Terrence Malick – Song to Song

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“Slower. It’s A Love Story.”

Some of you may have just read that quote and ran for the hills. Some of you may have come here hoping Malick has stopped being Malick, read that quote, and have already realized this won’t be the film for you. Or some of you might be like me, where a quote like this makes you even more excited than you already were, especially for a Malick film (I thoroughly enjoyed each movie since Tree of Life, including Tree of Life).

Our opening shot is of Faye (Mara) and Cook (Fassbender) separated by a wall. Divisions are a theme throughout this film and this story very clearly starts with this dynamic between Faye and Cook. She was his receptionist since she had been 16, trying to get her foot in the door of the music world, and Cook is the macho man with all of the contacts, all of the power, and the one to make the decision. The second shot is the water behind a speed boat, showcasing the way it creates a division in the water.

Song to Song feels like the movie Malick has been building towards since Tree of Life. In Knight of Cups, one of the women that Bale’s character interacts with has an ear full of piercings with none of them in. That same thing happens here in the beginning; Faye is at the music festival, expressing to us that she feels that the only way to get in is by knowing the right people, and she exposes to us an ear with piercings but none of them are in. To me, this is expressing vulnerability. Cook defines playing the game, the whole idea of needing to know people to get in, as a dirtying of one’s hands. This isn’t a pretty game to be a part of, but it’s the one that the players have become a slave to regardless. Faye making this decision to play the game is one of vulnerability, wanting to be successful and deciding to conform to the industry.

Knight of Cups brought about a water theme which returns here, and To The Wonder brought about a God theme which returns here. Water (and the color blue) seem to be tied to a lack of freedom. Rhonda (Portman) dives into a pool of water, completely submerging herself in it, while Cook watches from inside a house. A few minutes later, Rhonda comes to a realization that her life is only defined by Cook. He is into these women who do not make their own choices and simply submit to him. The times Cook has sex on screen involve all of the women naked while he remains clothed. When Cook first meets Rhonda, she is working at a restaurant as a waitress while he is a customer. In a matter of moments, the scene ends with Rhonda being the one sitting at the table and Cook standing above her in her own uniform. Rhonda thought she was giving something to Cook. “What part of me do you want? Take what you want.” All she was giving him was power. She ends up making a decision that she can own and define herself by and kills herself. In contrast, the end of the film shows Faye and BV (Gosling) out in nature, walking and wading through very shallow water. There is that slight amount of freedom that is sacrificed for the relationship, but ultimately they have the sun shining down upon them. The sun (and the color red) seem to act as the opposite of water/blue, embodying life, freedom, etc.

God comes up numerous times, specifically in Rhonda’s storyline. Cook tells her to eat something that was “dipped in God”. In that circumstance, it seemed to me more like Cook playing up his own God complex. Moving further, the prostitute(?) with the red hair that Rhonda meets with Cook mentions also being a teacher without a job (paralleling Rhonda’s own situation) and that God must have a plan for her. At the climax of these feelings, Rhonda ends up back in a religious setting, a return to God while dealing with this lack of identity, and it is said that “it is in giving that we receive”. She was giving but she wasn’t receiving.

A less blunt spirituality based topic that is involved in this film is the soul. BV playfully pretends to see Faye’s soul in her mouth and confides his love in her soul to her. Later on, in the club scene, Ryan opens her mouth again. Faye’s voiceover, “I knew I had to tell you. Come clean.” (Referring to the constant cheating with Cook). In this moment, it felt as though her soul was exposed to him, and she knew what it looked like. Or perhaps that her soul wasn’t there at all. Faye remarks on how she never knew she had a soul. The word always embarrassed her. She was always afraid to be herself. Conforming to the hand-dirtying system of sleeping with the guy who has all of the contacts was likely not who she would define as herself, so she wasn’t being herself at the time, or, at least not the way she’d like to be.

When BV first meets Faye at the party, he asks her what her name is and she doesn’t answer. Later in the movie, her name comes out as Faye just once (to accomplish letting the audience know she as 16 when she first started working for Cook) however, none of the other character names are ever used throughout the film. I believe Faye not answering with her name stresses this importance, as if Malick was trying to communicate that every emotion being put on display with this film is something felt by everyone. Names need not apply.

Climbing higher is established as being related to freedom. Faye says in her narration, “I wanted to escape from every tie, every hold. To go up, high, free.” (Excuse the paraphrasing, I saw the film two days ago at the time of writing this). However, it seems like going up higher is more related to success than freedom. At the height of their music industry collaboration (Faye, Cook, and BV) they end up going up in a plane to experience less gravity. The highest they could get. Later when Faye wants to stop seeing Cook, and consequently her career, because she feels wrong about it, the very next shot is her descending downwards on an elevator.

Even if Faye’s decisions were sometimes done as a slave to the system, she still made decisions for herself, a sort of freedom that BV’s ex-girlfriend did not exhibit. She was willing to sacrifice what her life was in the name of lifting BV up, but BV was attracted to someone else wanting to be lifted up. A relationship where they’d lift each other up. What he says about Cook but can easily be translated to Faye, “I didn’t think anything could break us apart. Thought we’d lift each other up.”

BV’s watch makes a few appearances as the front-and-center of the scene, displaying some sort of desire for time. Faye says at one point, “I wish this could last forever,” and at the end also says over a shot displaying the watch, “I won’t stop loving you. I don’t think I can.” The title of the film is name-dropped as living life moment to moment, “Song to song. Kiss to kiss.” This also encompasses the aspect of time and how we just go from one thing to the next.

Faye recites a portion of a poem from William Blake called The Divine Image. “Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace. And all must love the human form.” She later elaborates on herself, “Mercy was a word…I never thought I needed it, or not as much as other people do.” The poem is expressing how mercy is an integral part of the human form, and just being human involves this mercy. She was denying this aspect of herself previously, and after all, she was having trouble defining herself.

When Faye’s father asks Faye about whether or not she can trust BV, she doesn’t answer. (Which seems to be something she does a lot, no answer to her name, lots of lying throughout the film, and when BV asks if she loves him she states that she doesn’t like to say it). BV is shown as one who can be trusted, which to me could mean a few different things. 1) Cook is on her mind when the question is asked, and he cannot be trusted. 2) Just like when she told BV that she doesn’t like to say that she loves him out loud, she doesn’t want to say that he is trustworthy out loud and commit herself to those feelings. Or 3) She can trust him, but she knows that due to her cheating that BV cannot trust her, and the guilt is taking over. Malick manages to say so much by saying so little which I am continually impressed by.

In Knight of Cups, it felt very much like there was as little exposition as possible. A lot was left up to the audience to piece together and figure out and connect. I went into Song to Song expecting something similar and would find myself noting things that would a few moments later be confirmed through exposition, a voiceover declaring the things I was piecing together. For instance, there is a part where Cook says to Faye about BV, “All his life he tried to get free, he doesn’t know how.” I immediately noted to myself that this is talking about Faye as well, and she doesn’t know how to get free but wants to be. A few moments later, Faye’s voiceover says, “I wanted to be free like he was.” It is because of this that I believe Malick is finally hitting his stride, balancing the insane amount of themes and symbolism to be pieced together with exposition to keep the flow moving. A face-value aspect and below the surface aspect.

I read online (I forget where at this time, I’ll edit it in when I hunt it down, I’m just about to go out right now) that the first cut of this film was over 8 hours long, which then had to be trimmed down to a traditional film length. This seems very similar to how a novel is created, and I believe Malick is someone who has been able to use internal narration brilliantly within modern filmmaking. His movies, as a result, feel like a form of cross-medium, bringing in many aspects of literature. It was mentioned in that same article that there was so much footage that each character had a whole storyline and backstory that could have been shown. If I had to choose one negative thing about this film, it would be that I felt Cook does the least growth as a character. For most of the movie, he is just the all-powerful god-guy, but his response to Rhonda’s death to me shows that he struggles just as much with freedom. That unfortunately never gets shown, and I believe there is footage that could show it!

This was a film that captured raw emotion. Love. Dynamics of freedom and power. There were stellar performances all around, from both cast and crew. I apologize for how scattered this is right now, there is so much more to analyze and discuss regarding this movie (for example, a comment on talent versus playing the game. BV has the talent but doesn’t get anywhere because he doesn’t play the game. Faye plays the game but isn’t shown playing any music until very far into the movie), I’m looking forward to eventually watching it a second time. I started with a quote from the film, so let’s end with one. One that embodies the identity crises communicated throughout, and one that Malick clearly follows, and one that I hope to follow. “Do something of value. Make the money, not the money make you.”

Dear Evan Hansen

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The world of Broadway has finally met the world of social media, something ingrained in all of our lives. Upon sitting down in my seat, the stage was already flooded with backdrops of digital screens with entire Twitter feeds displayed on them. In typical rock-musical fashion, the pit orchestra was on stage for all to see. The only thing I knew about Dear Evan Hansen before this point was that the main character had a broken arm.

As the performance began, Evan was alone. Broken arm. His bed was on a raised circular platform, separated from everything else around him, physically showing the loneliness before it is even said. The first song, “Anybody Have a Map?”, set up both Evan and Connor as outcasts from different families returning back to school after summer break. It is made clear that they will become friends despite the rest of the people in their lives not noticing them, however, the characters immediately clash in their first interaction. Connor pushes Evan down in a violent reaction to Evan’s anxiety-filled laughter, which he had felt was directed at him.

Evan has been in love with Connor’s sister, Zoe, from afar (think Dr. Horrible, but much more anxiety-ridden, and, y’know, not a supervillain). Due to the anxiety that he lives with, his therapist instructed him to write a letter to himself: Dear Evan Hansen. In this letter, Evan was supposed to lift himself up, be self-motivational, talk about how great the day would be even in the face of the opposite. Instead, he used the letter to vent, talking about how awful his first day of school was: No one would sign his arm cast. He and Zoe still don’t even know each other. The letter was obviously written on a computer, the same way anyone else in today’s world would write a letter, and after he sends the print-out to the school’s printer, Connor picked it up. He got angry about Evan talking about Zoe, as if she was only mentioned to antagonize him. A scene later, by the time it was expected to see Evan and Connor’s relationship start to maybe turn around, Connor commits suicide. It goes one step further: Connor still had Evan’s letter on him when he killed himself, addressed to Evan Hansen, so Connor’s parents believed they were great friends and that it was a suicide note addressed to Evan.

Yes, this was a bring-your-tissues performance.

There was a wave of Japanese cinema in the early 2000s when social media was kicking in, that was centered around how technology had invaded everyone’s life and the effects it was having on making people feel both more connected and more disconnected simultaneously, some notable ones being All About Lily Chou-Chou and Suicide Club. In All About Lily Chou-Chou, an anonymous web forum was the heart of the film, connecting people who would otherwise not be connected. In Suicide Club, people’s obsession with technology had made people long for human connection again. Since that era of films, social media has only become more ingrained in all of our lives, and technology has only become more invasive to our everyday activities (a smartphone can text, call, browse the internet, take high-quality photos and videos, etc.). However, it can be hard to successfully relay this widespread use of social media. A break-out Norwegian television show, Skam, has managed to incorporate social media with flying colors. The characters have Instagrams that are updated in real time. The story lines weave in the use of social media consistently in relevant ways. Dear Evan Hansen has brought Broadway to this party. Evan was constantly on his computer interacting with his classmates. This vehicle of communication mimics the themes of loneliness well, showing that even if he was talking to multiple people, he was still on his bed alone.

In “Waving Through A Window”, Evan brought up the age-old question of if a tree fell in a forest and no one was there to perceive it, did it make a sound at all? The notable difference that Evan amended the original question with was that it wasn’t a tree falling in the forest, it was himself. Falling out of a tree, breaking an arm, and having no one there to help made Evan feel alone, as if the answer was no, he did not make a sound. And once it was revealed that this was actually an attempted suicide, we know the loneliness he was feeling was a contributor to even asking the question. Evan felt like he wouldn’t make a sound, like no one would be there, which was why he let go, and he was right.

In “For Forever”, the sun shining returned as an arc phrase. In “Waving Through A Window”, Evan remarked on stepping out of the sun if he kept getting burned, but in “For Forever”, the sun was a source of happiness. The difference between the way the sun felt was how in “Waving”, Evan was alone, and in “For Forever”, Evan was with Connor. Evan stepping into the sun in “Waving” was like each time he tried to make a friend on the first day of school, his attempt to make connections, to be happy. When that failed, the sun hurt. But when it succeeded, like the trip Evan detailed in “For Forever” with Connor, it was a wondrous feeling.

Zoe throws out the word “terrific” before “Requiem” happens, which I thought was a very fitting word to use. The etymology of which shows it stemming from a much more negative meaning, similar to terrifying, but has since become adopted to its modern day usage. “Requiem” drives home the theme of being alone and how it affects the different characters. We already saw Evan feeling alone, Connor feeling alone, and even Evan’s mom feeling alone with how often she had to work. Now we had Zoe feeling alone, because the Connor she knew was a monster, and everyone around her kept placing him on this pedestal after he had died. Her parents also grieved in vastly different ways.

“If I Could Tell Her” continued to blur the line between Evan and Connor. Evan finally exposed his feelings for Zoe but said that these were all things that Connor had told him in the privacy of their friendship. By the end of the situation, Evan kissed Zoe. Instead of her kicking Evan out, she ran to her room, alone.

“You Will Be Found” captured the tone of the musical in a single song. Although this was a depressing subject, what the performance was trying to drive home were uplifting messages, e.g. we all feel alone, but none of us really are, you will be found. Compare this to my (favorite) depressing musical, Next to Normal, and you can see how different the tones are. In Next to Normal, the songs weren’t meant to uplift the audience in the face of a depressing situation, the audience was simply sobbing their eyes out in the face of a depressing situation (the finale number, “Light”, was indeed uplifting for a final message, but the tone of the musical as a whole lacked this). Act I was closed out by the sun shining theme being brought back. Let the sun come streaming in, because you weren’t alone, even if it felt like you kept failing at making connections. That sun was still there, the same way it felt in “For Forever”. Social media proved its relevance outside of establishing the modern setting as the speech goes viral all over the internet, an important plot point expressed beautifully across the digital screens of the staging. Back in “Waving”, there was a formation that the ensemble made which looked like a backslash with Evan separated and in front of that backslash. In “Waving”, that ensemble backslash sang a more background part as Evan sang his melody alone. “You Will Be Found” does a throwback to that formation, having the ensemble reorganize into that backslash and Evan separated in front, but this time they were all singing the same line in unison, together. Not alone. I want to dub this an arc movement of sorts, and I love when a theater piece pulls this off. Spring Awakening (the Bill T. Jones choreographed version, not the newest Broadway incarnation from Deaf West Theater) had a choreography element that was established in the opening number and then used again later on as a dance motif. When that sort of thing works, it adds another layer to the climax and Dear Evan Hansen pulls it off (arguably subtly) in “You Will Be Found”. Also, I’m a sucker for a cappella, so the moment near the end of the song where the instruments cut out as the entire ensemble sings out “you will be found” always gets me excited (always as in the million times I’ve listened to the song since seeing my performance only a few days ago).

Act II started with all of the digital screens displaying various things, and only one of them was Evan (alone theme). “To Break In A Glove” very clearly paralleled Evan’s path of deceit. “It’s the hard way, but it’s the right way,” Evan had become 100% convinced that the Murphy family was only able to be happy as a result of his lying, a delusion reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves where Bess genuinely believed that Jan only got healthier the more she slept around with others (the phenomenal opera adaptation of which I recently saw, a review for it will be out either this week or next week). Evan was doing mental gymnastics, acknowledging to himself that lying was the harder way, but that it must have been the right way.

The scene before “Only Us” had Zoe opening up to Evan, expressing how she didn’t want their relationship to be all about Connor. It was just the two of them on the stage, but all of the digital screens in the background had Connor and The Connor Project displayed on them, showing just how rooted Connor was in their relationship, even if Zoe didn’t know it yet. During the song, we had a progression of the “million worlds apart” theme, this time Zoe and Evan are in the same place. They started singing together, “the rest of the world falls away”, which meanwhile was still a million worlds apart from everyone else because Alana was frustrated with how Evan had been slacking on his Connor Project duties. The Kickstarter page for The Connor Project looked to me like it had said there was about $20,000 raised from 49 backers, which would mean people were paying on average over $400. That felt a bit unrealistic, although I’m honestly not sure if there could be a smaller thing to nitpick about.

The show managed to show the flip side of social media, less in the way Suicide Club did when Sono was saying that it made us disconnected, but rather being connected with others online made it much easier for harassment, shown when the internet criticizes the Murphy family, wondering why they didn’t just use the money they had on Connor when he was alive, and anonymous hateful phone calls directed at Zoe. “Hated in the Nation”, the season 3 finale episode of Black Mirror, is an example that focuses on that same side of social media, an easy and anonymous path to mass harassment that might seem insignificant to the one harassing, but debilitating to the harassed (or in that case… dead).

Ben Platt’s performance was brilliant throughout Evan’s dialogue, but it was the moments where Evan was at his most anxious that Platt’s performance was the most overwhelming. He was shaking and had trouble speaking in what felt like a very non-forced way. This held true for when Evan finally snapped, seeing the Murphy family going back to yelling at each other and not being happy, seeing that his lying wasn’t actually helping the Murphy family be happy. His monologue where he explained that this had all been lies was completed with more shaking. Evan couldn’t hold eye contact with any of them, much less look them in the eye at all to face the amount of pain he was about to inflict on people he loved. Staggering.

At the end of the performance, we have Evan and Zoe at the orchard. The writing comes full circle, with Evan mentioning how since he lied about going to the orchard with Connor, this was his first time going there, but accompanied by a Murphy regardless, adding a feeling of resolution as the show headed towards its final number. The orchard very much resembled the elephant that was in that room, the elephant being Connor and the whole mess that happened with Evan’s lying. It was immediately obvious that Zoe and Evan haven’t spoken much since the catastrophic blow-up as they stood facing each other but very far apart (some would say a million worlds apart…). As their conversation transpired, they moved closer and farther away from each other, reflecting their emotions towards each other with respect to what they were saying. It was one of my favorite things that happened across the entire performance.

Having seen Amelie out in L.A. (review out next week), I currently feel like Dear Evan Hansen is the strongest Broadway show of 2017 (but I have my own strong biases, things like depressing topics and rock musicals). If you are the kind of person who liked other depressing shows, such as Next to Normal, Spring Awakening, or bare, then I would recommend this show. But Dear Evan Hansen will not be about wallowing in the depression, it will be about uplifting yourself and everyone around you. In fact, with a theme so prominent about how every single individual matters and will be seen, I found it very relevant given what is happening in politics.

Oliver Houston – Whatever Works

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It is unfair that this album came out while it is snowing in the NJ-NYC area. The feelings of happiness and living life are at their peak with this release as Oliver Houston put in a serious (yet obviously early) contender for the album to define summer 2017.  Whatever Works is the first full-length record out of these guys and it has been well worth the wait. The guitarist, Kyle, used to do his own thing under the name The Exploration which had (I believe unintentionally) built up a bit of a cult following. Various demos during this time period (including one single from a very early Oliver Houston) culminated in a final The Exploration EP that served as a goodbye to The Exploration as Oliver Houston took over, which is a full 3-piece project. The Dork Ages, an EP released by Oliver Houston in 2015, brought the feelings of happiness and summertime cheer wrapped up in a math-rock midwest emo package that they’ve clearly decided to build upon.

Pho sets the framework for the record, hitting many key components that make these songs what they are: a wall of sound with the feeling of being on top of the world right from the beginning, switching to a 7/4 time signature around the minute mark, and a guitar solo. Bernie gets going with the same feel, and I found myself already enjoying it (because I’ve loved the songs these guys have pumped out forever) but I felt myself getting skeptical about whether the songs would all blend together. Cue the section that starts at 1:15, which already allows breathing room and has marked itself individual from the first track, but climaxes with a “stay when you wanted, say what you wanted to know” in a similar same vein as the climax to Snowing’s Sam Rudich’s ba-da-das, as in, a vocal part on top of a more relaxed instrumental that you will scream along to at the shows and that you will scream along to when you are alone in your car. Tom Quad continues along hitting the same beats (all still in worthwhile ways) and has probably the most solo-y (read: not twinkly (I don’t even know what twinkly really means)) guitar solo, and it fits just as well as all of the twinkle. They also manage to squeeze in a few hits of a tambourine, and I’m always a fan of alternative instrumentation.

Concession already has my attention with the use of a what I assume is a vibraslap and background vocals before it fully kicks in. Lots of layers and groove cement it as a standout, but then comes the middle section. Oliver Houston fully reprises what was, in my opinion, the best part of their EP The Dork Ages. A magnificent layering of a lead guitar part being played in 6/4-8/4-6/4-12/4, with another guitar part layered on top in straight 6/4, yet it doesn’t feel jarring. This is the kind of thing that will make any fan of The Dork Ages geek out in a big way, so if you haven’t already listened to The Dork Ages, I recommend you check it out before getting to this record. This sort of thing doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like it to, the last time that I can think of it happening was Mamiffer’s Flower of the Field II after Flower of the Field (which already implies something in the name).

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Tough Luck starts less full blast, establishing a groove and gradually building off of that (including backing vocals that are used sparingly through the album which helps set it apart). When it gets going, it probably hits the twinkliest part of the album, I even find myself singing along to the guitar part (although I say that as someone who, as I said earlier, doesn’t fully grasp what twinkle is supposed to fully mean in the context of a genre, so take what I say with a grain of salt). Milk Door sees them playing around with the calmest sense of space on the record in an almost post-rock like sense (but still firmly in the sound that is Oliver Houston).

Whatever Works (the track) and Reprise continue to show that this band knows how to end an release. Whatever Works kicks off with a 6/4-8/4-6/4-6/4 introduction before establishing itself in a 6/4 groove to be jammed on, still with plenty of forward movement, for the majority of the song. Unlike The Dork Ages (the track), Whatever Works reaches a chord driven climax by the end. This works well, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t truly miss the alternative instrumentation they introduced on The Dork Ages (the track). That track focused around an acoustic guitar and ended up using tambourine, toy bells of some sort, and a French horn — and it was beautiful. Whatever Works has just come out, and I find myself listening to the final two tracks constantly (on top of the rest of the album), so I think my missing of the alternative instrumentation is simply me complaining about how the band is no longer catering to my specific biases (i.e. alternative instrumentation). The tracks are still killer enders.

This record makes you want to yell along, jam out, and just feel happy. Oliver Houston has given us the opportunity to learn all of the words before summer hits, if you know what I mean — woo!

Mike Mills – 20th Century Women

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Menstruation.

20th Century Women was possibly my favorite movie of 2016, rivaled only by Moonlight. It came out in late December in NYC, and even though the IMDb page says it was officially released this past week, it somehow got nominated for best original screenplay.

Starting at the beginning, Mills continues his use of montage the way he had in Beginners. In a seemingly Amelie-style (just rewatched so it is on my mind) he goes through the backstories of the characters with incredibly specific and almost odd ways of describing them, but they shed so much light on who the characters are at their core while saying so little. In this regard, the film, to me, screams vulnerability and intimacy in this regard.

There was a prominent emotional theme of dancing. It was displayed as this physical expression of emotion that could be expressed to anyone or no one. It was consuming on an individual level for each of the characters, and we saw them all get lost in different dancing to different music (Art Fag vs. Black Flag) in different spaces (someone’s bedroom, hardcore punk show, club, etc.) It is a very common occurrence to hear someone say, “I don’t dance,” or, “I don’t know how to dance.” The movie directly answers this with the comment on punk music. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen the movie, but the line was something to the effect of: These are people who have emotions and passions that are bigger than the tools they have to express them. So someone with a guitar and microphone could have no idea how to play anything and know zero music theory, but they still have something to get out of them. This felt like a distinct parallel to dancing, and how even if people “don’t know how to dance”, it doesn’t matter, because you can totally feel the emotion of dancing in whichever way you experience.

When a family goes through two cars in one film, something is going on. The opening scene has their car burst into flames as it is sitting in the parking lot, and later on, the replacement car is covered in vilifying profanity. These different eras of cars are representing the changing time periods (of both the relationships involved and society on a whole). The characters in the film are constantly evolving their relationships with each other which are sort of synced with each new era of car. As for the societal parallel, the film is showcasing the rise of feminism and its impact.

Vehicles on a whole (cars, skateboards, etc.) are usually showed in a fast-forwarded speed, complete with rainbow colored effects. This is further establishing the sense of time passing. However, the final scene with Dorothea on a biplane feels very purposefully not sped up. That is the final moment. We aren’t changing anymore.

The dinner scene is one of the best scenes of the film, with each character sort of radiating their individual personalities without clashing. The dialogue is incredibly well-done, with Abbie and Julie speaking to the whole table, and Dorothea speaking to people individually, and Jamie sort of just soaking in everything around him. His experience of growing up. His role models.

The ending sort of loops back to the use of montage use of telling the story before this point. This is more akin to the series finale of Six Feet Under, where after you have connected with the characters so much, they are given definitive endings, ones that go beyond the scope of the film’s central story.

After reading this article in the New Yorker, it was interesting to find out that Mills specifically wanted to cast a 14-year-old for the role of Jamie, as he thought by 15 their sexuality would be too actualized.

I found this film to be a huge step up from the prior film, Beginners. Beginners won an academy award. I’m not sure if the cutoff dates made things confusing (somehow it got nominated for original screenplay) or if the notoriety of the competition was just too big before this movie could take off, but it feels weird to me knowing that Beginners, from purely an academy award stance, will likely be more accomplished. That being said, here is an excerpt from that same article in the New Yorker:

He was getting a stream of e-mails from the film’s distributor, A24, about “tastemaker” screenings, to position Annette Bening for a Best Actress nomination. July had told me that she’d reminded Mills “that the Oscars could be seen as a major artistic fail—that being beloved by the really homogeneous, conservative group that votes on them would be bad.” Mills said, “That’s where Miranda’s a savior. I felt dumb that I was falling for the competition.” But a moment later he added, “If we don’t get a nomination now, it is perceived as ‘You’re not worthy of seeing on Friday night.’ ”

I’m left to wonder if he would want an Oscar.

Molly Joyce – Lean Back and Release

Spoiler Warning: The Leftovers season 2

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Michael Hamad said in his article, “Joyce chases intersections between the seen and the unseen, how solo performances aren’t really solo performances, the way backing tracks push back on a performer, and maybe a few other ideas.” When I went and saw the record release to Vicky Chow’s A O R T A, it was a pleasure to see her perform the work composed by Joyce entitled Rave (personally it was my second favorite piece of the album behind Vick(i/y)). Hamad’s words resonate with me as I think back to that performance. At first, I was put off by the use of a backing track; I was wondering to myself why they didn’t just have another performer join Chow on stage. By the end of the piece, I had been so blown away that I hadn’t thought back to it until I read this article by Hamad. I’m now putting together that this was intentional by Joyce. And you know what? That’s awesome. This is a space that, not only do I not see currently being pushed (at least within my limited sphere of experience) but I was also so quick to dismiss it of being a section of music that should be explored (see: my internal reaction at Chow’s record release). I don’t want to stay on Rave too long as I’m excited to get into Lean Back and Release, but I’ll just say that the melody line that appears at around 7:49 in the higher register of the piano is such a resolving climax that gets me amped up every time I hear it.

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Lean Back and Release: Joyce’s first release to her name on New Am Records (of which everyone should subscribe to). Right out of the gate the solo violin came out at a piercing register, yet I found the melody to be catchy enough to be a theme (that I do not believe ever gets revisited). Very quickly the piece settles into its groove with the backing tracks that I am now familiar with Joyce using. Around the 3 minute mark, the backing track reaches a point where it is as prominent as the violin, and in doing so, echoing Hamad, pushing back against the performer. It is only after that part dies down around 4:15 when the violin is back in the spotlight do I first realize how far down the pitch has traveled (even with the knowledge that there is a descending theme at play). During a relisten, I reached that part and then immediately restarted the piece to clearly hear how large the difference is, and it is enormous. When the piece seems to be centered around descending through these tones, I expected for a more blunt and in-your-face way of accomplishing this, but this was fluid. As an aside, within the fiction reading that I do, there is a ton of work that sets out to accomplish something, but the characters are just a vehicle. They don’t feel real or have emotions that resonate deeply, and it becomes obvious that they are a vehicle for whatever the author is trying to accomplish. Even if Joyce set out with the intention of this descending-of-tones piece, it didn’t feel fake. It didn’t feel like this composition and instrumentation was merely a vehicle for that intention. This is something she pulls off again with the following track.

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Shapeshifter. Every time I put this on, I get lost in the piece and don’t realize when the backing track has taken on long tones and the live violin pizzicato. That to me is a sign that this piece is just as fluid as the last, able to showcase the transfer of control without being abrupt in the manner by which it is presented. The ending, starting at around 5:55, is very emotional to me. When the live violin has conformed to the pizzicato of the backing track, it’s almost like witnessing a successful mind control after hearing the violin resist during the previous minutes. The first piece of a cross-media parallel I can think of is the end of season 2 of The Leftovers, specifically around 38:30 of the finale. Evie is revealed to be a part of the Guilty Remnant and the screen just focuses on the emotional turmoil that her parents are going through, all sound being cut except for Max Richter slowly building behind them. To her parents, it appears that the Guilty Remnant have brainwashed her, and to see Evie just staring away from her mom, not caring at all, not speaking, dressed in all white, smoking… It evokes the same emotions that I felt at the end of Shapeshifter. Those were season-long emotions that were built up over time and reinforced across multiple mediums, and for Shapeshifter to hit those same emotions makes me very excited for Joyce’s future output. Whether or not my own perception is skewed by having felt those emotions and being moved by them is up for debate, but regardless, this EP was great. Not only was it great, but it doesn’t sound even slightly similar to what was accomplished with Rave, which means I have no worries about whether or not she will be a one-trick pony (not that New Am has ever put out stuff by any such people before).

Shane Carruth – A Topiary

Spoiler Warning: Primer and Upstream Color

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A Topiary is the name of Shane Carruth’s project that made it to script but never to screen. Coming off of Primer, a science-driven science-fiction movie on barely any budget, A Topiary bit off more than it could chew as far as what Carruth was able to gather financially. The project has officially been put to the side; after all, he ended up doing Upstream Color (my favorite movie) and is now working on The Modern Ocean (last I heard).

Due to Upstream Color being my favorite movie, it was only a matter of time before I picked up A Topiary to give it a proper read through. My initial reaction: I can say with confidence that I will absolutely be reading this script a second time. One reason being to relive it because it was phenomenal, the other reason being to get a better grasp on everything that went on.

The scope of A Topiary is monumental and Carruth respects this fact by throwing it in at the very beginning. The script starts off by putting us in a car filled with a family. We spend a few pages with them, and then he kills them off (as far as the script is concerned). This isn’t some flashy way of grabbing a reader’s attention nor is it a way of him trying to break rules by killing off all of the characters as quickly as possible. For me, this runs very similarly to the story of Upstream Color. In Upstream Color, the main character isn’t Kris; it’s the life cycle of the worms. We experience that through Kris, but this includes the Thief and the Sampler as well. In A Topiary, who is the main character? The glint. Where does the glint start? The intersection (at least as told through Acre despite their being many places the glint starts, the same way there were many pigs in Upstream Color but we experienced the story through Kris). Why is that intersection important? It had the highest amount of accidents. What makes Carruth’s stories so interesting to me is that starting it with that car crash makes perfect sense in the context of the story (the story of the glint), but due to our conventional story-telling rules it almost feels like a gimmick at first. We expect the story to be about one of those characters in the car, not about a glint or an intersection.

Let’s reign this back to the point I was getting at: the scope of A Topiary. In Primer, the scope was between two people and the trust issues that ensue when something so lifechanging is added to the mix. In Upstream Color, the scope was the life cycle of a worm, and how that cycle in nature connected different people. A Topiary is also very much on board  with nature and the being-connected train, but the scope is the entire universe, and a life form that in this case is not a worm but rather a life form that is almost a property of nature itself. Bear with me.

Acre’s story revolves around how all areas of science, with application to nature, lead to the same place. Acre got there by following the glints doing his traffic related job. It was so embedded in nature and his surroundings that it led him to the same place as everyone else just by counting birds flying across a street, or bicycles being left outside on the hour. Once he was joined with everyone else, it was seen that everyone there had gotten there themselves by being some sort of expert in their individual field, and followed the signs to the same place. This was the idea of connecting all of these fields together through nature. Being a non-practicing trained audio professional (hooray), the concepts of finding audio clips that were identical to other sources in nature was mind-blowing to me. It felt original, it felt well-executed, it felt exciting to read about, and I will likely be waiting years to hopefully experience it on the screen.

Having all of these experts in different fields of science was something that A Topiary had in common with Primer. Primer showed that the audience doesn’t need to be an expert in a field to enjoy seeing experts thrive in their own environment. Hollywood likes to dumb things down for the average (or below average) consumer, and then spoon feed whatever is going on with deliberate exposition. Seeing people talk like they belong in that field adds a feeling of genuine realism, but one that can only accomplished if the story can still be felt despite the audience not being an expert in the field. Upstream Color goes a different route, and instead of having people talk as if they belong there, there is almost no dialogue at all. But both of those styles are accomplished by doing the same thing, making the audience feel the story before anything else. The very first time I finished Upstream Color I was overflowing with emotions, but I had no idea what I had just watched.

All of the properties of nature led beings, that through evolution achieved consciousness (the obvious example being humans, but this extends to any beings throughout the nature of the universe), to the same place. This place can be called gbpa, or glint—>bifurcation—>poem—>apologue. This place brought about the construction of robots(?) that, if we assume a food chain exists, are ranked above humans.

The main chunk of the story is the boys, despite how amazing the Acre section is. All of the boys have six letter names, almost homogenizing them together. They represent the entirety of the human species. This section of the story is about human nature and its place within nature itself, and how it ultimately leads to the same place as well. Using the boys as the main characters here lets us examine human nature from a tabula rasa stance, but it also allows the audience to understand this complex subject at the same pace, with all of the hands-on learning that comes with being a child.

I am still left a bit confused over a few points of the story, mainly the eating of the detritus allowing the experience of what seems to be the ubiquity and omniscience of the choruses. Is there a realm where, given the same universe as this story, humans could modify themselves to be more like choruses through detritus eating? I have no idea. I will sit on some of these questions during further readings and any additional online research that I do.

This story involves robots(?) being a part of nature, the development of consciousness, nature being connected from various fields of science overlapping, and I believe it pulls all of these things off to incredible effect. This is what I mean when I say the scope of this piece is enormous.