“God’s Own Country” does seem like a “Brokeback Mountain II”

God’s Own Country”, directed by Francis Lee, may come across as a “Brokeback Mountain II” from Ang Lee a dozen years ago.

This time, the setting is in Yorkshire in northern England, apparently in the 1960s or so, before modern technology. Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) seems a little squeamish over his farming duties – in the opening scene is vomits when getting up on a day he has to help a sheep deliver a baby.  His parents, especially mom, seem concerned about his manliness.  In a nearby town, he finds nelly boys who make him feel a little manlier by comparison. Gay life went on in rural England, even only a couple decades after Alan Turing’s tragedy (Britain decriminalized sodomy in 1967). When a roughshod immigrant, Georghe (Alex Secareanu) arrives from communist Romania, the new guy first intimidates Johnny because the comrade really is very good at doing everything on a farm.  The time of this movie may have actually been intended to coincide with the fall of the Soviet bloc and Ceausescu.  But soom Georghe’s dominating (very cis-male) behavior entices Johnny and they fall in love, with some passionate scenes when out on the range with bedrolls.

A family crisis ensues when dad has a stroke, and Johnny has to really take care of dad personally.  That leads to a whirlwind plot climax in the men’s relationship.

The film has graphic cinematography of the live animal birth scenes, with how farm boys really do this.  The animals “know” and “trust” them (“it’s only me”). I’m reminded of a live birth scene in Walt Disney’s “The Vanishing Prairie” (1954), a bit of a sensation at the time.

The film was preceded by a 10-minute short “Breakfast” by Tyler Byrnes. A young man David (Altan Alburo) invites a boyfriend Alex (Tommy Bernadi) (quite handsome but apparently with dysmorphia) with an eating disorder to share a fattening breakfast. The film contains David Lynch-like scenes with chest tunes invading.

The show, sponsored by Reel Affirmations of the DC Center at the Gala Hispania theater in the Columbia Heights area of Washington DC,  was preceded by a stand-up by Rayceen Pendarvis, advertising himself as 68, who got everyone one into a brief hug-fest.  That isn’t my own personal message, but that’s for another time.

Link for Yorkshire picture (wiki).

Name:  “Gods Own Country”
Director, writer:  Francis Lee
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Reel Affirmations, 2017/10/19 opening night, Gala Hispania, Washington DC, sold out
Length:  104
Rating:  NA (explicit enough for NC-17, artistic and dramatic film for adults, not considered pornographic)
Companies:  Samuel Goldwyn
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, October 20, 2017 at 7:45 PM EDT)

“Beach Rats”: working class gay teen boy comes of age in Brooklyn, but may stumble into creating a tragedy

Beach Rats” (2017), directed by Eliza Hittman, makes the case that some young cis-male men are indeed bisexual, or at least ambiguous.

The protagonist is the rather smooth Frankie (Harris Dickinson), who lives near the beach apparently in Coney Island (Brooklyn) and helps take care of a father dying of cancer. He has a girl  friend Simone (Madeleine Weinstein) and gets intimate with her, but has some trouble performing.  In the mean time, he sneaks down to the basement and connects with older gay men on a webcam.

In time he meets peers (the “rats”) closer to his own age, who want to meet up on the beach, maybe for sex, maybe to trade and smoke weed.  Frankie demonstrates his street smarts in various ways, like the way he uses pawn shops to get cash. He does demonstrate some sense, as I recall, in asking about condoms.  As the film progresses, one of the other men only slightly older than him becomes a target.  A robbery on the beach may leave the other young man drowned, and the movie ends with Frankie not knowing if he has been party to murder.

The story reminds me of the real life case of Justin Berry, whom Kurt Eichenwald wrote about in the New York Times in 2005. The real story did not end so tragically, as far as I know.  Older men who contact underage teens through webcams may be breaking the law (depending on age of consent) or may run afoul of federal child pornography laws.

The film has a handball sports scene near a boardwalk.  I remember a place called Seaside Courts on the Coney Island boardwalk, with paddleball courts, which created a small personal sequence for me in 1989-1990.  It is north of the aquarium.  I don’t know if it is still there, as I was last in the area in 2004.

The film won best director at Sundance. Apparently it was shot in super 16, but looks quite crisp.

I saw the film at the Maryland Film Festival in the third floor auditorium of the newly renovated Parkway Theater in Baltimore, on North Ave. and Charles Street.

Name:  “Beach Rats
Director, writer:  Eliza Hittman
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1 (16 mm)
When and how viewed:  2017/5/7, Parkway Theater, Baltimore, Maryland Film Festival, sold out
Length:  98
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Neon
Link:  Lincoln Center

(Published: Wednesday, May 10, 2107 at 6:15 PM EDT)

“The Last Word”: a journalist is prodded to tell an aging woman’s story favorably, and looks deeper

The Last Word” (directed by Mark Pellington, written by Stuart Ross Frank) attracted my attention because if invokes the theme as a writer as a hired hand to convey somebody else’s message.

Anne (Amanda Seyfried) is the obituary writer for a smaller Los Angeles area newspaper.  I was a little surprised it could afford such a position, and he keeping her job is an issue.  One day her not too cis boss, Ron Odom (Tom Everett Scott) calls her in to meet with the paper’s largest advertising supporter, Harriet (Shirley MacLaine), now a rich retired businessman living alone, her husband (Philip Baker Hall) having left her.  Harriet wants Anne to write a favorable obit while Harriet is alive.

Truth is the territory of journalists, and pretty soon Anne finds out that nobody likes Harriet who, to be sure, is slowly dying of congestive heart failure (you can live a long time with it – my own mother did).  Here a journalist is forced to deal with the issue of writing what other people want (or what others want them to say).  That sounds a little Donald Trump-like.

But Harriet’s side of the story has some justification.  She talks about living your dreams and taking risks.  It seems as though she sneers at ordinary, conventional people who speak through a lens of victimization. She is sort of like an elderly female Milo  Yiannopoulos (who probably will become the subject of indie film).

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She tries some mentoring, and that episode (with AnnJewel Lee Jackson) left me a little aghast.  It seemed a bit pimpy.  But she has already admitted that the journalist is going to help her get one last act with interpersonal relationships and with helping people, so she will indeed have the right legacy when she goes.

Slowly, Anne befriends Harriet, going on a road trip (the motel looks familiar).

Harriet does get a nice memorial at the end, and Anne goes on to a great life, having reinvented herself.  It all seemed a bit artificial too me.

My own writing has generally focused on my own narrative.   I might have been hired to write someone else’s story, particularly with the gays-in-the-military issue.  But I never had the time to leave my own world. So much for those whose sign is Cancer (no pun).

Name:  “The Last Word
Director, writer:  Mark Pellington
Released:  2017/3/9
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/3/9, late, small audience
Length:  104
Rating:  R
Companies:  Bleecker Street
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, March 10, 2017 at 6:45 PM EST)

“Seven Songs for a Long Life”: intimacy and music keeps residents of a Scottish hospice going

The Strathcarron Hospice in Denny, Scotland is the setting for the documentary “Seven Songs for a Long Life” (2016), by Amy Hardie.

The film traces the lives of several patients, some of them middle aged, with terminal degenerative diseases, including one man (a former motorcycle racer) with multiple sclerosis, and a woman with returning (after remission) non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The people to keep themselves busy with music, with songs from “My Fair Lady” and then “Frozen”. They use vinyl records, even 45’s, on modern disco turntables.   The people live for the moment, but some live as long as ten years there.

The place seems like a rather luxurious residence, but at least some of the expense is covered by National Health Service.

Toward the end, a nurse and female resident sing a country-western duet “Does Everybody Know?” This gets played at the RoundUp on Cedar Springs in Dallas.

In an epilogue, the female cancer patient has gotten  bone marrow transplant, and another couple of residents marry.

Since some of the residents are relatively young, I’m reminded that I don’t want to see things happen to the young adults I meet (HIV, accidents, or anything else).

The film suggests a good argument for fixing health insurance once and for all in the U.S.  It’s on the GOP and Donald Trump’s watch now.

PBS Independent Lens aired a shorted (59 min) version of the full film (83 min) partly produced with Finnish resources.

Orkney Islands, Wikipeida, link . I visited this place in November 1982.

The official site is here.

(Posted: Monday, January 30, 2017 at 11:15 PM EST)

“The Vessel”: a young man in a flood-devastated village builds an ark; is he an angel himself?

Julio Quintanta’s meditation “The Vessel” (2016), filmed on a coast in Puerto Rico (in the La Perla area near San Juan), has the feel of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” (2011), and even has Malick as an executive producer.  The story range is smaller physically but still aims high.

The central character Leo (Lucas Quintana) has apparently returned from the dead after having drowned.  He takes care of his ailing mother, who is slipping into dementia, particularly at the dinner table. We learn of another incident when he was a boy when he and his brother were caught by heavy seas and he made it to a buoy but his brother did now.

And the town has a tragic history.  A decade ago, apparently in the same incident as his brother’s drowning, a tsunami leveled an elementary school, killing all the kids inside, as well as other parts of town.  The townspeople had stopped having children (that is, the “Children of Men” issue) and still have not done so since their loss.  It’s true that a tsunami really could start near the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands, if a large landslide accompanied it, and such a “Last Wave” (as with Peter Weir) could destroy much of the Caribbean and US southeast Coast.

Leo is kindly and good-looking (European), in a sense that he seems like an angel or Christ figure (or would appeal to gay men).  He starts to buy a toy house from debris at the site of the school, arousing the ire of the townspeople, who behave rather like in a hive.  The local priest (Martin Sheen) constantly acts as an intermediary.

People wonder whether this will become a house or school, or an ark to escape.  The structure may be needed again, and we may find out how earthy and capable of purely human love Leo really is.

Wikipedia photo of La Perla.

Name: “The Vessel”
Director, writer:  Julio Quintana
Released:  2016
Format:  2.00:1 Anamorphic
When and how viewed:  Strand screener; DVD and BluRay available 1/24/17
Length:  86
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Strand Releasing, Outsider, New Territory
Link:  seller, poster

Posted: 9 PM EST on Wednesday, January 18, 2017

“Things to Come”: a philosophy professor faces “real life”

(note: use direct Amazon link and third party sellers if necessary until image above resolves as film becomes available in US)

Things to Come” is an engaging French (“L’avenir”) drama about an aging philosophy professor, directed  and written by Mia-Hansen Love.  At the first glance, I would wonder if professor Nathalie Chazeaux (Isaeblle Huppert) is a dilettante polymath sophist from the conclusion of H.G. Wells’s book “The Shape of Things to Come”.

Nathalie appears to be teaching college freshman, at a time when there are campus protests and professors who come to work are derided as “scabs”. There is talk of 1968, and of the setting of Bernado Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” (2003), where Michael Pitt’s character Matthew “gets it” in one scene, and has to resist crotch shaving by a quirky couple in a late scene.

This movie, however, will stay on only a slightly kinder and gentler course.  Nathalie is publishing a revised philosophy text, but her publisher is giving her a hard time about selling books, wants to make a lot of jazzy changes, and threatens to drop her later, which could jeopardize her teaching job. There is some suggestion that the book is self-published.

She also has to deal with her mother (Anna Chancellor), sinking into dementia and Alzheimer’s, with the early symptoms of depression and manipulation of others.  She winds up putting mom into assisted living, and then mom starves herself to get attention.  On top of all of this, her obese, undesirable husband  (Robin Renucci) leaves her for another woman, despite their having two good sons, one grown, and one a mature teen. The family also has a huge tabby charismatic cat, Pandora, who seems to be trying to hold the family together.  This feline becomes the star of the movie.

That cat really loved mom (the way a dog would) and sensed something was wrong (don’t think cats don’t love their owners). But Pandora gradually gets used to the rest of the family and traveling with Chazeaux, in a cat box, by train, to a new hideaway with her own new boyfriend, two decades younger, one of her own former students Theo (Louis Garrel), in the Alps in the southeast, in an egalitarian, intentional community. They sit around and read somewhat Marxist poems and are supposed to be living off the grid – but their cell phones work when they need them.  Pandora runs out into the mountains, and returns for her human companions, offering them a mouse as a trophy.

Name:  “Things to Come
Director, writer:  Mia Hansen-Love
Released:  2016/12
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Cinema Arts, Fairfax VA, 2017/1/2, fair audience
Length:  100
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sundance Selects, IFC
Link:  official site

Wikipedia image of Mont Blanc.

(Posted: Tuesday, June 3, 2017 at 2:15 PM EST)

“Summertime”: filial piety challenges a lesbian relationship in 1971 France

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Name: Summertime
Director, writer:  Catherine Corsini
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Vimeo private screener 2016/11/14
Length 105
Rating NR (but would normally be NC-17; this is a legitimate, professional adult film with major social issues explored)
Companies: Strand, Pyramide (DVD available 2016/11/15)
Link: official

 

Summertime” (originally “La belle saison” or “The Beautiful Season”, 2015), directed by Catherine Corsini, gives a pretty thorough exposition of family values in France in 1971.

Georges Pompidou is talking about family values on French television as Spanish professor Carol (Cecilel de France) consorts with other radical feminists.  They hear a story about a gay man put into a mental institution for electroshock treatments (this late) but still find the comparison of a pregnant woman to a “car” carrying an unwanted baby more offensive than what can happen to gay men.  Carol meets Delphine (Izia Higelin), a twenty-something from a family farm apparently in Provence (judging from the scenery). They fall in love.

Suddenly, however (at 40 minutes into a 105-minute film) Delphine gets a call from home, as her dad has had a stroke.  She goes home, finds Dad (Jean Henri Compere) comatose, but gradually coming of it.  Delphine has no practical choice, out of filial piety, but to stay and run the family farm, and sacrifice her newfound lesbian passion.  This is about family responsibility that happens for the childless, regardless of their choices.

But Carol goes down to the farm to be with Delphine and resume the relationship. Passions resume, despite the fact that each woman has wannabe male suitors.  Eventually, Mom (Neomie Lvovsky) find out, and the results are not pleasant.  Mom may regard lesbianism as a perversion, but what’s obvious is that she feels she has lost a future lineage.

There is some suspense at a sad scene in a rural train station.  There is an epilogue, six years later, where we learn Carol is even more deeply into feminism and abortion assistance. Is this film “anti-baby?”

This is a lavish-looking, very professionally shot “patently adult” film – again, there is a need for NC-17 material in film to present some issues.

A good comparison is “One True Thing” (1998, Universal) where a college professor goads his yuppie daughter into giving up her own life and returning home to take care of mom dying of cancer.

Wikipedia attribution link for Provence photo by Civodule, CCSA 3.0.

(Posted: Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 at 8:45 PM EST)

“Extremis”, end-of-life care; “Conflict”, photographers explain their calling in filming war

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Today, two more major documentaries on Netflix.

Extremis”, by Dan Krauss, 24 minutes, f/8 filmworks, records in real time the agonizing end-of-life decisions for several patients at end of life (I think in Chicago).  One is a homeless man, and two are African-American women surrounded by family, and one is a 38-year-old white woman.

The film is shot in Highland Hospital (Rochester, NY). It starts with a doctor trying to get a patient to write down what bothers her because she can’t talk over intubation. As the film progresses, the cases involve whether to keep patients intubated with breathing tubes.  Patients might linger for six months, into a vegetative state, or might live a day or two breathing on their own with family around them (in two cases).

Capital Hospice writes that it is important for family members to stay at the bedside of loved ones even when they are unconscious while passing away naturally.  There is more indirect evidence than ever that the soul gradually stays around before merging into an afterlife.  I’m not sure I could say I complied with that.

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Conflict” (35 min, Ridflix), directed by Nick Fitzhugh, seems to be a “mini-mini-series” of reports from six conflict journalists about their work.   There is some interchangeability between the concept of “journalist” and “photographer”.

The strongest statement may come from Peter Moeller, who goes first, reporting from South Sudan.  Moeller says it is ironic that one the world’s youngest nations has the same hyperindividualistic position on self-defense (and “take care of your own first”) as the world’s leading democracy.  He says he is a conflict photographer and not a combat journalist for its own sake. He says that journalism should be service, and should be personal.  His message to his subject is “let me represent you.”  That sounds like something said in a sermon by youth at a local Presbyterian church here in northern Virginia back in 2012, almost the same speech.  (That church actually has an indirect ministry in that country.)  He also says that war is quiet, that it slowly eats lives away.

The next journalist is Jiao Silva, from South Africa, who reports first on the post-Apartheid violence in Johannesberg  (“Jo-berg”) and then from Kandahar in Afghanistan.  If I follow right, he is the person who loses both legs in combat and walks out in the last scene, long pants, on prosthetics.

The next journalist, Donna Ferrato, reports on domestic violence from New York City.  She gets into situations where she needs to intervene physically.  She encounters husbands who think they “own” their wives.  So some of the rest of us think we’re better than that.

There follows Nicole Tung, who, based in NYC, travels to Syria and crosses illegally from Turkey.  She loses two male reporter friends, the second of whom is beheaded publicly by ISIS.

Robin Hammond reports on the internal violence in the Congo, which, as Anthony Bourdain had explained in a CNN “Parts Unknown”, is indirectly a result of colonialism.  He notes the unfairness of life, and says “ignorance is not an alibi for inaction”, a aphorism that motivates his work.  He thinks he really makes a difference.

But Eros Hoagland, reporting from Mexico and Central America, sees his own profession as a bit of a spectator sport, that could get him killed.  He says, “we fear wolves because we never see them.” True, he rails against corruption in Central America as the reason why drug cartels run the countries.  But he says, if you want to help people, become a doctor and go overseas to poor countries.  I’m reminded of the doctors (and even one journalist) who got Ebola in Liberia and fortunately all recovered with intensive care back in the US or in Britain.

YouTube  preview link is here but disables embedding.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Syria-Turkey border by Kevorkmail, CCSA 3.0.

(Published: Friday, September 16, 2016 at 10:15 PM EDT)

DC Shorts: “Be Careful What You Wish For”, especially in post-Soviet “Subotika”

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I got to one more DC Shorts program, “Be Careful What You Wish For”, a conservative adage.  It showed in a large auditorium at Landmark E Street.

The longest film shown was “Zero M2” or “Zero  Square Meters” (18 min, French) by Mathieu Landour.  An appealing young male graduate student (economics) arrives in Paris and looks for a flat to rent.  He finds a landlady willing to let him rent a room for a bargain basement price, and he doesn’t read the fine print on the lease.  So the room keeps shrinking.

The landlady, at one point, says she inherited the property, as if the inheritance came with strings (a “Dead Hand”) and social obligations.  So her goal is to increase the stock of affordable housing by shrinking the apartments into microtubules.

I wondered if this film could have been turned into a sci-fi story of being compressed into a black hole, and finding out what it would like to go into one.  If the black hole were really massive, you would be too sinful to notice,

Red Rover” (15 min, Australia), by Brooke Goldfinch, presents us with a young teen couple who don’t buy their evangelical family’s idea that an asteroid is going to destroy the world. They get out (after the family eats cyanide for dinner) to find the townspeople believe the same thing, and have a “motel hell” orgy.  The ending of the film will remind you of Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia”.

Subotika: Land of Wonders” (14 min, Switzerland, “realistic” animation), by Peter Volkart, has an appealing young couple taking their honeymoon in a hidden post-Communist (specifically Soviet) enclave, where slag heaps provide scenic attractions and communication is by pneumatic tubes.  The geography of the place reminds me of the wasteland in my own sci-fi screenplay “Baltimore Is Missing” which I entered into Project Greenlight in 2004. Actually, this film is fascinating to watch.  It looks like a real place, maybe on another planet.  Is this movie “conservative” (because of the obvious attack on Soviet-style collectivism) or “liberal” (because of environmental concerns)?

40h Anniversary” (14 min, Spain), shows a 60-something couple making confessions as they sit in an outdoors Madrid café.  The camera never moves.  The worst confession is that the husband euthanized his mother after she had become a vegetable through end-stage dementia, so he could get on with his life.

Boy-Razor” (12 min, Sweden, but with actors of color), by Peter Pontikis, has a troubled kid placing a razor blade in a crevice of a water slide to get even for being bullied.  We really don’t see many of the consequences.

Sundae” (7 min, Sonya Goody), has a mom driving around Queens asking her son for the house her female enemy lives in, with a reward of an ice cream sundae,

Mine” (about 12 min), filmed in Kensington Gardens, England, by Simon Berry, seems to be a last minute replacement.  A woman leads her husband to a spot in the woods where he steps on a mine (reminding one of a recent incident in Central Park that cost a teenager a leg).  But the dead hand is active.

Last Door South” (“Derniere Porte au Sud”) by Sacha Feiner, from France, wasn’t shown, but the “Making of” video (22 minutes) for this black-and-white animation story about a two-headed mom raising her two-headed son is fascinating,  The realistic animation is shot from models and puppets that took enormous painstaking work by many artisans to create.  I couldn’t easily recreate this with my own trainset downstairs.

(Posted: Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 at 11:15 AM)

“Other People”: a gay son faces “real life” caregiving his mother with a horrific cancer

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Name: Other People
Director, writer:  Chris Kelly
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2016/9/10, Amazon instant ($6.99)
Length 96
Rating R
Companies: Vertical Entertainment; imdb also lists Netflix, but film is not available there yet (as of 9/10)
Link: distributor


Other People”, written and directed by Chris Kelly, gets its title from the notion that cancer and other bad things don’t have to happen to us, is another dramedy (like “The Hollars”, and even stronger emotionally) that shows the expected intimacy of “real family life”.

This time, the main young adult protagonist David (Jesse Plemons) is gay, adding another axis to the plot. He is trying to get established as a comedy writer and has submitted a pilot for a Comedy Central series.  He’s also been with a lover Paul (Zach Woods) for five years, in what looks like a grungy Brooklyn apartment.

The pilot gets rejected, and his career as a writer seems at risk, although he wants to get another shot with ABC.  I guess he won’t try to make it on self-publishing.

But then his dad (Bradley Whitfod), who has never accepted his homosexuality, asks him to come back to their tract home in Sacramento, CA to help take care of Mom Joanne (Molly Shannon), who has benn diagnosed with a rare nervous system sarcoma, and is undergoing brutal rounds of chemotherapy.

The physical suffering, sometimes shown by gratuitous vomiting (and crying) in living room settings with many people, sets up the expected intimacy.  A few scenes early in the film are hard to watch, even leaving me with just a twitch of nausea.  David, who will not become a dad on his own “the natural way”, will still ne expected to take care of others.  The film tends to make a spectacle of the fact that he is taking care of Mom, as the months of a whole year go by (it had started on a New Year’s Eve).

The doctors give up on chemotherapy, and mom feels better for a while, even though she has just a few months to live. They make a quick trip to New York.  Dad doesn’t even want to come upstairs into the apartment.  Then the film has its “middle”, as David and Paul get to be intimate.  David notices Paul had his rear end waxed (neither has any chest hair).  Oddly, David gets irritated when Paul prods about his return, and they break up.

Back “home” in California David tries dating sites, and goes out with a couple other men.  On the later of these two dates, David becomes inexplicably upset and vomits himself.  Then he gets lost in a huge pharmacy looking for laxatives (“West Coast Problems”).

Mom actually visits the opening of the school year and the elementary school where she had taught.  That brought back my own memories of substitute teaching. But by November she is failing quickly.

The opening and final scenes of the film take place in a “family bed”, with all the survivors grieving together.  That’s intimacy I have never experienced.

There’s also an early scene with a lawyer where Mom is rather picky about what happens to her body after she is gone.

June Squibb looks like “The Lady in the Radiator” from David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” as comic supporting character Ruth in a scene where there is a lot of out-of-tune singing of hymns in church.

My own situation with my own mother lasted much longer, but was much lower keyed emotionally, and I hired caregivers for the last nineteen months (for a prolonged old age passing at 97).  My situation compare to David’s is different in that I never had the same “opportunity” to have a 5-year relationship of my “choosing” when in my 20s.

(Picture: Palm Springs, mine, 2012)

(Posted: Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, 10:30 PM EDT)