The beautiful boxes that some people create, and how we breathe better

According to Chabon, the “Belafonte” could be Wes Anderson’s Cornell box.

Having just read this gorgeous essay by Michael Chabon, I had to share it with my loyal blog followers.  In the New York Review of Books essay, Chabon gets at precisely what itches my artistic soul and compels me toward interdisciplinary aesthetics.  Chabon gets at how artists (in this case, Wes Anderson, Joseph Cornell, and Vladimir Nabokov) can connect and transcend form.  Reading Chabon’s essay, I felt a sense of more oxygen getting into my lungs, filling my spirit.  Hoping it will give you the same creative uplift.

(I’ve blogged here and elsewhere about my fascination with Wes Anderson.  I haven’t seen Moonlight Kingdom, but it’s high on my list.)

Beasts of the Southern Wild

And I thought Buffy was a hero.

I used to see movies at the cinema all the time.  Since becoming a mother, I see a movie at a cinema once a year, on a good year.  Maybe.  The last movie I saw was “Black Swan” so it was actually a year and a half ago.  I’m not kidding.  The year before that, it was “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Tonight I saw “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  My neighbor, who owns the Little Art Theatre, had said it was a film like nothing else.  Another friend, the writer Laraine Herring, told me I should see it because it features a child narrator (played by then five-year old Quvenzhané Wallis) in a magical, mythic world.

I’m not going to say much about the film.  Watching this film during yet another deluge on Louisiana was wrenching.  But considering how often I see a movie at the cinema, I’m glad it was this one.

It’s playing again tomorrow night at the Little Art Theatre.

(And when did we stop clapping after a movie?  Was it when we began to retreat into our VHS/DVD/internet bubbles for home viewing?  Every year or so, you will hear me clapping in a public cinema.  Feel free to join me.)

Wes Anderson & the Buckaroo Banzai Principle

I wrote a post here nearly two years ago (at my yearly movie outing, so sad!) about Wes Anderson.  Today, I watched “The Life Aquatic” again on DVD and though I adore it, it was as if I had never seen it before.  Turns out I barely remembered the movie, though it’s my favorite of Anderson’s.  I noticed things this time I either saw and forgot or never saw.  I watched the background this time, allowed myself to look away from the principal humans and around the room, as it were, and linger in my tour of the Belafonte.

The film’s similarities to “Buckaroo Banzai” (another favorite film) were more beautifully apparent this time.  One Banzai moment with Team Zissou was the curtain call, which some loving film geek posted here in mashup.  (There’s also the Jeff Goldblum connection linking the two films.  And as my husband said, TZ would have mirrored BB and the Honk Kong Cavaliers more fully had they brought back Ned for the curtain call, as  W. D. Richter did with Rawhide.  But not bringing Ned back does a more authentic job of continuing and closing the film’s narrative rather than opening it up, so maybe in the lineage of collective filmmaker evolution, this omission makes some sense.)

But in addition to the visual homages that Anderson paid Banzai et al, much more fundamentally, he followed the Buckaroo Banzai Principle as outlined here.  It’s, briefly:

When a work of fiction is so confident in itself that the reader just enters the world and goes with it.

Applies equally to a written or cinematic world, but as I thought about it today, I realized how I’m not quite doing that with my new novel, and thought of one little way that I can follow the BBP more closely.  For which I owe Mr. Anderson a card of thanks.  If only I had some Kinglsey (Ned) Zissou corrsepondance stock.

(Dear Mr. Anderson, if you are reading this:  Thank you.  Thank you for caring enough about your audience to make something so fully realized.  Thank you for following your own obsessions and idiosyncrasies with such commitment and grace.  Thank you for Seu Gorge reinterpreting Bowie.  Thank you for your hard work, which looks effortless as breathing in and breathing out.)

“Nous Sommes Embarques”

The hands of Bruno Ganz and Peter Falk

I watched some episodes of “Columbo” as a child, but it was the Peter Falk of Wim Wenders’ breathtaking “Wings of Desire” that I recall, sad at Falk’s passing.  In the film, Peter Falk played himself, “Peter Falk,” come to Berlin to make a movie about the Holocaust.  In the clips on youtube, Falk (as “Falk”) politely puts off the media who want to interview him, complains to the costumer until he gets a decent hat, and draws a portrait of one of the extras on the fictional set.  He marvels at her face, and about the extras:

 ‎”Extras. These humans are extras. Extra humans.”

Later, “Falk” talks about drawing, the process of making a line, making art, being alive.  He says,

“Here, to smoke, have coffee. And if you do it together it’s fantastic. Or to draw: you know, you take a pencil and you make a dark line, then you make a light line and together it’s a good line. Or when your hands are cold, you rub them together, you see, that’s good, that feels good! There’s so many good things! But you’re not here – I’m here. I wish you were here. I wish you could talk to me. ‘Cause I’m a friend.”

After we realized we both loved “Wings of Desire,” a friend sent me the poem which runs through the film.  It’s beautiful, and so I am sharing it here. (Thanks, and RIP, Steve B.)

Song of Childhood

By Peter Handke

When the child was a child
It walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one.

When the child was a child,
it had no opinion about anything,
had no habits,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running,
had a cowlick in its hair,
and made no faces when photographed.

When the child was a child,
It was the time for these questions:
Why am I me, and why not you?
Why am I here, and why not there?
When did time begin, and where does space end?
Is life under the sun not just a dream?
Is what I see and hear and smell
not just an illusion of a world before the world?
Given the facts of evil and people.
does evil really exist?
How can it be that I, who I am,
didn’t exist before I came to be,
and that, someday, I, who I am,
will no longer be who I am?

When the child was a child,
It choked on spinach, on peas, on rice pudding,
and on steamed cauliflower, 
and eats all of those now, and not just because it has to.

When the child was a child,
it awoke once in a strange bed,
and now does so again and again.
Many people, then, seemed beautiful,
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.

It had visualized a clear image of Paradise,
and now can at most guess,
could not conceive of nothingness,
and shudders today at the thought. 

When the child was a child,
It played with enthusiasm,
and, now, has just as much excitement as then,
but only when it concerns its work.

When the child was a child,
It was enough for it to eat an apple, … bread,
And so it is even now.

When the child was a child,
Berries filled its hand as only berries do,
and do even now,
Fresh walnuts made its tongue raw,
and do even now,
it had, on every mountaintop, 
the longing for a higher mountain yet,
and in every city,
the longing for an even greater city,
and that is still so,
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees
with an elation it still has today,
has a shyness in front of strangers,
and has that even now.
It awaited the first snow,
And waits that way even now.

When the child was a child,
It threw a stick like a lance against a tree,
And it quivers there still today.

And so, Mr. Falk, as the elderly Storyteller of the film says, at the final moment, “Nous sommes embarques!”

A fan back here is wishing on your wings, now returned to you.

The antidote to “Black Swan”?

Today, I saw “Black Swan.”  It was the first theatre-movie I’ve seen in almost a year.  (Last year it was “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” a bit more uplifting.)

“Black Swan” disturbed and engrossed me, though I’d seen Pi and so I knew this film would be no lighthearted romp.  Natalie Portman (whom I’ve loved to watch, ever since “The Professional“) was impressive.  So was Mila Kunis, who was familiar and I trying to place, when the box office guy said, “She’s from ‘That 70s Show.'”  So many things to ponder about this film, and I’m still pondering.  I loved the use of black, white, and grey, with only a little pink shining through at times.  (Oh, yes, and that really important bit of red.)  Through the whole film, I held my breath a lot, only realizing how tense I was as the credits rolled.  So many things…an interesting sort of Hollywood lineage with points on the timeline: Barbara Hershey, Winona Rider, and Natalie Portman…and Barbara Hershey’s role, a study in how not to raise a daughter, despite one’s own extinguished dreams.  (Eeek.)

So tonight, as an antidote to the snakebite of “Black Swan,” I feel compelled to watch at least a little of Altman’s somewhat overlooked ballet film, “The Company.”   “The Company,” which I saw years ago at the same beloved Little Art Theatre (where I saw the movie last year and today), has held a warm spot in my heart.  I own the DVD.  Neve Campbell and James Franco are sweet, and it’s Altman, for crying out loud.  It’s just endearing.  Some friends with whom I saw it were not as impressed, essentially saying there’s not much there there, and maybe they’re right.  But I was charmed by it.  (See it, if only for Malcolm McDowell wearing yellow, babies.)

Maybe it will smooth out some of the rough jagged I’m still feeling in the wake of “Black Swan.”

Bygone eras…

Hoffman, Bernstein, Woodward, and Redford

…in American cinema, journalism, politics…

I just watched “All The President’s Men.” Chilling.  And inspiring, to see Redford and Hoffman before they were bloated with (possibly still righteous) self importance.  And they sure don’t make movies like they did in the 1970s.  I think that was the best era of American film.  Ben Bradlee says it best (from the film):

“You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad. Goodnight.”

Imagination proves life is worth living

A couple of weeks ago, I watched “Synecdoche, New York” with the brilliant Phillip Seymour Hoffman leading a delectable cast of independent actor types.  I say “types” because the layers of fiction and nonfiction within the film (and the roles reversed and layered and reversed again) were so head-spinny that it made my head spin like a terrible cliché.


The film was incredible.  Incredible that what started out as a dire look at what appeared to be the real world cracked open so deliciously and before me stood actors, cardboard cutouts, people, all echoing each other so brilliantly.  In a way, it reminded me of the intricate and mostly successful novel called The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball.

So the film opens with this depressive, apparently hypochondriac theatre director (Hoffman looking really terrible) whose best creative days are behind him.  His painter wife (played by the fabulous Ms. Catherine Kinnear) and child soon leave for a show in Berlin without him.  From that point on, things (like time, space, etc.) start to crack open.  Layers of paint and facade peel off.  Hoffman’s character gets involved with a woman who buys a house that is literally on fire.  Etc.

Grindingly depressing, maybe.


Phillip Seymour Hoffman holds the work together, like glue for layers of peeling wallpaper that wants to step off the wall and live a life that has nothing to do with two dimensions, thank you.

If you have the time and patience to sit through some grim, horrid, sad “what is the meaning of art?” types of questions, please watch this movie.

The fact of making a movie like this, and the human spirit embodied in a piece of work that sustains the crazy fantasy magical mess that unfolds (and folds back upon itself, several times), to me, proves the point that life is worth living.  It is such an incredible work of imagination.  This fact: that the filmmaker (Charlie Kaufman) made his film to the end, taking the magic of the world he created seriously is a feat of genius and love.   This type of real commitment to something (anything!) magical seems sadly rare in these cynical days.

The mere fact of the film undercuts the miserable character’s quest for meaning, and in a strange way, I found it completely uplifting.

Burl Ives and Wes Anderson

I saw “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and loved it.  Though many people consider Tennenbaums the holy grail of Wes Anderson-dom, before seeing Fox, I was most fond of “The Life Aquatic.”  (It’s still my favorite.  Too many wonderful moments and quotable lines to be displaced, and Seu Jorge doing David Bowie is unparalleled in the world of adaptations.  And Klaus!  I want to watch it again right now.)

Early in “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” I recognized some music that I hear often these days: Burl Ives singing “Fooba Wooba John.”  What a funny treat!

Although the adults at our house recoil at the sound of most music intended for kids, one beloved album is from my husband’s childhood–Burl Ives Sings Little White Duck and Other Children’s Favorites.  It might seem unlikely, but this morning I was actually craving that album.  Ives’ rendition of “The Little Engine That Could” made me a little misty-eyed over breakfast.  I don’t know why.  Maybe the wonder and hope of the two year old next to me, calling it the “sink I can song” or maybe just that I still believe that positive thinking is important.  (“I knew I could I knew I could I knew I could…”)

As usual, Wes Anderson chose perfect music for his latest movie.  There’s an earnest, post-cynical lens in that I love.  I see it in the Zissou saga, as I did in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and so now I find myself tapping a foot, humming “Buckeye Jim” around the house, and now, in addition to the warmth of Burl Ives’ voice, that tune delivers me Anderson’s glorious sunset orange hues, and lovable, heroic foxes.  And I smile a silly, true smile.

Looking tough

One of my favorite movies is “Dazed and Confused” by Richard Linklater. So many reasons, but I love watching even five random minutes of it. I remember keggers like they had by the moon tower. (Well, parts of keggers.) My high school boyfriend looked and acted kinda like Sasha Jenson, who is pictured wearing overalls on the right in this photo. Sasha Jenson’s extra cool, too, because he was in the original “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” movie, which is not as good at the long-running TV series, but it still counts for something.

When I watch even five minutes of that film, it makes me feel cooler than I actually am.

This scene below seems to be haunting me these days.

Cut to: Pink with an old couple leaving the game.


How’s your Dad doing?


Er, he’s doing great.


This arm ready to throw about two thousand yards next fall?


I don’t know we’ll see.


We’re depending on you boys and let me tell you what. You’re looking good. Thirteen starters coming back. Twenty-two lettermen looking tough.


Er yeah. Well you folks take care.


Okay good to see you Randy.

Richard Linklater can teach master classes at the department of Interdisciplinary Aesthetics. Hope everyone out there is looking tough.

Home for the holidays (Oh wait, I’m already here!)

My favorite movie to watch at this time of year is “Home for the Holidays” with the fabulous Ms. Holly Hunter. That movie was one of the first films I ever decided to buy. I got it on VHS, loaned it to a friend, I think it was eaten by her VCR, so I got the DVD. I watch it before Thanksgiving because, even though my family is not crazy in the same way, and I don’t have to fly anywhere because most of my family lives here, it helps me cope with whatever craziness does bubble up within my circle.

Plus it’s just funny. Robert Downey Jr. is great; I thought I always wanted to have a brother like him, though really it would only be great if he brought me a Leo Fish. The scene where Holly Hunter comes into her parents’ house and the cat throws up something that looks like a dead vole, well, what can be better than that?

Watch it. Just ’cause. Just for scuzz.