VOD Movie Review: “Love And Mercy”

Saturday, September 12, 2015                                                   10:47 AM

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I just watched “Love and Mercy” (Director: Bill Pohlad, 2014) a Brian Wilson biopic, starring Paul Dano as his ‘past self’ and John Cusack as his ‘future self’. It was beautifully made—not just the photography, which was stunning—but Atticus Ross’s musical collages, made for the soundtrack using samples from the Beach Boys’ oeuvre, had a way of (very appropriately) making Brian Wilson’s inner nightmare sound like a cyclone of Beach Boys tunes. And John’s sister, Joan, isn’t fooling anyone with her uncredited cameo as one of the back-up dancers in the scene that recreates the “Fun, Fun, Fun” televised performance—she’s only in the background for an instant, but there’s no mistaking that toothy grin.

The Beach Boys were a guilty pleasure of my youth—much like Anthony Edwards’ character in “Downtown” (Director: Richard Benjamin, 1990) who meets with disgust from Forest Whitaker’s character when he claims the Beach Boys as his ‘jam’. (It gave me inordinate pleasure to see Whitaker’s character’s ‘family’ become Beach Boys fans by the end of the film.) While the politics and social agendas of other song-writers’ lyrics of the time made many dismiss the Beach Boys as insubstantial party music, Brian Wilson’s musical genius shone through for people like me who cared more for the sound than the ‘meaning’.

Also, there is great yearning and loneliness in songs like “In My Room” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” that was audible to those of us who shared Wilson’s suffering under draconian parenting or his isolation from less-sensitive, less-artistic family and friends. So often, people condescend to Beach Boys music as fluff—while overlooking Wilson’s subtle but profound reflections of domestic abuse and teen angst—perhaps it takes a ‘fellow traveler’ to hear that subtext.

“Love and Mercy”, like other Beach Boys biopics, made my skin crawl with the depiction of his horrendous father—and then added an even creepier note to Wilson’s life by depicting his twisted therapist. Both nightmare scenarios resonate strongly for me—too strongly to enjoy the story, in spite of the incredible cinematic skill brought to this effort. But I gloried in the deconstruction of their classic hits as we are shown recreations of the production process Brian Wilson goes through, experimenting and fine-tuning every instrument, every beat—to create the overall sound that we find so familiar. I especially enjoyed the evolution of the passage that combined Theremin and cello within “Good Vibrations”—so hard core, yet so outside the box of ‘rock’—an ineluctable sound if there ever was one.

I also wanted to cheer when Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks) throws open her office door to confront the monster therapist (played with Oscar-worthy monstrosity by Paul Giamatti)—what a moment! Though difficult for me to bear, the movie was overall a tremendous experience—a true masterwork of film in many ways—and a welcome further examination of the life behind some of the twentieth century’s finest music.

Here’s a YouTube playlist that shows my ongoing struggle to mind-meld with Brian Wilson:

Two Covers Twice and Then Some (2015May10)

Yesterday’s videos are weird — the cover video is of “Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, and “Do It Again” by Brian Wilson and Mike Love –I play both songs in the morning and then again in the evening. I had hoped for one to be better than the other, but they are both imperfect in their own way. I’ve been sight-reading out of my weight-class lately, and these recent videos are evidence of that, but there it is, anyhow.

The improv is weird too, though I can’t say exactly why.

The graphic images used are downloaded from the new Metropolitan Museum of Art online collection:

“Prayer in the Mosque”

Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, Vésoul 1824–1904 Paris) – Date: 1871
Medium: Oil on canvas – Dimensions: 35 x 29 1/2 in. (88.9 x 74.9 cm)
Credit Line: Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887
Accession Number: 87.15.130 – On view in Gallery 804
[© 2000–2015 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved.]

“Pygmalion and Galatea”

Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, Vésoul 1824–1904 Paris) – Date: ca. 1890
Medium: Oil on canvas – Dimensions: 35 x 27 in. (88.9 x 68.6 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Louis C. Raegner, 1927
Accession Number: 27.200 – Not on view
[© 2000–2015 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved.]

Journal Entries (May 4th & 5th, 2015)

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Monday, May 04, 2015                                            3:08 PM

Such A Beauty   (2015May04)

I know a woman who is a broth-witch. She takes a mess of crab-claw shells and boils them all day, filling the house with a seaside perfume—and by evening there’s a bowl of sinfully rich shrimp chowder like you’ve never imagined. Or take today, when what looked like the ejecta from my lawnmower catcher, and a handful of various spices, again filled the living room with a multi-layered scent, the subtlety of which hinted at the many ways such a potful could have gone wrong. But when the steam left the pressure cooker, there was a bowl of clear vegetable broth on the kitchen table. I lowered my nose to inhale the steam—paradise. And I’m a meat-broth kind of guy.

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I use to wonder what that woman saw in all those cooking shows—turned out it was a professional interest—she could kill on one of those shows, if she had a mind to.

It’s eighty-two degrees! I have photos from about a month ago—three feet of snow. It may not be climate change, but it’s sure-as-hell hot out there. The bleeding hearts are blooming—the neighbors’ cherry-blossom tree is a pink, humming mob of bumble-bees. The breeze is blowing. This beats snow any day.

It’s a beautiful day. What more can I say? May the fourth be with you.

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**-**-**

Tuesday, May 05, 2015                                            4:07 PM

In Which I Disappear Up My Own Egress   (2015Mar05)

When I type phrases using words like ‘erudite’ or ‘pomposity’ I risk sounding pompous and over-educated. When I employ what I think of as bitter satire I risk sounding childish and flippant. And certainly if I don’t write well, those points become confused with a host of unconnected difficulties. I’m one of those idiots who think that I should bring all my education and emotion to my writing—you’d think I’d never heard of style, much less manipulation.

I blame it on honesty—a concept with which I have much concern. Honesty doesn’t go well with good manners—another concern of mine. Thus I feel constrained in writing what I know—I don’t know anything that doesn’t involve everyone else. Plus fiction (my favorite thing) was, I thought, the ultimate goal—but good creative writing is a process of manipulating the reader and of imagining, well, fictions, i.e. lies. Good fiction writers are good storytellers—they have no compunction about telling tall tales—whereas I’m too hung up on the ethics of both the inventing of entertaining fictions and the recycling of my personal history as fodder for the writing factory.

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I write quite comfortably in this blog. You can’t see the sausage being made—I have to back up and correct every other word because of tremors and generally poor motor control, but the result doesn’t show that. I don’t know—maybe I’m afraid to let myself go as a creative writer—it reveals a great deal about a person. Where I have the courage of my convictions when it comes to sharing my thoughts, as I do in this blog, sharing my feelings is quite another story. A great deal of social posturing is concerned with maintaining a strong front, a poker face, the eye of the tiger, even. Exposing oneself in the writing of fiction feels, for a close reader like myself, very naked-ish—I don’t know if I have the balls.

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What is a story? A young person leaves home and enters the woods, as Joseph Campbell might begin. More modern stories might begin with the humdrum lives of two young people who have no idea they’re about to fall in love. Beyond the adventure/journey story and the love story, there’s the family drama, the saga, the epic, and the mythos—all in various flavors of time period, interlocutor, class, culture, setting, fantasy, psychology, etc. However, there’s been a whole lot of fiction written—and more being published every day. The best modern fiction either lasers in on one aspect of the human condition or else ‘goes big’, interlocking and intertwining several of the above scenarios.

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It’s all become quite huge in concept. Plot-outlined whiteboards end up looking like dense electronic blueprints. Big-money fiction writers use many hands—researchers, writing assistants, an editor or two—and, nowadays, in many cases, aspiring writers try to keep up through involvement in a writing class, a writing workshop, or a writing commune—either geographical or digital in location. While writing still consumes the lion’s share of a writer’s working hours, the idea of a writer working in solitude and sending the finished work off to a publisher is as antique as Jane Austen, who died in 1817. And she was pretty good, too. The rest of us need help—or so it would seem. I’m not sure I have the energy to find out.

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I can virtually hear all you he-men out there: “You don’t know if you have the balls? You don’t know if you have the energy? Quit with all the negative vibes and make it happen, sissy-boy.” Yeah, yeah—I get it. But everybody has a different context. In my context, exercise produces negative results—added effort only brings extreme fatigue. Ordinary human bodies recharge after exertion—mine, not so much, or so quick. Do you remember how, in the Bourne Identity, Matt Damon’s character wonders why he can’t remember his name, but he knows he can run so many miles before his hands start shaking too much to aim a gun? Well, think about that stat—fatigue doesn’t just reduce strength, it reduces nervous control and mental concentration as well.

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The virus is no longer preventing my liver from detoxifying my blood. I can exercise now without flooding my bloodstream with the toxins of exertion. Well, no, that’s wrong. Everyone gets a flood of toxins from exertion but the body, especially the liver, cleans that stuff all up. In my present case the central nervous system got its feelings hurt, back when things were really bad and now it goes off on a tantrum every time it gets a whiff of muscular activity, like talking a short walk—you’d think I’d asked it to scale K-2. So maybe the he-men are right—maybe if I powered through all the pain and tremors and spasms and restless leg for ten or twenty months I could get myself back in the fight. Trouble is, I’ve never been a big ‘self-control’ nut—I have trouble getting myself to drink coffee in the morning—even remembering to.

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Plus, I’ve spent many years with the perspective of one who ruthlessly simplifies life to the least possible motion, conserving a tiny bit of energy for the most essential activities. In my not-so-long-ago world, pushing myself was not only unproductive, it was dangerous. And there is an accretion of coping mechanisms encrusting my life-style: nicotine, caffeine, junk food—all of which would have to go if I attempted to torture myself back into being able to jog around the block. It would mean Olympic-level training just to get me in semi-average shape—at my age, with my stress levels, I could blow a gasket trying to get into the kind of shape I may never see again.

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As you can see, I am beset by doubts and weakness. I’d be embarrassed to admit it if I thought I was the only one—or if I thought it was possible to be a thinking person without such baggage.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Someone on Facebook remarked, “I hope you know we don’t make as big a deal about it down here in Mexico.”—which makes a strange sort of sense—since Napoleon would have gone on to invade North America, if he hadn’t been stopped in Mexico.

The video is more to show you my garden pics than for the music—not my day, musically.