I’ve been trying hard recently to stop myself from telling other people that what they like is bad – usually to no avail. Instead, here is the first in a series of ways I will tell you why what I like is good. If you read this, you’ll know how cool/lame I am through the things I watch, listen to, read, eat, buy, visit, insert verb here.
Thanks to the birthday gift of a cinema card last October, I can now spend an unlimited amount of time sitting in a dark room with strangers feeling angry about their poor film-watching etiquette. More often than not, this also means the opportunity to experience a really great movie. I have had four such experiences in the last week so three fifths of this is going to be about movies. Sorry.
Fences is the Oscar nominated, Denzel Washington directed stage play adaptation about a black family living in 1950s Pittsburgh. The film has been described as theatrical to the point of feeling like a recorded performance of the play rather than something more cinematic, and it does fit this description. But the powerhouse performances from every member of the cast – especially Washington and his co-star Viola Davis – had me totally tied up in the fast-paced and emotive dialogue. My low expectations were considerably surpassed.
Mica Levi Soundtracks
My previously mentioned cinema privileges allowed me the chance to take in Pablo Larraín’s Jackie, starring Natalie Portman as the titular FLOTUS, a few weeks ago. The cinematography is beautiful and unique – there were times I was unsure where stock historical footage and new shots began and ended – and Portman’s performance is uncanny. However, what has stayed with me is the bizarre and alien score from composer and musician Mica Levi. Bizarre and alien is something she has done before – her work for the Glasgow-set sci-fi Under the Skin had a similar effect. These pieces of music are so atypical to any film scores I have ever heard. The strings (synths?) don’t swoop so much as bend, seemingly in and out of tune. There is a sense of chaos where there is really total control. At the movie’s beginning, the music is the first thing you encounter and it is immediately unnerving. It has made Jackie stand out as something different from a plethora of politically historical films.
This movie has been getting a lot of plaudits and rightfully so. Moonlight is a coming of age story, told in three parts, that takes in themes of sexual identity, race, class struggles, addiction, absent fathers, incarceration, and more. The film is at the same time gritty and naturalistic while also being hyper-realistic, the latter mainly achieved through the vibrant cinematography and haunting score. I only had one tiny gripe, and stating it would be a spoiler. Read this great piece by A.O. Scott in the New York Times about Moonlight’s multitude of meanings, then go see it.
Brian Eno Interview
I don’t really need to go into why Brian Eno is such an important figure (he essentially created a musical genre). This is just a really in depth interview that gets to the bottom of some quite complicated philosophies, is a detailed portrayal of a master maker’s creation process and just paints Eno as this pretty down to earth guy who just happens to occupy a very teacherly position in the music world. I won’t spoil it for you.
“As a maker, you tend to do too much, because you’re there with all the tools and you keep putting things in. As a listener, you’re happy with quite a lot less.”
20th Century Women
I loved this film. I absolutely loved this film. I am prone to gushing over movies, especially since I no longer need to be as selective about what I go to see – the really good ones hit me harder now – but this was a fine piece of work. 20th Century Women is ostensibly about the relationship between a mother and her adolescent son in the 1970s but, similarly to Moonlight, it is about so much more – love, gender politics, changing societies, the strength and intelligence of women, political and cultural upheaval and the transformative power of music. The themes seem heavy but the story, and the way it is told, is anything but – it jumped between funny and poignant so effortlessly. The characters are all interesting and three dimensional (Greta Gerwig is particularly great) and the whole aesthetic of the film was infectious. It was as if the director and writer, Mike Mills, took all these things, stuff I’m really interested and invested in, and made a movie for me. I smiled for its entire running time and wanted to re-watch it as soon as the credits rolled.