“Call Me by Your Name”: a charismatic gay teen and an “adult” writer: coming of age story uplifts but leaves troubling questions

Call Me by Your Name” is a gay love story, about a precocious teen and a 30-ish mature writer. The relationship develops gradually over a summer in Tuscany, and according to the novel by Andre Aciman, as adapted to the screen by James Ivory and director Luca Guadagnino, the tension and “suspense” keep up, too.  It’s harder to do this with a relationship over even several months than something that evolves over a short time like a weekend, as in my story “The Ocelot the Way We Is”, which happens over a weekend in the woods and is interrupted at the end with external catastrophe.  There is a sense of possible ruin here, too, but I’ll come back to that.

Oliver, played by Armie Hammer (one of the bitcoin “Winklevii” from “The Social Network” where he played both twins) arrives for the summer and stays in the home of antiquities professor Perlman (Michael Sthulbarg) almost in Airbnb style. The teenager Elio (Tomothee Chalamet) in fact yields his room to the guest and stays in a connecting room. The host family is Jewish, which the script makes something of but it really doesn’t affect the story.

But Elio is no ordinary teen. He is verbal and well-read, plays concert-level piano (like Nolan in my story) and transcribes piano pieces.  Presumably he composes also. He is particularly interested in his games with a Bach chorale which he transcribes in successive stages as if Liszt, Busoni, and even Poulenc might have treated it.  The soundtrack has piano music of a number of composers including Satie, Ravel, and John Adams.  Chalamet plays the music himself (except some of it sounds like two pianos.) The music credits rolled too fast, and I couldn’t note all the composers or composition names.  Much of the music was eclectic and impressionistic. (I did wonder about all the cigarette smoking, but that was more acceptable in the early 80s than it is now.)

Elio starts spending time biking into town with Oliver and, after Oliver notes his intellect, Elio confesses there is one thing he doesn’t “know”.  In fact, during the course of the film he gets laid heterosexually and seems to have been serious about girlfriends. But he also is starting to fall in love with Oliver.

Elio is 17, which in Italy would be over the age of consent.  Although the camera emphasizes the difference in ages, it is Elio who is a bit seductive and Oliver cautious. Were this to happen in the US where the age of consent is 18, there would indeed be a legal angle (which my controversial script “The Sub” raised when I was substitute teaching a decade ago).  Keep in mind that Elio is presented as extremely gifted and charismatic, almost as much as possible for any teen.  The film at one point shows a sign indicating the year of 1981, which was the first year that CDC reported AIDS, and you wonder at the end what might happen in the future, especially if Oliver had already been infected.  There is a curious scene in the middle of the film where Elio has a severe nosebleed, but that doesn’t go anywhere.  In the epilogue, Elio’s father actually becomes supportive of Elio’s direction in life, to come out.

Tuscany coast, Wiki .

Name:  “Call Me By Your Name”
Director, writer:  Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, Andre Aciman
Released:  2017/12
Format:  1.85:1;  English, French, Italian, German; set in 1981 in Italy
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/12/20 late PM fair crowd
Length:  132
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sony Pictures Classics, Frenesy, Cinefacture
Link:  official 

The theater offered a 10-minute short before the show from Marriot’s “Storybooked” series about artist Paula Wilson, “Weaving Threads Between the Ancient and Contemporary”, filmed in the Andes in Peru, stressing barren landscapes with copper-red mountains as well as Inca ruins and weaved clothing.

(Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2017, at 10:30 PM EST)

“Coco”: a real look at an afterlife, where you can die again if you really are forgotten

Coco”, Pixar’s latest “real-life animation” opus, directed by Lee Unkrich (author of the original story) and Adrian Molina, hits two philosophical areas (admitting some intersectionality) pretty hard.

The most interesting of these is a physical presentation of the afterlife, and the assertion that someone has eternal life as long as at least one person on Earth remembers the person.  (It’s sort of “the right to be forgotten” in reverse.) That would occur either through content the person produced (especially music), or (for more people) descendants in the biological extended family, the common idea of vicarious immortality (which accounts for a lot of homophobia and now trans-phobia). The second idea follows, that participation in the extended family is mandatory for everyone, that guarantee gives more meaning to the family, which is viewed as only as strong as its weakest link.

The hero, 12-year old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) has been told by his family, especially grandma, that music is forbidden and that his life is mapped out for him in the family business, real-world shoe making. (There’s no Internet.) On an annual “Day of the Dead” (“Dia de los Muertos”), gandma smashes his guitar.  In a complicated sequence, Miguel breaks into the tomb area of an ancestral troubadour, trying to find a guitar, and accidentally takes the “bridge” to the Afterlife.  The deal is he can stay alive only if he returns by dawn.

Now the Afterlife, if not exactly heaven, is an interesting place.  It comprises toroidal columns of roads and houses floating in space, connected by bridges, with an occasional theater hall.  There is a kind of crude metro train that runs between the “chandeliers”.  The people look like skeletons nicely dressed, and Miguel has to undergo that transformation.  We hope it’s temporary. There’s also a bottomless well, and other traps. You have to pass through TSA-like security to get in.  The entire dominion reminds one of Clive Barker’s depiction of “The First Dominion” toward the end of his 1991 novel “Imajica” (and that dominion, along with “God”, gets destroyed at the end of the novel).

Now the family is headed by Miguel’s great grandma Coco (Ana Orfelia Murguia), impressively built as a character, and descending into Alzheimer’s – a development which threatens the memories and immortality of people already passed to this other “Dominion”. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that music will restore some of her mind. (There’s reason to think that this works medically with real dementia patients – sounds like a volunteer or career opportunity.)   The family hates music because a great great grandfather left his wife and became an itinerant singer and then got killed in a freak accident when a bell found on him.

Once in the Dominion, Miguel encounters a murder mystery, as a family member Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) had been murdered by an imposter (whom Miguel felt upwardly affiliated to) who in fact stole all Hector’s songs (like copyright infringement).  There is a script line about having to “fake it” that sounds borrowed from Reid Ewing’s “other” song for “Modern Family”, “Imagine Me Naked”, which works better if you are a healthy 23 year old than if you’ve become a skeleton or nullianac in the First Dominion.  The end credit song in this movie is “Remember Me” (by Kristen Anderson-Loprz), which could almost fit into “Modern”.

The feature is preceeded by an animated short “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” (21 min, directed by Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermer) as kind of epilogue to “Frozen”.  The main song seems to be “Together”. But Trump uses that word.  Vox reports that this “short” is not going over well with audiences.

Name: “Coco”
Director, writer:  Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1 (short is 1.85:1), 3D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, larger auditorium, near sell-out on Black Friday afternoon
Length:  106
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

“Presenting Princess Shaw”: how a mashup artist helps an amateur YouTube singer become a star

Presenting Princess Shaw”, directed by Ido Haar, starts with a text tagline to the effect that user-generated content on the Internet gives potential voices to all so that ordinary people don’t have to bow down to the powerful.

Yet, we are left to wonder, what makes some artists popular and viral and eventually powerful.

The film presents a nurse, Samantha Montgomery, who built her art entertaining residents at assisted living centers in New Orleans where she works.  She writes her own songs and does a reasonable job of recording them and putting them up on her YouTube channel.  The film shows us plenty of everyday life in the Ninth Ward, years after Hurricane Katrina.

In the Negev region of Israel, Ophir Kutiel builds mixages and mashups of the works of many artists, often unbeknownst to them.  This practice, creating what is called derivative works in copyright law, is sometimes legally controversial and unclear, but very much supported by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The end result is that “Princecess Shaw” very much earns her “right of publicity”.

The film shows a lot of the tech work behind mixing, which I ought to learn in order to edit my own YouTube videos on my own autobiographical material (with Final Cut Pro).  So I guess this documentary gives me a kick in the pants.  Music is recorded and mixed in different ways, including being entered directly onto a tablet rather than through a Midi.

There is an interesting soliloquy (vertical cell phone video) where Samantha talks about being alone after a visit to distant family.  It sounds like personal growth, Rosenfels community stuff.

There’s a video with a telltale title, “Give It Up”.  Lose it.

Finally, Samantha goes to Tel Aviv and meets Ophir to put on a major show. She sings while Ophir does keyboard.

PBS did a brief director interview after the film. The director talked about passive self-promotion on the web and being found.

The POV short film was “Driven” from “Story Corps”, by Wendell Scott, in animation, about an African-American amateur race driver in the segregated South.

Negev scene.

Name:  “Presenting Princess Shaw
Director, writer:  Ido Haar
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/7/17
Length:  90 (81 on PBS)
Rating:  PG-13
Companies: Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media, PBS POV
Link:  official PBS

Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017, at 11:45 PM EDT

Organist Raul Prieto Ramirez gives concert in Washington DC: Basque composer Guridi’s massive “Triptico” is the main event

Sunday, June 18, 2017 I attended the free organ concert at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC given by Raul Prieto Ramirez. The concert was performed on the new Austin organ.

The organist, at about age 28, apparently grew up in Barcelona, Spain, and teaches master classes around the world, including Indiana and Texas in the U.S. and in Russia.

The program started with the Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532, by J. S. Bach.  The piece reminds me of my days if brief organ lessons about the time I was entering graduate school atKU in 1966 (I had the book of little preludes apparently by Krebs).

He then followed with what I think was the featured work of the concert, the “Triptico del Buen Pastor” (“Triptych of the Good Shepherd”), composed in 1953 by Spanish-Basque composer Jesus Guridi.

The work sounds like a three-movement organ symphony (running about 20 minutes) with a mixture of impressionistic (modal, especially the interval of the fourth) and post-romantic elements.  Were the work played on the piano, it might sound like a late Scriabin sonata (“Black Mass” comes to mind).  The palette, however dissonant and hyper-chromatic,  sounds “French” rather than Wagnerian, but it would be influenced by Basque folk dancing, especially in the area from Bilbao to San Sebastian. The work introduces a heroic big tune theme in the finale, which is a kind of majestic slow movement.  Despite passages that sound essentially atonal, the work is centered around the tonality of E-flat, and introduces a heroic theme near the end.  It ends crashing on one fortissimo final chord in E-flat. Rameriz’s performance adds other notes from the chromatic scale to the chord (is this the Scriabin mystic chord?) but some performances just play the tonic. .

Rameriz followed with the humble Bach Chorale “Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier”, BWV 731.

He followed with the first movement from Charles-Marie Widor’s organ Symphony #6 in G Minor.  I posted a video of the complete work. I love the G Major ending.

After the intermission. Ramirez played his own organ transcription of Franz Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz #1, which plays its own games with tonality (with all the fifths) at the beginning.

He continued with two compositions by Baroque composer Joan Bautista Cabanilles:  the Pasacalles #2, and “Tiento in terzio al estilo Italiano”.

He concluded with his own transcription of the expansive sonata-like Prelude to “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” by Richard Wagner.  I saw the complete opera (long!) at the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center back in 1977 when I was living in Manhattan. The music that concludes the prelude ends the entire opera triumphantly, in C Major.

As an encore, he played a pedal piece (unknown, published as Bach) and the first two sections of Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564.

I had an old Columbia with Biggs of this work given to me by a friend right after my lost semester at William and Mary in the late fall of 1961.  On the other side were the Schubler Chorales.

Wikipedia photo of San Sebastian, Spain, which I visited in 2001.

(Posted: Monday, June 19, 2017 at 8 PM EDT)

“New Horizons: Music Without Borders”: Congressional Chorus presents Tin’s “Calling All Dawns”

The Congressional Chorus of Washington DC presented an ambitious concert Saturday night, June 3, 2017, a week before Gay Pride, “New Horizons: Music Without Borders” at the First City Christian Church at Thomas Circle in Washington, DC.

I’ll cut to the chase. The featured work for the program occurred after the intermission, the choral symphony “Calling All Dawns: A Song Cycle About Life”, about 65 minutes (by my phone), composed by Chinese-American Christopher Tin, for mixed chorus, soloists and chamber orchestra.

The work is in 12 movements, each in a different language.  The first five movements make up “Day”, the next three “Night”, and last four are “Dawn”.

While some of the work has simplified and repetitive harmonies that we associate with some oriental music, by and large the work is inspired by the choral symphonies from the world of German and sometimes Russian post-Romanticism, by Mahler, Schoenberg (“Gurre-Lieder”) and even Shostakovich. The work comes across as a hybrid of oratorio and traditional symphony.

The underlying tonality seemed to be G Major.  Each of the three sections seems to have interrelated themes.  In the first section, the biggest climaxes occur in the last song, “Rassemblons-Nous” (“Let Us Gather”) in French, exploring resistance leading to revolution (as it happened in France).   The second section begins with quiet Latin settings from the Requiem, before moving to a Gaelic poem “To Cry”, followed by a Polish Catholic hymn “to the Holy Trinity”.  These two movements have the most interesting writing in the work, rather like a slow movement, with a lot of instrumental passages having some chromaticism and polytonality, perhaps resembling Shostakovich. The Catholic Hymn has a theme somewhat reminiscent of the “Applause Theme” in the finale of my own Sonata 3; in my setting, it starts in F# Major and tries to and does return to C Major; here the theme circulates in stanzas, broken apart into little counterpoints, hovering around C Major.  There is lavish beauty, and yet this sounds like a hymn you can’t sing in church in any straightforward matter.

The Finale, with the separate songs arranged to simulate a rondo-like structure, builds to its finale climax at the end of last song in Maori, with one huge G Major chord, and then four notes almost a cappella, in one solo voice, as an afterthought.

The twelve languages (which would please YouTube’s “Paul”), are Swahili, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, French, Latin, Irish Gaelic, Polish, Hebrew, Farsi, Sanskrit, and Maori.

The concert would conclude with the Combined Choruses in Greg Gilpin’s “Rise Above the Walls” (in defiance of Donald Trump?)

The first half comprised nine pieces: “The Whole World Is Singing” (Tom Anderson), “Inscription of Hope” (Randall Stroope), “La Musica” (Jay Althouse), “Song of Peace” adapted from Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia” by Gary Fry; “An Afro-Celtic Diddle” by Michael Coolen; “Give Love a Chance” by Grayson Warren Brown, “Sililiza” (“Hear Me”), by Jim Papoulis, “Jai Ho!” by A. R. Rahman from the 2008 film “Slumdog Millionaire” (best song Oscar), and “Al Shlosha D’varim”by Allan R. Naplan.

Performers included the Congressional Chorus Chamber Ensemble, the NorthEast Senior Singers, and the American Youth Chorus (ages 8 through high school).

This Sunday morning, the Call to Worship on Pentecost Sunday at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC was in several languages: Spanish, Portguguese, Tagalog, Yoruba, German, and American Sign Language.

Composer website for “Calling All Dawns”.

(Posted: Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)

“Strangers on the Earth”: a cellist walks the Camino de Santiago in Spain

Strangers on the Earth“, directed by Tristan Cook, presents the pilgrimage in northern Spain along the Camino de Santiago, a trail which runs from the Pyrenees to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (honoring the Apostle Saint James) World Heritage Site in Galicia, Spain.

The entire route runs almost 500 miles, and takes about six weeks to do.  Along the way there are many dormitory style hostels and private homes offering “radical hospitality” to pilgrims. Some people join only for the last 100 kilometers to get a certificate.

The film features cellist Dane Johansen, who, looking like an athlete, carries the cello on his back and plays many concerts along the way, mostly of J. S. Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello. Johansen says he plays these to satisfy his own ego.  In fact, the film can be alternatively titled “A Walk to Fisterra, A Cellists Journey“.

Johansen is listed as a producer of the film, which also received Kickstarter contributions from many musicians, including some in the Metropolis Ensemble in New York City.  After the showing, I talked to Cook himself, who knew what the metaphor Blind Banister means (from April 21 concert review here).

One of the other travelers offers some cosmology, saying that all creation starts with darkness, then offers space-time, then matter and energy, then life, then cosmic consciousness leading to God, and back to nothing.

At the end of the film there is an epilogue at the Fisterra on the Atlantic coast, with fireworks and ascending lanterns.

The film finds some inspiration in the 2010 docudrama “The Way” by Emilio Estevez.

I have to say that the film title reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” (1951).  The musician reminds me of actor Dane DeHaan, somehow.

In face, the cellist Dane Johansen had considered doing a similar trip and film along the 2000+ miles Appalachian Trail.  But there is already a film “A Walk in the Woods” (2015, Broad Green Pictures, by Kewn Kwapis.

Many of the audience members indicated that they had done the walk.

Wikipedia links and typical images:

Camino de Santiago

Compostela Cathedral

J. S. Bach Cello Suites

Dane Johansen, cellist, site.

Name:  “Strangers on the Earth”
Director, writer:  Tristan Cook, Dane Johansen
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Fimfest DC, Landmark E St, small auditorium, sold out, 2017/4/27
Length:  96
Rating:  NA (“G”)
Companies:  Walk to Fisterra
Link:  Facebook

I have visited Bilbao and San Sebastian-Donesta, and the Pyrenees from the French side (Lourdes), back in May, 2001.

The pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, and her husband, a pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in McClean VA, did the walk in the summer of 2016.  They did collect offerings to support the walk.  The pastor says she had to be “rescued” by a can almost as a hitchhiker once.  This actually happened to me on a bike ride in Delaware in 1992 when I got separated from a group.

(Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 10:15 AM)

NY Philharmonic presents Johnathan Biss and Timo Andres in Part 2 of the Beethoven Concerto cycle

The New York Philharmonic and pianist Johnathan Biss presented one of the segments of Biss’s project of commissioning contemporary composers to invent new piano concerti inspired by the five Beethoven piano concerti. The concert was conducted by Courtney Lewis.

The concert presented Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #2 in B-flat, Op. 19, which was apparently the first composed and started at a young age. The starting point of inspiration was the more contrapuntal and even sometimes dissonant cadenza that Beethoven composed twenty years later.  Otherwise, the work is “not one of Beethoven’s best”.

The Beethoven opened the second half of the concert.  Biss, to my ear, seemed in accelerate his tempi during certain phrases in the first movement, an odd effect.

The inspired (I won’t say derivative) contemporary piece (performed first, before the intermission) is the 23-minute Piano Concerto #3 in B-flat by Timo Andres (B. 1985). The subtitle is “The Blind Banister”, a curious metaphor, of a stairway railing looking into an abyss, across a gulf, without light – danger for elderly people alone. The gulf was, though, what the decades-spanning special dissonances in the cadenza inspire.

I ought to do more guest posting myself (or invite it), but Biss explains his own understanding of the piece here, and this leads naturally do a discussion of how composers get works commissioned today, what audiences will pay to hear (and sponsor), and it’s all potentially sensitive.

The work comprises three movements: “Sliding Scale” (slow), “Ringing Weights”, leading to a cadenza, and then a “Coda: Teneramente”. The opening emphasizes descending scales in drop-rolls in the piano, somewhat lushly harmonized, even sounding familiar to me. The middle section becomes more Parisian to my ears, in fact reminding me of the day I spent in Lourdes, France on May Day 2001, as young males danced a healing ritual. The work slows down and will finally end loudly (unusual for Andres, who considers quiet endings a usually necessary courtesy for listeners).

The NY Philharmonic program notes for the new work are here.

I had the mistaken impression that the work had been called “The Blind Barrister”, which would be a curious idea indeed, given Brexit. (Oops?  England?)

The concert had opened with excerpts from Hector Berlioz’s Dramatic Symphony, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17, after Shakespeare’s Tragedy. The excerpts (14 min) seem to contain the love theme that starts the slow movement, and the Queen Mab Scherzo. The very ending was a loud chord and one soft grace note (like the Dvorak New World, which I have always found very curious).  I’m not a fan of excepting from works purporting to be sonata-like “symphonies” In fact, I had heard the Montreal Symphony play the complete work (with chorus) in Minneapolis around 2002 when I got a comp ticket while working for the Minnesota Orchestra.  I remember the happy ending, as the feuding families reconcile.  Not so in the two movies (especially Ziffereli’s) that I have seen , one while working as a substitute teacher. In fact, when the play is taught in high school, teachers have to explain that it was legal (even expected) for women to fall in love and marry much younger than it is today.

The concert concluded with the 20-minute tone poem “In the South (Alassio)”, Op. 50, by Sir Edward Elgar.  That refers to the Italian Riviera. There is some nice octave work in the brass with some dissonance in the development. I have a Chandos recording of this with Thomson.

James Oestereich reviews the concert for the New York Times here.

(Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 11:45 PM)

“Frantz”: Ozon’s post World War I mystery

Frantz”, the latest film from Francois Ozon, is a period mystery, with a pacing that reminds one of Hitchcock.  It is set in another world Germany and France in 1919, after World War I. before the inflation and reparations got really bad in Germany.  The present time of the narrative is filmed in black and white Cinemascope (like Hud), with the flashbacks in a sepia color.  The film is in German and French, with subtitles.  The name of the tragically deceased character is deliberately ironic.

Anna (Paula Beer) grieves the loss of her fiancé Frantz (Anton von Lucke) and regularly puts flowers on a cemetery mark, even though his body was lost in the trenches. One day an appealing young Frenchman Adrien (Pierre Niney) shows up at the cemetery.  Frantz’s father, a doctor, asks him to leave and blames him personally for the horror Germans endured, and says he could never treat him (violating the Hippocratic oath). But Adrien wills his way into the family.  We learn that Adrien is a concert violinist, like Frantz had been, but struggles with hearing loss after the war.

The backstory shows how they became friends in Paris (with a hint of gay intimacy), and later presents their tragic accidental and fatal encounter in the trenches, setting up the moral dilemma for the movie.

Yet, there are signs of a bizarre romance between Adrien and Anna.  There is a swimming scene and then beach, where the camera dawdles on Adrien’s smooth chest, and then shows the only war wound, near the appendix.

But after Adrien returns to France, Anna goes looking for him, setting up some more ironies in the plot.

There’s a bizarre barroom scene where Frenchmen sing “La marsellaise”, out of Berlioz and out of “Casablanca”, but with some twists in words.

The movie has a brooding film score by Philippe Rombi, and some typical recital pieces, including a movement from a Tchaikovsky Quartet, and what sounded like an Alma Mahler song (I didn’t see it in the credits).

There’s a scene where Frantz’s father blames all fathers for goading their sons to fight for country.

There are critical scenes in the Louvre in Paris, looking at a painting of a suicide by Manet, with viewers filmed from behind, a technique from a famous scene in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and in Brian de Palma’s “Dressed to Kill”.

The tone of the film reminds me of “The White Ribbon“, which sets up pre-Fascist ideas.

The color scheme is the inversion of what happens in my screenplay “Do Ask Do Tell: Epiphany”.  I put present day (on a space station Rama world) in sepia;  true events on Earth in backstory in full color, and fiction embedded in a leading character’s writings in black and white, all anamorphic wide screen.

Name: “Frantz”
Director, writer:  Francois Ozon
Released:  2017
Format:  2.39:1 Cinemascope, Black and White with sepia color for flashbacks  (French and German, subtitles)
When and how viewed:  Landmark E St.  2017/4/9 fair crowd   (Casablanca was in Dallas at the Inwood Theater in 1982)
Length:  111
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Music Box Films, Mars
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, April 8, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)


“Song to Song”: Malick meditates and characters talk to themselves, but Austin TX looks wonderful

Song to Song” is another mediation by Terrence Malick.  Set in and around Austin, Texas (mostly), it echoed “The Tree of Life” (2011).   The film presents stream of consciousness of the five major characters as soliloquies, as if they were talking to themselves and living primarily for their own worlds.

The main protagonists are two male musicians (BV, Ryan Gosling; Cook, Michael Fassbender) and their women friends (Faye, Rooney Mara;, who has affairs with both; Rhonda, Natalie Portman, who gets involved with Cook, and Amanda, Cate Blanchett, who sees BV).  Holly Hunter plays Rhonda’s self-sacrificing mom.

The plot moves along the vertices of this pentagon, and even includes some incidental lesbianism.  But BV is the perfect male with zero body fat, in a world where men, like red cardinals, should be noticed for beauty as much as women (although it doesn’t lead the men to gay affairs here).

There is some stuff about the music business, and a threat of litigation over copyright or trademark, in a situation that probably wouldn’t unfold this way in real life.

The scenery is gorgeous (as are the continual outdoor party settings, including probably SXSW). .  It moves out from downtown Austin to the Hill Country and probably Lake Travis.  It visits San Antonin’s Riverwalk and the Maya monuments in Mexico once.  It goes to the Texas Gulf coast, Galveston, a couple times.  And key scenes, especially the closing one, are shot on Enchanted Rock near Fredericksburg, TX, which I visited a few times when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s.

The music intersperses rock with a brooding classic score, including music from Mahler’s Second Symphony (the third movement scherzo), Ravel, Debussy’s Nocturnes, and Holst’s “The Planets”.  There is one surreal animated trip through Saturn’s rings.

Name:  “Song to Song
Director, writer:  Terrence Malick
Released:  2017/3
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark E St, 2017/3/29, evening, Washington DC, small audience
Length:  129
Rating:  R
Companies:  Broad Green  (or “Broadgreen”)
Link:  Facebook

First two pictures: my 2011 trip.

(Posted: Thursday, March 30, 2017 at 11:45 AM EDT)

“Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race and America”: a rap musician interviews both Ku Klux Klan and Black Lives Matter people

Accidental Courtesy:  Daryl Davis, Race and America”, directed by Matt Ornstein, is a conversational (and controversial) documentary in which rap African-American musician Daryl Davis traverses the nation and talks to both Ku Klux Klan members (former and modern) and later to actors in the Black Lives Matter movement.

He feints friendship with the former “wizards”.  But the white supremacists never come up with credible rationalizations for their attitudes.   One of them says the white men built a modern civilization upon which blacks and natives depend.  But Davis logically responds with asking about out bad karma:  didn’t we build our world of plenty on their backs (taking land from Indians, and then with slavery).  There are philosophical questions about whether one share moral responsibility with one’s ancestors.

Later he visits both Ferguson MO and then Baltimore Sandtown.  The film shows clips of the unrest after Michael Brown’s death, as well as Freddie Gray’s death.  (As for Brown, I have thought it a particular tragedy that a promising future college and perhaps pro athlete behaved the way he did, though.)  He shows footage of the attacks on Dallas police in July 2016 and also of Treyvon Martin’s case.  He gets into an angry confrontation in a rowhouse business in Baltimore with a BLM activist, who refuses his handshake.

But Daryl asks, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

In the last scene, Daryl (who looks quite obese) plays piano with his rock band at a club in Bethesda, MD.  The film often provides visual backdrops with the Washington DC monuments.

The film opens with an interesting shot inside Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington DC (next to the Lincoln Theater, site of Reel Affirmations film festivals in the past, and not too far from Nellie’s, Town DVC, and 930 Club).

Name: Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America
Director, writer:  Matthew Ornstein
Released:  2017
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed: PBS Independent Lens broadcast, 2017/2/13
Length:  88
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  PBS, First Run Features
Link:  official

I describe my recent visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, with many short films and videos (including a interview set) here.

There is a related series on CNN, “The United Shades of America” with Kamau Bell, April 2016 (legacy review).

(Posted: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 11:30 AM EST)