“I Am Another You”: Filmmaker from China tails the story of a talented homeless man with mental illness

As a movie title, “I Am Another You” reminds me of “Call Me by Your Name”. (Dec. 21), and there is some similar charisma in this road documentary by Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang.

As the film opens, she is agreeing to film the life in south Florida of a rather articulate young while man Dylan Olsen, who has chosen to live in the streets as homeless.  I was in the area in mid November and there is one shot that may be on Fort Lauderdale Beach, where I stayed;  some of it looks more like down around Hollywood. Dylan has become the classic 60s hippie, with some tattoos, one in the geographical center of his chest, which my own personal bias would judge as disfiguring.  We learn he has semi-voluntarily left a comfortable middle-class upbringing in Utah and can wonder why.

Then Wang goes back to New York, where she has to finish some work on “Hooligan Sparrow” (2016, my legacy review), a film which exposed sexual harassment of female teachers by a high school principal in China, which the state wanted to suppress.  She then travels to Utah, to meet Dylan’s family, in the second part of the film, called “The freedom to choose”.

The father, active in the LDS Church works in law enforcement and has even dealt with child pornography. His two younger children are much more “successful” by establishment norms. The younger brother, Austin, seems to budding as a potential concert pianist, as he plays part of the first movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata (#8, in C Minor) on the family grand piano with impeccable technique. The father, in a flashback, recounts how he gave his son $400 cash once he was in a line at a Greyhound bus station, having asked the son to leave after catching him with drugs in the home, repeatedly.

You wonder here, with the same upbringing; what is the difference.  Maybe genetics means a lot more than we want to admit.

In the last part of the film (titled as the film), Dylan has returned to witness a wedding (the film detours into the father’s own marital instability). Then he goes off on his own again, with some beautiful scenes in the Great Salt Lake desert that reminded me of “Zabriske Point” (and also of “Gerry”).  Then the film goes back to Florida, and Dylan starts to share his “visions” of what is his reality.  We suspect he is recounting his own journey into schizophrenia as he entered young adulthood, which should have been treatable. Dylan is not violent or hostile (as most mentally ill people are not, confounding the impression left by the Aurora shootings case).  Again, we witness how good his street smarts and street survival skills are.  He lives in a world where there is no shame in begging for help.  But he says his “visions” would keep him from holding down a real job with regular hours.

In recent years, I have sometimes volunteered on a few Saturday afternoons at a local church “Community Assistance” program, and many of the clients are said to be “mentally ill”.  There seems to be a big correlation between schizophrenia and homelessness.

But now the title of the film comes into play. To Dylan, the visions are reality.  Turning this upside down, if you had lived during the time of Christ, the miracles (even the resurrection and Ascension) would be reality if you had seen them yourself.  (And then there is the lesson on doubting Thomas.)

We’re led back to wonder about young heroes when we do encounter them. For young men, physiologically, the early twenties can be a challenge, as the brain finishes its final phase of biological maturation (and pruning process, which may once in a while prune connections it needs).

PBS aired this film Monday January 29. 2018 at a very late hour, 11 PM.  It followed with a 10-minute short film, “Jason”, drawn from “Dogtown Redemption”, about a young homeless man with HIV and severe lymphedema.

Great Salt Lake and desert, wiki.

Name: “I Am Another You”
Director, writer:  Nanfu Wang
Released: 2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2017/1/29 PBS
Length:  80
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS Independent Lens, Film Rise
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 10:30 AM)

“The Force”: A look at the Oakland Police Department in the era of BLM and even sex scandals

The Force”, directed by Peter Nicks, documents the evolution of the Oakland CA Police Department under constant challenges from the largely minority community it polices.

The film indicates it started education of officers on profiling on 2013, a year before the Ferguson MO shooting and riots, and the growth of Black Lives Matter. Nevertheless, there have been at least four shootings.

The film gives some long memory history.  Police departments more than a century ago enforced Jim Crow laws and even supervised lynchings (as would fit into the late Gode Davis’s incomplete film, “American Lynching”).  In 1977 the West Oakland area had been ground zero for the Black Panther movement.

The film has many scenes of classes of uniformed officers being addressed.  A spokesperson says that emergency dispatch works 12 hour shifts without lunch breaks and can’t possibly control all the petty crime.  A street confrontation managed by a white Hispanic police officer shows how sensitive conditions can get.

Toward the end, the film deals with a sex scandal, possibly involving minor females, among some of the officers. The female mayor of Oakland scolds the police department and says that it is not a “frat house”.  Officers are accused of racist texts, but among the accused are African-American officers themselves.  The department is now under federal supervision.

The film makes me wonder about what it is like to become a police officer and put on the starchy overloaded uniform everyday.

Wikipedia panorama view.

Name:  “The Force”
Director, writer:  Peter Nicks
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS video, original airing 2018/1/22
Length:  84
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS Independent Lens, Kino Lorber
Link:  PBS, KL

(Posted: Monday, January 29, 2018 at 1 PM EST)

Picture: Mine, Mono Lake area, 2012.  I was last in Oakland in 2000 for an SLDN event on Treasure Island.

“Hostiles”: ambitious indie western examines the implicit racism in the old West as an Army captain returns a “guilty” Cheyenne chief to his homeland

Hostiles” (or “Hostis”), directed by Scott Cooper and based on a story manuscript by Donald E. Stewart, is a large independently produced ($39 million budget) western, that is strong on challenging the racism implicit in western pioneers in the 19th Century, but somehow got snubbed at the Oscar nominations.  It has shown at Telluride. The drama (139 minutes) evolves slowly, but the few violent scenes are very intense, matching “The Unforgiven” and “Silverado”.

The film opens as a landowner in New Mexico has to defend his homestead against a sudden Cheyenne attack, and the family is largely massacred, although the wife (Rosamund Pike) and daughter survive. Just before the attack (almost the very first scene), the mother is home-schooling her daughters on what an “adverb” is — writers will cringe, or laugh.

Soon Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is challenged – that is ordered – to escort the aging Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) all the way to Montana, where he is likely to die soon.  The Captain objects because he considers Hawk responsible for the massacre, but president William Henry Harrison has ordered it.

Timothee Chalamet plays an Army private on the mission, and unfortunately he falls to an ambush.  You want to see more of him.

The film has several conversations about the morality of settlers taking lands from native Americans. In the nativist family value system of the time, you “took care of your own”. At the end, Blocker is confronted by angry “sovereign” landowners as he returns Yellow Hawk.  Blocker is willing to shoot a fleeing man and then follow him and break his neck.

The distribution company seems to be involved in litigating against telecoms for racial discrimination in programming, and seems to be quite active in the network neutrality debate.

3-1/2 stars out of 5 is my rating.

(Posted: Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 6 PM EST)

Open pit mine near Butte, MT which I visited (in snow) in early May, 1981.

Name:  “Hostiles”
Director, writer:  Scott Cooper, Donald E. Stewart
Released:  2017/12/31
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Potomac Yards, 2018/1/27, moderate audience, Saturday afternoon, seemed to like film
Length:  134
Rating:  R
Companies:  Entertainment Studios, Freestyle Releasing, Waypoint, Grisbi
Link:  Oscarsdeadline


“Enduring Vietnam”: A war that got very personal in the 1960s; now we stare down North Korea

I recall as a boy, particularly one summer in grandma’s house in Kipton, Ohio, asking “Why do boys have to go to war?” (and not girls…).  My cousin and I would bang bass arpeggios on the upright piano in the den to simulate the sounds of airplanes and war, maybe the beginnings of composition.

I’ve described my own involvement with the Vietnam era draft in many places online, as well as in my books.  So I went to exhibit “Remembering Vietnam: Twelve Critical Episodes in the Vietnam War” at the National Archives in Washington (no indoor photography allowed) in late November, 2017.   The exhibit closely followed Ken Burns’s PBS series “The Vietnam War” (legacy review).  At the book store, I bought the historical narrative book by James Wright, “Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and its War”.

The book provides a historical narrative of how American talked itself into the war, with many personal narratives and case histories, almost the way many AIDS books would be written in the 1980s.  The book provides a good sense of how the Baby Boomer (and slightly earlier, like mine) generation saw its prosperity against a simmering Cold War with Communism (“Duck and cover”), and the idea that people could be called upon to defend freedom, even sacrifice personally.  There are early gruesome narratives, like about Hamburger Hill, and how a lieutenant bleeds out from losing a leg and dies, as if he did not want to come back maimed.  LBJ seems to have been totally duplicitous, saying at first (in 1964) that no American boys should be offered up when the Vietnamese boys should do their own sacrificing. That would change very quickly with the increased draft calls in 1965.  And the idea of bringing an “enemy to its knees” quickly lost credibility against a guerilla enemy that saw individual human life as fungible.

Wright covers the agony of the military draft in Chapter 4 (“Receiving the Torch”) and discusses McNamara’s Project 100,000 on p. 121.  His account of the ruse is less critical than those of other books like “McNamara’s Folly” (January 16), although Wright often covers the disproportionate portion of the sacrifice borne by African-American (then “Negro”) and lower income men. (He never refers to the soldiers as “McNamara’s Morons”.) He also reports that a commission had reported back in 1967 recommending the ending of student deferments (as well as “oldest first” draft calls), but LBJ feared the political backlash from voters and didn’t go along. He notes the disruption that came as tours in Vietnam were individualized at one year.

A middle section of the book, in boldface, covers the 1968 elections (including the “Medium Cool” riots) and Nixon’s October ruse to interfere with any LBJ peace initiative.  I recall hearing Johnson’s announcement March 31, 1968 that he would not run when I was doing KP in Special Training Company, one of the bottom days of my own life.  He covers Nixon’s implementation of a draft lottery, which gradually increased the participation of the “college boys” in the draft.

The books covers the attitude toward evading the draft.  Some people went to prison for several years. Yet others saw soldiers who got drafted as “suckers”.  He covers the poor treatment of Vietnam veterans in the early 1970s.  In one case, a bank refused to accept a veteran’s business.

On p. 273, the author notes, in discussing the relationship between Nixon and Kissinger (the Ninth Street Center saw both as “psychologically feminine”) and the view of the war as the movement and possible sacrifice of a “chess piece”, that may have made the Cold War less immediately threatening to most civilians.  If the United States could maintain a ground game and was willing to endure the uneven personal sacrifice of a draft, the temptation to nuclear war might be reduced – yet the book reports that Nixon considered using tactical nuclear weapons against North Vietnam in 1972.

Toward the end, the book recounts the narrative of triple amputee Max Cleland.  There is an account of a soldier who lost not only both legs but part of his lower abdomen but somehow survived a while before dying before being moved out of Vietnam. All of this is difficult for someone who sees body sanctity as a personal value.  Before the war, on campus in the 1960s, I even heard people say they would shoot themselves on the battlefield if wounded rather than come back maimed and pitiful.    The book also recounts the crimes of Lt. Calley, which occurred while I was in Basic (in the infirmary) and which provide an example of a substandard officer who got promoted due to McNamara’s folly.

The author briefly discusses two important films, “The Deer Hunter” (1979, which I saw in Dallas in Northpark when it appeared) and “Apocalypse Now” (1979, and I saw a director’s cut in August 2001 in Minneapolis).

Pondering the Vietnam War seems critical now as President Trump seems to have trapped himself in a particularly dangerous position with respect to North Korea and Kim Jong Un, officially Communist (or post-Communist emperor). Again, American civilian society has a lot more to lose in a nuclear exchange (assuming North Korea’s missiles really can reach us or perhaps create EMP attacks too) than most North Korean civilians.

I can recall writing a letter to my church when I was a grad student at KU int he spring of 1966 (before my 1968 draft) and getting an answer that we had to trust our elected political leadership.

So the lesson of uneven personal sacrifice and bad karma and perhaps “purification” should not be lost on us.

Vietman village search, Wiki picture.

Earlier coverage, here.

Author: James Wright
Title, Subtitle: Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and its War
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-09248-9 hardcover (also e-book)
Publication: Thomas Dunne (St. Martins), 445 pages, indexed, endnotes, bibliography, Preface (roman), Introduction, 9 chapters, maps
Link: Politics-Prose, Dartmouth

(Posted: Friday, January 26, 2018 at 2 PM EST)

“12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers”: if we knew enough to pull this off, why didn’t we stop 9/11?

12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers”, based on the book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton, directed by Nicolai Fuglsig and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, is a large historical war film, available in Imax, about the initial American intervention in Afghanistan right after 9/11.

The covert operation in eastern Afghanistan comprised some CIA operatives but mainly US Army Special Forces, Green Berets, Operational Detachment 595.   It achieved a major victory against Al Qaeda in about three weeks, helping buttress the Northern Alliance, which Sebastian Junger’s subsequent books, articles and films would cover. The lead is Captain Mitch Nelson, played by Chris Hemsworth, with the laconic Michael Shannon playing CWO Cal Spencer.  The main NO ally is Gen/ Abdul Rashid Dostum, played by Navid Negahban.

The film starts with the history trail of terror attacks, going back to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, followed by Kenya in 1998, the USS Cole in 2000, and then 9/11.  The film shows 9/11 as seen from a special forces base in Kentucky (I thought it would have been Fort Bragg, NC).  We see it only after both towers and the Pentagon have been hit. During the morning hours, many observers expected over 10,000 civilian dead in NYC.

The politics of the engagement seem to be the point of the film.  All this happened before Bush addressed the nation on a Sunday afternoon in early October 2001. Dostum makes the point that once the Americans are there, they will be perceived as cowards if they leave, or enemies if they stay. Nelson has to deal with the reality of playing one warlord against another, when some warlords were more concerned about their competitors than they were about the Taliban, with its fanatical religious fundamentalism. Nelson, before the final battle scene, makes the point that the special op (at the time SCI Top Secret) is necessary to prevent more 9/11’s on the homeland.  Yet if the Bush administration knew enough to put together this operation so quickly, why couldn’t it prevent 9/11?

The film was shot on location in New Mexico, apparently just north of Albuquerque.  I visited the area, specifically the Lama Foundation north of Taos, in 1980 and 1984.

The film is a 2018 release, and apparently is not part of the 2017 awards season.

I still remember that in 1958, in ninth grade, when we studied the middle east in geography, I chose Afghanistan for my report.  How prescient.

Northern Alliance Picture, December 2001, Wiki.

Name:  “12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers”
Director, writer:  Nicolai Fuglsig, Doug Stanton
Released:  2018/1/19
Format:  2.35:1 IMAX
When and how viewed:  Regal Potomac Yards. 2018/1/25, fair mid afternoon audience for a weekday
Length:  129
Rating:  R
Companies:  Warner Brothers, Black Label Media, Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2018 at 9:15 PM EST)

“Phantom Thread”: Paul Thomas Anderson mesmerizies us with female treachery in the 50s couture world (how to use emetics to find a husband)

You expect big visionary and concurrently intimate drama from Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood“), but “Phantom Thread” turns out, for me at least, to become a set piece, a mood inducement, almost a stage play, only gradually evolving into mystery and treachery.

The film is set in the couture world of London in the mid 1950s, and mainly stays inside. But the story of a growing love affair between a confirmed bachelor dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (a gaunt Daniel Day-Lewis) and a waitress, Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps), who early on asks him why he isn’t married.  He’s not gay (that would have been interesting, a few years after Alan Turing’s end); he really is set in his ways and the details of his work.  He says he can hide his life story with inner threads in his garments. But she is set in her ways too.

The business seems to reside in his mansion of a flat, with a number of employees, whom Cyril (Lesley Manville) manages, often speaking with great firmness and clarity. The film shows with fascinating detail how dressmaking got done in those days, down to the taking of measurements. You see how prudish earlier dress standards used to be, down to long-stockings and garters for men (oh, going bald on the legs anyway). I recalled a day when my parents took me to Schwarz in Baltimore to be fitted for a boy’s suit and I got stuck by pins all day. I was also reminded of the film “LBJ” where the president talks about his tailor, how he can have a sartorial emergency.  Remember the boon of English literature courses, Thomas Carlyle’s “Sartor Resartus“.

Reynolds resents changing his ways, as with the way she prepares his meals.  One day, in the middle of a work session preparing a wedding gown for a princess from Belgium (OK, the movie didn’t have a role for Timo Descamps, the singer who is practically the country’s and maybe the surviving EU’s best face), he starts ranting about the work and suddenly collapses, and soon vomits as if he had the flu (like George Bush when he visited Japan in 1992).  But Alma has given him some questionable wild mushrooms.  Now she has a chance to care for him, as he resists attention from “the good doctor” (Brian Gleeson) out of fear of romantic rivalry.

He recovers, and proposes to her.  Her Hitchcockian ruse has worked. They go to a New Year’s party at a Swiss chalet and he slips into his introverted ways again, although the indoor balloon and costume celebration (with elephants) provides some of the best photography of the film (which is shot in standard aspect in order to maximize facial closeups). So, she soon tries her trick again with his omelette.  We are treated to an intimate scene where he is eager to kiss her while holding a vomit bowl in his lap.  He seems to accept the need to become weak and vulnerable as the ticket to having children and a progeny. It seems like a rather corrupt value system, which drives some men away from heterosexuality, even “Masters and Johnson”.

The background music, of piano and chamber ensembles, is fascinating.  It was put together by composer Jonny Greenwood.  The opening arpeggio-like piano stuff may come from Debussy, and later Schubert’s monumental E-flat Piano Trio is quoted. But the most fascinating music, used in the previews, occurs before the first “illness” sequence: the piano plays repeated notes, in an ascending sequence, with odd impressionistic harmonies, with rhythm that sounds like syncopated 5/4 time.  I think I’ve heard the theme before, and wondered if it was by one of NYC’s Metropolis Ensemble composers, but it may be original with Greenwood.  If so, it certainly belongs in some larger chamber work that would get concert performance (maybe at DC’s Dumbarton series).

I did wonder how people with eating disorders would feel about this film.

Another film to remember for comparison is “The September Issue” (2009), or even “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) with Meryl Streep.

Wikipedia Haute-couture show.

The theater offered a short film from “Made 2 Measure Haute Couture“, “Thom Browne: A Fashion Fairytale“, just before the previews.

(Embed from M2M was removed because it caused a popup; I’ve put the YouTube embed there instead)


Name: Phantom Thread
Director, writer:  Paul Thomas Anderson
Released:  2017/12/31
Format:  1.85:1 (heavy emphasis on closeups)
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, 2018/1/23, 10 PM, small audience
Length:  130
Rating:  R  (language)
Companies:  Focus Features, Annapurna
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, January 24, 2018 at 2 P< EST)

“Unrest”: a graduate student and filmmaker with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome documents her own illness

With “Unrest”, Harvard Ph. D. graduate student Jennifer Brea documents her own odyssey into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFE).

The film opens with her going to the emergency room at Princeton Hospital in Princeton MJ (I remember a night in 1970 when I was taken there by a friend after I broke my arm falling off a bicycle – odd total recall).

The early part of the film gives some medical history, dating back into the 1980s when CFE was getting some attention while AIDS, which is biologically unrelated, exploded.

In fact, the film discusses findings that CFE or “myalgic encephalomyelitis” patients also show an acquired immune deficiency, which may be related particularly to earlier infection with Epstein-Barr virus, a herpes DNA virus that also causes mononucleosis.  There have been particular clusters, such as at Incline Village, Nevada;  but the CDC also did a study in the 1980s in which if found no consistent immune abnormalities and claimed it was hysteria. Indeed, patients have often been told “it’s in your head” (as in the opening scene in an emergency room).  But the film also explains how the physiology of the disease involves the failure of “anaerobic respiration” within cellular mitochondria. A research project at Stanford is briefly shown.

The coincidence with the publicity over AIDS and HIV in the 1980s might have given the “religious right” the opportunity to make another charge:  that people already immunocompromised by HIV could nurture other secondary infections (like TB) that might then spread to the public at large.  But this did not materialize. But it’s a sobering thought when you compare it to the public health issues surrounding severe forms of influenza today, and also SARS about ten years ago;  but that’s a different movie.

CFE seems to occur more with women, although a teen male patient is shown in the film. It seems to occur rather suddenly, and then the patient may only gradually get better.

The personal aspects of caregiving in this film make it intense to watch in spots.  Brea is profoundly weak in some scenes, having to be picked up off the floor by her father.  At times, I wondered if there could be any connection o ALS, which has happened in my own extended family.

The disease causes partial cognitive decline, which seems reversible (ALS does not cause that).

In the 1980s, a coworker’s wife had CFS.

The film aired on PBS Independent Lens on Jan. 8, 2018.   The film had an odd alternate title “Canary in a Coal Mine”.

Picture: Princeton campus, my picture, April 2010

Name:  “Unrest”
Director, writer:  Jennifer Brea
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS video, 2018/1/22, aired 2018/1/8
Length:  84
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS, Shella Fims, Little by Little Films
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Monday, January 22, 2018 at 12 noon EST)

“The Greatest Showman”: a musical makes us feel good about making disabled people a spectacle in a circus

The Greatest Showman”, directed by Michael Gracey with story by Jenny Bicks, is a musical that conveys the founding of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, which ended operations in May 2017.

The central issue of the film is how an entrepreneur leveraged some people with disabilities and how the public reacted. The film seems to take some liberty with dates and years, as it appears to start during the Depression. In an early scene , P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is laid off from a shipping company that goes under. He comes up with the idea of opening a museum with curiosities, including “freaks”.

At first, the idea seems offensive (and to make fun of intersexual people); but when the museum works and the performers seem emotionally bonded to the company, it seems uplifting. The “bearded lady” has one of the best songs, “This is me”.  That’s what Chelsea Manning says, and I started wondering if the idea of a documentary about her would sell.

Barnum hires Philip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron, who brings back a little of Troy Bolton (“High School Musical”) but has the same kind of charisma and drive as Ruben in the previous film on this blog.  At one point Barnum refers to him as his “Apprentice”, an obvious reference to Donald Trump.

The screenplay needs a crisis, and that comes from some of the public, that sees putting “defective people” as visible in public as immoral.  One man sets the museum on fire in a riot, and Barnum loses everything, as the banks won’t continue to fund something that is a target of hostility.  Carlyle is also injured with smoke inhalation and maybe burns.

But libertarianism comes to the rescue, as the performers become part owners of what emerges, the circus that we knew for so many years. Carlyle recovers fully.

There’s a subplot with Barnum’s wife (Michelle Williams) getting lightly jealous.

The music is by John Debney, with several lyricists.  The songs give us a continuously happy lilt, which reminds me of the scores of some mashups of gay stuff on YouTube.  The score also has some classical music, especially the overture to Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte”.

I can remember visiting a county fair in Vernon TX in 1984 with a “freak show”, and the performer would confront the visitors about their motives for looking.

Wiki, Barnum and Bailey Poster, 1899

I do recall seeing “The Greatest Show on Earth” as a boy.  One particularly interesting circus from my perspective is Cirque du Soleil (which I saw in Minneapolis in 2000).

The theater (One Loudoun Alamo) showed a short “Barnum” from 1943 (partly black and white) before the show.  The short showed some rather challenging tricks with tigers.

Name:  “The Greatest Showman
Director, writer:  Michael Gracey
Released:  2017/12
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Alamo Loudoun, morning show, just for me!
Length:  105  (shorter than a typical musical)
Rating:  PG
Companies:  20th Century Fox, TSG
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, January 19, 2018 at 7:45 PM EST)

“Ruben’s Place”: a gay teen’s entrepreneurial talent in rural Montana saves everyone around him


Ruben’s Place” (2012, 71 minutes), by Sam Vasquez, is a tender coming-of-age story where a gay teen Ruben (Dawson Montoya) has returned home to Alviso, MT to care for his widower alcoholic father (David Louis Klein) and is reunited with his now nearly homeless boyhood friend Jimmy (Jason Lieu).

In the opening scene the father calls his brother “Uncle Vic” (Ray Renaldi) to set up Ruben with a job in Vic’s warehouse, and he also tries to recommend a “virgin” girl friend.  You can imagine where this could be headed.  Vic warns Ruben about long hours and manual labor (like my own father used to talk about “learning to work”).

But Vic, with a prison record, has his own problems.  In a short time, Ruben is running the whole business himself. That’s because he is smart and emotionally stable enough to do all the right things.  The warehouse would probably fail he hadn’t gone to work there.

Jimmy, who looks Native American and is unusually tall, shows up, and soon Ruben plays his entrepreneurial card, hiring Jimmy and paying him out of his own salary, but that helps business get better.  So we have a libertarian-to-right-wing gay film, which is rather unusual in the literature.  The plot almost follows the logic of Mary Ruwart’s “Healing Our World” series.

Jimmy has a natural talent for drawing, and has accumulated a collection of artwork depictions of local landmarks.  The plot heads toward an art exhibition and the sale of the property to become an art museum.

What I really liked about this film is its individualism, it’s evolution of human rights without putting people into groups and categories first (like the Left wants to do).  Ruben’s charisma is consistent throughout the film, making him seem larger than life at all times.  How does such an outstanding person emerge from such an impoverished environment where so many grownups crash?  Is it genetics?  (He is cognitively a lot smarter, for one thing.)  A curious sidelight is that when Mom died suddenly, she was cremated but there was no funeral service.

The volume of the voices in the film is quite low, and the filmmaker recommends earphones.  I was not aware that some filmmakers keep volume low for YouTube for headphone use.  The YouTube version has subtitles, and there is a Vimeo copy that does not.

Montana scene typical of the film.  I was last there in 1998.

With my own pictures. Nevada is as close as I can get.

Name:  “Ruben’s Place”
Director, writer:  Sam Vasquez
Released:  2012
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  YouTube 2018/1/17; Vimeo also available
Length:  71
Rating:  NA (should be PG-13; there are no very explicit scenes)
Companies:  Stagelight
Link:  NA

Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2018 at 7:30 PM EDT

“Planetarium”: Other-wordly example of collaborative composition in today’s music world

Collaboration among composers is becoming more common in the modern music world, as is mixing of popular and classical music genres.  Such is the case with “Planetarium”, a 17-movement, 76-minute “rock band” suite by Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryan Dessner, and James McCallister, with a substantial chamber orchestra with voice.  Collaboration may tend to become a necessary part of getting commissions in today’s music business.

It’s pretty obvious to compare this to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”. But this work includes Halley’s Comet, Black Energy, Black Hole, the Kuiper Belt (or Oort Cloud), and offers 15 minutes for Earth.

The album has interesting still art work that looks like it would fit into Clive Barker’s “Imajica”.

The best movement to my ear was Mars, which did sound a little more like Hollywood.

Perhaps this music could comport with the YouTube series “Outward Bound” which presents the challenges for colonizing and terraforming each planet or its moons (and some other stuff, like deep space, hive minds, uploading consciousness for immortality, and the like).  There are interesting ideas there as to how artificial gravity on a colony would mix with low gravity on a moon (a teacup setup is recommended), and on the idea that super low temperatures (like on Titan) could facilitate the computing power it would take to store consciousness (or mine digital currencies; any alien civilization will invent block-chain).

Review by Metro Weekly.

4AD Official site, with other videos, and concert schedule.

Legacy review of “Outward Bound” videos.

(Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 1:30 PM EST)