A Wedding, Silent Japanese Films, Peter, Lee, Emily and I Want My Beard Back

Thursday, September 19th, 2002 | Family, Film, Friends

My family is in town for my little brother Mark’s wedding, all of them, and they’re all staying with me, on the floor, in my bed, my studio… Carol and Sue are putting the finishing touches on Keith’s (the bride’s) dress, 80 buttons, Carol’s design–a low-back silk/satin sheath with a bateau neckline, lace appliqué and pearls, fish-tail hem, detachable silk organza sweep train. It’s stunning. Carol’s designs remind me of Adrian’s–typically cut on the bias and form fitting. She has a line of clothes called “Retreads” using vintage designs and made from vintage table cloths, wool blankets and such.

I saw three really interesting silent films at the PFA on Sunday. The films were presented with the live accompaniment of a Japanese benshi, one of the few remaining practitioners in Japan. Benshi provided simultaneous spoken interpretations of the dialogue and plot of silent films during screenings in the silent film era, which lasted in Japan well through the 1930’s. It was an art form that was integrated into the experience of silent film, similar to the narrator in Kabuki. The benshi, Midori Sawato, has been performing for 30 years, and although I didn’t understand much of what she said, her tonal inflections and mimicry of the dialogue really brought the images to life. My friend Earl Jackson, who speaks fluent Japanese, told me that she not only related interpretations of the dialog and scenario, but also offered her own interpretations of and speculations about manners, language and style.

One of the films was a very early film by Ozu, I Was Born, But…, made before he developed his signature visual style of single long shots, compositions with no closeups, panning, or tracking shots. The film is about how two young boys learn about the hierarchy of the Japanese social structure, coming to terms with who has power in the adult world and why, while realizing also that it doesn’t apply to them yet, and working it while they still can. There was also a short about a man who is killed by his lover’s father and then comes back as a ghost to successfully woo her. He returns to the world of the living only after trying and failing quite comically to get comfortable in his teeny little grave. The final film was Cecile B. DeMille’s The Cheat, and featured an evil high society Japanese character, who BRANDS his white socialite would-be-lover when she fails to surrender the pink after borrowing $10,000 to cover for her failed stock market investment–and remember this was all shown with the benshi’s near-hysterical renderings of all male and female dialog, in Japanese.

I’ve reconnected with my very dear friend, Peter, my oldest and bestest friefnd in town, with whom, for some inexplicable reason, I’d lost contact. His boyfriend of 13 years is leaving him, or until last night, was, anyway, but now it seems that they’re willing to call time out until the boyfriend works through his confusing and conflicting desires. Peter came over for dinner Friday and I wouldn’t let him go. Have you ever enjoyed someone’s presence so intensely that you fear the silence that will follow their departure? In Wuthering Heights, Cathy describes her love for Heathcliff and their kindred souls in increasingly histrionic terms, culminating in the realization “I AM HEATHCLIFF!” I AM PETER!

Speaking of Peter’s once and maybe future boyfriend–he has opened a Chinese antique shop south of market–I went to the opening tonight. It was like Auntie Mame’s place after the trip to the Orient. Oh my God. If you need a Tang Dynasty horse, get on down to “Artique.”

Speaking of antiquities, I picked up my latest piece of California Faience today–a matte blue vase, tapered severely at the base (making it top-heavy and thus scarce), with an elegant flanged top and inwardly tapered lip.

Tonight over dinner with the fabulous and talented artist Emily, we talked a lot about consumption, and love. As I was signing the bill, I realized that I had lost the ability to write cursive in sixth grade due to an intense crush that I had on Lee Little. Lee… I didn’t quite understand and couldn’t articulate the attraction that I felt for him back then, but instead adopted his printed upper case R’s and E’s as a way of having him in some way. Every time I wrote my full name, which has three R’s and two E’s, I was making love to Lee Little. Being him was the next best thing to loving him–or the only thing I could think of.

Okay, so after my brother’s wedding, I’m growing my beard back. I keep stroking my phantom fur, and there’s face, only face…

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