Post #64: The Master

Things you should be watching

I saw P.T. Anderson’s new film The Master last night, and though the range of feelings I experienced during and after watching the film could best be summed up by Huh?, I can say assuredly that The Master was an exhilarating filmic experience and I can’t stop thinking about it.  Can’t stop experiencing it.  The score, composed by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, is rattling around inside my spleen.  The acting, particularly that of Jaoquin Phoenix, was mesmerizing, eerily real, lovingly wrought, the kind of performance that will loom larger than all others, even Johnny Cash, on his resumé.  Some of the scenes keep replaying in my mind and even worked their way into my dreams last night.

The film is not so loosely based on certain portions of the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, here a facsimile named Lancaster Dodd and played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, though that might be misleading.  It’s not a biopic.   It’s not even linear.  There’s no bow tied onto the end.  It’s unsettling and confusing and totally engrossing, shot in gorgeous 70mm.

Check out the trailer.  But, really, check out the movie.  You may end up hating it, but you kind of have to see this one.

Post #60: A Nice Little Bit of Wonderfulness

Things you should be watching

That’s the phrase that came to mind when I watched this short interview/profile of author Michael Chabon.

A nice little bit of wonderfulness.  Especially the bit about him sitting on a steamer trunk in his mother’s basement writing on the family’s early primitive computer.

I’ve been re-reading Chabon’s wonderful novel Wonder Boys, one of my all time favorite books, in anticipation of the release of his new novel Telegraph Avenue on Sept. 11th.  After experiencing the literary equivalent of love at first sight with Chabon’s writing about ten years ago–when I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay on my Boston couch in a mad fever over two and a half glorious afternoons–I’ve been disappointed with his past couple of efforts and very much hope Telegraph Avenue is a little more laid back and less self consciously stylized than some of his newer writing, like Gentlemen of the Road or The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.  If you’ve never read Chabon, do yourself a favor and pick up Wonder Boys, Kavalier and Klay, or one of his story collections (preferably Werewolves in their Youth) and be swept away by his impossibly beautiful prose.

Post #52: How Great is the Internet?

Things you should be watching

Man, I love the Internet.  Where else could you ever have access to the mad genius who spent God knows how many hundreds of hours assembling and cutting together a seven minute video of all the phrases that Aaron Sorkin (pictured at left) has repeated, and then repeated again (via his characters) throughout his career.  For those of you who don’t know because you’ve been stuck at the bottom of the ocean for the past fifteen years, Aaron Sorkin is a television and film writer responsible for The West Wing, Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the recent HBO series The Newsroom, A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and a whole bunch of other amazing shit.  Suffice to say, he’s the best writer of televised dialogue of his generation, maybe of all time.  And wildly, inhumanly prolific.  To boot: for the first four seasons of The West Wing, he wrote nearly every single episode.  A season of The West Wing is 22 episodes, each an hour long, which means that basically this guy wrote roughly 88 plays in four years.  And that was just 4 years. He worked himself so hard that he eventually had to leave The West Wing because of a pretty bad speed and cocaine habit, an event that surprised the sum total of no one.

I loved this video, and oddly, it made me love Sorkin even more, even though his writing can be idealistic and saccharine and repetitive.  You gotta love a guy who quotes himself this often and writes so much that he just can’t help it.  
Reminds me of Woody Allen, who you could easily do the same kind of video with.

Post #40: The Wire

Things you should be watching

Admittedly, you probably need to have seen (at least some) of The Wire to make it through all 36 minutes of Erlend Lavik’s video essay on the “visual style” of the show, but it’s a fascinating and comprehensive look at an aspect of David Simon’s great television masterpiece that you may have overlooked, or undervalued.

But, let’s say you’ve never seen The Wire?  I don’t see that as a problem.  After all, what better way to prime the pump and get you to start watching than with 36 minutes of stills and artful commentary steeping you in The Wire’s visual subtleties and camera work?

I’ve spent a little bit of time watching television shows.  In fact, I’d say that my screen time has shifted from movies to television shows by at least a 2:1 margin in the past five years.  Oddly, most of the television I end up watching is not “on” television but later on DVD, but that’s a story for another essay.  This is because we happen to be living through what many have rightfully called a high point, or a new high, for television as a medium.  The Wire is just one of many landmark shows to be produced in the last ten years that have changed the landscape of not only television shows themselves but in how we see and how we “view” television, the latter having more to do with our expectations for how good a TV show can be.  For my money, The Wire is one of the five best shows ever produced, in the company of other masterpieces like Six Feet Under, The West Wing, Seinfeld, and Mad Men, the shows that would round out my dessert island quintet were I pressed to choose.

Like most viewers, I watch The Wire for its incredible story telling; its unflinchingly realistic portrayal of city life in Baltimore, Maryland in all its many incarnations, especially those that deal with crime, poverty, drugs, and corruption in all forms, from city hall to the street corner.  It’s no accident that The Wire has been called Dickensian.  It’s novelistic scope of characterization and its viewer (reader) centered approach to allowing these characters to come to life over time feels, well, like reading a book.  Find me a show that has ever better managed so many characters yet has not any one clear hero at its center (Jimmy McNulty being the closest, but even McNulty flits in and out of the show and we often go several episodes at at time without a McNulty centered plot, especially in Season 4).  But I’ve spent less time thinking about the visual context of The Wire, the means by which is tells the story, which is a significant part of what makes it IT.  According to the respected Norwegian academic Lavik, I’ve been missing a lot.

Watch this when you’ve got a little time.  Or do what I did and watch it in four minute chunks over many days when you don’t quite have the time.  Either way, this guy sounds pretty smart to me and even though he has kind of a dull voice and doesn’t emote all that well, it will likely either get you to watch or begin re-watching The Wire, which can only make your life better.

Post #39: Man with a Marker

Things you should be watching

One of the great things about teaching classic works of literature is that you’re arming students with a cultural bookmark that they carry with them for life.  Who hasn’t been somewhere where people started talking about Of Mice and Men or Romeo and Juliet or The Catcher in the Rye and been silently thanking their lucky stars (or maybe, just maybe, damning their high school English teacher all over again) that they read that book and can comment on Lennie’s diction or Romeo’s cock driven idiocy or Holden’s acerbity?

By the way, I’m willing to concede that you’ve never had that experience and that I’m just making myself feel better.

Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea has always been one of my favorite novels.  It grows in richness with each sweet return and it’s one of the books of which I never seem to tire.  I just stumbled upon this amazing interpretation of the novel done through drawing and sped-up photography.  I think they missed the mark with their music choice, but this video is pretty much the poster child for everything that’s great about the Internet.

Post #35: On the Road (to the movies)

Things you should be watching

I just watched the trailer for the new film adaptation of Kerouac’s On the Road.  I didn’t even know an On the Road film was in the works, let alone around the corner.  I’ve always sort of bought the notion that the book was mostly un-filmable because of its wandering voice and pretty much plot-less structure, but this trailer is making me re-think all that.  It’s pretty damn good and, though it’s only a minute and a half, seems to embody the kinetic spirit of Kerouac’s work and has me sure I’ll buy myself a ticket when the time comes.  Have a look for yourself.

It also makes me think of an under-appreciated gem of a film called “The Last Time I committed Suicide,” which is based on a long letter written by Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac known as the “Joan Anderson” letter.  I found a juicy chunk of the letter on a random Myspace page.  It’s worth a look.  Maybe even two.  But hey, don’t take it from me.  Kerouac himself later said that this letter, only part of which has survived, played a huge role in his literary development.  Anyhow, in the film, a young Thomas Jane plays Cassady and he’s tremendous as the Denver born Beat legend.  The film also features an absolutely stellar performance by Keanu Reeves (if you can believe that).  There’s also lots of great jazz on the soundtrack.

Beat that.


Post #2: DFW on the (sub) Brain

Things You Should Be Reading, Things you should be watching, Tributes, Writing Advice

The umbrella topic to start the year in my classes has been “What Does it Mean to be Educated?” but after re-reading and playing the audio to my honors seminar, I’m wondering now if the entire theme and the subsequent class periods spent discussing and writing about it wasn’t subconsciously chosen so that I could spend more time with David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech from Kenyon College.

Posthumously published as This is Water, the speech is a marvel.  And not a little unsettling, due to the onslaught of suicide references within it.  In it, Wallace urges us to live more aware lives, believing that the essence of being educated lies not in having information, but in being able to choose what information, and what emotions, you’ll give your time to.  He talks about the challenges of being alive and enjoying life in a world as fractured and busy as ours.  As usual, it sounds trite when I talk about the same idea, but in Wallace’s hands, cliches become nuanced and remarkably interesting things.  They become birds.  It’s especially powerful to listen to Wallace give the speech, which can be done here:  

I won’t re-hash the sadness of Wallace’s suicide and the giant crater it left in American letters.  Suffice to say, it’s massive.  But I will take a small stand here and say that, though I’ve read quite a bit of Wallace’s fiction, it’s his non-fiction that I go back to, that I would choose if pressed to grab only a handful of books from my shelf while the house burnt around me.