Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Yesterday

Yesterday
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

I have a friend named Joan who’s plenty old enough to remember the Beatles, but she never liked them. She’s no sourpuss who hates everything modern and gripes about the way things used to be; she’s quite nice, in fact. Now I don’t know her that well, so I’m fuzzy on what kind of music she prefers; I just remember being gobsmacked when she first told me that... though it is difficult to imagine her as a screaming teenager with a poster of Paul or John on her bedroom wall.

At the other extreme, the summer I worked at a sleepaway camp in Massachusetts was the summer The Beatles Anthology came out. I’m sure you remember the massive hype surrounding that event. Well, there were little kids at camp—six, seven, eight years old—who were as familiar with the most popular Beatles’ songs as they were with their times tables. That amazed me too.

Fifty years after they broke up, the greatest rock and roll band of all time remains a highly influential and polarizing cultural force in the world. In the digital age, experiencing their music as a young person is plenty different, but the devotion, from what I can tell, is the same.

I was born after they broke up, but not by much. When I grew up, I could still hear Paul and George on Top 40 radio. I have vague memories of when John died, though I didn’t completely grok what it all meant at the time. The Millennial Generation doesn’t even have any of that—but it doesn’t matter. The Beatles are eternal in an industry whose product is ephemeral and has always been easily disposable.

But what if everyone, young and old people alike, woke up one day and completely forgot who they were?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
seen @ Film Forum, New York NY

So it was Virginia’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and I was gonna take her rowboating in Central Park. There were thunderstorms in the morning, but then it cleared up and got warmer. Still, she changed her mind about going and suggested a movie instead. I was like, we can go to a movie anytime, but this was what she wanted. Couldn’t refuse her on her birthday—and as it turned out, the film she picked was a winner.

I’ve read some Toni Morrison: I own a copy of The Bluest Eye, and I used to have Beloved. I forget what happened to it. (The Jonathan Demme film version was good, though I remember at the time it kinda freaked me out a bit.) I admit, when it comes to classic black literature, I tend to gravitate more towards the guys: Baldwin, Ellison, Hughes, Wright. The books by black women authors I have are more modern—though now that I think of it, couldn’t Morrison qualify as modern? Not sure. (Also—sorry, sports fans—sometimes I confuse Morrison with Maya Angelou.

Regardless, I’ve always respected Morrison as an Author of Note, but this new documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am made me much more aware of her as a person. According to this Vanity Fair piece, she had known the director, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, since 1981, so it’s quite possible he was the only one who could’ve made this film. A photographer, he has Morrison face the camera directly while all his other interviewees are off-center, a visual distinction that feels more intimate—although he does a ton of jump-cutting in the talking head sections, something I see a lot of in interviews of this sort. I don’t like it.


Morrison discusses her childhood family; her years as an editor at the book publisher Random House and how she attracted a number of black authors; her novels; and her later, hard-won recognition by her wider (whiter, male-r) audience, including her Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes. Other interviewees include Fran Leibowitz, Angela Davis, and of course, the Big O: Oprah Winfrey. In addition, we see a number of beautiful illustrations of black life made specifically for this film, including a series of collages of Morrison in the opening credits.


As a writer, I dug hearing her speak about her craft. I wish she had talked more about it, though I understand why more emphasis was placed on other things, like her career and her place in the black literary canon. I read her work when I was younger, and while I found the florid, intricate writing style a struggle, I could still tell there was something substantial there, something unlike other authors.

Virginia said she had read some of Morrison’s stuff too, though she didn’t think of herself as a huge fan. I think she was more drawn to this film as an example of a powerful and influential woman artist. I wasn’t aware of this film at all, but I am glad I saw it. I still hope I can take Virginia rowboating this summer, though.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Yesterday’s links

I’m taking a longer summer vacation than usual to catch up on my fiction writing. If anything eventful happens, or if you wanna talk, I’ll be on Twitter (@ratzo318), but otherwise, I’ll return here on July 12.

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Add the City Cinemas Paris in midtown Manhattan to the endangered species list for movie theaters in New York. I haven’t been here much, but it’s a gorgeous one-screen theater that feels both modern and old school. I even remember the first film I saw there; it was Polanski’s Death and the Maiden, with Sigourney Weaver. Also saw Life is Beautiful. In recent years, I went there a few more times with my movie-going crew. Don’t know if I’ll make it back there this summer or not, but if it folds, New York will have lost another cinematic treasure.

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Not much else to say right now, so let’s go straight to the links:

Gill discusses an Australian TV show that was a launching pad for a number of future film stars.

Ruth reviews a book about a group of Bela Lugosi B-movies that may have more to them than meets the eye.

Le writes about Errol Flynn’s first feature film.

Virginie makes up some thematic double features.

Toy Story and the nature of consciousness and individuality. (SPOILERS)

Quentin Tarantino is still serious about making a Star Trek movie!

The surge in biopics and other films featuring popular music is fueled by branding.

The Lion King remake challenges the meaning of “animation.”

Robert De Niro is building a new studio in Queens.

Sony named a theater on their lot after the late John Singleton.

A film composer discusses his craft.

What is the top Canadian film of all time?

Neil Patrick Harris tries New York’s new subway fare payment system for the first time. (A system we should’ve had years ago, but whatevs.)

See you in two weeks.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

SPOILERS

The first three Toy Story films rank up there with the greatest live-action trilogies in history. The fourth is a kind of post-script, one I never would’ve thought was necessary until I actually saw it. TS4 reminded me that these films were, and always had been, Woody’s story. His relationship with Andy has always lain at the heart of everything: not a parent, not quite a guardian, but something more than a friend (Randy Newman’s theme song notwithstanding), and for the first three films Woody’s purpose was to be there for Andy, no matter what. Now, though, Andy has grown up and moved on, and Woody is young Bonnie’s toy now — but his relationship with her is not the same.

Toy Story was Woody’s story. But his story has come to an end.*

Monday, June 24, 2019

Five films about the 1969 Mets (sort of)

This weekend, members of the 1969 World Champion Miracle Mets team will gather at Citi Field here in Queens, for what may be the last time in such a formal setting, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the summer they accomplished what many thought was not only improbable, but just plain impossible.

In 1969, the Mets were an expansion team not even a decade old that had known nothing but futility for their entire baseball life — and I mean epic futility. In 1962, their first year, they lost 120 games, and were only marginally better in subsequent years. Still, they had a lovable charm to them that New York embraced. Then they acquired some legitimate talent, as well as a manager who refused to tolerate losing, and dreamt of becoming a contender, but no one expected the leap forward they made in that summer when men walked on the moon and anything seemed possible.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Rolling Thunder Revue

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
seen @ IFC Center, New York NY

I opted to see Rolling Thunder Revue with Virginia at the last minute because I was afraid it would rain on Sunday (it did) and Toy Story 4 wasn’t out yet (though she doesn’t have much interest in that), but when I realized this is a Netflix film getting a theatrical release, I felt funny about paying money to see it.

With Roma, the big attraction in seeing that theatrically was Alfonso Cuaron’s beautiful visuals and deft compositions on a wide screen — not to mention the excellent story. That was worth paying for, and I did, twice in fact. Nothing about Revue screamed “See this on a big screen”; I doubt most documentaries “need” to be seen that way. Martin Scorsese’s next film, The Irishman, will also come out theatrically and on Netflix simultaneously, and at this point I’m not sure if I’ll make the same choice.

So. Bob Dylan. I told Virginia after the film that it was difficult for me to truly appreciate what a cultural icon he was during the 60s, as much as I’ve read about him, watched videos about him, and listened to his music. Revue helped, but for someone who wasn’t there during his creative peak, what he meant to people still strikes me as peculiar, especially now that songwriting skill in general feels devalued these days.


In 1975, Dylan organized a tour with Joan Baez and other folkies, plus counterculture figures like Allen Ginsberg, in which he played small towns in smaller venues, riding around in a bus which he drove himself. It was called the Rolling Thunder Revue. Concert footage from that tour, plus new interviews with Dylan and others, comprise this doc, continuing a streak of concert films Scorsese has pursued on and off for years, including The Last Waltz (The Band), Shine a Light (the Rolling Stones) and George Harrison: Living in the Material World. It also captures some of the zeitgeist of the era.

And it includes material Scorsese simply made up.

Why? He comes close to explaining his rationale in this interview, though if you look at the film on its own, you could easily be fooled into thinking the whole thing was genuine. Theories abound — here’s one — but ultimately this doesn’t bother me as much as it probably should. Dylan always struck me as this enigmatic, almost mythical figure. The pompous subtitle kinda implies there’s more going on here than what lies on the surface, something that feeds into the myth of Dylan — and Scorsese’s not the first filmmaker to recognize this. Remember that Todd Haynes “biopic” of Dylan, I’m Not There, in which “Dylan” was played by, among others, a black child and a woman? Something about Dylan seems to inspire reinterpretation... but I’m not the one to explain why.


Virginia really dug this movie. She had wanted to see it before I off-handedly suggested it, and not just because she did live through the peak Dylan era. She knew peripherally a couple of people in the film from musical performances she was part of in the past — a fourth or fifth degree of separation, I think. She kept telling me about it during the film.

Watching it with an audience, I felt like everyone else understood Dylan and his career, not to mention the people involved in this story, better than me: there was knowing laughter in spots I didn’t think was funny, and even Virginia made “mm hmm” noises to herself in recognition, as if she was having a conversation with the film to which I wasn’t privy. I half-expected this sort of thing. Every time I think I’ve gotten a handle on 60s culture (Dylan is of the 60s, and this movie feeds off that vibe), something new comes along — like this.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Binge Experiment

Binge-watching television has become such a natural part of our lives that sometimes we’re not even aware we do it. Part of it has to do with technology, in particular the evolution of home video, from VHS and DVD box sets to the DVR to streaming services such as Netflix. Part of it is the explosion of new cable networks that need something to put on the air before they develop original programming. And of course, part of it is the Internet, where you can upload entire seasons of old and new shows (I’m currently making my way through The Honeymooners on YouTube).

Some people take bingeing way too far, though, and last month I sought to understand why. I studied the binge phenomena in further depth by taking two streaming shows on Netflix, Ozark and Longmire, and watched the first seasons of both, the former one episode at a time and the latter all at once.

But first I asked my friends about bingeing.