Feb 182019
 

I haven’t used Facebook for a few years now and don’t trust the company or Zuckerberg at all. I don’t have regrets: I actually hated listening to people I know all sounding the same and doing the same things as they chimed in endlessly to each other’s posts on my newsfeed. But the costs of dropping out of the service are real. I have friends and family who mostly don’t communicate off Facebook. Absolutely everything they do is there. And that’s makes it hard to stay in touch.

Anyway, all of that is preamble to a link to TechCrunch’s article about the UK Parliamentary committee’s report on their investigation into the company and it’s service. It sounds like the committee members are actually trying to do their job without being bullied and dumb-talked into submission by Facebook. They call the company out for lying, obstructing, for playing like gangsters and basically, for acting like that asshole who thinks they are smart enough and clever enough to get away with anything by talking bullshit with straight-faced irony.

It says something about the state of US politics (Republican politics mostly) that I find a functioning committee working to govern both surprising and refreshing.

Feb 172019
 

My mother never could watch the Peanuts holiday specials on TV when I was a kid. She said the voices were all wrong and she couldn’t bear to have them clashing with the ones she’d heard in her head when she read the comics.

This morning, writing about the Shades of Magic trilogy, I went looking for V. E. Schwab’s blog. On its front page I found this image, a cartoon cut-out of Alucard Emery.

Alucard Emery (via)

Here’s the thing: this is so completely not my Alucard and the resulting dissonance what my eyes see and what my mind saw is not pleasant. And yet, oddly enough, it isn’t entirely unpleasant either. In weird way, I kind of love knowing this cut-out exists. (The boot bandana!) But wow, this is so very much not my gay wizard pirate.

So maybe I finally understand why Mom couldn’t bear Lucy’s voice.

Feb 172019
 

Two thoughts.

Despite what I wrote earlier, I remember skimming the first two books in this series over the course of a couple evenings in a friend’s home the summer of 2000. I also saw the first two (or three?) movies. Reading this book, I remembered a couple of the scenes. But now that I’m done and starting the third book, I’m excited. The rest are all new.

That matters because, second, Rowling is a good writer! In these first two books a world has been created, a deep problem set-up (which I can figure out nothing about beyond Voldemort is bad and is coming back), and a whole host of living and likable characters have been introduced. I like Harry, Ron and Hermione. I like Dumbledore and Mrs. McGonagall, and like disliking Snape and hope he won’t be a bad as he seems. Most importantly, the children here are doing their best and their blind spots are real, their fears understandable, the courage they find believable.

So I’m looking forward now to reading fresh for real. It’s exciting.

Feb 172019
 

I read the first of these books, A Darker Shade of Magic, a few years ago on a plane going somewhere. I loved it—and was unexpectedly horrified by the cruelty of life in White London—but I was also very much in the throws of my initial struggles with reading fantasy and science fiction. (More on that soon probably.) So I read it, loved it, put it aside and left the trilogy unfinished.

Eventually, maybe the following summer, I checked the second book, A Gathering of Shadows, out from the Bibliotheque Nationale and began reading it by the river. Its scope and focus had changed, the world and the problems it faced had become orders of magnitude larger and its opening chapters were near perfectly constructed. My own problems were, however, still frustratingly similar: 120 pages in, I decided that summers were better spent reading books I didn’t have the time for in winter because of the concentration they required and put aside this book unfinished. This on its own amounted to clear evidence of foolishness, stupidity and a deep illness of the mind and soul, but (or perhaps thus) it took time to work through and get over it.

When I did finally tear up the hedge—sowed and cultivated in grad school and then carefully tended during those tense years before tenure—that kept the science fiction and fantasy novels I loved out of the wondrous garden of Literature, the final two novels in the trilogy were near the top of the list of books I set out to read.

I loved the series. The world is complex but appealing, and the magical tournament of the second book was great. There is darkness running through everything though—literal and metaphorical darkness—and the costs of surviving it are high. People lose things and people are lost. By the end, I was sorry to be done.

Here’s the important insight that sorrow left me with though: the sorrow was about the people and their relationships. The characters had been sketched out in a combination of realist description and of magical traits and action that were at root metaphorical and the portraits that emerged were not simple cut-outs. Two men enter the story in love by divided by a break-up one doesn’t understand. Both are powerful and confident (but for different reasons), both are confused by the actions of the other, both need each other and try ineptly to find their ways back across their broken hearts and very concrete social situations. And their friends and family, good people but none of whom understand (or in some cases know) what has happened between them, wind up part of a fight and making things harder. When the two earn their relationship back, it was glorious and felt real. And this relationship was very much a side plot until the last book.

The other relationships were just as rich, just as complex and, in their variety, they what make the novel work, not the magical rivers, the overlapping Londons or bleeding but badass wizards. These relationships can be amorous. They can be friendly. The one between the two male leads is fraternal: a sad and ruined older man finds himself a villain, first against his will but then freely in order to do good, but in his rough and brutal way takes care of a younger man, equally powerful but naive, helping him grow to the point where he can survive after they have saved the world. And there are so many more people and relationships in this book. This is great writing and great imagining and I loved it from first to last.

Feb 092019
 

I grew up in a house that didn’t really listen to music even though I took violin classes when I was young and my sister played flute. The stereo I bought with money from my first job was the first in the house (that worked) and I didn’t know anything about what I liked or didn’t. At university, I learned to pick out basic chords on a guitar. More importantly, I took some introductory music theory classes taught by Suzanne Summerville, a teacher I adored and who invited me to study singing with her.

For the next few years, every semester, nestled in among all the history, math and political science I was taking for my very oddly constructed BA degree were the credited private lessons with Dr. Summerville. We met twice a week for an hour and I learned to make sounds on key and to work with an accompanist. I also sang in her university chorus and at recitals where she introduced archival music from her research. She was a specialist of the then much-less-known Fanny Mendelssohn (the sister of Felix) and for end-of-term juries, I always prepared German lieder—often Schubert, sometimes Wolfe—and American piano songs.

When I think back to my undergraduate studies, it’s those lessons that come first to mind because it was Dr. Summerville who, in our long rambling conversations about art and music, laid the foundation for what became my education. That she took me under her wing despite my utter lack of knowledge and extremely limited talent was a gift of love and I still wonder why she chose me to receive it. But then, she was a generous teacher, and I imagine I am not the only student who felt as specially chosen.

Anyway, I continued to sing casually after I left Alaska but stopped studying and no longer performed. Once I got to Montreal and moved into apartments with thin walls I mostly stopped singing completely. Instead I began to listen to vocal music—classical, yes, but also increasingly, and then obsessively, jazz. But recently classical singing has again become something I listen to often.

This renewed interest has roots reaching back years ago to when I was introduced to my first opera by a friend who offered tickets to see La Bohème at the Met Live in HD series downtown. I went and was astonished. Everything I loved about cinema and theatre were here fused with beautiful singing. I thought of opera as old-fashioned, maybe a joke and didn’t realize it could be so beautiful. I was overwhelmed and—to my surprise—reduced to exultant tears. Since then I’ve watched a half dozen of the Met projections, but no one else I know is more than hypothetically interested. So it’s been easy to skip buying tickets in favor of doing things that family and friends like and we can do together.

But I’m interested in opera! I enjoy it! So it annoys me that I don’t know anything and haven’t made an effort to see more. So finally, during winter holidays this year, I did a bit of research and decided that over the course of the year I was going to make a not-haphazard tour of a bit of the opera repertoire using the Met’s Apple TV app. My thought is to have something like a regular Sunday-afternoon opera. That’s my thought anyway.

Levine’s book is an introductory reference and one of the books I’ve ordered to help me figure out what to watch. It’s light and I read through all the framing materials in the early part of a morning. But the lists of works and brief contextual information is useful for where I am. I’ll have it at hand for the next few months I think.

Feb 072019
 

Roma is beautiful and heartfelt. I enjoyed it a lot. Like good art often does, it made me want to make something of my own.

Roma is also a film made by someone steeped in a certain history of European art cinema. Rossellini and Fellini are the principle touchstones but there are others. What I can’t sort out is what purpose these touchstones serve. Citationality and influence are fundamental to art but here it’s unclear to me whether the film imagines a viewership that recognizes the citations and thinks through them intertextualy or whether it it includes them simply as signs in a performance of “quality” within a new mass distribution system.

For me, the references too often felt like winks or like a cribbed aesthetic. Neither are necessarily faults: winks are fun and the working within an established aesthetic—especially one this gorgeous—can be admirable. But I kept wondering what the references meant rather than what they pointed to or looked like. Roma—even the name is a citation—is not Nights of Caberia or Journey to Italy. It’s something else. It’s somewhere else. And I keep wondering if the Neo-realist intertext says anything about these characters and their stories or whether instead it simply marks them as “legitimate” by announcing that “these stories, these characters, this place are as serious and valuable as those stories, those characters, that place.”

I would like to see more films with the depth and beauty of Roma. As much as I love sci-fi, fantasy, the Marvel and DC behemoths, the thrillers and action-adventures, there’s a mammoth absence in the contemporary cinema. What I love and what I miss are those dramatic films that run the gambit from the earnest mid-budget quality films of studio subsidiaries to the small, sometimes cheeky sometimes ambitious festival independents of auteurs both new and established.

Roma offers me that kind of film and I really love it. Yet it also has the feel of a floor sample designed to showcase what streaming as a distribution and funding model might make possible for filmmakers. I’m not sure I buy what it’s selling in this regard (despite wanting to) but the fact that I perceive the sell so clearly and can see that sales pitch as the object of the intertextual references gives me pause.

Feb 072019
 

A joke gets out of hand when people, angry and lashing out, reveal thoughts, feelings and dalliances they’d previously kept to themselves. The baby name—which I expected to be the focus of the film—is simply a first step in a chain of events.

I don’t know if people outside the drama, meaning the people I pass by in the streets or work with or count as friends, have relationships that could survive exchanges like those shown here, but these characters do. And the fact that they do, feels life affirming. I think most people are too small to survive them with friendships intact.

…which is much too bleak and much too serious a comment for a film based on comedic theatre. Generically, the film will necessarily be about relationships made more sure by threats to their continuance overcome together. My tragic sensibility is out-of-step and misplaced…

Feb 052019
 

I’ve never written about this film except in side comments made in other logs. Mostly this is because I don’t know what to say. The film overwhelms me and continues to do so each time I watch it. And now, a year and multiple screenings later, I’m still not able to separate myself from the experience enough to pull it apart. I simply love the look sound people and story of this movie and it touches me deeply enough that after all this time, I can still wind up in tears while watching it.

What I can say after my most recent screening, is that three moments stood out to me as capturing the moral or ethical stance of the film.

The first: the father’s rightly celebrated and nearly too beautiful and honest to seem possible talk with Elio on the couch at the film’s end. The father doesn’t reduce love to make it easier. Instead, he loves fully, offering himself up and showing as best he can by example and words why love’s worth the struggle and the pain. He points the way toward love, offers encouragement, but also leaves Elio the dignity of his own search and of his own way. The speech is lifted nearly word for word from the novel, but Michael Stuhlbarg’s and Timothée Chalamet’s performances in this moment make that speech on its own a work of art.

The second, again at the end of the film: as Elio returns from the train station, the young woman he had sex with while he struggled with his feelings for Oliver tells him she’s not mad, says as a question that they will be friends. Her love is not only about her and not only about need. Neither is his. They are for each other even if they are not everything for each other. So Elio responds “pour toujours.”

The third: a man and a boy in love but unable to speak except to pick and to annoy. Elio holds out the arm of a Greek bronze, asks “Truce?” Oliver shakes the beautiful bronze hand, says “Truce.” The boy, the man and the father end the day swimming together in the lake. They are people with bodies and feelings, minds and desires, finding their way to themselves and to each other through art and through the nearness of the world.

These moments capture I think something of the sensibility of the film. There’s more to say, surely, but I don’t know how to say it. Maybe later.

Feb 042019
 

The world doesn’t need me to say anything about the Harry Potter books. In fact, when I mentioned to my brother that I was going to read them along with my twelve-year old niece who is right obsessed with them, he suggested I was probably the only person on the planet who hadn’t yet. When I told him I hadn’t seen the movies after the first two, I’m not sure he knew what to say and just told me the third was his favorite.

All of which is to say that I’m reading these books more-or-less fresh and without much to influence the experience other than ambient cultural knowledge. So what do I think?

This first book is definitely for children, which makes it a quick read, but the characters are well done and the tone genuinely happy. I laughed aloud more than once. So it’s good, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next.