Monday, July 24, 2017

god, i'm so tired

Time for some Christ-Figuring.

(If you're new, check Days 93 and 94) regarding Phil Connors or the inaugural Kozlovic-Black Scale--when I Christ-Figured Rambo. You're welcome.)

Now, I can barely imagine Tommy Wiseau being clever enough to deliberately make Johnny a Christ-Figure, but so much of it is deliberate that it had to at least be a subconscious thing... Or rather, sacrificial characters, betrayed within their circle of friends is such a trope that it's the sheer amount of fitting details that separate our the wheat from the chaff, as it were. As I've said before, the scale is scored out of 25 but there are more than 25 items on the list. It's a thing.

1 tangible This is always the easy one. (1/1)

2 central Tommy Wiseau makes himself (or rather, his character) central to everything he makes, so yeah. (2/2) In fact , Johnny is so central here, and his and Lisa's apartment such the hub of activity for their circle of friends, he fails to get the point for 3 outsider (2/3)

Johnny is not 4 divinely sourced, nor is there reason to think he had a 4.5 miraculous birth. However, supposedly, there were plans in earlier versions of what would become The Room in which Johnny had a flying car and would turn out to be a vampire. Alas, we're scoring this version of the film, not that one. He also has no 5 alter ego nor is there a clear divide in his character about being special while seeming normal (6 special/normal). If only he were a vampire. (2/6)

For the record, the actual number for 7 twelve associates is not the point. Having a clear set of friends or followers, each with distinct personalities (or distinct lack of personalities here), is what matters. Denny, Peter, Steven, Mike, Mark, even Claudette, Michelle, and Lisa--I'm giving him this one. (3/7)

I am actually not going to look up how old Tommy Wiseau was in this movie, and will not give him the point for 8 holy age, because that man seems to be both young and old at the same time, both fit and haggard. (3/8)

(Note to self: this Kozlovic-Black Scale needs to be reordered a bit to make more sense. Having the age one in between the associates and the specific people who might be part of those associates is odd. Of course, that order came from Kozlovic, not from me.)

These should be easy:


9 judas figure - Mark. He even kisses Johnny's forehead after Johnny shoots himself. (4/9)
10 mary magdalene-figure - Lisa (5/10)
10.5 virgin mary-figure - Claudette, or maybe even Mike (6/10)
11 john the baptist-figure - Denny (7/11)

(But, Johnny is really the john the baptist figure here for everyone else, with his need to say hi, hey, or hello to everyone.)

12 death and resurrection Not quite. (7/12)

13 triumphalism Hard to get without at least a metaphorical resurrection. This is a tragedy, not a triumph. (7/13)

His urge to adopt Denny (and paying for Denny's tuition and apartment), and his and Lisa's apartment being Grand Central Station for all their friends makes the 14 service to lessers point easy. But, it's hard to argue for 15 willing sacrifice; unless we're feeling generous and the bank "using" him without giving him the promotion he deserves counts... Which it totally does. I mean, we're supposed to see Johnny as this put upon man, him against the world, and all he's got going for him is Lisa (and all his friends, but still). (9/15)

This next two items are on the scale so that deliberate metaphorical Christ-Figures like, say, Gibson Rickebacker in Cyborg, and obvious, rather literal Christ-Figures like Jericho Cane in End of Days, get a boost of points. More down-to-earth characters like Johnny don't do so well. No points for 15.25 torture, even if Lisa is tearing him apart, but the way Lisa’s red dress foreshadows the blood as Johnny lies on the floor at the end of the film... 15.5 stigmata. (10/15)

Here, the scale goes deep. Per Larsen (2013), 15.75 atonement is vital for the Christ-Figure. Larsen actually argues that a movie character cannot get this point (well, he would, if he knew about taking his piece and adding to the scale because of it, anyway). But, take the film as it is. Or, come back to Cyborg, for example. Gibson is traipsing around the post-apocalyptic landscape to get the cyborg with the cure to a plague to a bunch of scientists. This level of import matters. Taking The Room as the sexist and tragic male melodrama it is, Johnny is sacrificed because of the confusion that all women cause. It's a bullshit argument in reality, but the film seems to believe in it. Johnny, Mark, Peter, Steven, Claudette, even Michelle--they all question Lisa's actions and motives. The film comes down squarely against Lisa (even as one could position Lisa as a feminist role model of a sort). Johnny is paying the price for centuries of society-built norms that force women like Lisa into corners they don't want to be in, which in turn positions Mark and Johnny into their competing corners (and Denny into his creepy little corner as well). Johnny is sacrificed an atoning for the sins of all men and women, for everyone who has every been in a romantic, or just sexual, relationship. (11/15)

(Actually, I should come up with a value number for items on this scale, as well. Atonement should be worth more than just one point.)

16 innocence This is a major plot point. Lisa gets Johnny drunk some she can lie about him hitting her. His famous line--"I did not hit her. This is bullshit. I did not hit her. I did not"--is him protesting against her accusal. And we know he is innocent. (12/16)


17 cruciform pose (13/17)

18 cross associations Roses and spoons, or footballs, maybe. But, no, not crosses. (13/18)

19 miracles and signs While the film makes no point of celebrating the miraculous, Johnny's ability to manifest a tape recorder out of thin air, to magically have a cassette tape in his shirt pocket just when he needs one, and to rather impressively hook that recorder to the phone with the ease of a master spy, is miraculous. (14/19)

20 simplicity "Do you understand life? Do you?" Johnny is clearly very simple in the head. Yet, he has his profound moments, like when he talks to Denny about love. (15/20)

21 poverty Again, the bank won't give him that promotion. He never seems to buy anything for himself, only for Lisa. And Denny. And maybe Claudette’s friend. (16/21)

22 jesus garb While Johnny is defined by his clothes--his loose suits and unbuttoned top buttons--there is nothing of the plainness of Jesus in his garb... Actually, no, that isn't true either. If Jesus were alive today, and favored black over his usual beige and cream, Johnny's loose suits would be perfect. (17/22)

23 blue eyes Despite his greasy black hair, Tommy Wiseau seems to have blue eyes. And, the length of his hair, the simple hairstyle--imagine his hair a light brown and it's very Jesus-like. (18/23)

24 holy exclamations This one hinges on coincidence of timing and audience. Mark, speaking only to Johnny says, "God, I'm so tired of girls' games." (19/24) 25. j.c. initials His name is Johnny. (20/25)

So, Johnny is not the best of Christ-Figures based on the scale, but he is good. And, he hits so many of the most important items. The circle of associates, cruciform pose, innocence in the face of accusation, atonement... And he dies for Lisa's sins, for Mark's sins, for all of our sins. As long as men and women keep getting together and breaking up again, as long as there are midnight screenings of The Room, Johnny will keep dying for us all. We owe him a great debt.

SOURCES

Kozlovic, A. K. (2004). The Structural Characteristics of the Cinematic Christ-figure. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, 8. Retrieved from https://dspace.flinders.edu.au/jspui/bitstream/2328/14295/1/2004054629.pdf

Kozlovic, A.K. (2009). How to create a Hollywood Christ-figure: Sacred storytelling as applied theology. Australian eJournal of Theology, 13:1, pp. 1-16. Retrieved from http://aejt.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/158538/Kozlovik_Film.pdf

Larsen, J. (2013, June 18). Man of Steel and the tiredness of Christ figures. think Christian: no such thing as secular. Retrieved from http://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/man-of-steel-and-the-tiredness-of-christ-figures

Sunday, July 23, 2017

women change their minds all the time

Honestly, though, we need more people to just go ahead and make movies regardless of how good they are. I mean, sure, movies with scripts that are good are better, and movies with budgets for sets with doors that stayed closed when you close them. are better, and movies that can actually afford to film on real rooftops are better. But, The Room is entertaining, is amusing, and is strangely captivating.

Some bad movies are boring, or offensively bad. This one just works. It certainly doesn't work, you know, well. But, it's dealing with serious topics. Love, loyalty, the patriarchy, suicide. Plus, Johnny has the best take on life: "You can love someone deep inside your heart, and there is nothing wrong with it.. If a lot of people loved each other, the world would be a better place to live." I've been avoiding turning to politics this month, but if you want to solve the problems of partisan politics, you just gotta listen to Johnny...

(There's also Peter's sage advice about life, part 1: "Sometimes, life gets complicated. The unexpected can happen. When it does, you just gotta deal with it." And the more important, and far more universal part 2: "Sometimes, life can get complicated, and you've got to be responsible. So you don't see Lisa again, and you definitely don't sleep with her again." That's just good advice right there. No one should sleep with Lisa. Or Johnny. Or Mark. Or Mike. Or any of the characters in this movie, really. They're all just such awful people.)

Or have people over for a screening of The Room and have a good time ridiculing it. That could bring people closer together.


You could, for example, have a serious discussion about feminism and how men and women relate to one another. Like, for example, Mike's story about his underwear issues--if you're just watching the movie and not really putting in the effort to explore its themes in your mind, you might wonder what the point of that scene is? Why is Mike so embarrassed about his underwear that he calls it a tragedy that Claudette not only handled his underwear but showed it to everyone? Why, as the conversation progresses and Mark hears about the underwear does Mark suddenly erupt in violence, slamming the football into Mike's gut so hard that he falls over? Is it just supposed to be funny? No. This is about men and women. Mike has obvious self esteem problems. He overexaggerates his facial expressions in some pathetic attempt to amuse Michelle and keep her interested, but later he just has to announce that he has to go meet Michelle to make out with her--this after telling the underwear story to Johnny, because he needs that validation, he needs them to acknowledge his relationship because he's not a man if he doesn't have a woman. (The film's perspective, not mine.) And, his underwear being handled by an old woman like Claudette, not only old but dying from breast cancer--that challenges his masculinity and his place among these other men. Mark, of course has to act out and put Mike in his place because of this.

Then there's the conversation between Johnny and Peter and Mark about women just a few minutes later. Or another one with just Peter up on the roof a few minutes after that. And a few minutes after that, and so on. This isn't just a simple movie about infidelity, it is an exploration of why infidelity happens, and an indictment of women's role in that. Which, yeah, makes it sexist as fuck. But, hey, it's a film with a point of view, and that's important.

Or maybe it's just a film about a bunch of men with that perspective. I mean, in the end, Johnny dies, perhaps, not because Lisa and Mark betrayed him but because the norms about gender relations put upon Johnny (and us) by society set him up for ideals and expectations that are not always possible. Johnny buys Lisa dresses and flowers, but that doesn't grant him ownership of her. His expectation that their seven years together privileges him to her whenever he wants her is what backfires. Lisa's urges and Mark's urges--those are more natural, more primal. Meanwhile, Claudette keeps telling Lisa she needs to stick with Johnny for financial security, which adds a capitalist angle to the heteronormative gender relations angle. And, coming back to politics, of course the patriarchy and capitalism are going to get twisted up with each other. Both dictate that certain people are on top, others are on the bottom, certain people get to have expectations and others have to service those expectations. In the face of that, Lisa is an inspiration. And, unlike Wonder Woman she doesn't have to resort to violence to make her point. She instead turns to love... Yes, Diana also turns to love, but only after killing a bunch of people. Lisa kills no one. She spreads love, sometimes right in front of partygoers. She is not responsible for Johnny. She's through with that. She's changing. She has the right, doesn't she? People are changing all the time. She has to think about her future. What's it to you?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

i'm just doing what i want to do

I've written before about The Room--Days 609 610 611--but I wanted the movie version of comfort food tonight. I considered a bad horror film, but the one I picked just happens to be about the only movie unavailable on my various means of watching movies.

Anyway, The Room starts out nicely enough, establishing shots of San Francisco (bought on the cheap, I'm sure) and it feels like a good indie drama. But then Tommy Wiseau has to get the first line of dialogue--"Hi, babe"--and the bad acting gets going. Then, the various "actors" compete to see who can be the worst.

And, something I always liked when I was watching Groundhog Day day after day was when a new detail would jump out. Tonight, watching The Room, I got stuck on a line from the song during the first sex scene, you know the one that comes in the first five minutes of the film when we've barely had any way to get to know these characters and certainly have no reason to care about them or their lengthy sex scene. The line: "I will stand in the way of a bowler." Because that is the most dangerous thing you can do for love.


And, it's not like the movies doesn't deal in a few brilliant bits of symbolism. Tommy's obvious rose fetish in bed, but then Kitra Williams' song comes on during Lisa's sex scene with Mark, with the classic line, "You are my rose." Denny eating an apple--universal symbol of temptation--before he jumps into bed with Johnny and Lisa. And, then there's the pizza Lisa orders--two different sets of toppings because she and Johnny are drifting apart (well, she has already made it clear that she doesn't love him anymore, anyway); they eat separately. And, how about the football that the guys throw around? If that isn't a clear symbol of modern American masculinity--which here is being challenged by intermale conflict, by manipulative women... This movie is basically a really poorly done male melodrama.

As Peter tells Johnny: "Sometimes, life gets complicated. The unexpected can happen. When it does, you just gotta deal with it." And later: "People are people. Sometimes they just can't see their own faults." The movie tries so hard to be about something. Either the guy's side: women are manipulative and masculinity is under attack. Or Lisa's take: you have to do what makes you happy, live your life how you want to live it.

Friday, July 21, 2017

what makes me who i am

1. I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets today, and while it had some awesome visuals, the overall plot was fairly standard fantasy fare. Entertaining, sure. But, nowhere as original or as memorable as, say, The Fifth Element.

2. While I have ended my obsessive, extended time with Sing Street, I don't plan to return to the dystopian films to finish out the month. Instead, I think I'm just going to go with whatever comes up. My summer classes are over and I've got time.


3. Despite that image. I'm not sure I want to write about Valerian, really. In fact, the links to Rogue One yesterday got me to thinking more generally about films. Like, what do I want from them> What do I expect from them? Why do I embrace them such that I could, in Fever Pitch-style, outline my life according to the movies I saw at certain times--Cliffhanger on our senior trip to Maui; Say Anything (not the first time I'd seen it) in a motel in Los Angeles with my then-future now-ex wife; walking home from seeing Cocktail and getting picked up in my family's new car, purchased while I was out; watching The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising with my D&D friends late at night after a game night; watching Born Yesterday after trying to sneak into Indecent Proposal as a teenager; going out with a high school group of friends that would exist just for that one night in a weird, almost teen-movie-ready fluke to see Sleepwalkers and only getting in because one of the girls in the group lied about her age and flirted with the ticket booth guy; leaving the Sunday Los Angeles Times movie page, open to the full-page ad for Project X on the floor in front of my dad while he watched tv to subtly hint that I wanted to see a movie that particular Sunday (and, we did go); seeing Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers in the afternoon, opening weekend, having some Chicken Littles at Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner, then seeing Halloween 4 again that night because my sister wasn't able to come earlier...

And the specifics here might not even be fully accurate, but what matters is that this is how I remember things. And I actually wish that I'd seen more movies with friends, growing up, now. Lately, I've seen a few with my D&D friend Jared. In high school, I saw a couple movies with my nerdy friend Alain (like Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country after a half day of school and a trip to the ice skating rink). But, mostly I have seen movies with various sisters of mine. The youngest two--Bobbie and Brooke--we've probably seen the most together, including a lot of bad horror films rented from Now Playing, a video store that was just a few blocks from the house we moved into when I was 17. As a teen, I also spent nights at my sister Stacey's house or my sister Susan's house, watching whatever looked interesting at the rental store. (It wasn't my rental store, so I don't remember the name.) And, I saw a lot with my mother as a kid, including a lot of movies at the local second-run theater The Academy and a lot of tapes rented from the Wherehouse. In my late 20s and 30s, i.e. when I was married, it would be a few movies here and there with my wife, more as she got more interested in movies, and a lot of rentals from Blockbuster, then Netflix, when it was all discs by mail. And, now, between Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime, not to mention HBO, Starz and Showtime, I can find pretty much any movie the day I want to watch it. Or, I'll go to the theater, at least once a week. Thousands of films, many more thousands of hours, spent in the dark, watching a screen, watching someone else's story...

Sometimes, I'll admit, it's because my own story is just not as interesting or exciting. But, it's not just that. I'm not one to list escapism as the primary reason I watch movies. I think it's not that other stories are more interesting or exciting, but that they are more clear, perhaps. Like, just by dint of being contained within their cinematic confines, a set runtime, with opening and closing credits, it's simpler, easier to follow, easier to invest energy into. In real life, I've always had a hard time planning too far ahead. (I've explained before how my religious upbringing at the end of the Cold War fucked with my impulse to plan.) In movies, I can see where it's going, I can see how the plot will be resolved, and then it is resolved, and that's so much...

Better isn't the right word. But, picture it: I watch a romantic comedy, girl meets guy, they get to know one another after some meet-cute, some arbitrary hinderance gets in the way, they overcome it, and end up happily together; meanwhile, in reality, I'm like a timid teenager still, most of the time, hesitant to act on an attraction, afraid of being rejected, afraid of not being rejected, girl meets another guy, or another girl, and they end up happily together.

Picture it: I watch a movie about some inspirational teacher--Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, perhaps, or my favorite, Dead Poets Society--that teacher has a hard time at first, some arbitrary hinderance gets in the way of connecting with the students, then suddenly the students get it, the teacher gets them, and they pass that big exam or make bold life decisions, the music rises, the action crescendos, and the credits roll; meanwhile, in reality, I teach a lot of college freshman, taking a course they are required to take and don't really want to take, and I want it to be something important, like I want to teach them public speaking skills because I want them to be able to express their identities and put their big ideas out into the world, and I want my Mr. Holland's Opus moment where all the old students come back for an emotional reunion, or I want my students to step onto their desks and call out, "Oh Captain, My Captain" but really they barely do the work, manage some basic speeches on some generic topics and most of them are forgotten by me almost as quickly as they forget me.

Picture it: I watch a nice family holiday movie like Home for the Holidays or Christmas Vacation and there are squabbles, maybe even serious fights, maybe some hilarious antics, but a lesson is learned and all (or most) is well in the end; in reality, though, my family's holiday gatherings tend to be boring, at least until an interesting board game comes out, except for maybe once when one drunk sister got into an argument with... Oddly enough, our mother who was already asleep at the time; it was a very one-sided sort of argument. Christmas gatherings (never a thing growing up with my family, but a thing in recent years) offer up opportunity for karaoke, but I can do that elsewhere, when friends are up for it. Or I can watch a crappy pseudo-karaoke film like last year's Sing!... Actually, that is an awful plan. Though a good musical film is a nice option.

 

 

 

 

 

Last year, one of the things I considered when ending this blog--if you're confused because this blog clearly still exists, get over it--was a podcast or YouTube thing with me and someone else discussing movies after watching them. Never found someone to do that with, so I did YouTube reviews myself for a few months. Then, just as I was actually getting better at editing those things quickly, I was getting frustrated with the lack of views. (And, now a couple friends of mine are doing a podcast talking about movies; go figure.) When I took a Media Theory class in grad school, the teacher, ostensibly a film and television teacher not a communication studies teacher, was shocked when I told him I wrote over a thousand words a day about movies. "Do you want to be a film critic?" he asked. Best I could say in response was that I wouldn't mind it, but I also wouldn't know how to get into that. If I could make a living watching movies, I would probably jump at the chance. Or, I'd hesitate just long enough to miss my chance, because that's what I do.

But seriously, I don't imagine giving up movies. When I hear people talk about the handful of movies they saw this year, I can barely fathom it. Like, why would you just exist in your own life all the time like that? Or is your life that exciting? (For the record, though, if all of my classes were as full of eager students like the Upward Bound classes I taught this summer, teaching might feel as exciting in practice as it does in my imagination.)

For now, I need my movies. I need my television. I need my boardgame and RPG time. And, more so lately than maybe ever before, I need my friend time. And, my kid time, of course. When any of these things overlap, that is just a magnificent bonus.

all we did is survive

My friend Shari mentioned that one of her problems with Rogue One was that lack of character arcs. And, then I went out to see Dunkirk. And, while I'm all for characters getting arcs and getting their own little stories--and I think I've made the point more than a few times in this blog that I can appreciate the arcs of characters beyond what the finite limits of a particular film allow--but sometimes, 1) I think that a certain kind of story doesn't necessarily need characters to really change as such and 2) you really shouldn't look to Star Wars movies for serious character arcs, anyway. (Sure, characters have their plot arcs, but their changes are shallow, more plot-driven than personality-driven.)


And, Dunkirk makes fantastic use of its actors, and offers up characters that are easy to follow, relatively easy to care about, and situations that are both simple enough to follow and surprisingly complicated at times, with sequences cut together out of order just as the story gets more complex, more difficult for the characters...

I should explain that.

Let me backtrack.

Nolan's latest starts with a bit of the stuff that I'm starting to get tired of in film--a bit of text to describe the setting, because the general audience is apparently made of idiots. Except, Nolan actually plays with the text a little, by intercutting four lines of text, one at a time, with the opening action, and the last couple lines are something like "waiting for deliverance" cut to action "waiting for a miracle" and it's clear before we've even really seen the horror of all of these soldiers stuck on the beach that this isn't going to go well. (My primary complaint with Dunkirk, actually, is that the film doesn't follow enough characters who don't survive... And I guess that's a minor SPOILER. Oops.)

So then, we get a few subtitles early on, setting up three interconnected and eventually overlapping stories: "1. The Mole | one week" "1. The Sea | one day" and "3. The Air | one hour." Essentially, each of these stories takes as long as it says, and they all end at about the same time... Well, the "sea" story extends past the others (and past its "hour") but the times all connect together just before the end of the film. Nolan's choice to overlay these differently paced stories on top of one another as if they are concurrent (when anyone paying attention will figure out fairly early that they are not) creates a strange sort of beast. A few times, we see scenes we've already seen, but from a different perspective. Other times, we see characters--notably Cillian Murphy's "Shivering Soldier" (so many of the characters go unnamed, which adds to the effect I'm about to describe)--already changed (but not in a character arc sort of way) by events we have not seen yet... Actually, another minor SPOILER, Murphy is tangentially connected earlier to the "one week" story, but we never actually see what happens to him to get him to the "one day" story; we just know it was bad, the ship he was on went down and he was the only survivor. We see well ahead of time (in the "one hour" story) what will happen with the young men fleeing the beach in an abandoned boat in the "one week" story, but it doesn't ruin the story, because this story is not built on the cohesiveness of its time, nor the specificity of its characters. It is built on something more like the idea of the chaos (including the chaos of time and the experience of it) surrounding these events, which are a series of repetitive attempts to leave Dunkirk and attacks stopping those attempts. Young men fleeing a war their losing make it onto ships, then those ships go down, and those young men have to find a new way to leave. It's simple. And so is its repetition, and the cycling of these three layers over each other adds to both the simplicity of understanding and complexity of presentation of the action.

And, I hope that made sense.

Nolan explained it to Premiere like this:

For the soldiers embarked in the conflict, the events took place on different temporalities. On land, some stayed one week stuck on the beach. On the water, the events lasted a maximum day; and if you were flying to Dunkirk, the British spitfires would carry an hour of fuel.

To mingle these different versions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata. Hence the complicated structure; even if the story, one again, is very simple.

Coming back to the top, though, Dunkirk doesn't need characters to change through the action. These are human beings afraid for their lives, or setting out to defend others (afraid or not). There is no act one setup to establish characters before the action gets going. Tom Hardy's Farrier, a fighter pilot in the "one hour" story, starts the story setting out to protect other soldiers and continues to do just that. There are plot arcs but his character doesn't change. Even--bigger SPOILER, but slightly vague--the very end of his part of the story doesn't really represent a change, because we had no reason not to expect that he might sacrifice himself in such a way. Mark Rylance's Mr. Dawson sets out to rescue men from Dunkirk and does that. We get to know him a little better as the action goes on, but that is not the same thing as a character arc. Fionn Whitehead's Tommy and Aneurin Barnard's Gibson start the film wanting to flee and spend the film trying, again and again, to do so. These are soldiers. Or good men (and women, though we barely see them) going to help soldiers. There doesn't need to be scripted depth. There doesn't need to be arbitrary arcs put upon them separate from the action. I had a thought, perhaps unfair, after the film. Pearl Harbor is what happens to a story like this when you put arbitrary character arcs onto it. You get cheap romance, shallow interpersonal conflict, and the historical action--arguably the point to making the movie in the first place--gets shunted to the side...

That being said, playing soldiers and the like too simply results in crap like the ending of Behind Enemy Lines where Owen Wilson randomly decides he really likes being in the Navy because reasons. Kenneth Branagh's Commander Bolton, for example, sticks around at Dunkirk in the end (not much of a SPOILER) to help the French troops leave, which is nice, but somewhat arbitrary as we've spent no time getting to know Bolton, and this action is not a surprise, or something out of character. It's just good soldier is good solider, too simple. And, could actually use a little more depth to the decision (or maybe Bolton is based on a real guy and that choice was a big deal in history; I don't know enough about the history here to be sure.)

As I said, I love a good character arc. I love a film that takes its time and let's characters grow and change. And, while I liked Rogue One, it was definitely a flawed film. I imagine a longer version, in which we really get to know Jyn and understand why she was a criminal, why it makes sense to turn from criminal to rebel (separate from the obviousness of the plot point of seeing her father killed), get to know Cassian and see how this guy who murders a guy in his first scene (and, like Han Solo, who kinda did the same so many years before, there is little reason for him to be a better man later; it just happens), get to know Chirrut and Baze and appreciate their relationship even more, see why their sacrifice makes sense... I'm reminded of Glory, a very different, historical film, but one that also ends with (SPOILER for a two decades' old movie, and for history) the characters all dying, but there has been more character-driven buildup, we've gotten to know Shaw and Trip and Forbes and Rawlins and we've come to care about them... Then again, that's a problem generally with newer films compared to older ones--storytelling has changed, simplified, because so many of the beats have been hit so many times in so many films that we don't need to linger on them anymore. But imagine a version of Rogue One that does linger on its beats, that spends time with the main characters on that ship, having just seen Jedha City destroyed, and they actually have to deal with that fact, deal with what it means, and let the gravity of it sink in. But even that is not a new problem. Alec Guinness had some gravitas to him, to be sure, but Alderaan is destroyed and all we get is one old man having to sit down? Old men sit down all the time. Where is the meditation on the horrific reality of an entire planet being destroyed, millions of lives being snuffed out? Similarly, in The Force Awakens, multiple planets (or moons or whatever; don't go to Star Wars for science that makes sense) are destroyed and they might as well just be a handful of deaths. Or one. The film has no time to really consider the impact of most, if not all, of its horrors.

Dunkirk, on the other hand, by keeping most of its characters nameless, or nearly nameless, universalizes the various attacks to create a very repetitive horror in vivid detail. Not much gore, but plenty of explosions and men drowning. And, the sound design--some of the scenes are hard to watch, and rightly so, because of the way gunshots and explosions and the creaking of metal tears through the silence. (And some sequences go virtually without dialogue, so there is a lot of silence as well.)

 

 

 

 

 

And now, I kinda want to watch The Lord of the Rings again, all half a day of it, or however long it takes to watch all those extended versions. Because, there's a fantasy film that (because it's a trilogy) takes its time, lets its characters live a little, and also pauses from time to time to linger on the horror of what's going on.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

i often wonder what she's thinking about

It's in one of those melancholic scenes I was talking about yesterday that Brendan says today's title. He and Conor are sitting on the stairs watching their mother out on the porch. Seems she rushes home from work every day to sit in the sun and read her papers, and she has a drink. Then the sun goes behind a nearby tall tree and she goes inside. Brendan says she wants to vacation in Spain but their father won't take her. And, he wonders what she thinks about.

Earlier in the film, Conor spelled out a similar notion, except it's not about the wondering, it's about imagining, deciding for the version of another person inside your head. He tells Eamon,

When you don't know someone, they're more interesting. They can be anything you want them to be. But, when you know them, there's limits to them.

Eamon says that doesn't make sense, and in some handwritten notes I scribbled sometime last week, I said of Eamon's response, "Clearly, he's never fallen for someone." He's got his rabbits and he seems to easily attach himself to Conor, but seriously, for someone capable of such creativity, he is lacking in imagination. I mean, that's just basic stuff about other people. You never know everything in their heads, especially if they're strangers or just acquaintances, or someone new that you wish was something more--you have to imagine what might fill in the gaps in what you can see. If you're lucky, or if you're particularly clever, you'll turn out to be right about what makes the person who they are...

Darren, for example, seems to know a lot about Raphina considering he tells Conor that she never talks to anyone. Has he imagined it? Has he talked to her before? Did she reject him? When Conor tells her that kid behind him is his producer, is that a look of recognition on her face because she's met him before?


The same works 1) for movies, for characters in movies, and 2) in real life.

A movie can't tell us everything about a character. It gives us what we need in order to understand the character's role in the story, and maybe it throws in a little extra--again, like Eamon and his rabbits, or Penny sitting in the sun with her papers--but so much of their internal lives is left for us to imagine... or, unfortunately, for a lot of us to not even seek because we just aren't that interested. But, I'm interested. I imagine what characters are doing when they're not on screen. I imagine what characters were doing before we meet them at the start of the film or what they're doing after the credits roll.

Maybe that's weird. But, who hasn't fallen in love with the love interest in a movie? Or wished for the same weird best friend as the protagonist?

Like in real life, too. You know that scene in so many movies, the new couple is together on the train or in the park or some place public, and it's like they don't want to get to know each other directly just yet--too nervous--so they imagine together what nearby people are doing, who these strangers around them are. I do that. And, I've described before how I play out whole conversations before they happen sometimes. I wonder what people are thinking, what they're doing, when they're not around me. Family members, friends, with lives of their own. Of course. I mean, of course they've got lives of their own. But, I guess I'm jealous sometimes. Inappropriately, maybe. But, I am.

Jealous of people in movies, too. Like Conor and his friends putting their band together, I would have loved to do something like that when I was that age.

People in movies, they have clearly defined goals most of the time. Clearly defined motives and obvious signs as to when they've made it. Guy gets the girl. Girls gets the guy. Guy gets his dream job. Girl gets a promotion. Or saves the world. So many levels to it, but so clear. Life is not nearly often enough so clear. Even if you know what you want, you don't always know how to get it. Or maybe it's just impossible. In a movie, there's some way around the impossible. A way to get the guy, get the job, win the fight, whatever. Anything is possible.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

you're not happy being sad

Sing Street--and, I think I'm about done with this film, I swear--begins with Conor playing guitar and making up lyrics on the spot, mostly basing them on the phrases he can hear his parents Robert and Penny yelling from downstairs. Then you get a news report about poor folks from Ireland migrating to England to look for something better. Then, Robert and Penny gather their three kids together to announce that they're having money troubles and Conor has to transfer schools. He was going to a Jesuit school but now he's headed to the Christian Brothers (Catholic) school, Synge Street. In passing, we also learn that Brendan has dropped out of college. In the first three minutes, we know so much about what's to come. It's a great example of how to set up the status quo quickly. Conor is a musician. His parents' marriage is coming apart. Brendan is a slacker. And, Conor is headed to a new school. The plot is in motion.

That opening bit with the singing and parents yelling, specifically, though--that one is brilliant because it sets up story beats and sets a mood. Sing Street is a decidedly optimistic film, but it is built on a melancholic foundation. I think this is why I like it so much; I can relate. I'm optimistic, or I try to be; but I am also so very often a cynic and a pessimist. And melancholy is certainly one of my settings.

(Like if you were all watching my version of Inside Out, there wouldn't just be Sadness but also Melancholy, and they would team up sometimes (like last night while I was writing this blog. But there's also Joy, or at least some version of Happiness. And, I think I've got a Dreamer in there. And, my Anger probably sits around in the control room thinking about current politics and the state of the dishes in the kitchen sink...

And, that was an odd tangent.)

Thirteen minutes in, we've met Brother Baxter, we've met Barry, we've met Darren, and now we meet Raphina. In the next few minutes, we'll meet everyone else that matters, Eamon and the rest of the band.

And more of that Irish melancholy. Eamon's father is at Saint John of God's, "a place alcoholics go to get off the drink, stop beating up their wives and kids... And neighbors." We already know Conor's parents aren't happy. Barry's parents are drug addicts and we see his father hit him. Raphina has no parents, and while she is never explicit about what happened with them, it seems that her father abused her sexually (and he was later hit by a car) and her mother was sent to a mental institution. Meanwhile, there's Brother Baxter, whose jobs it is to teach the boys at Synge Street to be good Catholic boys. And, he shoves Conor's face into a sink full of water, and rubs soap on his face as well, to get makeup off of him, and the scene is briefly quite violent and then quite sad.

Twenty minutes in, the band is together, the band is named--Sing Street. Ten minutes later, they shoot their first video--"The Riddle of the Model"--and everything is in place. Well, I suppose there's one more piece, but Raphina's boyfriend is less important to the plot than her dreams of being a model are (and he's introduced just a couple minutes later, anyway.)


But, what is really great here is not just that Sing Street puts all its pieces together so efficiently, but also that each piece connects to the plot. There are superfluous details, to be sure--like Eamon's rabbits, except even that bit of characterization fits with his friendliness and his eagerness to please. For comparison, I saw 47 Meters Down today, and like last year's shark movie, The Shallows (which I reviewed on YouTube, they throw in some big life moment that's going on right when all this shark business happens. It's unnecessary, it adds very little in The Shallows and adds nothing to 47 Meters Down. But here--here all of these little things add up to a surprisingly cohesive whole. All the abusive or damages parents produce a situation ripe for someone like Brother Baxter to be the asshole that he is. And, it sets Ireland, or at least Dublin, as a place where of course dreams are worth following because all that normal get-married-and-have-kids bullshit clearly isn't working. Why not run away when there's no reason to think staying will amount to anything?

Monday, July 17, 2017

start up the time machine

Let's go back in time to when everything was okay.

Surely, that's a time that exists. Movies call us back, make us remember the past in very specific ways, offer up rose-colored glasses and limited perspectives to make the past be just a smaller version of itself. If it can fit in a script, fit on a screen, then we don't have to remember how it really was, don't have to remember that life was always difficult. As kids, sure, we didn't know enough to know enough about what was wrong. Or maybe we grew up in a cult that told us the world was ending and all those Cold War news stories and movies were going to come true so we never really figured out how life was supposed to work, never imagined the far off future would really come. And, now it's here. And, I just want to watch this nice little movie set in the 1980s because sometimes it feels like this future I've found myself grown up in is too far outside my control to be any good. Don't get me wrong; sometimes it's wonderful, sometimes I have great times with my kids, or play fun games with friends, sometimes I get to spend time with amazing people, an amazing person, someone who makes it all seem better. But, sometimes... Sometimes, a good day can twist into a bad day in naught but a moment. And, I need something like Sing Street to untwist it...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





I think back on my own private school, wooden paddles and overbearing teachers. Ridiculous demands based on some imaginary god's rulings from longer ago than most of our societal norms were even put together yet. I remember getting into trouble a lot. I remember having fun. I remember being sad. I remember being happy. I remember playing games on the playground, climbing on and jumping off the bars. I remember having crushes on girls and finding stupid ways to let them know... or not. I remember being enamored, enlightened, enraged, energized. Mostly I remember being afraid to express myself a lot of the time because I knew someone was going to punish me. A teacher with a paddle. God. Someone.

O wish I had an outlet like a band in high school. I wish I had something more... normal? I'm reminded sometimes that I'll never be normal, that I've never been normal. There's no point sometimes to making certain changes because they won't work or won't stick. I am who I am. I thought years ago I was past the point of thinking I didn't deserve good things in my life. Then, in a stray unpleasant moment, I'm reminded of that feeling. And, I'm not surprised.

What I want is to go after the girl, go after the dream, run away on a boat for England and all that. Well, not really a boat, and not really England. The real girl is too good for me. So, I imagine the movie girl--Raphina today--and the real one can live her life, I can life mine, and we don't have to ruin it. I don't have to ruin it.

This is why this blog persists. It doesn't matter how few people read it. I need somewhere to talk to myself, if to no one else, about movies, about life. Most of the time, it helps.

Other times, it's like my kingdom for a time machine. I could go back in time to the real 1980s, tell my young self to keep dreaming big, to start ignoring all the bullshit in church and school sooner and actually imagine the future.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

what tyranny could stand up to that?

In her review of Sing Street, Sheila O'Malley points out, "There are pitfalls everywhere in a coming-of-age period piece like this one." She argues that director John "Carney avoids them easily, keeping the film on its proper track" And, she explains how this works: "It's extremely confident: It knows what it wants to be, what story it wants to tell."

And--coming back to the advice of the the other day--that's what a person needs to be, too. Gotta be confident. Gotta know what you want to be. Gotta know what story you want to tell, the story being you and how you present that self to the world. Easy to fake on the Internet. (I wrote a whole master's thesis about it.) Harder to fake in the real world. And, I mean real confidence, not the pathetic arrogance and ego-centrism that pretends to confidence online or, lately, in politics. Party lines draw people into corners where they're quicker to defend their positions out of the illusion of confidence rather than any actual measured logic or thought. And the bullshit piles upon itself in both directions... All directions.


What we need is people who actually take the time to think. Or at least to dream. Something beyond, or better than, bullshit rhetoric stolen from online echo chambers... And, I'm drifting back into politics. I've been avoiding politics as much as I can lately. That's why Sing Street for over a week now. I had a list of dystopian, politically-inclined films for the month. And, I just couldn't. Because, I'd rather dream than tear down. I'd rather think than react. I'd rather love than hate.

O'Malley describes something important about this film. She writes:

While "Sing Street" is often hilarious (in a darkly honest way), it's also so full of heart that by the end you've seen a film where dreams really do mean something, where escape hatches exist, you just have to be old enough and imaginative enough to take a chance.

The kind of thing we need more of, not just up on the screen--movies are full of dreamers--but in reality. Dare to dreams that life might be better for people who aren't white cisgender males, dare to imagine that those who have might actually be good enough to help those who have not. That women and minorities can have power.

For example, today I woke up to the announcement about the new Doctor in Doctor Who--Jodie Whittaker, and a bunch of frightened little men going on about how it's about tradition, not gender, the most bullshit argument there is. Your tradition, you sexist jackasses, is about gender, is about bigotry and sexism, and you need to stop being frightened when someone dares to take a little of your power away.

And, my dreams get me arguing politics again.

Maybe I just can't avoid it.

Not without, say, chasing after a few dreams myself, occupy more of my time with things new and exciting. Let the world burn as long as I can enjoy my little corner of it, I suppose. Except, that's exactly the worst way to think about it and just what might actually help. A bad dichotomy.

We do need to believe that escape is a possibility, that hard lives can be left behind, that whether you pick yourself up or get help from someone else, you might actually rise up from whatever drudgery is keeping you down. We need to both operate as if, and absolutely ensure the truth of it as well, societal prejudices and norms can be overcome. And, we need to operate as if we could actually find consensus if we tried. That arguing is not all. That being the loudest doesn't mean you're right. And thinking you're right doesn't mean you can dismiss everyone who disagrees with you.

Me--I like art. Movies especially. Beautiful things set up to reflect the world. Sometimes the reflection hurts. Sometimes, the reflection is better than my immediately reality. But, there's always something to see. (Even a bad movie can show you something useful if you look at it the right way.)

Sing Street inspires me to want to want to be better, to try some things I've been pretending for a while I haven't needed to do anymore.

The world needs more inspiration. Like the Doctor Who thing... I wish I could find one of my friend's Facebook posts so I could credit who said it, but I'll just have to paraphrase it anonymously. The gist was this: the new Doctor is a woman and the world won't end, but in ten years a bunch of little girls worlds would have gotten bigger. That's the exact notion that frightens far too many men, and too many women as well, I bet. But, it's what we need. I mean, it's not like men have done such a great job with it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

hitch a ride on a dream

Asked by Tasha Robinson at The Verge, in regards to the end of Sing Street:

It's clear the scene in the gym [i.e. the band's performance of "Drive It Like You Stole It"] is a fantasy, because it's got that bright candy color, and things happen that are so obviously unreal. But in the boat crossing [i.e. Conor and Raphina running away to England at the end of the film], you spend a lot of time establishing the physical danger of what they're doing. It seems like if it was just a romantic fantasy, you would have just had them sail off together. But there was a point where it looked like it was going to end with them both dying in the Irish Sea.

director John Carney responds:

I wish they had, in a way. I'm sorry! But there is a side of me that wishes they had. Given the difficulty of people who are making journeys, and end up dying...

I don't think it's supposed to be a fully real sequence. I think they're supposed to be quite brave, setting off. But it's supposed to be... it's funny. Maybe I do want to have a winning sequence, but... there's an element of it that could be a music video, or a fantasy. They're in a boat together, and it's dangerous, and they're being rocked by the sea, and he's like the brave captain, but it's kind of all in his head.

The thing is, Carney is wrong.



Don't care if he wrote and directed it. I don't even care if he wanted them to actually die in the end--he's being a little flippant, there, so I think it's safe to assume he doesn't mean that he really wanted that, just that he thinks of the end of the film as one more fantasy. Of course, it's a bloody fantasy. The whole film is a fantasy. It's a bloody film, you spanner. It's one big fantasy. Poor kid makes good, gets the girl, follows his dreams. It's the stuff dreams are made of, the stuff films are made of. This is your counter, essentially, to how your Once ended. That ended with the relationship being finite, wrapped up in the music they made together. This one allows for something more open-ended, something with more possibilities. That is not a bad thing.

Besides, if you wanted to play it like it's a bloody fantasy, you don't have the ferry there, you don't have them getting splashed by the cold water; those are elements of reality, the difficult of their life in the near future writ in simple metaphor. Ferries full of people will get in your way. The weather will be out of your control. (Just ask Phil Connors.) Life is never going to just hand you what you want, even if you do make the effort to follow your dreams. But, this is film, this is Hollywood--well, Ireland, but still, Cinema, capital C. It should, unless the point of the film is something like the opposite, be a little easier to chase after your dreams in a film, a little easier to win the love you want, to sing and be applauded, to steal away to England in your grandpa's boat. These are things, in the language of cinema, that actually work. The fantasy sequence before is distinct because in that moment, Conor is disappointed by Raphina not coming, and we see the video that could be. As that scene ends with Conor saying, "Okay, let's shoot it," the little bit of actual performance and actual dancing that we see isn't even a part of the actual video they make. We're even farther removed from the reality than Conor is there. And, it matters because we fall for Raphina just like he does, we fall for music and music videos just like he does, and in that moment, we need the fantasy as much as he does. In the end, though, we don't need the fantasy at that level anymore. And we certainly don't need them to fail either. We need the reality of what that boat trip entails. We need the reality of what that boat trip means. Because this is our fantasy. This is our film to watch, to take in, to form our own version of in our heads (a la Benesh (2011)). Director or not, he doesn't get to change that after the fact.

Also, I think this version he's imagining, where the sequence is still fantasy--that wouldn't work. He admits the interview that if they had died, "It wouldn't have been anything... It just wouldn't have been a film. It just would have been a joke, or a twist, or something." As a lover of film, as a lover of this film, I say, if they didn't really run away to England, it also wouldn't have been a film. It would have been a joke, a wasted opportunity to let the fantasy play out as a reality.

Friday, July 14, 2017

you can never do anything by half

Author's Note: Color me a hypocrite, but I don't follow much, if any, of the advice I am about to give.


Here's the present: I'm sitting on a pew in a church building someplace in Long Beach, California. My daughter's got rehearsal for a play and we're far enough from home that I just hang out during, work on my blog, watch some tv, read, whatever. Only my third time tonight, so I couldn't say there's a pattern but for writing this blog. I've already seen two movies today--Wish Upon and War for the Planet of the Apes--but I don't feel like writing about either of those. I'm stuck in a different mode. Stuck in a loop.

I was listening to the soundtrack to the Groundhog Day musical on the drive here. Between Phil's being stuck in a pattern he needs to get out of, but not for the reason he thinks; Rita being stuck on imaginary knights in shining armor from childhood fairy tales, but knowing that's unrealistic and not worth waiting for; and Nancy, playing the part that society has put upon her since puberty because she doesn't know how to do any better; I find it far too easy to connect with the show. Like the film for so many days of this blog.

But also Conor here in Sing Street yet again. (Got it playing on my phone, writing on the iPad right behind it.) Except Conor is actually not like me at all. Sure he's a hopeless romantic but he also acts on his urges and his whims, goes after the things he wants. I think I'm more like his brother Brendan. Once upon a time, I had dreams, but they died a long time ago. Died more than once actually. And sometimes they show up in my head again, even though I have found something to do with my life now that I enjoy, that I fulfilling. I guess I feel like something is missing. And then I feel bad for missing it. I said a few days ago, when I was being extra self-indulgent, that I had my shot. My life is mostly today what it will be for the rest of my life. I could use more teaching gigs, but that isn't a change of life, so much, as just an increase in one portion of it. I've got some friends who have nerdy interests like I do.

I get to step outside my self every Sunday playing Dungeons & Dragons--on the Sundays that I'm a player, I'm currently playing a Tabaxi Rogue Warlock... Let me translate for you readers who don't know the game; I play a cat person who sneaks around and kills things because she has a demon inside her. Yes, her. I play a female, and she's a bit of a flirt, unlike me. Every other Sunday, I run the game and I can play lots of different characters but for shorter bits of time. Last week, for example, I was a half-Orc blacksmith who was too busy selling my player's characters magic items to really have too much character, then I was a prostitute having a "chat" with one of the player characters. Though I put chat in quotes, really all it was was talking. My character had useful information for the players. But, the opportunity to be a little more forward, a little... smoother. That was nice. (Though, possible the most fun moment for me was at the end of the session when I was a bear who had just been commanded by magic to kill its own master; made for a sad moment when a character cast Speak with Animals and they talked.

That tangent was longer than I expected.

My point is that at a certain point your life will stall. That isn't even necessarily a bad thing. Just, if you don't jump in feet first every chance you get, your life will stop changing, stop growing. Doesn't mean you won't enjoy it. Doesn't mean you won't feel accomplished. But, I figure we all know that the times we do to new things, that we do jump into new things feet first, life is so much greater.

Groundhog Day this evening had me thinking, and I was reminded specifically of Nietzsche and "eternal recurrence" and of the movie About Time and that bit where Tim repeats each day to get the hang of appreciating everything that happens, then stops repeating them but still lives them the same way. Appreciate the moments as they happen. No day but today, and all that.

But some days are better than others for that. Some days are boring. Some days involve cleaning--I'm looking at you, tomorrow. Today movies and writing. Tomorrow cleaning and laundry and making dinner. Tabaxi Rogue the day after.

Or really--and here's the advice part--every day is good for it. Every day has something worth appreciating. If it doesn't, then you need to find something to appreciate. Hobbies, friends, a new job. Whatever it is. As Raphina tells Conor, you can never do anything by half. He takes the opportunity to kiss her. And, as far as the film goes, it's an adorable moment. In reality, though, that's like assault these days. But the advice is sound. If there's something you want (and you don't have to take advantage of or hurt someone else to get it) jump the fuck in and grab it. Quit the job that sucks and go after a new one. Ask that person out on a date. Try that hobby or whatever that you have been thinking about it were too afraid or nervous. Hesitation will get you nowhere fast.

If you don't like who you are, be someone else. If you don't like your life, live another one. And, when life is good, when you are good, embrace it, enjoy it, remember it forever and always.

Be like Conor, not Brendan. Have your dreams, dream them, chase them, catch them.

 

 

 

 

 

In movies, this is easier. The story is finite. The timeframe is limited. So, things actually happen quickly. Unless you're in some mopey indie film, I guess. So, maybe my advice is really, imagine your life as a film. Do you live in an action film? A romance? Or is your life some indie film that's going to screen on like half a dozen screens at best in Los Angels and New York?

Which is actually an interesting comparison since Sing Street is a smaller film. Only made $3 million here. Made less in the UK.

So imagine something more obvious--When Harry Met Sally... perhaps, except they've got their problems... Every movie romance inevitably has problems along the way because otherwise it would be too short, too simple. And, you should want a Hollywood ending.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

i think i'm back in the dream

In her rogerebert.com review of Sing Street, Sheila O'Malley explains quite well something that should be an obvious idea: "A song can 'take you back' to specific moments in time, connecting you to a younger self, memories and dreams in a continuum." (Works the same for me with most movies.) For example, I will always think of a pool hall/arcade in Trabolgan, Ireland when I hear Bon Jovi's "Shot through the Heart", Peter Murphy’s "Cuts You Up" has me at work, sharing an office with two of my sisters, in 1995, "Your Eyes" from the musical Rent doesn't just take me back to the musical but also to a bus stop outside Pittsburgh, PA, Pearl Jam's "Black" has me in a karaoke room, my friend Jasmine screaming with surprise at how good I am (#humblebrag). When it comes to movies instead, I link Lethal Weapon 2 with a ferry, Ghost with a theater in Eastbourne, Cliffhanger with a theater in Maui.

The odd movie viewings while traveling stand out. But, I also remember seeing the double-feature of Slaughter High and Return to Horror High more than once at the Academy Theater in Pasadena. Same for a double-feature of Benny and Joon and Strictly Ballroom. I could go on. Combining the two, watching Working Girl last month (1046 1047 1048 1049) and hearing "Let the River Run" over and over had me back in my private high school's Choraliers, performing on stage like the cheesy Christian idiots we were supposed to be. I link Dodgers games to Star Wars novels, Stephen King's The Gunslinger with my high school English teacher who kinda hated me, The Invisibles with when I first met my ex-wife in person.

Though I and none of my girlfriends nor my wife ever had a song that was "our song" as such--well, "In Your Eyes" maybe with my ex-wife--I think I'm a believer in having one.

Having that thing that ties you both together. I mean, come back to O'Malley's "memories and dreams in a continuum"; when you're a couple, if you're lucky, you've got memories in common to be sure but also dreams. You've traveled together, played games together, seen movies together, listened to music together, eaten at certain restaurants together. So many things that can twist up your memories with theirs, your life with theirs...

Stay together long enough and your stories are their stories.


The question is: what do you use to measure your life? The movies you watched? The songs you listened to? The games you played? The playgrounds you hung out on? Amusement parks? Fairs? Restaurants?

Every Denny's is in Flagstaff for me, and the boys with me are ordering too many sides so the waitress will keep coming back... But I can't remember if they were just being assholes to be assholes or was she attractive and they just wanted to see her again? Every diner with toothpicks stuck in the ceiling is Rosie's in Old Town Pasadena, and we've ordered too many fries but we don't care because drink refills are free and we've got nowhere else to be. Playing a game of Centipede, I'm always at the Academy, in the lobby in between films on a double-feature. And I wonder what recent goings on will stand out as time goes by. Ren Fair, the Pirate Invasion, talking about Tinder around the gaming table?

Memories change, though. For a while, Sonic was something faraway; we'd been to one in Oklahoma City once upon a time. But now, it's a place to be late at night when we should be sleeping before a speech tournament. I link Sonic to a Johnny Carson DVD gifted to me by my friend Holland, my first and only national speech tournament as a competitor still ahead of me. Johnny Carson because I talked about him in dramatic interpretation piece that year, and that piece evokes grief over separating from my wife, a nap in the sun on the Point Loma campus, having no real memory of the final round that night because I was pushing myself through the real pain with the fake. And, I recently recounted how my friend Chelsea was helpful in me embracing that fake pain at the State tournament, and she reminds me of the tv shows Millennium and The X-Files, which gets me to some nerdy conventions, a whole lot of t-shirts, and the chain can go lots of directions. Memories that link and re-link, sometimes looping back on themselves, sometimes drifting off into dead zones where there's nothing else to remember.

Then, I'll probably find a movie in the dark in my head. Some video from the Wherehouse or Blockbuster or Now Playing, maybe. Or one of so many on the big screen for decades now. I always find it such a foreign concept when someone says they don't get to the movies often. Like, how do you live? How do you keep track of where your life is if you can't bookmark it with a film? What do you use as a mirror for your life if not all those other lives on the big screen?

Who are you if not for what you watch, what you listen to, what you do for fun?

Do you even exist?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

it's a video, robert

When a movie talks to you like today's title, you have to listen. (In case you're new, my name is Robert. Today's film is, yet again, Sing Street.) It's like it's asking me to talk about something different, less nasal-gazing, manic-depressive, woe is me bullshit. More talk about the movie itself...

Actually, one particular piece of the movie. A very small piece. But, an important piece. Since this is a film built on a musical foundation, any bit of music matters. And, I want to focus in on one in particular: when Conor first tells Raphina that he's in a band, she demands, "Sing that song off the radio. You know, the one by a-ha." Conor only manages the first two lines of the chorus to "Take on Me." Just "Take on me / Take me on." But, it is an interesting evocation, that reference, since Sing Street is built around music videos as well as music and "Take on Me" is known for its video. Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone, 14 May 2010, calls the video "legendary." Keyboardist for a-ha Magne Furuholmen tells Kreps, "I have no doubt that the video made the song a hit... The song has a super catchy riff, but it is a song you have to hear a few times. And I don't think it would've been given the time of day without the enormous impact of the video."


Two things stand out for me regarding that video and this movie. First, the lyrics matter because the song is basically about someone (the singer, as it were) who's leaving, and someone who's been "shying away" from him anyway. "I'll be stumbling away," he sings, "Slowly learning that life is okay / Say after me / It's no better to be safe than sorry." He could easily be Raphina with her modeling dreams and her plans to run off to London to make it big. "It's no better than to be safe than sorry." Such a great line. The kind of thing it's easy to believe but hard to live by.

Second, that video. Girl discovers a guy in a comic book, then jumps right in to join him. Lots of rotoscoped animation and black and white visuals. It transforms the song into something more than just what it is. Like Duran Duran's "Rio"--one of the videos they watch in Sing Steet, like the video for REM's "Everybody Hurts" (which my daughter things is cheesy and lame, but I still love it), or Van Halen's "Right Now"--just a few music videos that really add to what the song is doing. But, what is important here, for me, is the basic idea of the video's story--jumping into the fiction as if it's reality, falling for a fictional character. Sing Street invites you to fall for Raphina just as Conor does. And, so does every romantic movie. So does any action movie, really. Or any film of any genre. Like every film is just a fantasy for you to occupy for a couple hours. Jump inside and imagine you're the hero, or imagine you can spend time with the hero, fall in love, have an adventure, whatever...

But, that is also how love is in reality, too. You fall for an idea. What you know about the person you fall for is limited. (Like what you know about any given film character is limited.) You have pieces of information, pieces of the whole. You won't even get more pieces, maybe, unless you get attracted, unless you get attached. I think I've written in this blog more than once about love being a mix of familiarity ties to expectation, like objectively you could love anyone, if you just spend enough time with them (and they don't do shit that absolutely turns you off, I guess). You get familiar, you expect things. And, they do the things you expect, and that's a pleasant experience. Same goes for movies, too. You watch a romantic comedy after seeing numerous romantic comedies, you have expectations, you're familiar with the basics, and then it slides right into the niches in your expectations, or maybe it avoids a few, which either pulls you in more because sometimes you need strange details to make the familiar whole work better, or pushes you away because you just want the comfort food and can't stand the new spice. (To mix metaphors a whole lot.) Same with any genre. But, also with people. Some people just fit into the niches in the idea of what you want, and you can't help but get attached, can't help but to have expectations and to want to have more, can't help but find something familiar because, damn it, you've got a type, or several types but you know what they are and you've seen them before and maybe this combination is new but the details--it's rare that you can really be surprised that you are attracted to a particular person...

And, that got wordier than I meant it to be. A little convoluted.

Still, there's this twisted up metaphor of "Take on Me" Sing Street and the way attraction works in the real world, and I like it. I mean, I like so much about this film--I'm not just using it to avoid talking about politics--but it's cool when a tiny little detail can evoke something so big. Hell, that's how I was able to write about Groundhog Day every day for a year, how I've kept writing about movies for hundreds of days more. Find those little details, familiar details, expected details--and unexpected details--and blow them up. But, that's not quite it all the time. That makes it sound like I have to put a lot of effort in, but what I'm trying to explain is that the blowing up process is pretty much automatic.

Just like attraction.

Just like love.

Now, choosing to embrace it and write about it (or to embrace that person and tell them and, ideally, spend time with them)--that takes some effort. And, it's not always easy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

when you don't know someone

An interesting thing about Sing Street--and I realize I haven't really said much about the movie itself, yet--is how many little moments are quite depressing if you really think about them, like Conor's mother Penny sitting out in the sun because her husband Robert won't take her on holiday to Spain, or Raphina talking implicitly about her father sexually abusing her as casually as the film shows us Barry's father physically abusing him. And, Barry's father's abuse making Barry the bully he is, as well. Or Brendan, who has to confront his dreams--"Once, I was a fucking jet engine!"--when he sees his brother becoming a musician. Most of these things are off screen, passing bits of dialogue hinting at them. One big onscreen one is when Father Brother Baxter forcefully washes Conor's makeup off.

But then, there's beautiful positive moments, too. Like every time Conor shows up at Eamon's door to write a song and Eamon is delighted to drop whatever he''s doing to help, even when he's doing "rabbit stuff." Or the bit I intend to use for a blog title another day in the future, when Raphina tells Conor "You can't do anything by half" and he kisses her and though she doesn't really like him like he likes her just yet, she realizes his response to what she said was spot on. The cowboy kid's "Piss off Ryan" when he and the other kid are checking out the band recruitment poster, is a great moment, too. The cowboy kid also has a nice moment on the train, dancing with the old lady.

The point is, the movie does a good job with supporting characters and their tangential adventures. You can see how, say, Conor's parents' marriage is coming apart even if some of their fights weren't so obvious... Honestly, there is a very "Irish" vibe going on, like a bunch of cinematic cliches (though, based on my reading of Frank McCourt's memoirs, they might not be inaccurate) about poor Irish folk holding up a cute romantic comedy plot (that also happens to be a sort of ode to music videos and eighties music).


 

 

 

 

 

And, I feel like I want to say more. I want to explore the story, the characters, the plot. But, it's all just an excuse to avoid other things. I'm watching this because otherwise I've got a list of dystopian films to watch, political rants to go on. But, really, I just want to watch Sing Street and imagine that I could be as forward and as bold as Conor is, but I don't ask women out. As I said yesterday, I feel like I had my shot to a life. I had a girlfriend, I had a wife, I've got kids. I've got a job. I skipped some parts but, hey, I'm an adult now. And, the person I would want to... date? or whatever--she can do better than me. She should do better than me. Hell, If I actually ask her out sometime, I hope, for her sake, that she says no.

But, this is about a movie. A romance. A comedy. A pseudo-musical. A delightful little film.

I'll try to stop talking about myself.

Monday, July 10, 2017

everything beautiful's fiction

For me, the problem isn't singular.

Not my problem with Sing Street, by the way. I'm not sure I've got any real problems with the movie. That's why I watched it a gain today, delaying jumping off points for things more unpleasant... Except, I can make anything unpleasant. Anxiety and depression will do that. The opening lines to "Waving through a Window" from Dear Evan Hansen occur to me, now:

I've learned to slam on the brake
Before I even turn the key
Before I make the mistake
Before I lead with the worst of me

I get that. I get that a little too much. It's like that rehearsing conversations thing I was talking about the other day; I can plan my interactions and my attempts to accomplish certain things ahead just enough that I can convince myself that success isn't an option. Don't have to fail if you don't have to try.

Also, I figure I had my shot.

That's a troubling thought.

Like no one really deserves a second chance at life. Or at least, I don't. Color today a depressed day. Had a pretty good weekend, had a couple good classes today. But, right now, I'm feeling thoughtful, and thoughtful for an old cynic like me--that's not a good thing. Too much room to imagine all of the bad possibilities as well as the good one. I wish I had the boldness of Conor in Sing Street. He sees an attractive girl and walks right up to her, talks to her. He lies a bit about being in a band (when he hasn't started one yet) but otherwise, he's there, in that moment, in that place, putting himself out there for her to accept or reject.


That's almost a foreign concept for me. In reality, I mean. I know other people do it. But, me--nope, that's something from a movie, an imaginary version of myself tht I might project onto a character like Conor, or onto Lloyd Dobler, or whatever character is bold because in Hollywood a movie about the guy who isn't bold is going to be boring. (There are exceptions, of course, but even the indecisive protagonist will eventually learn to grab onto what they want in Hollywood. That's a story we want to see. WE want to imagine ourselves as (or near) people who take charge, go after what they want and get it.

I often like that sort of person in the real world, too. But, I've only rarely been that person. And then, only when backed into a corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It sucks.

But then, I play another game or watch another movie and my problems... No, I'm not going to say they go away. It's not that boring "escapism" line. But, my problems get rolled up into the characters' problems and I've got more to worry about than just me and mine.

Until the credits roll and I turn back to myself.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

and everything is more real than life

Watching Sing Street again, mostly because I really need a break. From politics. From the world. I want to spend more time out and about with my kids or with friends. I have an inkling to try dating. Or something. (Details I don't feel like putting out into the world in a blog entry... For a change.)

Also, I love this movie. It's structure so simply, like a romantic comedy built on a musical foundation, Oncebut with teenagers, and set smack dab in the middle of the 1980s (though it gets the timing of some of its historical references off a bit), and it's sweet and simple and entertaining. It has it bittersweet moments and it has its happy bits, too. And, like Once, it makes a good case for the idea of how varied people can come into your life, have some significant, life-changing effect, then maybe they just go away, disappear, and you're stuck by yourself for a time, or with new people, other people, other influences and life-changing effects, and the tiniest chances and interactions can be the most profound.

I've apparently never written about the film Once for this blog, but I did say a bit about the stage musical version back on Day 349, using it as a jumping off point to talking about romantic love, and a sort of counter to Groundhog Day... "I think of Once as almost the perfect love story," I wrote, "because the main characters don't end up together. Love doesn't have to last to be powerful." I claimed a hopeful mood rather than a cynical one in pronouncing, "Romantic love doesn't last anyway." And I proclaimed that, at the time I was writing that, one year of grad school behind me, my marriage all but behind me, "Life, generally, is good."

That's still true.

And, I'd compare it to Conor's life here in Sing Street. His parents' marriage is ending, his brother has hit a bit of a dead end with his life, and his sister... I swear she says something early in the film that she wants to do with her life, but then she mostly disappears for the rest of the film, so it's hard to say how much her life weighs on Conor. But, what does weigh on Conor is his new friends at his new school, his band mates, the girl he starts the band to impress even though she's older and has a boyfriend, and I find myself relating a little too much. Live, have the right circle of friends, and any stress can be dealt with. Have enjoyable pastimes and you can get through most anything. I just need to start a band... Metaphorically, I mean. Do that thing that impresses the girl. Or gets me a more concrete, more successful future. And, while that bit just now about impressing the girl was no such the adulting, that bit about a successful future might be one of the more adult things I've ever written here. Like, I'm actually thinking about my job and the future and what I might want out of my personal life beyond impractical daydreams. It's weird. I feel more often like Conor at the end of this film, like I would just love to make some stupidly grand gesture to advance my life, risk everything for something potentially great.

Except, that's not really me.

It's just an idea.

An idea fueled by too many movies. Too much scripted reality. Like you can run off to follow your dreams and they will actually come true. You can do something--start a band, chase after a girl, whatever--and there will be so little competition--conservation of characters and whatnot--that of course you're going to succeed. Unless this one film is the cautionary tale. But, then you're probably still going to be legendary.



Saturday, July 8, 2017

now that the niceties are out of the way

...it is time to get into the serious political ranting.

 

 

 

 

 

Kidding. I just don't have it in me right now. Some semi-philosophical, self-helps bullshit, though--that I've got. Maybe. It's summer in full swing in Southern California, and it's too hot to do much of anything. Power outages in, well, I'm not sure how much of an area is covered. Fortunately, not here in Glendale.

As for movies. I saw The Big Sick in the theater today, and rather than turn on V for Vendetta, which is waiting in the wings for a second blogged viewing, I've got Sing Street on right now. One of my favorite movies of last year. A nice Irish ode to 80s music. And teenage romance.

The Big Sick, on the other hand, starts like any romantic comedy, then takes an interesting turn when the female lead spends most of the film in a coma. It's a cute variation on a romantic comedy.

But, I don't really want to talk about either. I feel like just sitting here and enjoying Sing Street.

 

 

 

 

 

And, you should too, really. It's adorable and it's energetic and it's amazing.



Friday, July 7, 2017

this is the thing that they'll know me for

On the first or second day of my public speaking classes, I talk to my students about a couple things that I was thinking about tonight. Eye contact and the differences (and similarities) between a speech and a conversation.

Regarding eye contact, at some point, I tell them a couple things. Don't think of your speech like a speech. You don't have to talk to all 20 or 30 or 40 students at once. You can just talk to the one you're looking at at any given moment, for any particular sentence. It's just you and them, in that moment, with that idea. And, if you really need validation for something you're saying--

And maybe I recount the story of how at the state speech tournament my senior year in college, I had a particularly emotional dramatic interpretation piece and it made the climax so much easier for me to embrace the sadness of it if I had someone in the audience buying into that sadness as well. There was this girl Chelsea--competitor of mine I had only met that very day but we drank together on the last night of nationals that year and we've been friends on Facebook ever since--who cried every damn time I performed that piece. So, when I got to the climax, and my character's daughter was dying, I would look to Chelsea and, while I was already getting pretty good at putting my energy into the grief of it, she made it easier.

--you look to the person who is rapt with attention. Or, if you need to not make eye contact, our of nervousness or embarrassment--some students pick some very personal topics--you invent an imaginary person sitting in one of the empty seats, and you look that person in the eye, speak to that person, and that person will give you back whatever you need in that moment because that person is just in your head, and the people in your head are always capable of giving you what you need... Imaginarily, anyway. Never for real.

Which brings me to one of the weird things about myself that I share with my students early on. We're talking about the difference between a conversation and a speech--a speech is more formal, a conversation is not (necessarily) one on many, and so forth--and inevitably some student will mention that you (can) write speeches ahead of time. Like, no shit. That's the class you're here for. But, yes. You write speeches ahead. You don't write conversations ahead.

Except, I do.

Sort of.

And, it is not a good thing. Whether it's an instructor I need something from, a friend or a student I'm trying to convince to do something, a woman I'm interested in... Especially that last one. I imagine what I might say, I imagine what they might say in response, and what I will say back, what they will say, what he will say, what she will say, and so on. I take it so far sometimes that there is no longer a reason for the real conversation.

And, I'm struck right now by the lyrics to "Private Conversation" from the musical Side Show:

If we could steal a moment
Would you be so inclined
To accept an invitation
To the private conversation in my mind...

I imagine us so well
How you dance and taste and smell
I can imagine me with you
But I don't have the guts to follow through

And, there's more. Always more.

Imaginary people based on real people, but versions better equipped... Or better equipping for my anxieties, my antisocial awkwardness, my self-defeating pessimism and cynicism.

Like ghosts. And, I don't mean to make an awkward segue, as I have yet to mention the movie that inspired this rant--A Ghost Story. But, they're like that. Ghosts. Or shadows. Remnants of people. Figments of my imagination echoing just slivers of the real thing.

But, sometimes they resonate all the more.

I don't know you
Buy I want you
All the more for that

That's Once. Movie. Stage musical. This is also how my brain processes the world. Somewhere upward of 5000 films under my belt, so many tv shows, several dozen musicals, hundreds of comic books, novels... All these things shaping and reshaping my mind and my experience of the world around me. It's no wonder, really, that I imagine the world before I venture into it, that I imagine conversations before I have them. I'm scripting it all like it's a movie, a television show, a play. All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players / They have their exits and their entrances / And one man in his time plays many parts. A set of lines so damned obvious and trite that they circle right back around to being brilliant all over again. Identity stuff.

(No politics about it, though. I'm taking a break from politics, even if just for one day.)

A central idea within my master's thesis, actually, as well as a regular topic here in this blog. I am who I say I am. You are who you say you are. And, I don't just mean with words. (Though, my master's thesis dealt specifically with how we present self on the Internet, which is all about our choice of words.) I mean, with the clothes you wear, the way you wear your hair, the way you smile, who you choose to smile at. Though the term and so much of the study of it is above their heads usually, I talk to my students about phatic communication, stuff like hello, goodbye, thank you. Things that don't have their own inherent meanings, supposedly. But, who you choose to say hello to in the hall matters. How you thank someone who has done something for you matters. How you say goodbye matters. Whether you say goodbye matters. Even a nod of the head as you pass by an acquaintance is a reminder that you remember they exist, that you want them to remember that you exist, that you want this, whatever it is between you, to keep on existing because the world is just too damned cold and lonely a place without at least someone to nod your head at as you pass them by on the way to somewhere else.

You know, worst case scenario, and all.

You're better off having someone to do so much more with than a nod or a passing hello. Even a smile isn't always enough. Or the right look from the right eyes...

The things we long for. The things we grieve after they're gone, but also before we have them. The grief before can be almost as painful as the grief after, a lingering shadow of an idea that shapes and reshapes your impressions of the world around you, around them, around everything, until each and every experience is tainted by or painted with that lasting impression, a scent, a laugh, a glance, the things that don't necessarily matter in the moment but matter more than anything later.

Or earlier, in the imagined moments, fleeting and dying.

 

 

 

 

 

A Ghost Story will bore some, but will hit others hard. The clinging. The holding on. And--SPOILERS, in a way--being a ghost in one's own relationship--this is the kind of stuff more movies should have. Less of the violence of stuff like Spider-Man: Homecoming (though, I also saw that today and it was entertaining as hell, and I am on record as loving some very violent films), and more meditation on what it means to exist in a world you can't control, that you can barely interact with, a world where you feel like a shadow of yourself, even when you are right there, in that moment, in that place... being you.

Early in the film we see the outside of the house that Casey Affleck's character will haunt. We'll see it again many times, but that first sight of it is important because there is something of a metaphor for the whole story, itself a metaphor for all of our stories, in that visual. See, the walkway leaving the porch, inexplicably, stops before it reaches the street. In reality, it was probably broken, and the lawn is overgrown, and this is clearly a house that is run down a bit. But, in the film, it's a strange and strangely appropriate visual--this walkway that goes nowhere. You could walk away from the house, but you have to go right back or be lost in the rough.

Like a relationship.

Like life.

There are no set paths. Not really. You can go the way other people have gone. But, you will only ever end up the same places everyone else has already been.

Sometimes, you need the rough. You need to wander.

Or you need to linger.

 

 

 

 

 

And, you always need to speak up. (Or speak out.) Otherwise, you're going to miss out.