Apocalypse Now and Then

December 20, 2014 § 2 Comments

Happy Holidays. Nearing the end of another year. Following an ugly-sweater party in the office this afternoon, I made my way to the Roxie theatre in the Mission. The Roxie is one of the oldest continuously operating cinemas in the country. It nearly went under last year and the community bailed them out via crowd funding. They operate in what I believe is an almost perpetual state of financial vulnerability. I do what I can to help because I love old theatres. The Roxie especially because they have a strong emphasis on screening community centered films, documentaries, independent film from the Bay Area and old classics. Stuff that any commercial theater in its right mind will never touch, understandably. This weekend they’re hosting the Coppola family who are all locals. I don’t believe Francis Ford or Sofia will make an appearance but other family members, all of whom are huge supporters of film will be interacting with the public. I bought a ticket to attend a benefit for the theatre and showed up around 6 pm to a small crowd at a place called the Little Roxie which is two doors down from the actual theatre. They had a xylophone player with a table sized xylophone. So far so good. As is always the case with anything actually worth going to, most of the crowd was over 40 years old, a lot over 60. I think I spotted a lady who had the signature Coppola face but couldn’t be sure. Talking and mingling, speeches. They had in the house, Richard Beggs, who was the sound designer for Apocalypse Now and deservingly won an academy award for his work on the film. It was all in the family and everyone knew everyone and everyone was nice enough to introduce me to everyone else. There was not really any need to turn on your networking radar and start making beelines for the headliners. I stood next to Richard at the bar for a few seconds with that odd feeling when you stand next to someone who has won an academy award and worked with Coppola, Brando, Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen and many other legends. No idea what to say. He walked off and in so doing tripped over my hiking shoes. I’m wearing them to work these days because of the incessant rain. I can’t stand wet socks. The head of the board at Roxie explained that making a movie takes many people and not everyone is seen equally. I later heard Richard relate his experiences working on the movie and how they stored the 7 tonnes of film spool that they shot for Apocalypse in a storage room at Francis Ford’s Napa Valley estate. There’s something about seeing people who have made pinnacle achievements in the distant past. The thing you notice is a kind of simplicity, composure. They lack that open mouthed hunger and flitting anxiety. He spoke so simply, without affecting humility. There is a dignity about people who have no doubt about doing what they love that can never be matched by even the most competent of those who still are not sure. The party was followed by a screening of Apocalypse Now. I hadn’t seen it before and it was quite something to watch on a big screen. A war epic with poetic imagery that is hypnotic. You literally lose the plot and just let it take you. And it does, to haunting and dream like worlds where the horror of war becomes a spiritual ceremony.

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I am convinced that big budget cinema can never be organized to bring happiness in equal measure. It is inherent in the nature of it that it be manipulative and at the expense of some to the benefit of others. A director is a master manipulator both on and off set and must use people to bring his vision to life. Mainstream film is thus basically a venture in exploitation guaranteed never to bring deep satisfaction. To make peace with the manipulation of others would require a denial of a kind that obscures all humanity and those who can live in such denial are never capable of the kind of artistic heroism that is required for success. So the successful lot in film must know the expense at which their project has been realized. I find myself sometimes, looking at my own website again and again, watching my reel, looking at the pictures. In some trance like state that is not remotely happiness or deep inner peace. I just look. Its me. I keep looking. As I look, some wordless voice inside me soothes the split-ends of my ego but always rides on a deeper anxiety that no amount of looking can sooth.  Sometimes I feverishly compare recent pictures with older ones trying to gauge the deterioration of skin, hair or a general reduction in youthfulness. An exercise that can ultimately only end in madness ala Sunset Boulevard. Its the same with my photography or anything else for that matter. To look for myself in the relics of achievement always leaves me wanting. Yet, to abandon this seeking part of me seems like copping out and to pursue it seems a fool’s errand. The Dalai Lama says that the only source of happiness is compassion. So far, following this tenet to me has seemed like a cliche but off late I am beginning to understand that an act of genuine compassion comes not from doing but from non-doing. Which is another way of saying that you don’t distribute compassion to others, you surrender into it within yourself. Anyway, this is boring. I meant to write a little something about what was a nice evening. I spent it alone albeit in a warm-hearted crowd. Happy Holidays, friends.

Saif Ali is a writer and actor based in San Francisco.

Into the Wild

December 17, 2014 § 2 Comments

Looking at a piece of fine looking meat, the snow leopard approaches it. Feeling a sense of accomplishment and patting herself on the back on finding a treasure for her cubs to feed on. As she goes for the meat, she feels a sharp piece of metal land painfully on her paw. A trap. She is left holding the meat with the same paw that is trapped. She looks around, nothing. No one is around. Her cubs are just up the hill but seem far, far away. The choice is to remain here or to wring her paw out of the trap. Night falls. She doesn’t move, every moment the urgency growing in her gut. She roars but nothing happens. A deer passes by. She lies down, spent. She prays. She rolls her face in the mud to scratch away the frustration of being trapped.Dead of night. She pushes the trap with her other paw. She uses all of her strength but she can’t pry it open. She pushes harder. Harder. She pushes and begins to pull the paw that is stuck. The metal sears her skin. Every tug ends in agony. She pushes harder. Pulls harder. She clenches her teeth, bends her head forward and pulls. The metal makes a gash. Blood spurts on to the wet ground. She gives up. Passes out. Morning. The trap is gone. There is a heavy object around her neck. Her paw feels better. She looks at it. It is wrapped in something. She smells it. Smells weird. She is free. She runs. Runs on her injured paw but it doesn’t feel so bad. She runs faster. Free. Free in the wild. Where every day is a hunt for food that could end in starvation. Every second is full of danger from other predators. Where she must protect the lives of her cubs. She is where she belongs, where there are no questions, where the danger lies, where every moment is potential death and every moment is life. And she has an object to remind her of what happens when you go for meat that you haven’t hunted yourself.

Saif Ali is a writer and actor based in San Francisco.

No Place To Be

December 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

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An old volkswagen

in a rush drove by

under the full moon

hung in the sky

silver cloud mist

behind the bare tree

clear, cool, silent night

I wonder where

he would rather be.

A Moment in Oaxaca

November 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Basilica de Soledad
Oaxaca, Mexico

Many people are sitting around me on the wooden benches inside the basilica. An old man with a white beard is deep in contemplation with his eyes closed and a bible in his hand. Human sized figures of angels hang from the wall high above blessing the space where the people sit. Chandeliers hang from their hands. At night light must come forth from them illuminating the chamber. It’s a nice image. Try as one might one can never belong to anywhere other than home. Every now and then a boy carries large bouquets of flowers and places them at the Dias. It angers me what the colonial Spaniards have done to these people. These people that love color and music. They don’t share my anger though. They love it. A lady walks by with her daughter and crosses her heart with reverence. Nothing endures but love. Even the dirtiest ambition for conquest is ephemeral. It dies even though it’s symbols persevere to be held with love. They’re beginning to play the organ. I think a service is commencing.

Saif Ali is a writer and actor based in San Francisco.

The Magic Garden

November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

He doesn’t find himself

who is never lost

don’t hold on to your dreams

let them free

Life is not matched

by an idle reverie

and then wander

with wonder wild

you are the Soul

the divine child

in a magic garden

with lemon trees

last night I walked

with the moonlit breeze

as the princess of

the hour of sunrise

fed the fountain

from blue and hazel eyes

The Seer

November 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

Tonight

The moon was a partial silver orb

suspended over the Bay Bridge

veiled by gossamer wisp of drifting cloud

silent it hummed the lazy song of night

Waiting

The pier stood with perfect still life

the streetlights stood quiet

with the glow of mischief

the secret behind their gleaming smiles

Look!

The seer but has to look

And the veiled moon

must sing its song

The seer but has to look

He knew the secret all along

All Is Me

November 8, 2014 § Leave a comment


WP_000610WP_000612I walk through

The blue skies
Wide open streets
A group of leaves
Perform a dance on
The cold concrete
The colorful houses
Whisper to each other
Across the breeze
Sounds of the crisp san Francisco
Morning
A baby croons behind a window
All is me
Intense clouds above a
Wooden house
The vista opens out
Pines on the top of the hill
Quietly shine in the light
All is silence

All is me

- On November 1, 2014
Day Long Mindfulness Retreat at aMuse Studio, The Mission, SF
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