Tag Archives: William S. Dalzell

New York sunlight (and New York joys)

 

 

 

“The grass that grows by absorbing the life-giving energy of the sun becomes [in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass] a metaphor of ‘the ceaseless springing forth of life from death.’” — David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman: A Cultural Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), pg. 240

 

 

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My longtime friend Bill Dalzell, who for many years lived in New York City, introduced me to so many things when I first came to New York in the late 1960’s.

Among other things, Bill introduced me to cinema and art. We made several trips together to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bill, a New York transplant from a suburb of Pittsburgh, where he grew up, was — like many having adopted New York City as their home, including myself — an enthusiast of all New York had to offer. He knew all the inexpensive, interesting things to see and do in the City.

Bill used to say: “Would you care to hear me sing the praises of New York?” He used to marvel at the fact that so many people of all races and nationalities lived cheek by jowl in harmony. At the richness of culture. At the convenience of things such as getting around. At how much the City had to offer at what were then modest prices.

Admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was free. The main branch of the New York Public Library was open 365 days a year. The subway and bus fares were 20 cents. So was the Staten Island ferry, one of the fun, vivifying, and inexpensive things he enjoyed doing. (We would get off on the Staten Island side, walk around a bit, have a cup of coffee, and take the ferry back to Manhattan.) A meal of wholesome, plain food at the Automat (where Bill used to love to sit and drink coffee while lost in thought) could be had for less than a dollar. A glass of beer in a bar was 20 cents, and usually every third beer was on the house. Films cost less than two dollars. Rents were cheap. Bill paid twenty-nine dollars a month for a one-bedroom apartment on East 5th Street.

 

 

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Bill introduced me to the paintings of Edward Hopper, one of his favorite painters. (Hopper’s paintings are, for the most part, exhibited in New York museums.) Bill and I, at his suggestion, made a one-day excursion to Nyack, NY to view Hopper’s birthplace.

During our museum trips, he pointed out how Hopper made use of light.

“The light is different in America,” Bill would say. (He had traveled practically everywhere in the world on a limited budget.) By “different,” Bill meant brighter. More brilliant. Yes. Brilliant light. An observation which I do believe to be true. I have observed and thought about this often.

I have come over the years to be myself fascinated by light. Early morning light, daylight, late afternoon light. The light hitting the grass. Different shades of light and degrees of brightness. Summer light. Autumn light. Winter light.

While I would and could never aspire to be an artist — I have no innate talent and only a limited appreciation of the visual arts — I have been taking photographs in the City in parks, on the shorelines, and of houses and streets on my walks, I have posted below some photographs of mine in which an appreciation of sunlight as viewed from ground level is expressed in the photo. I am fascinated by the quality of sunlight in different seasons and at different times of the day.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 2018

 

 

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Addendum:

 

Some relevant information about Edward Hopper.

Most of Hopper’s figure paintings focus on the subtle interaction of human beings with their environment-–carried out with solo figures, couples, or groups. His primary emotional themes are solitude, loneliness, regret, boredom, and resignation. He expresses the emotions in various environments, including the office, in public places, in apartments, on the road, or on vacation. … In many Hopper paintings, the interaction is minimal.

The effective use of light and shadow to create mood is central to Hopper’s methods. Bright sunlight (as an emblem of insight or revelation), and the shadows it casts, also play symbolically powerful roles in Hopper paintings such as Early Sunday Morning (1930), Summertime (1943), Seven A.M. (1948), and Sun in an Empty Room (1963).

Hopper always said that his favorite thing was “painting sunlight on the side of a house.”

Although critics and viewers interpret meaning and mood in his cityscapes, Hopper insisted “I was more interested in the sunlight on the buildings and on the figures than any symbolism.” As if to prove the point, his late painting Sun in an Empty Room (1963) is a pure study of sunlight.

 

“Edward Hopper,” Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Hopper

 

It should be noted that the American landscape painter Winslow Homer did similar things with sunlight in his remarkable paintings.

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

1 - Woodside, Queens

Woodside, Queens

 

 

2 - Murray Hill

Murray Hill

 

 

3- Madison Square Park

Madison Square Park

 

 

Madison Square Park 2-23 p.m. 7-27-2018

Madison Square Park

 

 

4 - Central Park

Central Park

 

 

Central Park 12-38 p.m. 8-5-2018.JPG

Central Park

 

 

5 - Riverside Park

Riverside Park

 

6 - Inwood Hill Park

Inwood Hill Park

 

7 - Inwood Hill Park

Inwood Hill Park

 

 

 

Isham Park 4-43 p.m. 8-9-2018.JPG

Isham Park

 

 

All of these photos were taken in New York City.

 

 

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Posted here below are some famous paintings of Edward Hopper that show his preoccupation with light and his mastery of representing it visually.

 

 

1-hopper-early-sunday2 - Cape Cod3 - stoop, summertime4- Cape Cod evening5- seven am6 - house by sea

 

 

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Edward Hopper’s birthplace

 

 

Hopper's birthplace.jpg

Edward Hopper birthplace, Nyack, NY

when a man is tired of New York …

 

 

“I suggested a doubt, that if I were to reside in London, the exquisite zest with which I relished it in occasional visits might go off, and I might grow tired of it. JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ ”

— James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

 

 

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Does repetition imply, mean, or equate to: Boredom? Weariness? Dullness?

By which I mean repeated experiences under known circumstances, such as what one experiences when one lives somewhere for a long time, or a lifetime.

Some people think that variety is the sine qua non. (“Been there, done that.”) They are constantly seeking excitement in new venues.

This is not necessarily, or not always, wrong.

But consider the following reflections of mine, based upon my own experience in New York City, where I have lived for nearly fifty years.

 

 

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I have my favorite haunts: the New York Public Library (the research library) at 42nd and Fifth; Central Park; the Staten Island Ferry; the Strand Bookstore; Grand Central Station; Carnegie Hall. I discovered these places — and also discovered how much I liked them over time — through word of mouth though my own peregrinations and repeated visits.

I know the best routes to walk. Just which ones produce the most pleasant “jaunting experience.” Which Manhattan avenue to take, for example, depending upon my mood and other circumstances. The best ways to get from Queens or Brooklyn to Manhattan by foot, with the most pleasant (and, conversely, least pleasant) avenues, neighborhoods, or bridges to walk on or through.

I know who are the most helpful reference librarians at the New York Public Library. I know that the main reading room is the place for me and have a favorite place to sit there. I know which entrance is best to use and where the elevators are.

I know the best items to choose on the menu at one of my and my wife’s favorite restaurants (which, of course, reflects my own preferences).

I know how often and at what times Staten Island ferries run.

I have other favorite places and establishments. Continually going to them works for me, and it will work for you.

 

 

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I first met my lifelong friend Bill Dalzell, who recently passed away, in the late 1960’s when I was employed in Manhattan. I was new to the City, and it was one of my first jobs.

Bill, like most Manhattanites, had been born and raised elsewhere. He had come to New York City in the 1950’s, at around the same age as I was when we met.

Bill absolutely loved New York. (He did, at a later age, move elsewhere.) He was always singing its praises.

The things that appealed to him about the City also appealed to me. The sense of freedom — no one watching you and (possibly) expressing disapproval of your activities; the fact that you could live alone or be alone — that it would not be considered abnormal* and you could find plenty of things to do alone and keep you interested even if you had no one else to do them with; the walkable streets; the awesome cultural resources (films, theaters, museums, and libraries).

Bill had his favorite haunts: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Thalia and Elgin movie houses, the Staten Island ferry, the automat. Years later, having lived in New York almost continuously since then, I have my own favorite places and things to do.

Bill loved to go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art on weekends. Admission was free back then. Upon arrival, he would go to the cafeteria and sit there for a couple of hours with a cup of coffee, in contemplation. Then he would visit his favorite exhibits. He said that the museum seemed like a cathedral to him and that going there was his equivalent of going to church.

He exulted over the fact that the New York Public Library’s main branch was open (then) 365 days a year, even on Christmas Day!

 

 

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Inner peace. Contemplation. That’s what you experience when you are comfortable somewhere (such as the Met Museum cafeteria or some other place, such as a park bench or an automat), as was the case with Bill musing over his cup of coffee; when you feel you belong. Being comfortable with the externals, from repeated experience, you can relax and not worry about them. And, in New York one often gets this feeling: that you belong there as much as anyone else. Besides a feeling of belonging, the comfort comes from knowing what to expect. And being able to anticipate pleasure, which is almost a given.

What is it about such places that makes one want to return again and again?

One thing I would assert is that it’s an automatic thing — sort of like (to use a buzzword) being on autopilot. Once you start going someplace a lot, you feel, naturally, at home there. You know how to get the most out of it. You know just what things about it you like best and how to savor and enjoy to the fullest those things.

Let’s say it’s the library. You will have your favorite divisions and rooms (in a large library like the main branch of the New York Public). You may know of certain staffers who are particularly helpful. You may like certain places to sit or even certain corridors and stairwells to use.

Say it’s the Oyster Bar Restaurant in Grand Central Station. You know which entrees you like the most and which of the available draft beers, and what they cost. You have your favorite waiters. You know where and in which room you like to be seated, and whether at a table or a counter (and then, which counter? there are more than one). You know which point of entry from the labyrinthine Grand Central Station is most convenient.

In Central Park, there are certain walkways and paths I like to take.

I know which points along the Brooklyn Bridge I like the best (the boardwalk, for example); the best ways to approach it as a pedestrian walking in Manhattan; the most fun things to do (talk with people or just observe them having a good time, which one can enjoy vicariously; take pictures; sit on a bench on the boardwalk, etc.).

The Strand Bookstore? I know where I want to browse. I know when it is open. I know how the books are arranged and in what sections.

The New York City subways? (I didn’t mention them before). I know the best routes which involve the least hassle, the stations and lines to avoid and those that I prefer.

So, FAMILIARITY is a big factor.

As is REPETITION.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018

 

 

* Regarding the delicious sense of anonymity associated with living in New York — of being part of a crowd but not singled out — an experience I once had when living elsewhere seems relevant. I worked for about a year and a half at a psychiatric hospital in Stamford, Connecticut, a city not far from New York. One spring day, when walking home from work, I stopped in a park that was on my route. I sat there for a while — I think it was on a park bench — in contemplation. It was a leisurely walk home. The park was not crowded, as a New York City park usually would be, but it was not empty by any means.

A couple of days later, the head nurse on my ward said to me, “I saw you in the park the other day.” The park was about a half mile from the hospital and she had probably passed it on the way home. I could tell that her remark amounted to mild “disapproval.” She felt it was odd to see me sitting by myself in a park. If I had been with a friend or coworker, she would not have had thought anything unusual.

“After the Supper and Talk”

 

 

This poem made me think of my recently departed friend Bill Dalzell, and of our talks during his last months.

 

 

AFTER THE SUPPER AND TALK.

After the supper and talk—after the day is done,
As a friend from friends his final withdrawal prolonging,
Good-bye and Good-bye with emotional lips repeating,
(So hard for his hand to release those hands—no more will they
meet,
No more for communion of sorrow and joy, of old and young,
A far-stretching journey awaits him, to return no more,)
Shunning, postponing severance—seeking to ward off the last
word ever so little,
E’en at the exit-door turning—charges superfluous calling back—
e’en as he descends the steps,
Something to eke out a minute additional—shadows of nightfall
deepening,
Farewells, messages lessening—dimmer the forthgoer’s visage
and form,
Soon to be lost for aye in the darkness—loth, O so loth to depart!

 

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 

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Having finalized the arrangement of Leaves of Grass, Whitman published a supplemental volume of prose and poetry with the autumnal title November Boughs. Many of its sixty-four lyrics and what Whitman labeled its “poemets” … were added as an “Annex” to the 1888 edition as “Sands at Seventy.” These verses reported his cheerful bearing as he faced physical deterioration—solemn-sweet announcements of his readiness for death, and cheerful expressions of farewell. … In the prose preface “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads” (1888), Whitman wrote: “In the free evening of my day I give you reader the foregoing garrulous talk, thoughts, reminiscences,” and suggested that, alive or dead, he would ever aspire to talk to the living reader. That sentiment is beautifully developed in the bittersweet vers de société masterpiece ”After the Supper and Talk.” Against the onrush of the ultimate night the poem shows the Whitman figure striving to the very end to preserve his voice—the same “garrulous talk” he had referred to in the introduction to “A Backward Glance”—the “talk” that embodies his life force and his spiritual selfhood. He feels that his words alone will perpetuate him in the mortal sphere. Standing at the “exit-door” of life but loath to leave for the unknown, he clings compulsively to the warmth of human hands, to the music of human voices, and to the sound of his own voice. Although he hopes that his poetic voice will endure into the future, he wishes to prolong his mortal vocal powers as long as he can. In order to achieve dramatic distance, and perhaps to cushion the shock of his impending death, the poet employs a rhetorical device that is rarely found in his poems. He refers to himself in the third person and pictures himself observing from a distance the vanishing figure of the mortal Whitman. His reluctance to depart from the House of Life is expressed in a series of death-related metaphors. And as a master of participials, Whitman constructs a verse that (except for three lines contained within parentheses) forms an uncompleted statement, so that his departure, as he might have wished, seems to be postponed indefinitely.

 

— Harold Aspiz, So Long! Walt Whitman’s Poetry of Death

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith, March 2018

William Sage Dalzell (1929-2018)

 

 

‘William Sage Dalzell (1929-2018)’

 

 

 

Bill Dalzell was one of the first people I got to know after moving to New York City. I will never forget his kindness to me. My friendship with Bill was a long and enduring one.

If you got to know Bill well, as I did — if you were privileged to know him — you will probably know the following things about him, and, if you do, will know that they are all true.

He never cared about externals. Dressed simply. Lived by intuition. He followed politics closely but was fundamentally an apolitical person.

He believed absolutely in the spiritual, in mysticism, and in bona fide psychics such as Edgar Cayce and the medium Grace Cooke, author of the White Eagle books. He was interested in the writings of mystics such as Meister Eckhart — in the case of Eckhart, in the concept of detachment or disinterestedness: renouncing self-interest to attain spiritual enlightenment.

He believed without any doubt that there was an afterlife on “the other side.”

He was skeptical of much of what is considered orthodoxy — he used to say, “Science marches backward.” A paradox with an element of truth in it.

He absolutely did not believe in medicine or doctors. He had no bank account, as far as I knew.

He had an interesting mind, in many respects totally unconventional. Was a nonconformist. Yet he was one of the kindest, politest, most civil persons you could hope to meet. He was a true gentleman. He had a warm, mellifluous voice with an inflection, which he never lost, that bespoke his Pennsylvania roots.

He thought for himself and by himself. He had an interesting way of expressing original concepts. For example, he told me that he liked to call cats “fur people.” He said it made it easier to conceptualize having a relationship with them. And, then there was his concept of the “foot philosophy,” which he explained by saying that when he couldn’t decide which bus or train to take, whether to go to a museum or the cinema, or whether to walk uptown or downtown, he would go wherever, instinctually, his feet took him, follow his feet.

He did not put on airs. Just the opposite. He used to say to me, when he was living on East 5th Street between Avenues A and B, “I live in a slum and I like it.” At that time (which was the time when I first met him), urban renewal and slum clearance were in the air.

He was a deeply religious person and, especially in his later years, a churchgoer. This despite the fact that he detested religious dogmatism.

He was a very earnest thinker. He dwelt all day long, every day, in the realm of ideas. He thought long and hard about things. Over and over again. Immortality and the afterlife. What is truth? The truth of art. The spiritual. Past lives. Places.

He did not have much use for formal education, although there was an English teacher at the prep school he attended, Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, whom he never forgot, who taught him to appreciate poetry. He wasn’t impressed by scholarship or academic credentials. He developed his own credo, but it was never set in stone. He would often say, quoting some philosopher: “Truth is like a butterfly. If you pin it down, it dies.”

He had acute tastes in art and loved the arts.

He was an earnest seeker after truth. In a conversation we had a few months ago, he told me something a philosophy professor in a college class he was enrolled in said many years ago: “The question is not whether a philosophy or belief system is true, it’s whether you like it nor not; does it appeal to you, say something to you? The same thing applies to art.” He sent me a postcard of Notre-Dame de Paris on a trip there in the summer of 1969. I remember in essence what he wrote. That he would continue seeking truth wherever he went. That he was in search of truth, repeating the word several times.

 

 

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Some biographical details about Bill.

He grew up in Wilkinsburg, a borough adjacent to Pittsburgh. He loved the hills. The trolley cars. The movie theatre. How he went to a film once and before the film heard music, which he later learned was Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. He wasn’t expecting it. The music overwhelmed him. It was a mystical experience. Bill’s grandfather had a 78 rpm record of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Bill played it over and over again and said to me in old age that he had never ever tired of it.

He moved to New York in the 1950’s. He loved his adopted city. He used to say, “Would you care to hear me sing the praises of New York?” He used to marvel at the fact that so many people of all races and nationalities lived cheek by jowl in harmony. At how much the City had to offer by way of culture and places to enjoy at modest prices.

He made friends with many spiritually inclined people and, also, readily made friends with artists such as his lifelong friend Edwin Treitler, an artist, writer, and spiritual healer; the “magic realist” painter Gregory Gillespie; and the Greek-American painter Bill Komodore. He had an affinity for people in the arts. Gillespie’s portrait of Bill Dalzell, “Bill (in Studio),” was painted in the mid-1980’s when Bill was living in Pittsfield and Gillespie was living nearby in Belchertown, Massachusetts. The painting is owned by the Forum Galley in New York City. Bill had befriended Gillespie when the latter was studying at Cooper Union in New York in the late 1950’s.

He would on occasion speak about his parents: his father, who would visit Bill from time to time at his apartment on East 5th Street; and his mother, who died tragically of cancer in middle age. He felt an unnecessary operation led to her death. He never mentioned that his great-grandfather John Dalzell was a congressman from Pennsylvania.

He used to go the Metropolitan Museum of Art every weekend. He said that going to the Met was his equivalent of attending church. He would always begin by sitting in the cafeteria for an hour or so nursing a cup of coffee, lost in thought.

He had his favorite haunts. Besides the Met: the Thalia theater, an art movie house on West 95th Street; the Staten Island Ferry; the automat. He loved being able to see two films for the price of one at the Thalia and discovered art films there (as well as at the Museum of Modern Art). He loved to take the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island and back. We did it together several times. Bill would recommend getting off on the Staten Island side and having a cup of coffee or walking around for a while. In his early New York days, he would get off and see a movie in Staten Island, then take the ferry back.

He had a discerning eye for art. He was an admirer of the painter Edward Hopper. During museum trips we made together, he would point out how Hopper made use of light. “The light is different in America,” Bill would say. By “different,” he meant brighter. More brilliant. An observation which was true.

Bill loved the painting “The Peaceable Kingdom” by the American folk artist Edward Hicks and how the painting depicted visually Quaker principles: the lion lying down with the lamb. He would often go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the painting.

Bill singlehandedly made me into a discerning filmgoer. He got me to appreciate foreign films such as Ivan the Terrible, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, the director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet, and The Gospel According to St. Matthew, films that most people would be unlikely to know about.

He loved the D. W. Griffith film Intolerance, which he had seen I don’t know how many times. The film ends with an idealistic vision of a day “when prison bars wrought in the fires of intolerance will no longer prevail” and spectral prisoners in striped uniforms are seen moving through prison walls which disappear. A scene remarked upon by Bill.

He only recently called my attention to a film he loved from his early days in New York City: 3rd Ave. El, which was made in 1955. The music, as Bill pointed out, is a Haydn concerto played by harpsichordist Wanda Landowska. Bill thought the music was great and that it made the film. He made an observation to me once that I remember. He said that films work their magic by “sight and sound.”

His aesthetic senses were astute. Yet, it was all intuition, never tendentious. I learned much from him about how, while trusting my own intuitions, and being guided by them, to discriminate between the most profound works of art (chiefly films and paintings) and currently popular ones which (he could see) were of only passing interest at best or works that did not speak directly to him. He told me once that a good “measuring rod” for films was to ask oneself: do you still think it’s great, are you still thinking about it, the day after?

This kind of thinking — a sort of seat of the pants ratiocination — influenced me strongly. I feel that Bill never got credit for it and that it was overlooked. Another thought of his along these lines was a remark he made about traveling. When one arrives home after an overseas trip, he said to me, one is not quite home yet, mentally, and is still, mentally, a traveler. It takes a day or two to feel fully back home mentally, and, during that day or two, one is experiencing one’s own city as a traveler would experience it.

 

 

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I remember Bill at 218 East 18th Street like it was yesterday and wish I could bring those times back. The cubbyhole in the cellar where he had his printing press. The pay phone in the hall on the bottom floor on which he would get calls from clients. How Charlie Bloomstein, the executive director of the New York Friends Group, would haggle Bill about paying part of the monthly phone bill.

In the 1960’s, he was kept busy printing flyers for the War Resisters League and Women’s Strike for Peace. Handouts announcing a march or demonstration. They trusted him; he was their printer of choice. “The war is good for business,” he would say to me jokingly.

Bill and his printing press. How he seemed to keep it working with rubber bands and paper clips and would, in his own words, get down on his knees and pray to the press to not stop working. How he would read his New York Times as the press was humming with sheets coming out of it. He had bill pads he had made up with the words: “William Dalzell, Quality Multilith Printing.” He explained to me how a multilith printer worked. The key thing to keep in mind, he said, is that “oil and water don’t like each other.” He loved to observe how mechanical things worked, and he loved old inventions. In a Thanksgiving card Bill sent me in the 1980’s, he wrote about visiting the Science Museum in Boston with Ed Treitler and his daughter Anya. “My favorite thing was the steam engine,” he wrote. “I love steam engines.”

My job title at the New York Friends Group was Workroom Supervisor; my responsibilities included mimeographing. Bill would patiently try, repeatedly, to show me how to stack a ream of paper so that the ends lined up. I never quite got the hang of it.

 
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Bill’s mind interested me because, like mine, it ranged all over the place. Nothing was seemingly too mundane for him to notice and consider, think about, and nothing was too arcane or “airy.” He once got to talking about waiters. He didn’t like coffee shops because he preferred not to have to be waited upon. He preferred places such as a cafeteria or fast food place where you could place your order and take it to your table. “Americans don’t make good waiters,” he told me. “They don’t like to be in a subservient position.”

Bill said that he had once had an experience in a restaurant in Europe (he was no snob and was anything but an epicure) with the perfect waiter. “A good waiter,” he said, “is someone who is there when you want them and is not there when you don’t.”

 

 

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Bill was a great traveler. The places he went to (on a limited budget)! Europe. Mexico, where he lived for a while on a Friends Service Committee project. Alaska and Labrador. The Aran and Orkney Islands. The Findhorn spiritual community in Scotland. Russia. The Monastery of Trinity-St. Sergius, which is located near Moscow in what was then known as the town of Zagorsk. Bill had what he described as a mystical, or near mystical, experience there.

He had interesting observations to share — some of them “episodic,” but nonetheless fruitful. “The Scotch are in a class by themselves when it comes to love of books and reading,” he told me once. “You go into a bar and you’ll see a working man in working clothes with a worn [meaning its cover] book sticking out of his back pocket.”

His favorite place was Notre-Dame de Paris. He said that Notre-Dame was “the most holy place” he had ever visited.

He was in the United States Merchant Marine during his young adulthood. It must have been his first experience of travel. He told me that there is a lot of time on a ship where one is doing nothing and can presumably read and reflect. He said that as far as his duties on the ship were concerned, they almost always involved painting. Bill was not afraid or too snobby to do menial jobs.

He was not much of a writer, in terms of output, but he would write occasionally when he was away, always a very short communique — by design — usually a postcard. His writing was notable for its deliberate plainness and its sincerity. And his neat printing, which resembled calligraphy. He was a generous and thoughtful giver, on a limited budget, of gifts. If he wished to share a book with you, he would give you his own copy to keep, such as his ink stained copy of Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy and a book by Edgar Cayce.

Bill’s favorite poem was Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” which ends with the following lines which Bill would recite:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   March 2018

 

 

 

Bill Dalzell's note to Roger

This note from Bill Dalzell to Roger Smith was inserted in a copy of a book, “Edgar Cayce’s Story of Jesus,” given to Roger by Bill.

 

 

 

“New and improved” in the arts is not always better.

 

 

 

Last night, Friday, November 10, I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York which included a performance of Saint-Saëns’s string quartet No. 1 in E Minor.

In the program notes, it was noted that Saint-Saëns was “an aesthetic conservative [who] railed against the stylistic innovations of Debussy and Les Six.” Les Six were a group of French composers that included Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, and Germaine Tailleferre.

The concert also included a performance of Brahms’s stupendous String Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 51, No. 1. A contemporary of Saint-Saëns (who outlived Brahms by a half a century), Brahms was considered a conservative within the romantic tradition.

That I like these two composers so much and am not crazy about the music of composers such as Debussy and Ravel (who Saint-Saëns also did not have a taste for) — for the most part (I am unfamiliar with the composers of Les Six) — makes me, no doubt, easily identifiable as having conservative tastes.

Yet, so many of the composers (and writers) whom I admire were profoundly original. This includes Beethoven and, yes, Shakespeare, to take in two spheres of the creative arts. I suspect that few would engage in dispute upon this. Many artists now ensconced in the canon were once regarded as being so original if not mystifying and transgressive that their works were often ignored or ridiculed.

Another thought occurred to me as a result of what the program notes said about Saint-Saëns: “Progress” in the arts, the new and avant-garde, is not always better. A distinction should be made between works that were “revolutionary” in their time and, also, indisputably great and many iconoclastic works that were perhaps intended to titillate or shock that will probably not stand the test of time. Take the visual arts for example. The Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York City are chock full of works that illustrate this. And consider the many writers who seem to illustrate this: Céline, Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, to name just a few.

The dustbin of the arts awaits.

Creative geniuses are emerging all the time. Whose work is revolutionary and profoundly original. I would cite examples such as Alban Berg and Philip Glass in music, Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner in fiction, and Hart Crane and Wallace Stevens in poetry.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 11, 2017

 

 

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Addendum: My good friend Bill Dalzell, an original thinker skeptical of much of what is considered orthodoxy, used to say, “Science marches backward.” A paradox. Meaning that, while it might seem absurd, there is an element of truth in it. Perhaps the arts don’t always march forward.

“I went to the school of New York.”

 

 

 

“A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

 

 

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I was talking on the phone today with my longtime friend from my first days in New York, Bill Dalzell. He told me something that his dear friend Edwin Treitler once said to him. Ed Treitler, who recently passed away, was an artist, writer, and spiritual counselor/healer.

The quote, which struck me forcibly and rung true, was short and pithy: “I went to the school of New York.”

The school of New York. Herman Melville would have perceived instantly what this meant.

It rings so true when I consider my own experience.

 

 

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I had a very good education, for which I am very grateful. Then, I went further.

I moved to New York City right after graduating from college, and my education really began. Or was on a new plane. Something like that.

I had never seen a really good film. Had never, I believe, patronized an art film house. Had often frequented bookstores, but had never seen so many used bookstores cheek by jowl with so many interesting books, including many by avant-garde writers who were usually not taught in college.

I had never read so intensely and deeply before in such weighty works. I had never met such intellectually stimulating people. Many of them, most of them, I met in totally offhanded and unanticipated ways, in places where you would not expect to find someone smart and interesting, often in the workplace. (It reminded me of Theodore Dreiser’s friends in his early Chicago days; see below.)

I met many such persons in my early days in Manhattan: a poet who it seemed had read the whole corpus of great poetry — and knew all those currently active, including the New York School of poets (and who took me with him to poetry readings in Manhattan) — and practically every important work of literature from time immemorial, ranging from Roman poets such as Juvenal and Sextus Propertius to the most recent and challenging fiction by writers such as Thomas Pynchon … a printer who was thoroughly immersed in mysticism and the visual arts (and whom I tagged along with to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney; from him I became acquainted with painters such as Edward Hopper, whom I had never heard of) … and so many people whose ideas piqued me and who submerged me in new areas of thought and “mental adventure” and who introduced me to books, painters exhibited in the City’s museums and galleries, filmmakers, and such that I would probably never have learned about.

The true intellectuals, I find, are often buried in the woodwork, are in the back office or hunkered down over a desk doing drudge clerical work (as was I).

I had such stimulating conversations with people I met at random in taverns and at work, or with their friends. Almost none of them were well off, and most were at a stage in their lives where they were starting out and did not have impressive credentials, or were perhaps older but had never become credentialed. They were barely making it. But they had a deep passion for ideas, the arts, and culture.

I instinctively took to such a milieu as a duck to water. I bathed in it, drank of it. I grew immeasurably intellectually. I became sophisticated culturally and intellectually. I became a hundred percent better informed, better read, better educated.

 

 

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It has been said that New York is like no other city in the world. For me, this was true. There is an openness to ideas there, a wonderful tolerance, an acceptance of people without any expectation that one must conform. Loners are accepted. (I was afraid I might be perceived as a loner when I first came to New York knowing no one.) Eccentrics are accepted. People of all ideologies and belief systems are accepted, and of all backgrounds. Stimulating conversation by highly aware, well informed, intellectually alive, and intelligent people is the norm.

Cultural sophistication comes with the territory. The arts are almost upon you, so to speak, are omnipresent. It’s almost impossible to be in New York and not to be aware of them and influenced, liberated, and exhilarated by them. New York broadens you, stimulates you, educates you anew. And keeps right on stimulating and educating you.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 3, 2017

 

 

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Addendum: In his autobiographical work Dawn, Theodore Dreiser portrays an individual he met as a young worker in Chicago during the 1890’s. Dreiser was employed in the warehouse of Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Company, a wholesale hardware firm, at a salary of five dollars a week, as a “box-rustler” and “stock-piler.” A coworker whom Dreiser befriended and who fascinated him was Christian Aaberg, a Dane. Dreiser describes him as a “little rickety, out-at-the elbows, shambling man, with a wrinkled, emaciated, obviously emotion-scarred face, who at forty or forty-five and after God knows what storms and rages of physical and mental dissipation, still had about him that indescribable something which for want of a better word I must speak of as breeding.”

Aaberg was of little or no value to the firm, for he could do no hard work and the powers that were could not trust him with the more complicated, though less strenuous, task of filling orders. As he himself admitted, he drank and dissipated here as in the past and often wondered aloud why it was that … the firm stood for him. … He was shabby and sickly to look upon. Yet … there was that strong, seeking, vital light in his eye at times. … within two or three weeks we were fast friends intellectually, and there followed a series of conversations on life and character, the import of which has endured to this day.

He had read—God knows what! —everything! And he it was who talked to me of Ibsen, Strindberg, Grieg, Goethe, Wagner, Schopenhauer. He would talk to me by the hour, as we piled pots and pans or buckets of bolts or rivets. of the French Revolution and the great figures in it, of Napoleon, Wellington, Tsar Alexander, Also of Peter the Great and Catharine of Russia, Frederick the Great and Voltaire, whom he admired enormously. But not the silly, glossed, emasculated data of the school histories with which I had been made familiar, but with the harsh, jagged realities and savageries of the too real world in which all of them moved. And, again, of Greece, of the age of philosophers, logicians, playwrights, sculptors, architects, statesmen, warriors. He revealed as much as any history could—why it was that Aristotle was the first of the organic and realistic thinkers; why Heraclitus would always be remembered. He also told me why Socrates had been compelled to drink the hemlock; that the cross was originally a phallic symbol; elucidated for me the mysteries of the Egyptian temples, the religious festivals of the Parsees, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Persians. … When I told him that that our family was Catholic and I still went to church, he smiled. “You will come out of that,” he said. “You are already out and don’t know it?”

 

— Theodore Dreiser, Dawn: An Autobiography of Early Youth, Chapter 61

on aesthetic and cultural appreciation of literature and film; my favorite directors (小津安二郎は日本の映画監督・脚本家)

 

 

 

以下、このエッセイの日本語への翻訳の一部を参照してください。

(Japanese translation of my comments regarding the director Yasujirō Ozu is appended below.)

 

 

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on aesthetic and cultural appreciation of literature and film; my favorite directors (小津安二郎は日本の映画監督・脚本家)

by Roger W. Smith

 

 

I will begin this essay with some comments on what I feel the development of aesthetic sense and critical standards, as they apply both to literature and to the cinema, entails.

To put it as simply as possible: in order to have a deep appreciation of anything cultural, you have to become acquainted with the BEST works. Nothing less.

Let’s consider literature for a moment. Consider the case of someone whose acquaintance with books is limited to reading works such as The Thorn Birds, Jacqueline Susann, The Bridges of Madison County, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and similar works.

I have nothing against such writers and works or their readers per se. It’s enough that people love to read and take pleasure from it. I am not a snob.

But, if that’s all you have read, you will never have

a frame of reference;

a yardstick; or

models of excellence

for purposes of comparison when it comes to appreciating literature in full.

You won’t be able to distinguish between what is perhaps entertaining and/or diverting and what is truly great. You will never know the difference.

The same comments apply to cinema.

Let’s say that in the past you saw films like The Graduate, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, Coming Home, or Kramer vs. Kramer and regarded them as classics. Perhaps you still do.

I have news for you (I’m sorry if I sound arrogant): THEY AREN’T. For why I feel this way, see my discussion of directors and films below.

Extending this comment broadly (i.e., to both literature and film), I would say that it’s like comparing War and Peace with Ben-Hur or Anna Karenina with Erich Segal’s Love Story. You have to have read or seen classics to know the difference.

 

 

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I only began to understand and appreciate film after moving to New York City in the late 1960’s, just after graduating from college.

I owe my appreciation and acumen about films, such as they are, to a friend I made during my early days in New York: William S. (Bill) Dalzell.

Bill Dalzell was a self-employed printer who did printing for left wing groups such as Women’s Strike for Peace. (An aside: he was apolitical, though he was sympathetic to such groups’ goals.) He was a very cultured person and a lover of film, as well as of New York.

He taught me, single handedly, to appreciate film.

Bill Dalzell had a personal list of his five all time great films:

D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)

German director Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938)

Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible (1944, with a Part Two released posthumously in 1958; in my opinion, Ivan the Terrible is an even better film than Eisenstein’s better known film The Battleship Potemkin)

Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (The Word; 1955)

Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew (1964)

(See YouTube links below.)

Thanks to his advice, I saw them all at least once.

Truly classic films such as the above five are in a league of their own. Few people have seen them or even know of them.

What are some of the ingredients of great filmmaking? Not being a film critic, I can’t say really – I am not qualified to. But my friend Bill made an observation to me once that I remember. He said that films work their magic by “sight and sound.”

Consider the great directors. Most use music very effectively, use it sparingly. They don’t overdo it. But music is a key part of the aesthetic experience. And, the great directors don’t use schlocky music. What you get is Prokofiev, Monteverdi, Schubert, and so on, plus awesome original music. How many treacly film scores have we been subjected to by second rate directors?

 

 

***************************************************

 

To Bill Dalzell’s list of the greatest films, I would like to add and comment on a few favorite directors of my own.

 

Yasujirō Ozu, a Japanese film director and screenwriter

He is not nearly as well known as he should be, though his critical reputation is very high. He is my personal favorite among directors, perhaps outranking the five listed above.

Of course, it was Bill Dalzell who first alerted me to Ozu’s films. He made a comment that turned out to be true. In Ozu’s films, nothing happens.

They are films about ordinary Japanese people — businessmen, housewives, families — living ordinary lives. One watches them going about their daily lives – there is no melodrama — and, instead of being bored, by some magic which the director, Ozu, achieves – which one can only marvel at – the viewer is never bored. Instead, one is totally engrossed.

It seems like a certainty that you are watching real people go about their lives, a documentary of sorts, as if the director had entered a home or workplace in Tokyo and turned on his camera. It’s hard to believe – one totally forgets – that one is watching actors.

There is wonderful music, simple and enchanting, used sparingly.

It is wonderful to hear Japanese spoken.

There is a sense of place. The films are shot in Tokyo. One feels that one is there, in the houses with people sitting on mats, in bars where businessmen are drinking copiously, in the narrow streets with their colorful lights and signs and paper lanterns.

Ozu has a great visual sense, but like everything else in his films. his cinematographic technique is not obtrusive. He is not showing off. You are having a wonderful aesthetic experience without quite realizing it.

There is no distance between you and the film, because everything is done simply and with great clarity. There is no bombast, no showing off, no cinematographic techniques being used simply to impress. And, there is no overacting, as is, sadly, the case with most American films.

I do not have a single favorite Ozu film. My favorites include:

Late Spring (1949)

Early Summer (1951)

The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1952)

Tokyo Story (1953)

Late Autumn (1960)

An Autumn Afternoon (1962; Ozu’s final work)

 

Robert Bresson

My other personal favorite is the French director Robert Bresson. My favorite Bresson film – his films are all of the highest quality — is Au hasard Balthazar (1966).

The Balthazar of the title is a donkey. It is a sort of “Black Beauty” story (the reference here being to the novel by Anna Sewall). The characters are plain people – some of them mean spirited and petty minded, if not downright cruel – in a French village.

The haunting soundtrack features Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 20 in A major. Bresson uses music sparingly, but extremely effectively.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 2016; updated September 2017

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

from the Wikipedia entry on Yasujirō Ozu:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yasujir%C5%8D_Ozu

Ozu is probably as well known for the technical style and innovation of his films as for the narrative content. The style of his films is most striking in his later films, a style he had not fully developed until his post-war talkies. He did not conform to Hollywood conventions. Rather than using the typical over-the-shoulder shots in his dialogue scenes, the camera gazes on the actors directly, which has the effect of placing the viewer in the middle of the scene.

Ozu did not use typical transitions between scenes, either. In between scenes he would show shots of certain static objects as transitions, or use direct cuts, rather than fades or dissolves. Most often the static objects would be buildings, where the next indoor scene would take place. It was during these transitions that he would use music, which might begin at the end of one scene, progress through the static transition, and fade into the new scene. He rarely used non-diegetic music in any scenes other than in the transitions. Ozu moved the camera less and less as his career progressed, and ceased using tracking shots altogether in his color films. …

He invented the “tatami shot,” in which the camera is placed at a low height, supposedly at the eye level of a person kneeling on a tatami mat … even lower than that, only one or two feet off the ground, which necessitated the use of special tripods and raised sets. He used this low height even when there were no sitting scenes, such as when his characters walked down hallways.

Ozu eschewed the traditional rules of filmic storytelling, most notably eyelines.

 

 

from the Wikipedia entry on Robert Bresson:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Bresson

 

[Bresson is] known for a spiritual and ascetic style. Bresson contributed notably to the art of cinema; his non-professional actors, ellipses, and sparse use of scoring have led his works to be regarded as preeminent examples of minimalist film. …

Three formative influences in his early life seem to have a mark on his films: Catholicism, art and his experiences as a prisoner of war. …

Bresson made only 13 feature-length films. This reflects his meticulous approach to the filmmaking process and his non-commercial preoccupations. ….

Bresson’s actors were required to repeat multiple takes of each scene until all semblances of “performance” were stripped away, leaving a stark effect that registers as both subtle and raw. This, as well as Bresson’s restraint in musical scoring, would have a significant influence on minimalist cinema. …

Bresson is often referred to as a patron saint of cinema, not only for the strong Catholic themes found throughout his oeuvre, but also for his notable contributions to the art of film. His style can be detected through his use of sound, associating selected sounds with images or characters; paring dramatic form to its essentials by the spare use of music; and through his infamous “actor-model” methods of directing his almost exclusively non-professional actors.

 

 

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A Comment:

 

What I most like about Ozu’s films is his appreciation of moments of silence or non-action. So much is allowed to happen in those moments! They are almost always missing from American films, which seem to require constant noise and movement. You didn’t list it, so I’ll add another favorite: “Good Morning,” which is a comedy.

Thanks for bringing Ozu’s film to the attention of your readers!

 

— Ella Rutledge

    November 9, 2016

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I would like to clarify one aspect of the above.

I think it is important to be able to tell what is a classic and what is not a classic, which is the point of this essay.

But you can’t be force fed classics – it’s the kiss of death when it comes to developing a love and enthusiasm for them.

Comments along these lines were made by me in the essay Roger W. Smith, “My Early Reading” posted here at

https://rogersgleanings.com/2015/11/05/roger-w-smith-essay-on-early-reading/

As follows:

I think that to love reading, you have to begin by doing it because of intrinsic interest in the topic and because you are anticipating pleasure, not because you regard it as a duty. You should read whatever you like to; it could be books about sports, entertainment figures, lowbrow fiction, whatever you really and truly want to read.

Whenever (and this comment pertains mainly to classics) you are restricted to encountering good books only as school assignments, when that’s the only place where you encounter them, the game is lost. If you think that classic books are those that you are required to analyze and write essay exam questions on, and nothing more, you will probably not enjoy them in later life. My counsel to all readers, especially young ones, is read whatever you want to read, as much as you can. Seek a level where you have a genuine interest and read at that level. An interest in the best books will often follow.

 

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Addendum:

 

Similar thoughts of mine upon reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick? (2011).

On pg. 61, Philbrick mentions “the wisdom of waiting to read the classics. Coming to a great book on your own after having accumulated essential life experience can make all the difference.”

YES – waiting, I would be inclined to say, until you are ready, motivated, and receptive.

Waiting until the most opportune time.

This is precisely that happened to me with Moby-Dick. And, practically every other classic and/or “great book” I have ever read.

Hardly any of them – almost none – were read by me as school assignments.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

The following five greatest films of all time, according to my friend Bill Dalzell, can be viewed on YouTube at the following links.

 

 

D. W. Griffith

Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Through the Ages (1916)

 

 

 

 

 

Leni Reifenstahl

Olympia

2 parts

 

 

Eisenstein

Ivan the Terrible

2 parts

 

 

 

 

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to St Matthew, 1964)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet, Yasujirō Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon, and Robert Bressson’s Au hasard Balthazar are available from the Criterion Collection.

 

 

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小津安二郎は日本の映画監督・脚本家

 

 “On Aesthetic and Cultural Appreciation of Literature and Film, and My Favorite Directors” (小津安二郎は日本の映画監督・脚本家)

 

彼は、その作品で評論家から非常に高い評価を得ていたが、彼のことはその評価に見合うほど知られていない。彼は私が個人的に好きな映画監督であり、おそらく上述した5人の監督を上回るだろう。

 

もちろん、小津の映画を最初に教えてくれたのはBill Dalzelld だった。彼はいずれ真実であることが明らかになるコメントをした。小津の映画では、何も起こらない。

 

それらは、ビジネスマン、主婦、家族など、日本の庶民の何気ない日常を描いた映画だ。見ている人は、彼らの日常生活をただ見るのだが、メロドラマのようなたぐいではない。退屈するどころか、小津監督が吹き込む驚嘆すべきマジックにより、観客は決して退屈することがない。むしろ、見ている人は夢中にさせられる。

 

実際の人々の日常生活のありさまを、あたかも監督が東京のある家庭、または職場に潜入し、独自のカメラを回して撮ったドキュメンタリーか何かを見ているような感覚を受ける。役者の演技を見ている、ということを全く忘れさせられるのは、実に信じがたい体験だ。

 

音楽も素晴らしく、シンプルで魅惑的な音楽が控えめにバランスよく使われている。

 

日本語の話し言葉が非常に耳に心地よい。

 

場所の感覚がしっかり存在する。この映画は東京で撮影された。これを観ている人たちは、自分が実際に映画の登場人物の家の座敷や、ビジネスマンがおびただしく酒を飲むバー、カラフルなネオンや看板、紙ちょうちんの並ぶ狭い街路地に居るかのように感じる。

 

小津監督は優れたビジュアルセンスを持つが、映画のその他すべての部分と同様、彼の映画技術には押し付けがましさがない。彼は見せびらかすことをしない。あなたは気づかないうちに、素晴らしい美を体験させられる。

 

すべてがシンプルで、かなり明瞭に作られているため、あなたと映画との間に距離を感じない。印象付けるために、大げさな表現、見せびらかし、映画技術は一切使わない。そして、残念ながら大半のアメリカ映画がそうであるように、大げさな演技はない。

 

私の好きな小津監督の映画を1つだけ選ぶことはできない。私のお気に入りの映画のリストを挙げることにする:

 

晩春 (1949年)

 

麦秋 (1951年)

 

お茶漬けの味 (1952年)

 

東京物語 (1953年)

 

秋日和 (1960年)

 

秋刀魚の味 (1962年、小津の最終作)

 

 

 

 

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ウィキピディアの小津安二郎のページより

 

小津は恐らく、物語の内容と同じくらい、彼の映画の技術的スタイルと革新によって知られている監督であろう。彼の映画のスタイルは、晩年の映画でより顕著になってきており、このスタイルは彼の戦後をテーマにした映画の中で完全に確立された。彼はハリウッド映画のしきたりに従わなかった。それよりは、会話のシーンで典型的な肩越しのショットを使ったり、カメラを役者に直接向け、観客がシーンの中にいるような効果を出した。

 

小津はシーンの間にも典型的なトランジションを使わなかった。シーンの間に彼は、特定の静的オブジェクトをトランジションとして使ったり、フェードやディゾルブなどよりは、ディレクトカットを用いた。静的オブジェクトは、次の屋内シーンが展開される建物を用いることがほとんどだった。音楽はこれらのトランジション中に挿入され、1つのシーンの終わりから始まり、静的オブジェクトによるトランジションを経て、新しいシーンでフェードしていく、といった具合に使用した。彼がトランジション以外で物語の世界に属さない音楽を使用することはほとんどなかった。小津は、キャリアを積むに連れカメラを移動することが少なくなり、カラーフィルムになってからは、トラッキング・ショットの使用を一切止めた。…

 

彼はカメラを低い位置に設置し、日本家屋での座ったときの目線、または、それよりも低い床から30~60cmほどの高さで撮影する「畳ショット」を発明したが、これには特別な三脚を使用し、セットを上げる必要があった。彼は、キャラクターが廊下を歩くときなど、座り芝居のないシーンでもこのロー・ポジションを使用した。

 

小津は、映画によるストーリーテリングの伝統的なルールを避け、これは視点の構図で最も顕著だった。