4/27: Aphrodite

I watched my son fall in love this weekend.

I took him to a conservatory school a few hours away, one he could apply to as a gap year between graduating and going to college. We toured, and he attended classes. Girls were extremely friendly and interested. He’s tall, quirky handsome.

“I think that one girl really liked you.”
“That occurred to me.”
“She was pretty.”
“Yep.” Pause. “All this time, I just needed to be in the right location.”

But that wasn’t where he fell in love. That happened in a Mythology class. It was taught by a terrific professor who was focused on Jason and Medea. As the teacher kept prodding the kids in class, all of whom seemed shy or unprepared or just sleepy, H finally raised his hand when no one else was volunteering anything but slack-jawed “uhhhh”s.

“I haven’t read the play,” he said, “but it seems to make like Jason is just really stupid.”

“YES,” said the teacher. H’s observation, which got a few giggles, seemed to open up the classroom. Suddenly, the kids remembered that teachers usually don’t want a particular answer (at least, the good ones don’t), they just want response. Meanwhile, H himself was completely engaged. “Man, I wish I could take classes like that, Mom. That was awesome.”

I’ve known about the kid’s fascination with mythology, no surprise given that it was one of my favorite subjects, and his father loves superheroes, which are basically cartoon versions of the Greek pantheon. What was truly thrilling was to see how much he loved learning simply for the sake of learning.

He felt at home, though the school’s a long shot—though I firmly believe that if these things are meant to be, they will be. Most importantly, his eyes were opened up wide. This is what school could be like.

The head of the theater department was frank with us. They’re teaching kids who want to go from there to Julliard or Carnegie Mellon. H isn’t there. But I love the fact that my son doesn’t want to go into acting to get into a top school and then go on to a career in theater and film, an illusion that I’d guess most of the kids in the program cherish.

My kid wants to study theater because he just freaking loves it.

Degrees, we all know, are no guarantee of a job. So they have to be valuable for being simply what they are, a chance to immerse yourself for four years in the study of something that makes your life better, that makes you happy, that helps you live more richly and with greater joy.

My son is ready to live that. The future looks bright. The present is beautiful.

4/24: Geez, I’m Busy

So here’s the lightning round:

I love Danny Boyle. I love James MacAvoy, especially when he’s speaking in his Scottish accent. I love weird twisty plots. I didn’t love Trance.

Certainly, it’s twisty, it’s entertaining, and Rosario Dawson gets naked, which is pretty extraordinary. Art thievery is an amazing subject, and it starts with a huge bang. But it’s a mean-spirited thing, very ugly in parts. Boyle’s movies always have ugly bits, but the dominant impression at the end of the others is one of vibrant, unstoppable, joyous life. Not here. There’s a Martin McDonagh darkness to it, but if McDonagh were doing it, you’d be laughing so hard that the darkness would work. Trance has almost no laughs. It’s one of those movies I think you should see so you can talk about it. It’s beautifully made, because it’s Danny Boyle. I just hope his next one isn’t so freaking grim.

Grim and quiet works on Rectify, a cool series on Sundance that you can see on On Demand even if you don’t get Sundance. It’s by the Breaking Bad writers, apparently, but I’m tired of BB because Skyler’s such a jerk and Walter’s lost the meaning. I loved the first episode of Rectify, which features Sally’s teacher that Don had the affair with a couple of seasons ago on MM.

Tonight, I ushered for Ragamala Dance. Here, the lovely mother/daughter team of Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamytalk about their process, and you can see some clips. It’s beautiful and an extraordinary display of discipline and grace. And holy SMOKES, Rajna Swaminathan wore OUT the drums.

With its deft mixing of ancient/traditional art forms with a modern mindset, Ragamala reminded me of the marvelous Sita Sings the Blues. Watch the trailer here, then watch the whole thing on YouTube (it’ll come up in the sidebar).

4/22: Goodbye Blue Monday

It’s a good day to feed your head. First, look inside a volcano over at This Is Colossal.

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I love tiny spaces that are ingeniously designed, so I love this piece from Gizmodo on a prison cell designed by inmates.

This is absolutely charming: a dad who draws on his kid’s lunch bags. Fabulous video here.

Ending with this beauty from Conor Horgan of Ireland, featuring choreographer David Bolger (CoisCéim Dance Theatre, Dublin) and his mum, Madge.

4/15: Distractions

I love having a ton of work b/c I’m a freelancer, but it does make the old bloger-roo a little hard to squeeze in. No deep thoughts, but did want to remind myself to write about the delightful 1927 production, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets.

I hope to write about it soon, but in case I don’t get a chance, please find out what you can about this wonderful show, where, as creator Suzanne Andrade says, “the actors are trapped by the animations.”

I also mentioned David Turnley in a recent post, and was privileged to watch his documentary Shenandoah over the weekend. I will definitely be writing about it in depth, particularly since my assignment got cut from 2K words to 1K, but also is more of a career retrospective and less focused on the film. If Shenandoah is available to watch in a theater near you, I highly recommend you go.

Gotta go get ready for work tomorrow. Later, gators.

3/10: Inspiration

Such an amazing day meeting with David Turnley, one of the great photojournalists of our time. David has made two documentaries, and I can’t wait to see them. Here are the gorgeous trailers. First, La Tropical, about Cuba.

Shenandoah is making the circuit right now. The compassion for the people he’s photographing absolutely radiates out of David himself.

These remarkable photo essays show his breathtaking still work.

In between combat zone photography, David went backstage in Paris during Fashion Week. Not sure why it’s not embedding, but do visit the link.

http://vimeo.com/54207680

Interviewing artists is about one of the best jobs one can have. So grateful for this assignment, and I’ll link when it’s online (slated for Current Ann Arbor).

3/8: Mad, Glad, Rad

A lot of Mad Men fans are like Steely Dan fans. They’re a niche, they’re rabid, and they spend way too many hours parsing the meaning of arcana found within the writing. However, at least Steely Dan fans have some real puzzlers to get their heads around, like “Babylon Sisters, shake it,” and “Drink your big Black Cow.” The writing on Mad Men is thoroughly entertaining, solid classy soap opera; it’s not exactly Ulyssess, or even Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. If you like to roll your eyes a lot, you will surely enjoy the endless recap over at Huffington Post that makes points, over dozens of paragraphs, along the lines of “Don has a death wish” and “Betty is repressed and fucked up and really boring as a character.” It reminds me of when someone in high school solemnly told me that Elton John’s “Island Girl” was about falling in love with a prostitute! And of course, I remain indebted to that person to this day.

No Wolcott post yet, alas. Wolcott’s the one writer who manages to cut to the chase about each episode, and who observes the things that need to be observed with his usual brisk insight. MM goes down best with an icy martini, not some big stupid pitcher of—oh hell, I don’t know and I’m tired. I’m sure JW would approve of this site, found thanks to Daily Candy: Mean Mad Men, which matches quotes from Mean Girls with MM stills. Heaven!

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I did have an absolute ball with the kid and the man at Fool Moon, a nighttime offshoot of Festifools, Ann Arbor’s sort of close to April Fools celebration that features really cool kinetic sculptures meandering back and forth over a few city blocks. Of Festifools, a friend of a friend said, “It’s like Pee-wee’s Playhouse, outside,” an apt description.

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This was a very cool thing indeed, begun by a guy, Mark Tucker, who learned his craft in Viareggio, Italy. But much cooler and more magical, likely due to the fact that nighttime is cooler than broad daylight, is Fool Moon, the street party on the Friday before the Sunday parade. Sea creatures work beautifully, bobbing against the darkness as if they’re in a black sea.

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012 Voratima's shrimp

002 blowfish and friends

But sweets were also popular.

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And all around are light shows on the building walls, and a lot of very, very happy people, because it really is absolutely lovely.

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Other transporting moments can be had with this marvelous video, of kayaks plunging down waterfalls in the Mexican Jungle. More thanks to Daily Candy for the tip.

4/5: FoolMoon and a Critic to Celebrate

Tonight, I’ll be heading down with my menfolks to watch FoolMoon, a luminary-lit walk that converges in downtown Ann Arbor. Candlelight is so magical, spring has been a ridiculously long time coming, and there’s something so tender about candlelight, especially outside. Pix later.

Meanwhile, farewell, Roger Ebert. I don’t particularly care for his film writing, which I’ve always found to be either gushy when he likes something (and completely overlooks some rather glaring issues; Exhibit A, his review of “Do the Right Thing”), snarky and overly dismissive when he doesn’t. Criticism should be incisive, not facile. Then again, watch this brief excerpt from one of his few produced screenplays, and all may become clear. Directed by Russ Meyer, truly a meeting of the minds.

I rest my case. And I’m sorry if that made you tired.

Who do I like? Otis Ferguson.

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His life tragically cut short by WWII—he was serving on a boat that got bombed—he was one of the smartest, most incisive, and just plain funny critics ever. He also wrote beautifully about jazz, but I’ll stick with movies today. A few excerpts:

On Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, full review here: “Politically, the story is eyewash. The machinery of the Senate and the machinery of how it may be used to advantage is shown better than it ever has been. But the main surviving idea is that one scout leader who knows the Gettysburg address by heart but wouldn’t possibly be hired to mow your lawn can throw passionate faith into the balance and by God we’ve got a fine free country to live in again.”

On The Wizard of Oz, full review here: “The Wizard of Oz was intended to hit the same audience as Snow White, and won’t fail for lack of trying. It has dwarfs, music, technicolor, freak characters and Judy Garland. It can’t be expected to have a sense of humor as well—and as for the light touch of fantasy, it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet. Children will not object to it, especially as it is a thing of many interesting gadgets; but it will be delightful for children mostly to their mothers, and any kid tall enough to reach up to a ticket window will be found at the Tarzan film down the street. The story of course has some lovely and wild ideas—men of straw and tin, a cowardly lion, a wizard who isn’t a very good wizard—but the picture doesn’t know what to do with them, except to be painfully literal and elaborate about everything—Cecil B. DeMille and the Seven Thousand Dwarfs by Actual Count.”

But unlike many sub-standard “critics” who are only good when they’re panning something, Ferguson knew his onions and called greatness when he saw it, as here, for The Grapes of Wrath (full review): “The word that comes in most handily for The Grapes of Wrath is magnificent. Movies will probably go on improving and broadening themselves; but in any event, The Grapes of Wrath is the most mature picture story that has ever been made, in feeling, in purpose, and in the use of the medium. You can drag out classics (it is often safer not to go back and see them) and you can roll off names in different tongues and times. But this is a best that has no very near comparison to date.”

When I discovered Ferguson by accident online, I fell in love. I checked out the book of his collected film criticism from the library, with a foreward by Andrew Sarris; Andrew was a favorite lunch date in my Criterion days, and I’m always happy to find an essay of his by serendipity. Tragically, the book ends with reviews in early 1943 or ’42 (can’t remember, but he died in ’43), after which Ferguson was deployed and quickly lost.

The role of the critic is, or used to be and still should be, to elevate the discourse, to say this is what a film should be, could be, as well as what it is. I don’t begrudge anyone their Ebert mourning. I just wish more people would recognize that, far from being the be-all and end-all of film criticism, he’s a starting point to exploration of what can be, in Ferguson’s hands, an art form, as well as a public service that can make everyone a little smarter.

And meanwhile, if you haven’t watched Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, watch it. Austin Powers fans in particular are in for an eye opener.