7/27/20: Life of Art and Other Things #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #RobertAltman

1/27/22: Robert Altman came up today.

The Rick Blog


7/27/20: Life of Art and Other Things #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay  #RobertAltman

Saw Ron Mann’s documentary, Altman, for the second time last Saturday

The first time I saw the movie it was on a double bill in Santa Monica

I was attempting to revive a career as a theatrical improviser

The documentary was on a double bill with Altman’s great film, Nashville

Christoph Waltz was sitting in our row, all alone

I was teaching at UIC at the time

and I was trying to reconnect with old friends and colleagues from my days at Second City

I went to a workshop — the leader said that I was a novice and a “lawyer” — an amateur who was just visiting

He criticized my constant talk of “art”

He said improvisation was a “craft”

He saw his work as a job

And he wasn’t very successful at it

He talked endlessly about…

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1/27/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “What is Cinema?” (2013) #poetry

1/27/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “What is Cinema?” (2013) #poetry

In Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped” the character Orsini is described as very brave. A member of the French Resistance, Orsini was betrayed by his wife and sent to a Nazi prison. When he first arrived at the jail, he was near madness. But eventually he grew beyond hatred and even suffering. He said he still remembered what happened to him, but in a manner as if it happened to another person. Bresson is studying the process by which people get out of prisons in this film, and some prisons are within our minds.

It is fascinating that Orsini did not escape his broken mind and heart in response to his wife’s betrayal by an act of will. He transformed to a kind of enlightenment. He went through a humble spiritual process.

I thought about Orsini in relation to my own madness, hatred and suffering related to cruelties and injustices visited upon me. I have repeated Orsini’s evolution many times. Lost friendships and jobs, initially so painful, became objectified in my mind. I realized in each instance that every break with a person or persons hurt ultimately because of the loss of an illusion. I believed that love existed in situations where in fact it did not.

Orsini was better off without his wife of course. He eventually was executed. She was literally an accomplice to his murder, but that harm is not what initially hurt him so deeply. She rejected him in the cruelest fashion.

When I look at rejection objectively, I see that it is not an action that one or more persons do to an individual. I think of organ donations. If the kidney is not a match for a patient the body rejects it. There are people who we are meant to be with, and people that we are not meant to be with.

The loss of the non-friend, or loveless lover or inappropriate job or community or group is always a good thing. One’s true nature matures and reveals itself, and often has to move on.

This split is always painful at first. No level of enlightenment ever makes it easy. But one always goes on to find one’s match, or finds it is better to be alone, or dies with a sense of peace regarding what has happened.

Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” follows a prostitute searching for love who is rejected again and again until she learns that her acceptance of herself is her salvation.

Rejection is the breaking of codependencies. The artist, or the fully human person, must be independent and capable of entering into inter-dependent contacts if and when such opportunities arise. Love is inter-dependency. You don’t need another person to survive. You walk with them by choice. The inter-dependent reflect and support each other in their independent solitudes.

I have written extensively about my break with some members of the improvisation community. This break initially caused me great pain, and I wondered why. That very wonder was a sign that I had reached where Orsini was in his full maturity. I was starting to naturally be curious about what happened, and began to look at what formerly was my pain in an objective way.

Why was I in pain?

The improv clique rejected me. They said I wasn’t any good creatively. Why did this hurt? I never thought that they were any good creatively, not then or now. I found their work to be sloppy, cynical and dumb. So why did I care? I thought they loved me. And as I review my life, I see that they never loved me. They didn’t even like me. I was never one of them. I was too smart and serious for them. I did not pander to audiences. I tried to get to the truth. They said that they were improvisers, but they were much more influenced by commercial casting directors for entertainment and advertising projects. They actually weren’t improvisers at all. They were hacks. Commercial artists hate the real thing. I am far better off being apart from them.

The improv clique said that I always ‘came back’ and hung around. They slandered my reputation and portrayed me as a bum and hanger on, who never had money and was looking for a handout, trying to be a parasite on their venues and projects. I am a lawyer, and a college professor, and a writer with an independent income. I came back to them to try to work on my idea, not to become part of theirs. They were very toxic in their comments, but I was never deterred in my work. Why did this bother me? Well, it hurts to be slandered. It feels like a physical assault. So apart from the inappropriate nature of their hack approach to a false creativity, these people were also bad people for me to associate with at all. We all need to spend time with people who respect us and treat us well. Relationships endure anything but disrespect.

The improv clique attacked me when I was visiting, on a weekly or biweekly basis, a dying member of their cohort that I thought was my friend. I found it extraordinarily cruel that they mocked and hazed me under these circumstances. Of course that hurt too.

Can’t the painful part stop? I’m 66 years old. Certainly these splits have happened to me before in many different settings. I’m not sure, but I don’t think it gets any easier. There may be a shorter recovery time, and a greater understanding of the nature of things, but humiliation and slander and malice and envy and even ignorance directed at you hurts — no matter how often you have endured and transcended them previously, and how unsurprising they are given your experience relating to human nature.

Bresson, in “A Man Escaped”, makes an equivalency between ‘escape’ and the Christian notion of being ‘born-again’. Bresson was a Catholic filmmaker. I think we endure crucifixions — great pain, and then reflect upon and process what happens — Holy Saturday — and then we are redeemed … our sins and the sins of our oppressors are forgiven and we go forward in the fullness of humanity — creative and open to real love, discerned from illusion.

What I have written thus far is what cinema is to me. It is something to contemplate. My inner world encounters something new in my outer world, and both of those worlds change.

I look forward to what I might learn and how I might change from watching “What is Cinema?”


Cinema is something to be reflected upon. Questions not answers. Cinema is an invitation to the viewer to make art himself, at least this viewer. For that reason, it doesn’t matter if the movie is “good” or “bad”. A movie tries to tell the truth. It may hit or miss. It is a chance to reflect on the truth referred to, accurately or inaccurately.

Cinema, other forms of art, and everything that happens in my life, all have the same function for me.

This movie uses music to entertain the audience that I find distracting.

Cinema is like a dream The dream of the collective. Dreams show us in symbolic form realities about ourselves that we are unconscious of … art points the viewer to that which is unseen …

Everything I see are objects of contemplation for my art.

This movie is calling on me to fill in a lot of blanks. It ain’t Bresson.

One guy wants cinema to have story. I like when it says something. But if it doesn’t, I will. I will anyway.

This movie is for people who want to make movies. I do’t want to make movies. For me, it seems like a lot of unnecessary trouble — for me. I can say all I want to say right here on this page (or screen).

Meaning … meaning … meaning … everything else is secondary …

Hitchcock talks about style, but I think he is really talking about interpretation. All art is interpretive. When you read a piece that I write about a movie, you are really considering an image of my experience, and then you create an experience of your own. If you are an artist, you’ll make an image of your experience. If you aren’t an artist, you are a consumer of art, and perhaps that experience, like all experience will color your future.

I identify with Bresson. I feel that we are similar.

I think my notes here are more useful than this movie.

Now it’s a clip show. Is this stuff just what the director admires? What he could get? Who cares?

Bresson — ‘without transformation it isn’t art’. I’ve said that. I swear … I really relate to this guy. Bresson says art has to be a new thing. If it is art it is unlike anything else in the manner of its expression. And timeless in what it has to say (I added that).

Altman … another great one. I’ll put it in my words … art leaves a trace. Elaborate structures that disappear, but live on as a thought, a feeling, a stirring of the soul … and if it’s effective, the viewer is more consciously him or herself. All my words here in this fragmentary paragraph inspired by Altman.

Creation happens in the unknown.

I’ve said it often … art happens when you don’t know what you are doing.


This movie moved into a few profound sequences now.

A critic tells you what he thinks. An audience tells you how they feel. I make art. I don’t write or talk about movies.

The movie talks about changes in technology … digital etc … that’s not my focus. I don’t care when a movie was made. I am interested in meaning. Everything else is just tools.

Mike Leigh … another great one … independent integrity … he is pretty articulate about his process … most of them aren’t. Writing and talk are different art forms than filmmaking.

“The camera is more than a recorder. It’s a microscope.” Great line. Art is a microscope.

“Like lost children we live our unfinished adventures”. Beautiful.

“Art has to be reinvented”. Yes, always. Every time.

“We have an idea in our head, and that idea changes. And if it doesn’t, we are making the wrong film.” Wisdom.

What is cinema? Cinema is one of the objects that I look at as I make my writing. That’s my answer.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/26/22: my steam of consciousness while viewing “A Man Escaped” (1956) # poetry

1/26/22: my steam of consciousness while viewing “A Man Escaped” (1956) # poetry

Bresson is interested in telling “true stories without adornment”.

A prisoner of the Nazis in the French resistance.

Bresson was in the same circumstance as his protagonist in “real life”.

Joan of Arc

Was Bresson martyred for loyalty to God?

Without adornment

A minimalist

Where is the art?

Nothing imagined, no style which draws attention to itself

There is the style

The truth honestly and directly told

is a manner of high art.

The clarity, the serene calm, the focus on the object, the rigor of the observation, the courage, the empathy which studies every detail, the courage to speak without self-censorship, the breadth and depth of study to see every aspect of the story in the context of all human history, art, philosophy and theology

That is the stuff of art

at least the stuff I notice now

Looking at Bresson is like looking at the stars

It inspires awe and curiosity

The man wants to escape oppression

He takes great risks

He would welcome even death as the means to his freedom

Think of the Nazis

They were paid, and promoted, for their cruelty

Are they such an extreme metaphor for how things are?

Subtitle: “The Wind Blows Where It Wishes” (from the Bible)

Bresson knows that we have no control over what happens to us

and all control in how we respond

Mozart did the music

I guess I’m not the only artist who wants to surround himself with masterpieces

The Nazis demand that the man does not escape

In this circumstance a man’s raison d’etre is in his defiance

The oppressor beats and then leaves you alone





Left alone, a person can die of despair

or make art

and plot acts of resistance

A person can be imprisoned politically



Oppression is a form of attempted murder

Which can only be successful if the oppressed person cooperates with his enemy

They can even kill the body, but they can’t kill your essence

unless you let them

Oppression makes the oppressed necessarily suspicious

Wary of each other in the world

and intimately experienced in the true nature of hope

not sunny optimism (Obviously)

but aware

that life always has a chance

even in the most dire circumstances

Real risk

Trusting strangers

Freedom is a matter of life and death

New friends arrive

A sense of small victory

Ambition to get away

and win the war

It is this way for everyone

French Resistance prisoners

People with abusive bosses

Folks damaged by toxic relationships

Saintly mules abused by sinners

In art, the artist finds solidarity with other oppressed people

and those who have escaped

The process of liberation is the education of the artist

Bresson likes using narration

I feel a commonality with him in many ways

He who escapes never accepts defeat

He will never bow

Pride is not a sin in these times

The artist unconsciously prepares himself

notices everything

It is all intuitive preparation

every true moment follows a gestation period

Something directs us to what we need to know

Bresson is fearless in his honor of the truth, he never caters to the audience

but gives it precisely what it needs

I rewind and review time and time again

You can’t miss a frame

He presents a moment by moment exposure

Of what it is to be held down and away by someone else

and what it is to get away

and be free

Freedom does not involve endless possibilities

It is a matter of fulfilling the promise of one’s essential nature

The oppressor actually performs a service

In pushing back against the oppressor

The oppressed gains form and defintion to who he is

False imprisonment, like its cousin, murder, is a usurpation

It tries to deny God the accomplishment of the fulfillment of His creation


Our opportunities and inspirations come in moments of chance and idleness

A spoon becomes a chisel

The magic of the escapist

He digs through prison walls

Progress is slow

Craft is developed in response to the necessity of telling your story

and living it

The pain of the inevitable losses

fallen comrades

is overcome with work

One’s action becomes silently dedicated to the ones who didn’t make it

and the ones who might still have a chance

now and in the future

The escapist must disregard the fears of people he cares about


Luck is the unseen hands of God

God furthers all who serve his purposes

Why bother?

Bresson’s answer (and at least part of mine)

“To fight. To fight myself, to fight the walls, to fight the door.”

To exult and fight

“For the Greater Glory of God”

The Jesuits had us write that on the top of all of our papers and tests

And I guess it took

“Fight, fight for everyone else”

One man makes a spoon into a chisel, and another makes shoelaces into a noose

That is every person’s choice

Time numbs the wounds of abuse

The wounds take us to the threshold of madness

and then

Art heals them

Time dulls hate and even suffering

Art uses hate and suffering

as instruments of escape

Months of patient work opens doors

Bresson the Christian Existentialist

The plan unfolds … structure and improvisation are one

Bresson knows that we have to execute God’s plans

It would be too easy otherwise

Life is great because it is hard

Its difficulty makes masterpieces possible

Some doubt the escapist and some want to come along

When you get to the point when you forgive and forget

Your past troubles seem like they happened to someone else

Now you are making art

How dirty, small and ugly is the world our captors force upon us

how could we not escape

Bresson equates escape with the Christian idea of being born again

The artist transcends the world’s oppression

dies to the world and comes to birth from within

the truth, the will of God displaces the meanness, injustice and misery

Hope is doing the right thing even though you know you could fail, or even die

It is the very act of hope that redeems

Hope inspires others to hope

Success and failure are the provinces of the oppressor

The born again artist traffics in hope

And on the eve of his escape suffers doubt

And his peers parrot the misgivings back to him

The oppressor escalates the oppression

Prison will yield to execution

Art is made in crisis

Doubts are no longer an option

The stress makes the escapist manic and depressive

A nervous breakdown is a rebirth

Unlikely partners arrive

A window of opportunity

Arrangements are made to be sure your story is told, win or lose

And then you and your partners jump

Your meticulous plans

and your flexibility in face of surprise

Your prepared openness

and the adventure finally begins

The Escape Artist

Your virtuosity gives you


And in freedom, finally, you become Bresson in full

Nothing holds you back now

and your sufferings are those of other people

A Man or Woman Escaped

Bresson showed us the essences of the processes of life

It’s all true

It all applies to everyone

Faith isn’t a choice

You just know and trust what you know

The oppressor has to disappear

And you make it so

The final initiation is making the oppressor disappear

before the gates of


“I come not to bring peace but a sword”.

The Now Escaped Man and all like him walk free

Accompanied by Mozart.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

9/23/21: An Ode to My Mature, Righteous and Poetic Anger #poetry

1/26/22: This is a repost of a fine concise statement about outrage in my writing, and in my life. If it were just an airing of grievances, it would be petty. But it is important. I explore my wounds with the same intensity that I explore my exaltations. The reader can explore my ordinary life and responses to the infinite expanse of life in general, and explore their own.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog

9/23/21: An Ode to My Mature, Righteous and Poetic Anger #poetry

A great friend and reader (and excellent writer in his own right) writes, “Often, reading your work, I feel that excitement warming, “… here he goes, we’re circling an insight …” Or I feel the danger of your anger, your willingness to expose an arrogant, lesser mind. I’ve admitted, at times, I worry for you, but also I exalt.”

I ask him , “Why do you worry for me?”

Before he can answer me, I tell him (and you) why I am not worried.

I have a kind of objectivity in my anger. It starts out personal, but I work it out , largely through writing. I then look at the hideous behavior and feel moral outrage … at first in being small maybe, and then I get through it.

For example, my hurt and rage with my dying…

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5/20/17 — Dear Father Jenkins, Notre Dame President: You Disgraced ND by Inviting Mike Pence to be Commencement Speaker. Signed, An Alumnus

1/25/22: Inventory of Outrages
Yesterday, I did an inventory of masterpieces that I have contemplated and written about. Today I will be sharing an inventory of outrages … negative responses to destructive things.
Art looks at the masterful — excellence and virtue, and also looks at the sins and caprices of Man, the actions that we take that alienate us from what is traditionally called God.
I thought that I wrote about the mean, inhuman things to purge them from my own soul, but the unconscious purpose was more important than that. The dark can not be left out of any portrait of ‘God’, man and the world.
The Seven Deadly Sins are (with corresponding opposing virtues in parentheses):
Pride (Humility)
Greed (Generosity)
Lust (Affection)
Envy (Enthusiasm for Excellence)
Gluttony (Temperance)
Wrath (Patience)
Sloth (Industriousness)
My pieces considering negative objects of contemplation are shared today on the blog below. I did not include the early years of the blog in this inventory. They may be a separate project. But I came across this early piece that I thought was perfect to be included in today’s inventory.
Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog

jenkins and pence

Dear Father Jenkins, the President of the University of Notre Dame,

I read that you were petitioned by many not to invite the illegitimate, immoral, and soon to be proven criminal and even treasonous President Donald Trump to speak at ND’s May 2017 Commencement Ceremonies. You agreed not to invite Trump and invited his complicit, dissembling, and immoral in his own right, Vice-President Mike Pence instead. That’s too clever by half, Father Jenkins. You disgraced yourself today.

Free speech doesn’t mean the University has to give stupidity and immorality societal authority. Let Pence pass out leaflets on the quad. That’s constitutionally protected. A university — especially a university like Notre Dame that claims to be so superior in the art of developing students’ personal characters AND minds —  should have intellectual and moral standards. Have you been thinking TOO MUCH about money, Father Jenkins? Is all the high-minded rhetoric just marketing? Stop worrying about…

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1/25/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing au hasard Balthazar (1966) #poetry

1/25/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing au hasard Balthazar (1966) #poetry

The mule is baptized

The great Bresson

The reincarnation of a great Catholic Renaissance painter

The essence of Catholicism is beautiful

Beyond the nuns with rulers and pedophile priests and self-righteous Notre Dame conservatives

Catholicism the humanist religion that welcomes its expression in art

I don’t have faith

I have experience

The essence that the word ‘God’ refers to is palpable and ever present

It isn’t a matter of religion, or even spirituality if you wish

It’s a matter of physics.

Children baptize Balthazar

They anoint him a child of God

and almost immediately he begins to be abused.

The genius of Bresson has humanity reveal itself in how it treats this mule

The Seven Deadly Sins are (with corresponding opposing virtues in parentheses): Pride (Humility) Greed (Generosity) Lust (Affection) Envy (Enthusiasm for Excellence) Gluttony (Temperance) Wrath (Patience) Sloth (Industriousness)

Godard said that this movie shows all of life in ninety minutes

Ebert said that Bresson does not include one shot that shows the mule’s point of view

I say that Bresson doesn’t anthropomorphize the mule

This isn’t a Disney nature film

The pretty girl loves the mule

The animal dully reacts when she kisses his snout

We interact with the world

for an audience of one

God sees all

God and Bresson

Bresson’s style is substance

he tells a simple deep story

like in Church when we were kids

but we are adult now

God has the answers for how we should proceed

Be good

The pretty girl’s father’s vanity gets in the way

Other characters have other failings

Bresson doesn’t get trapped in psychology or sociology

He knows everyone has a theology

whether they know it or not

It’s not about being respectable

It’s about being human

The boyfriend’s jealousy gets in the way

He is jealous because the girl loves the mule

How stupid!

How galling is the stupidity of the egoistic people consumed by envy

He sets the mule’s tail on fire

Cruelty comes easily to him

The girl’s “love” of Balthazar is her longing for a better world

But like Leda and the Swan … she wants to be raped and to escape rape

And if you read that with feminist reservations, think beyond gender

because God does …

The girl desires the purity of the mule

and is drawn to the boy’s aggressive lust

We are all like that

Every one of us

We want Paradise

and we want the Fall

The boy toots a horn after he fucks her

A conquest

Off camera, we know that she is damaged …

and satisfied

Bresson is steeped in secular art, religious text and art, and mythology

He believes in what he has worked to understand

Ingmar Bergman didn’t get this picture. The human being interested him, not the mule.

He didn’t see that Bresson felt the same way. Some artists work from the inside out and some from the outside in.

Bergman revealed a weakness looking at Balthazar. Things had to be Bergman’s way.

I am no longer an improviser.

I don’t believe that something can be wonderful right away. Wonderful comes from calm observation and reflection.

I don’t believe that creativity involves saying, ‘yes, and’. Creativity involves saying yes and no, making considered determinations of value.

I do believe in one aspect of improvisation. Improvisation is a theater of externals. We reveal ourselves in how we relate to people, and objects between us, and the space around us. Our souls are extensions beyond our persons. This aspect of improvisation is based upon theology and not facile trickery.

Bresson had Catholic dogma. Paul Sills had Martin Buber. Sills, as I’ve written before, was frustrated by improvisation. Buber was taking him further than Spolin, but business considerations never allowed him to let Spolin go. Sills was like Moses. He watched approvingly as others left improvisation behind.

Improvisation is a phase, not a destination.

Bresson’s work is thought out, and still retains its spontaneity and air of discovery … as thought always does.

The greatest music is both jazz and classical.

Bresson just shows you what happens in a scene. He never adds a comment. He let’s the scene speak for itself. The scene makes the comment. You make the comment. Bresson calls on you to be the artist … to look at life and learn.

Sin is folly.

The Seven Deadly Sins are (with corresponding opposing virtues in parentheses): Pride (Humility) Greed (Generosity) Lust (Affection) Envy (Enthusiasm for Excellence) Gluttony (Temperance) Wrath (Patience) Sloth (Industriousness)

‘Hasard’ means luck

Life happens to us

What’s up to us is what we do with what happens

An alcoholic gets an inheritance

He promptly gets drunk and dies

Balthazar has been a pet, a beast of burden, a runaway, a circus animal, worked to death … and a saint …

men said what he was

and he never renounced his essential nature

He couldn’t

He’s a mule

We choose

A character states his theology when asked if he believes in anything, “I love money. I hate death.”

His God and his Satan.

The sweet girl who loved Balthazar becomes a prostitute not for money but for warmth and kindness

and transformed the man who worshipped cash

She has a perverse awakening … a sad ending for Leda …

No … not sad … she embraces rape and Paradise …

She loves a good man as an act of will

Not passion

She chooses to accept the sinful world

and engage it with the serene acceptance of Balthazar

I don’t think that I understand everything that is happening in this movie

But I see what Bresson is doing

A priest says “You must forgive … everyone … “

Only someone who has forgiven everyone

like Bresson

can describe our sins so clearly

After the storm, the skies clear

and the painter sits at his easel

Balthazar the saint walks in a funeral procession …

the natural reverence for death

And then sin revisits him one last time

The criminal ex-boyfriend

exploits Balthazar in the commission of a crime

and then beats the mule savagely

The crime involves a gunfight

Balthazar is shot

He rests among sheep

and dies

the death of a saint

a martyr to the sins of man

who always stayed loyal to God.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/25/22: Inventory of Outrages #poetry

1/25/22: Inventory of Outrages #poetry

Yesterday, I did an inventory of masterpieces that I have contemplated and written about. Today I will be sharing an inventory of outrages … negative responses to destructive things.

Art looks at the masterful — excellence and virtue, and also looks at the sins and caprices of Man, the actions that we take that alienate us from what is traditionally called God. I thought that I wrote about the mean, inhuman things to purge them from my own soul, but the unconscious purpose was more important than that. The dark can not be left out of any portrait of ‘God’, man and the world.

The Seven Deadly Sins are (with corresponding opposing virtues in parentheses):

Pride (Humility)

Greed (Generosity)

Lust (Affection)

Envy (Enthusiasm for Excellence)

Gluttony (Temperance)

Wrath (Patience)

Sloth (Industriousness)

My pieces considering negative objects of contemplation are shared below. I did not include the early years of the blog in this inventory. They may be a separate project.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

5/18/21: The Father (2020) — Merrily (?) Merrily (?) Life is but a … #poetry

This is one of my favorite pieces. My father died in 2009, but this reminds me more of my mother, who died in 2018 of dementia.

The Rick Blog

5/18/21: The Father (2020) — Merrily (?) Merrily (?) Life is but a … #poetry

My mother died a year or two ago in the fall. I can’t remember the specifics easily. We all retreat to the mist … and return in our dreams … Brigadoon. She had dementia.

I see my mother in this movie. I see me too. I like the way Anthony Hopkins dresses — isn’t that funny? I’m into old man chic. I like his white hair and stomach. I like the standards of old age. I was born to be old. This is my favorite time of life. The comfort, the intolerance of fools, the  irascible demand to be oneself, to say and do as you please … the end of all bullshit … the freedom … retired from society … society cares less about you now … less about what you think, what you do…

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1/24/21: My Masterpiece Inventory #poetry

PARIS, FRANCE: Picture dated 28 April 1983 of French film director Robert Bresson, who died 18 December 1999, aged 98, his wife announced 21 December 1999. Bresson directed the first of his 13 full-length films in 1943, among them the famous “Journal d’un cure de campagne” (diary of a country priest). (Photo credit should read GABRIEL DUVAL/AFP/Getty Images)

1/24/21: My Masterpiece Inventory #poetry

I want to view more masterpieces. As regular readers know, I don’t write reviews. I use movies, TV, theater, books and other media as jumping off points for broader and personal essays. Today, I re-post pieces that contemplated what I consider to be masterpieces in an effort to take an informal inventory of how I am doing in my project to contemplate things that are worthwhile.

The results of the inventory are encouraging. I began considering masterpieces in early 2021 with my piece considering “Manchester by the Sea”. Early in the evolution of the blog in 2016, I wrote my personal thoughts and responses to “Nashville”, “Mr. Turner” and “Rules Don’t Apply”. There were many pieces that I could have included in my masterpiece file that I arbitrarily concluded were very good but not at the level of masterful excellence. Many are actually masterpieces, but I had to limit somewhere.

The blog basically says yes and no in its choice of subjects. I look at things that are instructive about life and art, and things that are destructive of life and art.I have a good start in my goal to consume great art, and hopefully make some along the way.

The blog began (and remained briefly) a personal marketing tool, and then morphed into an opinion page related to the Trump farce/tragedy and the death of theatrical improvisation, murdered by the institutions and individuals who had the responsibility of its care and expansion, while servicing my students as a teaching tool, next tried to deliver my art in entertainment milieus … a misbegotten effort from which I learned a lot, then turned into a personal journal, then experimented with poetry and essay and seems to have come to rest in a state that I simply call “my real writing”. All of the phases with the exception of the final phase of my “real writing” would rise and fall like tides … it wasn’t a linear progression. The writing reflects choices in my life. I no longer am interested in mere opinion. I have left the improvisation community and my interests turn elsewhere. I no longer teach. I have no interest in performing and certainly not performing in any entertainment environments. I don’t market myself anymore, putting my faith in real connection instead of forced partnerships. Each “no” improved my life and writing. And my two “yeses” art and ordinary life inform all that I do. The blog when read chronologically is an interesting study in transformation. The two most empowering things that I have ever done were studying for and passing the bar exam on the first try, 25 years after I graduated from law school (when I was 50, 16 years ago), and writing my blog (since 2015). The bar made me think I can accomplish anything. I not only passed but was scored in the 88th percentile on the practice exam (the scores of the actual test aren’t published) — 25 years after my indifferent and mediocre law school career. The blog showed me that I could teach myself to be a writer of high quality — in my own way — the way of art.

I have high artistic aspirations for my writing, and they are not mere optimism. I prove to myself that I can do things. I can write.

So yes, I want more masterpieces in my life, including ones written by me. I have posted links to the pieces that I have written sharing my reflections while viewing masterpieces below.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/23/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “The Trial of Joan of Arc” (1962) #poetry

1/23/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “The Trial of Joan of Arc” (1962) #poetry

The equivalency of art and martyrdom might strike some as strange, but only those not yet acquainted with the sacrifice of art and the joy of sainthood …

Robert Bresson … knew nothing and just started to look …




Existential … meaning that he is focused on the creation of meaning, he considers the realities of being alive



He’s like a scientist as all artists are

None of the entertainment bullshit

He explores the truth

He rejected acting … he felt it was phony …

He’s serious

What he does is important …

He is deep …

He is challenging …

He is self-determining …

He is free … indifferent to the opinions of the world …

He is generous … he gives us his best defintion of the world …

He works consistent with what he has discovered to be the essence of his medium, film …

In service with what he has discovered is the essence of what it is to be alive …

His material could easily descend into the merely political, psychological or sociological

but it never does …

He makes it alive and present to the viewer, for the viewer to apply to their individual life …

He’s actually not that hard to figure out once you look at him …

but you have to look.

We watched Saturday Night Live last night. Dreadful. What are these people thinking? What do they care about? They don’t care about being good … at anything. Ninety minutes of cheap attention getting. Every second … the sketch comedians, the musicians, the commercials.

Why do I watch this shit? I want to turn off my mind, I guess. But the result is always the same. It makes me tired and depressed. Bresson engages me, I have to work at his work …. it makes me tired in a different way, a good way, a clean way … and I feel stronger and more alive for the experience.

I have to make some changes. Throw all the bums out. SNL isn’t alone … so much bad TV and bad movies, so many banal social media posts … so many people who just aren’t good enough …

Joan of Arc was rejected by people who weren’t as good as she is … good deal …

Bresson takes his time … nothing is wonderful right away …

Years to raise money …

slow dense scenes ….

reverence …

The assholes put you/me/her on trial

She/i/you are defiant

(I’ll switch to ‘she’)

She cries alone and suffers

She questions the legitimacy of their authority

She refuses to fully cooperate

A voice told her to speak boldly

She does everything in service of God’s will

(Bresson took all of the dialogue from the transcripts of Joan of Arc’s trials … )

The bastards resolve to burn her at the stake before they complete their kangaroo trial

Joan of Arc fought for the real Church and the real France

The ideal is the real

Society betrays the nation and the church

The artist (like the saint) hears the voice of God and speaks to the people

And those who hold power and control the people conspire to kill her …

I take this kind of thing seriously

In this section the clerics’ tribunal makes a bunch of false accusations …

I know why they hate me … I expose them both in my very person and deeds and in my direct and spoken challenge …

The assholes want a confession … this is the juncture when shame is inappropriate …

They call her a liar …

She does not argue; she stands tall

Her accusers recognize her strength

She is dignified

She warns her accusers of their harsh fate if they murder her

God’s voice told her that her martyrdom will result in her joy in Paradise

God’s voice is her teacher

I am proud of the many times in my life that I’ve been told to shut up

I learned relatively quickly not to listen

She even sacrifices receiving God’s sacraments to honor the will of God

Her accusers are traitors to France, allied with the British enemy

She serves God before the church

God before everything … that’s where art comes from …

Worldly powers are threatened by sainthood and art

They know saints and artists are more powerful

and end all tyrannies

if they let them

What they don’t know is that it is impossible to stop saints and artists

even if they kill them, their influence always wins the day

Joan has doubt

This is the most perilous moment

more than the fire at the stake

If the saint or artist betrays themselves

they cease being saints or artists

for a time anyway … it’s part of the story …

a lot of pain in the story

Bresson may have hated acting, but the actress playing Joan gives a great performance

But i think its because she doesn’t act

She gives us a blank page to write our thoughts and feelings upon

They have to humiliate and demand that she bows

They ask her to recant her life

And she does!

(My greatest pain is from the moments that I have recanted … more than anything else … my life got better when I got pissed off …)

Of course, they respond with cruelty when she gives them what they want

Everything about them is for the assertion and maintenance of their power …

She can’t help but tell the truth when they go too far

They call her a “relapsed heretic” and in condemning her they are instruments of her redemption …

Notre Dame is not Notre Dame

Second City and improvisation aren’t either

or the Law

or UIC

or Loyola

or so many false friends

or every place anywhere and at any time that weren’t what they say they are

They burned me at the stake

time and time and time again

and I died victorious

and went to Paradise …

Writing …

I never bought into write so many pages a day stuff. My feeling is just show up. I consider my time ‘not writing’ the hours in between hitting the keys, and the years before I started in a systematic way , to BE writing , as much as the composition phase. I’ve been engaged in the act of writing my whole life.
I think you, dear reader, may have too. You can be all of the other things and be a writer. You should be actually. The stuff of your life gives you something concrete for your dreams to alight on.

Joan was concerned with God and the people, and not the powers that be.

The equivalency of art and martyrdom might strike some as strange, but only those not yet acquainted with the sacrifice of art and the joy of sainthood …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas