U2

The view from our seats.

U2 played last night at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Yesterday, my son called me up late in the morning and asked me, “You wanna go to see U2 tonight?”

In 1984, Bill and I was stationed in Northern Scotland at a communication station at Thurso. That was a momentous year. We married. I gave birth to my first child, Steven, and we discovered the Irish rock band, U2. Bill was an avid record collector, and we frequented the local record shop weekly to hear what was new, finger through the rows of albums for sale, and listen to the newly released albums. It was a social event for us; how strange times have changed!

The owner showed us the new U2 album, The Unforgettable Fire. Back then, I remember listening to UK albums, flying home to the States for leave, and the new rave in the UK hadn’t been released yet in the USA. Vice versa. There always seemed to be a six-month lag. Once we heard The Unforgettable Fire, we researched and found three previous albums and connected the dots. “Oh, yeah, that song. That’s U2? Let’s buy the album.”

So we gobbled up Boy (1980), October (1981), and  War (1983). The happiest times of our marriage was going home after a shift and listening to albums while we drank, played cards, and memorized all the songs. When Steven was born, I refrained from drinking and smoking, and U2 was in the background while I fed the boy, changed him, and thought about my future. I was only twenty-one years old. I didn’t have a clue how to be a mother and no family around to lend support. A friend sent me a baby book in the mail, and I was glad she did, for I felt inept.

The concert last night was a greatest-hits concert. 50,000 people in the stadium sang along to the top twenty hit repertoire. Steve didn’t know “Pride” was about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I was in third grade, I think. I didn’t know about the lyrics.”  Each song conjured a different memory from my past. “I Will Follow” from Boy made me remember when I worked out to get back in shape after my son’s birth. I still see myself jumping up and down working up a sweat. From The Joshua Tree (1987), arguably their best album and the namesake of this tour, thirty years later–really?– I was getting ready to have my last child, my daughter. My marriage to Bill was suffering, and the melancholy songs resonated with me, especially “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.  

During the 1990s, I was divorced, a driven student, and hungry to learn. I remained in school for seventeen years while I started teaching in 1999 and continued on with graduate school. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000) reminded me of my commuting time as a non-traditional student. How many times did I listen to that album? “It’s a Beautiful Day” was an anthem song. During sad moments, I sang it loud to lift my spirits. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb(2004) was the last album (CD) I bought. I was in my early forties and so busy with teenagers and school, I listened to music on the radio, but didn’t choose to buy anything.

Eye level seats. They were perfect.

So yesterday, when Steve called me up and asked me to go to the U2 concert with his wife Tabitha and him, I jumped at the chance. The last time I went to a rock concert was in the late 1980s when I saw Paul McCartney and Wings at Madison Square Garden. I was long overdue.

The songs were played loudly, and that baby from 1984 is strong today despite whatever ineptness I imagined as a new mother. While you may not care one iota about U2, to me, they have been a part of my life for almost thirty-three years. I had always heard what outstanding performers they were over the years. I just thought before I died, it would be great to see the band that had somehow sewn their songs into my heart.

U2 is unique. Who else but they could sing rock songs about getting the girl and God in the same song? There’s something spiritual about Bono. He’s a minister who tries to change the world in a positive way with his belief in the power of love and the power of the people. Looking at Bono’s wrinkled face during the close-ups made me smile. We both have been through a lot. Sharing the concert with my son brought me back to my days of naiveté. It seemed fitting that I would watch the concert with Steve. U2 has accompanied me all of my adult life, and I am the better for it.

L13FC: Movement in Film

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. On this lucky day, a co-host joins me and we spend the day discussing a topic of the film industry. The more the merrier, so please share your thoughts. I am happy to introduce this month’s co-host, Sharon Wilharm from Nashville, a seasoned Indie filmmaker. Please check out her blog at faithflixfilms. 

This month’s topic is how motion elevates a film to a visual art form.  

Every frame a painting” edited and narrated by Tony Zhou explains how to recognize and understand movement in film. Which director does it best? Arguably, Akira Kurosawa. 

Sharon’s thoughts: 

I love the movement in films, especially when it’s done unexpectedly. I like how Akira used weather to create movement when there might not be any otherwise. I also appreciate the beginning, middle, and end of each of his movements. Each shot tells a story on its own.

The first film that comes to mind when I think of subtle movement is  Forrest Gump. For a full minute, all we see is a feather fluttering through the wind, contrasted with the lack of movement everywhere else. The clouds are still. The trees are seemingly frozen. The cars are parked. But then slowly the feather flutters towards the town and everything comes to life. Pedestrians walk to work. Cars drive past. And the feather comes to rest at the feet of Forrest Gump.

Albert Lamorisse 1956 short film, THE RED BALLOON

The Red Balloon follows a similar technique with a boy following (or being followed) by his red balloon. Both use basic movement to communicate the simplicity of the characters.

For more complex movement I love the choreography in Butterfly Circus (2009). I love all the circular movement of the carnival rides and the circus performers, the constant movement of the camera and the cars and the characters. The tightly planned choreography combined with the precise editing, makes this movie such a delight to watch.

Cindy’s perspective

 

Movies all have some type of movement. War movies, chase scenes, and musicals instantly come to mind when I think of the orchestration of a scene which requires intensity and precision. However, like Sharon, I like to consider the subtle ways filmmakers engage the audience with movement. For example, the 2002 film The Four Feathers has its issues, but the movement is exceptional by director Shekhar Kapur. I find myself liking his films (Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) simply because he understands how to use nature, costumes, and his environment to create stunning, moving scenes. When nature is stationary and the character walks across or through it, I find the simple movement engrossing and loud. A walk on the apex of a sand dune or mountain top shows the heroic fortitude and audacity of the character. The journey of life. I never tire of shots like those.

THE PRESTIGE (2006)

Christopher Nolan is another director who understands how to compose art by movement. He can be loud and jaw-dropping by employing the technology available to him and moving the entire setting in ways never seen before like Inception or Interstellar but he can also be subtle and graceful like the concentration he elicits in us as we follow the magic trick in The Prestige.

 

When you think of your favorite directors and favorite films, is it the movement that captures you? What scenes can you recall where movement is expertly done?  

Thank you, Sharon, for co-hosting today! 

Co-host invitation: Any takers?

Incorporating movement with purpose, Akira Kurosawa is one of the best.

Do you appreciate how directors and cinematographers capture movement? The decisions made by filmmakers are a fascinating topic. Thinking how movement creates a setting, the mood, and compliments an actor (or vice versa), helps me admire a film when it’s done well.

Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club’s topic for September 13 is “Movement in Film”.

I will feature Akira Kurosawa as a reference.

If this topic sounds intriguing to you, and you would like to be a co-host, please email to fine tune the details.  No experts necessary, just enthusiasts.

cbruchman@yahoo.com

In the Heart of the Sea

Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) Man vs. Nature

NATHANIEL PHILBRICK  specializes in U.S. maritime history and combines his engrossing story-telling sensibilities with fine research. In 2000, his nonfiction National Book Award Winner, In the Heart of the Sea, inspired the 2010 PBS documentary Into the Deep directed by Ric Burns and narrated by Willem Dafoe. Next came the recent 2015 Ron Howard film, In the Heart of the Sea, starring Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Holland, and Cillian Murphy. Of course, Herman Melville wrote the classic Man vs. Nature classic, Moby Dick, in 1851 about Captain Ahab’s obsession for revenge against the mighty Sperm whale. All four versions of the sinking of the whaleship Essex combine the history of Nantucket and the Romanticism between the sailor and the sea and his ship. All versions are worthy ways of spending your time and will enhance your knowledge of Colonial America.

The History 

The 50 by 30 mile stretch of land off Cape Cod became the heart of the whaling industry from approximately 1620-1865. Until the advent of kerosene, the highest quality oil used to make wax candles and light lanterns were from the rendered oil of whales. Dug out from the bulbous head of the Sperm whale, the Spermaceti oil could fill 34 barrels and was most valuable. At first, the Wampanoag and Nantucketers stripped and boiled the blubber from the drift whales which had been stranded on shore. Over the years, sailors ventured further off the coast to deeper waters and discovered pools of Sperm whales. It evolved into a two hundred year industry and sailors became more than hunters. The ships became floating factories for processing and storing the oil. They became merchants and explorers, too. For one to five years, sailors set off on voyages in search of whales to fill the empty barrels lying on the belly of their ships. From Nantucket, the Westerlies pushed them toward South America. They rounded Cape Horn and floated up the coast of Chile to the Galapagos Islands and kicked out into the expansive Pacific Ocean in search of the migratory pools of Sperm whales. According to scholars on the PBS documentary, Into the Sea, “By 1775, 360 whaling boats went out to hunt the whale; 15 came from Nantucket. Fifty percent of the profit of exports in New England came from the whaling industry.” I don’t think it can be stressed enough how important the whaling industry solidified the economic success of the burgeoning northern colonies. Consider that the South had cash crops (tobacco, rice, indigo, cotton) while the North had whales. It is interesting to consider that both regional ends vanquished mammals for their economic success – whales in the north and slave labor in the south. 

New Bedford Whaling Museum, Harpooning the Whale

The Romance

The culture of a sailor and his life onboard a ship was a mixture of extremes. Boredom, while waiting to spot the whale. Then,  “Thar she blows!” followed by the rambunctious attack with harpoons aimed for the lungs, the pull and the stabbing, the gross “flurry” as the whale drowns in her own blood, the shout from the crew, “Chimney’s afire!” and then the three-day processing of peeling off the blubber, melting of blubber, the furnaces stoked and the smells and the slime of oil glistening the faces of the sailors as if they labored in the pits of Hell. Ghastly.

Remember to factor in the religious temperament of the 17th and 18th-century colonist whose explanation of the workings of the world were inextricable with the Bible and Divine Providence. That is, the sailor, the captain, and her ship were “vessels of exoticism, traveling around the globe in the pursuit of conquering the Leviathan, a sea monster from the Old Testament.” The whale was considered evil; man’s conquering was a noble feat. Surviving a voyage was an adventure for the crew and the officers; it defined manhood. The beauty and wildness of nature attracted the sailor. The horizon blended water and sky into a location of unearthliness. There was no time or place. Out in the Pacific Ocean–it must feel to what astronauts feel out in space–one is a speck, surrounded by infinity, overwhelmed with fear and awesomeness.

The Film 

After watching the film five times, I am in admiration of Ron Howard. He followed Nathanial Philbrick’s book with the attention to detail that mirrored the historical climate from the book. The true voyage of 1820 combined an unnatural pairing of the first mate, Owen Chase, (Chris Hemsworth) the “fishy” second-in-command whose natural instincts and assertiveness commanded the respect of the crew, while Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) was more a “social” leader, seeking suggestions, and thereby perceived too passive.

Where Ron Howard might have lost a few critics and fans for lulls in the action was the overarching narration of the telling of the story from the perspective of an older Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) who was a cabin boy during the sinking of the Essex and the 90 days lost out at sea. Fighting the shame and guilt of sins committed staying alive, Nickerson is paid by a young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) to share the survival story and strange actions of the angry 85-foot Sperm whale, Moby Dick, who “stove” the Essex.

By including this line of narration, Howard blends the history of the story with the American Romantic classic, Moby Dick. Philbrick’s book centers on the recently discovered diary from the 1990s of the cabin-boy, Nickerson, to add a fresh twist to the long staple, Owen Chase’s account of the disaster, written months after the 1820 disaster. Howard respects this and gives life to the orphan boy who found himself at 13 on the voyage of a lifetime.

Ron Howard is criticized for his sappy interjections in an otherwise interesting plot. It’s his Achilles Heel. In this case, while devoting his film to a logical, realistic account, he incorporates the Man vs. Nature elements of the novel Moby Dick by bestowing anthropomorphic qualities to the whale. It’s the climax of the film, so I can’t specifically say, but it is the flaw of the film for me that brings my rating down a notch. I will hint at it: when man and beast come eye to eye, they come to an understanding.

In Nathaniel Philbrick‘s account, the whale struck the ship and was never seen again. The film version embellishes the history by embracing Melville’s book. Those that love Herman Melville and the personifications found in the literature would not have issues with the personification of the whale in the film. If you want a realistic account of events, the climax might feel far-fetched. Does it work? You tell me.  4/5.

American Experience: Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World DVD 

Parker, Hershel, and Harrison Hayford (eds). (2001). Herman Melville, Moby-Dick. A Norton

     Critical Edition. Second Edition, New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company.

     ISBN 9780393972832

Philbrick, Nathaniel. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex., 2001. Print. 

ISBN-10: 0141001828  ISBN-13: 9780141001821

IMO: Alone in the Crowd

 

Have you spent a length of time in a completely foreign environment with strangers? 

Here’s a paradox — feeling alone in the crowd. I am naturally an introvert. Yet, several times in my adult life, I’ve thrown myself into situations where I’m alone with strangers away from home. It’s painful for me to stand in a crowd and make small talk. Surrounded by strangers, it’s painful to work as a team. Worse is trying to find a seat in a dining room and be a good conversationalist with strangers. My natural instinct is to take flight and take my meal anywhere else. After an 8 hour shift of working around others, all I want is to be alone. But what to do? For it is painful for me to eat in a restaurant by myself. I find it hard to go to a movie, a bar or public event by myself. Surviving in the group dynamic for a week or months or years is a life skill I’ve practiced for decades. Whether spoiled in luxury or in dubious settings, anxiety accompanies me throughout and threatens to shut me down. So why do I do it?

 

Work Vacations 

For 8 days, this past June, I went to Tampa, Florida to grade AP US History essays. Away from my routines and loved ones, I sat at an assigned table grading. Two breaks and a lunch later, we were free to head back to the hotel. We were assigned a roommate, and I prayed she wouldn’t have sleep apnea. There was a lot of free time to explore and eat out if we chose. Visit the local museums or soak in the hotel hot tub on the fifth floor, I’d consider this a work-vacation.

Academic Vacations 

Once in 1995, I spent weeks in Dorset County, England studying Thomas Hardy. For three English graduate hours, I was surrounded by a Thomas Hardy scholar and sixteen other college students who enrolled in the class to read six novels, a book of poetry, and live in Southern England. The evenings were free for pints and discussions. This was more of a vacation than a chore. Reading, writing, and discussing books is like blogging about movies. It was emotionally and intellectually satisfying.

TAOS, NEW MEXICO

The other academic environment was an all immersion German graduate class in beautiful Taos, New Mexico, run by the University of New Mexico. With 40 other students, we stayed in the ski resort condominium and our roommates and the class vowed to speak only Deutsch. For three weeks we went to class, ate together, and studied in our rooms.  A discussion panel or a German film was shown in the evening. It was a painful three weeks. I muddled through with good grades and credit. Surrounded by others who spoke better Deutsch than I and listening to philosophical seminars in German was daunting. I couldn’t wait to get home.

Educational Traveling 

 

It might seem strange to consider traveling across the globe with a group you’ve never met before. Maybe you know one or two people–the travel buddy, me the facilitator, or other students. Yet, you are sharing an experience. They bring their perceptions to the discussions and you share what you found interesting. Inevitably, you begin discussions and develop surprising friendships.

 

Everyone is on their best behavior as we share the hotels, the famous sites, the excursions, and the food. With my trips, there is free time built into the itinerary so one can simply stop, sit, have a glass of wine or coffee, and people watch. Evenings are free to pursue preferences. Some like to crash and hang out in the hotel. Older couples go out and check out the stores and bars. Every time we return home, couples, grandparents, parents, students, and I marvel at the adventure. Forgotten is the plane ride, the hot temperatures, the rain, or the grumpy traveler on the train. I always look forward to next year’s adventure. I feel blessed I’ve been able to escort people far, far away.

The Military 

In 1981, I joined the U.S. Navy after graduating high school and was sent to Orlando, Florida to boot camp for eight weeks. Other than my first trip to London and the countryside while in high school, it was the first time I had voluntarily separated myself from family and friends. Oh the calisthenics, the screaming by company commanders and never-ending marching and standing at parade rest! I survived and was pretty proud of myself. Off then to San Diego, California to an “A” school to learn how to be a Radioman which means how to establish ship shore communications. I specialized in the teletypewriter and learned how to read tape. While there, I was asked where I wanted to be stationed. I said anywhere in the United Kingdom. I was stationed at the Northern tip of  SCOTLAND  and lived up there for three years in the early 1980s.

Why do I do it? I try to get out of my comfort zone. I’m no fool–these opportunities I’ve described were gifts. I knew the trips would be worth the discomfort of my social anxiety because I thought of them as adventures. Despite fears and loneliness, in each experience, there were strangers who turned into friends. Only when I push myself out of my comfort zone is when I accomplish anything in my life. It would be so easy to be a recluse and shrink in all ways a person can by avoiding my fellow man.

I have an assignment at school where I’m mentoring a neophyte teacher. He told me that Arizona State University rewards mentors by granting them college hours. So what did I do? I looked and sure enough, there’s a summer total immersion program in German at their sister-city in a part of Germany I’ve never been to before. I know it will be painful. I know I will feel lonely. I know I will crave the comfort of my own surroundings, but how can I resist the adventure of gathering with a group of strangers and practicing the German language even if I’m not very good at it?

How about you? When have you been alone in the crowd? 

L13FC: The Criteria of the Film Critic

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. I am happy to introduce this month’s co-host, Australian film critic, Richard. He writes high-quality reviews, so check out his blog at Cinemusefilms.  It’s great to hear from one and all, so add to the conversation. This month’s topic is the criteria we consider when we review a film. How do you rate a film?

Richard’s thoughts: 

Criticism here does not mean being critical. It means applying critical faculties in evaluating something. Most bloggers offer critical commentary of some sort and everyone is influenced by gender, age, ethnicity, class, politics and cultural taste. In other words, we all have biases.

There are millions of film critics chatting away in one endless conversation about what they like or don’t like about films. Most are describing film plots and their subjective responses. None are right or wrong, but if you want some degree of arms-length objectivity, having transparent and self-aware criteria is helpful. Mine are contestable but they are flexible and make sense to me. They are:

Narrative: the way story elements are connected

Cinematography: how/what the camera shows

Emotion: how we feel about what we see

Overall significance

The only film I’ve rated 5 out of 5 is Son of Saul, but I don’t want to see it again. Here’s my review:

Son of Saul (2015)

I gave La La Land (2016) four out of five stars and will happily see it again.

La La Land (2016)

One is a harrowing masterpiece, the other pure entertainment. Where criteria meets biases, you get opinions. How do you evaluate a film?

‘Nope…1443 bloggers have already panned it.’

Cindy’s ideas: 

Highly rated films for me are beautiful. I lean toward aesthetics and connect it to cinematography. If you hold the camera straight at a breathtaking location, are you really a good cinematographer? Or, take a cinematographer into the ghetto; can he or she flush out the beauty by using symmetry and sound and colors such as West Side Story?

Emotion is a fine qualifier, and what do I throw into that box? A great score, the chemistry between the characters, and the emotions felt by me.  The dialogue. If the dialogue is weak, the film never rises high in my estimation. And yet, there are fine films with little dialogue. (Castaway comes to mind.) Because I’m a writer, the narration is paramount to my subconscious criteria.  A great narrative has all the parts –a strong beginning, conflict, complex characters, a climax. I find films that have a slow beginning or middle or end will take a dip in my evaluation. Or, a film seems to have forgotten the story and included too many scenes or not enough. So balance is important to me. I believe a bad film should not be rated highly. Objective, unbiased eyes should watch a film. That’s tough. I agree with Richard that our biases and prejudices shape our responses to a film. Criteria become important. What are yours?

A 5/5 film for me? Here’s one:

Thank you, Richard! Would you like to lead a discussion you are passionate about? Let’s figure out a topic together and select a month that works for you. It’s easy and fun. Email me with your idea:  cbruchman@yahoo.com. 

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