Category Archives: Cinema

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Happy birthday, March 31, 1947
 “Music is simply the sugar syrup that the medicine of the Divine name is hidden in.”

Sometimes a happenstance event becomes that stone thrown in a still pond and the ripples vibrate out to the lakes’ shores and throughout history.

In April 1965, the Beatles were filming the movie, Help!. The script called for a scene in an Indian restaurant with Indian musicians playing.

George Harrison saw a sitar for the first time.

Norwegian Wood

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

On October 12, 1965, the Beatles began working on their Rubber Soul album  and during the day’s second session they started to record “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” Harrison played sitar on the song.

On my tours at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts I emphasize the importance of the Rubber Soul album and how it changed the scope of pop music. I joke about how when I first listened to the album, intently staring at and reading its covers, I found a typo: someone had misspelled guitar! They spelled it s-i-t-a-r.

And just as Harrison had accidentally discovered Indian music (and thus Indian culture), so too happened the teenage Western listener.

And as the Beatles became interested in other things Indian, so did many Baby Boomers.

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Jeff Kagel

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Jeff Kagel was a student at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

He had first learned yoga asanas [postures] on the floor of a tenement apartment on the Lower East Side in 1966 from a guy who had just come over from India.

He also loved rock music and was in a band. He wanted to be a star.

The Soft White Underbelly would go on to rock fame as Blue Öyster Cult and sell more than 24 million records worldwide.

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Krishna Das

As much as Jeff Kagel wanted to be a rock star, he felt spiritually lost.  In the winter of 1968, he made a decision: move to New Hampshire visit the spiritual teacher Ram Dass  (who, in his former incarnation was Harvard professor Richard Alpert as in LSD researcher with Timothy Leary).

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Later, Kagel traveled across the country with Ram Dass as his student, captivated by the stories of  Dass’s recent trip to India where he had met the legendary guru Neem Karoli Baba, known to most as Maharaj-ji.

Jeff Kagel went to India.

From an interview in Ascent magazine:

In India, Krishna Das [Kagel] also encountered kirtan, or the chanting of God’s name. “I heard it and I couldn’t believe it. I thought, this is fantastic. I was always musical and I always loved to sing. I didn’t really do it at first as a spiritual practice, in a heavy way like that. I sang because I loved to do it.”

He spoke of his guru with great love and respect: “Someone like him is like the sun. To be in his presence and to be connected to him is to be doing the best thing you can do for your own blossoming. He didn’t give meditation techniques, he didn’t give mantras. He ripened you from the inside.”

For awhile, Kagel became “Driver” because he was in charge of driving the one car that’s how many referred to him, but…

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Neem Karoli Baba gave Krishna Das his spiritual name. Das means servant, and Krishna is one of the names of God.

NYT interview: Krishna Das lived blissfully at Neem Karoli Baba’s temple until 1973, when he returned to America at the guru’s behest. His teacher called him back about a year later, but Krishna Das, who was making money and enjoying a new romance, hesitated. Within months, Neem Karoli Baba died.

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

Lost/Renewal

After Baba’s death, Das became lost.  Eleven years of substance abuse and depression followed.

He returned to India and came to the realization that although Neem Karoli Baba had left his body, his presence remained.

Chanting had never left Krishna Das.

Back in the United States, in 1994, Krishna Das started leading chant at Jivamukti Yoga Center, NYC.

From his siteOver the years, he continued chanting, developing his signature style, fusing traditional kirtan of the east with western harmonic and rhythmic sensibilities. 

Does he still love rock? Does he ever tire of kirtan?

I do, all the time! You should hear us at sound check. We do Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Rolling Stones. We do everything. We’re totally nuts in sound check. [YJ interview]

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das

One Track Heart

In 2012, director Jeremy Frindel released One Track Heart, The Story of Krishna Das. It is how I first heard of and heard KD.  And again I found myself asking, “How is it I never heard of him before.”

Jeff Kagel Krishna Das
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Dominique Benicheti Cousin Jules

Dominique Benicheti Cousin Jules

Dominique Benicheti Cousin Jules

Documentary

 

Fans of various movie genre know that each has its own feel. Perhaps it’s the sound, the camera angles, the dialogue, the pace, or some other cinematic element.

An independent film that John Cassavetes produced was notable not only for its originality and quality of acting, but for the feeling the viewer often felt, as if they were there looking over the characters’ shoulders, not sitting in a theater seat.

Dominique Benicheti Cousin Jules

Dominique Benicheti

"Dominique Benicheti Cousin Jules

Benicheti  began to film Le Cousin Jules or Cousin Jules in 1968. The two main characters were a married couple: Jules Guitteaux (Benicheti’s actual cousin) and Jule’s wife  Felicie who live on a farmstead in the hills of Burgundy. Both born in 1891. Married more than 50 years.

The 1 hour 31 minute film opens with a scene of Jules’s forge. Chickens peck about its floor.  The door to a house opens. Jules himself walks out and slips his feet into his wooden clogs. We watch those clogs walk to the forge. There is no dialogue. Jules starts the forge’s fire. He begins to repeatedly pull on the bellows’ handle. Jules heats a piece of metal.

Felicie sits in the front yard peeling potatoes. We notice that one of the fingers on her gnarled hands is missing. There is no dialogue.

Dominique Benicheti Cousin Jules

Pierre-William Glenn

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Benicheti used cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn. In a typical mid-twentieth century documentary with it new lightweight portable cameras, we expect some jangled hand-held work. Not here. It is often as if Glenn set up his CinemaScope  cameras, stereo recorders, and simply let them run.

We follow the Guitteaux through their day, though in actuality it took Benicheti five years to complete. As in any story, there are times our eyes sparkle with love. Times they fill up. We know we are watching a long gone lifestyle, yet we also recognize an extremely worthy lifestyle.

Dominique Benicheti Cousin Jules

Recognition

Bencheti released the film in 1973. It won the Special Jury Prize prize at Lucarno, Other festivals, including Moscow, New Directors/New Films and the Los Angeles International Film Expo selected it for screening.

Charles Champlin wrote in The Los Angeles Times, that it was “one of those extraordinary discoveries which film festivals ought to always be about.”

Dominique Benicheti Cousin Jules

Oblivion

Unfortunately critical recognition does not mean financial success. Such success depends on distribution and distribution depends on corporate deciding what niche the film fits into and how to best sell it from that niche.

Cousin Jules did not fit into any particular genre. Yes a documentary, but it didn’t feel like a documentary.  Decision-makers apparently felt that the patience needed to watch the story unfold was more than a typical moviegoer had.

And unlike most movies, there was virtually no dialogue.

Perhaps Variety magazine’s review summed up best the lack of support for the film: somewhat plodding and unclear in design … the kind of film that keeps a distance (from its subjects), prettifies the grim look of their rural lives and does not let them say anything.”

Dominique Benicheti Cousin Jules

Resurrection

Copies of the film began to disintegrate.  Benicheti began to restore it, but in 2011, he died suddenly.  One of Benicheti’s former students asked Richard Peña (program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center at the time) to consider the film for the 2012 New York Film Festival. Peña  enthusiastically agreed.  

Dedicated supporters  raised the funds for the remainder of the restoration work. 

From the film’s site: Le Cousin Jules awed its audience at the 2012 New York Film Festival.  In 2013 it screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Viennale, and the festival Toute la mémoire du monde at la Cinémathèque française in Paris.  Its first theatrical release was at Film Forum in New York in December 2013.

Dominique Benicheti Cousin Jules

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American Rebel Without Cause

American Rebel Without Cause

American Rebel Without Cause

released October 26, 1955

American Rebel Without Cause

American Rebel Without Cause

Damn Kids today

Adults have questioned the behavior of teenagers as long as both groups have faced each other–forever.

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” (Hesiod, 8th century BC).

American Rebel Without Cause

Rebel Without a Cause

Warner Brothers released Rebel Without a Cause on October 26, 1955. It is considered by many to be the teenage movie of all time. In its review, the NY Times stated: It is a violent, brutal, and disturbing picture of modern teen-agers…. Young people neglected by their parents or given no understanding and moral support by fathers and mothers who are themselves unable to achieve balance and security in their home…It is a picture to make the hair stand on end. (NYT review)

The title was adopted from psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner’s 1944 book, Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath.

American Rebel Without Cause

American Rebel Without Cause

In any case…

Whether or not Rebel Without a Cause is the best movie ever of its genre is unimportant. Each generation has its movie milepost to point to. What is important is that in it we can see the universal conflicts between adults and their values and teenagers and their values; between teenagers own conflicting values; between society’s desire to mold its young members into a satisfactory reflection of its values and those same young members desire to see things differently, do things another way, and do things better

American Rebel Without Cause

Boy meets girl. Girl laughs at boy. Boy chases girl. Girl turns and smiles. Love. Confusion. Arguments. Fights. Anomie.

Certainly a film to watch again or to watch for the first time.

American Rebel Without Cause

Peter the Hermit in A.D. 1274

The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”

American Rebel Without Cause

Legacy

In 1990, Rebel Without a Cause was added to Library of Congress’s National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.” It was the only film that James Dean had top billing, but he died in a car crash before the film’s release.

American Rebel Without Cause

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