Scene4 Magazine-The Steiny Road  To Operadom
with Karren Alenier

Taking the Edge Off

Lately the Steiny Road Poet has been escaping the harsh realities of Now—the high prices for gas, food and shelter, the lack of jobs, the uncertainties of quality healthcare—by going to the movies. That's what American people do in times of Great Depression or Recession though Gertrude Stein never indulged in this pastime and preferred live plays to films.


Of the several outstanding movies the Poet has seen over the last few weeks, it seems that the protagonists all seem to be in situations where the past profoundly affects the present moment. So it is for Beginners by Mike Mills, Incendie by Denis Villeneuve, and Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen.


Incendie, which is in Arabic and French, is an unlikely bedfellow for the American films Beginners and Midnight in Paris. Therefore, the Poet will start with it first, a wrenching story that involves twins—a sister Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) and brother Simon (Maxim Gaudette), who are tasked by their dead mother in her will to find their father and brother and deliver to each a letter. Twins-crIn order to make these deliveries, the twins must go back to the mother's country of origin, which seems to be Lebanon. Perhaps there is a bit of Schadenfreude in the Poet's reaction, but experiencing this film filled with religious hatred, unfortunate orphans, familial ostracism, torture and other savage brutalities of war as well as a deeply disturbing revelation about the twins transports any viewer, no matter his or her situation, to another plane of human existence. Remarkably, the film ends with love so great, it swallows the black hole of existence that the mother lived in unto herself.


Both Beginners and Midnight in Paris are love stories with surprising literary accents. Midnight in Paris contains a wormhole that leads the current day protagonist Gil Pender  into Gertrude Stein's salon and a full blown romp with Paris-in-the-Twenties notables Ernest Hemingway, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, etc.


Owen Wilson plays to good effect the American writer Gil Pender, a stand-in for Woody Allen. Kathy Bates makes a wonderful Stein though the Stein character does not get the opportunity to really manifest herself. Allen prefers to lavish his writing abilities on the Hemingway character played with apt rock-em-sock-em bravado by Corey Stoll, most frequently associated these days with television's Law and Order: LA.

The love story of importance is Gil's adoration of the artists orbiting around Gertrude Stein and what Stein does personally for Gil—she reads and comments on his novel. So much for Gil's unappreciative fiancĂ©e Inez (Rachel McAdams), who is really in love with her old flame Paul (Michael Sheen), a pedant of the first order. And if escape is what is craved but there is no money for travel, this charming and comically sentimental film has a lush landscape of Paris from every angle.


The average viewer of Beginners will probably not remember that the protagonist Oliver (played by Ewan McGregor) charts the time of his parents' marriage at the same time Allen Ginsberg was writing his landmark poem Howl. Oliver's dad (Christopher Plummer) is named Hal (Hal rhymes with pal, the friend Hal becomes almost too late to his sensitive son) and as soon as his wife of over four decades dies, Hal tells Oliver that he is gay and he is going to come out and live.


There are five years of such living before Hal dies of cancer. Little by little, Oliver's life leaks out. His mother proposed to Hal and believed she could fix Hal's problem, which was not a secret to her. Oliver grew up watching his mother suffer the consequence of having a nonparticipating husband. Hal said he loved his wife but he was never around (we presume he was in the public restrooms looking for lover there) and Hal's absence profoundly affected Oliver. So Hal's sudden honesty brings him together with his son.

After Hal dies, Oliver's friends make him go to a masquerade party and reluctantly he does so, dressed up as Freud. At the party, he talks to people who lie down on "his" couch and there he communicates with a beautiful young woman (MĂ©lanie Laurent) who has laryngitis. This film is their love story. Both have a hard time with relationships because of their histories with their parents. Communication is key to this story and includes what seems to be the talking dog Arthur, a dog whose silent thoughts the viewers are privy. It's a moving film, sometimes comic, sometimes extremely sad, that the Steiny Road Poet guesses would have perplexed Gertrude Stein who got right passed coming out by just being, by just living in the present moment but, hey! she lived in Paris where anything was possible. However, Allen Ginsberg who lived in America would have understood everything since he subjected himself to being fixed by shrinks and women who wanted to bed him.


So there it is—how the Steiny Road Poet has immersed herself in the lives of people created by filmmakers. These fictitious characters take the edge off her own reality here in the United States where sanctimonious politicians protect the wealthy and act like the rest of us do not exist.

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©2011 Karren LaLonde Alenier
©2011 Publication Scene4 Magazine


Scene4 Magazine — Karren Alenier
Karren LaLonde Alenier is the author of five collections of poetry and, recently, The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas
and she is a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
For Prior Columns In This Series Click Here
For her other commentary and articles, check the
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Scene4 Magazine-inSight

July 2011

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Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

July 2011

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