Your favorite films? Some of mine

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A scene from Kubrick’s film 2001; Inside the spaceship — filmed in a British studio

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a recent list of the top 100 foreign language films, according to critics, reported by the BBC; I admit to only having seen nine (!) of them. I loved Children of Paradise, and hope you’ve also seen it. Another of my faves is on the list below.

My father made films for a living, mostly documentaries, and won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for one; here’s his Wikipedia entry. So maybe my addiction to film comes honestly! In a typical week, I watch probably two or three films, whether a classic on TCM,  something on HBO or go to a theater to happily sit in the dark.

My tastes don’t include horror or a lot of comedies. For reasons I can’t explain, I love films about spies and spycraft.

 

Syriana (2005)

An amazing cast — George Clooney and Matt Damon, two favorites — and a twisted tale of government malfeasance in the MidEast. Clooney won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Filmed in Iran, Texas, Switzerland, Lebanon, Spain and D.C. (this kind of multi-national location shooting seems to be a theme of my favorites!) They used 200 locations on four continents. It also feels, right now, terribly timely in light of terrible Saudi behavior — and American complicity in it.

 

Michael Clayton (2007)

Clooney again! This time, corporate malfeasance. (Hmm, I see a theme.) Also in the cast is the phenomenal British actor Tom Wilkinson , playing a corporate executive whose conscience over a highly dangerous and profitable agro-chemical lands him in the wrong hands.  The fantastic British actress Tilda Swinton plays the firm’s smarmy lawyer — the final scene, shot in a midtown Manhattan hotel — is one of my favorites. She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and it’s well deserved. Clooney, badly shaven and hollow-eyed, plays a “fixer”, a lawyer assigned to clean up the firm’s messy cases.  It made many critics’ list of the year’s top ten films.

 

 

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Casablanca (1942)

Of course! If you’ve never seen this classic, a gorgeous black-and-white film with some of the all-time great lines — you must! Ingmar Bergman and Humphrey Bogart star; she as a European refugee fleeing war-torn Europe and he as a tough-talking American bar owner in that Moroccan city.

 

2001 (1968)

I must have watched this Stanley Kubrick film 20 times since I first saw it as a young girl. To my eyes, it hasn’t dated at all — even the subtlest details of what space travel might look and sound like having come to fruition now or some variation of same. The soundtrack, the special effects, the costumes and the ending which still puzzles so many. Its esthetic deeply affected many later films.

 

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Jason Bourne

The Jason Bourne series

OK, OK. Schlocky, I know. But ohhhh, so much action and so many crazy chase and fight scenes from Berlin to Tangier to Paris and such a lonely hero, played in every version but one by Matt Damon (later Jeremy Renner.) I’ve seen every one of these so many times I know them off by heart but still enjoy them. I also love how he never does anything vaguely normal — like laundry or groceries. There are five in the series.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

If you love magazines and fashion as much as I do — let alone a film (based on a true story about being the assistant to Vogue editor Anna Wintour), about an ambitious New York City female journalist — this is the one for you. I know the dialogue by heart but still enjoy it: the designer clothes, her insanely demanding boss, Miranda Priestly, and a great scene with Stanley Tucci that sums up what it really takes. Made for $35 million, it’s since grossed 10 times that in revenues.

Spotlight (2015)

Another film about journalism,  this one winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. Also based on a true story, this recreates the teamwork it took at the Boston Globe to expose horrific sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic church. I love Rachel McAdams, a fellow Canadian, as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer — it’s one of the few films ever made that really shows what shoe-leather reporting is: all those interviews, all that door-knocking, all those documents to read.

All The President’s Men (1976)

It’s a boys’ club at the Washington Post — but what a club! This re-creation of the reporting on the Watergate scandal that brought down former U.S. President Richard Nixon, stars Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, a dream team in itself. This film, too, shows the persistence and guts it can take to sniff out a major story and get people to share enough to make it publishable.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)

Klaus Kinski as a crazed expedition leader in 16th century Peru. The final scene is extraordinary — a raft floating helplessly downriver, with Aguirre raging, the lone survivor. I love all of Werner Herzog’s films, but this one most of all and it’s considered one of both Herzog’s best films and one of the best films ever made.

The Mission (1986)

An 18th century story about a Jesuit mission deep in the Argentine jungle, starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons. The soundtrack is astoundingly beautiful, by the legendary film composer Ennio Morricone. The opening image is unforgettable — it won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography (and was nominated in six other categories.)

Blade Runner (1982)

Few films have had as much an impact on later work as the esthetic of this one, directed by Ridley Scott, later better known for the Alien films. Everything drips with rain, streets are crowded and gleam with neon. Harrison Ford plays the Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, whose job it is to seek out and destroy replicants, robots who appear human. The eerie soundtrack is by Vangelis, best known for his score of the film Chariots of Fire. I also love the 2017 sequel, Bladerunner 2049, again starring Harrison Ford.

The Good Shepherd (2006)

Another (!) film I love starring Matt Damon, and another focused on spycraft, specifically the beginnings of the CIA. Damon stars, as does Angelina Jolie in a film focused on themes of family loyalty versus that to one’s craft. I’m also partial to this movie since a scene was filmed in the town we live in, Tarrytown, New York.

Dr. Zhivago (1965)

To my mind, admittedly as someone who’s loved this one for decades, one of the most visually compelling films I’ve ever seen, directed by the late great David Lean (who also did Lawrence of Arabia.) Julie Christie is Lara, Omar Sharif as Zhivago and Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya, set at the time of the Russian Revolution. It was filmed in Finland, Spain and Canada.

 

What are some of yours?

 

 

What do you love about them?

Six favorite activities

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Listening to the radio

 

It’s a rare day I don’t have my trusty little black transistor radio on beside me. I listen to BBC World News when I have time, (it’s an hour), and many NPR shows, from All Things Considered, Fresh Air and The Takeaway, (now hosted by old friend Tanzina Vega, who worked with Jose at The New York Times) to fun weekend shows like The Moth, This American Life and even silly ones like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

I’ve been working alone at home since 1996 so the radio is a steady companion. We’ve even sent a gift to Jeff Spurgeon, host of the morning show on WQXR, New York’s classical music station — a tiny plastic T. Rex — an in-joke he appreciated after he once joked about dinosaurs in the Hudson River; (probably historically accurate!)

Our new car has Sirius XM so I love listening to CBC as well.

 

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Reading the Weekend Financial Times

 

The FT is a very specific read, as one wit dubbed it: “the hometown paper of the global cosmopolitan elite.”

Its real estate pages — larded with country estates in every corner of the world and enormous penthouses in Paris and New York — can leave you somehow concluding that five million euros/pounds/dollars is actually a bargain, considering. Its glossy magazine, with classic fuck-you British snottiness, is called How to Spend It, and typically features a watch at $300,000 or a $20,000 gown.

But the paper itself, and its arts section, is a delight. Its columnists include a few thoughtful sparky women (albeit an Oxbridge-y crowd) and so many book reviews of books you’ll never seen mentioned in the American press. I appreciate a non-American perspective on business, politics, art, design…everything.

 

 

 

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Trying out a new recipe

 

I have a whole shelf of cookbooks and endless binders filled with recipes I’ve clipped on paper from magazines and newspapers over the years. Few things are as fun as leafing through them and searching out an old favorite, (leek-tomato quiche from the Vegetarian Epicure Part Two), or trying something new. I always mark down the date I first tried a recipe and whether we liked it.

Entertaining gives us a chance to try even more!

 

Introducing people who’d be a good fit

 

This is the best. I recently connected two of my favorite younger friends — one in London and one in St. Louis, as one grappled with an issue I thought the other might have some wisdom on. They have other things in common as well; my connections aren’t random!

Another friend was visiting Shanghai and one of my freelance colleagues was teaching there, so I made the introduction from my home in suburban New York — even though, normally, they both live in New York City. Done!

 

 

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Seeking treasure at flea markets, consignment shops, thrift shops and antique stores

 

As someone both frugal and design-obsessed, this is a consistent pleasure. People are so eager to ditch possessions that there are wonderful finds waiting — early glass and silver and silver plate, rugs, furniture, linens and tableware. I recently read a fantastic book on the topic and highly recommend it, and here’s a used copy for $7.95!

 

 

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Discovered this fab 1940s diner on Long Island on a road trip

Road trip!

I’ve done many over the years — across Canada with my Dad at 15 and with him driving all around Ireland; from Montreal to Charleston, S.C. with my first husband and, most recently, from our home 25 miles north of New York City to north of Bancroft, Ontario — solo. I did it in four four-hour legs, which helped! I’ve done solo road trips through Arizona, and through some of Texas while researching my first book.

This combines multiple sources of happiness: travel, new sights, seeing old friends, listening to the radio, getting out of town. And, when we have a nice new car as we do right now, the sheer pleasure of a quiet, well-designed automobile.

 

What are some of yours?

Have you seen The Alienist?

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By Caitlin Kelly

Dark, brooding, scary and addictive.

This ten-part series, set in New York City in 1896, is a compelling adaptation of the book by Caleb Carr — an “alienist” was the word used then for a psychologist. The plot follows a grisly and brutal killer of young male prostitutes and the efforts of Laszlo Kreizler, the alienist, to find and stop him.

He’s aided by Sara Howard, (played by Dakota Fanning), and John Moore, a friend who’s a wealthy freelance illustrator for The New York Times and a pair of brothers, Marcus and Lucius Isaacson, NYPD detectives. They’re threatened and thwarted by a corrupt police captain and his shadowy boss, aided by a young Teddy Roosevelt — later to become President — then the commissioner of police.

The production values are fantastic — at $5 million per episode — with exquisite costumes and hair, and period-authentic transportation in gleaming black horse-drawn carriages through cobble-stoned streets and an early steam train.

Like so many other fantastic television and film productions, (Game of Thrones, Blade Runner 2049), it was made in Budapest.

It’s been nominated for six prime time Emmy awards, including its main title, which is fantastic, and was very popular with viewers.

It’s a grim story, for sure, but if you have any interest in or familiarity with New York City, it’s interesting to see re-created, long-gone landmarks like the Croton Reservoir and to re-live that period.

The characters all have complicated emotional lives, several of them estranged from their fathers. The character of Sara Howard is my favorite — a whisky-drinking, cigarette-smoking iconoclast who stays steadfast in the face of violence, gory murders and everyday sexism as she becomes the NYPD’s first female member.

 

Have you seen it?

What did you think of it?

4 days’ inspiration: the Fireside Conference

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Imagine the smartest and most interesting people you’ve ever met.

Four hundred of them.

In the woods, sleeping for three nights in unheated cabins at a summer camp more than three hours’ drive north of Toronto, on a huge private lake.

I just spent the most tiring, intense, exhausting, interesting four days of my life — and, maybe like you, I’ve been to many conferences over the years.

None remotely like this one.

This is invitation only, and I was invited (free), waiving the $2,500 (Canadian) standard fee; I spoke twice during the event on how to tell stories, as many of the attendees run their own companies, many of them start-ups and many have no idea how to find and work with the media to promote their products and services.

 

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The age range was 20s to 60s, about 70 per cent male and probably 60 to 70 percent Canadian, from all across the country. One man came from Cyprus and others from far away in the U.S. , even Spain.

It was a wildly eclectic mix of talents and skills — from a male performance artist to a young female cryptocurrency business owner, from the female Alabama owner of a pet-sitting company to about eight other journalists.

Of the 400, about 150 were returning from prior Fireside Conferences.

Because it’s held at a camp, the remote wooded 750-acre setting is simply gorgeous and the amenities fairly basic — the cabins have no heat and it was cold (like 40 degrees F) at night.

We all ate breakfast and dinner in the dining hall; unlike camp, there was plenty of free alcohol provided by sponsors. We were woken up at 8:15 by music broadcast through speakers and at night many of us congregated around small stone-ringed campfires and made s’mores.

And the stars! I hadn’t seen the Milky Way in years.

 

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Our cabin — I shared it with three other women, all of them strangers (now good friends!) — no heat!!! Bunk beds.

 

No one wore a badge or lanyard. Almost no speakers used or needed a mic — instead we sat on a bench or on the grass to listen, creating an intimacy that was immediate, unusual and powerful as we often engaged in long, private, sometimes very personal conversations.

Unless you’d been there before, you probably arrived, as I did, a little nervous — and didn’t know who anyone was, meaning you just had to engage in conversation and you could be speaking to a self-made millionaire or a grad student, a musician or a photographer or a mother of four.

Egos checked!

The other secret?

No wifi!

There was a cabin where you could access it but this meant tremendous personal interaction without the absurd constant distraction of cell phones and notifications.

We could also — in addition to dozens of speakers and panels — enjoy classic camp activities: sailing, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, archery, tetherball. I canoed solo for a bit.

My brain is swirling — I was invited to, also did, a podcast there, and may be invited to speak at some other conferences thanks to some contacts I made.

And so many new friends.

Four women comedians

By Caitlin Kelly

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It’s been a rough summer: illness, too many friends dying, lost work…

So I’ve been watching comedy specials on television, most recently three women: Tig Notaro, Hannah Gadsby and Michelle Wolf.

Tig, who’s gay and married and a survivor of breast cancer, is the oldest at 47, and her show is radically different from the hyper, smiling Wolf — who’s 33. Notaro, halfway though her hour-long TV special filmed in Boston, removes her elegant navy blazer and crisp white cotton shirt — and performs the second half naked from the waist up.

Her delivery is slower, more thoughtful, less frenzied. She’s angry, but in a quieter and more moderated way.  You can tell she’s been doing comedy a long time, and feels in control.

Wolf is wild and dirty — with endless references to penises and periods. She grins a feral grin.

Gadsby is the outlier, Australian, earnest, furious. What begins as comedy morphs into something deeper and much more personal:

From The New York Times:

Ms. Gadsby, an Australian comedian, is the creator of “Nanette,” a stage show turned Netflix special that is lacerating in its fury about how women and queer people like her, and anyone else who might behave or look “other,” get treated, dismissed and silenced. She is unflinching about the abuse that they — that she — endured, and the cultural norms that enabled it. She calls out men, powerful and otherwise.

In stark personal terms, she reveals her own gender and sexual trauma, and doesn’t invite people to laugh at it. “Nanette” is an international sensation, the most-talked-about, written-about, shared-about comedy act in years, exquisitely timed to the #MeToo era. And in its success Ms. Gadsby has perhaps pointed the art form of stand-up in an altogether new direction, even as she has repeatedly vowed, onstage, to quit the business.

“I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor, and I don’t want to do that anymore,” she says in the special. “Because do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation.”

The fourth is a British woman, Viv Groskop, (a coaching client of mine), who  recently played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, who writes an advice column and who has a new book — pictured above.

 

Viv, of course, is Cambridge educated and speaks fluent Russian.

 

Do you have a favorite female comedian?

 

Do you stick with unlikable characters?

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

Our most precious resource, beyond health, is time.

So…when you’re reading or watching a film or television show filled with unlikable characters, do you stick with it?

I get it — conflict and drama are essential to almost all compelling narratives, in whatever form. Without it, it’s all puppies and rainbows.

Baddies add spice and darkness and intrigue.

But how much of it can you take?

I’m prompted to ask this after watching four recent TV series here in the U.S.:

Succession, Sharp Objects, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Insecure.

The first, on HBO, follows the fortunes and chicanery of the media mogul Roy family (pretty clearly modeled on Rupert Murdoch), with three weird adult sons and a serious bitch of a daughter; when one’s nickname is Con (Conor) and another Shiv (Siobhan), there’s a clue! The plot line focuses on the four adult children and their endless maneuvring for power, attention and approval from their terrifying father, Logan Roy, who manages to spit “Fuck off!” to each of them fairly regularly. And to anyone within range.

These are not people you’d want to have lunch with, that’s for sure. They alternate between spoiled, wealthy, entitled charm and knives-out ambition, manipulating those around them as need be. So, why watch? I stuck it out to the end, and, yes, it’s worth it!

Even as horrible as most of these characters are, you can also gin up some sympathy for them with the brute of a father they’ve all also endured.

Sharp Objects is based on the book by Gillian Flynn, and follows an alcoholic female reporter sent back to her small Missouri  hometown to cover murders of local teen girls. The direction and cinematography and dark and moody, and the characters challenging — the reporter Camille Preaker is a cutter who slurps vodka all day from a water bottle while her mother swans about in pastel nightgowns and her teen half-sister swings between wildness and demure behavior.

I’m glad I read the book because the series’ slow pace is losing me, given the consistent ugliness of the people involved.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel came highly praised and, in some ways,  appears easy to like — a feel-good story about a wealthy 1950s NYC housewife, at 26 mother of two young children, determined to make it as a stand-up comedian after her husband has an affair. It’s fun to guess which New York City locations were used, and all the 50’s fashions and all the old cars, but the very premise seems bizarre to me, and the more I watched it, wanting to like it, the less I enjoyed the characters — whose wealth insulates them from tedious realities (like taking the subway or finding and paying a babysitter. When she loses her enormous apartment, Mrs. Maisel simply moves upstairs into her parents’ enormous apartment.)

Her mother is anxious, her father a semi-tyrant, her husband thoroughly unattractive — and Mrs. Maisel? She’s not that funny and her “journey” through some really bad evenings with audiences who hate her? How could she possibly fail? They all feel too entitled for me at this point.

Insecure, the creation of Issa Rae, is heading into its third season and I’m trying to like it. Rae is charming and funny and totally relatable. And yet, at 30, her character is still making disastrous choices in her life.

Her passivity annoys the hell out of me.

I may just be too old (or too white) to appreciate what a great show this is.

 

Have you seen (and enjoyed) any of these shows? What am I missing?!

 

How do you feel about unlikable characters?

Do you watch the credits?

 

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THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 1985. ©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Loved this piece in The New York Times, an argument in favor of watching the opening credits to TV shows.

I’m also obsessive about watching opening and closing credits, for television and for film.

The opening credits — and carefully chosen music — carefully set a tone for the show that follows. Anyone remember the joyful opening hat-toss of the late Mary Tyler Moore in The Mary Tyler Moore Show?

And its girl-power theme song: “You’re going to make it after all.”

I’ve been watching three dark and powerful TV series this summer — Happy Valley, set in Yorkshire and Succession and Sharp Objects on HBO. In all three, the opening credits, for me, are part of the pleasure, physically and emotionally setting us up for what happens next.

I even got a story out of this obsession once, after watching the final credits for The Namesake, a lovely 2006 film about an East Indian family living in the U.S. The credits revealed that the movie had been shot on location in a town about 10 minutes’ drive from where I live, in a suburban area north of New York City.

I sold a story about the making of the film to The New York Times, and learned all sorts of movie-making arcana, like how difficult it was to find the right hanging dishrack for the kitchen and why so many films and TV shows are made in or close to New York City — thanks to union rules, (and the high cost of paying overtime), if it takes more than an hour to reach a shooting location, door to door (or close to it), it’s deemed too costly.

My father, now retired, is an award-winning documentary film-maker — here’s his Wikipedia entry —  so watching movies and TV shows was a normal part of our lives.

 

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Love this movie!

 

I got another story idea when I noticed how many recent films had long lists of Hungarian (!?) names in the credits — and discovered that one of the newest and largest film studios is just outside of Budapest.

Variety, which covers the business side of Hollywood, wanted me to do some reporting when I was there in July 2017 but the pay was poor for way too much work, so I just had a good time with my friends instead. (If you’ve seen “BladeRunner 2049”, one pivotal scene is shot inside the city’s former stock exchange and many others were shot on their sound stage there, as was “The Martian.”)

I’m mad for movies, and usually see at least one or two every week, sometimes more — old ones, new ones, watching loved ones over and over. (Just re-watched “The Post” last weekend for the third or fourth time. And, every time I do, I pick up a few more details I missed before.)

I watched “It” on TV recently and was hooting with laughter within the first few frames at a quaint street scene set in a fictional American town — which was in fact Port Hope, Ontario, whose landscape I know very well since my father lived there for four years and we had visited often.

But not a word of it was in the credits!

There you’ll find cool movie jargon for some very specific jobs — and here’s an explainer for 12 of them.

 

Are you someone who reads the credits?

Loved this biography of Joni Mitchell

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re a fan of fellow Canadian, legendary musician and songwriter Joni Mitchell, it’s a book well worth your time.

You know how everyone has a song, or an album that indelibly marks a moment in your life and every time you hear it, there you are — catapulted back to being six or 18 or 27 or 43.

For me, living alone in a studio apartment at the back of an alley in a lousy Toronto neighborhood — all I could afford — it was Hejira, Mitchell’s album from 1976.

The word itself means migration, or flight from danger and the songs are all about movement and restlessness.

On it, Neil Young — another Canadian — plays harmonica and the stunningly talented Brazilian bass player Jaco Pastorius makes this distinctively different from her previous work.

It was a tough year for me, my sophomore year at University of Toronto, both of my parents traveling far away, long before cell phones or the Internet, when a long-distance call to Europe or Latin America was really expensive. I was living on very little, freelancing as a writer and photographer while attending the country’s most demanding school full-time.

I dated all the the wrong men, (as Mitchell did, for decades), discarding them as quickly as I found them. Connection was both alluring and exhausting, a theme of that album.

Mitchell also has a home where my mother — also a fiercely independent traveler for many years — lived for a while, the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver.

Here’s the first verse of Refuge of the Roads. (Now, after reading this book, Reckless Daughter, by David Yaffe, I know she’s referring to a Buddhist monk.)

I met a friend of spirit
He drank and womanized
And I sat before his sanity
I was holding back from crying
He saw my complications
And he mirrored me back simplified
And we laughed how our perfection
Would always be denied
“Heart and humor and humility”
He said “Will lighten up your heavy load”
I left him for the refuge of the roads
The book offers a great ride through her life, from her years in small-town Saskatchewan to her initial success in the coffee-houses of Toronto to playing Carnegie Hall and touring with Bob Dylan.
It offers insights into her addictions — to cocaine and to cigarettes — and her deep ambivalence about marriage, which she tried twice.
It’s a compelling portrait of a fiercely independent woman.

A light-hearted post about golf!

By Caitlin Kelly

Time for something fun, dammit!

 

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So my husband Jose is a freelance photo editor for the United States Golf Association, a job he’s had, and loved, for three years. Typically, he works from our apartment, sitting in the hallway editing on a desktop computer but also heads west to Short Hills, NJ a few times a week to work out there at their headquarters as their archivist.

 

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This time of year it’s all about the tournaments!

Here are some of my photos from the recent Curtis Cup, created by a pair of sisters; it’s a competition between two teams, made up of the best amateur American women and the best British/Irish women. It was so fun to see young women playing astoundingly — the youngest was 15 (!) and the oldest on the UK team 24.

 

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The golfers all wore patriotic tattoos on their ankles and faces, and the spectators — aka the gallery — were a hoot, with lots of people draped in their country’s flag. Everyone applauds a great shot and there are some whistles, but it’s a genteel and fairly low-key crowd, which I appreciated.

Annoyingly — because it’s women and amateurs — the crowds weren’t huge, but that also made for a much more intimate experience.

 

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Volunteers helped, holding aloft large signs saying quiet whenever the women were on the putting green, (the final stroke meant to drop the ball in the hole.) And it was quiet indeed!

 

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That weird black thing with the wire is a microphone — to hear the sounds of putting and whatever the players are saying on the putting green

 

I’m starting to learn some of golf’s etiquette, lingo and lore — like the R & A (Royal and Ancient), the British equivalent of the USGA. I do know what a mulligan is and a hole-in-one but still can’t remember what a birdie is or a bogie or an eagle…

I came on Saturday afternoon and stayed only for a few hours, but loved the experience. It was held about a 30 minute drive east of where we live, in Westchester County, New York, at the Quaker Ridge Golf Club.

The Americans won the tournament overall.

 

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This week we’re out on Long Island while Jose photo edits the U.S. Open, being held out there this year.

It’s fun to see my husband in his element. He loves this work and it’s a joy to see him so happy.

Four harrowing tales — but worth it

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

Whew.

I recently saw a feature film — made by British director Andrew Haigh — called “Lean on Pete”, which is the name of the horse who’s central to the story. It was shot in Portland, Oregon and tells the story of Charley, a young man (played by Charlie Plummer) who’s initially stuck with a deadbeat father, absent mother and MIA aunt.

Here’s the Guardian’s review of it.

It’s a powerful and moving story of how a young man somehow manages to walk, drive and run away from a solo life of misery back to a place of safety and comfort.

I won’t give away all the details, but it’s a searing portrait of what it means to be young, broke, desperate and unconnected to anyone who cares for you. It’s also beautifully filmed and Plummer is fantastic.

There are very few films made today about what it’s like to be poor and alone in the United States — the last one I saw (and I admit, I didn’t enjoy it) was The Florida Project, starring Willem Dafoe as the manager of a Florida motel housing a number of women-led families of very young children.

I found it impossible to like or sympathize with its main female character, while Charlie — maybe being a teenager? maybe being someone doing his best? — was someone I could stick with, even as his trajectory becomes so grim.

LOP cost $8 million to make — and has so far only earned back $222,816 — a terrible return.

I’m not surprised. It’s not a funny, cute, perky escape and box-office catnip.

But it’s a great film and I urge you to see it.

I also just saw First Reformed, which is winning rave reviews for its writer/director Paul Schrader and its lead actor, Ethan Hawke, playing a disillusioned, divorced upstate New York Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) minister.

Like LOP, it’s not an easy film, but also deeply moving and raises essential questions of what we’re doing to the environment.

I recently read Born A Crime, the memoir by South African mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah. Not an easy read and you come away awed by what he survived with grace.

Last summer, traveling alone through Europe with multiple 12-hour train journeys, I dove into another harrowing story, A Little Life, written (!) in 18 months on top of the author’s full-time job at The New York Times.

It won five awards, including being short-listed for the 2015 Man Booker prize.

It, too, is an emotionally tough slog and it’s a doorstop of 814 pages.

The central character is Jude, and his friendships with a small circle of equally educated and accomplished New Yorkers. Jude was abused and injured as a child, and this trauma plays out throughout his life and the novel. (If you’re up on your saints, you know that Jude is the patron saint of desperate and lost causes.)

While it’s a story with much pain, it’s also one with deep and abiding love and sustaining friendships — the kind that those whose families are absent or useless must find if they are to survive this world, let alone thrive in it.

As someone who has turned many times to strangers and friends to replace absent family, these narratives hit a chord in me.

I don’t believe that great art has to make us happy or smile or feel better.

If it touches the deepest part of our heart, it’s done its job.