Monday, November 07, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, Oct. 31, 2011 - Nov. 6, 2011: Shifting Priorities(?) Edition

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—An anecdote, to start this log.

At around 5 p.m. on Saturday, I was sitting on a bench across from Lincoln Center, waiting around for a 6:15 p.m. screening of Robert Altman's California Split, a film I had never seen before. Suddenly, I received a text message from a friend of mine who had recently passed the New York bar exam and had planned on celebrating that evening; she informed me in her text that she and her friends had decided, as part of the celebration, to skate at the ice rink in Bryant Park. After maybe a minute of deliberation, I decided to do something I rarely do when it comes to films: I decided to forgo the movie and go join them. (Sorry, Bob.) My decision was influenced in part by the fact that one of my roommates has a copy of the out-of-print DVD of the film—albeit a DVD that is apparently missing about three minutes of footage that had to be cut as a result of music-rights issues. Apparently, the possibility of seeing a print of the film that would be considerably closer than its home-video counterpart to Altman's original vision wasn't quite enough to stave off the lure of socializing.

I recount this little anecdote to suggest the way I've been feeling about my usually rabid moviegoing habits since coming back from San Francisco: I haven't felt quite the same drive to see a film theatrically here in New York virtually every day, the way I was doing throughout, say, this past summer. Have I started to burn out on moviegoing in general? I don't think so, but...let me put it this way: I ended up seeing only one film, theatrically or otherwise, all weekend, and for once I was totally okay with that.

Where are my priorities, man???

Anyway...a side note: A friend of mine recently curated this pop-up art exhibit that went up at a space in the Meatpacking District last week; I omitted it from the log below only because, while I did get to see most of the show, I arrived at the tail end of its closing reception and ended up having my experience cruelly cut short when someone began shutting down the exhibit while I was being mesmerized by a video of one of the artists—a female, mind you—standing around in the nude and more or less melting an entire ice sculpture on her back (it was supposed to be a representation of the anxiety she felt when, a few years ago, she almost killed someone). So I feel like I didn't get as complete an experience as I would have liked. From what I saw, though, it was a pretty interesting exhibit all in all (that video, by an artist named Danielle Riechers, was probably my favorite part of it).

Onto the log!

The Heartbreak Kid (1972)


Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979, Jeff Margolis), seen at Anthology Film Archives in New York
Before seeing this (in a pink-ish but watchable 35mm print on Thursday night), I had only seen this legendary comedian in a handful of his film roles; I had never seen his stand-up. After seeing this famous filmed performance...well, I can certainly see why he was considered one of the, if not the, best, in the business. This is stand-up comedy as performance art—and I use the word "art" in the highest sense: the kind of art that has the power to illuminate aspects of the human condition. Seriously. In Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, Pryor riffs on everything from parenting to boxing with Muhammad Ali to sex, and he often does so by inhabiting various objects, animals, and even at one point a heart attack; if his ability to go physically and emotionally naked in this way isn't a sign of true artistry, I don't know what is. Most importantly, though, all of his material seems to come from a deeply, and sometimes darkly, personal place. Pryor's delivery is what makes his observations funny, but some of the observations themselves have the power to stick in your throat even as you're laughing maniacally. And make no mistake: Richard Pryor: Live in Concert is truly hilarious stuff all around.

The Heartbreak Kid (1972, Elaine May), seen at Walter Reade Theater in New York
Here's another comedy that is filled to the gills with the kind of hilarity that carries an undertone of discomfiting seriousness to it. The perpetually underrated Elaine May's subject here is, to put it simply, the male ego, finding its embodiment in Lenny Cantrow (Charles Grodin), a handsome, callow guy who rushes into a marriage with Lila (Jeannie Berlin, May's daughter, who I also saw just a few weeks ago giving a great performance in Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret) only to find himself dissatisfied with her as a partner; he then meets blonde dream-girl Kelly (Cybill Shepherd) and immediately decides she, rather than Lila, is the one. Through all his machinations to try to win both Kelly and her protective father (Eddie Albert) over, as well as his attempts to break off his marriage with Lila, May observes with a detached but not wholly unsympathetic eye, twisting Lenny's vacuous "determination" for a wealth of cutting character comedy, all the way to a final shot that arguably says more about the limits of American ambition in one facial expression than Paul Thomas Anderson did with that hysterical 10-minute bowling-alley epilogue in There Will Be Blood.


Ravel: Orchestral Works (1975, Orchestre de Paris/Jean Martinon)
I've been on something of a Maurice Ravel kick recently...and no, it has nothing to do with Boléro, that perennially popular bonbon which was featured in two films I saw recently (Blake Edwards's 10 and Sion Sono's Love Exposure). Actually, Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin—a short solo-piano suite that may or may not have anything to do with French Baroque composer François Couperin, and of which four of its six movements were later orchestrated—suddenly popped into my head one day and marinated there until I was finally driven to download this two-disc collection of Ravel performances from a conductor known mostly for his performances of French classical music. Overall, it's a fine set. The orchestral playing isn't always top-flight (the brass sometimes sounds more recessed than usual, though maybe that's more the result of the recording venue than the playing), but it's always spirited and characterful; and Martinon's interpretations are generally marked by a vivid sense of play and imagination (especially necessary qualities for something like Ravel's Ma mère l'Oye).

Ravel—a 20th-century musical impressionist along with his compatriot Claude Debussy—wrote a lot of gorgeous music. If all you know of his work is the aforementioned Boléro, then you all are missing out on some seriously beautiful stuff.

Bossanova (1990, Pixies) [third listen]
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998, Lucinda Williams) [second listen]
I visited San Francisco's Amoeba Music record store while I was out in the Bay Area visiting about two weeks ago (has it really been that long?) and decided to pick up these two albums on CD; hey, they were cheap, and I didn't care that they were used copies. Because I had the CDs on hand, I listened through both of them, in succession, on Monday night while unpacking my suitcase. I played them more as background music than anything else, though, so my listing them on this log is more for the sake of completeness than out of anything new I can say about them: Bossanova is still my favorite Pixies album (though this time around, I found it a bit less consistent than I remembered it to be), and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road is still Williams's finest collection of songs.

Post (1995, Björk)
Homogenic (1997, Björk)
As I expected, Björk gets a bit bolder with her experimentation in her second solo album Post; it's the kind of album that isn't afraid to juxtapose techno beats and trip-hop atmospherics with, say, a big-band jazz number ("It's Oh So Quiet"). Neither Debut nor Post, though, could quite prepare me for Homogenic, which goes deeper and darker with its electronic sonorities, and features the Icelandic pop princess sounding positively angry in some of these cuts, sporting a snarl that is an embodiment of "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." I'm impressed more than moved, to be honest, but I found it still intriguing enough to soldier on in exploring Björk's discography.


Miss Lonelyhearts (1933, Nathanael West)
Based on this and The Day of the Locust, West is a writer with a style that will take some getting used to if you go into his works expecting "realism." West isn't afraid to blow up realistically grounded scenarios into something near-mythic in scale; thus the apocalyptic finish of The Day of the Locust, though that certainly didn't come out of nowhere. Miss Lonelyhearts likewise becomes much more than the story of the titular newspaper advice columnist's internal struggle of trying to maintain optimism amidst extreme disillusionment; that internal struggle eventually acquires grand religious overtones, as if Miss Lonelyhearts was trying to move Heaven and Earth to hold onto his belief in the goodness of people and of life. It's also often bitterly funny and ironic, which is partly why West is able to get away with his deliberate overscaling. How much of it is meant to be taken seriously? Maybe some of it. Maybe none of it. The fact that we can't always tell is part of what makes West's novella such a fascinating read. 

Howl and Other Poems (1956, Allen Ginsberg)
Yes, I bought a copy of this book at the historic City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, if nothing else just to say that I bought the famously controversial volume from that actual bookstore. Then I read the poetry. All I can say is: Holy shit. Loads of magnificently boundary-pushing surrealistic imagery tied to a painfully personal vision, but not without a redeeming sense of humanity and even a kind of rough spirituality underpinning it all. Howl is pretty magnificent, but the rest are hardly also-rans ("Sunflower Sutra" is another one that I found particularly memorable).

Another realization: I need to read more poetry! I'm open to suggestions for a poet whose work I should read next.

1 comment:

odienator said...

Blegh! Bjork! Though I cop to really liking her take on It's Oh So Quiet. The video is some kind of awesome.

The Heartbreak Kid is far better than the Farrelly brothers remake. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert is the funniest of his three stand-up comedy movies; his heart attack routine was hilarious until I actually had a heart attack!

I read Miss Lonelyhearts eons ago. Not a big West fan as I've always felt he didn't know when to stop. (And his Homer Simpson is a lot less fun than the TV show's!) Howl is a classic, and it's fitting for you to buy it in San Francisco.

As for foregoing movies: To paraphrase Avenue Q, "there is life outside your movie theater." Enjoy it! You're young, says Old Odie. I was feeling guilty about not writing much of anything lately, but I quickly got over it. I'm enjoying my time off, both from work and from blogs. I have to return to both of them on Wednesday, though!