James Batcho, PhD

jimbatcho.com

February 9, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO. I’m in the city for a week on a visa run. I just dropped off my application and have to wait four days to get my passport back. My regular hotel in North Beach gives nice discounts for a full week’s stay, so I’m taking advantage of it. It reminds me also that I’ve done this sort of thing before: in San Francisco in February, lining up all the necessary pins for a move to Asia, and knocking them down one by one. Two got struck down today in fact: the visa app and moving my boxes to China. There are now only two left: picking up the visa and getting on an airplane in a couple weeks.

My dissertation draft was finished on January 30 and submitted to my adviser and muse the following day. Now I can only wait to learn what kind of feedback, input and re-write directives I will receive. It’s too long, I know that much: 276 pages. I haven’t stopped tweaking though, and I’m still reading: Kaja Silverman’s Flesh of My Flesh and a re-reading of certain parts of Heidegger’s Being and Time. Even though Deleuze emerged as my bubba during my research, Heidegger still manages to cut to the core and crystalize my own sense of things more than any other thinker. People regard him as a difficult writer; I did when I first tried. But now I find him incredibly lucid. He manages to disclose the gathering of meaning in the everyday in a way that makes you think, well duh. He reveals what already should be known if anyone decided to pay attention. But people rarely do. Too busy staring into their rectangles in search of something better than whatever is taking place right now.

Anyone reading this probably knows that Terrence Malick’s films play a central role in my dissertation. I’m focusing on his middle four: Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World and The Tree of Life. These films are not so distinct to me, and instead offer a progression of a few particular lines of thinking or concepts that I’ve chosen to move through. They are like four books in a literature series, and as these aesthetic lines move forward they widen outward into a more expansive sense of... I don’t know, this is where I let Deleuze do the talking for fear that I’m getting too mystical in my language. I’m starting to see some early buzz in the news for his new film Knight of Cups. It just premiered at the Berlin Internationale Filmfestspiele, with the New York Observer saying “But boy, for a dumb film, it sure looks pretty.” This makes me laugh; people are always saying shit like that about Malick’s films. Thank god he’s not universally adored, otherwise the world as it is wouldn’t make any sense.

Interesting also to see just how much Malick is affecting the way cinema is being done, showing his influence in TV as well with shows like Breaking Bad and this most recent episode of The Walking Dead. I caught a bit of “Talking Dead” later that night, which had the episode’s director Greg Nicotero as a guest. I forget the exact quote, but I wasn’t at all surprised to hear him say that this was their Terrence Malick episode. To me there are two filmmakers today whose works are having the strongest influence within artier expressions of popular cinema: in a positive way we have Malick, and in a negative way we have Christopher Nolan. But I’ll save that rant for another blog post.

Here, incidentally, is the trailer for Knight of Cups.

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