Nov 252016

down-there-on-a-visit-coverI bought an old hard cover edition of this book online and it showed up riddled by bookworms (all dead now thankfully).

By the time I was done reading, I felt those traces of past life—cutting a wobbly track across the surface of four or five pages before digging a hole straight through a dozen more and then turning and cutting a bit more track in a new direction before coming to an abrupt end—I felt those traces were an apt image of Isherwood’s style in this book. Spare and sharply defined, but also wandering and seemingly aimless.

When the book ends, it doesn’t so much conclude as stop. Reading the final pages, it seemed to me that Edmund White does something like what Isherwood does but with an artistry and a sense of structure and a density that suit my tastes more.

I was reading this book as the election came to a close, and the sense of dread that builds off-stage as the narrator, Christoph, notices the Nazi’s rise to power and the war that ensues, notices it from Greece, from England, and finally from Hollywood, notices it but invariably, repeatedly looks away, well, it all felt uncomfortably topical in those early, gloomy days after the election results were announced. I walked away from the book with a new understanding of how even terrible, earth-shattering events leave vast swaths of people merely inconvenienced, leave them free to do other things.

I suppose this is a cause for hope—things go on, people survive—but if so, it’s a bleak kind of hope.

Nov 082011

Christopher and his kindChristopher and His Kind by Geoffrey Sax

I went to the closing day screening of this BBC adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s Weimar memoir at Image + Nation, a festival that must be among the worst advertised in the city and, as a result, one that tends to draw an oddly desperate but self-righteous crowd of anti-clones. The screening was in the Concordia amphitheatre and the sound was brutal: the projectionist clearly works for a film prof already deep down the spiral of deafening volume producing deafness that in turn requires even more deafening volume. I plugged my ears and still the dialogue in this quiet nostalgia piece hurt. The film itself was fine but was caught in a double-bind: the film was gay to the extent it was all about sex and the joys of posing and being beautiful; it was worthwhile to the extent it sobers up and tackls the dangers of an emerging fascism. A strong lead actor might have pulled the movie through this contradiction, but this guy’s Christopher just looks blank and stunned. So no help there. In fact, the only concrete thing about his performance that I can remember is that you can see him remembering to stand up straight in a lot of scenes. No lie. The film’s at its best in its only moment of nostalgic romance. (It has numerous “aren’t we brave for showing it” moments of sex.) That one romantic moment is, thankfully, captured on the poster. So I can enjoy it without having to see the actual movie again.

Unstoppable_Movie_HD_poster_1I also continued my mindless movie watching, although Unstoppable by Tony Scott may not qualify. Scott’s films are almost always better than Ridley’s because they don’t mistake themselves for philosophical works. This movie is just trying to be a perfectly tuned and engaging story. And it is. Now, the Tony Scott camera and editing candy are still there, but the timeline, the clear purpose, the spot-on performances, and everything else work together perfectly. What makes the movie soar though–and it does soar–is that the scale is just right. This is real world danger confronted and dealt with by real world heroics. A guy jumps off a creeping train for just a second and then trips and suddenly lives are in danger. The heroes are just trying to lock a new engine to the train. No crazy stunts, no wire-work, and it’s scary. When Chris Pine has to jump from a truck to the train at the very end, it’s only a few inches but at 70 miles per hour. It looked as dangerous as it was, and I actually said to myself: “I would never do that. Ever.” Same goes for Denzel Washington’s character: he makes a run to the front of the train on the roof but is cut off by a gap and a rail that he can’t jump over without falling off. There is no gritting of the teeth, no setting of the jaw and then jumping, no him just doing it because he has to even though he can’t. There’re no anti-gravity boots. He’s stuck and he’s stuck and that’s that. Makes sense to me.

Captain America The First AvengerCaptain America by Joe Johnston

I don’t need a movie about a skinny guy learning how to be a man by getting muscles from the army. I just don’t. But that said, this is one of the better of The Avenger prequels out there. ….god, I’m tired of The Avengers prequels. But at least they are happening before The Avengers. In today’s Hollywood, I’m willing to give points for proper chronology.