Russian Ark – a film review

Russian Ark is a stunning film released in 2002 and directed by Alexander Sokurov.

The film was shot is one continuous 96-minute Steadicam camera shot in the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Russian Ark is meticulous in its details, taking us on a two-kilometer trek over three centuries of Russian history.

The film is narrated by two narrators – one visible and one invisible. The invisible narrator implies he may have died and been transported here (via a time machine?) for reasons unknown to him.

The interactions between the two and their insights and observations drive the story – for example they both agree that Russians are lacking in originality but great at copying Italian style – they agree this palace is a better St. Peter’s than St. Peter’s in Rome.


The visible narrator (I will call him “the Guide”) who the camera follows, is a real eccentric and aesthete – he appears to be a 19-century French traveler who also arrived here for reasons unknown even to himself and is suddenly fluent in Russian.

This guy is funny, cultured, artistic and charming. He acknowledges a comment about his great hair but telling us that, of course – artists always have fantastic hair.

The visible narrator

The Guide has been here before, so he recognizes some of the works of art from his era, but he also needs to make sense of all the changes in the rooms and what he has been told happened up to the present time, e.g. all the Russians who died in WW II, which he finds inconceivable.
So we discover each new person and work of art through his eyes.

The Guide is sometimes, and sometimes not, seen by people pursuing various activities in the museum (setting up a banquet, viewing art, etc.)

ciega russian ark

Throughout Russian Ark, the camera and narrators guide us through the various rooms of the museum – each room contains various characters from different periods of Russian history – from Tsar Nicholas to Catherine the Great to modern-day tourists appreciating the paintings.

The cinematography and the story-boarding has been meticulously planned, each room has a distinct lens filter/hue which captures its mood.

This must have taken ages to coordinate and navigate all the aspects of making this epic: the government approvals/bureaucracy, the actors, costumes – and again this is all one one take – no edits.

The film concludes in grand Tolstoy-esque style with a luxurious and prolonged ball with lots of dancing, drink and food.

Russian Ark is much more than one continuous camera shot – perceptive commentary on the Russian soul, hundreds of actors who never strike a false note, stunning art, and thousands of period-authentic costumes.

And a compelling reason to visit The Hermitage in St. Petersburg for yourself.

the big short



Maybe like you, I always thought finance was boring.

After seeing this film, I see it differently. It’s like a enigmatic zen riddle wrapped in a shifting sand oracle of inscrutable change – or is it?

Ultimately its answers reveal themselves  – to those who want to Really See – the markets reveal their secrets to those who will take the time to look – and most do not – even those who live and breathe it.

This film breaks down how it (the financial crisis) was seen and who saw it.

But not only did some see it (a very few) – they took action.

All the while the true casualties of this crisis – the American taxpayer and homeowner- has no say in the matter. The big banks know the taxpayer will bail them out and no one goes to jail.

Some observations on the film:

  1. No one sees the answer, which is obvious
  2. In order to answer the question, the answer needs to be invented – aka mortgage-backed securities had to be created out of thin air to buy them
  3. The editing keeps the viewer off kilter – occasional blurry images and weird cuts. Art house film editing applied to a potentially conventional subject matter keeps the viewer engaged.
  4. Ryan Gosling is hilarious and also brakes through The Fourth Wall, breaking out of character to directly acknowledge the audience, talking to the camera a la Ferris Bueller
  5. Christian Bale puts in his first great performance since Rescue Dawn
  6. Christian Bale’s and Steve  Carell’s characters have Persistence – they don’t freak out and sell – they stay the course but see what no one else could see – they bet against the banks
  7. Steve Carell’s character’s minions went out into the field and actually talked to mortgage brokers and real estate agents. They found out the banks were not verifying income.
  8. You will know what a tranche is.

In 2016 we harvest massive amounts of data and call this chaos Big Data. This seeming chaos is not totally random to those who want to take the time to study the past and extract is lessons and patterns that emerge to teach.

Waiting for Altima

Sitting here


for Altima

30,000-mile $€£¥ tune up


you started as a bluebird/leopard chrysalis


into altimaness



TV, snacks, coffee, a showroom showdown of Altimas

The polite formal discourse of commerce

Black leather chairs

A kid singing to herself

In her own universe

Leafing through tomes on Common Wood Nymphs.

Walking down the wind tunnel street

Ducati motorcycle in the strip mall window

Dylan 63.

The singing kid is gone now

The radio plays on

Endless 60s hits

Jumpin Jack Flash

Josh: call on 009



the solar constant is

a measure of. . . .


this story

is almost


before it’s begun


those warriors went to China

came back to the samurais

boiled it for centuries


put their packs on

brought it to san francisco

minneapolis and paris

where it’s needed

or where

water flows

sat down

wind howling through tangled hand branch(es)


have you

almost forgotten this right now


finished reading


will it ever be thought

of again?

it will pop back once or twice about two weeks from now and then in 2037



what is it

don’t look for it

let it ramble up to you



where it is holds


a mirror to

where you are

buy a lifestyle

forget it?

make the most of 30 seconds

alive again

millions of

impressions bang

for the buck


sunlight strolling through the window

onto the cushion


i can feel my heart beating

a super bowl

do you wish you were still in the game?


let it



into the field

. . . flux (station to station) density


The best Wim Wenders films

The films of German director Wim Wenders are infused by his love of people, music, photography and travel.

Wim has made numerous landmark films (way more than I am listing here).

These are my favorites:

Pina (Documentary)


Pina is a film from the heart from one artist to another.
Pina is a available in 3-D – and the dynamic dancing thrives in this format. Wenders started working on Pina because of his friendship and love of Pina Bausch’s choreography. He did not expect her death as he was in the process of filming.
However, Wim decides to keep filming as Pina’s dancers cope with and express their loss – and this becomes movingly integrated into the film.
Pina turns a tragic event into a celebration of a life well lived, spent in pursuit of creative excellence. Highly recommended.

Don’t Come Knocking


Starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard as a funny, drifting cowboy. A continuation of the screenwriting collaboration between Wenders and Shepard that started with Paris, Texas.
The colors captured in the cinematography are spellbinding and Fairuza Balk turns in a hilarious performance.

Buena Vista Social Club (Documentary)

Buena Vista Social Club La HabanaIf you have not seen this film about Cuban music and musicians that thrived in Havana during the pre-Castro era and their reunion 40 years later, go see it now.

Wings of Desire

iurIn my top five of the greatest films ever made.
Captures the soul of Berlin just before the wall came down. Perhaps Peter Falk’s greatest role outside of Columbo. Also captures an archetypal moody, musical performance by Nick Cave.
Makes a compelling case for why angels should join the ranks of the humans. Wings of Desire captures internal dialogue in a way that I have never seen before or since.

Paris, Texas

iu-3Another one of the greatest films ever made. Three main reasons:
  1. The desert cinematography
  2. The archetypal loner role that Harry Dean Stanton was made for
  3. The sparse, haunting slide guitar work of Ry Cooder

Alice in the Cities


The first half of this film shows us the soul of America with its open spaces and wanderlust – which infuses the second half in Germany.

Stars the impossibly charming and cute Yella Rottländer as Alice who is trying to get to her grandmother’s home in Wuppertal.

Also contains a classic scene featuring a little German kid, a jukebox and the music of Canned Heat:

Wenders mainstay Rüdiger Vogler brilliantly takes the lead role as a wandering Ulysses-type character with a wry smile. Alice in the Cities was the first of a trilogy of road movies for Wenders – all of which are worth checking out of you like this one.

Filmography and additional information

For a full list of films and additional information about the constantly evolving creations of Wim Wenders:

enlightenment – what is it?

a temporary condition, like being a pedestrian.

it starts to show up

any moment you do not believe your thoughts are 100% real.

inhabit the magic

without really trying

or forcing to stay in that magical place.

always keep

your promises and commitments, and

if you can’t – make amends.

anyone could be a Buddha when

not in thought

that is what a Buddha is:

someone not caught up in the conceptual, but aware

the past is malleable, a packaged concept, and illusion

it would be difficult to conceptualize enlightenment

that is why

i cannot just hand it to you or tell you what it is…. you need to experience it directly

just like

if I write you a PhD thesis about eating a strawberry



never give you

in a million years

the real essence of what a strawberry tastes like –

you need to eat a strawberry to know it directly

and taste it yourself to Know what it is


formal meditation is not necessary

if you already

inhabit the place

that meditation seeks

the trick is get the you or i out of the way and you are there

let the snow globe settle down of its own accord

you cannot be tackled by the ground

the flow moments

often during creativity when the I falls


and you are caught up in the moment – just pure experience

there is no “you” involved

relax – see what shows up of its own accord


“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

― Franz Kafka


Why I love Taiwan


Dan bing (egg pancake) – It’s a mixture of crepe and egg, then chopped up and mixed with red chili peppers, green onions and soy sauce. Toss it in a baggie and dig in with chopsticks, Breakfast on the go. Made fresh while you wait on a steaming hot skillet. The best breakfast you will ever have.

iu-1The people – For the most part, people in Taiwan (or the Republic of China as it it also called) are totally chilled out and friendly. I think the tropical climate contributes to the laid-back atmosphere.


Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Center – You can stay overnight, have some vegetarian food, and observe the monks in nuns in their daily routines of study and worship. Must make a reservation to stay.

iu-2Ghost month – Kinda like Halloween but it lasts a whole month. People burn miniature paper versions of things on the sidewalk that they want to send to their dearly departed.


Beef noodle soup – The best versions of this soup are spoken of in hushed tones just like you might seek out the perfect bowl of ramen. Get it at your favorite corner noodle stand.


Papaya milkshakes – Almost like liquid heaven when it is 100% humid and a million degrees outside. Milk, ice, sugar and fresh papayas in a blender. Done.


Liouhe Night Market (Kaohsiung) – So full of life, electricity, great food and something called “ren nao” in Chinese which roughly translates into the exciting bustle of human activity. Some tasty food items of note are the grilled teriyaki corn on the cob and the giant grilled squid, splayed out flat and coated with a kind of soy sauce.



National Palace Museum – Rivals any museum in China for the amount and quality of items.

dsc_20782.jpgBubble tea – Bubble tea was invented in Taiwan and sold at little roadside carts. Typical version is black tea, milk and sugar. Bubbles are made from tapioca.


Oyster omelettes – Sounds weird, but totally delicious. The magic is in the sauce.

iurTai chi – See it in the parks in the morning, as well as other forms of exercise and even karaoke. A big thank you to Mr. Chen who took the time to teach me the Yang Short form during my year teaching English in Kaohsiung!

iu-3.jpegKenting National Park – A protected, tropical, park that covers the entire southern tip of Taiwan. Untouched green areas and beaches.

iu-4.jpegThe mountains – Yes, there are mountains that go all the way down the central spine of Taiwan and you can drive through them. They are as beautiful as the alps and unless you live there, you probably have no idea these mountains exist. More than 240 above 3,000 feet. Fun places to camp.