Last Picture Show
LeSueur Minnesota, July 2011
While watching last Sunday's Academy Award Show, it struck me that everything thing about the industry seemed a little less- Kodak is bankrupt, the "Best Picture" nominees were, for the most part, not exactly blockbusters, but even more importantly, they didn't capture the imagination of a large group of movie goers.
War Horse and Moneyball were genre pictures, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Help were strong dramas but not exactly timeless masterpieces, while The Tree of Life was a personal vision of director Terence Malick. The Artist was the big winner of course- a throwback to the silent films of the twenties- it was pleasant and well done but I can't help but think that if it had come out in the twenties it would have been just another film. Hugo, Martin Scorsese's 3-D adaptation of Brian Selznick's graphic novel, a technical tour de force, was also tribute to early film makers.
There have never been more movies being made. HD TV on large screens in the home is replacing the trip to the cineplex, video on demand is on your computer or even in your pocket, but the theater experience is soon to be a thing of the past. Expensive, unpleasant (more and more ads before the show) with ear-splitting (and often lo-fi) sound and even low-quality digital projection.
Maybe it's just me, am I too old? I don't know. But grandeur of HOLLYWOOD is fading fast. It was always a dream factory, and there were always more bad films made than good ones. There just aren't very many sweet dreams anymore.
Which leaves us with Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Written by Woody, on a typewriter(!), this subtle musing on desire, art and bygone times may well be the film that will be remembered in the next millennium.
"You've never spoken of your Father."
The deli on Pike Place was crowded, as it always was on a Saturday afternoon. Pastrami on sourdough, Seattle's best. This conversation was long overdue. I hadn't been avoiding it; there was little to say and none of it made for a good story.
"You want the official version, or my speculations?"
Molly's eyes narrowed a bit. "Both. Start with the "official" one."
"My mother didn't like to talk about him. Whenever she did, which was only after I asked, she said that she didn't know. She had been, by her own admission, 'more than a little wild' when she attended college, she didn't regret having me, that much was clear by the way she raised me."
"What do you think?" She wasn't buying it. Just as I didn't- once I was old enough to know about how the world works.
"I'm not going to call mom a liar, especially since she isn't around anymore to defend herself, but I think she knew him, I think she was still in contact with him. There were those phone calls made late at night; those were the only times that she would lock herself in her bedroom. When I was a junior in high school and thinking about college, there had been several of these sessions. After the calls she would be obviously upset. After I was accepted at CMU the calls seemed to stop."
"Why Carnegie Mellon? You were smart enough for MIT."
"CMU had always been one of the better schools in computer science, but they were far ahead on developing their information systems program- real world applications. I only had one chance of making it, as mom always told me, they seemed to be my best shot."
"So you think your mother was talking to your father?"
"I don't know, maybe I'm just projecting, searching for someone who may not even exist anymore."
"And you mother died in a car crash... it was just after you went away to school?"
"Yes. Her life insurance paid for my college, that was her legacy."
"Do you have any other relatives, my man of mysteries?"
"There's her sister, in Iowa, never married."
"That's why you do what you do, isn't it?" She smiled slightly.
"You're a searcher. I could tell it when I met you. You're looking for your father, and a replacement for your mother, aren't you? That's why you work with those spooks." She wasn't smiling now.
"We prefer to be called 'information specialists'. They're alright, really, but yeah, they are different."
"No socializing, no company picnics, no nothing outside of work."
"It's the nature of the job, I'm sorry."
"I know, I'm looking for something too. I'm tired of living alone."
Beneath the beret.
Bump heads with Sharon every Friday.
Used by permission
The Restless Urge
As my 5 or 6 faithful readers know already, I've begun posting some longer form writing interspersed with my regular shenanigans. They are part of a bigger thing which should make itself manifest as the year progresses. There is a link in the sidebar to a master page listing all the posts in order. There will also be a link at the bottom of each post redirecting to the master list. In my perverse way, I won't tell you if they are fiction or not until the end of the post! This is a work-in-progress, so there may be occasional edits and rewrites in previous posts. I plan on writing one of these every 6 to 10 days... Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy them!
Truly an odd couple. The aimless rebel and an aspiring medievalist. Touring "Fair Albion" on a shoestring. The trip got off to a rocky start, but by the time we made it to Scotland things had improved. Somewhat. She did manage a smile or two, but it was becoming obvious to the both of us that our relationship would never be the same.
Once the bond was broken all those little quirks which were once found adorable in each other quickly became insufferable. Vanity prohibits me from enumerating any of mine, but her disgusting fixation of chewing on some ratty shards of her "blue bankie", her comfort talisman, re-emerged on our European vacation. She used it in much the same manner as Linus Van Pelt did in the "Peanuts" comics.
So when we chanced upon The Blue Blanket public house in Edinburgh I thought it amusing to snap a picture. I suggested that we dine there, but evidently she perceived it (rightly so) as a thinly veiled insult.
We came back to the States, and even lived together for another eighteen months. The "blue bankie" finally disintegrated completely, as did our relationship. Both our lives really began then- she to Harvard Law School, and me to a pointless career in show biz.
"Methinks a boat ride is in order."
Whenever the boss started speaking in Shakespearean English I knew something was up.
"OK, I'll bite. What?"
"Won't you let me take you on a sea cruise?"
"Mrs. Robinson, I believe you're trying to seduce me."
I had been working at Applied Diffusion Research for over six months. Most of the cases were routine: deadbeat dads, disappearing embezzlers, sex offenders with new identities, all the people who didn't want to be found. We'd find them and bill the interested parties. They always paid. There was another class of cases, however, those which involved political intrigue. As the Wicked Witch of the West once said: "These things must be done delicately..." They were strictly a cash+expenses deal, with a big chunk of the money upfront.
I had heard of the boss's "Sea Cruises". They were usually done when only the highest level of secrecy was needed. The boss had a little runabout, kept in the marina behind the Naval Reserve building in Seattle's Lake Union. In theory, when you were out on the lake with the motor running no one could overhear or monitor your conversation. Later that afternoon we boarded the nondescript vessel- "Fleet ADR" as it was known in the office. It was a classic- a simple motorboat with a teak deck supporting a divided windshield and small canopy. The interior was spartan- two wooden seats, a wheel, and a dashboard with only an ignition switch and a throttle. My boss gave the interior a thorough examination before we cast off. No bugs. The motor sputtered, then caught and we headed out in the direction of the Gasworks Park on the other side of the lake.
"You went to school with Senator Clarkson's son, is that not so?" Her overly formal style of speech led me to believe that this would not be an idle chat.
"Yes, I knew him, as you well know." There were few secrets between staff members at ADR.
"We need your special knowledge for this case. Or, should I say, these cases."
Billy Clarkson. My old roommate, my doppelgänger. We were almost dead ringers for each other. He had a way with women and also had a learning block when it came to English Lit. His myopic instructor never figured out that I had taken his finals for him, raising his C- average to a solid B. When he had two dates for an evening, he would offer me one. He never really cared for any of them; he was a "Four F" kind of guy. He gave me the girls who he thought wouldn't put out. I was the perfect gentleman, although a couple of those girls were really lonely and wanted someone to do more than just talk. These I obliged.
"As you know, Senator Clarkson is running for president. His son has become a potential liability."
"What's he been up to? Isn't this a job for the journalists?"
"We've been contacted by the Senator's people. They've lost him. They think he may jeopardize the campaign if he were to emerge in, shall we say, an inopportune circumstance."
"Do we have anything on him?"
"Almost nothing since he left college- that's why I want you in on this case. You know him better than anyone. We need to make sure that little Billy remains a non-factor until after the election."
"What we do with him when we find him?" I didn't like taking on an open-ended case like this- too many things could go wrong, too many players involved, too much at stake. The boat had made a lazy figure-8 on the lake, we were almost back to where we had started and were nearing the marina.
"Well, that depends a lot on what he's up to. You might have to babysit him for a while."
"Location work." Molly wouldn't like this. We had gotten real comfortable in our living arrangements over the last few of months. This would be the first real test.
After we tied up the boat we walked back to the parking lot.
"Are you in?"
"So let's get to work."
Just scrub the Sharon under cold running water right before cooking. Remove any deep eyes or bruises with a paring knife.
Food prep is a snap with Sharon, Fridays at FITK
From the Mouth of the Whale
A novel, by Sjón
Telegram Books, London, 2011
Translated by Victoria Cribb
This story of Jónas Pálmason, a self-taught seventeen-century Icelandic healer, naturalist and heretic (loosely based on the real Jon Gudmundsson the Learned), is a wild hallucination from start to finish. Sjón's vivid imagery and constant shifting of tone makes it a somewhat difficult read, but I found it to be rewarding enough to stick with to the end. Jónas is a misfit in a world of petty and small minded men: he is persecuted for years, banished to a small island, is humiliated and threatened. His tale captures the feel of 17th century Iceland. The inspiration of the natural world and Jónas' sometimes mystical interpretation of it is a constant theme. He perseveres even as his children and wife are cruelly taken from him. His merciless condemnation of those who have power over him could be taken as Sjon's indictment of the modern day financial "Vikings" who nearly destroyed the Icelandic economy, but that might just be me reading too much into it. There are numerous incidents based on Icelandic history (including the slaughter of Basque whalers) while other events occur which are fantastic, to say the least (see title.)
I can't think of another contemporary writer who is working in these areas. Sjón is a modern, but this writing is presented in an almost archaic style. Victoria Cribb's translation realizes this beautifully- I think she works better in this mode than she does in modern crime fiction. If you are looking for a challenge, this might be just the book for you. It is is more than a bit "Icelandic"- the wider the knowledge of Iceland's history you have, the more you'll appreciate this unique book.
If Sharon had started the tradition.
Give the gift of Sharon this Sharontines.
Candy is dandy but Sharon's quiver is quicker.
Used by permission
Someone left Sharon's cake out in the rain.
Who would do such a thing?!
Commiserate with Sharon, Fridays at FITK
Used by permission
Sunday Morning in Seattle
"Sean, you still haven't answered my question."
Sunday morning. The rocky view from the ground level window was elegant, if somewhat severe.
"It's a data job, that's all, file herding in the great Northwest."
We had been literally living under her mother for three months. The basement apartment was OK- quiet and private. Molly had returned to work in an HR department at a large insurance outfit. It was a branch of the same company where she had been working when I met her in Chicago.
"What kind of data- like financials, or background checks, or social networking?"
I never talked about my work. It was a no-win situation. In this kind of work if you were ever found out you were finished.
"Yes to everything. It's all private. It's boring, really."
That was a lie. I was a developer. I would be assigned a target, usually a person, but sometimes a business or organization. My job was to build a workable case against the target to the point where a larger team of "information specialists" could fill in the gaps and bring it to fruition. The start of case was a bit dull, but when you got a lead on your target things developed in a hurry and it could become extremely intense. Then you presented your findings to your client. They weren't always happy, but they were usually satisfied.
"You're a private eye, aren't you?"
"I'm just someone who checks data for consistency and validity."
Not exactly a lie, but not the whole truth either.
"Hmmph. OK, I'll take your word for it. Let's get up go over to The Grateful Bread and get some breakfast."
"Yes. I'll even shave, so I won't look so mysterious."
"Don't check my data, alright? I mean my past life wasn't that outrageous, but I can't be completely naked- draw the line at my skin, OK?"
"OK, Molly. I won't."
The eternal dynamic. From Adam and Eve to the present, it's still the dominant pattern of human interaction: boys and girls together yet somehow apart. Getting together with old schoolmates- those people you still know but don't interact with on a regular basis- and the old back-and-forth begins anew. A bluff, a challenge, light hearted arguments made with twinkling eyes. It is as if you had only stepped out of the room for a minute- rather than the ten or twenty or forty years it had been since you last spoke to each other.
And so the facade goes up: the hiding of what you don't want the other to know, but what they do know, and what you know they know and what they know you know they know. After all of the stings and disappointments in a lifetime spent in toil and drudgery these people will always remain your foundation. They are the ones who defined your sense of self, the ones who kindled your first spark of passion, the ones whose faults have been washed away in the rains of time.
You greet each other and talk but the crucial words remain unsaid. The words that you want to share. The words which you couldn't say then. The words you won't say now.
Then there is that moment you share in a dark corner with an old crush. Your face is close to hers, you shut your eyes and and then you kiss. Suddenly, for that moment, you are both seventeen again- her kiss is the same, you are surprised at how the memory returns in an instant. When you finally do open your eyes you are once more both sixty-one but she is smiling and then she says, "I love you" and you say "I love you" and the words which couldn't be spoken are said at last and you both know that the bond which you share will never be broken.
Future of Hope + Sumarlandið
"The only thing that can help us
is to believe in our country
and to believe in our people."
The UK documentary Future of Hope finally made it to Minnesota, via The Nordic Lights Film Festival. I first learned of it from Alda's blog The Iceland Weather Report in September of 2010, so this isn't exactly the latest news. Still, it does portray a group of Icelanders who were interested in new directions for for their country. Things have changed considerably since the documentary was made, some for the better, although not so much as far as politics go. The story of a restaurant owner who was mercilessly crushed in the Kreppa was the most gripping part- the peculiar Icelandic mortgage system is as big a villain as any. But most of the film looked forward- to renewable resources and more self-sufficiency.
After the screening, a trio of "experts" commented and answered questions. It was a nice touch, but kind of lost the thread at the end. The second film was Summerland (Sumarlandið), directed by Grímur Hákonarson who also didBræðrabylta. It is a light comedy/drama about a couple running a "Ghost House" attraction in suburban Kópavogur:
The always wonderful Ólafía Hrönn Jónsdóttir plays Lára, a medium and friend of the elves who dwell in the rocks in Iceland. Her husband, played by Kjartan Guðjónsson, is on the verge of losing the house when a couple of German art collectors offer him 50,000 Euros for the Elf-stone in their back garden. He sells the stone (without Lára's knowledge) and things go downhill from there. It sounds ridiculous, but this gentle farce contains a subtle family study. The parallel between this family and the real-life restauranteur in Future made this double feature a good pairing. Summerland may be available for download in the future, it's a worthwhile little film. Future of Hope is already out of date, but does possess some historical significance.
Sharon, Lettuce & Tomato
Seats, fruits, and leaves, with Sharon at FITK
Used by permission
Iceland Airwaves 2012
Iceland Airwaves crowd, 2011
Numerous videos and films have covered Iceland Airwaves in the past, most notably the full-length Screaming Masterpiece (2005) which derived most of its footage from the festival. None of them have really given more than just fractured glimpses, and none have really captured the feeling of what is like to be part of the scene. There's a new promo video out, sponsored by Icelandair. It is really just a redone version of last year's but with some new scenes, interviews and a little tighter editing.
AIRWAVES- a Rockumentary by Gudjon and Bowen Staines gives a coherent look at what is essentially an unclassifiable event: over one hundred Icelandic acts, numerous international groups poised on the cusp of greatness, in an incomparable setting. Don't take my word for it. Watch the 40 minute video, in full-screen HD if you can, it really gives a sense of being there.
There are some problems the film only addressed obliquely, however. The festival may becoming a victim of its own success- more shows are being steered toward Harpa, a large complex of auditoria on the waterfront. It was built by somewhat dubious financing. Harpa is almost the antithesis of the festival's homegrown roots. Pushing the date into November may mean that those sunny scenes of frolics in the Blue Lagoon (shown in the video) are already a memory. Still, it is the spirit of the young (and young at heart) people of Iceland which is what The Airwaves Festival is all about.
I'm almost ready to make my reservations.
For those who can't wait until November, Live in the Lobby is a weekly concert series held at the Downtown Hostel. Many thanks to Auður Ösp, from the I Heart Reykjavík web site for the tip. I've seen many clips from shows held there- it is a very intimate and inviting place. Be sure to check out Auður's site- it is full of ideas for fun in Reykjavík and the surrounding area (that's her in the screenshot above- right below the woman showing her teeth in the center of the picture.)