Thursday, February 14, 2013

      Jill Sobule, in my office, with her iPad, and her thinking cap on.  We were figuring out our show order for the Jill & Julia Show which we did at Space, in Evanston, IL on January 26th.  We filmed the show and we're making a Jill & Julia website (should by up by the end of March.)  We have several shows booked for July, and even one coming up, March 16th in Hartford, CT at the Mark Twain House.  The Mark Twain house! That's awesome.  I'm really looking forward to it.  (Jill is an amazing rock/folk singer and musician, see her website

      Well, I'm gearing up for my book release, April 2nd. I have several appearances and book related events. I will be getting the information up soon. Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm also going to have my own website, which will help promote the book, up in a matter of... well, probably several weeks.  But still! Things are in motion.

     Okay, books read in January 2013:

     1.)  "In the Shadow of the Banyon," written by Vaddey Ratner.
     2.)  "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," written by Maria Semple
     3.)  "This Book Will Make You Smarter," a compilation of essays edited by John Brockman

    I enjoyed all these books.  Reading "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" was especially sweet because it was written by a friend of mine, one who I greatly admire and am deeply inspired by.  Sweet because I had taken so long to read it - it came out last June and I had followed it's success with joy, and yet - I think I was afraid to read it! In fact, Maria read my book even before I read hers - and that was a very good thing because I was so blown away by "Where'd You Go" that I wonder if I'd have even sent her my book if I'd realized what a great and funny and skillful writer she's become.  I mean, I knew it before, I loved her previous book, "This One is Mine" but "Where'd You Go...."  Wow.  I laughed so hard while reading this book, once I laughed so friggin hard that Mulan asked me to leave the room because she was trying to practice piano and my cackling was interfering with her concentration.  Let me tell you something, Mulan practices piano LOUDLY.  So this just shows how loud I must have been laughing.  I was completely surprised by what was happening in the book, how it turned out, how nutty it got - and yet how understandable and justified and quirky and odd and meaningful.  Poignant, even.  When I finished the book, it stayed with me for a long time. I kept thinking about Bernadette - I still think of her like an actual person, and not a character in a book.

    "This Book Will Make You Smarter" is one of those John Brockman edited books - he runs this organization called The Edge.  He runs the website for it,  And he puts out a book every year with essays by influential big thinkers, mostly scientists.  "This Book Will Make You Smarter" is the perfect bedside book - the essays are short, but thought provoking.  A couple of the essays are still banging around in my head - one by Brian Eno, the musician, and recording producer entitled "Ecology."  In this essay he beautifully distinguishes between old world thinking: religious, pyramidic, hierarchical, with new world thinking: complex, web like, "an infinity of nested and co-dependant hierarchies."  It's not something I hadn't thought about before, in fact, for the last ten years it's all I have been thinking about!  But I love how succinctly Brian Eno describes it, how starkly, and elegantly.

     The other essay in this book I keep turning around in my head was written by Gloria Origgi, a French philosopher who works at the Insitut Jean Nicod.  She wrote an essay called "Kakonomics."  She posits that most economic theory is based on the idea that people want to provide lower quality goods and receive higher quality goods.  This is logical, right?  People want to give less and receive more.  But in practice, people are wily.  People practice mutual un-spoken agreement to each provide lower quality goods.  One example she gives is one about Italian builders, "Italian builders never deliver when they've promised to, but the good thing is, they don't expect you to pay them when you've promised to, either."  The idea is that if you talk the talk about exchanging high quality work, but in fact understand that you will both actually deliver mediocre work, then the pressure is relieved on both sides and therefore both sides gain.  But of course, this behavior has an - as she puts it - an "overall worsening" effect on our society and culture.  When I read this essay I couldn't stop seeing examples of it everywhere. I'd never thought about that before!

     "In the Shadow of the Banyon" was a brilliant book too!  Wow, so many good books out there.  It's about a Cambodian family during the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Which - I didn't even realize that the Khmer Rouge means Cambodians, Red!  Communists.  I mean, I knew they were communists. But I never thought about the name before. Jeez. Anyway, it was a beautiful written book, really tragic and compelling.  I recommend it highly.

     Can I just say that reading about insane historical episodes, like the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia - people can be so crazy, whole groups of people can get so frighteningly nutty.  There are so many examples of it, not just the Nazis (the ubiquitous and overused example) but everywhere.  I used to have such a benevolent view of humanity, but as I get older, I just get more and more jaded, and frankly scared.  Scared of big crowds. It even extends to football games, all those people cheering, it just gives me the willies.

     Okay, before I drag this blog post into the mud, let's move on to movies.  During January, I had my friends Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy and Jim Emerson come for five days of movie watching.  Many of the films listed here were watched with them, a delightful group of fellow film enthusiasts.  We had a lovely little winter film festival among friends.

    Films watched in January 2013:

    1.)  On the Waterfront, 1954, directed by Elia Kazan
    2.)  The Devil's Envoys, (french title: Les Visiteurs Du Soir,) 1942, directed by Marcel Carne
    3.)   My Summer of Love, 2004, directed by Pawel Pawilikowski
    4.)   Searching for Sugar Man, 2012, directed by Malik Bendjelloul
    5.)   Open Range, 2003, directed by Kevin Costner
    6.)   Canyon Passage, 1946, directed by Jaques Tourneur
    7.)   The Gatekeepers, 2012, directed by Dror Moreh
    8.)   Celeste & Jesse Forever, 2012, directed by Lee TOland Krieger
    9.)    Assault on Precinct 13, 1976, directed by John Carpenter
   10.)   Silver Linings Playbook, 2012, directed by David O. Russell
   11.)  Martha Marcy May Marlene, 2011, directed by Sean Durkin
   12.)   Me and My Gal, 1932, directed by Raoul Walsh
   13.)   Coriolanus, 2011, directed by Ralph Feinnes
   14.)   The Beaches of Agnes, 2008, directed by Agnes Varda
   15.)   Housekeeping, 1987, directed by Bill Forsyth
   16.)   Panic in the Streets, 1950, directed by Elia Kazan
   17.)   Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, directed by Woody Allen

    Whew.  Lotta good shit.  Where to start?

     I'd never seen On The Waterfront before, but I'd watched so many acting-class renditions of the seminal scenes, the ones with Brando and Eva Marie Saint, the ones with Brando and Rod Steiger - I felt I had seen it.  I have to say, it's probably unfair to the film itself, to be a person who'd never seen it, when it's such an iconic film.  A film that gave birth to so many cultural references.  It's inevitable that it both lived up to my expectations -- even exceeding them -- and also disappointed me at the same time.  I didn't realize that the film was a big mea culpa about flirting with communism - for Kazan and for Schulberg (the writer.)  That seemed to scream out all over the place, making it more of a "message" movie than I feel comfortable with.  Brando is unbelievably fantastic, you can see how he changed acting forever with his natural, animalistic, intelligent, realistic performance.

    I watched My Summer of Love two more times! I showed it to Richard, Kathleen and Jim, and then when Jill came for her show, we watched it too.  I love that movie. One of the actresses, Natalie Press, gives such a believable and delicate performance.  Emily Blunt (her film debut) is delightful too, but I'm not going to go on because I wrote about how much I loved this movie before.

     Searching for Sugar Man!  I've seen it three times now.  I begin to cry the moment we first see Rodriquez.  This film must win the Academy Award!  (Even though I have not seen the other nominated documentaries, so that is unfair, but still, I say it!)

     Canyon Passage is a wonderful western. Someday I'm going to hunker down and force myself to list my ten favorite westerns.  Canyon Passage is going to be on that list.

     Oh, The Gatekeepers.  That's probably nominated for an Oscar too - in the documentary category.  So, I have seen another nominated doc.  Okay, I have to say - it's very very very good.  It's a doc with interviews from all the surviving former heads of Shin Bet - the Israeli security agency (like our CIA.)  They basically say that the whole war with the Palestinians is deeply flawed and will only lead to things getting worse and worse.  This aligns with my own thinking already, but it's was riveting and nice to see people who were in the position of waging this war saying the same thing.

    OMG, Assault on Precinct 13.  So brilliant!  Pulp film making at it's very best.  The director, John Carpenter is so good - the movie is really compelling, full of action and campy seventies acting styles.  GREAT.  Just great.  And the star, Austin Stoker, never had his career take off after starring in this wonderful film. He went back to his job being a union driver for other films.  Somehow this makes this film even more important.  God, I have to see Escape from New York again.

    I liked Silver Linings Playbook, but didn't love love love it.  It was okay.  I really thought about Martha Marcy May Marlene quite a bit afterwards.  Elizabeth Olsen (little sister of the Olsen twins) is quite amazing.  She's going to be a major actress, I think.

    Me and My Gal, I watched with Jill Sobule.  We liked it.  A lot.  The film is the first-time pairing of Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett - who have palpable chemistry (they went on to star together in Father of the Bride.)

    The Beaches of Agnes might have changed me forever. I really didn't know who Agnes Varda was. Now I am all over her. I loved this documentary she made about herself.  It hits exactly the right tone.  Now I have all her other other films, I got a box set and I'm making my way through them.  How was I not turned onto Agnes Varda before?  She is so up my alley!  Right now I'm idolizing her, I'm in an Agnes Varda thrall.  But more on her next month after I've seen everything she's done.  I have seen so many of those French New Wave films, and never really knew anything about Agnes Varda - only recognizing her name.  Now, to me, she is the greatest of all those filmmakers!  Her worldview, her way to seeing, is very close to my own heart - how I try to see the world.

     I am smitten with Agnes Varda.  St. Agnes, that's what the next pope should do, canonize Agnes Varda.

     Speaking of which, what about the Pope resigning????  My mind is reeling.   I think there's a scandal embedded in it somewhere - something smells fishy about this resignation.  And, if the Church can break with a 700 year old tradition of Pope's serving until their death, why not reverse some other antiquated things?  Their views on birth control, for example.  Do you think that the Pope saw "Letting Go of God"?  Did he see the part where I play out my fantasy for the Pope to make a big apology for all the unnecessary suffering the Church has caused?

    But seriously, I am hungry for more information.  Did the Pope read "The Vatican Exposed: Money,  Murder & the Mafia"?  Or "In God's Name: An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul 1"?  Did he quit because if he didn't quit he'd be whacked?  I know, I sound like a conspiracy theorist.  But when it comes to the Catholic Church, I think many of those theories have some truth in them....

    Lent just started, and although I am no longer a believing Catholic (by a very long stretch) I do love Lent.  I gave up alcohol and chocolate, which I do every year, and have since I was 21.  46 days without alcohol, people.  Can you stand it?  And chocolate!  It's hard, I tell you, it's challenging.  And speaking of fish, (above, re: the Pope's resignation)  I try to eat fish on Fridays during Lent too.  Just a part of the Catholic gal inside me that must be satisfied with some good old-fashioned denial.

    I'm going to end with a cute picture of Michael (the husband) and Mulan (the daughter) which I took recently.   Mulan wanted to paint one wall of her bedroom with blackboard paint so she could draw all over it.  I love this pic because we had such a fun day doing this.  Also, I like that Michael is wearing a "Jetpack" T-shirt - which is a Jill Sobule song.

Ta Ta until next month!