Real Life: Weirder Than We Think

More thread is needed, I think, so here’s a little item dredged out of the day’s work:

I spent much of the day reviewing syllabi and materials for next semester’s classes, one of which is a pretty demanding course on making documentaries.

That meant I looked at a bunch of short films I showed my students last year, pruning the catalogue to make space for stuff I saw in the meantime that will bump some of my older choices from this iteration’s playlist.

There are some, though, that are hardy perennials — I think I’ve mentioned this one on the blog, for example, which won an Oscar in 1958. That stays on the list.

So does one that I show in the first session every year.  I use it to both demystify the process, especially the technical side of shooting and framing and editing a moving picture, and to raise the bar.  The work is incredibly simple, if all you’re looking at is the shots and the cut to cut to cut sequence of images.  But it’s a great story, and the simplicity of the craft doesn’t mean that it isn’t meticulously conceived and executed.  So that’s what I tell my kids (and yeah, they’re not kids, but from this side of the big 6-0, they all seem that way to me).  It doesn’t take fantastic chops and preternatural skill to make a good movie.  But, as Richard Feynman said in a different context (I paraphrase) elementary doesn’t mean something is easy; it just means you don’t need to know a lot to achieve an extraordinary result.

That, I hope, helps them through some of the tsuris to come when they get stuck deep into the making of their own films, a few weeks down the road.

So, without further review…a little, simple, highly enjoyable bit of movie-making:


And with that: the thread, it is open.

Barack Obama is STILL My President

I’ve said repeatedly that one of the things that really scares me the most about Trump is that he lives such a joyless life. He doesn’t appreciate art, music, movies, laughter- basically he exists to feel good about other people’s pain and to laminate everything with gold or whatever it is he thinks is the “best.” At any rate, a reminder of what it was like to have a real human being as President with Obama’s end of year list of books and music:

As 2018 draws to a close, I’m continuing a favorite tradition of mine and sharing my year-end lists. It gives me a moment to pause and reflect on the year through the books, movies, and music that I found most thought-provoking, inspiring, or just plain loved. It also gives me a chance to highlight talented authors, artists, and storytellers – some who are household names and others who you may not have heard of before. Here’s my best of 2018 list – I hope you enjoy reading, watching, and listening.

Here’s a reminder of the books that I read this year that appeared on earlier lists:
Becoming by Michelle Obama (obviously my favorite!)
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die by Keith Payne
Educated by Tara Westover
Factfulness by Hans Rosling
Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging by Alex Wagner
A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History by Mitch Landrieu
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti
The Return by Hisham Matar
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen
The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes

Here are my other favorite books of 2018:
American Prison by Shane Bauer
Arthur Ashe: A Life by Raymond Arsenault
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Feel Free by Zadie Smith
Florida by Lauren Groff
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark
There There by Tommy Orange
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

My favorite movies of 2018:
Black Panther
The Death of Stalin
Eighth Grade
If Beale Street Could Talk
Leave No Trace
Minding the Gap
The Rider
Support the Girls
Won’t You Be My Neighbor

And finally, my favorite songs of 2018:
Apes••t by The Carters
Bad Bad News by Leon Bridges
Could’ve Been by H.E.R. (feat. Bryson Tiller)
Disco Yes by Tom Misch (feat. Poppy Ajudha)
Ekombe by Jupiter & Okwess
Every Time I Hear That Song by Brandi Carlile
Girl Goin’ Nowhere by Ashley McBryde
Historia De Un Amor by Tonina (feat. Javier Limón and Tali Rubinstein)
I Like It by Cardi B (feat. Bad Bunny and J Balvin)
Kevin’s Heart by J. Cole
King For A Day by Anderson East
Love Lies by Khalid & Normani
Make Me Feel by Janelle Monáe
Mary Don’t You Weep (Piano & A Microphone 1983 Version) by Prince
My Own Thing by Chance the Rapper (feat. Joey Purp)
Need a Little Time by Courtney Barnett
Nina Cried Power by Hozier (feat. Mavis Staples)
Nterini by Fatoumata Diawara
One Trick Ponies by Kurt Vile
Turnin’ Me Up by BJ the Chicago Kid
Wait by the River by Lord Huron
Wow Freestyle by Jay Rock (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
And in honor of one of the great jazz singers of all time, who died this year, a classic album: The Great American Songbook by Nancy Wilson

His music playlist is, without exception, perfection. Every song on there is good.

Open Thread: Wide-Screen Drama

Ava Duvernay is responsible for Selma, so she’s clearly up to the topic, and she’s gonna get a lot of attention as she works on her new film. And every snippet of news about it is going to drive Lord Smallgloves even further out of his tiny mind.
Speaking of wilding, Robert Schooley has some quotes from The Madness of King George III

Read more

Sunday Night Popcorn Open Thread


Gotta admit — as a 21-year-old hardcore Trekkie, I loathed the first Star Wars movie, because it seemed designed to evoke every cheap, witless, strutting, shopworn emotion that I most despised in my fellow nerds. Still not a Star Wars fan, but forty-plus years later, I’m old enough to have learned that even the most evolved humans sometimes want the comfort and joy of expensively produced, predictable variations on familiar themes the entire family can appreciate. Once upon a time…

So That Black Panther Movie The Kids Are Talking About Was Pretty Good [SPOILER FREE]

Actually, it was pretty fucking awesome. Before the movie I took the boys to Five Guys- they had never been, and I thought it would be a nice treat. I’m not really big on these boutique burger joints that have become all the rage where they put all sorts of weird shit on a hamburger and then charge you 70 bucks, but Five Guys keeps it pretty simple and greasy, and I like that. I just want a cheeseburger, some lettuce, tomato, and pickle, and none of the rest of the nonsense. I don’t even really care for bacon on a burger. Plus, I love fries with malt vinegar, so it was good. I did look at the food before we started to eat and think “I could do this for a 1/4 the price at home,” but the boys liked it and it was a treat, so whatever.

The movie was great. I’m a Marvel stan, but I was still worried about how I would react because of all the hype and buildup. It surpassed my expectations. I’ve been thinking about it all day. I’m not going to give away anything, but I really enjoyed the casting, and it was nice seeing such a young cast with only Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker being my age or higher.

Visually, the movie was stunning and just beautiful. The colors were just dynamic and vivid, and I haven’t felt that way watching something since Season 1 of Sense8. The set design was impeccable, and the costumes and well everything was just super fun.

The biggest thing for me was the sound- I’ve listened to the soundtrack over a 100 times already, so it was super cool seeing how those songs were used and when, and I think Kendrick Lamar is a national treasure. But beyond the songs, the score was also impeccable. Throughout the movie every scene was framed with a contextualized sound, with sabar drummers throughout and they have talking drums for T’Challa, etc. But most of all, the sound just made it all feel so real. The only way I can describe it is it reminded me of Peter Gabriel’s work with Passion and Passion Sources for the Last Temptation of Christ.

Side note- if you haven’t check out the offerings from the Real World label, you should if you can still get your hands on them. Sheila Chandra- ABoneCroneDrone, the Drummers of Burundi, the AfroCelt Sound System, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the aforementioned Passion and Passion Sources, and so many more are still in my rotation. Probably one of my favorite labels out there, although the deceased Water Lily acoustics is close. Mickey Hart an Bob Weir have some really good stuff out there, too.

At any rate, it was all tied together into one fabulous experience. I highly recommend it.