21 August 2007

More Movies b/w Goodbye California

There's been a bunch, so I probably won't remember them all, but here are some:

El Cantante

Complete trash with a good sound track. I've always liked salsa, even though I don't know much about it, and since I've been living in New York, I've become more interested in Puerto Rico as well, so I was already planning on seeing this film even before Luis invited me to come see it with him and his friend Vicente.

As it turned out, I may have been one of the only gringos in the house (Luis is Mexican-American and Vicente is Spanish; pretty much everyone else in the theater seemed to be Puerto Rican), but no matter: even I could tell that apart from the music there was very little authentic about this Jennifer Lopez vehicle, and anyway, it's hard to make a romantic film about a guy (the singer Hector Lavoe) who insists on systematically drugging himself to death. Your basic "Yeah, I know he was a hopeless junkie, but he was a beautiful man" kind of fluff which is never going to ring true with anyone who's known a real junkie or three. But it was fluff with a good salsa beat, and I still enjoyed it. It could have been so much more, though.

King Of Kong

I really only went along to see this because a fair sized delegation from the Pop Punk Message Bored crew was going (if it had been up to me, we would have gone to see Superbad instead), but I enjoyed it anyway, despite nearly falling asleep at the beginning during what seemed like an unnecessarily detailed exposition of the intricacies and inner workings of the video game Donkey Kong. A game which, I might add, I have never played in my life, not even in its 80s heyday, and which I'd heretofore had pretty close to zero interest in.

King Of Kong is a Spinal Tap-type documentary about some truly bizarre characters whose entire existence seems centered around a biter competition to be recognized as the world's greatest Donkey Kong player. The difference being that, unlike Spinal Tap, these characters are apparently real, as is their bitter competition. Admittedly, I wasn't fully convinced by the movie itself, even when Chadd Derkins, who knows a bit about video games himself, assured me that this was not a mockumentary. It wasn't until I got home and did a little internet fact-checking that I had to accept that yes, there really is a parallel universe out there where 1980s arcade games are pretty much the only thing that matters.

Then I started thinking about how my own social set - especially the pop-punk segment of it - would look under the microscope of a competent documentarian. Our weird private language and in-jokes, as well as our internecine battles over the most esoteric minutiae of punk rock dogma would no doubt appear ever bit as bizarre and opaque to the "normal" filmgoer (assuming many or any of those would be interested in watching us in the first place).

And the same thing could be true about a local bowling league, the pigeon fanciers society, or a trainspotters convention (trust me, those of you who haven't lived in England; the latter two actually do exist). For that matter, not to be too flippant about it, many religious groups could quickly become the butt of other people's jokes if their thoroughly honest theological discussions were filmed from a certain angle.

Okay, point taken: we're all weirdos. Entertaining movie, anyway.

This Is England

I saw this on a rainy and chilly, i.e., very English-feeling night, and it brought loads of memories and emotions flooding back. Set in 1983, very near to the time when England started drawing me into its orbit (I'd first visited there in the mid-70s, but it wasn't until the 80s that I began to sense I was destined to live there), I was reminded of the pervading ugliness as well as the discreet charm of workaday English life.

The pebble dash houses, the insta-slum council estates, the droll humor coupled with an undercurrent of menace and violence all rang true: England in the 70s and early 80s felt very much like a failed state, if not a doomed civilization. This tale of young boy befriended by "good" skinheads before being sucked into the orbit of some psycho and racist yobs was chilling but not at all far removed from the realm of possibility. England today may/does have its problems, but they're a far cry from the general despair and disillusion that stalked the land during Maggie's early days. In fact, I found myself having a newfound appreciation for the woman. Not that I think she was a nice person, or that many of her policies weren't pursued in terribly inhumane ways, but that perhaps no other leader could have picked a crumbling and derelict country up by the scruff of the neck and told it to get on with things the way she did.

I also found myself reflecting on my own time in England, what it was all about, why I went there and why I'm not there anymore. I often get very nostalgic when I familiar sights or hear familiar accents on the television or the movies, but this time I wondered if my ten years there had been little more than some lengthy and ultimately pointless detour. No, that couldn't be true, I argued with myself: I learned so much and had so many amazing experiences. But what, my other half shot back, did it all add up to, apart from learning a slightly different dialect and being surrounded by people who appreciated and encouraged the sardonic and sarcastic attitude that was always getting me threatened or beat up in America?

Some day, looking at the whole of my life, those ten years in England might qualify as my years in the wilderness, but then hadn't I previously offered up a whole other decade in the actual wilderness of the Northern California mountains? Could it be that my life is fated to be nothing but a series of wilderness detours? Will New York someday seem like just another of them? It feels very much like home to me now, though, which for all my time there, England never fully did.

Oh, right, movie review, not soul-searching and self-obsession: yeah, good movie, well worth seeing, especially if you care about England or harbor romantic illusions about it. A bit visceral at times, but hey, that's life, innit? Oh, and the experience was heightened by a posse of real skinheads (okay, as "real" as you're likely to see these days outside of a gay fetish bar) who came stalking in and occupied the back row just as the film started.

Based on many experiences at punk gigs back in the 80s, I instantly tensed up, assuming that they were there to wreck the show. They were probably going to throw beer cans at the screen, or demand that all the other patrons shout "Oi oi oi" along with them, but apart from a few giggles, they were good as gold. One of them got so drunk that he staggered out mid-film, taking several minutes to find the exit after literally almost walking into the screen, but that was at a point when the goings-on in the film were so grim that a little comic relief was in order.

Okay, there are more films yet to write about, but it's 3 am. Why am I suddenly seeing so many movies? You might infer that I have no life, and you might indeed be right, but hey, watching movies is sort of like life, isn't it? Anyway, in a couple weeks time I've got another real life-type event: I have to fly to California, pack up all my remaining belongings and furniture stored there, and drive them out to my new apartment in New York.

Despite all my traveling around this country and Canada, it'll be my first time driving all the way from one coast to the other in single trip (I've done California to Michigan and variations on that theme by car many times, and Vancouver to Halifax by train, but never California straight through to New York). I guess I should think of it as a big adventure, but it's also kind of scary, because it means finally and totally saying goodbye to California after almost 40 years of having some connection or home base there.

And why am I doing this? Pursuing my destiny, or continuing to wander like Moses and the Israelites in search of the Promised Land? I guess we'll just have to wait and see about that, but any of you residing in what are usually the flyover states but are about to become the drive-through states for me, feel free to come on down to the highway and wave hello and best wishes as I come rolling by.

1 comment:

Hank Sims said...

Larry: Very strange. I never would have pegged you for a salsa fan.

If you ever get a chance, you should check out one of the Charanga Habanera discs from the mid-90s. If you ever see their "Grandes Exitos" disc, snatch it up. I don't think you'll be sorry.

Charanga Habanera were the smart punx of the Cuban timba movement. In attitude, I mean -- not musically. That probably would be too strange.