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December 25, 2006



The day I stop loving Christmas is the day I accept the fact that I might too cynical for my own good. Until then, I'm happy to be a bit of a traditionalist. We had a fine old time around the family Christmas tree this evening. My brother Nathan brewed up some wassail, which made midnight Mass fly by in a lopsided fashion (he also made the hand carved wooden Santa skeleton seen above).

While waiting anxiously by the fireside to open presents and even more anxiously to give out the ones I put under the tree last week, I finished up the book I've been reading, Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita In Tehran. I thought that, as an impartation of literary merit from me to you, I would cite a particular passage that really struck me. Click below to read it. And if not, well, then, have a very Happy Holidays, and all that that entails.

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In 1988, as air raids shattered what little peace there was in Tehran, Nafisi went to see a retrospective of Andrei Tarkovsky's films. They were censored by the clerics and exhibited without subtitles, and yet every screening was sold out. People traveled from all over the country to see the films, and tickets became a highly sought after. Here she is, describing the film she attended:

"The afternoon I went to see The Sacrifice was a fine winter day: not really winter, a mixture of winter and spring. Yet the most amzing feature of the day was not the heavenly weather, not even the movie itself, but the crowd in front of the movie house. It looked like a protest rally. There were intellectuals, office workers, housewives, some with their small chilren in tow, a young mullah standing uncomfortably to the side - the kind of mix of people you would never have found at any gathering outside Tehran.

Inside, the sudden burst of luminous colors on the screen brought a hushed silence over the audience. I had not been inside a movie theater for five years: all you could see in those days were old revolutionary movies from Eastern Europe, or Iranian propaganda films. I cannot honestly say what I thought of the film - the experience of sitting in a movie house, ensconced in the deep, cool leather, with a full-size screen in front of me, was too amazing. Knowing that I could not understand the words and that if I thought about the censorship I would be too angry to watch, I surrendered to the magic of colors and images.

Looking back on that time it seems to me that such rapture over Tarkovsky by an audience most of whom would not have known how to spell his name, and who would under normal circumstances have ignored or even disliked his work, arose from our intense sensory deprivation. We were thirsty for some form of beauty, even in an incomprehensible, overintellectual, abstract film with no subtitles and censored out of recognition. There was a sense of wonder at being in a public place for the first time in years without fear or anger, being in a place with a crowd of strangers that was not a demonstration, a protest rally, a breadline or a public execution.

The film itself was about war, and about its hero's vow never to speak again if his family was spared from the ravages of war. It concentrated on the hidden menace behind the seemingly calm flow of everyday life and the lush beauty of nature: the way war made itself felt by the rattle of the furniture caused by the bomber planes, and the terrible sacrifice required to confront this menace. For a brief time we experienced collectively the kind of awful beauty that can only be grasped through extreme anguish and expressed through art." (Nafisi 206)

Posted by David Lowery at December 25, 2006 2:31 AM