Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jackson at Waterman's Farm Market

We went to Waterman's with Tom and Dione and Dorothy yesterday, and I have a lot more pictures of that trip that I plan to post a little bit later today, once I sort out the good ones from the bad ones. This is one of the good ones of Jackson, and some of the other good ones are of the dinosaur that smashes the pumpkins.

Deep Thoughts #44 - Special Topical ALCS Edition

Way to go, you wacky Rangers of Texas. An excellent start to the post-Steinbrenner era for the Yankees is to not even make the World Series.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nowhere Boy

I don’t know how much of this film is historically accurate and how much of it has been exaggerated, or possibly even invented, in the name of narrative filmmaking; but having said that, I am also not entirely sure that I want to know how much of it is historically accurate and how much of it is not. That probably sounds counterintuitive; surely it is desirable for any storyteller, who aims to render a tale not of his or her own making, to be as loyal to the truth as possible. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, however, does not always make for a compelling (or even interesting) narrative film. But while the facts of John Lennon’s young-adulthood might not have been especially interesting to him at the time or to an objective observer even now, the fact of what he became later in life imbues those earlier events with an ex post facto interest that would not have been warranted if he had wound up being just another guitar player from Liverpool.

Here’s what I do know: Aaron Johnson eases into the role of John Lennon as gradually as he portrays Lennon easing into the life of the person he was always meant to be. The transformation - for both Johnson and Lennon - is remarkable, from inattentive young cur who is warned that he is going nowhere, to cocksure, strutting guitar player in the mold (and uncanny likeness) of Buddy Holly. Anne-Marie Duff is ebullient as Lennon’s mother, Julia - an intoxicating synthesis of perky Reese Witherspoon and smoldering Brittany Murphy, whose very being explains so much about how John Lennon became John Lennon. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Lennon’s aunt, Mimi Smith, close to the vest, the older sister whose bearing of the cross of her younger sister is tempered by her love for her nephew. Thomas is devastating in a scene toward the end of the film in which she reveals to John much of the truth, about his mother and about how his aunt came to raise him, that had previously been kept from him.

The film casts a spell that makes John Lennon, the legend, seem almost inevitable. It does this at the same time that it demonstrates that certain tragic facts of Lennon’s childhood and adolescence left indelible marks on him that surely changed the path he would take toward the legend he would become. And if the whole thing drifts toward hagiography, well…what are you going to do? The Beatles are pretty popular, and it’s probably not much of a stretch to say that Lennon was - and is - the most popular of the Beatles. And in the end, art is what we make it. If I look up the history and find out how accurate this film is or is not, it might just break that spell. Obviously, I can’t speak for people who might have been there and who know exactly what the truth looked like (Paul McCartney, say); the film will speak to those people in entirely different ways. Is the purpose, then, to perpetuate a myth? Pay an homage? Simply entertain? I don’t know those things, either - and, once again, don’t care. I like rock and roll, I like playing guitar, and I like the Beatles. The film is chock full of all three, and long before it was over, I knew that I wanted to listen to some Beatles music on the way home. (Fortunately, I have a copy of Revolver in my car.)

Here are some more things I know: John Lennon was not born with a guitar in his hand, which means that at some point he had to pick one up for the first time and be given instruction on how to play it properly; John Lennon was not born one third of a set of triplets that included Paul McCartney and George Harrison, which means that at some point he had to meet those guys for the first time; John Peddie was born in 1975, five years after the Beatles broke up, which means that he was not there to witness either of the preceding items in this list. It is conceivable that two different people who were alive to witness those things might one day tell me the story of how those things happened; it is even possible that they would both attempt to present me with the exact same set of facts; but it is categorically impossible that they would tell two identical stories.

Every recitation of fact has an element of fiction. You know that campfire game that starts with one person whispering something in the next person’s, and so on around the circle until the person who told it first is told it again by the last person to hear it for the first time? It works because stories change in the telling. That’s how myths and legends are born. Maybe it’s a failing of human nature that we want every detail of certain people’s lives to be interesting, even though that, too, is impossible; but it also human nature to be fascinated and inspired by achievement. Maybe it wasn’t an awe-inspiring event the first time John Lennon and Paul McCartney played guitar together (and considering their ages at the time, the odds are probably good that it wasn’t - although the film does suggest that McCartney was the better player when he met Lennon). But maybe it was. We like to think that it must have been - or maybe that it should have been - given everything that came later. Once again, it’s just human nature. We like to imagine.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Spirit & Place 2010 and the Indy Winter Farmers Market

In addition to National Novel Writing Month, November is notable because it contains the Spirit & Place Festival, another one of those things we say we are going to get around to every year but never do. This year’s theme is “Food for Thought,” and one of the events takes place at Irvington United Methodist Church on November 7th. The Irvington SkillShare “Feast”ival will “explore the many ways to be more self-reliant from garden to kitchen.” More details from the festival website here and at the event’s blog. Speaking of food, I ran into my mom and dad today at the final (sigh) Irvington Farmers Market of the season, and my mom mentioned that the Indy Winter Farmers Market will be in a new location this year. I looked that up on the magic Internets and discovered that they also have a blog, and that their new location is in the Maxwell building at 530 East Ohio Street, which is actually in the heart of downtown. They were somewhere up on East Street last year, and way the hell up at 25th and Central prior to that. A location on Ohio Street will make it much easier to hit the farmers market and take in a walk downtown all in one go, especially if Jackson is out of sorts. We only made it to the winter farmers market once last year - which was unfortunate, because they had a lot of great stuff, including a crèpe stand - so I’m hoping we’ll be able to get there a little more often this season, now that it’s more centrally located.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010

National Novel Writing Month is almost here again, and I’m going to take it one step further this year than I did last year: I’m going to sign up on their website and post my progress on the magic Internets for all the world to see. I don’t recall exactly how I approached it last year, but I’m pretty sure I just started writing on November 1st without a thought in my head as to what I was going to write about for the next thirty days. This year, I have a vague idea of what I want to write about, and I even have some notes and a very short outline to help me get started.

What I’m not sure about is exactly how I want to approach the writing. Part of me wants to just start writing and not look back, to play with the style of writing I’ve been experimenting with for awhile - long sentences with little punctuation that approximate a sort of stream of consciousness that focuses on moments and details that are important to the narrator without sacrificing the progression of the narrative itself. That’s what I did with the story that was published in Ichabod’s Sketchbook; it was over 800 words, with only one punctuation mark - a period at the end. It’s easy enough to keep your head wrapped around what you’re writing about when the piece is that short - but it’s much harder to maintain focus when the work gets longer.

I want it to be serious work, but it’s going to be difficult to be serious and maintain the breakneck pace necessary to get 50,000 words written in thirty days; and that’s a big part of why I just want to lay into it and see where it goes, where the inner monolgue takes me and what it tells me about a blocked writer and why he’s blocked. (If I can ever shake the monkey of the elusive first novel off my back, I have a feeling that The Blocked Writer is going to become a pretty regular theme in my writing.)

I have a working title and the idea that it’s going to be five sections of 10,000 words each and that it will be constructed similarly to Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis in that the sections are all related without there being much in the way of direct transition between them. I also plan to experiment with point of view and tense, something that I have been interested in doing for some time but for which I have never found quite the right outlet (due in part, perhaps, to the aforementioned goddamn monkey).

Anyone else out there planning to participate in National Novel Writing Month - either officially or unofficially? if so, please add a comment to this post - I’d love to hear about it. Happy writing!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Jack Goes Boating

For his directorial debut, Philip Seymour Hoffman has chosen an oddly likeable little story about life and love that is based on the stage play of the same name by Bob Glaudini (who also wrote the screenplay). The story follows Jack (Hoffman), an unkmept sort going through the awkward motions of announcing his affections for, and then courting, a woman he meets through friends. He’s a limo driver and she’s a telemarketer, and they both exist out there at the edge of life where even the hungriest lions won’t feed because the herd is just too sickly. That’s sort of the long way around saying that this is not Jersey Shore or True Blood, where all the people are very pretty but completely vapid.

The characters here are at least conceivable, even if the eclectic brush strokes are a bit too broad. Jack is a little bit rasta, even though he only listens to his reggae music on his Walkman (yes…a Walkman) and even though we only see the ratty dreads in his hair on the rare occasions when he takes off his skull cap. Connie (Amy Ryan) is even more of a mystery, a shrinking violet with intimacy issues that almost completely mask a strong, confident sexuality. They are supported, individually and as a prospective couple, by their married friends, Clyde and Lucy, who are having issues of their own.

Clyde also drives a limo (for the same company as Jack, whose uncle owns it) and Lucy is Connie’s supervisor, so there’s quite a bit of overlap between the personal and professional lives of the four individuals and the two couples; but Hoffman handles the juxtapositioning pretty well, employing mostly-effective cross-cuts and the occasional montage. The cross-cuts now and then splice together scenes that are maybe a little too brief, as though Hoffman is more concerned with relaying particular bits of information rather than fully setting a scene; but ultimately this is just mildly distracting rather than deleterious. The montage sequences are generally more effective, as they conform more to the languid (but not turgid) pace of the story - and are almost always shot through with ethereal, contemplative songs on the soundtrack, a collection of hipster tracks in the spirit of Zach Braff’s selections for Garden State.

The story introduces a worm of discontent in the form of a chef who teaches Jack how to cook so he can make dinner for Connie. The chef is also Lucy’s former lover, and though Clyde introduces the chef to Jack in part as a way to show that he and Lucy have worked out the issues of her infidelity, it becomes clear that Clyde is not as right with it in his heart as he claims to be. Hoffman does a pretty good job of weaving this subplot into the story, allowing it to help Jack while it brings down Clyde and Lucy. Much of the film takes place in the compact interior of Clyde and Lucy’s apartment, and the small space helps to focus our attention on how the little things, once they get into your head, can bounce around in there and make you crazy.

All of this leads to the third-act dinner party, an occasion set up so that Jack can cook for Connie, who claims that no one has ever cooked for her before. The film jumps the rails here in a few places, but Hoffman mostly keeps it under control; and whatever slips there are do not doom the project. Ultimately, it’s an awkward but sweet story that mostly works, despite a few slips and the occasionally obvious hand of a first-time director. Having said that, though, it must also be said that Hoffman shows tremendous potential for weaving storylines together. Future projects are sure to be of interest.