Not the worst film I've ever seen

Camera angles are the eyes. What do the eyes know? Nothing much. I tried talking to my left eye one time and all I got was some bullshit about TLC. I told the left eye who was T Boz and began using my brain for conversation, instead.

Seriously, that's all the eyes do, right? They filter information to the brain where the solid judgements are made. You see a pile of crap, your brain says walk around it. You see a beautiful flower, your brain says smell it. It's not rocket science. And it's not your eyes making those calls. Your nose would have worked just as well in those cases had your eyes been blind.

And, yet, some filmmakers think they can seduce the brain with an image. This is actually my problem with a lot of the films I thought I enjoyed back when I was young and stupid carefree. I watch some of those films now, and I cringe.

Some have stood the test of time quite well, such as Brazil, Eraserhead, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Tenant, Aguirre: the Wrath of God, and several others. I don't want to make a list here. The point is this: The camera angles in all of those films are just breathtakingly wonderful. But, the camera angle and the viewfinder cannot tell a story. You can film a waterfall in all the ways possible, and it's still a waterfall. It's not a metaphor which tells us anything about ourselves until it becomes the vehicle in a story. Unless you're pretty darn stoned, that is. Been there, done that, got the synapses misfiring.

So, all of this is about The Sacrifice by Tarkovsky. This was released in 1986 under the title Offret. Some guy in Hollywood, maintained that I must see this film, since it's the greatest film ever made, according to him. Not being one to shy away from a possible epiphany, I spent 145 minutes of my life watching this movie. I've got to tell you the truth: This movie bites. And it bites in the way a pretentious effort by Truffaut or some other cheese eating surrender monkey's movie would bite. (NOTE: Tarkovsky was Russian. The allusion to the French is strictly an ad hominem attack. Merci.)

This was the man's last movie, and he was dying of cancer when he was making it. I appreciate that fact and I truly feel for the suffering he must have endured in order to try and tell it all before he died. However, this seldom works. Look at Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. Look at Van Morrison since Astral Weeks. Look at Bob Dylan. You can see it all around you: The Bell Curve of creative genius. There are plenty of folks who've beaten this demon, and I'm not saying it's endemic, but my argument here is not with Tarkovsky, it's with this guy in Hollywood.

From the opening scene of the planting of the dead tree which would come to life with just enough daily ritualistic care, I was hooked on a feeling. An unpleasant feeling. From there, we follow the father and his young son up a small incline where the postman on his bicycle keeps cutting them off as he wends his way back and forth in front of them. I must say, should I be walking along and someone do this to me with a bicycle, there would be spokes in teeth and pedals in assholes.

The film's best part is next, when there is a wonderful scene of the father finding a miniature of their house in a muddy place in the yard. It is as if a giant has overtaken the scene and one is taken aback for an instant when it's revealed to be a model. However, this is just another trick of the eyes. What does it mean to the theme of the movie? That forces are at work here bigger than us all? Whoa, I didn't know that already.

Then we learn of the nuclear war theme. Planes fly overhead and things fall off of shelves and people are very, very depressed. A Swedish sort of depression. Like Bergman, but without the feeling. You soon learn to hate the wife. The nubile daughter is a twit. The wife seems to have loved one of the friends but married the money. She's a stone cold bitch who needs a shot (as does the daughter) just to put us out of their misery. The postman is on a drug I've never done before. He's seeing dead people. The maid hates them all. The little boy can't act, so he's left in bed asleep.

Then the shit really gets deep. The postman tells the dad that he can make everything OK by fucking one of the maids who lives behind the church across the bay. She’s a witch, you see, who can erase reality by virtue of one good boink. And this thought just "comes" to the postman out of the blue, at the last minute, when the bombs are about to fall. At this point, I almost turned the whole thing off and decided to waste only 91 minutes of my life. But my new best friend in Hollywood would have been disappointed, since his favorite scene in all of filmdom comes at the end. So I trudged onward.

At this point, it must be noted that most folks who know about this filmmaker and his work seem to agree that he had a story in mind about a witch and a story in mind about the end of the world via nuclear war. However, he apparently did not mean for them to get mixed up in this fashion. Was he trying to kill two birds with one stone as he realized his time was short?

A deal with God is made. Supernatural things happen, such as screwing in mid-air. (I did that once, but I made sure I was on top.) Dad returns home and things are normal again. No nuclear war. The power's on. The phone works. The radio plays. But, dammit, there's that pesky deal with God. (God does not make an appearance in this film. This is just make believe. Nothing to see here. Walk away slowly.)

So, in order to get to this last scene that so enchants my best new friend in Hollywood, the father puts a bunch of chairs on a table and sets them on fire. The rest of the family has gone for a less than pleasant walk -- apparently the one whom the family loves as the wannabe daddy and husband is sick of them, as am I, by now, and is moving to Australia.

And the house burns. And the bad actors run around outside as the house burns. A tree burns, too! An ambulance comes and the dad gets thrown in the ambulance and gets out and runs around some more in the muddy front yard, and the girl he screwed in mid-air shows up on a bicycle.

I could go on, but are you getting the picture here?

Yes! It's just a picture. It's not a thought.

It's not rocket science.

There are few activities in the history of the world that require more planning than the creation of a feature film. The Genesis of the world in its infinity of purpose is one (unless you consider that an accident, in which case--stop reading, this doesn't concern you).

War and manned space exploration also qualify as planning-intensive activities. Likewise the design and construction of the Sistine Chapel, the pyramids, and the In-n-Out hamburger chain. The creation of a multi-billion dollar corporation like Microsoft? Perhaps, but we can't rule out dumb luck in that case.

If one measures complexity of endeavor in terms of how often Murphy's Law (what can go wrong will go wrong) is invoked, filmmaking is right up there with Apollo 13 and Gettysburg.

Except nobody dies. Usually.

If a camel is a horse designed by committee, then a movie is a dream disgorged by a mob. And that is why God created the Director. Filmmaking is the ultimate doctoral dissertation by the kid who got "works well with others" on his report card. No film, no matter how inconsequential, is ever undertaken lightly. There's always too much money involved.

About the 22nd or 23rd time I viewed Andrei Tarkovsky's final masterpiece, The Sacrifice--on a big screen in West Los Angeles, with a pristine print clattering through an expensive modern projector in an auditorium full of people who can only be termed Tarkovsky addicts and acolytes, sharing an excellent claret in plastic cups with three of my best friends, all professional filmmakers--I was particularly struck, this time around, by the director's security, his assurance, in himself and in his material.

I have, you see, grown myself--as an artist and a person--by my ten-year acquaintance with the works of Andrei Tarkovsky. My horizons have been expanded; my sense of what is possible in cinema has been sharpened, and I go about my business and my life in a different way because of this dead Russian, whom I never knew, and yet somehow I feel I know intimately, because he put his soul on the screen for all to compare.

Above all else, I have come to appreciate Tarkovsky as an artist whose every move is conceived and executed with the sort of grace particular only to men of genius. As James Joyce, another 20th Century genius put it in Ulysses, his undeniable masterpiece:

"A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery."
All of which is a long way around the barn to remark that I could not disagree more with my esteemed colleague in noding, my new best friend in Little Rock, mr. dannye, he of the quick wit and well-deserved Ching!, that mighty penman, that heroic warrior for truth, that defender of the excellent node, verily, a God in these here parts.

I spent about a week considering how to respond to dannye's writeup on The Sacrifice, after I got over the fact that his top-of-the-node review of my favorite film was not a rave but a rant.

I discounted a point-by-point rebuttal. dannye's indictment of The Sacrifice is scathing and complete. What we'd have, therefore, at the end of this writeup is a mirror image of dannye's--which is useless to you, the only person I care about, since you haven't seen the movie and you should.

I decided, floggit, he didn't like the movie. Who cares? He's right about one thing--it's not rocket science, it's Art and

In Matters of Taste There Can Be No Dispute.

This I cannot set down more certainly: Tarkovsky is not everyone's cup of celluloid. His work--every last frame of every film he ever made--is unique and demanding, in a way that other film artists, like ALL of the above-mentioned, the Gilliams, the Lynches, the Buñuels, the Polanskis, can only dream of being.

In fact, Ingmar Bergman, an artist my Little Rock Friend does respect according to his Cries and Whispers writeup not long ago, thought Tarkovsky to be "the most important director of our time."

"Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream."
--Ingmar Bergman

Something doesn't compute. I love all those other directors my LR friend mentioned; my LR friend loves Bergman; Bergman worships Tarkovsky enough to loan him his crew and his island to shoot the movie. Why can't we all just get along? Is it really just a matter of taste?

I don't think so. A dear dead plain-speaking friend who taught me a lot said it best:

Art Shows You Where Your Shit Is.

It took me a while to uncover what he really meant by that.

Art is not passive. It doesn't lie there waiting for you to come and genuflect before it, discreetly baring its pretty gams as you do. Art, the Real Deal, the stuff that lasts, is Vital and Alive and most important Protean, changeable, variable, multiformed. It takes, in the case of film and painting, What the Eye Sees (thank you dannye) and reflects and refracts What the Artist Thought and Felt back into the consciousness--or perhaps, better, the subconsciousness of the viewer. dannye sees shit, Bergman and I see God.

Tarkovsky thought this:

"Art is called to express the absolute freedom of man's spiritual potential. I think that art was always man's weapon against the material things which threatened to devour his spirit. It is no accident that in the course of nearly two thousand years of Christianity, art developed for a very long time in the context of religious ideas and goals. Its very existence kept alive in discordant humanity the idea of harmony.

"Art embodied an ideal; it was an example of perfect balance between moral and material principles, a demonstration of the fact that such a balance is not a myth existing only in the realm of ideology, but something that can be realised within the dimensions of the phenomenal world. Art expressed man's need of harmony and his readiness to do battle with himself, within his own personality, for the sake of achieving the equilibrium for which he longed.

"Given that art expresses the ideal and man's aspiration towards the infinite, it cannot be harnessed to consumerist aims without being violated in its very nature...The ideal is concerned with things that do not exist in our own world as we know it, but it reminds us what ought to exist on the spiritual plane.

"The work of art is a form given to this ideal which in the future must belong to mankind, but for the moment has to be for the few, and in the first instance for the genius who made it possible for human awareness, with all its limitations, to be in contact with the ideal incarnate in his art. In that sense art is by nature aristocratic, it differentiates between two levels of potential, thus ensuring progress from the lower to the higher as the personality moves towards spiritual perfection.

"Of course I am not suggesting any kind of class connotation when I use the word 'aristocratic', rather the contrary: since the soul seeks for moral justification and for the meaning of existence, and moves towards perfection in the course of that search, everyone is in the same position and all are equally entitled to be numbered among the spiritual elect. The essential division is between those who want to avail themselves of this possibility and those who ignore it." (emphasis is riverrun's)

"But again and again art invites people to re-evaluate themselves and their lives in the light of the ideal to which it gives form.

"Art affirms all that is best in man--hope, faith, love, beauty, prayer...What he dreams of and what he hopes for...When someone who doesn't know how to swim is thrown into the water, instinct tells his body what movements will save him. The artist, too, is driven by a kind of instinct, and his work furthers man's search for what is eternal, transcendent, divine--often in spite of the sinfulness of the poet himself.

"What is art? Is it good or evil? From God or from the devil? From man's strength or from his weakness? Could it be a pledge of fellowship, an image of social harmony? Might that be its function? Like a declaration of love: the consciousness of our dependence on each other. A confession. An unconscious act that none the less reflects the true meaning of life--love and sacrifice."

--Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998

That, mr. e, is Tarkovsky's deathbed manifesto. That's the "telling it all" part you refer to in your writeup. During the making of The Sacrifice he was not raving around in a pain-relieving drug-induced stupor, mis-casting actors and making mistakes. He was at the top of his game. Cool, clear and uncompromising as usual, an artist who "works well with others," a Director of unparalleled excellence. This is evident in the "making-of" documentary included in the DVD version of the film, which was shot by his editor.

Which brings me back to Murphy's Law. In my favorite scene in ALL cinema, the one dannye describes so pathetically at the end of his writeup, the hero does indeed burn down his house and get taken away in an ambulance as the "bad actors" attempt to understand what is happening.

The scene is six-and-a-half minutes long, magnificently choreographed (I state this as a professional filmmaker, and my three filmmaker friends who were with me in West L.A. couldn't agree with me more.), and--most important--the scene is uncut. There is only one camera and one camera angle. (See dannye's writeup to learn all there is to learn about camera angles. If you feel somewhat undernourished after doing so, get a copy of Sculpting in Time and read what Tarkovsky thinks.)

The camera jammed during the filming of that scene.

There were no other angles, no way for an editor to "fix" the problem. The house had burned down and had to be reconstructed. The camera belonged to the great Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, the absolute master of light and shadow, the man who shot most of Bergman's films including The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence, Fanny and Alexander and the above-mentioned Cries and Whispers. He also was director of photography on The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Roman Polanski's The Tenant, Star 80, Agnes of God, Chaplin and Sleepless in Seattle.

Nykvist was disconsolate. But Tarkovsky, being Tarkvosky, accepted his fate, rebuilt the set, and reshot the scene as it appears in the film.

"The Sacrifice is the most important film I have ever photographed ."--Sven Nykvist.

I am prepared to get a copy of the film I think is the most important ever made to any noder who feels like tackling a write-up after s/he views it, in order that this node-for-the-ages accord Andrei Tarkovsky the respect he deserves. There is one--and only one--proviso:

See it well-rested with someone you love.

For more from Sven Nykvist on Tarkovsky and The Sacrifice check out the excellent Tarkovsky website

On Hollywood and filmmaking:

Below the Line

sex drugs and divorce

a little life, interrupted
  1. Hecho en Mejico
  2. Entrances
  3. Sam's Song
  4. Hemingway and Fortuna
  5. Hummingbird on the Left
  6. The Long and Drunken Afternoon
  7. Safe in the Lap of the Gods
  8. Quetzal Birds in Love
  9. Angela in Paradise
  10. And the machine ran backwards

a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon

I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind

Below the Line
Charles Durning
completion bond
Film Editing
Film Editor
Final Cut Pro
forced development
HD Video
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Sven Nykvist
Wilford Brimley

21 Grams
Andrei Rublyov
Apocalypse Now Redux
Ivan's Childhood
The Jazz Singer
The Sacrifice
We Were Soldiers
Wild Strawberries

Book #52 in the series Animorphs by K.A. Applegate.

Disclaimer: If you've heard of Animorphs and you're thinking "Aww, how cute," maybe you should read my introduction to the first book to see how wrong you are.


Animorphs #52
by K.A. Applegate

Summarized Plot:

During a battle, Ax meets a Yeerk that begs for its life so it can stay in bird morph and become trapped that way--it wants to be "free." After the battle, they have to discuss war plans and they decide it'd be a good idea to bomb the Yeerk pool even though there are innocent people there, and Cassie doesn't want to do it because she doesn't think the ends justify the means. During this discussion she ends up admitting to being the person who lost them the morphing cube, and Ax begins to hate her and question his loyalty to the humans. He ends up discussing this secretly with Andalite high command, who plans to quarantine Earth (which is really code for blowing it up). Ax isn't so sure that's a bad idea considering what he's learned about humans, and how people like Cassie are dangerous.

Eventually the two of them have a talk so he can figure out what her motivation is. He understands a bit better when he realizes he's been in her position--making decisions the others don't approve of for the good of others, and pitying the enemy--and she understands that they do have to fight the Yeerks as well as they can without becoming them. With that, the group infiltrates a military base, gets some explosives, and talks the uninfested military into helping them instead of stopping them. Ax, Marco, and Cassie board a train and ride it into the Yeerk tunnels all the way to the pool, arming the bomb and giving the hosts inside enough time to run before the bomb goes off. With that, they destroy the Yeerk pool and achieve their greatest victory, but sacrifices were made, and it remains to be seen what Visser One will do next.

About this book:

Narrator: Ax

New known controllers:

New morphs acquired:

  • Jake: None
  • Cassie: None
  • Marco: None
  • Rachel: None
  • Ax: Raccoon (possibly not acquired during this book)
  • Tobias: None


  • This book was ghostwritten by Kim Morris.

  • The ages of the Animorphs are pretty vague throughout the series, but Ax's narration in this one says the original human Animorphs are "now of the age to be attending what humans call 'high school.'" This shows they're definitely somewhere in their early teens, though when Marco created the term "Animorphs" in the beginning of the series he joked that it was another word for "idiot teenagers with a death wish."

  • At one point Rachel uses the phrase "big 'ole bomb." What is the apostrophe representing as missing? If you're going to abbreviate "old," it'd make more sense to write "ol'," or if you're going to do it phonetically "ole" will work, but there's no reason for an apostrophe before the O.

  • Chapter 8 has multiple glitches with thought-speak versus mouth-speak. People who are not morphed talk in thought-speak several times with regular quoted passages being used the next time they speak. Also, Ax narrates that he shifts his weight from one leg "to the other," suggesting there are only two, and possibly suggesting he is in morph but probably isn't since he has no reason to be.

  • Ax refers to the Yeerks being a plague on "the galaxy," which contradicts Marco's joke about the Yeerks being from a different galaxy in a previous book.

Best lines:

Ax: We have the ability to speak without using our mouths. This is very fortunate considering Andalites have no mouths.

Ax: A lawyer seems to be an odd type of human. Intelligent but in a way that is not terribly useful.

Ax: Marco was correct in stating that nuclear weapons, fairly primitive explosives by Andalite standards, are very difficult for the average citizen to procure. This is a good thing.

Cassie: "Okay. Then it's wrong. But let's do it anyway. I'll learn to live with my conscience. We all will. I don't have a better plan. I guess this is as close as we'll get to defeating the Yeerks without being the Yeerks."

Cassie: "You think I'm a traitor, don't you?"
Ax: "Yes."
Cassie: "But did I do the wrong thing?"
Ax: "I do not know."

Ax: Seerow had let loose a plague of Yeerks upon the galaxy. The rest is history. A sad, violent, destructive history of conquest and war. Planets ravaged and ruined. One species after another enslaved. Countless dead. All triggered by an act of kindness. Yes. The Cassies of the world were infinitely more dangerous than the Rachels.

Soldier: "I've never seen anything like this. Hey there, fella. Hey!"
Ax: "Hay is for horses. I am not a horse, though in some aspects I closely resemble one."

Cassie: "Coin toss."
Ax: "What?"
Marco: "It's the way we make most major decisions."

Marco: "The saddest thing is that this is our greatest victory. And I've never felt more depressed in my entire life."

Next book: The Answer, Animorphs #53

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