Six Degrees of Cinema: Ruby Sparks

There’s a lot to unpack about Ruby Sparks. There isn’t a lot to the plot beyond the premise, but let’s start there. Calvin (Paul Dano) plays a young writer who can’t seem to sit down and follow-up his early masterpiece of a novel, until he gets an assignment from his therapist to write about his dreams. And he dreams about a girl named Ruby (Zoe Kazan) from Dayton, OH (because it sounds romantic), whose flaws are only endearing” (as his brother Harry – Chris Messina – puts it when he reads a first draft). Because of magical realism, his typewriter creates Ruby out of his thoughts, and then he learns that he can control her by changing what he has written.

When this came out it was seen as screenwriter/co-star Kazan’s critique of the ‘manic pixie dream girl‘ trope that Nathan Rabin unleashed upon the world in his review of Elizabethtown. And on one level it is: white, rich, writer-boy is sad and lonely – perfectly quirky non-threatening hipster girl with no clear direction of her own appears seemingly out of nowhere to fix his sad, dull life. But that’s where it gets interesting, Calvin resents her for trying to change him (they spend a particularly awful weekend with his lovely, weird hippie mom and stepdad – Annette Bening & Antonio Banderas) and he sulks around the whole time that Ruby wants to be talking with them rather than holed up in the tree house with him reading.  You see because he can’t handle when she’s her own person and not his creation.

This next paragraph gets a little spoliery so if you want to watch the movie maybe stop here.

Of course young, male screenwriters are not the only people who create manic pixie dream girls for themselves. We all do it in a way. At the beginning of a relationship, before we know anything about the other person we ‘write’ our idea of them, and then it’s jarring later when they aren’t matching up to the story that we created. I think that’s what this movie is really about, and so when it takes the inevitable dark turn, he twists her to the point where she has no agency, it becomes almost a horror movie. We see her struggle against his demands and he despite claiming to love her, keeps typing. It’s hard to watch, but only because I think we can relate to his impulse, “can’t you just see that if you were more like I wanted you to be, we would still be happy?” he seems to be screaming. And she tries I think, because she doesn’t have any idea who she is, so his thoughts are her guideposts.

It’s a lovely movie filled with thought-provoking questions, but I didn’t know what to make of the ending. I don’t think he should be allowed to even think of a future with her; how do you come back from such cruelty?

Anyway, for my next link I’m going to use an actor that didn’t come up at all in the above review, because this is my blog and I can do that. Eliot Gould has a slightly bigger than cameo part in this as Calvin’s therapist, he delightfully disengaged even as Calvin says horrible things in that way that only therapists can truly get away with. And I’ve been meaning to catch up with director Paul Mazursky’s work since he passed away in June, so I’m going to use Gould as my link to Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

 

In this chain: 

What If – Ruby Sparks

Weekly Adventure: Making of Gone with the Wind exhibit at the Ransom Center

Miró and I thought these makeup tests pictures looked like mugshots

I’m a little bit obsessed with the Ransom Center, you should probably expect a blog post about everything they do for the next two years or so, but it won’t be boring because they do such an amazing variety of things. A couple of weeks ago they opened their new exhibit The Making of Gone With The Windwhich Miró and I went to check out yesterday. They had an almost overwhelming amount of material on display, about everything from the bidding process on securing the rights, to the insanely involved casting process (hundreds of women wrote in begging to be considered as Scarlett, and many wrote in to protest rumored casting – the Catholic Daughters of America’s letter against Katharine Hepburn was an eyebrow raiser for me), and the epic struggle that filming the epic novel became.

There was a good mix between the iconic:

The curtain dress - designed by Walter Plunkett

The curtain dress – designed by Walter Plunkett

and the previously private. The telegram exchange between the producer (and driving force behind) the film David O. Selznik and potential Scarlett Tallulah Bankhead about how she won’t be putting herself on tape another time, was a fun find. I also really loved the screen tests for the front-runners that weren’t picked, it was like alternate universes of film history.

I have a confession – I’ve never actually watched all of Gone With The Wind, Miró and I tried once in high school, but it never really grabbed us. I’ll be returning to it eventually as part of the Best Picture Baking Project, but until then, I’m just not sure I can commit to the 3+ hours this movie requires. That being said, this exhibit was still really cool. And not just because I like looking at pretty dresses. The old Hollywood studio system is a fascinating insular world and this exhibit gives you a really interesting look into it. (The cabinet with the Hayes censors attempts to replace, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” is worth a trip on its own.)

The most interesting discovery I made, was a talent scout names Kay Brown (later Kay Brown Barrett) who not only brought the novel to Selznik’s attention, but then led a lot of the on the ground pre-production work in Atlanta. She comes across in her telegrams as a strong personality, in a time when we are taught that women were not respected in positions of power. I would love to learn more about her, but it doesn’t seem like people have written much about her. I may need to start some research of my own!

Also – the dresses are really pretty:

Detail from the wedding gown

Detail from the wedding gown 

The world's most glamorous robe

The world’s most glamorous robe

My favorite - it's so ornate it looks almost like it belongs in Camelot

My favorite – it’s so ornate it looks almost like it belongs in Camelot

The exhibit is running through January 4th at the Harry Ransom Center at 300 W 21st St. on UT’s campus

Rainy Day Movie: Love is Strange


It’s going to be hard for me to write about Love is Strange without overusing the word “sweet.” It follows a couple, George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow) who after decades together finally get married. The movie starts with the joyful ceremony and the crampped party that follows in George & Ben’s apartment with their motley crew of family and friend-family. The rug gets pulled out from under them pretty quickly though; George loses his music teaching job at a Catholic school and suddenly they can’t afford their (beautiful) house anymore, so they are forced to split up and sleep on separate friend’s couches. (It was either that or stay with the crazy hippie niece (Christina Kirk) in Poughkeepsie who is really into chromotherapy.) The film captures the awkwardness of being/having a house guest, even one whom you really love, and the difference between being ‘like family’ and being with your actual chosen family.

I expected all of this based on the trailer, but I was actually surprised by a few things:

1. Marisa Tomei gave a wonderful nuanced performance of a woman who is trying to be kind but can’t deal with all of the craziness in her family.

 2. Ed from Northern Exposure (Darren E. Burrows) was in it (as Tomei’s husband). I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in anything else, but he is delightfully weird.

3. Molina and Lithgow were incredibly believable as a couple. I guess this didn’t actually surprise me, they are both great actors so the fact that they inhabited their roles well was not a shock, but I wonder if they have known each other for a long time, because they had such as ease about them. It was the most lovely thing about an incredibly lovely story (see how I didn’t use sweet there.)

 4. Based mainly on George’s occupation as a music teacher, there was a lot of classical music woven throughout the story and it was used really effectively, but again never became heavy-handed.

This was a story that could have become a political tirade, a soap box against the unfair treatment of George, but instead it remained a deeply personal story about a family and all the complications and joys that comes with navigating difficult times with the ones you love. It’s definitely worth seeing.

 

(Note: I’ve changed the name of this blog series, because there are too many 100 degree + days down here to warrant going to the movies every time it happens, plus I have AC now. But it doesn’t rain nearly as often as it did in Chicago – especially this year – so I’m taking it as my new excuse to hide away in a movie theater, as if I need one.)

Weekly Adventure: Ian McEwan presented by the Harry Ransom Center

 

As regular readers of this blog know, I have never been shy about showing up at events for writers I admire if they are anywhere near me. (Even if they weren’t technically ‘public events.’) But one of the things I was most looking forward to about starting grad school, is that I’ll no longer be crashing a lot of these kinds of talks. And one of the delightful things about my specific choice of grad school (the University of Texas at Austin) is that it has the Harry Ransom Center, which is an incredibly impressive archive. Especially if you are interested, like I am, in the papers and lives of American and British authors from the last hundred years or so. (They have a ton of other stuff there as well, but that’s what grabbed my interest on a visit a couple of years ago when they were having an exhibit on Tennessee Williams, and just happened to have some drafts of letters between David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo hanging on the wall.)

Anyway, they have recently acquired, the papers of Ian McEwan and to celebrate last night they hosted the first American reading of his new novel The Children Act (which was only officially published on Tuesday). The whole reading had a celebratory feel, which was remarkable given that The Children Act isn’t any cheerier than Mr. McEwan’s regular fare. It’s about a family court judge in London who has to decide heart wrenching cases of child endangerment, but aside from the actual reading (which was compelling enough for me to buy the book) McEwan’s tone was affable and light. One audience-questioner asked whether or not he had a cat, and he said he had a border collie, which made me love him just a little bit more than I already did.

The book seems, from the excerpts that I heard last night, to be worth reading, and I highly recommend going to hear him speak if you ever get a chance. Also his signature is hilarious (beaten only by Anne Carson’s for my favorite in my book collection):

photo (7)

Ten Songs I’m Pretending To Know the Words To Right Now

I always sing along with every song I even sort of know. I’m sure it annoys every one around me, but it’s not even a conscious choice, it’s just how I interact with music. Anyway here are some the songs I’ve been mumbling along to lately:

Back to Black – Beyonce feat. Andre 3000 

Sort of weird one to start with in that I actually know all of the words to this song, but I totally missed this version in The Great Gatsby (probably because I was so blinded by my hatred for the adaptation that I completely blocked most of it out), and found myself singing along with an episode of So You Think You Can Dance without realizing it was a cover of Amy Winehouse.

Stoned & Starving – Parquet Courts

Have You Seen My Son – Benjamin Booker 

Break the Rules – Charli XCX

You’re Not the One – Sky Ferreira

Like Real People Do – Hozier 

Girl in a Country Song – Maddie & Tae

I can’t believe I haven’t put this on the blog before it combines two of my favorite things: country music and feminism. Those never used to be mutually exclusive categories, but as this song points out lately women have been so marginalized in that genre…Plus it’s funny.

Girls Chase Boys – Ingrid Michaelson 

“I’ve got two hands, one beating heart, and I’ll be alright” is one of my mantras lately. So simple, but so beautiful.

Gimme Something Good – Ryan Adams 

My friend Katie posted three songs from the new self-titled Ryan Adams album yesterday with the note “Yessssss. Bout time.” Which are my thoughts exactly. (Also Elvria is in this video is wonderfully strange.)

Because the Night (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Version) – Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, & U2

As I said in my review of Just Kids, this is the only Patti Smith song I’ve ever really “gotten,” but this version is one of the coolest live collaborations I’ve stumbled across on YouTube. (It’s up there with that Zac Brown/James Taylor video I posted awhile ago.)

 

 

 

 

Things I Love: Ten Most Influential Books

There’s a fun Facebook meme circulating in my friend group over the last week, where people list the 10 books that have “stuck with them” the most. In other words, not the best books you’ve ever read or even your favorite books, but those that influenced you the most; the ones that pop up into your head the most. It was hard to pick just 10, but it was also really fun to think about (and reminded me of an old blog series I did on Non-Required Reading Lists).

I already posted my picks to Facebook, but you know I like my lists to include pictures, so I’m reposting it here (in no particular order):

Sense & Sensibility – Jane Austen – By far my favorite of hers. The push and pull between Elinor and Marianne is so moving to me.

Angels in America – Tony Kushner – I reread it once a year and it’s always surprising me/making me cry

(This is also the only “movie” cover of a paperback that I actually prefer to the original cover. This image is so perfect.) 

Love is a Mix Tape – Rob Sheffield – Speaking of tears…but also a wonderful love letter to his wife and to music, and a testament to the power pop culture can have in our lives

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee – I don’t feel like I need to explain this one…

Brooklyn – Colm Tóibín – I want to just say “every book by Tóibín” but I chose this one because at times it felt like I was holding a mirror up to my life

Minor Characters – Joyce Johnson – Helps to me to reconcile my feminist self with my love of the Beats (and that mirror thing again)

Howl – Allen Ginsberg – There are few poems that are so alive.

Anne of Green Gables Series – L.M. Montgomery – My first literary obsession, my mom and I read all 8 books together, and I still aspire to be as confident and fun as Anne Shirley

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood – Because its awesome, made me think about a world I had no familiarity with, and brought me closer to Hanna

Our Town – Thornton Wilder – Because it’s the book that best describes my whole philosophy on life, the mundane is precious, easy to ignore but beautiful, and we all have something eternal about us.

(Click through on any of the pictures to buy them on Amazon!) 

 

I’d love to see your lists! Comment below or send them to igetabitobsessive@gmail.com

Six Degrees of Cinema: What If

A couple of weeks ago I got a text from Julia that said “I just saw the most you movie and you have to see it if you haven’t  – it’s called What If with Harry Potter and Zoe Kazan.” So yesterday Victoria and I took the day off and had breakfast tacos and went to see it. (To be fair, she took the day off. I’m a grad student, that pretty much is what Friday is like for me.) And Jules was totally right, I did have to see this movie.  Firstly because I love Zoe Kazan, I have been saying since I saw her in Happythankyoumoreplease that if I ever do anything interesting enough to warrant a movie about my life I want her to play me. And I stand by that stance. (For the record I do not think we look-alike, I just think we have similar energy.) And she’s great in this, playing the improbably named Chantry, an animator with a great life and wonderful boyfriend in Toronto, who one night meets Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) at a party and they connect, but aforementioned boyfriend is in the way so they try to be friends. This isn’t breaking any new narrative ground I know, but the characters were so charming that I didn’t really care that it was predictable. (There’s nothing wrong with a good romantic comedy, we’ve just had so few of them in the last decade or so that we forget.)

 

Victoria and I kept saying yesterday that we thought the movie was “sweet,” a word I’ve been using a lot lately to describe things I’ve been connecting with. I think it can have the connotation of being dismissable, and this movie is at the end of the day ‘a feel good story,’ but in this age of irony and quick cynicism it can be really lovely to allow yourself to watch an optimistic story where good people deal with a complicated situation, do some bad things, but have everyone pretty much come out of it OK in the end. As Wallace says in a speech at his best friend’s wedding (side note: Adam Driver is hilarious as the asshole best friend) “it’s easy to be cynical about love, what’s hard” is real commitment and believing in love.

I know I’m getting cheesy, but Jules was right, this movie was sort of made specifically with me in mind. Which also means, that the female characters were actual characters with distinct personalities and who supported each other (and were assholes to each other too.) I honestly don’t think that Kazan would have done the movie if Chantry didn’t have her own story, aside from the struggle between Ben (Rafe Spall) and Wallace. I mean she wrote Ruby Sparks, which I now must admit I’ve never seen… So I’m using this as an excuse to start a new Six Degrees chain.

Weekly Adventure: Beyday Party at Cheer Up Charlies

For those of you that somehow don’t know, yesterday was Beyoncé’s birthday, which should clearly be an actual holiday by now. Thankfully Cheer Up Charlies, a bar here in Austin with a really cool cliff face/patio area, recognized this fact and held a Beyday Party in honor of Ms. Knowles-Carter. The actual party was fun, and we got these hilarious/creepy/awesome fan/mask things:

(Photo Credit: Andy Bossley)

(Photo Credit: Andy Bossley)

But honestly it was suffocatingly hot on the dance floor so mostly we stayed outside and listened to the awesome DJ spinning nothing but Beyoncé. He played all the big hits you would expect and a few songs I had never even heard before. Here’s my mini-playlist in her honor:

Jumpin’ Jumpin’ Destiny’s Child

The first Bey song I ever knew all the words to.

Baby Boy – featuring Sean Paul

I had completely forgotten about this song until last night, but it’s so fun to dance to.

Irreplaceable 

Because it’s my mom’s favorite…

Drunk in Love – featuring Jay-Z 

Because, as I said to Victoria last night, I think this one’s so sexy it’s almost uncomfortable to listen to it in public with strangers. Also forget those divorce rumors…

Love On Top 

Because this is one of my all time favorite songs from any artist ever.

Five Star Book: Just Kids by Patti Smith

 

“Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”

I have to admit that until I read this book, I never really “got” Patti Smith. Most of her music confused me and her general look scared me a bit. (I think now that I somehow in my child brain had conflated her with Iggy Pop – who still really freaks me out.) But from almost the second this book came out a few years ago women in my life whose taste I trust started recommending it to me. So naturally it took me until I moved in with Victoria and she literally put it in my hands to actually get around to reading it and I am so glad that I did.

For those who don’t know Just Kids is Smith’s memoir of her relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Before reading this I probably would have said the “photographer Robert Mapplethorpe” but one of the revelations of this story was that both he and Patti started out as artists without any idea what medium they were meant to work in. They experimented, not just in art, but with their clothes, their personas, their lives. This could have been a chaotic story, upsetting even, their lives were filled with interesting, broken people and every section seems to include the loss of someone they loved, but instead the overall tone is sweet. Not in a saccharine way, but Smith clearly has such affection not only for Robert, who was her first love and lifetime friend, but for this whole time in her life. This time where she discovered, with the help of an inspiring cast of characters ranging from Allen Ginsberg (who tried to pick her up once thinking she was “a very pretty boy”) to drag queens from Andy Warhol’s factory to Jimi Hendrix, who she was and what work she was meant to be creating.

She found Mapplethorpe on her first day in New York City, and they created a little idyll of a world where they took care of each other. They were just kids, as the title says, but their love evolved into a lasting support system that was really inspiring to me. Looking at her performances on YouTube now with these stories in my head, I have to admit I still don’t understand most of the musical choices, but the look makes more sense. Throughout the book she describes her outfits in terms of the movie character or type she was emulating her “gypsy look” her “East of Eden dress” that brashness that put me off before I see it as part of the performance now. She’s a sweet woman under there, and a strong one. She’s gone through a lot and lost a lot of friends, but as she writes sometimes “when you hit a wall, you just have to kick it in.”

(I have always loved this song – but probably because Bruce wrote the music…Apparently Robert liked it to, he had always wanted Patti to write a song they could dance to.)

Weekly Adventure: Texan Labor Day Edition

I’m still settling in to being in a new and being a student again. (There’s so much reading in grad school – and I’ve never had to look up so many words before.) So I haven’t been able to sit down and blog about my adventures as much, also it’s hotter than should be allowed here so I haven’t done too much solo exploring, but I am very lucky to have Miró and Victoria to take me around and introduce me to great places (and pretty much everyone I know down here.)

I had a pretty busy weekend, especially considering that up until last Thursday when my classes actually started, my days consisted of a heavy rotation of Law & Order, The Art of Fieldingand naps. Anyway my top 3 Austin discoveries from this holiday weekend were:

The Parrish Festival

On Saturday night Miró and a few other friends and I made our way to the Firehouse Lounge, which is a really cool speakeasy-esque bar bizarrely in the basement of a hostel just north of a stretch of downtown very aptly named “Dirty 6th.”

Unlike the surrounding bars Firehouse has a pretty chill vibe and really good custom cocktails. And on Saturday night a really great local band, The Parrish Festival. It was a little tricky to find a good YouTube video of them – I kept getting links to actual parish festivals, but you can hear a bunch more at their website above. But here’s a pretty good one:

“Detroit Style Pizza” from VIA 313

It’s funny to me that I had to leave the Midwest to learn that Detroit-style pizza was a thing. We went to celebrate Miró’s early birthday at Craft Pride (which is a pretty cool craft beer place on Rainey Street – which so far is one of my favorite parts of Austin) on Sunday night, and in their back beer garden there’s a food trailer selling what I can only describe as deep dish crust with the sauce on top:

Barbarella

This wasn’t quite a discovery, I had gone dancing at Barbarella with Miró and Julia when Jules and I came down here for Spring Break our senior year, but I did end up there two nights this weekend and it was really fun. Especially on Sunday for their Labor Day party, where they played a ton of fun pop music and Victoria and I got to dance out to: