling, the repetitions, and all the love in between, grandfather's love, the investigator's love make it possible to tell and to remember, to remember what happened. "And it’s my hands after all. That’s how it was. It was me."

The innocence of a child in this story takes from the weather; the skies, winds, rain, and heat are more than her connection with the world, they fill her up; a human being transparent toward the dark sky, nothing more than the blueness of the sky, the yellow of the sun, or of that thin, worn-out dress she wore that summer. A child and her grandfather taking in what surrounds them. Innocence is not good or bad, it is empty, and it can at times be filled with aggression or its close companion – passion. This reminds me of Ted Hughes' The Crow where evil is considered to be the counterpart of good, how they are always interconnected, one not existing without the other.

What can feel like a long spin within the repetitiveness of the events and climate in this basically short novel is also a pace and space given to a reader to reflect on the notion of self, innocence, isolation, violence, and the sprouts of love. On memory; and coming to terms with the killing that was erased so it would not take over the whole being, but which eventually needs to be told. "The feeling that he and she were one and the same. It was a clear and all-pervasive feeling that when she stabbed him, she stabbed herself."

The Day That Didn't Happen is a meditation about the forming of self; it cannot forever stay empty, with a free flow from the outer to inner world; the self eventually needs another being to relate to. It's the kind of writing that could feel as cold or self-absorbed if there wasn't so much struggle in it; if it didn't ultimately tell about love and safety; and how the world is.

 

(Translated by Wendy H. Gabrielson, Naked Eye Publishing, 2022)


cover of the book The New Animals by Pip Adam

Pip Adam: The New Animals

The unprotected immediacy of life without words

I would describe the atmosphere of this book as dark, authentic, and raw. There is a struggle present all the way, from the microcosmos of employees in the fashion industry towards human-to-animal, or better said, animal-to-animal relationship, and finally, a solitary woman being splashed and surrounded by Earth's perhaps most alien environment: water, the vast sea surface of the planet. Everything in this writing seems to be the opposite of warmth, home, safety, and I was amazed and pulled into the final tearing away from the human world in the last part of the book, knowing also as a writer how difficult it is to wade into the wild but still talk about the weather, sky, sea, animals in a language that does not belong to those elements.

Maybe just the fact that a story, this fine web of words, can sometimes reach so deep into the wordless sphere of being, can be a truthful indicator of good writing? However subjective this might be. Words and reactions in our minds, ideas and their echoes in a deep mass that is us, the silent us, our inner world. All my favorite books touch the wordless part of me, that is a part of the magic that is still drawing us back to books.

I lack the whole picture, but there seems to be some strangeness, fresh roughness, humor, and alienation present in the fiction I've read from New Zealand. All humans in touch with the wild carry a specific feeling of solitude, maybe just because being close to something outside of human language and the extensions of human technology. I like reading something so literally from the opposite part of the globe that it surprises me; a text less in touch with Western literary traditions.

First things I've noticed with The New Animals was the importance of reciprocal feelings and reactions within friendships. These are observed and analyzed closely and into detail. Carla and Duey are friends since their twenties, their relationship is close, complicated, relaxed, but not without ambiguity and dark spots. For the large part, this is a book about the complexity of friendships. Two, three women – also Sharona, their peer – are described with admirable imperfection. I am attracted to a story that stretches beyond a polished symmetrical reciprocity into unpredictability of vast, uncontrollable mass – which life is – but still manages not to drown us in confusion. There are parts of this book that feel less balanced and grounded in the overall story than others.

When the threesome is presented in contact with Tommy and Elodie, decades younger people, the second focus of the novel is revealed: intergenerational conflicts and gaps. The narrator swiftly changes views according to each person telling the story.

There is something incomprehensible and rough about the third focal point: nature, which is also the title theme. It is first represented in Dugh, Carla's neglected pitbull gone wild, and as the story unfolds, it quickly becomes clear there is no easy solution for Dugh's life. Like most dogs, she is too dependent on human and changed by human society to be a part of the wild. We can only hope that Dugh will not end as many uncared-for dogs in real life do. There is nothing very rational or clear about Carla's relationship with Dough or Elodie's relation with sea animals when she enters the sea as her new living environment. That's where the story is headed: towards entering the nonhuman world of other animals, wilderness, and the water element – so different from the land and air to which we are adapted.

The moment Elodie swims away and stays off the land until the end of the book – the writing also changes: even if still thoughtfully crafted and articulated with great attention and style, it all the time reaches towards something beyond words in a similar way as being alone in the wilderness is an experience beyond words that can only partly and inadequately be described by language. Same as in Zen or Buddhist tradition, being and consciousness (of human and nonhuman animals) cannot be described, only lived.

There is something deeply disturbing and even scary in this articulated wilderness: the wordless Doug, his rage, isolation, and complete noncompliance, the vastness of the sea, the variety of incomprehensible creatures in its depths, the exchange of inhospitality, the clearly recognizable unfriendliness of the sharks, the whales, even the octopus companion. As Elodie swims away and slips off the language into immediacy of experience, she is also engulfed not only by the salty aquatic element but also confronted by and entangled into new relationships. Maybe it is this nonhuman element – while most of us are used to being surrounded almost exclusively by humans – the scariest thing, although it ought not to be. And the presence of death in this unprotected immediacy.