When the portraits of the Obamas were revealed today, I mentioned that seeing Kehinde Wiley‘s work was one of the big Art Moments in my life. I started thinking about a few other peak experiences and wanted to jot’em down.
First, Wiley. I saw an exhibition in Phoenix, and just drooled. I love the large painted portraits, but it was the stained glass that really won me over:
The first time I ever saw Out of the Past, I almost couldn’t believe it was happening. At that moment, it was a pinnacle combination of zippy script, glamour, camerawork, noir, tragedy. Just dumbfounded and grateful that I’d found it.
As a teen I got kinda lost in the Louvre and then I came around some the corner, I saw Winged Victory, and I couldn’t move. When the spell wore off a little bit, I didn’t want to leave.
In college I went to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra play Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with a buddy of mine. At this point it was one of my favorite works for orchestra, one I’d listened to a million times, and I lucked into one of those edge-of-your-seat performances where everyone was locked in. It’s all great and then we come to the close of the third movement, just a few minutes remaining, where the pianist is racing through a closing bit of fireworks (32:18 or so), and where there’s a pause (32:33) – it’s just a second, but at this point we’re just dying to hear the orchestra re-enter – we can hear the pianist and the composer both take a deep breath and lunge into action and boooooom we’re back with timpani and strings and big chunky chords and we’re all losing our minds. Lordy.
Lastly (for now) I went to Chicago a few years back and wandered around the Art Institute. I had some time to kill so I figured why not wander to the bottom floor and see about that Ethel Stein exhibit they had tucked away. I’d seen plenty of woven stuff before but this was one that made me really appreciate how high the ceiling can be.
I know I’m missing a bunch, and that’s fine. These are the ones that stick out for now. Here’s to many more.
Wind River. Man, this was great. I’ve been catching up on 2017 movies, and when I see ones like this and The Lost City of Z and Good Time, I start to wonder why we weren’t talking about them all year long. Wind River sits with its pain, a steady undercurrent of mourning, and explores how we accept loss, or find ourselves in some other endless form of pursuit, resignation, denial. Native American mistreatment is also a big theme, shown with visuals – contrast modest homes vs. trailer parks – or just ignorance, like when our well-meaning FBI agent bumbles through an interview with a victim’s family. At times the script feels more written than spoken, but that’s not so bad when the words are great. Director Taylor Sheridan also wrote the excellent Sicario and Hell or High Water.
Columbus. I dig it. There is definitely some Lost in Translation similarity. Two strangers finding another someone who’s a little lost, seeing each other down the road a ways. They each give each other the nudge they didn’t want to want, but know they need. I like how these characters sometimes get a little peevish with other. The script is rough sometimes, but every picture is lovely to look at.
If the film has a point, it is that “discerning a point” is harder than ever in a world where mediated experiences of “beauty” are more ubiquitous, accessible and customizable than ever, but less and less tied to rubrics of meaning.
I really liked this essay by Brett McCracken.
Life Off Grid. This was a decent little documentary, profiling a few Canadians from each province who decided to disconnect, to one degree or another. It made me realize my instant association with “off the grid” is survivalist paranoiacs. Not fair, but there you go. Nice to have a broader perspective here. For many of them, going off the grid wasn’t the goal in the first place. It was a side effect of some other life choice. One guy, for example, just wanted to live with less money. Another couple, well, they liked the location, and electricity simply isn’t available out there. Each find their own way. Another common theme was the sense of responsibility and efficacy. Most of them talked about or hinted at ripple effects of their choices, the tensions between what they want, the effort it would take to attain it, and all the baggage that could come along. Also cool to see how each household approached common problems in different ways – water supply, grocery shopping, TV, poop, dishes. On the whole, the eastern Canadians seemed more… balanced? Mainstream?
I did some volunteering with Trees Atlanta recently. In one of their offices they had this 10-year-old map of the Atlanta Beltline, with plans for the surrounding landscapes. Very cool to see this early vision – and a different one than the neighborhood/transit-focused one we’re used to – back when it was mostly just a dream. It still is, but it’s also on its way. I like that they still have it around.
Emily Dickinson was, in her lifetime, perhaps more widely known as a gardener than poet. She would send her friends bunches of flowers with poems attached, but “they valued the posy more than the poetry”. 💔 Her 1840s herbarium is online here via Harvard.
Never knew about this. So cool.
I like David Cain’s writing about the importance of re-learning:
I’m sure the Germans or the Japanese have a word that means, precisely, “Life-changing ideas that do not change our lives because we only read about them once, agree enthusiastically, and then forget them before we act on them.”
If not, we could use one. How many times has your mind been set ablaze by a profound truth from a book, podcast, article, or a speech, only for the idea to fade before you could do anything with it?
One thing I’ve been pondering lately: making space for good stuff I already know about. After I ported over thousands of old tumblr posts, the ongoing clean-up process has resurfaced a bunch of old stuff I forgot I ever experienced.
Dunkirk. It is tremendous. Couldn’t look away for even a sliver of a moment. Out of all of Christopher Nolan movies I’ve seen, I’d rank this at the top. One thing that did him a favor is that the dialogue is so minimal. A trim, direct story so he can focus on the construction. I love the layered stories – the boat scenes being my favorites – that are racing to meet at the end, which we know with hindsight is only a beginning.
I haven’t updated my Christopher Nolan power rankings in a while, so…
- The Prestige
- The Dark Knight
- The Dark Knight Rises
- Batman Begins
That feels right for now.
Good Time. Hoo boy I loved it. An urban chase film where our protagonist keeps digging himself in bigger holes. The music is key – similar to how Thief and The Guest get so much grimy energy from their own moody, heavily electronic scores. Interesting choices to light scenes using only televisions, and in the roles that phones play in plot and theme.
Phantom Thread. Loved it in the moment. Didn’t know where it was going, didn’t care, I just knew I wanted to be there. I’d probably put this in my top 3 Paul Thomas Anderson movies, but I’m not yet sure how I’d reshuffle them.
It Comes at Night. It’s great! Movies like this remind you of what a simple, almost primal pleasure it is just to watch how light fills and moves through a dark place. I also like that it doesn’t bother with answers about the general state of the world, and doesn’t waste time with half-hearted attempts. People seek and accept what’s practical, and move on. Backstory is irrelevant to a degree. The red door in the house – like a church, perhaps? I’ve really come to love this survival-cabin subgenre. Other recent ones that are worth a look: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Into the Forest, Z for Zachariah. What else?
I Am Not Your Negro. I liked it a lot. Just the premise – a movie rendition of an unfinished book – is such an interesting way to start. I’ve heard similar formulations before, but two ideas in here really stuck with me. One, his comments during an interview that, while he may not know what whites believe, he can see the state of our institutions (church, work, real estate, etc.). They tell you something you cannot deny. Second, his prompt to ask ourselves why the negro was invented. Black people didn’t come up with it. It’s a white invention to fill some need – one worth examining. Recommended. Filed under: documentaries.
I really liked Lauren Hallden’s Towards a Bra-Free Instagram Experience. It made me start to wonder about the effects of a social medium when it thinks you are something… but you are not that. Every so often I’ve noticed an account can stumble into a sort of algorithmic death spiral. I remember years back when I foolishly gave The Great Gatsby five stars on Amazon, and for months on end it thoughtfully suggested classic after classic after classic after classic. I guess that’s to be expected. But what’s get interesting is that somehow it’s not just an annoyance – I don’t use the suggestions that much – but it also feels like a wrong worth correcting, a sense of identity betrayed. And I have to try to convince the black box that this is what I’m about.
I’ve spent my fair share of time on Instagram, and don’t really regret it much. Perhaps that’s because the channel isn’t as emotionally charged as others can be. But I recently removed the Instagram app from my phone, just as a little experiment. I still log in every now and then on the iPad to see what’s up. (By the way, Instagram via iPad web browser is so much better than the iPhone app it’s crazy. There also seem to be fewer ads?)
This removal is also part of a re-RSSing (and re-assessing) project I’ve been trying to do. If I check comething a lot, find a feed. If I think about a topic a lot, find the feeds. Instagram doesn’t have any built-in feeds that I know of, but you can cobble something together through various means (for example). So far I like this approach. I see only what I wanted – and I miss what they think I wanted. I’m okay with this. This product manager idea of “discovery” has never ranked high on my list, and I don’t miss content-hopping down the bottomless pit. That’s what Twitter is for.
A spread from my forthcoming imaginary book, Pilgrims and Converts: The Sublime Loves of Terrence Malick. To the Wonder (2012). Song to Song (2017). Knight of Cups (2015).
Filed under: imaginary books.