The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, and Let it Be by The Beatles

Hold the presses – this entry has nothing to do with film! Holy sh@t, Glenn’s not watching movies? What the hell is he going to talk about? Well, plenty. In fact I haven’t been this happy with the creative process in a while, and it has everything to do with expanding my horizons. I’ve been a movie nut my entire life, which has left only minor temporal moments for other mediums, most regrettably literature and music. So, more often than not, I’ll be shifting to the novels I’m reading and the music in my CD player, attempting (this is new for me folks) to comment on totally different forms of artistic expression, and I think it will make me a finer human being!, and more importantly a better writer. Don’t worry, the film stuff will keep coming.Let’s begin with a book I read with the simple purpose of preparing for the filmed version. See, Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) is directing the cinematic interpretation of Alice Sebold’s sublimely fascinating The Lovely Bones, a story about the life and afterlife of Susie Salmon. Susie’s a 14 year old girl who is murdered in Sebold’s first chapter, spending the rest of the book watching the aftermath from her own personal heaven. A slightly shortsighted Starbucks coworker of mine commented roughly that The Lovely Bones is a “girls book”, which I recorded in the “f-ing ridiculous” file in the back of my mind. But this lame comment did bring up a point Sebold dissects throughout – that POV, both the living and dead, male and female, is a fluid and unpredictable topic, one that should be celebrated instead of judged. Throughout her novel, Susie makes harrowing observations that flow off the page at a moment’s glance, forcing a slight gasp of fear, then a realization it’s one in a long line of trauma’s filtered through an innocent’s loving, tender eyes. It’s not Susie’s story, or for that matter the story of her murderer, or Susie’s family, but all of them and none of them. The Lovely Bones reflects an openness and meandering spirit, which will be a key for Jackson to capture visually, and defines the book as a superb read.High Fidelity (which I of course has seen the Frears film adaptation), astounded me. It’s exactly what I needed to hear at this crossroads in my life. I don’t want to say too much because every man who is reading this and hasn’t read Hornby’s masterpiece, should run to the local B/N and by it now! Hornby and his Rob Fleming showed me someone else is feeling exactly how I am, right now, and survives the doubt and desperation which infects growing up. Love, lust, marriage, commitment, failure, destiny, all become intertwined with Rob’s sense of pop culture, resulting in a beautiful, nasty, loving, jealous hero. High Fidelity will always hold a faithful place as a personal manifesto to a moment in my life where indecision overwhelmed reason, but never reigned victorious.And Let it Be, what else can be said for this record. In honor of the protagonists in High Fidelity, yeah you Rob, Barry, and Dick, here are my Top Five Songs off The Beatles’ Let it Be.1. Get Back2. Let it Be3. Across the Universe4. Two of Us5. I’ve Got a FeelingAs they say on The Writer’s Almanac on local KPBS,”be well, do good work, and stay in touch.” And start expanding your horizons.

Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford, 1939)

A pure and extraordinary performance by Henry Fonda, brilliantly portraying, both physically and mentally, one of America’s most important figures developing from mortal into icon. The material fits director John Ford’s myth-making process perfectly, favoring passionate moments of change over complex incarnations of conflict or doubt. One standout moment occurs when Lincoln throws a rock into the river he admires throughout, causing ripples which Ford uses to fade downstream, into a now icy mise-en-scene, showing a passage of time with astounding clarity. Young Mr. Lincoln has as straight and narrow a trajectory as it’s protagonist’s lanky frame, Ford filling every moment with lush B/W images dominated by Lincoln’s presence and evolving political aptitude. I’ve never seen a John Ford film obsessed with such a singular vision of character, pressing onward with a third person perspective, the viewer never knowing what Lincoln might say or do until after the film world has experienced it first. In turn, the audience marvels at the nature of the man, the myth, the legend, as he’s becoming. A great film, unique within the canon of one of America’s greatest filmmakers.

Sicko (Moore, 2007)

Some people despise Michael Moore, and I just can’t figure out why. Even if you don’t agree with his politics, or show-boating, or style, he’s still one of the only American filmmakers consistently dissecting American failures in the social and political spectrum. And he’s doing it through brilliant use of montage, using jarring, personal images and emotional moments, cut with music, animation, and archival footage to produce the greatest and extreme responses. Sicko, Moore’s latest incendiary doc on the state of American health care, offers a toned down, but precise example of this approach to filmmaking. Moore spends most of the film off camera (that is until the righteous ending), and it provides even the most anti-Moore viewer with a look at what he’s really capable of, all pandering aside. Moore is a fine showman, and an even better antagonizer, and we need his passion right now in an American film market flushed with mediocre Hollywood shit. Sicko not only rightfully lambasts a system that’s obviously not working, but it goes a step farther and charts other health care modes that are. Even if his portrayals of Canada, France, and England’s health care system feels too rosy, his point remains to shake American viewers into a rage, as if to say that if even half of what he’s telling us is true, we should be rioting in the streets. After viewing the film, I felt Sicko to be Moore’s best work to date – restrained yet tough, enticing and maddening, forceful but humane. For all these reasons, it’s Moore’s most mature film, and the one with the most seamless and scary structure, basing almost all of it’s facts on human accounts of horror within the system. The ending, while almost unforgivably staged, is devastating in it’s unmasking of our current government’s lack of humanity toward those they deemed heroes only a few short moments ago – the rescue workers at Ground Zero who now suffer from terrible respiratory ailments because of their sacrifice. Corporate Health Care, of course, gave them the runaround, and it’s actions like these that make Michael Moore so necessary. We know, for better or worse, he’s not going to let any of these money grubbing bastards on Capital Hill or in the corporate world off the hook, and we’re all healthier for it.

Dazed and Confused (Linklater, 1993)

The great irony of Dazed and Confused, a film celebrating the vibrancy and unpredictability of youth, is that it only gets better as I grow older. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this masterpiece, but I do know with each viewing I’ve brought more of my own life experience to this story of growing up fast and in turn, gleaned more from Linklater’s vision. This time around, the director’s groupings of heroes and villains stands out, represented on the welcoming side by Jason London and Michelle Burke, and on the evil team, both Ben Affleck and Parker Posey. The heroes of Dazed and Confused are shepherds, gatekeepers dealing with their own changing identities, but also looking after the young freshman coming into their own with a little guidance from their experienced elders. Those that do not care about the future, the arrogant flunkey O’Bannion, played with ease and disturbing resonance by Affleck and his female equivalent played by Posey, wish to harm the youthful exuberance of Wiley Wiggins and Christin Hinojosa, probably because they were hurt themselves at that age. It’s an astounding dynamic between age groups – those that wish to pass on knowledge in a positive light (even if that knowledge is morally ambiguous), and those that wish to destroy expectations, futures, and hopes of finding friendships in an alien place called high school. Dazed and Confused uses this story structure, aided by one of the great soundtracks of all time, to realize a beautiful, life-changing night for many young adults (and some older ones, McConaughey). For me, it’s one of the 10 Best American Films of the 1990’s, because it speaks so clearly and fluidly to me as a growing, learning adult, deceiving pre-conceived notions and altering the way I remember my own memories. Richard Linklater has always been one of my idols, and I never could quite figure out why. I realize now, his films evolve as I evolve, and that’s the best compliment I could ever bestow upon a filmmaker.

Xala (Sembene, 1975)

Xala marks Sembene’s exploration into the world of satire, dissecting the political shift in power from the colonizing French to the local Senegalese. Sembene starts with the familiar corrupt politico’s preaching independence, but conducting the same ethical misconduct of their predecessors. The film then shifts into the core story, if you can call it that since the film jumps around quite a bit, focusing on one the these newly empowered businessmen and his marriage to a third woman, eliciting some hilarious social catastrophe’s which turns out to be the best segment in the film. When the man is stricken with a curse, or “Xala”, his life begins to crumble, his sex life non-existent, his business failing. Certain great scenes stand out from the whole, like when Sembene’s tortured protagonist gets down on his hands and knees, crawling toward his new bride, following the advice of a shaman in order to get an erection. While the director’s are targets are all worthy, universal social consequences of colonialism and post colonialism, his fluid stylistic approach meanders around at the expense of story. Filmmakers like Bunuel, Wilder, and Sturges represent the great satirists of the film world because they never abandoned the characters and their reactions within the story. Sembene’s biting critique of his changing society leaves these basic principles in the dust.

Borom sarret (Sembene, 1966)

Almost neo-realist in its outlook on social interactions, this Sembene short released the same year as Black Girl parallels that film’s themes on deception, naivete, and the class divide. Semebene follows the Wagoner (Borom sarret) as he carts around customers, one going to the maternity ward, another burying a child at a cemetery, and finally a man moving into the rich section of town. This can’t help but remind of DeSica’s Bicycle Thief in it’s focus on one man’s livelihood stripped by society’s deceiving ways and his own mistakes.

Black Girl (Sembene, 1966)

Three major filmmakers have passed away this year – Robert Altman, Edward Yang, and the master Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene. Black Girl is his breakthrough film, made in 1966 and at only one hour long, it tells the story of Diouna, a young woman from Senegal sent to work in France as a maid. Black Girl shows the heartbreaking consequences of assumptions, made by both Diouna and her French employers. Diouna thinks she’ll be caring for their children, but when she arrives the house is void of youth. Instead, she’s asked to cook and clean for the adults, tedious chores that eventually drive her toward depression. Sembene’s French characters can’t understand why Diouna acts out, won’t realize they’re misleadings have helped cause this shift in personality. Sembene never judges though, rooting all of his action within a specific social milieu, one on the verge of dynamic shifts concerning race relations and communication. Black Girl must have been devastating for it’s time, since some forty years later it remains so, filtering desperation through the lenses of a woman deceived but also extremely naive about the consequences of her actions. After a tragic ending, Sembene’s final image of a small African boy holding a traditional mask in front of his face watching as Diouna’s master drives away in his car amidst a flurry of Africans, marks an unmasking of skin color in favor of human emotions, beautifully blurring the lines of black and white while basing it’s themes within a changing political and social context.