Saturday, January 28, 2017

Another Year Another set of Obituaries

Well, it took a while to get going, but 2017 seems to be taking up were 2016 left off, as far as celebrity deaths go. This week, we've lost Mary Tyler Moore and John Hurt, and those of us who are krautrock fans, lost one fo the great German rock musicians, and one of the greatest rock drummer so all time, Can's Jaki Leibezeit. All this against a backdrop of Donald Trump doing all he can to make the US a laughing stock in the world. Yeah...

Well, I'm not going to dwell on Trump. I am going to dwell on some people I admired very much,a nd who made the world a better place.

John Hurt in the Elephant Man - I am a human being!

And, some particularly fine work from Jaki Leibezeit, and a reminder that sometimes, all of Can feels like an elaborate percussion instrument:

And Mother Sky....

And finally, in memory of Mary Tyler Moore - here's Joan Jett, making it after all...

And Husker Du...

And, I suppose the most famous bit from the Mary Tyler Moore show - Chuckles the Clown's funeral:

The whole episode here...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Films of 2016

2016 in movies, a bit late, though not as bad as last year, and it does let me get some some films in that are taking a while to get to the theaters. I did not have a great year going to the movies - it's a trend that's been building, and one I suspect is going to get a lot worse next year (for reasons maybe to be discussed.) The last couple years have been underwhelming film years - not bad, exactly; there are plenty of enjoyable films, but not as many transcendent ones, it seems. And the transcendent experiences sometimes seem to come from some detail in the film, some resonance, more than from the quality of the film itself. Maybe. Looking at what I saw - there are some fine films on there: plenty of pleasure, all the way down the list - and a few moments that brought back all the joys of the movies. I think I enjoyed this year's bunch of films more than I thought I did...

Whether that's so or now, I have done a terrible job of writing about films. I haven't written a thing about new films in a couple years - not a word last year. (Barely anything the 2 years before that.) Not much about old films either - unless it's for someone else (thank god for Polls!) Anyway: let me try to make up for that, with a few lines about these films - at least the top 10. And so without further ado -

Released in 2016:

1. Paterson - Beautiful and enthralling, based on the wonders of the everyday world - William Carlos Williams its obvious guiding saint - rooted in the world, and the way the world filters into one man's mind. Full of imagery - twins, writers and artists, performances, lovers - doubles and puns and internal rhymes. With nods to other films - Nagase at the end (from Mystery Train), Method Man rapping, Gilman and Hayward talking on the bus about Gaetano Breschi, the anarchist weaver who shot the king of Italy.

2. Certain Women - sharp ensemble piece, three stories almost entwined. Things happen, though nothing too dramatic, and even if something dramatic does happen, it does so quietly, almost apologetically; full of silences and looks; people working; people thinking. Beautiful film with a stellar cast.

3. Silence - best Scorsese film in 2 decades. Intense and driven, and carried by superb performances by all concerned. (Tadanabo Asano's character - weak, constantly betraying, trampling the cross and informing, and constantly coming back, begging for absolution - might be the most interesting.) A very interesting historical film as well - giving voice to the Japanese, in a fascinating tangle - a film by Americans of a novel by a Japanese about Portuguese priests...

4. 20th Century Women - Handsome clever film about a middle aged single mother trying to raise her son - another film bursting with brilliant performances: Bening and Gerwig and Crudup and Faning and Zumann the kid - Bening at the center, but first among many greats.

5. Love and Friendship - Whit Stillman adapting Austen directly, early, obscure Austen - which he describes on the DVD as an Oscar Wilde play written by Jane Austen. Kate Beckinsale is front and center - one of Stillman's monsters, the kind of character Chris Eigenman used to play - completely self-absorbed and likable anyway, you can't turn away, she's so brazen at what she does, always both completely honest and completely false. With a very cool ending, everyone getting what they want - including Lady Susan, who appears to have landed in the middle of a perfectly successful threesome...

6. Loving - Story of the Lovings, whose marriage and lawsuit ended miscegenation laws in the United States. Seen through the couple's eyes, his and hers, with their complimentary virtues, their love. It is beautiful, quiet, building tension without anything really overt happening - the fear and their ability to live around the fear, the way Edgerton squirms around the sheriff, the way they fight back. Not that it's needed, but more proof that Jeff Nichols is one of the great contemporary directors.

7. The Witch - A man is banished from his New England town in the early 17th century. He takes his family into the woods and carves out a farm there alone - but things are not well. The baby disappears - secrets and lies are revealed through the family's misfortune, and they all start going mad. Accusations fly - who is the witch? is Black Phillip the devil? A cool, brooding little film, tight and gripping - family disfunction, religious lunacy, the dangers of the frontier, madness and hormones, all add up to disaster of biblical proportions.

8. Mountains May Depart - Story in three parts: 1999 - a worker and a rising capitalist chase the same girl, until she chooses the money; 2014- the son visits his mother, whose long since divorced the capitalist; 2025 - the son, in Australia, as alienated from his father as his mother, has an affair with an older woman (Sylvia Change, so thus believable)... Melodrama of sorts, a story of misery and loss, a death as the main emotional foundation, with failed love affairs and children who don't talk to their parents the content. Everyone suffers - the rich guy ends up a pathetic loser, collecting guns in Melbourne; the worker - probably dead; the girl alone with her dog - which comes off as rather a triumph, in this context.

9. Elle - tour de force for Isabelle Huppert, who plays a rich woman, owns a video game company, and is raped to open the film - but reacts with a kind of cool numbness that we soon realize is her natural state. The story works in the backstory - her father was a mass murderer, who dragged her into his crimes, making her infamous, creating her shell. She never quite comes out - never quite becomes clear to us - stays strange throughout, as is her way.

10. Moonlight - film in three parts about a black boy/man in Miami (and Atlanta) - Chiron/Little/Black. He's a quiet sensitive boy who runs a gauntlet of trouble for it - called faggot at 9, beaten for it as a teenager, and crusting it over in street hardness as an adult. Revolves around three scenes at the ocean - learning to swim with Juan, a drug dealer who becomes his friend; smoking a joint and experimenting with sex with a friend as a teenager; then talking to the same friend, now a cook, at his house by the ocean as adults. Beautifully shot, acted with grace by the whole cast - handsome, very moving film.

11. Our Little Sister
12. Midnight Special
13. Fireworks Wednesday
14. My Golden Days
15. Little Men
16. Lo and Behold
17. Hail Caesar
18. Things to Come
19. Too Late
20. Jackie
21. The Handmaiden
22. A Bigger Splash
23. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
24. Manchester By the Sea
25. Krisha

Made in 2016 - an interesting list, because most of the best films released were in fact new last year. Usually you get a lot of the best foreign films from the year before showing up sometime in the first 2-3 months of the new year. ast year didn't have as much of that - or I didn't see them...

1. Paterson
2. Certain Women
3. Silence
4. 20th Century Women
5. Love and Friendship
6. Loving
7. Elle
8. Moonlight
9. Midnight Special
10. Little Men

And the annual look back a year - 2015. What I posted at the beginning of 2016:

1. The Look of Silence
2. The Forbidden Room
3. The Assassin
4. Tangerine
5. The Wolfpack
6. Taxi
7. Youth
8. Carol
9. The Big Short
10. Diary of a Teenaged Girl

And how it looks now - not much changed to be honest:

1. The Look of Silence
2. The Forbidden Room
3. The Assassin
4. Tangerine
5. The Wolfpack
6. Taxi
7. The Witch
8. Mountains May Depart
9. Our Little Sister
10. Carol

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Future, Where We Will Spend the Rest of Our Lives

I guess so.

It's kind of a sad thing to revive this poor blog with a post about politics and despair, but that's the world we live in. Boy, 2016 was a shitty year. That seems to be the consensus, and I'm not one t argue. All the famous people dying - and all the great artists who died - all the interesting people who died - it was a year that seemed to bring an endless stream of obituaries and loss... That has picked up in 2017: an online friend died; I found out that one of my closest friends for much of my life, who I'd lost touch with for the last decade or so, had died a couple years ago - been plenty of bad news this year too...

Though let's not kid ourselves: what makes this year look even scarier than last year is Donald Trump. His election put the finishing touches on 2016 - and now we're stuck with him. Of course he makes any day worse when you hear about him - there has never been a time when I knew he existed and didn't wish he did't - but as president? Dear god. How did he win? Like everything else he's ever done - he failed, and was bailed out on a technicality. I worry, though - he's gotten to a point where he can't hope for generous bankruptcy courts and 18th century racists to undo his failures - as president...

Dear god. Friday, Donald Trump is going to become president. The contrast to this and Obama's inauguration in 2008 is almost to much to think about, I remember how that felt: it was a day of wonder - it was hard not to feel optimistic, joyful. The USA had done something we could be unambiguously proud of - we had elected an African-American president - we had addressed, directly, America's original sin, and come out on the right side! Well - fat chance! Obama's election flushed the racists into the open - they howled and gibbered for the next 8 years and gave the Republicans the spine to cripple the country for electoral gain, culminating in what is hard to distinguish from a slow motion cup in the last year. Not confirming Merrick Garland comes awfully close - and then Trump sneaks into the white house, probably with the active connivance of the FBI and Russia - great. A loathsome little braggart pretending he routed his enemies - picking fights with people )John Lewis) whose boots he is not worthy to lick clean - sucking up to fucking Vladimir Putin.... We are well and truly fucked.

Though given how extraordinarily unpopular Trump is, he might do more to strengthen his opponents than to enact his (and the Republican party's) evil deeds - who knows. I'd rather not have to find out.

So that's the world outside. And me? It's odd, in that 2016 was not all that bad, for me, objectively. Things were all right for me, nothing bad happened to anyone too close to me, no relatives or friends dying or getting sick, nothing like that. It could have been all right - but it felt like shit. All the reasons up above, but there's more to it. Some of it, I won't deny, is work - Im not saying much about it, but suffice it to say that I have had my fill of it... But that might just be a side effect.

This blog is not, really, my life, but it does tend to reflect how things are going in my life. Look at those numbers, over there on the right of the page, going down, year over year - does that not signify? It can - I know what I have been writing. I know, back in 2011-13 what I was writing - weekly music posts, simple and routine - weekly film posts, screen shots, similar to the music videos.... Plus director of the month posts for a year, which were basically replaced by band of the month posts in 2013. And film posts - collections of capsule comments, some longer reviews; occasional essays - not just more posts, but more substance. Plus history - especially during the 150th anniversary of the civil war - and the usual occasional politics, sports and whatnot. But over the years, from 2014 on, these things have fallen away - the film posts first - then the history posts (the Civil War wrapped up; I started doing the same with WWI anniversaries, but never as ambitiously) - and finally, last summer, the band of the month posts - and then even the weekly music videos. Since summer, it's been a ghost town here - other than essays for Wonders in the Dark, there isn't much - and when their science fiction countdown ended - it's done. Some lamentations re the election, and a couple anniversaries... and silence.

Easy to blame Trump. Tempting to blame work. I don't know. Something has enervated me, something that has been going on longer than those things. Which has, I think, mostly convinced me to uproot myself, move back up to Maine, see what I can find to do up there. Which is a strong temptation, not to be dismissed. Some of it is the realization that I am not really doing anything in the city I can't do elsewhere - my movie going has declined almost as much as my movie writing. (Maybe not that radically - but it's not anywhere near as much an obsession as it used to be.) I stay at home more - don't eat out as much, don't go to museums as much. I stopped playing softball a couple years ago - the knees and hips were starting to insist - but that's cut down my exercise, and the time I spend hanging around with people. These days, when I hang around with people, it's mainly my brothers and some of their kids online, playing games and sooting the breeze - and they mostly live up in Maine. So - there's a theme...

But whatever I do in the atom world, here among the bits, I have to start writing more. This is not one of those "I'm still alive" posts, "See you next year!" - I hope. There's only so long you can feel sorry for yourself (or your country) - you have to do something. So - you know - nice to see you again! (anyone who might come by here), and I promise to try not to be quite such a stranger. What form these miraculous new literary emanations may take, I don't quite know yet - but I shall try to emanate them.