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Nostalgia is Good, Until It’s Not

This afternoon i chose to indulge in some nostalgic activities (as opposed to an activity that provoked nostalgic sensations) here on Martha’s Vineyard. The island has an extensive range of memories for me spanning my whole life, as I’ve undoubtedly mentioned before, and, at this point in my life, it offers a larger array of memories than the area of Massachusetts where I officially grew up. If asked, I say I “partially grew up” here on the island, which isn’t an exaggeration.

I am noting this today because it seems that each time I intentionally go back to a particular area of the island that has a number of memories for and with my paternal side of the family, there is a gradual but noticeable curved sensation of enjoyment. Initially being in that area provokes something like a warm fuzzie: “hmm, yes, there are many memories here and I’m glad to acknowledge and recall them…” which then carries itself on with a familiar mix of past and present. That feeling gives way to one that’s more rooted in the present, like an “okay, here I am, and I’m going to stop what I’m doing and JUST BE for a few minutes, because the present moment involves what feels like lots of running around.” Or something like that. And then, there’s an abrupt shift, which could be provoked by something like a phone call or seeing another person, or it could take the form of a sudden realization, to the tune of “OK that’s enough to look back on for now. Don’t get lost in the past.

I didn’t really realize that those sensations have been chronic, but something about this particular activity today made me recognize that the cycle has played itself out before. And maybe it will again. While I will continue to think that it’s good to be respectful and acknowledging of the past, it’s possible that if the desire for nostalgia comes up in the future – as it probably will – I will be more mindful of how much time and thought I wish to spend with it.

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Blogging is an Art

One of my cousins started a blog. And it’s not simply a commentary blog, it’s a detailed personal blog about life in the Big Apple. I’m not sure I would want to do the same thing for life in Detroit and surroundings, but it does remind me of what I call “the old days” of blogging, first when a long update on life via LiveJournal – sometimes several times per week – was the norm, later in a more public blog off and on for a few years, then morphing into Twitter updates that continue through to this day, and finally embracing the increasingly verbose and visually sophisticated art of Facebook status updates, which now IMO are currently more about the art of the “share” from another source, and less about the actual written status of the friend.

All of which to say is that this blog was originally intended as a way to “go back” to the habit of a more detailed description of daily life, and since its creation in 2009, I’ve come back to that objective periodically. But recently, for one reason or another – starting with no internet in the place I lived over the summer, and then going into a new residence from there and choosing not to have internet – this blog has felt more distant. It’s time to correct that!

SO, this weekend I spent a good deal of time in Canada, which I generally like to do, since it is literally right down the street and there are many subtle, fun cultural differences in going just over the border. At some point I became aware that the artistic culture is different as well, and I also learned that the Canadian film culture is occasionally ahead of the game from its US counterparts, as in a film is released earlier or simply comes to the area but doesn’t come to southeastern Michigan. And this fact is the most apparent when the Windsor Film Festival rolls around for another year, as it did this past week.

On the final day yesterday, the festival director excitedly noted that 17,000 tickets were sold during the five day event, a new record for their offerings. Three of those tickets were from me for three distinct films.

45 years posterFirst up on Friday night was 45 Years, a buzz-building drama expected to be rolled out in the US around Christmas. Star Charlotte Rampling is also expected to factor in the end of year awards season conversation for her role in this film. She plays Kate, a retired schoolteacher living in rural Norfolk, England, with her husband, Geoff. The couple is mere days away from their 45th wedding anniversary as the film opens, and due to some health problems they experienced five years before, they’ve decided to host a large scale celebration this time. The drama gets going when Geoff receives an unexpected reminder of his past, and the narrative moves forward from there.

I notice that the synopsis sounds more like a mystery or horror film, and 45 Years very much treads in that realm at times during its 95 or so minute running time. A crucial choice made by director Andrew Haigh involves leaving many details to the viewer’s imagination and almost nothing spelled out in the narrative. That is something that I greatly approve of in film storytelling, and is yet all too rarely seen!

It’s not a surprise that Rampling (whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform onstage in 2004, sort-of met after the show, and owe my appreciation of her work to this Avengers episode) ably carries the film on her veteran shoulders. But it was refreshing to see her drop a certain steely demeanor she’s become known for IMO in some of her recent roles over the past 5-10 years – she was believable as a person who enjoys the more relaxed side of life, and life in retirement phase. But when her husband’s surprising news affects her as well, there are many questions and she conveys the lonely confusion and disarray that envelops the character’s life.

As for the other two films, I’ll have to do a separate entry.

Late Review: “The Theory of Everything”

wilmington moviesMy Thanksgiving visit back to Delaware (my adopted home state) included a return visit to downtown Wilmington’s Penn Cinema Riverfront, which opened with much fanfare in late 2012 as it brought the first IMAX screen to Delaware. At the time in my handful of early visits there, I felt like the cinema might have been rushed into opening and some interior aspects seemed unwelcoming or unfinished. I was happy to see a brighter interior this time around and fully functioning poster displays outside each auditorium. However, I still don’t understand why the cinema never constructed a separate ticket kiosk; it continues to awkwardly funnel customers into making their purchases at the concession stand.

That being said, it’s great that Northern Delaware now has more moviegoing variety between this complex, the just – opened Cinemark complex at the Christiana Mall, a year – old complex in Middletown, and older complexes in Glasgow, Newark and Brandywine Hundred. The smaller scale Theatre N also soldiers on in downtown Wilmington.

Our feature of choice was The Theory of Everything, a recently released biopic chronicling a segment of the life of Stephen Hawking, well – known scientist and professor, as seen through the eyes of his first wife. It can’t be easy to construct a film structured around someone’s LIFE STORY and condense it down to around two hours. The script of the film suffers from a few too many montages meant to depict Hawking’s different stages of life and familial growth. A more interesting approach might have involved focusing on a few key events, without having the sense of rushing from point to point.

penn cinemaThe strength of this film lies in its performances, most especially with British actor Eddie Redmayne as Hawking. The actor so completely inhabits the real person that I felt like the lines between performance and life had fallen away. Hawking himself was reportedly so impressed by the portrayal that he allowed the filmmakers to use his copyrighted real voice. He is expectedly matched by Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking, who believably matures over the course of the story and gives a strong sense of the emotional and psychological challenges her marriage develops. Jane also faces a long stream of “what might have been or could be” thoughts, which eventually culminates (no spoiler here) in the dissolution of their marriage.

A modest supporting cast includes veteran David Thewlis as Stephen’s academic mentor, Charlie Cox as a family friend who becomes intimately involved with their life, and brief cameos from Simon McBurney and Emily Watson, among others, as older relatives.

The film is well – made; director James Marsh was also responsible for the documentary Man on Wire a few years back. But several narrative flourishes, most notably seen in an early sequence involving blue and white lighting and a dreamlike atmosphere, disappear as the film settles in to a more conventional narrative. A music score by Jóhann Jóhannsson does add nuance throughout the length of the story.

So, the film is unavoidably a mixed bag… but I would still say it is worth seeing for the power of the real – life story and intense commitment of the performers and the filmmaker.

Sassy tuneful nostalgia

I’m offering some short hot off the press impressions of an appearance this evening from singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler at the Ann Arbor Ark, which also functioned as a very belated first visit for me to the acclaimed local music venue.

Wheeler, who has long been a familiar presence on my family’s playlist, continues to shine in the live setting, treating the audience like old friends. However, this isn’t to say that she loses focus on the music — it seemed to be quite the opposite, as she worked very specifically from a (presumed) outline of songs from her catalog. She was quite generous in offering a range of personal anecdotes that mostly focused on East and West Coast experiences, whether walking with her wife and animals at Horseneck Beach in Massachusetts or driving the long haul from Seattle to California destinations (Petaluma and Santa Monica both got specific shootouts) and writing a song or two along the way. She expertly segued her narrative so that the last quarter or so of her concert focused solely on the music, after plenty of laughs and chat in the earlier part of the evening.

I’m pleased that Wheeler included “Driving Home” – one of my favorites of her recordings – and a few other of her older songs. She offered a subdued interpretation of “Aces”, another older tune, earlier in the evening, leading me to think she was choosing not to use her higher register, but later selections showed that range to still be in place and in excellent form.

Of course I also appreciated the strong New England feel of the concert. She even included her song “When Fall Comes to New England”, which was a frequent sight on my iPod playlist for a time, most notably during a series of driving commutes in Western Massachusetts in the summer and fall of 2007.

She got the most reaction out of the (nearly sold out) crowd before her final song, which she humorously prefaced with a “fake final” song of her fan favorite “Potato” (yes, that’s the song name) – explaining that she doesn’t like the forced tradition of the singer leaving and then being called back to the stage for “…just one more.” And so she proceeded with the most heartfelt tune of the evening (wish I knew the name) written in honor of her father’s 75th birthday.

Although some might say that Wheeler flies under the radar in her music career, she seems just fine with that and willingly capable of doing whatever she wants with her music, with a loyal and appreciative fan base that is right there cheering her on.