Saturday, November 26, 2011

PBA, Book VIII

I almost forgot to mention that one summer while at Palm Beach Atlantic I took a course called "Understanding Motion Pictures". Seeing as a majority of the entries in Lamplight Drivel concerns films, I feel it deserves a mention.

I was excited about the class. Students were expected to write several page reviews of a film screened each week. I don't believe I had done so before that class. Many times I had scribbled a paragraph here or there about a movie I'd seen. I was greatly influenced by the cinematic rants of Pauline Kael, Herbert Swope, Vincent Canby, Michael Mills, Archer Winsten, and especially of the yearly Leonard Maltin almanacs (in terms of their entries' brevity and content). It was always fairly easy to knock off a few sentences summarizing a movie. A full-length analysis that doesn't ramble, repeat, feel bloated, or seem otherwise incoherent is another matter. I still struggle with all of that in the current reviews I write. But they're just for fun. If I wrote professionally, I would adopt the adage: "write drunk, edit sober." And then edit some more.

The college's drama instructor oversaw the class. He was a jolly fellow, known quite well to me as I had had him for several speech and communication courses (my minor). He loved cinema, loved discussing it. He had a very memorable, hearty laugh that often edged over into a coughing jag. But....he also pronounced mise-en-scène as "mize-en-seen" which made (likely only) me wince each time.

And...he directed a version of "The Glass Menagerie" for the PBA stage later that year that, ahem, borrowed an idea from Woody Allen's HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (the film we screened for our final): using a line of dialogue to be uttered by an actor in the following scene as a title card for that scene. That made me wince, too. I tried to ignore my disgust and treat it as an homage. I was partially successful.

What other films were featured in "Understanding Motion Pictures"? I remember: CITIZEN KANE, THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY, CASABLANCA, GHOSTBUSTERS, DR. STRANGELOVE, and HANNAH..I think there were others. Somewhere, I still have my review for GODS. Our class would discuss each film after its viewing. Less debate than you might think, but then most of the class seemed to be in agreement that TOP GUN was great cinema. Is that unfair? That's my recollection. What stands out most vividly now is another wince-worthy memory - a girl who ripped DR. STRANGELOVE to shreds. I remember feeling my neck get warm! I took this all very seriously. I was too polite to fire back. When I was younger I was worried about popularity. Nowadays? Ha! But before you write me off as unapologetically crusty: I still care deeply about people's feelings and would take caution not to let my opinions become attacks. Somewhat like today's version of political discourse. Stop laughing now.

Our prof. also explained how he had thought about screening Robert Altman's M.A.S.H. for us, but reconsidered as he felt that the film was blasphemous (likely because of, in part, a Last Supper spoof therein). PBA is a Christian institution. Do I agree with that the film is "blasphemous"? To a certain extent I do, actually, and somewhat agree with the prof's decision to omit it from the syllabus. That doesn't mean I dismiss the film because of my spiritual convictions. I think M.A.S.H. is quite brilliant. It would've provided a great example to examine a worldview very different than what most Christians usually expose themselves to in the arts, but it still may have been inappropriate for the class. Young, impressionable minds and all.

You could make the argument that viewing films which espouse a very different religious and/or political viewpoint from your own is very healthy, allowing you to not only become more educated, but also a better critical thinker. I've made such an argument many times over the years, especially when other Christians have questioned why I've watched certain movies. For many believers, film choice is often considered in light of "offensive content": language, sexuality, nudity. Violence? Not so much in this culture. That is totally accepted. Truly warped, in my opinion.

Where was I? Class, yes. The professor would go on to teach at PBA for several years after I graduated. He was also in the church choir with me during those years, taking a role as a greedy king in our annual Christmas pageant. These days he is teaching at other colleges in Florida and writing books. He even made a film of his own. I would be so curious. Perhaps I'll screen and review it and ask him to grade it?!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

We all have for much for which to be thankful. But, I don't think the point here is (or can be) overstated regarding our country's history:


Monday, November 21, 2011

King of the Hill

Do you recognize the look on an adult's face when a child is telling a tall tale, elaborating a fib that grows larger by the second? Sometimes you may see it in a mother's eyes as she plays "True of False" with her son ("I'm taking your word that what you say is true really is true"). Or the same boy's teacher as he explains that he lives in a nice apartment building (instead of in a fleabag hotel) with his father, a spy. Or even the mother of one of the boy's classmmates, as she listens to the explanation of how his father is a pilot for the government. The expressions begin with hard lines, stern brows, then soften in realization that the poor child needs to conjure such tales to avoid a complete erosion of self-worth.

Aaron Kurlander (14 year old Jesse Bradford) lives with his family in Missouri in 1933, a time when the country was in the deepest trenches of the Great Depression. The Kurlanders live in said rundown hotel, filled with all sorts of downtrodden folks, including a curious fellow across the hall (Spalding Gray) who once "smoked dollar bills like cigars" in earlier, far more prosperous times. Things become so desparate that Aaron makes tomato soup out of ketchup and tap water for his father. It's a moment that tells much, the switched roles revealing Aaron's maturity and his father's (Jeroen Krabbé) lack of it. Mr. Kurlander spends his days selling wickless candles, forever speaking of a job he hopes to get with a fancy watch manufacturer. Aaron's mother (Lisa Eichorn) is chronically ill. His little brother (Cameron Boyd) is barely there before he is shipped off to relatives in another state. One less mouth to feed.

As writer/director Steven Soderbergh's KING OF THE HILL (1993) progresses, Aaron will be separated, one by one, from family, friends, mentors, and neighbors. It's a heartbreaking tale. Mrs. Kurlander is sent to a tuberculosis hospital. Mr. Kurlander indeed gets the sales job, requiring him to travel state to state, without his son. Bradford plays his scenes with Krabbé with the right amount of pathos and disbelief; how could his dad could leave him alone in the apartment for an indeterminate amount of time without money? One of the saddest scenes shows the boy cutting up magazines for pictures of food that he arranges on a plate and pretends to savor.

While Aaron is still in school, he'll observe the obscene wealth of his classmmates. The extravagance, the waste, the taking for granted is astonishing to him. One boy has a room filled with birdcages (he breeds them as a hobby) and autographed sports memorabilia. Aaron covers his poverty with the tall tales of which we spoke, not so embarrased of his social standing as interested in just getting some food that these people have in plenty. A girl (played by a very young Katherine Heigl) who likes Aaron invites him to a post-graduation party, where his multitude of lies catches up to him.

The scenario of KING OF THE HILL plays like many survival stories (EUROPA EUROPA, for one), the hero using his wits and the kindness of others, especially neighbor Letser (Adrien Brody, quite good). Lester is a older version of Aaron, with more years under his belt and savvy as to how to exploit any situation for reward. He's a rascal and a thief, but kindhearted. He's also certainly more of a father to Aaron than his real one. Aaron remains strong, but his spirit is crushed a bit more as he loses each contact, even the strange girl down the hall who wants him to come over and have hot dogs and dance with her. He finally does, learning more about the girl he previously dismissed. He selflessly spends fifty cents he desperately needs on a kitten for her.

I wish Soderbergh had made more films like KING OF THE HILL. It is a beautifully written, acted, and shot gem, so vivid in its depictions of a relentlessly bleak chapter of American history. The director brings his off-kilter sensibility to the project, most visible in scenes with Gray's character (who spends time with a live-in prostitute played by Elizabeth McGovern) to balance the inherent drama of the story; it's a privileged mix. The result is a warm, even sentimental at times movie that isn't the usual Hollywood tearjerker, or conversely a smug, irony drenched revisionist tale. We are not toyed with in the usual ways: sappy music cues, angelic lighting. Instead, Cliff Martinez' score is just disturbing enough to flavor the drama, yet never becoming overwhelmingly sad.

Soderbergh uses natural and artificial light instead to create beautiful images that could be frozen and admired as art, almost Norman Rockwell or Ansel Adams-like in their old school down home charm. Aside from a derivative scene in which Aaron beats some older boys in a game of marbles (uncharacteristically scored with upbeat music and featuring a slow-motion shot of Aaron's marbles shattering those of his opponents'), KING OF THE HILL never missteps. Well worth your time.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Best Granola EVER!

Unfortunately, only available at stores in the NYC area. You can order it online. I suggest you do.


http://earlybirdfoods.com/index.html

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

I owe it all to a guy named Michael Brunson, a childhood friend who lived down the street. Circa 1981, I sat with him in front of his stereo, experiencing for the first time the musical majesty that is Rush. The album: Moving Pictures. I had not heard anything like it before. The shock and joy of something new; I can still remember how I felt. Prior, I was listening to novelty songs, Disney and Sesame Street records, church hymns, and (Lord help me), Norwegian accordion albums that were absolutely interminable. All was forgotten once I heard the first notes of "Tom Sawyer." Thanks, Mike!

A few days later I bought my own copy of Moving Pictures at the local Spec's record store. I slipped on my gigantic headphones every day after school. It was like a religion. The music was hard and rockin', which I definitely appreciated (I had also recently discovered AC/DC and Van Halen, much to my parents' horror and dismay), but there was much more. Something I could not quite explain. The lyrics were different, thoughtful even. The music was so, accomplished. My young ears didn't know how to pick out time signatures or the denseness and meaning of the words, but I knew something about it all was very special. "The Camera Eye" became the first tune that ran over 3 minutes that I would appreciate. To this day I get chills when I hear the final guitar solo in it. It's one of my favorites.

Thus began well over a decade of dedicated Rush fanship. At that time, the band was heading into another stylistic phase of their career. I knew that they had been around for a while, but did not delve into the older albums like 2112 and A Farewell to Kings right away. Not long after my initial listens to Rush, another guy at my elementary school let me borrow a cassette of Hemispheres but it was way too much for me to process at the time.

But I easily got into the keyboard heavy compositions of Signals, Grace Under Pressure, and Power Windows as the 80s continued. I was obssessed. The older fans were not enamored of the new sound. "Rush was," stated one of my co-workers at the fast food joint in which I slaved during high school. But a few years on, I went back and absorbed the older albums. I was again stunned, blown away by something so different sounding once I heard the sidelong tracks from the 70s such as "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" and "Cygnus X-1". Intricate sci-fi tales with profound lyrics, some of them inspired by the writings of Ayn Rand. Rush was not your typical rock group.

The 2010 documetary RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE is a long overdue telling of the history of the power trio from the Great White North: bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and lyricist/drummer Neil Peart, from their schoolboy days to the present. Fellow Canadians Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden directed the film; their previous films had focused on heavy metal culture. Rush has sometimes been lumped in with the likes of Iron Maiden and Dokken, but they're nothing like them, really.

BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE features valuable home movie clips of friends-since-grade- school Lee and Lifeson, particularly of an 18-year-old Alex as he sits around the dinner table, explaining that he does not want to go on to college to get "a big degree". He was far more interested in playing guitar with Geddy, as explained by the principals themselves and, amusingly, their parents, who recall many loud nights in their respective basements.

The film traces Rush's early gigs in Toronto gymnasiums and church rec rooms, the lack of funds, and briefly profiles early members of the band. Namely, John Rutsey, the original drummer, who had to leave the band in 1974 (due to diabetes) just before their first big tour, promoting their first eponymous album. Of course, a guy named Neil Peart would replace him and suburban boys all over North America and beyond would soon be air drumming within an inch of their lives imitating him.

The early albums and tours get a thorough overview. The debut was a bluesy, Zeppelinesque batch of tunes that went virtually unnoticed until a program director in Cleveland heard "Working Man", correctly predicting it would be popular with many blue collar listeners. Rush would sign to Mercury and begin touring, opening for Uriah Heep and even Kiss (Gene Simmons recalls how straight arrow and serious those Canadian boys were, unlike himself and his cronies, who pretty much bedded anything that wore heels). After 1976's landmark concept LP, 2112, Rush was granted the freedom to create the opuses they wanted without record company interference, including 1978's Hemispheres, an album all band memebers recall being extremely difficult to perform and record. It is illustrative of how driven and ambitious Lee, Lifeson, and Peart were/are. Geniuses, in my opinion.

As we cruise into the 80s (when the songs were less guitar laden) and 90s (when the axes returned front and center)periods, BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE's coverage becomes broader, sketchier, but overall the film hits most of the band's personal and artistic highlights. Some time is given to discuss the double tragedy of the death of Peart's daughter and wife within a year in the late 1990s. The band went on a lengthy hiatus as the drummer took to the roads on a motorcycle (some 55,000 miles from start to finish) to heal. Out of that time came a few books and a renewed perspective for Peart. The lyrics on the new albums Vapor Trails (2002) and Snakes and Arrows(2007) reflected these experiences. Any serious fan of Rush knows how insightful Peart's lyrics can be, and I've been especially impressed at how increasingly human and heartfelt they've grown over nearly 40 years. Life'll do that to you.

RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE would be many hours long if it covered everything in the sort of detail a rabid Rush fan like myself would desire. But what we have is quite good. It is absolutely essential viewing for any Rush devotee. Interviews with all 3 band members are interspersed, as are discussions with musicians who were big fans and influenced by Rush, including, Billy Corgan, Sebastian Bach, Les Claypool, Trent Reznor, Jack Black, and many others. Corgan especially is insightful as to how the musicians inspired him. Perhaps Black says it best, though: "Rush is just one of those bands that has a deep reservoir of rocket sauce. A lot of bands - they've only got so much in the bottle. They use it up sometimes in one song. These guys were the real deal. Their bottle was so big and so filled to the brim, they were shaking it literally for decades. And still there was sauce coming out"

The bonus DVD contains outtakes from the film, as well as longer segments on Rush "fashions" over the years (these guys are great self-deprecators), the sometimes scary fans (who have Rush conventions, complete with karaoke), and a seat at dinner with the guys as they get intoxicated and silly and cajole comfortably like 3 old friends would. There are also some concert clips from the recent "Rush in Rio" video and a mesmerizing record of a live 1979 performance of "La Villa Strangiato".

Monday, November 14, 2011

Your Audiology Tutorial: Tympanometry


During a routine hearing exam battery, the audiologist may begin with what is known as tympanometry. It is an important measurement which gives the clinician an assessment of middle ear function. He or she will place a flexible plastic probe attached to a low tone generator which will measure how easily your eardrum (tympanic membrane) moves. The low frequency tone will vibrate the drum and a compliance measurement (admittance) will alert the clinician to a few things. Namely, that outer atmospheric pressure and Eustachian tube (runs between the eardrum and nasopharnyx) function are equal, or not. The tube opens and closes as you chew, yawn, change altitude, etc.

When the test is administered, the patient feels a "squeeze" in the ear canal. This is the result of a pressure seal created between the probe and the eardrum. A tymp measures ear canal volume, pressure, and drum motility. The results are designated by types (see above for graphical representation of each):

Type A: Normal E. tube function. Eardrum is moving normally with a pressure change.

Type B: Abnormal. Something is restricting the movement of the drum (likely fluid, but can also be/or ossification of the malleus, incus, and stapes bones[ossicular chain] that connect the drum to the inner ear, which would be classified as a Type As - shallow tymp). Children with fluid behnind their eardrums often have a flat or Type B tymp. The ear, nose, and throat doctor may place PE (pressure equalization) tubes in the child's ear to alleviate pressure and drain fluid.

Type C: The drum is moving but something is retracting it inwardly, toward middle ear space (could be negative pressure from the E. tube). Positive pressure can build up and do the reverse, pushing the drum outward. You can cause this by pinching your nostrils and exhaling with your mouth closed (Valsalva).

When a patient has a perforated (hole) eardrum, the measured canal volume may be quite large, as the measurement is going beyond the area between probe and drum and now into the middle ear via the perf. If the ossicular chain is disarticulated, the drum may beome flaccid (Type Ad-deep tymp).

Tympanometry is a quick, vital diagnostic that should be part of every audiometric examination.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Roger Dodger

The cinema has presented its fair share of male lotharios who are more than willing to share their so-called secrets to seducing the fairer sex. I think on Richard Lester's THE KNACK...AND HOW TO GET IT and even FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH as solid examples of this genre. Add 2002's ROGER DODGER to the list, similiarly documenting a Don Juan who proves to be all surface; not as slick as he thought, and actually quite an empty soul.

Campbell Scott is cast a bit against type as Roger Swanson, a rather jaded NYC advertising exec. Note this exchange he has with his nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) who's shown up in town (and his office) unexpectedly:

Roger: You can't sell a product without first making people feel bad.
Nick: Why not?
Roger: Because it's a substitution game. You have to remind them that they're missing something from their lives. Everyone's missing something, right?
Nick: I guess.
Roger: Trust me. And when they're feeling sufficiently incomplete, you convince them your product is the only thing that can fill the void. So instead of taking steps to deal with their lives, instead of working to root out the real reason for their misery, they go out and buy a stupid looking pair of cargo pants.

Roger is also quite cynical about women. In the opening scene of ROGER DODGER, he's holding court at a dinner with several colleagues, explaining how technology will one day render males completely unnecessary to women:
Technology and evolution will have combined...
to exclude sperm from procreation...
and our fiinal destiny will be to lift couches...
and wait for that day when telepathy overcomes gravity...
and our gender's last remaining utility is lost forever
As the film progresses, Roger is shown to be an alarming (though quite articulate and entertaining) narcissist, perhaps even a sociopath. Witness his speech to a 50ish woman he's just met at a bar:

I could tell you that what you think of as your personality is nothing but a collection of Vanity Fair articles. I could tell you your choice of sexual partners this evening was decided months ago by some account executive at Young & Rubicam. I could tell you that given a week to study your father and the ways in which he ignores you I could come up with a schtick you'd be helpless to resist. Helpless.
I quote so much of this movie directly as the dialogue is one of ROGER DODGER's best qualities. Not since the small body of films by writer/director Whit Stillman (METROPOLITAN) has dialogue been so intregral to character (and the overall film's) definition. Here, an middle-aged urbanite whose loathing of himself is only assauged by directing it to others tenfold. His speeches are lengthy and self-important but quite rhythmic and fascinating. It is the first time I've seen Campbell exploit this sort of persona, after nice-guy turns in THE SPANISH PRISONER and SINGLES. He's quite good here.

The bulk of ROGER DODGER follows the main character and his nephew through NYC as the former offers his strategies for female seduction, per Nick's request. Roger begins with nuts and bolts nuances (even old tricks like dropping a pen to look up a skirt) and eye contact. He brings the 16 year old Nick into a bar where they meet Andrea (Elizabth Berkley) and Sophie (Jennifer Beals), the kid telling them he made a bet with his uncle for one grand that he could get a woman to fall in love with him in one night. Conversations of refreshing honesty and intelligence follow. Hearing them is quite a contrast to the paper thin and idiotic exchanges we hear in most contemporary films, regardless of genre. Neither actress has ever been so warm and appealing (and genuine) as they are here. This sequence manages to be hopeful and romantic in the best possible ways. The ladies provide choice counterpoint to Roger's continuous cynicism and crassness. "Feeling a little bit of vertical displacement?" he asks his nephew after Sophie kisses the boy.

The night will continue with ill advised ventures to Roger's boss' (and ex-lover's) party, to which he was not invited, and a "fail safe", a place he considers a last resort sure thing for a man who has struck out everywhere else. And indeed Roger strikes out repeatedly. ROGER DODGER gives us a sobering view of a very lonely man whose mask is cocksureness, an alleged proclivity for female companionship, albeit the kind that usually doesn't last past breakfast.

As Nick, Eisenberg is quite perfect as the nerdy straight laced bookworm who doesn't even consume caffeine, finding himself having drinks with much older women. It's probably more fun to watch his performance now than it was in '02, as his later turn in THE SOCIAL NETWORK is similiar in many ways. Nick is not quite as neurotic as his performance as Mark Zuckerberg, rather more romantic and innocent, but still unsure of social politics, the in-person kind, that is. Nick's trajectory in ROGER DODGER is not as dynamic as perhaps I would've liked, but writer/director Dylan Kidd's screenplay allows him to react convincingly to a first kiss, to both real and childlike females.

But Roger is the more childlike of the pair. Frighteningly erudite in his speech (his ramblings, some very funny and eminently quotable, are reason enough to see this movie) but unable to truly relate and connect in an adult fashion. ROGER DODGER would be essential viewing for someone who likes to discuss things like "emotional IQ". Most of the way, it's a very astute essay. I just wish Kidd had a better wrap-up for his film; the final scene in Nick's high school cafeteria is quite dissapointing in its simplicity, seeming almost as if to tie everything up with a tired joke.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Five Easy Pieces

America Lost & Found: The BBS Story, Part VI

Spoilers...

By the closing scenes of 1970's FIVE EASY PIECES, Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson)has perhaps decided to banish himself to permanent anonymity, to an existence of complete denial (or maybe embracing?) of true self, whatever that may be. When we meet first meet him, he seems to be a average joe as he works in oil fields by day and goes bowling in the evenings. His friends and his waitress girlfriend, Rayette (Karen Black) call him "Bobby" and they idle the hours the way many lower middle class folks do, sitting in a trailer park, chugging beer, and watching TV.

Dupea is also a bit of a prick. His mercurial behavior baffles during the first half of director/co-writer (along with Carole Eastman) Bob Rafelson's great film. Why does he treat Rayette so poorly, lying to and cheating on her at every opportunity? Chalk it up to unchecked machismo? Amorality? One day he goes off on his co-worker and drinking buddy Elton (Billy "Green" Bush) after learning from him that Rayette is pregnant. A condescension, a dismissal of the cheap and pointless life that he sees with Elton and company, spills from Dupea's lips. This is to be his fate? But who is he to judge?

Then one morning while stuck in a freeway traffic jam, Bobby decides to get out of the car, sneer at a few other divers, then jump atop a truck transporting a piano. He plays the keys with violence. Not something like "Heart and Soul", but rather Frédéric Chopin's "Fantasy in F Minor Op. 49" (one of the five "easy" pieces of the title). Who is this man?

The audience learns more about Robert after he visits his sister, Partita (Lois Smith) in Los Angeles. She's playing J.S. Bach's: "Chromatic fantasia and Fugue" in a recording studio (character actor and TV vet Richard Stahl quite hilariously plays her recording engineer). Partita relays that their father has suffered several strokes and that Robert should pay a visit to their old home in Puget Sound in Washington State.

The remainder of FIVE EASY PIECES expands on the hints we've been given with great, contemplative elaboration. We journey to the Dupea homestead where the patriarch remains silent in a wheelchair. The father only stares ahead, though perhaps not so blankly. His eyes portray a steeliness, an acknowledement. This will be be essential to note when Robert opens up to him late in the the film.

And Robert, we find out, is indeed a creative soul, one who has (lost?) great musical ability. His siblings likewise are all musical prodigies; we learned of Partitia's talents earlier, then we meet Robert's violinist brother, Carl Fidelio Dupea (Ralph Waite) who is accompanied by a protege and fiancee, Catherine (Susan Anspach). Robert acts on what he believes are favorable sexual signals from Catherine. For her he will play Chopin's "Prelude Op. 28, No. 4", another "easy" piece. It is seductive to her, but Robert dismisses his playing as a genius might, stating that he played it with proficiency when he was even 8 years of age. Catherine quickly discovers Robert's contempt for himself. She's sufficiently attracted long enough for a tryst, but recognizes little potential for a healthy relationship.

Robert disagrees, trying to convince himself that he cares deeply for Catherine, for his family. Perhaps he really does, or wants to. His affection for his sister is obvious. He even rallies to the defense of Rayette (she eventually crashes the visit) during a gathering after listening to the insufferable rants of a pseudo-intellectual as she belittles the simple waitress. A complete abhorrence of the entire atmosphere in which he grew up envelops him. He hates the environment which made him, so thus, he hates himself. He unsuccessfully tried the working class shtick. He still has contempt for the manor born. We reach the film's final scene.

FIVE EASY PIECES is just brilliance. It illustrates how a fairly straightforward narrative can be engrossing and artful while also being free of pretension. Yet, such a complex character study it is! The very language of film here conveys the information necessary. Rafelson composes many great shots but never to draw attention to themselves. Laszlo Kovacs's photography is expansive and intimate by turns, appropriate to the mood of the scene. Bobby surveys the oil field with weary eyes and loneliness, the vastness of the field overwhelming in its banality. Robert stares into the ancient furniture of his childhood home with similiar loneliness, and claustrophobia. Rafelson and Kovacs create visuals that could almost play silently in their expressiveness. Many shots run long enough to suggest restlessness and frustration.

But the dialogue is a charm throughout FIVE EASY PIECES. Most famous is the diner scene, where Dupea has stopped on his trip home. Rayette and 2 hitchhikers (one who never stops chattering) accompany him. This scene is worth quoting:
Bobby: I'd like an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A #2, chicken salad sand. Hold the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise, and a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Bobby: Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.
Waitress: You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Bobby: I want you to hold it between your knees.


This scene has found its place in Cinema History, not for being interal to the story, but because it certifies Jack Nicholson's familiar untamed persona. It is almost as patented as that image of his face gaping through an axed door in THE SHINING. Eastman (writing as Adrien Joyce) and Rafelson's dialogue is almost like another classical piece itself. The diner scene plays like music, expertly performed.

But so do the other scenes in FIVE EASY PIECES: Dupea's half-hearted consolations to Rayette (Black describes her soft-hearted and soft-brained character in one of the disc's documentaries: "To play her, I just stopped thinking."), his confrontations with his brother, with Catherine, with just about every other character. There is also the scene to which I already alluded, a surprising and genuine monologue by Robert to his father, the latter who only sits and listens. This scene is somewhat of a "pre-climax", really ellucidating the character of Robert Dupea. By the time we see him surveying his reflection in a service station restroom mirror, we have some idea of him. And of where he's headed.


Criterion's presentation of FIVE EASY PIECES in the BBS set includes in its extras a short interview and feature length commentary with Rafelson, an audio of the director's interview at AFI in the mid 70s, and an excellent doc that summarizes the brief but shining life of the BBS enterprise, complete with summaries of all 7 of their productions
.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Show Some Emotion

A moody, yet spirited tune from one of my all-time favorite singers, Joan Armatrading.



Word.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

127 Hours

Spoilers Ahead!
You know, I've been thinking. Everything is... just comes together. It's me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock... this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It's entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It's been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I've been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I've taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface


Aron Ralston barely has enough strength to utter these words after several days of being trapped between, quite literally, a rock and a hard place. His solo trek into the canyons and caves of Robbers Roost in Utah was another of his anonymous adventures into the wide open. Nary a mention is made to family and friends as to his plans. 127 HOURS opens in Ralston's apartment as he's packing, rifling through cabinets for the last bits of gear. Forbodingly, his grasp just misses a Swiss Army knife that he eventually gives up for missplaced. We hear his mother's voice on the answering machine. The call goes unreturned.

The young man happily speeds into the desert with windows down and music cranking. He's in his element. That's not to say he doesn't enjoy company; we learn through flashbacks that he is quite a social animal. Early scenes in this movie find him meeting up with two young female hikers who join him for some stunt diving in an underground spring. But we also get a strong sense of his love of solitude, of pushing himself against the Great Outdoors on his own terms.

Into Blue John Canyon he climbs, but that fateful rock will pin his arm to a canyon wall as he descends an especially narrow passage. His efforts to chip away the rock with a multi-purpose pocket tool prove fruitless. Aron will begin to ration his food and water, meanwhile recording his ordeal with a video camera. Each hour and day points in a terrible direction. Ralston is a cheerful guy, after a few days still trying to find rays of optimism even after he's forced to drink his own urine to stay alive. He continues to record his (lack of) progress.

127 HOURS tells a true story with which you're probably familiar. You'll know that Ralston (played by James Franco) will eventually, after the fifth day, sever his arm with a dull knife to break free. Director and co-writer Danny Boyle makes this biography distinguished by examining Ralston's mind and soul, both of which are worn down as the days pass. We see memory fragments of ex-girlfriends and family members, things we would expect to see. As he gets thirstier, he remembers all the soft drink commercials he's ever seen. The memories then work their way into his current locale, as his family is seen on and around a sofa right there in the cave. Their faces are stern, as if they are a jury, sentencing him. Is this his punishment for shutting them out, perhaps for much of his life? He cries out, eventually assigning weighty spiritual and metaphorical significance to the rock.

Boyle structures his film like a contemporary fever dream. A peer into the mind of a media saturated individual. Cuts among real memories and those of commercials and YouTube clips. The movie cuts well, nearly seamlessly, with shots seen through Ralston's camcorder screen. As the human body is depleted of nourishment, so goes the discernement of the real and imagined. In a fascinating subtext, perhaps this film argues that many of us are, due to our constant stimulation with media, in this state on a daily basis, even if we aren't literally fighting for our lives. Even though 127 HOURS is a mostly faithful recount of a specific true event, I still wonder what Marshall Mcluhan would've thought of this movie's stylistics.

I also thought about about how Ralston would often retreat to lonely outposts in the desert, in the ocean, on mountains. All alone. Many of us avoid being alone so we don't have to deal with ourselves. We fill every available moment with family and friends to take the focus away. Ostensibly, that's healthy. But never taking a hard look at yourself can rob you of individualism, of self-awareness. How can you love others if you don't love (or at least accept) yourself? For all of Aron's solitude before, it takes a precarious life-or-certain death scenario for him to realize something else -how selfish he's been.

127 HOURS also has Ralston seeing into the future, his yet to be born child calling to him, perhaps propelling him to do the momentarily unthinkable but ultimately liberating. It is a moment I think many can relate to. I certainly can. Franco plays it perfectly. The real Ralston was similiarly impressed. 127 HOURS concludes with a slide show of his further adventures. He left word with his loved ones every time thereafter.


P.S.: The arm severing scene, it must be stated, is quite graphic and lengthy. If you are at all squeamish, squinting and/or averting your eyes is advisable.