Saturday, November 18, 2017

Week in Seven Words #371

Several adults are squashed together at a picnic table. They shout, sing, and jump up to make backstroke swimming motions. One of them pretends to ride a horse. They're playing Time's Up, round after round.

The stationery store reminds me of a candy box. I buy a couple of gifts for someone and linger over the glossy, gold, silver, pink papery confections.

Walking a couple of miles at night. The streets look like they were sloppily glued together. The sidewalks have ruptured. The buildings leak. On one street, the strongest light is from a supermarket window papered over with ads for detergent and ham.

In one room, the kids make silly videos with their phones. In the other, the adults seethe at the cable company over service disruptions.

I can remember details from conversations that took place months or years ago, but I'll step into a home I visit regularly and not notice new furniture arrangements or a large new shoe rack by the door where I'm just now placing my shoes.

The high school students walking alone are stone-faced and wear earbuds. Some hold their phones a couple of inches from their eyes.

I stare at the screen for minutes without knowing how to finish the paragraph, but as soon as I get up to run errands, everything - the paragraph, the whole article - comes to me.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Movie about veterans: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Title: The Best Years of Our Lives
Director: William Wyler
Language: English
Rating: Unrated

In The Best Years of Our Lives, three men return home from WWII and struggle to adjust to civilian life. Al (Frederic March), Fred (Dana Andrews), and Homer (Harold Russell) live in the same city, and though they've only just met on the plane home, their lives intersect in important ways throughout the movie.

Although they each enjoy happy or hopeful endings, the movie shows the ways in which their lives could have derailed (or still could derail after the closing credits). Al is welcomed back by his loving family, and the well-paid position he held at a bank remains open to him. However, he has taken to drinking heavily and isn't at ease either at home or at work. Fred can't find a good job, and his marriage is strained. He's also suffering from post-traumatic stress. Homer lost both his hands during the war and fears that his fiancee is sticking with him only out of pity. He also begins to isolate himself after receiving pitying and uncomfortable looks from family and friends. (Harold Russell actually did lose his hands during WWII, and this was his first movie role.)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Week in Seven Words #370

She's a cute little peanut, slouched in her stroller. Disgruntled, squirmy, delighted, and peaceful in turns.

Our conversation is a lazy river that turns into Class IV rapids.

Rot has crept into every petal. Rotting roses smell like potatoes.

Near Times Square, an animated display of M&Ms attracts the kids. They run to the cloudburst of candies, the shower of colorful sugar.

She doesn't want to use the steps at first. They're slippery and lead to a path smeared with mud. But the view is worth it for her: A stone bridge, a pond that doesn't bare all its secrets but asks you to follow it as it curves out of sight.

As I head north, they catch up to me at each crosswalk. When I veer west, they give up their pursuit.

This time we meet at a Dunkin' Donuts the size of a pocket. She raises the coffee to her nose, lowers it without taking a sip, and describes the wreckage of her life.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Week in Seven Words #369

As I pick through a Bach prelude, my hands feel like spiders crawling over cracked pavement.

I pry the lid off the banana walnut scented candle and breathe.

One night is a rough night, anxiety a rising flood in my skull.

We are docile and subdued on the line through the metal detectors. A guard is curt to an old woman who isn't sure if she's at the correct location.

His thoughts are oil in a frying pan and a crackle of buzzwords.

The room where potential jurors wait is full of sunlight, warmth, and murals displayed well above eye level, to no one's loss. The clerk splits our heads open with a whining microphone. From time to time, we listen to lists of names, and people shuffle out. Shoes squeak, and newspapers rustle. One man falls asleep. His snores sound like a bumblebee trapped in a bottle.

In an unlit hallway, they've set up tables with cookies, chips, and sandwiches of uncertain freshness.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Exploring Abuse and a Degraded Culture

... how many of my thoughts and feelings are gloomily cloistered within my own mind; how much of my higher and better self is indeed unmarried - doomed either to harden and sour in the sunless shade of solitude, or to quite degenerate and fall away for lack of nutriment in this unwholesome soil!

Anne Bronte's novel explores emotional abuse - in this case, within a marriage. She also looks at the bigger picture of how abuse may be condoned, ignored, or encouraged by the surrounding culture.

The narrator, Gilbert Markham, meets a woman who has moved with her young son to Wildfell Hall, a home in his neighborhood. He comes to know her as Helen Graham, a widow who paints for a living. After a serious misunderstanding, she gives Gilbert her journal, which explains her marriage and her flight from an abusive husband. Until that point, Gilbert was the sole narrator. The journal focuses the novel on Helen's voice and story. A woman finding a way to express her usually buried thoughts or live independently through writing and art is an important theme (one that I remember emerging in Charlotte Bronte's Villette and Jane Eyre too). Helen's husband destroys her paintings at one point. In another scene, she fights off an attempted rape (from one of her husband's guests) by using a palette-knife, a tool of her art.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Two Very Different Movies That Both Show a Room Full of Mannequins

Title: The Band Wagon (1953)
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Language: English
Rating: Not rated

The Band Wagon is a musical about people making a musical, and the leads - Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse - are amazing dancers. They aren't strong actors, so when they have to convince the audience their characters are falling in love, they can't do it through dialogue. There's one dance - filmed in the park and called 'Dancing in the Dark' - that does it, because of how they flow together, with Charisse's balletic grace and strength mesmerizing.

Another dance number, 'The Girl Hunt,' is a musical parody of film noir and hard-boiled detective stories. Astaire plays the tough detective (which is funny in and of itself), and Charisse plays both a helpless-seeming blonde and a dangerous brunette. There's some amazing dancing in this number, and a room full of mannequins at one point. 'The Girl Hunt' is both ridiculous and riveting. (If you're a fan of Michael Jackson's music, you might like to know that his music video for "Smooth Criminal" took inspiration from Astaire's suit and the scene at the nightclub from 'The Girl Hunt.')

Another notable musical number - 'The Triplets' - features Astaire, Nanette Fabray, and Jack Buchanan as triplet babies. They wear baby gowns and dance on their knees. (I'm not making this up.) The lyrics are also funny. These are violent babies who rhyme cleverly.

Fabray, who has great presence and sings wonderfully, should have been in more musical scenes. At least she's part of the group singing 'That's Entertainment,' the most famous of the songs from the movie. This isn't a movie that takes itself seriously. It's silly and full of music and dance talent (ballet, jazz dance, a tap routine in top hat and tails). A really enjoyable movie.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Week in Seven Words #368

She's catering the party. The doughy, salty, sweet dishes are spread across the counter.

The park has been carved out of a rocky hill. You think you're heading north, but really, you're climbing to a lookout point. It's a beautiful detour. You head back down, and again attempt to make your way north. Now you're in a garden. Could these stairs take you out of the park? No, you wind up at another lookout point. Best make yourself comfortable. Here's a bench.

He has turned a part of the basement into a sanctuary for snakes. They live in drawers and pails. Many of them are stuffed animals, and the rest are plastic, but he takes the trouble to feed them and set up a program for breeding them.

There's this frustrating thing that happens in conversations. People hear the name of a person or thing they don't like, and their brain blows a fuse. From thoughtful, complete sentences, they go to slogans and taunting names. They begin to raise their voice, and the intelligence leaves their eyes.

As she sleeps, expressions drift across her face - a wrinkle of fussiness, the glow of a passing smile.

With his face mashed into a couch cushion he says, "Why am I watching this garbage when there's other garbage on?"

They have trim beards and pleasant smiles, colorful graphs on PowerPoint slides. And they make economics sound so straightforward.