Thursday, September 25, 2008


The film that's given me the biggest kick of late was Ronald Neame's 1980 Walter Matthau comedy/thriller, Hopscotch. Reminded me a little, in the best possible ways, of Hal Ashby's amazing run of 70's films (of which I'm an unabashed fan), a similar tender, free-wheeling way of telling the story coupled with gorgeous attention to detail. The location shooting throughout Hopscotch is almost worth watching the film alone, and Criterion, those relentlessly genius bastards of rendering prints ravaged by time and neglect back to their original glory, give these location scenes a bewitching warmth.

But what really delighted me most was the chemistry between Matthau and his co-star Glenda Jackson. They play old spies and even older lovers, each smitten with the other and always a step ahead of their bumbling Russian and American pursuers. Matthau's character, Miles Kendig, a fed up CIA operative, shacks up with Jackson's Isobel, a former spy and lover (married, but now widowed, thus igniting the flame anew--and the scene where they first meet again manages effortlessly to be both urbane and folksy, it's sly and filled with warmth, establishing a delightfully giddy, goofy rapport Matthau and Jackson sustain until the end of the film) and begins writing a tell-all memoir that promises to embarrass the covert and morally dubious operations of several countries.

While Matthau's Kendig writes he listens to Mozart. Numerous scenes show albums of Mozart being placed onto a turntable, of tapes being placed into a cassette player and the play button being pushed, of a stylus gracefully meeting vinyl. Almost all the music in the film is diegetic, that is, the music helping to sustain and propel the narrative is represented in the scenes as they're being played out. Unlike the hardcore diegetics (of which much is still to be written), the represented music is allowed to dominate the mix, in fact, it becomes the only sound. That's pretty normal for most Hollywood films but rarely do you get to see the soundtrack being chosen and played by a character in the film. I really liked that.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Video Approaches

Beginning editing of my first Library video tonight. Filmed material at Morton Grove Family Fest this past Saturday and came away with a few lessons:

-Approaching people and asking them to be on video is difficult. This is probably made more complicated by how amateur our setup is. We're not polished TV news reporters with a professional camera crew in tow. We're wielding a little video camera on a flimsy tripod. How do we make our amateur status work for us?

-Getting teenagers on video at an event like Family Fest is impossible. If you're under 18, we need a guardians consent. Teenagers don't hang out with their parents at public events.

-Mentioning you work for the Public Library goes a long way toward putting people at ease. I noticed that protective veneer folks put on when solicited in public fall away once we mentioned who we were. We're your friendly neighborhood library, that's who.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Abby Napping, Dad Enjoying Rain and Sounds of Dorothy Ashby

Abby's napping. Perfect early October afternoon visiting Chicago a month early. Cool, damp winds making their way through the living room windows, gentle rain falling and promising to continue through the evening. Listening to iTunes Shuffle Play and everything is sounding remarkably good. But it's Dorothy Ashby's Wax and Wane from her excellent 1970 release, Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby, that's completing the soundtrack.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Post Apocalyptic Road-Trip

The structural ingenuity of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road, draws its power from the classical elements of earth, wind, air and fire. A father and son travelling through bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape in search of warmth, of something better, are repeatedly beset by nature at its cruelest and most unforgiving. They huddle under a plastic tarp to hide from the rain and snow, build fires to ward off the cold, cover their faces with sheets to strain the ash from the air and long for an earth rendered whole again.

The Road is fiercely bleak and relentlessly unforgiving. There's not an ounce of sentimentality. The grief enshrouding it is nearly unbearable. But what ultimately sustains the reader, I think, what keeps us going and makes it worth our while, is the relationship between the father and son that lies at the center of the book. It's in this relationship that McCarthy weaves a powerful accumulation of riffs, motifs and themes that he controls with breathtaking precision. At the root of this father-son relationship is the universal love of a parent for his child and of a child's love for his parent. It's one of the oldest stories we know, and McCarthy's prose and themes have been justly called biblical in both their severity and tenderness. And there's no doubt of the severity found in The Road. Humanity, what's left of it, has seemingly resorted to anarchy and cannibalism, the sky is impenetrably gray, the landscape fire scorched and hope, whenever it threatens to flicker, is promptly extinguished. McCarthy's genius, however, is to subject this elemental severity to the love between the father and son and our own hope, as readers, that such love would continue to exist undiminished in such a bleak place. There's a fierce undercurrent of tenderness in The Road, a light in all its darkness that the darkness can't quite comprehend. A heartrending tenderness that, despite itself, rises up out of the darkness. It's not triumphant, this love, it's not a balm or eventually victorious in banishing the novel's unrelenting darkness. It just is because it knows no other way.

One telling exchange towards the novels end, as the father and son stumble through the darkness in search of their shelter, offers a telling glimpse of this unbending compassion:

I can't see.
I know. We'll just have to take it one step at a time.
Don't let go.
No matter what.
No matter what.

At the risk of hyperbole, The Road is a masterpiece, a work of fiction both devastating in its effect, powerful in its momentum and deeply satisfying in its conclusion. That, my friends, is why we read!