music friday: what i listened to in 2016

It's late in the game, but I finally had to change things around on Music Friday, because I had a list of 10 songs from that year and I realized I didn't know a single one of them off the top of my head. So I went to Last.fm and had it sort my listening for the year 2016.

One song got played more than any other, so call this Steven's Top Song of 2016. It actually comes from around 1965:

The Fugs, "CIA Man". "Fucking-a man! C-I-A Man!"

These others are chosen from a batch that tied for second in my listening for that year:

Ramones, "Blitzkrieg Bop".

Les McCann, "Burnin' Coal".

Emmylou Harris, "Bluebird Wine".

Tommy James and the Shondells, "Crimson and Clover".

Fela Kuti, "Let's Start".

Fleetwood Mac, "I Don't Want to Know".

The Impressions, "Fool for You".

Joe Strummer, "Get Down Moses".

Aretha Franklin, "The Weight".

And, just to pretend to being current, here is a Spotify playlist for the 2016 songs I initially intended to include (the first song was supposed to be "Formation" by Beyoncé, but it wasn't on Spotify):


film fatales #48: private life (tamara jenkins, 2018)

The title is a bit ironic, given that the two main characters, a married couple in their 40s played by Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti, have what passes for their private lives exposed to seemingly everyone they know. The couple, Richard and Rachel, are artsy professionals (Richard once ran a theater group before owning an artisan pickle company, Rachel is an author) who have been thinking about having kids for quite a while. Their efforts are what turn their private lives into public ones ... seemingly everyone they know has advice on what to do next, plus the process of trying to have a kid gets pretty invasive at times. Denis O'Hare has a nice supporting role as a gynecologist who spends much of his time looking inside Rachel, and along the way we learn, as everyone else already knows, that Richard only has one testicle.

Some of the stops on the road to parenthood are touching, some are funny, some are both. None of them work, until they finally decide to have an egg donor, and with that, I've probably already said too much. I'll leave the various twists to you, although Private Life is not a movie that relies on plot shifts to keep our attention.

What makes Private Life work is the "natural" presentation of the characters and their lives. Sure, we always know that Hahn and Giamatti are acting, but they slip so easily into their roles that we forget they are not real. Jenkins both wrote and directed Private Life, and so she gets the lion's share of the credit for the believable nature of her actors and their situation. It's not a screwball comedy, it's a low-key comedy (I refuse to call it a dramedy, but that's what it is) expertly pulled off by everyone involved. I appreciated the way Private Life is "real" but not bitter or spiteful ... these people have their issues, but they get along without devouring each other. I'm all for that devouring kind of movie, but I was glad this wasn't one of those. And the film ends on a perfect note of anticipation.

Private Life is too long, but one sympathizes with Jenkins' desire to get the details on the screen. Jenkins and Hahn are outside shots at Oscar nominations, if that's what you like to hear about. I doubt the movie is demonstrative enough to get that kind of awards attention, but it plays well for an evening with Netflix, and I mean that as a compliment.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)


if you're not in the obit, eat breakfast (danny gold, 2017)

Yesterday marked the 102nd birthday of Kirk Douglas, so I looked around for one of his movies I hadn't seen, and came up with this documentary about people who are 9o years old or more. Seemed appropriate, given the birthday.

Carl Reiner is the driving force, at least on the screen ... Danny Gold gets directing and co-writing credits, with Michael Mayhew also getting a writing credit, but the idea for the movie is stated by Reiner, who wondered why so many of his friends were not just 90 and older, but 90 and active and involved. So he set out to talk to them. Naturally, his friends are from show business, folks like Mel Brooks and Norman Lear, Dick Van Dyke and Betty White and Stan Lee and Tony Bennett. To expand the horizons, we meet people like Ida Keeling, who ran a 100-meter dash at the Penn Relays at age 100, and Tao Porchon-Lynch, holder of the Guinness World Record for the world's oldest yoga instructor, at 93. (She's now 100.)

The entire thing sounds like a setup for lots of syrupy talk about the wonders of old age, or, if not that, the horrors of old age. If You're Not in the Obit takes neither approach. Instead, we see people who have reached 90 or more and are still committed to the same things that have driven their lives for decades. Reiner was working in television in 1950. A writer on countless shows, Reiner has written (at least) half-a-dozen books since he turned 90. He is big on Twitter at the age of 96. He writes ... that's what he does, and that's what he still does. Tony Bennett has won two Grammys in his 90s. He sings because that's what he does (in his case, he also paints). There's Iris Apfel, who I admit I had never heard of. Wikipedia calls her "an American businesswoman, interior designer, and fashion icon." The film makes clear that she is still those things ... that's what she still does.

Most of these people have their health (and it is pointed out more than once that genes matters in these affairs), and most of them don't need to wonder where their next meal is coming from. At one point, Reiner goes to visit Kirk Douglas precisely because he has had health problems, most notably a stroke when he was 80. He fought to regain the ability to speak, and as we see in the film, he's still talking 20 years later. Yes, his speech is limited, but the brain is still clicking. He is still quite evidently Kirk Douglas. You could say that's what he does, what he has always done: be Kirk Douglas.

If You're Not in the Obit is invigorating, not because it offers platitudes about how to remain vital in your 90s (eat your vegetables, exercise, etc.), but because it shows us why these people want to take on life at an advanced age. They aren't 90 because they ate vegetables, although I'm sure they all have good diets. They are 90 and beyond because they are doing what they love doing. You don't need platitudes when you can just show these people doing what they do.