Happy Together (1997)

In spirit of support for Hong Kong’s recent and on-going social struggle, I decided to review one Cantonese work that had the vastest artistic influence over myself and my own creative method, and that work is, without an inkling of doubt, Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together, made in 1997. This film proved to be the deserved consolidation of Wai’s directorial style and, simultaneously, a unique insight into Hong Kong’s LGBTQ+ dynamics as well as the specific emotional axioms of abusive relationships in a profound state of isolation. The film, armed with a minimalist cast of only three actors and an even more parsimonious and unfinished script that weaves itself together by means of image and sound, is a sprawling exploration about the coalescence of masculinity and the tumultuous and abashing treatment of LGBTQ+ communities in certain countries, a mixture that exacerbates a type of emotional mutism and reinforces the role of violence, both emotional and physical, in replacing the lack of communication and expressive clarity that should lie at the heart of any interpersonal relationship.

The relationship between Ho Po-wing, an airy and infantile man whose volatility proves highly obliterative, and Lai Yiu-fai, a depressive and internally unstable individual who finds himself in a perpetual performance of silent self-destruction, serves as the machine-of-war for the film’s dark existence; Ho Po-wing recurrent malediction, «Let’s start over.», made whenever the relationship felt most strenuous, was further engraved by his purchase of a lamp that resembled the Iguazu Falls, which the couple had planned to visit. This lamp acts as the central nervous system of a relatively diaphanous narrative. Both Ho’s infatuation with it and Lai’s attachment to what it represents seems to tether them both to a sense of eventual romantic actuation: as long as the luminous waters of the lamp cascade, so does the blood of the conjoined and corrupting heart of their relationship.
The film then shifts its focus to the exploration of Lai’s convalescence from this deeply abusive relationship, one that left him with the sorrow of survival and confusion thereof, to survive outside and beyond a mechanism of abuse that slowly became his raison-d’être, one that left him felt alone, lost, ashamed, betrayed and obliterated, trapped in a country which wasn’t his own and unable to return.

Wong Kar Wai’s lavishly dim cinematographic aesthetics, after gaining emboss in Chungking Express (1996), are further consolidated in Happy Together; the recurrent chromatic shifts that play upon the levels of narrative magnitude, the derelict and harsh environments reverberated by a sanitised, dry usage of light that appear as a signature of both his thematic emotional acuity and as a replication of Hong Kong’s own neon-spent frigid and synthetic streets, and the instrumentation of visual punctuations, chiefly exemplified by the films opening scene, a sanguine and heaving sexual encounter whose aggressiveness is found in both the actors and the corner-angled, gradually more intimate shots; the aesthetic interludes of the film also serve as vibrant expository conveyors, and such is the case with the bird’s eye shot of Iguazu Falls which is overlaid with a low-saturation filter and backgrounded by Caetano Veloso’s Cucurrucucú paloma, a pensive song about the destructive motions of lovesickness; shots like the kitchen tango scene, or the culmination of Lai’s emotional devastation in the voice recorder scene, are made with a level of artistic direction that, as far as my experience with film goes, has no parallel in how effectively it translates the most profound and vicious elements of emotional abuse in romantic relationships.

With a soundtrack that includes Astor Piazzolla’s Tangos, Frank Zappa’s I Have Been In You, and a cover of Happy Together by The Turtles (which inspired the English name of the film), Wai assures not only that every scene receives and apposite sound, but also that all the themes intertwine seamlessly, something he was already famed for after the release of Chungking Express and its memorable usage of California Dreamin’.

Lastly, I would like to express my support for the Cantonese people; their culture and heritage is not only thronged with beautiful works, it also had a magnificent impact on the cultural productions of today, on and beyond Cinema. One such example is Nicholas Wong’s Crevasse, a guttural poetry collection about growing up LGBTQ+ in Hong Kong that I could not recommend more.

paladin, 17 (english poetry)


Writing poems has, slowly, become a ritualistic exercise of hindering the velocity of my mind-dialectic, give it a shape, try to understand what it is I’m trying to reach. I rarely ever reach it. Various elements go missing, and I end up scouring a wreckage more-so than exploring an inner architecture. That is the thing, though, things don’t often come out as they are, and less often come out as they should, but it’s still important that they do.

The “you” element is not something I ordinarily use in English poetry, I don’t always like the form it takes in English, as it feels more dual than I believe it should. This poem, however, as all of those I’ve recently published, is translated from its Portuguese original. Don’t judge it too harshly, he is not from here, you see…

Endless gratitude for reading
João-Maria.

(Memnos II) – A Silence In Which No One Sings

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        I’d like to think that, if you made it to this point, you hold the glory that my poem holds not, as you withstood it. I don’t particularly like anything I produce these days, but this one was a delicate endeavor to iron-out. Written over nearly two months, revised hundreds of times, wholesomely deleted in countless others, I don’t think any poem has ever caused me this amount of hardship in conception. Alas, I truly wanted to write another poem-of-memory, this turn related to my first youthful love and how I’ve felt about it hitherto.

        If you’re still with me, my gratitude is endless. I cannot fathom someone reading the entirety of this composition, but if you’ve liked even a portion of it, it would already allow worth into my strain, for which I would be unfathomably happy.


Johnny

(PS: The poem “Alto Como o Silêncio” is by Santomean poet Maria Manuela Margarido, which I translated for the purpose of citation; to my knowledge, there is no translated version of her works by a professional in such field)

(Memnos I) – Alluvium

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        I was vanished; A most egotistical subterfuge, but naught without its proper cost. Approaching my date of birth by last December, I suffered a massive plunge in my mental integrity, followed by some level of tragedy, anguish, and some sparse instances of recuperation. This is most common to me since my early childhood, yet, still incredibly difficult to pull through. I am yet to fully pull through…

          I cannot outwardly write in such deep chasms of self, and my emotional sensibility becomes convoluted, nearly surrealistic, without a geometric nor organic form, which is a common symptom of a hindered artistic performance. Some find beauty in that hindrance, and to some degree, so do I; It is different, however, when one is the recipient of such chaos. To augment a fragmented emotional self is a perilous task, as it differs from the plenitude of wholesome transmission — where the emotion is left in the rear-view mirror — and instead magnifies the locations of shattering.

         Although I may not claim to be as rejuvenated as I would like, I still very much miss this sumptuous community of poets which I adore so dearly, and counted each second to return; For now, I will publish only small and unambitious inklings of poetry that I shape from memories of my childhood, as the one displayed above, as to ease myself into descriptive views and then transition into the emboss of emotional production once I am more prepared to do so.

But I’ve missed this so much; I didn’t think I would be as happy as I am now, but it truly bathes me with joy…


JOHNNY

A woman. (english poetry)

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a woman2


To my Grandmother; I’d wish to make something better for her, one day. But I’ve always been enchanted with her choice to stay, despite everything, she stays in her home, and intends to die there and nowhere else. That is a beauty I cannot yet capture.

But one day, Avó, one day.

She wasn’t taught to read nor write, so I know my greatest communication isn’t adequate for her. But, growing up by her side, I knew to communicate differently; with truly firm hugs, and the trémule of one’s voice, the pulse of a touch — all truly worth saying, dispenses words, as it lives above, purely in the senses.

She will never read my poems, but she knew them before anyone did. She knew them, even those I do not yet know.

JOHNNY

 

⌉|⌈ – Of Worth Onto Self. 

 


             My strides and vigour in poetic refinement, albeit little, have warranted me much trust from a few deambulatory souls (including many from WordPress, I adore you all dearly), whose abound kindness and levity allowed my work to be weightless, and live freely, in whichever form it holds, and whatever path it may pursue. This trust — or perhaps, credence — has led a fair few to the haunting question of worth; “Is my poem good?, Am I a good writer?”

           Assuming a grounded perspective upon the canticles of quality, and furthermore, interest, of course a work can be good, or satisfying, or accomplished; And any, with or without knowledge in the Art, may cast conclusions, and both the question and the following answer are inexorably legitimate. But who does that serve? 

      A scale of worth is, then, given to mires of juxtaposition; A work with higher verisimilitudes to those exalted by literary canons, is one of higher worth; At least, as one is quick to assume. Poetry, akin to any medium of Art, devours itself in non-absolution, and there are little reasons — in my view — that the Artist, too, should be devoured, or grimmer yet, should devour itself. But the recipe is clear, albeit not, and it shades externally as something clear, when internally, the same couldn’t be more false. “Be sincere.”; As I’ve said, many times; But that alone is insufficient to edge anyone into a more rightful direction. Bukowski was a tenderly sincere man, and to a different extent, so was Mallarmé, or Miss Ana from across the street, whose morning smile while stacking bananas is so worthfully poetic as Heródiade. There is nothing good about a poem, and there is nothing evil either; When it is sincere, it merely is and it requests little else; It isn’t as hungry as the immensity of Art, nor must it be crushingly artful. It musn’t be anything, and it can be nothing; Because we can feel anything, and we can feel nothing, and this isn’t good nor bad, it just is, just as it needs to be. Sincerity, to me, does not resist judgement, but flows with it. Much like a poem. 

         One is then tasked with reaching that medium of gentility in which sincerity, by itself, does not overbear the relay; It is a fine sheet of ice, and it will crack and dip, and at times, sink and resurface; But after that line, there is no return, and along those cracks, no repair. This medium is a sinuous, tranquil glade, where words fall into a doze. It is a home to some, and a graveyard to others, and sometimes, both. But it is not a permanent space, as it tolls heavily. You must be the ship that dares back into the turbulent seas of a self-serving reality, and ache. 

           This, too, is a heavy thought; Almost a level of mystical, peppered with surreal; But I, who write poems, venture into that place, as I believe Bukowski might have, or Mallarmé, and certainly Miss Ana, who is likely to visit very often. We all do; Versing, restocking, breathing, existing. One who requires fleeing, insofar as it imagines such escape, is already halfway escaping into just that thought; And that, maybe, might be why imagination is so warmingly sincere, even if surreal, absurd, and aesthetically mystical. 

         To those who’ve known my aesthesis, I’ve often stated that I do not find my poems good, I never have, not once. Why do I keep writing, despite that? Why do most of us? Well, to me, I just sincerely want to. Regardless of worth (of self or others), or even that cast by others; these are all structural to improvement and growth, but not to worth. Thus, being sincere simply means believing your work is, as it must be merely what it is, irregardless of whatever it should perceivably be. This might sound like a gamble on semantics, but in truth, that’s what it is: to deconstruct this noxious seed that something as volatile as Art, can ever hope to be ideally good. That such a rigid concept of worth can co-exist with human entropy, either of self, or others. One, therefore, does not hold worth, since it is what it must be, and shall change — by will or design — to whatever it must, simply because it must. 

         To be frank, my singular hope is that you who reads me, and simultaneously, also writes (like most of you do), fear not for the worth of your sincerity, as perhaps you have before, and are likely to do again. Remember my words, when such malaise sweeps your mind, and they may soothe you. I really hope they do. 


JOHNNY

Canto IV – Dead Narcissus (Prostagma)

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Psychologists, when encountered by someone highly entranced with the concept of Death, insofar as it creates deep psychological impacts, have come to call it Anguish of Death. Either by intense fear — Thanatophobia, or strong passion — Thanatophilia, Death, as it is modernly conceptualised by medium of the Ancient Greeks, can easily take a large space at the core of human social structures, and even individual human structures. As it is so encompassing, so impending and inexorable, it is easy to crumble under its weight.

My Thanatos, then, draws from that mixture of existence and impermanence. Not a reaper nor a culler, nor an agent of silent or peaceful death, he is, rather, a materialised version of Anguish itself.  Not made to be cruel nor merciful, but instead, just there, and always there, until there is no longer a there.


JOHNNY

Canto III – Moratorium (Prostagma)

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Appendix A 1

Appendix A 2

 


I’ve since changed jobs and the novelty of adaptation is taking its toll. As such, I haven’t been able to write remotely as much as I’d wish. Canto III is a simple introduction into the first arc of the story, as well as ground-work to introduce Thanatos as a regular character (which will happen in the next Canto). This one isn’t all that great, truly, but my energy levels are scathing.

The Appendix is not a required read, but rather, a big edit of one of my many pages of conceptualisation for the story. The Battle of Kytinion was a central catalyst to the story, so its accounts will be many and varied throughout the epic; thus, Thanatos account is facultative; but since I’m currently building his parsonage, I’d figure this was an interesting and fun opportunity to write as he would.

I will post other Appendix throughout the Cantos, as I’m awful at drawing, and showing you nice visuals of these events (that I do have in my mind), is outside my reach. As such, I’m bound to conceptualise through words, and appendixes are the only mediums for that.

Disclaimer: Canto III holds many references to Max Richter’s oeuvre, including “Catalogue of Afternoons” and “On The Nature of Daylight“. Appendix A contains some references to modern musician Bon Iver, with “Moon-Water” and “Caught in Daylight” being the most prominent. 

Thank you much, for reading me.


JOHNNY

⌉|⌈ – Für Alina

In 1976 — a year hardened by a big exodus within European confines, Alina, then eighteen years of age, left Tallin, Estonia, for a more promising life in England. Shipping in embrace with her father, she left only her mother, who was left in solitude. Arvo Pärt, by then a long-time friend of the family, syphoned from his years of composing and wove one of the most influential and sumptuous works of musical minimalism — Für Alina, the emblem of his tintinnabuli stylistic approach.

Music, unlike any other basilar-Art, envelops and takes command of a singular sense perception, and opposite to what modernistic music-videos would have you believe, Music itself pylons above little else than sound. Any aesthetic extension is dismissible to the gestalt of a piece. If a composition cannot support itself, a music-video has no worth, and shan’t amend the issue, since it is not constituent to the Art at-hand. There is, however, a very important semblance of aesthetic (by medium of thematic) in Music, laid at the very core of what makes Music, well, Music: giving order to noise and shape to silence — the simplest, most sincere description of the Art. 

Pärt, however, had many trepidations with that unique conception of his craft, and his dark, strikeful soul, compounded with the frigidity and abound lifelessness of the Estonian landscapes, opened those mires of sound that would pend and dip into those chilling waters of silence. He discovered that, perhaps, the soul of a weeping mother, missing and fearing dearly for her child, might connect more with the softness of absent sound than with the cadence and encore of a sole violin.

At roughly seventeen, I first heard this composition being played at a concerto in Lisbon’s suburbs, held in a poorly-lit office room with what felt like six sombering, silent listeners. Maybe such setting allowed me to feel the profound isolation hand-crafted by Arvo, the lingering restlessness of his notes, coalesced with sumps of a silence so-dense, so terribly overwhelming, it becomes a luscious shade that dances around you, and beats at tandem to a shrivelled heart. Alina was gone. Alina left, and with her, she took only her mother’s light, her mother’s life. And how many have done so, since, like Alina has? How many left? Leaving in their wake, the sounds of marching feet, slammed doors, doleful grunts and grievous wounds, followed by a prompt of marginal silence? Silence so long, so withering, it seems to hug you with heat?

Für Alina soothes (and suits) best those who feel abandoned at the margins of a big, haunting desolation, much like Arvo did, much akin to Alina’s mother; but also, the composition itself does not lean only on a negative effect — there is, simultaneously, moments were it lends itself to the release of youth, to the prospect of a more-complete life, a stroll of innocence within the avenues of a reality where such innocence is rewarded, and not condemned nor abused. But all the while, silence is still there, thus, pain is too; no truthfully sincere vision of a positive future may exist in a bubble of suspension, there must be descent, that bubble too must pend and dip into the chilling waters of silence; there is no courage in leaving without fear for what is left behind. Arvo, then, dares not to shy away from his still-silent soul, one that still hurts much, even in the moments when it hurts less. Arvo then upheld the truth of a minimalist — that sadness and serenity cannot be fully translated by adagios and staccatos, that release and catharsis cannot be fully translated by crescendos and da capos, but that Music itself exists only because Silence does, too. This idea, this seed that Silence itself can be a carrier of Art, a medium of emotion far beyond our conventional perception of music, was thought of way before Pärt existed, but he alone mastered the weaving of silence beyond any of his predecessors, acing it with a grace and mastery equal only to the silent landscapes of his Estonian youth. 

I often ponder on this, for Pärt heavily influences my poetry, perhaps more than many poets I admire, and without ever stringing a singular verse; I connect more with his silence, than to the pristine sound of a Shakespearian sonnet; Because I am made of more silence than I am of memories of rosie lips and venetian balconies. Because life is as much a song, as it is a pause. A long, beautiful song, and a longer, sombering pause. 


I will leave you with a fellow Portuguese artist, Joana Gama, playing Für Alina with incredible technique and properness:


JOHNNY