Former Passivity

Episode Two Hundred Thirty Seven: Former Passivity.
In which we closely watch.

1 comment:

  1. 'Closely Watched Trains' (Jiri Menzel, 1966), part of the Czech New Wave of films that I'm just beginning to get my head around, thanks to Criterion Channel. As far as I can tell, this film is notable for the humanization of its characters, and the 60's sense that - though politics is an overbearing framework that dictates the movements of all our lives (Czech New Wave was characterized by obtuse critique of the Soviet state), underneath this framework humans are still motivated by fundamental drives, notably sex; the disparity between these two narrative streams is often explored through absurd storytelling techniques.

    Part of what's happening here, for me, is that my paternal last name, Kadlec, is (as I understand) Czech, and I see the dark, absurdist tradition as an important part of my heritage. My father used to like to say that 'Jan Svankmajer is proof that Socialism works,' which is itself a statement so preposterous in its naivete that it becomes an absurdist comment on my own lineage.

    Gulwick, the reader may want to note, is my father's maternal family name, and one that I've always understood to be Swedish (though my sister swears that she knows it to be Norwegian). Pasty and brooding, I come by all this honestly.

    My father's ancestors were mid-nineteenth century immigrants, settling in the Midwest (Pierre, SD) as farmers and, in one case of a Bohemian family, frontier saloon keepers. They seemed to gravitate toward Minneapolis, though my father largely grew up in New Haven, I believe.

    On my mother's side: the fallen South. The names Ware and Estes, outside of Atlanta. I know little of where those names originated because my mother never seemed to know. English? French? Welch? Irish? No matter. Though her mother swore - without prompting - that there was no Spanish in the family, a fact that might account for their concern over our streak of 'frizzy hair', and possibly was designed to divert from a far more dicey family history (a common American Southern tale). But who knows. Her family was broken and addicted, and their heritage is appropriately lost. As a result, I never knew which characteristics to celebrate from her side (I went with Faulkner), and the marriage of my parents (early 50's) always seemed random and bizarre.

    Back to this comic: These four frames are directly from an edit near the beginning of the film, and is the introduction of the protagonist Milos in his new position as a station agent. Three quick shots of machinery, mysterious, inviting, complex, and then a longer shot of this beautiful young face in a sharp, clean tunic, gnawing a pen over a vast log book. I mean, that's really all there is here: Three pieces of technology, and a young man looking wistful. The idea that finding the opportunity to get 'in' on a cushy job, and that inside that job there are a variety characters, each struggling to understand, on different levels, what it is they are doing, and where they fit.

    The title, 'Former Passivity', from the Wiki entry plot summary on the film. Interesting seeing different styles peek through the Wiki passages. In this case, it describes how the protagonist, once finding confidence through his coming-of-age, is able to act as an adult and participate in a partisan resistance sabotage campaign. The Wiki article cited his 'former passivity', a phrase that resonated with me because issues of agency have always been a theme in my own life.

    In general though, I'm very happy with how this turned out.



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