Alan Watts Animated

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Over the years I’ve posted several audio excerpts from Alan Watts’ talks, but I hadn’t seen any animated illustrations of his suggestions or parables until today. Here are a couple of short ones that draw from his lectures on Zen and Daoism (thanks to Tom via Berry for finding them)-

The second one, in particular, raises some interesting questions: is Watts – or the parable – suggesting that one should never judge an event to be good or bad, just because one can never know all of the event’s long-term consequences, and one can never be certain even of its immediate, short-term consequences? In the case of each of the events in the parable, instead of the farmer’s saying “Maybe”, could he not have said something just a little stronger: “Probably”? True, he would have been wrong about the improbable consequences of the events in the story, but if he made a habit of saying “probably”, wouldn’t he be right at least most of time? And wouldn’t that be enough to allow for the usefulness of at least some value judgments (the ones past experience teaches us we can be most confident about)?

I guess my point is this: yes, nature is very complex, and our minds are very limited, as are the data we use when we judge some event to be good or bad. But our minds are also part of the complexity of nature, and the somewhat predictable patterns of nature can and should inform our minds. I think the best lesson to be learned from the parable is not that one should never make value judgments, but that one should be very humble when making them, and act only on those judgments one has good reason to believe are true.

Whiplash & Nightcrawler

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I’m not sure whether I liked Whiplash so much because it managed to accurately portray the musicality and ambience of big-band jazz (a unique accomplishment, I believe), or because J. K. Simmon’s performance as the “conductor” was so deliciously over the top (imagine Kubrick’s abusive drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket times 10), but I do heartily recommend it, particularly to jazz and classical musicians. Yes, there are some scenes that could have been toned down a bit, and not all of the acting and writing is equally strong, but I’ll be very surprised if Simmons doesn’t win a few awards for his performance. Justin Hurwitz also deserves more-than-honorable mention for the music (not to mention the players who made it happen). Here’s the trailer, which makes the film look much tamer than it is-

The other similarly low-budget but high-quality film currently in theaters is Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. Gyllenhaal has been getting much of the hype for this one, and his portrayal of a man (alien being?) with a “business plan” is impressive: highly controlled, consistently tense, and definitely disturbing. But for my money, the performance to watch here is Russo’s. Her subtle reactions to Gyllenhaal’s bizarre presence are shockingly effective; if she doesn’t win at least a nomination for best supporting actress, there is no justice. Watch the trailer on Vimeo-