Previous month:
January 2013
Next month:
March 2013

bernard king: 50

Stephen Curry scored 54 points for the Warriors last night in a losing effort against the New York Knicks. It reminded me of one of the greatest individual performances I had the good fortune to witness in person.

For a short while, Robin worked for a car dealership in Berkeley that had season tickets to the Warriors. Good seats, too, first deck, right at half-court. They were given to salesmen who had done something special … I don’t remember the details. What I do remember is that the tickets often went unclaimed, and when that happened, Robin would scarf them up, which explains why there was this period in the early-80s when we went to a lot of Warrior games. (It also explains why Joe Barry Carroll was Robin’s favorite player. Or maybe it doesn’t.)

So it was that on Saturday, January 3, 1981, we went out to catch the Warriors hosting the Philadelphia 76ers. There was one reason in particular we wanted to go to that game, a reason that made me wonder why no one else had taken the tickets: the 76ers were led by the legendary Julius “Dr. J” Erving.

That night, the Doctor scored 21 points, including, if memory serves, one monster dunk that started around the free throw line. The Sixers’ leading scorer for the game was rookie Andrew Toney with 24. Among their other players: Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins, current Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, and Maurice Cheeks.

The Warriors that season had a lot of rookies, partly due to an off-season trade that gave them two first-round draft picks, including the #1 pick. Perhaps this is one reason Joe Barry Carroll became such a hated figure with local fans. He was the #1 pick that year, and he became a consistent, 20 PPG center who didn’t do much more than that, which is to say, he didn’t reach the expectations for a #1 pick. Due to the trade, they also got Rickey Brown in the 13th slot … you’re forgiven if you don’t recall Brown, who played a few years in the NBA as a backup center. The details of the trade were fairly simple: the Boston Celtics gave up the #1 and #13 picks in the draft (they turned into Carroll and Brown); the Warriors gave up the #3 pick and their starting center. The #3 pick was Kevin McHale, who played his entire career for the Celtics and is in the Hall of Fame; the center was Robert Parish, who played for 17 more seasons and also made the Hall of Fame. (Carroll was unfairly maligned; it wasn’t his fault McHale and Parish were so good. Carroll also wasn’t much for interviews, and he played with an emotionless look on his face that people assumed meant he didn’t care.)

The Warriors also drafted Larry “Mr. Mean” Smith, a rebounding stud who was a fan favorite, and Lorenzo Romar, who didn’t have a great career, but who has become a very successful college coach at Washington. But the team’s personality was changed immeasurably with two pre-season trades. In one, Phil Smith (who had played on the team’s only NBA championship squad) and a future #1 pick were traded for flamboyant shooter Lloyd Free, who had scored 30 PPG the previous season. Free, known as “All-World” (a year later, he legally changed his name to World B. Free), was a lot of fun to watch, and he led the W’s in PPG that season. In the other trade, the Warriors gave up a backup center and a 2nd-round draft pick who didn’t pan out, for a troubled forward named Bernard King. King was one of the league’s brightest lights, a young player with a seemingly limitless potential, who had missed most of the previous season being treated for substance abuse (alcohol). This wasn’t the first time King overcame troubles, nor was it the last, but overcome he did, finishing his NBA career with a total of almost 20,000 points scored.

That Saturday night in 1981, we saw some of the most colorful players in NBA history: Doctor J, Darryl Dawkins, World B. Free. But when I close my eyes, the person I see is Bernard King, flying down the wing, driving to the basket, and scoring. And scoring. And scoring.

The Warriors had a 3-point lead at halftime, but the Sixers pulled away in the second half on their way to a 119-105 victory. And, as the 4th quarter rolled towards its increasingly obvious conclusion, the Warriors really had only one weapon left at their disposal: Bernard King.

And so (again, if memory serves … the data on NBA games from that era isn’t as detailed as what we have in baseball), they went to King again and again, and he kept delivering. The game was out of reach, but the crowd was enthralled nonetheless. And when the final buzzer sounded, Bernard King had scored 50 points.

At the end of the season, King was named the Comeback Player of the Year. He only played two seasons with the Warriors, and is most famous nowadays for his years with the Knicks. But, thanks in part to that night in 1981, he remains one of my favorite all-time Warriors.

by request: don't look now (nicolas roeg, 1973)

Tomás requested this one, not that I needed any prodding. As I have noted many times, in the early 70s, when I was a film major, Nicolas Roeg was my favorite director. His first three films as a director (Performance, which he co-directed with Donald Cammell, Walkabout, and Don’t Look Now) have never lost their appeal to me. I listed Performance at #10 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list, and could easily have listed Walkabout as well. I think Roeg started fading with The Man Who Fell to Earth, and by the 80s, I lost interest for the most part. Watching Don’t Look Now again, I wonder if the decline started there. Such a statement is unfair; Don’t Look Now is a terrific movie. But for me, it’s just a notch below the first two.

It is amazing and unsettling how Roeg manages to fracture our sense of the real world in Don’t Look Now. Kael wrote:

[O]ne may come out of the theater still seeing shock cuts and feeling slightly dissociated. The environment may briefly be fractured; for me ten minutes or so passed before it assembled itself and lost that trace of hostile objectivity. I don’t recall having had this sort of residue of visual displacement from a movie before …

I’ve told the story many times of our own experience when we saw Don’t Look Now when it was first released. As we left the theater (feeling as dissociated as Kael described), we walked past an alleyway, and down in the shadows, we saw a short person in a red coat. It was a holy-shit moment.

In Don’t Look Now, there is a sense that nothing is as it seems, alongside a feeling that one could figure out the puzzle if you just gave yourself over to your gifts of second sight. Roeg plays with time … what the film calls “second sight” allows for flash-forwards as premonition, and the past never leaves us, either. John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) sees past events just as often as he sees the future, although he doesn’t believe in those premonitions, only in what happened in the past. The film is full of visual allusions, shapes that occur in multiple settings, motifs of water and broken glass, and the color red, always red. Venice is a character in the film, as well, but it is far from what you might see in a tourist brochure. The Venice of the film is as ominous as the Venice, California of Welles’ Touch of Evil. And as with Welles’ great film (#23 on my Fave Fifty list), Don’t Look Now isn’t quite worthy of everything Roeg throws at it. Welles transformed pulp into art, but art that showed off rather than illuminated. Roeg is very busy in Don’t Look Now, as he is in all of his best films, but here it’s at the service of a relatively mundane Gothic story. It isn’t difficult to construct elaborate analyses of Don’t Look Now, but seeing it this time, I felt like it was a technical masterpiece without much underneath. According to one source, Roeg considered Don’t Look Now to be “an exercise in grammar", and Roger Ebert, who originally gave the film a rather uninspired 3 stars out of 4, later re-evaluated it, praising the movie after watching it a frame at a time. He then called it “a masterpiece of physical filmmaking”.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Borges, who made an appearance of sorts in Performance, and whose sensibility is apparent throughout Don’t Look Now. And yes, the love scene (it’s a sign of how perfect that scene is that you don’t think of it as a sex scene, even though it was as explicit as any mainstream movie of its time). And I’d like to give a belated shout out to a couple of people who were influential in Roeg’s early directorial work. Antony Gibbs was the editor on Petulia, a film that helped introduce the kind of fractured editing we associate with Roeg (Roeg was the cinematographer on that film). Gibbs also worked on Performance and Walkabout. The legendary Dede Allen has credited Gibbs as a great influence on her own work as editor. Don’t Look Now was also the first Roeg film to feature Anthony Richmond as director of cinematography (Roeg had done his own in his first two films). Richmond worked many more times with Roeg, and his skills blend seamlessly with the director’s.

Don’t Look Now is #129 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. Two years ago, in a poll of 150 British film industry professionals, Don’t Look Now was named the best British film ever. I think that’s pretty cool, even though I’m going with 9/10.

hate-watching the oscars

I understand why some people find hate-watching enjoyable. I’ve done it many times myself, and in the days before Twitter, I did it a couple of times on this blog with the Oscars. I’m not much of a participant any more … about the time I realized that watching Oscar-nominated movies just to “catch up” resulted in my seeing a lot of crappy movies I would have ignored otherwise, I also realized I didn’t much like watching the awards ceremony. Not that this is a surprise, since I’m not a fan of awards shows in general. Plus, the YouTube Era means I can see the good stuff (hello, Jennifer Lawrence) without sitting through entire shows.

But I get it. It’s fun to hate-watch, and there are plenty of things (especially on TV) that make no sense unless they are hate-watched. I’m just always behind on the shows I actually like, so I don’t hate-watch much these days.

Having said that, it’s great fun to read the various hate-watch tweets and blogs and live chats, much better than actually watching the awards. People seem to find their funny bones when talking about something that sucks.

There is one thing, though, that I don’t get. I understand people hate-watching the Oscars and wondering what, say, Kristin Chenoweth is doing on the red carpet, and then getting snarky about her. I understand being snarky when someone’s acceptance speech is unlistenable. What I don’t get, though, is why people seem invested in who wins these things.

Argo’s victory as Best Picture appears to have pissed off a lot of people. I’m not contesting those who didn’t like Argo … I liked it, about as much as I liked Cabin in the Woods, which is to say I liked it quite a bit, but I’ve read some good pieces on why Argo isn’t a good movie. What I find odd is that people get mad when Argo wins Best Picture over Beasts of the Southern Wild, or Django Unchained, or Zero Dark Thirty, or (god forbid) Lincoln. It’s the fucking Oscars … of course something like Argo wins Best Picture. When you think of the great films, do you think of The King’s Speech? Slumdog Millionaire? Crash? Million Dollar Baby? Chicago? Fucking A Beautiful Mind? The Oscars get it wrong at least as often as they get it right … this is not news, nor should we be surprised. It’s also my experience that many of the people who complain that the wrong movies won the Oscars are themselves fans of independent and world cinema. Their taste is broad enough that they expose themselves to a wide variety of films … why do they care what Hollywood thinks?

Oscar isn’t alone. The Wire was nominated for only two Emmys in five seasons (it never won), and no actor on the show ever received even a nomination. Chuck Berry never won a Grammy until they gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. Mainstream awards given by the mainstream industry reflect what the mainstream industry wants you to like.

Maybe your Top Ten Films of 2012 list did not include Argo. Maybe it didn’t include any of the Oscar-nominated Best Pictures. Maybe you thought Cabin in the Woods was the best movie of the year. Maybe you thought The Turin Horse was way better than last year’s Best Foreign Film winner, A Separation. If so, you would probably enjoy hate-watching the Oscars. But if you get mad when your favorite movie didn’t win Best Picture at the Oscar’s, you’re giving the Academy more importance than you do the other 364 days of the year.

revisit: bride of frankenstein (james whale, 1935)

Here’s one I watched many times as a kid, and more than a few times as an adult. I like it enough that it was one of the last cuts to my Facebook Fave Fifty list (I’d put it at #77). And while I sometimes think people go a bit overboard when describing its greatness, the truth is, I agree with them.

It lasts only 75 minutes, and you know that makes me happy. What’s is amazing is how much Whale stuffs into that hour and fifteen. It’s a given that a movie this short will (hopefully) lack the extraneous flab that poisons so many films that are twice as long, but despite its economy, Bride of Frankenstein is a burst of excess. The queer subtext is hardly buried at all, and illuminates almost every scene. The film insists on its outsider status, even while somehow convincing the censors that all of the necessary cuts had been made. (The censors were worried about Elsa Lanchester’s bosom when she plays Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, apparently missing Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s fruity contributions to the prologue.) Colin Clive is his usual self as Dr. Frankenstein (how can an actor overact and still be bland?), but Ernest Thesiger is over the top as Dr. Pretorius, thumbing his nose at God and convincing Frankenstein to join him in the creation of The Bride, who may be the first movie monster to be able to say, “I Have Two Daddies”. The townspeople are just as vengeful as they were in the first Frankenstein movie, and while the monster is much more sympathetic this time around, he is at least as brutal, killing more than once person because he can’t control his temper. Dr. Frankenstein is spineless, his wife is simpering, Pretorius is a godless madman, the monster is a killer, Dwight Frye is Dwight Frye … clearly, the only truly likable character in the whole movie is The Bride.

I understand that Elsa Lanchester was odd-looking, but I always thought she was hot in this film, both as the bosomy Mary Shelley and the hissing Bride. (I like Valerie Hobson in general, and think she does the best she can with what she’s given here, especially since she was only 17 when the movie was made. (That’s a bit scandalous, too, now that I think of it … a 17-year-old playing a married woman. Mae Clarke, who played the character in Frankenstein, was 21 at the time.). She had an interesting life and was in a few movies I quite liked. But against The Bride, she had no chance.)

Of course, this would make a nice double-bill with Gods and Monsters, a movie I’ve often recommended anyway because I like to show people that Brendan Fraser is one of our more underrated actors.

Bride of Frankenstein looks great, it holds up almost 80 years later, it has iconic performances, it stands above the other fine classics from Universal’s monster movie era. It’s #308 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. And it gets 10/10 from me.

by request: jurassic park (steven spielberg, 1993)

Had family over tonight, and Ray and Lex wanted to watch Jurassic Park, so watch it we did. It was interesting watching the PG-13 movie (one that earned its rating) with an 8-year-old. He was OK for the first half, but spent much of the second half sitting on dad’s lap, occasionally covering his eyes.

It’s hard to remember, twenty years down the road, how miraculous Jurassic Park looked when it came out. They looked like real dinosaurs! There were set pieces that stuck in the mind, most notably when the velociraptors teamed up to hunt down the little kids in the kitchen. The velociraptors themselves were the stars of the movie.

Now? Well, the dinosaurs still look real, and the velociraptors are still frightening. But the film is lesser Spielberg. That’s not as big a dis as it sounds … I like Steven Spielberg, I had Close Encounters of the Third Kind at #25 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list and have given four of his movies my highest 10/10 rating. I used to have Jurassic Park at 8/10, but that’s stretching it a bit. In his best movies (Close Encounters and E.T.), he gives us recognizable human beings, in his best action movies (Jaws, the first two Indiana Jones pictures), he gives us iconic heroes. In Jurassic Park, he gives us dinosaurs. That they are great dinosaurs means Jurassic Park is a good movie. But Sam Neill isn’t Harrison Ford, the two grandkids aren’t Drew Barrymore, Laura Dern isn’t Melinda Dillon. (Sam Neill and Laura Dern are fine actors, but they are saddled with shallow characters here.)

I imagine some think I’m complaining too much. We’re talking about an entertaining movie with memorable moments. Why ask for more? I could ask that Spielberg take his “let’s sell the same lunch boxes in real life that were sold in the movie” irony to a more meaningful level. I could ask for something less formulaic in the plot. And I could ask for more interesting human characters. But it’s true, you can go a long way with good dinosaurs. 7/10.

music friday: buncha guys including prince, "while my guitar gently weeps"

I don’t mean to be boring, or to repeat myself, but I can’t just keep writing about Pink, so I fall back on one of my all-time favorites. Sometimes I wonder if this clip is so popular because Prince doesn’t allow his stuff to show up on YouTube, so if you want a fix, you’re left with things like this, where he’s just part of the show.

Ah, but what a part! I’ve seen this a billion times, and this is the first time I noticed him standing off to the side for the first half of the song. I guess I assumed he dropped in from Minnesota just in time to take his solo, and then he walked away when he was done, leaving his guitar hanging in midair (has anyone ever found out what happened to it?).

I mostly just stand in awe of the solo, but someone named Willie Simpson tells a bit of backstory, which may be apocryphal. One story is that when Dhani Harrison asked Prince to join them for the song, Prince had never heard it. I like this one better: “Rumor has it that Prince played such an insanely great solo in response to the snub he felt after being left off of Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 100 guitar players ever list.  Prince proves that he belongs somewhere on that list, perhaps in the top ten.”

Anyway, here ya go:

revisit: y tu mamá también (alfonso cuarón, 2001)

I wrote a longish piece about Y Tu Mamá También in the first year of this blog, more than ten years ago. It was a response to something my sister had written (in the early days of the blog, other people could write posts, not just comments). She had seen the movie after I gave it a 10 out of 10 rating; she hated it. I think it’s one of the better things I’ve written about movies, and I’m not going to duplicate it here. Instead, I thought to talk a bit about my thoughts on watching it again in 2013. (If you are interested in the give-and-take between my sister and I, you can read her initial comments here.)

Perhaps because our discussion revolved around the representation of adolescent male sexuality, I completely ignored the subtle ways Cuarón shows us the class system in Mexican society. There’s the obvious fact that one of the two guys is upper class, while the other is middle class, which occasionally pushes its way to the surface. But it is also there in the background, as Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa drive through Mexico on their way to a mystical beach. Death is everywhere … we see roadside memorials, and the narrator offers stories that don’t always end well. The police are always stopping and harassing people, although they never bother the higher-class threesome. Beggars ask for money, sometimes using ingenious tactics that amount to amiable robbery, and the three heroes never act surprised, and they always give the money. (There are also times when a poor person makes a gift of something just because one of the travelers shows an appreciation for it.) No matter how carefree the trip to the beach seems (and it is never only carefree), such instances ground the story in the lives of the people in the background: the three people in the car can afford to drop everything for a brief vacation, but the people living in the places they stop don’t have the time or the money for such a lark.

I think I may have taken the film’s sexuality for granted when I first saw it. That it, I knew it was delightfully free in a way American movies, at least, rarely are, but I didn’t consider how much it was outside the norm. The list of great erotic movies is very short, and those movies are not to be taken for granted. It is also interesting the way Cuarón allows Maribel Verdú’s Luisa to be more than just the experienced woman who teaches the young boys about sex. There is the moment when she lays down the law, demanding that she be in charge, listing ten items that must be followed (more than one of which comes down to “shut up”), and the guys acquiesce because they know she’s been in charge all along. There’s the way the human body is presented in the film … while we see plenty of Verdú, we see even more of the bodies of Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal. Verdú isn’t presented as the only object of the audience’s gaze; she is not the only thing we look at. And the sizzling sexuality of the character comes not because Verdú looks great with her clothes off (although she does, as do Luna and Bernal), but because the script allows Verdú to shine as a character of depth. In fact, though on the surface this is a story about a journey of two young men, ultimately it is Luisa that we learn the most about. And Luisa comes to accept who she is, while Tenoch and Julio force themselves to forget what they’ve learned.

Alfonso Cuarón has become a favorite director of mine, working in a variety of genres. I thought A Little Princess was pretty good; he directed the only Harry Potter movie I liked; I found Children of Men good enough to assign to one of my classes. Y Tu Mamá También is his best film. It was in the last group of movies I cut when trimming my list down for the Facebook Fave Fifty project (it would have been #76). The latest update is being revealed gradually, but last year it ranked #11 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 10/10.

the truth about love

Between opening act The Hives and the appearance of Pink, a friend and fellow Bruce fan surprised me … he was sitting a few rows behind us. He was pretty excited, this being his first Pink show. He said he especially liked “Glitter in the Air”, and I told him, “spoiler alert, but she’ll sing that tonight”. He added that “Fuckin’ Perfect” is another of his faves, and I said he was in luck, she’d be playing that one, too. Now, Billy and I have been to a lot of Bruce shows ... he’s probably been to ten times as many as I have, overall. He’s used to concerts that have a predetermined structure that includes lots of places where song selections can be changed. So Billy looked at me and asked how I knew she would be singing those songs. “Because,” I told him, “she plays the same songs every night.”

This makes it sound like a Pink concert lacks spontaneity, and it is true, the set list has to be set in stone because of all the “production values”. I mean, at one point, she sang a duet with Nate Ruess on “Just Give Me a Reason”, even though Ruess wasn’t there … he was on a big video screen, though, singing his part as he does on the record. Bruce Springsteen might pull a sign out of the audience, treat it as a request, and tell the band they’re going to play some song they haven’t touched in 20 years, but Pink’s shows are choreographed … there’s no room for those kinds of requests.

It’s one of the remarkable things about Pink that whatever she does, she comes across as a real person. She’s a diva, a pop star, she puts on gargantuan concerts … yet when she talks to us between songs, she’s just Alecia Moore. She may not take requests, but she does comment on the signs, even stopping a few times to autograph one or two. She may have set pieces that are necessarily the same, night after night, but her patter is always off the cuff, and if she’s a perfectionist regarding her own safety during her more acrobatic moments, she’s also able to fluff a lyric in a way that makes her audience love her even more.

A couple of early reviews are out. Jim Harrington, in the Mercury News, wrote, “Pink is the new gold standard. … The singer, who now sports short blonde hair and favors outfits that show off her infomercial-worthy ripped stomach muscles, is absolutely magnetic onstage. … after watching the Truth About Love Tour, I can honestly say that few, if any, performers deliver better pop spectacles than Pink.” And here’s Maureen Coulter of Metroactive: “While she’s impressive on the radio or in videos, it’s hard to truly appreciate Pink until you’ve seen her live. The way she effortlessly busts out tear-jerking ballads, glides across the stage as she dances and banters with the crowd while genuinely appearing to have a good time is something you don’t see with just any Clive Davis-anointed singer.”

Before we saw Pink in 2009, I’d never been to a hyped-up, big-production pop star concert. Now I’ve been to two. The first time, I wondered if I was overrating the show because the extravaganza was new to me, but that wasn’t the situation last night, and I still thought it was a wonderful concert. Not everything worked … the show uses a game-show framing device that was pretty annoying (although, just before the show began, it resulted in Robin and I getting our mugs on the video screen when the “host” came over to our seats). Because Pink changes costumes so often, and because so many of the set pieces require special setups, there needs to be something going on when the star leaves the stage for a bit. In ‘09, this was mostly covered by the band vamping at the end of songs, perhaps most notably when guitarist Justin Derrico channeled his inner Jimmy Page on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”. Pink deserves credit for trying something creative to fill in those gaps … I just don’t think it worked this time around.

For me, the show really hit its groove with “Try”. It began with Pink singing while twirling in the air. Her acrobatics are especially appropriate in songs like this, about rising above and trying again. Eventually she segued into a version of the dance in the “Try” video. She followed that with her only cover of the night, Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”, which smoldered. ( It was subdued … the best effect was the old-school microphone that was only a prop, but gave the performance the feel of, I don’t know, Billie Holiday? Then came the afore-mentioned “duet” with Nate Ruess, and the new song, “All We All We Are” (

Still, her reputation as a live performer demanded certain things, and we got one of them with the latest version of “Sober”, another song that works well within the acrobatic context (“I’m safe up high, nothing can touch me”):

She then put the glitz aside for quiet versions of “Family Portrait”, “Who Knew”, and “Fuckin’ Perfect”, the latter of which eventually erupted. At which point, she did an oldies medley. The first time I saw her, in 2002, she did a Janis Joplin medley. The last time I saw her, she covered the Divinyls, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and Gnarls Barkley. This time, she did her own oldies, trotting out the three hit singles from her debut album, Can’t Take Me Home. It’s hard to imagine too many of the fans who put two of those songs in the top five on the R&B charts (one made #1) would have enjoyed the loud hard rock that Pink has favored for many years, but it was nice to see her give a shout out to her past. Then two recent hits, and she was gone.

The first encore, “So What”, featured a very simple acrobatic effect: Pink got into a harness and flew all around the arena like Peter Pan. ( Our seats were in the lower deck, but in the corner farthest from the stage, yet at one point, she was only a few rows from us. She finished with a reprise of her performance of “Glitter in the Air” from the last tour, and I don’t think anyone was sorry that she used the same lovely, watery moves.

There seemed to be a few more men in the crowd than the last time, but we weren’t very loud … the cheers and screams were high-pitched enough that you knew who Pink’s core audience was. The woman who sat in front us was … well, I’m bad at this, I’ll guess late-60s. It was her first Pink show, and she’d come alone … she tried to get her niece to accompany her, but the youngster was away at college.

I don’t like to brag about the good old days … one of the best things about Bruce Springsteen’s late-career concerts are that they are good enough to match up to the legendary 1978 tour, so there’s no more “I was there” talk. But I have to point out that the first two times I saw Pink (2002 and 2006), it was in smaller venues and there wasn’t a lot of “show”. I’m not saying it was “better” seeing her at the Fillmore, although given her affinity for Janis Joplin, there was some sweetness to the idea, which she acknowledged. I can say that last night, Pink was pretty close to me for 20 seconds or so, but at the Fillmore, she was even closer, for the entire concert. It is too easy to get caught up in the amazing circus-like atmosphere of the last couple of tours, and thus I can say with certainty that I am glad I got to see her when she was just a singer at the Fillmore. But I can’t complain, or slip too far into nostalgia mode, because these big concerts are terrific: thoughtful, overwhelming, touching, thrilling. It says something that the two songs last night that brought tears to my eyes were both songs that Pink performed at least partly while dangling in the air (“Try” and “Sober”). Pink crosses so many barriers in her music (this is the person, after all, who followed her gazillion-selling hit, Missundaztood, by cutting an album with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong), and in her concerts, where she can sing a song with a quiet piano accompaniment, scream in front of her rockin’ band, and then touch the heart while flying. The only question remaining is one Ann Powers asked a couple of years ago: why isn’t she a bigger star? It’s all relative … she is a big star, to be sure. But it’s not clear than anyone outside of her hardcore fans know this, even though there are a lot of those fans. Like me, for instance.

what i watched last week

Flight (Robert Zemeckis, 2012). The plane crash is a marvel of technology and direction. But then the movie starts for real, and it’s just Oscar bait for Denzel. He is very good indeed as a pilot with a problem, in that Denzel way that is somehow both over and under rated … at this point, we take for granted that he’ll deliver. He puts a lot of himself into the part, but it’s too easy: play a drunk, get an Oscar nomination. Kelly Reilly matches him step for step, it’s always nice to see Tamara Tunie, and Nadine Velazquez starts the movie off with one of the more gratuitous nude scenes in an Oscar-nominated movie (not that there’s anything wrong with that). 6/10.

Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966). 7/10.

Goin’ Down the Road (Donald Shebib, 1970). 7/10.

by request: goin' down the road (donald shebib, 1970)

Phil Dellio had this at #8 on his Facebook Fave Fifty list. Phil is Canadian, which is relevant here because Goin’ Down the Road is a legendary film in Canada, even though it is barely heard of in the States. (By legendary, I mean SCTV once did a parody of it.) To watch it, I had to buy it on Blu-ray from Amazon in Canada.

That parody gets at something essential about Goin’ Down the Road: they keep reminding us that it is Canadian. The film itself doesn’t beat this into the ground; it just exists. Shebib treats the story and the locale and the characters simply as things he knows. There is something universal about the story of two guys who hit the big city, but even there, it was easy for me to get confused … they are from the East, and they move to Toronto, as if that’s in the West, which it may have been for those characters, but living in California, I always think of Toronto as the East.

One lesson in all of this is that even though Canada is our direct neighbor, watching Goin’ Down the Road as an American makes me feel as distant as I do when I watch kitchen-sink dramas from England, or world cinema in general. The entire time I was watching the movie, I suspected there were allusions I was missing.

So why is Goin’ Down the Road such an important marker in Canadian film history? I can’t say I know much about it, even after doing some reading, but it seems clear that Canadian film historians think of Canadian films in terms of before and after Goin’ Down the Road. It’s easier to see how it was influential stylistically, with its ultra-cheap budget, unknown actors, and documentary look. It has been compared favorably to the work of Cassavetes at around the same time (Faces, Husbands), and certainly Shebib’s film feels more “real” than Cassavetes’ hyped-up way with actors.

Beyond the improvisational feel, Goin’ Down the Road has little in common with Cassavetes. It is a very low-key movie. The two leads seem like typical “guys hitting the road”, except even their rambunctious escapades feel mellow (I mean, Bruce Cockburn is on the soundtrack). They are not “cool” … we’re not talking Dean Moriarty here, and Kerouac would never tell a story this way (he’d have to insert Meaning-with-a-capital-M).

It’s no insult to say a work was intended for someone besides me, and in fact, I was able to connect with Goin’ Down the Road on many levels. But between my own taste preferences, and the film’s Canada-centric core, I was never going to name it my 8th favorite movie. (My own #8 was The Wild Bunch.) 7/10.