Last night’s game between Kansas City and Oakland reminded us that when a game is a great one for a neutral, it is supremely better for the fans of the winners, and an impossible downer for the fans of the losers. Following the game on Twitter, I saw both sets of fans go through the good and the bad, with the Royals’ fans ending up feeling a lot better than their Athletics’ counterparts. I was a bit torn … I know fans of both teams, but one of them is my sister, so I probably rooted for Oakland just a bit more. Still, when it was over, I could say “great game” … I doubt she will ever say that.
The Giants have won two of the last three World Series, so while they are not favorites this time around, a certain level of optimism among their fans is understandable. Me, I will never reach that point. Two out of three sounds good, but it’s more relevant to note that in the years I have rooted for the Giants, they have failed to win the championship 52 out of 54 times. That leads to a lot of pessimism.
And so, as the Giants-Pirates game began tonight, I saw mostly trouble ahead. I had faith in the Giants starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner. I had faith in their best field player, Buster Posey. I had faith in relief pitcher Sergio Romo, and in truth, most of the bullpen. I honestly didn’t expect anyone in the Giants starting lineup to do anything productive, other than Posey.
Which takes us to Brandon Crawford, batting in the top of the fourth of a scoreless battle, bases loaded, no outs, a count of 1-2. I was thinking Crawford would strike out. I was actually hoping he would strike out, because I assumed if he hit the ball, it would be a double play. That’s 50+ years of Giants’ fandom thinking.
Of course, Crawford hit the first post-season grand slam by a shortstop in baseball history.
All I could do was laugh.
No one will say that tonight’s game was one for the ages. But I can tell you, it’s a lot easier watching your team win 8-0, then it is to watch your team win or lose in a 12-inning nail biter.
One other thing. This goofy "one game for all the marbles" wild card thingie … maybe I can say this because the Giants won a blowout. But from the beginning, I felt little of the normal anxiety I get when the Giants are in the post-season. If the Giants lost, well, they hardly got into the playoffs … I could shake that off. I won’t feel that way against the Nationals.
The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer … Outlander only finished the first half of its first season, moving now into a longish break, as is more and more common.
There are times when someone writes a piece that is so much in line with my own thinking that I don’t know why I’d bother to add my two cents worth. Other times, it’s not so much my agreement with an essay that matters (although it doesn’t hurt) as the fact that someone has said what a lot of people are thinking, or are on the verge of thinking, and said it in such an elegant and interesting way that their piece immediately becomes the first place to look when approaching a topic.
And so, yesterday, the great Maureen Ryan wrote “'Outlander,' The Wedding Episode And TV's Sexual Revolution”. It’s an instant classic, one that inspires not mere comments but links, as if the link itself will take you into a better place than reading my blathering. In short, read Mo’s piece before you read what follows, because that is the important thing here.
I had a few things to say about the first several episodes of Outlander, but (and this is not a knock on the show itself) once Ryan posted her piece, she became the focus of my thoughts. I’ll jump ahead to her conclusion, but don’t assume you’ve learned everything by simply reading this quote … in fact, if you haven’t already, go back and read her essay right now.
"Outlander" is not for everyone, and that's fine. But it's among the shows doing something revolutionary in their depiction of how adults relate to each other, in bed and out of it. A few decades after the actual sexual revolution, they're revolutionizing how female sexuality is depicted -- even honored -- on TV. By being conscious of women's desires, these shows make it clear that they are conscious of women's humanity.
I admit that I came at Outlander with some skepticism. To say it is not my type of show is an understatement … my wife started watching the pilot episode without me because she assumed I had no interest in it. Again, Mo Ryan: “It is an adventure tale, and that might be one reason for the people who don't watch it to dismiss it. More reasons some critics and viewers might shove it aside: It's on Starz; it's based on a book that women like; oh no, someone said the word ‘romance’ (that last one may be the dopiest reason of all).” The single reason I was interested in checking the show out was that Ronald D. Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame is the showrunner. (Hell, I made it through an entire season of Helix because Moore’s name was attached to the project, even though his participation is limited.)
It is a good thing that Outlander has little in common with BSG, other than the always-welcomed music of Bear McCreary. It is pointless to compare the two series. Those who have read the Outlander books seem convinced that Moore is treating the source material with respect (which was also pretty much true for Battlestar). I can say that it has been easier to stick with Outlander than it was to do the same for Helix, although the latter is more “my kind of show”. I am not sure why that is, which is one reason among many that I found Ryan’s treatise so fascinating. In explaining some of the ways Outlander is revolutionary, she brings to the forefront aspects of the show I knew subconsciously but hadn’t thought about specifically. That is one of the best ways criticism illuminates.
I know that the kind of female hero I most enjoy is, well, like Starbuck on BSG: a woman who is as good as any man at being a man. Claire on Outlander is plucky … she thinks well on her feet, uses brain over brawn, and in general is a better role model than Starbuck if you care about that stuff. There is violence on the show, but it is not a show about violence. It was startling to see, for one episode, warnings not only about language and violence and nudity but also “rape”. But when the rape attempt occurred, there was never any point of view other than the woman’s … it was shown in contrast to the sexuality between people Ryan describes above, not as part of a continuum.
If this means men won’t want to watch, well, they need to reconsider. As Moore says (in an interview Ryan cites in her piece), “I read the book, I loved the book … When my wife and producing partner gave me the book, they weren't like, 'Oh, here’s a romance novel. See what you can do with it.' They said, 'Here’s a really good book.' I don't see any reason why men won't watch this show.”
Outlander isn’t perfect, at least not yet. The middle episodes tended to drag, some characters are more fun to watch than others, and to my ear, at least, the Scottish accents are at times indecipherable. But it’s a fine start, in the B+/A- range.
And what about Masters of Sex? I mention it mostly because Season Two just ended, and because it was mentioned briefly in Mo’s essay. Masters of Sex rises and falls with its portrayal of Masters and Johnson, which puts a lot of pressure on Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. I’ve liked them both over the years … Caplan is a particular favorite. Scenes between the two actors are always good, and the one episode that basically just put the two of them in a hotel room (“Fight”) was the best of the season. The other characters don’t tend to be nearly as interesting as the leads, though, and I’m not sure showrunner Michelle Ashford knows which of those characters are the most fun. (She’s working with a story line that “really happened”, which informs some of her choices, and she has reasons for structuring things as she does.) I’d love to see more of Annaleigh Ashford’s Betty, but I admit I don’t know how they can work her in without being entirely awkward about it … she does get more screen time than most of her cast mates. Ultimately, Masters of Sex is a lot like Outlander: it’s a pretty good show, it might get even better, its best episodes are as good as you’ll find, but overall, it’s not great yet. Grade for Season Two: A-.
It is a sign of how different Sans Soleil is from a typical documentary that the IMDB page lists twelve “memorable quotes”. This is especially interesting because there is no dialogue in the movie, only narration. And while the image is the most important part of the film, the narration is carefully written and also crucial.
It is as hard to pin down the theme of Sans Soleil as it is to place it narrowly within a single film genre. I wanted to talk to my wife for a bit about the film and its interestingly tricky methodology, but before I could get to that, she asked the obvious question, “what’s it about?” And that’s not easy to answer. I finally said it was about memory, a philosophical rumination on memory, as expressed in the quote from the film, “We do not remember. We rewrite memory much as history is rewritten.” I suppose I was reasonably close to the truth in my statement, but I’m not overconfident about it. And a bare statement like “it’s about memory” says nothing about the levels that exist here.
There is the structure of the film. It begins with a woman’s voiceover (Marker wrote separate narrations for the French and English versions … I watched the English version), and soon we are in a type of travelogue, with the woman reading from letters written by … well, it’s not exactly clear. Much of the film takes place in Tokyo, but there is also Africa, and San Francisco. The photography isn’t what you’d expect from a travelogue … the images are juxtaposed in thought-provoking ways, and the narration sometimes supplements what you see and other times seems to be at a remove from the image. There are a lot of ruminations about memories (“whose only function had been to leave behind nothing but memories”). In the San Francisco segment, the photographer revisits locations from Vertigo. He drives down the streets Jimmy Stewart once traversed … they look the same, but the cars are more modern. He goes to Mission Dolores and Mission San Juan Bautista, to Old Fort Point. He even goes to where Kim Novak’s apartment was … now it’s a concrete structure. As he visits these places, he duplicates Scotty’s story in Vertigo. There, Scotty tries to remake the present to match with his memory of the past; here, the photographer tries to match the present to his memory of the past in Vertigo.
These kinds of threads are not easy to follow. I normally reject the idea that a movie needs to be seen more than once, but in this case, I think Sans Soleil would benefit from that second viewing, especially in light of what I learned after the film was over. The credits tells us that the cameraman, who apparently wrote the letters which are read in the narration, was a Hungarian named Sandor Krasna. The odd music in the movie comes from Michel Krasna. The special effects are by Japanese video artist Hayao Yamaneko. Marker himself is the filmmaker, not the director.
Except … Marker wrote the narration and shot the footage … there is no “Sandor Krasna”. Nor does Krasna have a brother named Michel … the music is also by Marker. Hayao Yamaneko? Yep, also Chris Marker. Marker submerges himself under pseudonyms, and distances himself from the final product by having women read the narration he has written (in the name of “Sandor Krasna”). I don’t think Marker is trying to trick us. On the other hand, I admit I’m not sure exactly why he hides. It really would help to see it again, knowing this time that it’s all Marker.
Sans Soleil is one of those movies where a rating is particularly useless. I’m pretty sure the second time I see it, I’ll raise the rating. For now, 8/10. #113 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. The most obvious candidates for a double-bill with this one are Marker’s masterpiece, La Jetée, or Vertigo. Another interesting possibility is Kiarostami’s Close-Up, which is also quite complex in its recreation of reality.
(Note: the Blu-ray also includes a six-minute film from Marker, Junkopia, that to be honest isn't much. But folks from the San Francisco Bay Area will want to see it, because it consists of footage of the Emeryville Mud Flats sculptures, which no longer exist.)