Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Life's parade at your fingertips."

Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955) is a film admired by many of the greats of contemporary cinema. For example Martin Scorsese features it in his fascinating Journey Through American Movies -- a series I recommend to anyone looking to increase your knowledge of American movies. Here and in several other films (see especially Magnificent Obsession) German émigré Sirk created a unique emotional vocabulary through a rigorous stylistic approach to color and framing. He knew how to get the most out of actors too. Jane Wyman's performance in All That Heaven Allows is one for the ages.

In a time where everything (it seems) is permissible the thematic elements of this picture may seem clichéd or just plain incomprehensible to modern viewers. That would be a shame. This movie must have exploded like a bomb in the consciousness of a generation of middle-class housewives, and if you allow it to transcend it's particular time and place it remains a devastatingly effective viewing experience. Except for the "Hollywood ending" it's perfect. A more appropriate final scene would have been the one below, which concludes with a shot of such emotional power it made my jaw drop as I watched it last night.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Are we playing baseball or soccer?

After the gut-wrenching 2-2 World Cup match between the USA and Portugal a couple weeks back a friend posted on Facebook: "Soccer is too much like life; I need more fantasy in my sports." As any soccer aficionado knows all too well the game has a unique ability to deliver suffering and heartbreak. Are there other ways soccer is more like real life than other sports?

David Brooks explores this question in his most recent column "Baseball or Soccer?". After positing that baseball, while a team sport, is a game made up of hundreds of individual actions, he explains how soccer is all about the collective activity of controlling space. In this way, Brooks argues (and I agree), soccer is more like real life than the American pastime. He writes:

Most of us spend our days thinking we are playing baseball, but we are really playing soccer. We think we individually choose what career path to take, whom to socialize with, what views to hold. But, in fact, those decisions are shaped by the networks of people around us more than we dare recognize. . . . Once we acknowledge that, in life, we are playing soccer, not baseball, a few things become clear. First, awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom. It’s not raw computational power that matters most; it’s having a sensitive attunement to the widest environment, feeling where the flow of events is going. Genius is in practice perceiving more than the conscious reasoning.

Second, predictive models will be less useful. Baseball is wonderful for sabermetricians. In each at bat there is a limited range of possible outcomes. Activities like soccer are not as easily renderable statistically, because the relevant spatial structures are harder to quantify. Even the estimable statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight gave Brazil a 65 percent chance of beating Germany.
Finally, Critchley notes that soccer is like a 90-minute anxiety dream — one of those frustrating dreams when you’re trying to get somewhere but something is always in the way. This is yet another way soccer is like life.
Recently I had the opportunity to take the Clifton StrengthsFinders test. To my surprise my top strength was "Connectedness" with "Harmony" and "Adaptability" close behind. According to Clifton an individual with the strength of Connectedness isn't necessarily someone with a lot of personal connections. Instead, Connectedness enables a person to see connections between people and events that others miss. "People with the strength of Connectedness believe that everything happens for a reason. They have the unique ability to ‘connect the dots’ between what is happening in the here and now with deep personal meaning."
When I was a young libertarian I thought people's lives were defined primarily by the individual choices they made. And I loved baseball (now I only watch it when the World Series comes around). I thought I was playing baseball, but now I realize that I was playing soccer all along.