April 26, 2015

Here It Is: Great Noir!

"Man from Reno." If you get a chance--let's say it shows within 200 miles of you--go see it. "ICE COLD NEO-NOIR PERFECTION!" is the way one critic, David Ehrlich (neeever heard of him), bills it. I agree. It really has everything going for it, including this best part: it was made for what we figure to be $100K-$250K. That's right. None of that $10 million "Indie" stuff. As the director told us, this was a special case. Everyone worked basically for nothing. One, Kazuki Kitamura, who is, the director said, a major star in Japan, came to California (San Francisco) for five days "for the love of the game." Isn't that all a breath of fresh air? I mean, I bet if someone ELSE told you that, someone other than me, you wouldn't believe it. I appreciate the confidence you have in me, and swear I won't let you down--at least, not today.

I saw it in the listings on Friday morning (I check all the movie listings every Friday morning, just because. Doesn't everyone?) and there was "Man from Reno." I thought, that sounds like it's right up my alley. I looked online and found my excitement building when I saw Rotten Tomatoes' 92 positive rating, and that it was a true film noir, and that did it. It was playing at the Fox downtown--a 10-screen, give or take, theater that is a pleasant sort of multi-plex, for my money (we even got a free small soda, which we passed on, of course. I mean, we are SO pure!). So--well, first, check this out:

We walked down to Powell's about noon, read and had coffee (uh, all right, all right, I'll come clean) and a piece of zucchini bread (hey, we shared!), then at 1:30 we went upstairs and sat three feet from a classical music trio from the Oregon Symphony. It was "Classical Up Close," and I imagine Susan will post about it, so I'll just say it's a cool approach to attracting more interest in classical music and performances of the symphony. Then, we walked over to Whole Foods and had a good, HEALTHY lunch (I won't go into the details.), and then walked to the Fox to catch "Man from Reno" at 4:30. We sat down, and a young guy walked in and told everyone "I'm Dave Boyle, the director, and I'll be here after the show to visit and answer questions." How about that?

The movie is really good, very well-done, not a star in it you've ever heard of (I asked Boyle if all the actors were professionals and he said that, other than one or two who just were sort of on-screen once or something, "yes."), and even though this is a crime thriller, a whodunit, all about murder, only one shot was fired (very quietly--silencer), there was not a single fist-fight, and not one car chase--no gore, basically no sex, no really bad language. In other words, it can't possibly be a hit. But not so fast there, Jones. It may make it.

"Little films like this depend wholly on word of mouth and Rotten Tomatoes," Boyle said. He (with two friends) wrote it, produced it, directed it, edited it, composed most of the music--the entire score sounds like the typical "noir" music you'd expect, like music you recognize and think, "Is that Glen Miller?" It's every bit of it original. "We composed it to sound like music you know. We couldn't afford to buy the rights to any of those songs."

It was shot with a Sony 205 (I think, or maybe just 5) digital camera the size of maybe two or three shoe boxes stacked together. One scene, Boyle said, was shot in the dark. "With film or even earlier digital, we'd have to have spent a fortune, lighting that scene. This was shot almost without a single light." That's the beauty, in my mind--and his--of this new film age: any of us can afford to make a movie. No, not any of us is likely to make a movie this good, but...and Boyle said, "I hate that film is a lost medium, but we could never have afforded to shoot this on film stock."

He got some money from Japan, and $50,000 from Kickstarter. "That $50,000 was a significant part of our overall budget." That's how cheaply the film was made. He said it was made for "a fraction of less than a million dollars."

He has, since childhood, been a fan of mysteries and noir and said he didn't doubt this would be the only time he'd ever have a chance to make such a film, "so I put everything I knew about the genre into it." And it's true. You'll recognize the film, and the shots and scenes in it, but not absolutely; they're almost knock-off scenes, but not quite. Asked, for example, about the importance of a pocket watch that appears, Boyle said, "I thought it might give the idea that the person..." then, he said, "Basically, it's a red herring in a film full of red herrings."

He speaks Japanese--the film is both in English and subtitled Japanese--because he spent a year or two there on a Mormon mission when he was young (I think "they" do that at 19), and that connection has been maintained, which went some distance to his getting a little money from Sony. In the past, his main work was as an editor. He said he used to make pretty good money "back when those BMX TV specials came out," editing them. He began, though, as a security guard on film sets, even though it would be hard to imagine a more evident case of miscasting.

Anyway, it's entirely winning. It's showing in various places, and will be at the Fox, he said, "at least through this week." Go see it. Support young filmmakers on small budgets--almost no budgets--who are making smart films. Say "Power to the Good People" who work for the "love of the game."

Oh, so we leave the Fox, walk two blocks to the awesome Schnitzer Auditorium (where we saw Dance Theater of Harlem the other night), buy tickets--good tickets--for $28 (both tickets, not each ticket = a TOTAL of $28) to the symphony, and, man, it was truly a knockout! We liked it mainly, though, because it appeared we were the youngest people there. (There's another one I know you wouldn't believe if someone ELSE told you.) And that's the rub, isn't it? The reason these symphony players are working so hard, marketing their product. The audience is very nearly entirely on the wrong side of the dirt--not yet, though. There was a big crowd. Good! The violin soloist--Karen Gomya--well, check her out. I've never seen anything like her performance.

I better go now. There's no telling what I'm liable to get into. It's early yet.

April 24, 2015

Dance Theater of Harlem

We went to the Dance Theater of Harlem performance at the Schnitzer Concert Hall.  The Schnitzer is amazing in its own right, ornate Renaissance, built in 1928, holds 3,000 people and all seats were sold.  Arthur Mitchell has always intrigued me.  Born in 1934, he grew up in streets of Harlem and was involved in gangs. His dad was in jail and at age 12 Mitchell was financially responsible for his mom and 3 siblings shining shoes and mopping floors to make ends meet. He had a guidance counselor who saw his talent and encouraged him to apply to the High School of Performing Arts.  He was accepted and boom!  He was the first African American to dance with the New York City Ballet and became a principal dancer.  After Martin Luther King's assassination, he had $25,000 of his own money and determined to help his people and provide dance opportunity for children in his community.  They started with 30 children in a church basement. Mitchell believed that training in a classical art form could instill discipline and focus in a challenged community. Today the School offers training to 1,000 young people each year with its Dancing Through Barriers program.  The traveling troupe performances stopped from 2004 to 2012 due to budget constraints.  They are now back in action.  The performance was wonderful.  My favorite was "In the Mirror of her Mind," a ten minute dance with four dancers dressed in simple red leotards and soft red shorts, one woman reflecting on love and loss with three men dancers. The dance was created in 2011 to benefit dancers responding to AIDS. It was a fun event and we got some culture!

Then, next up, we saw "What We Do in the Shadows,"  a 2014 New Zealand mockumentary horror comedy that showed at Sundance about three vampires, age 8,000, 379, and 862 sharing a flat in Wellington.  It was hilarious and loads of fun with laughing out loud and loving the "guys."

We missed a Powell's event on a new book, "How to Travel the World on $50 a Day."  I was interested mostly because I did Europe on $5 a day in 1968.  Let's see...50 years puts it at 1,000% increase or something like that.  But the book was written by this Matt Kepnes who went to Indonesia in 2005 which changed his life. He quit his job and started writing a travel blog and earns $9,000 a month from it, I guess from ads, but he also speaks and is asked to be consultant, etc.

Scenes of Portland

 this one says, "Sorry, Big Insurance, we're taking our health care back" by People, Not Profit.

Greetings from Portland and Susan, Mike's little yogi doing Triangle Pose.  

April 22, 2015

Peter Coyote and Bits and Pieces

We saw something very grand last night, downtown at the Schnitzer, this town's most awesome theater. I'll let Susan report, since she's the expert, it was her idea, and besides, she needs to do something other than read and work out--as in, take better care of Yours Very Truly, a very needy dude, all right.

At Powell's a couple nights ago, we saw the actor Peter Coyote. For a time, 30 years or so ago, Coyote was a fairly active actor, getting some big parts (he's been in over 100 movies), working with big directors, but he sort of petered out. He told us that he knew he wouldn't last at, or near, the top. He was self-effacing that way: "I knew I was not Brando or Newman or Sean Penn," he said. So, he just rode it on out, and has an interesting and, I imagine, profitable life.

He was wonderful at Powell's. He is an ordained Zen priest, whatever that means--I say that because he was very "secular," let's say. He's lived a very decadent life, and is not religious in any way. He just knows that, for him, Zen is where it's at. He meditates every day, and strongly urged the rest of us to give it a try. He's had two marriages, neither of which worked very well. He has two children, with whom he seems to be sort of close. He says he would live in Paris, if it weren't for his children. Paris is an "adult" city, he said, noting that the attitude there is far more laid back and advanced than ours--easier-going, I think. (Of course, I know what so many Americans say about the French, that they are lazy cowards, narcissistic to a fault, etc. Coyote does not agree, nor do I, for what that's worth.)

His latest "gig" has been voice-over work, most notably for Ken Burns--he's made several (I think he said seven), but "The Roosevelts" comes most immediately to mind. He said he and Burns are entirely different kinds of people. Coyote is a Sephardic Jew, very loose and open, while Burns is a total Wasp, and wired very tight. At their first meeting, when Burns wanted to hire him for some film he'd made (I don't follow Ken Burns, as I've mentioned), "Ken said let's get together, practice a few days, then...but I said, no, I don't do that." The short of it is that Coyote just goes into the studio and reads, no preparation at all. Somehow, they've had a good relationship.

But if you and I, now and then, think that we get a little too rowdy, a bit over the top--stay out too late, that kind of thing, drink too much, raise Cain where it does not belong, get rambunctious outside the box--we can feel a lot better about ourselves, if we are compared to Coyote (his real name is something else; this is the second time in a week we've seen "stars" who gave themselves their own names. The other was T. Corhagassen Boyle.). Peter Coyote has, from his teenage years, never done anything BUT live it up, in every way imaginable. And he has no problem with that lifestyle jibing with his Zen priesthood, which makes some of us (perhaps) think, hey, whoever old Zen was, he's my kind of guy!

He told very funny stories about working with Roman Polanski, the great but, uh, problematic Polish director, who has long been exiled from this country (I think he's still wanted by the law) for drugging and seducing a 13 year-old girl (Coyote sort of skimmed over that part, describing the offense as "had sex with an underage girl," which might make us think, oh, 17, or whatever. Oh, well, what are a few years, give or take?) Coyote was not exactly embarrassed by whatever the film was he made with Polanski, but neither did he tell us the title. Polanski would tell him, after Coyote had played a very evil scene, "more wicked, Peter, more wicked." And so forth.

Coyote, who is 73, looks great. He's handsome and appears to be in good shape, and seems content and happy, pleasantly comfortable with his life. He's very smart and winning--a lot of talent--and was as generous with his time and as open about his story as anyone we've seen there. The new book is his second, both memoirs. I've read neither, and won't, but not because I doubt I'd enjoy them. No, it's just that there is too much other STUFF going on.

So, let's get TO it!

April 20, 2015

The Last REEL Picture Show

So, The Little Art Movie Theater in Yellow Springs, OH, has put its 35mm projection equipment in mothballs, moving into the world of digital projection. It had no choice, really: no movies come out anymore in 35mm (6 percent of movies made today are 35mm, but very few of the 40,000 screens in the country have the capability to show them; Portland is lucky: several theaters have maintained that 35mm ability); all new releases are in digital now. The Little Art hung in there as long as possible. It was surprising, in fact, that it lasted as long as it did, considering it was "reduced" (absolutely the wrong word) to showing foreign films and old films, rather than first runs--in so small a town.

I learned these statistics from a brief NYT documentary, "The Last Reel," in which two Little Art employees--a man who had been the projectionist since 1976 and a woman "manager" since 1971--spoke of the great life they'd had at the theater and their sadness at the loss of "a way of life," but they were picking up and going on.

"It's too bad people will see all their movies flat, crisp, clean and cold from now on," the projectionist said, "without warmth and depth of color. Film, on the other hand, talks to you; it has personality." He likened the experience he was having now to a time past when he also worked at the newspaper, when it went from off-set presses to digital. "It was the same kind of thing--too perfect, the type had no character."

The Little Art's projector was 80 years old and still in top shape, thanks not only to the TLC the projectionist had given it all this time but also to the excellence of its manufacture.

"No one thinks film can make it in niche markets," he said. "The alternative is to go away for good."

The expensive new equipment purchase was made possible through a community fundraiser, though, so it makes me wonder if, hey, a "niche" market right there in Yellow Springs might have proved viable, that if, over all these years of "film education," Yellow Springs might be a REEL movie town.

The crowd queued up outside for the last 35mm show, each ticket-buyer visiting with the lady taking tickets, the lady who had been there since 1971. You could hear some of their comments: "I loved seeing `E.T.' again," a woman said. "I'd forgotten how beautiful it was." That last REEL picture show was, fittingly, for a small and community-minded place, "Cinema Paradiso," so someone at the Little Art knows what she's doing: the perfect film for that particular evening. The theater was filled, and the 35mm experience was met, then sent off, with thunderous applause.

April 17, 2015

She's BACK

I haven't posted in three months - since I "wrapped myself up in a blanket and grieved" the many deaths in our lives this year.  They continue, those deaths, and they sometimes drown me in their sadness. But I am toughening up, learning, accepting.   And I am ready to share again in some of this Portlandia fun, although I have enjoyed Mike's educational posts from all the literature he reads.

Pretty nice art car we saw in the Mississippi hood

And in the Williams hood, we had Sunday brunch while listening to a 5 man/woman jazz combo playing to the outside diners.

There was a line around the block on last Sunday downtown at Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and I have since learned they are introducing a caramel brew beer in 2016.  I think it was sampling.  There are 80 or so breweries in Portland, so why not?

TC Boyle, last night at Powell's, could possibly be our favorite Powell's author we have seen.  I started counting some of our exciting times with Dan Savage, Augusten Burroughs, Ursula Le Guin, Richard Ford, George Saunders, Jenny Slate...

T Coraghessan Boyle read with such humor, shared his life so generously, explained his writing process and answered questions way beyond the usual one hour.  He added the middle name when he was a kid, a name he found in his family lineage, a name he is not sure he is pronouncing right, because he thought it would set him off from others and because he intended to write for a living.  He is yet another author for whom it just flows, just pours our of him with no planning, no suspect within his own mind of what will happen until the words appear on the page.  Per Petterson does not want it to end, for he so loves being there within his writing.  TC Boyle recognizes the end and ends it and is done and then goes on to the next, writes 5 or 6 hours each day, seven days a week, teaches at USC, is married, has three children, and lives in Santa Barbara where they have been rationing water for a year.  I liked him.  I loved him.  I will read his new one, Harder They come and then go back for some of his 14 older novels and 100 short stories.

Last night we had to choose between TC Boyle at Powell's, Nam Lee, a visiting writer at Mike's PSU program, and Rigoberta Menchu, the indigenous Guatemalan woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work in publicizing the slaughter of indigenous people in the Guatemalan Civil War that lasted from 1960 to 1996.  I was in Guatemala in 1973 with my pal, Darlene.  We sensed the anger and fear from the people up in the mountains, but it was not until much later that the United States citizenry learned of the goings on there, primarily because it was so hard for journalists to land in the mud and jungles and because El Salvador problems were highlighted by the media and government.

And here we have Miguel waiting to order beer and pizza at the Laurelhurst theater where this week we have seen "Selma,"  "Theory of Everything," and "Wrecking Crew."  For you 60's and 70's music lovers, DO NOT MISS "WRECKING CREW."  The "Wrecking Crew" is about the 20 or so studio musicians in the 60's who played back up to everybody and were amazingly talented.  Like, did you know it was not even the Monkeys playing on their records? Or the Beach Boys?

And here is our little entrance to our condo.

Delaney and Jeff are coming Sunday.
Monday, Peter Coyote will be at Powell's and so will we.
Tuesday we have tickets to the Dance Theater of Harlem at the fancy Schnitzer Concert Hall, and I can't wait.
Saturday, we are going to stand in line for last minute and less expensive tickets to the Portland Symphony playing Brahms, Mendelssohn, Hayden.  We have heard it is easy to do.
Philip Glass will be here, but we have not bought tickets and probably should.
We couldn't get tickets to the traveling Banff Movie Festival.  They sold out at REI in a day.
Karen Immerso will be here May 1st.

And so it goes...

April 16, 2015

Per Petterson at Powell's

We caught Per Petterson at Powell's a couple nights ago. He's the author--Norwegian--of the great "Out Stealing Horses." He has a new one out now, but I can't recall its title. He read a chapter from it, then was interviewed at considerable length and in substantial depth by one of my mentors in the MFA program at Portland State, Jon Raymond, who is the author of a couple of novels, as well as a few screenplays, and a good, smart, funny man, whose children are just getting into elementary school. I'd guess he's maybe 40-45. It was a very good evening. Peterson seems to be a nice person (Jon told me in an email the next day that he had the same impression) and he was very open with his answers and information and generous with his time.

I have in the last several years thought a good deal on occasion about what is lost in translation (Bill Murray wasn't lost, ugh!) when a novel (any writing, for that matter) is translated from one language to another. Nabokov said that, read in translation, a novel (etc.) would not be even the same story. Think about it. Petterson has an excellent command of English, and was asked how involved he is in the translations of his work. "Very involved," he said, then told us that, after being distraught over the way his first two or three novels were translated, he has begun translating them himself, via Skype, with his editor in London. "It's perfect," he said, referring to both Skype and the working relationship. "And it saves a lot of money."

His mother worked in a chocolate factory, but read every night in bed, though none of the "classics" (I think I remember that right). His father read all the time, but even though he had all the "right" books on his shelves, he read more popular fiction. Per, when he was maybe 13, I think, picked up "War and Peace" and said "that was it." From then on, he read voraciously, and soon came to know that "I had to write and to write well, or my life would have failed." He worked for 12 years in a nice bookshop in Oslo, where he and his wife still live, and during that time he published one or two of his novels--the first in 1987. He quit the bookshop when he was 30 and has been making his way, writing, ever since.

And get this (this blew Susan away, and justifiably): He was asked how he goes about his work, because he said he started at the first and wrote the story out, part after part, all the way through. Did he revise, rewrite (everyone does). "No," he said, and picked up the book. "This is it, what I wrote. I write it, then don't go back again." But he did tell a story about being concerned that something, some little something, in one of his novels "wasn't right, but I could not think what it was." The book was out, and being sold, all over the world. Then one night, asleep, he awoke, knowing what needed to be added--six lines. He called his editor, and the lines were added in subsequent printings.

An altogether nice evening at Powell's, a big crowd, and tonight it's T.C. Boyle! We'll have to get there by 6 at the latest, if we expect to get in; the reading begins at 7:30. I might not go. I'm sort of on the hook to go to a reading with my old MFA program's Writer in Residence--or to see him read--tonight in another part of town, our part of town, it so happens. I don't know him or his work. His name is Nam Lee. I think he has one not particularly well-received novel, and is the editor of The Harvard Review. It will be a good time, I think, but I have not yet decided which I'll do. I will, of course, let you know, waiting there, breath bated, on the edge of your seat.

April 14, 2015

What Should Our President Be Reading?

As you know by now, I am a regular reader of the column "By The Book," which appears each week in The New York Times, and I often pass some of what I read in that column on to you, my constant readers--like I'm doing today!

Jon Ronson is featured this week. Ronson, who came to Powell's maybe just last night, has a big seller out, "So You've Been Publicly Shamed," about the resurgence of public shaming on social media (apparently, there is a lot of that kind of thing going on, for whatever reason).

An aside, which is sort of funny: We missed Ronson at Powell's in favor of a very nice dinner party with very nice and interesting people. In the column, one of the questions is always, "You're hosting a literary dinner party. What three guests would you invite?" Ronson answered, that "the chance of me hosting an actual literary dinner party is zero. My social introversion makes the thought horrific. I recently went to a party with the author Sarah Vowell, and after about 45 seconds we glanced at each other and quietly left. So: I'd invite Sarah Vowell and two other introverts. I guess Salinger and Pynchon. Then we wouldn't have to have a dinner party at all." Vowell's most recent book (all her work is non-fiction) is "Unfamiliar Fishes," about Hawaii, about our takeover of Hawaii. She is referred to as a "social observer" and worked for years on "This American Life." I like her because she's an Okie from Muskogee!

But my reason for including Ronson's answers, or bits of answers, in this post today was inspired by another answer Ronson gave to a different question. Asked what book he thinks the president should read, he said, "James Gilligan's `Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic.'" Ronson said he'd visited with Gilligan for his book about public shaming, and Gilligan had told him that "all violence is an attempt to replace shame with self-esteem." Think about it. Ever known a bully?

And, Dear Reader, here is my point for today: The editorial in the Times--"152 Innocents Marked for Death"--was a shot at the Death Penalty. The Times has long opposed the Death Penalty, and for good reason, as in--there have been 152 denizens of Death Rows exonerated since 1973, thanks largely to continued advances in the use and effectiveness of DNA testing. The number averages out to something like a person on Death Row being exonerated every three months, all of whom having spent at least 25 years there for crimes they did not commit (we're not talking about the innocents who've been executed; it's estimated that 4 percent of The Row's inhabitants are innocent right now). And here's the even tougher part: that they did not commit the crimes STILL makes no difference to the majority of district attorneys and judges. For example, an inmate in Louisiana, convicted of two murders he's sworn all this time that he did not commit, was recently exonerated and released after 30 years--half his life--in "a closet sized cell" on Death Row. The district attorney who had prosecuted him, and who is retired now, apologized in a public letter to the man, as well as to his family AND the family of the victims, AND he acknowledged that he had known at the time of the trial that the man was probably innocent, but because he wanted to "win at any cost," he went right on and withheld evidence AND told the jury "I can tell this man is evil just by looking at him." The innocent man is now on his death bed because of lung cancer, for which he was refused treatment while he was in jail. A judge has ruled against giving the man or his family any compensation, other than the $20 debit card he and other inmates are given upon their release. And FINALLY, the current DA in that parish says the Death Penalty must be retained because "it serves a great purpose for the public, the chance for revenge," and added that, rather than worry about innocent people being put to death, "We should be killing more people."

Ronson, in his book, writes (or so I've read in reviews) that social media is reviving our inherent instinct for revenge, for sheer meanness. I know from quite a lot of experience, covering criminal cases back in the day in Dallas--Dallas always led the nation in rates of conviction and death penalty verdicts; now, a BLACK DA has, for many years, been using DNA to gain release for so many who were wrongly convicted back then, for the same reason the Louisiana prosecutor gave--"win at any cost." I know, because I was very well-acquainted with prosecutors and defense attorneys (I worked ALL the time back then.), that the prosecution gave scant weight to thoughts of innocence, and had no apparent difficulty, laughing about it.

Oh, well, all I can say now is follow my lead and stay off Twitter!