So, normally, this where I’d make a few disparaging remarks about the nature of celebrity in American society and also a few jokes about how my boobs are the real golden globes. But I’m not going to do that. (Or, at the very least, I’m not going to do that right now.) At this moment, as I think back on the Golden Globes, I am too excited to be snarky.
This was a historic night.
For perhaps the first time in Golden Globe history, both of the winnings films — The Grand Budapest Hotel for comedy and Boyhood for drama — were directed by native Texans. Richard Linklater grew up around Houston and lives in Austin. Meanwhile, Wes Anderson was raised in Dallas and, along with Owen and Luke Wilson, attended St. Mark’s!
That’s right, America.
Two great films won tonight and you have my homestate to thank for both of them.
(Because, God forbid, there should ever be a moment when anyone dares joke about a state north of West Virginia.)
(Love you, mean it.)
It was a good night. Not only were my fellow Texans honored but so were my fellow redheads. Amy Adams won Best Actress (Comedy) for Big Eyes. Julianne Moore won Best Actress (Drama) for Still Alice. I have yet to see either one of those films so I can’t really say much about either performance but, for me, it doesn’t matter. After spending years of having to deal with the rampant anti-redhead prejudice that runs through this society, it was good to finally to see some of my flame-haired sisters getting some recognition.
In other news, Michael Keaton won for Best Actor (Comedy) for Birdman and he gave a speech that nearly made me cry. Patricia Arquette won Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood and gave a speech that did make me cry. And then Amy Adams gave her acceptance speech and it was so heartfelt and eloquent that it should be the speech by which all future speeches are judged. Before any of those three won, J.K. Simmons picked up Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Whiplash and he gave an acceptance speech that left me amazed that such an intimidating actor could also be such a nice guy.
In many ways, it was a great night.
And then, in some other ways, it most definitely was not a great night.
For the most part, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler seemed to just be going through the motions, secure in the knowledge that people would laugh and applaud regardless of what they actually said because, at this point, people feel obligated to do so. However, good for them for calling out Bill Cosby on his bullshit and saying what everyone knows is true.
I was not a fan of Margaret Cho’s North Korean observer. Not only was it offensive but it was a bit hypocritical as well. This is an industry that, up until three weeks ago, was terrified of North Korea, to the extent that they were even willing to shut down movies to avoid offending a dictator who is a legitimate contender for the title of Worst Living Human Being. However, the Alamo Drafthouse — a Texas theater, I might add — had the guts to show The Interview, the world did not end, and now suddenly Hollywood wants credit for standing up to North Korea.
Of course, the main reason that the film industry is willing to make fun of North Korea is because there’s no money to be made there. The people who are patting themselves on the back for “standing up” to North Korea are probably the same people who rationalize doing business with equally oppressive but far more financially lucrative regimes across the world.
Finally, I guess my main problem with the Golden Globes this year is that it just wasn’t the type of train wreck that we’ve come to expect from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. All of the presenters (except for Ricky Gervais) appeared to be sober. Only one winner had to have his speech censored. (A lot of people on twitter loved Kevin Spacey’s acceptance speech. I thought it came across as being calculating and manipulative — which, I guess, is one reason why Spacey makes for such a convincing Frank Underwood.) Everyone was on their best behavior.
And I can understand that. With the murders in Paris and the worldwide attacks on free speech, this was perhaps the time for everyone to be serious. But, still, I wanted to see just one thoroughly incoherent speech. That’s what we watch the Golden Globes for, isn’t it?
So, ultimately, a mixed review for the Golden Globes. Ultimately, though, it was a good night for Texas filmmakers so I’m happy.
Add to that, it gave me my annual excuse to arch my back and declare, “I’ll show you a pair of golden globes!”
I don’t know if you watched the late local news tonight (I didn’t, I was at the movies — can you guess what I was seeing?), but odds are good that if you did, there was a psychopath in front of the camera waving a gun or a knife around, particularly if you live in a major urban area like New York or Los Angeles. Guys like that seem to be a dime a dozen these days, and sometimes they even wear uniforms and badges.
Well, writer/director Dan Gilroy seems to have hit on a nifty little twist to that scenario for his new(-ish) film, Nightcrawler — what if you put the psychopath behind the camera?
Louis Bloom (played with considerable relish by Jake Gyllenhaal) is our high-tech Travis Bickle, a guy with little formal education but a lot of drive who’s landed on hard times in our supposedly “recovering”…
This famous and iconic scene is taken from Federico Fellini’s 1960 film, La Dolce Vita. The film follows tabloid journalist Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) over the course of 7 days and 7 nights. He spends the 2nd day pursuing a famous actress named Sylvia (Anita Ekberg). As the day comes to an end, he finds Anita wading into the Trevi Fountain.
As famous and celebrated as this scene is, it’s often forgotten that it ultimately ends with Sylvia being slapped by her loutish boyfriend, Robert (Lex Barker). That slap is not included in the video below but that’s okay. For today, at least, let’s allow Sylvia her happiness.
I was basking in the golden glow of San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall when I first laid eyes on The Decemberists. It was Summer 2004, and it was a day I still remember well. I arrived alone, but I ended up befriending two girls about my age from Sacramento. It was a pretty thing–three kids too young to buy drinks and too engaged to harbor ulterior motives, thrilled to witness a band that seemed to capture every novelty of a world we were only barely old enough to traverse independently. It wasn’t particularly crowded–we walked right up to the front of the stage–but there wasn’t a stranger in the audience. “Billy Liar” was a hall-wide sing-along. On “Red Right Ankle” you could hear a pin drop. Chris Funk dawned a fake beard and marched through the audience pounding a drum strapped to his chest for “A Cautionary Song”. “California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade” was a swaying dream that will resonate in me until the day I die. I wanted to marry those girls by the end of it–both of them, and I never bothered asking their names.
Austin Texas, fall 2006, I stumbled into Stubb’s BBQ in a daze. “Indie rock” had become the musical movement of the decade, and I felt like a king in the middle of it all. It was a crazy two-week stretch: The Album Leaf, The Mountain Goats, a trek out to Houston for Built to Spill, a return to my metal roots for Between the Buried and Me, and somewhere in the midst of it all I found my sleepless self in a sea of humanity as Colin belted “Culling of the Fold” outdoors to a sold-out crowd. He was exhausted but elated, grinning from ear to ear the whole set, and so was I. The irony of “I was Meant for the Stage” was not lost on either of us.
Pittsburgh, 2009, I took my seat at the Byham Theater to witness The Decemberists in a traditional performance hall. I had traded in faded proofs of attendance for garb with actual buttons, and the band was decked out in full suit and tie. The Hazards of Love was larger than life–Shara Worden striding across the stage like a spidery temptress to a majestic display of lights and an unprecedented rock opera. The Decemberists rose to their fame as only they could, and the result was in one breath a self-aware mockery of their grandiose ambitions and a brilliant realization of the same.
…I wrote of The King is Dead‘s simple folk rock sound that it seemed like The Decemberists were “coming down off their own high. I imagine it’s difficult to be as… musically intelligent as they are without some fear of becoming pretentious.” The album title might even hint at this, and the band’s subsequent three year hiatus seemed to confirm it. Now it is 2015, more than a decade since that wonderful night in San Francisco, and What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is due out in just over a week. I don’t really know what I expected, but I know what I was feeling. It certainly wasn’t the grandeur of The Hazards of Love, nor epic ballads reminiscent of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” and “The Island”. I was waxing nostalgic on Colin at his sweetest. “Grace Cathedral Hill”, “Shiny”, “Red Right Ankle”, “Of Angels and Angles”… Because The Decemberists were no longer a novel in their own right. That beautiful rise ended with The Hazards of Love, and the hiatus laid it all to rest. Theirs was a tale to look back on fondly; the story had come to an end.
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World gives me that sweetness, in a way. Tracks like “Lake Song”, “Make You Better”, and “12/17/12” are absolutely beautiful. All of the songs fall somewhere between these mellow numbers, blues/folk tracks like “Carolina Low” and “Better Not Wake the Baby”, and upbeat pop like “The Wrong Year”, “Cavalry Captain”, and “Philomena”. I could live without the latter three, but suffice to say the album is generally pleasing to listen to, though Jenny Conlee’s accordion has sadly all but left us. “Lake Song”, “Make You Better”, and “12/17/12” definitely steal the show for me, but I won’t soon forget the catchy choruses of “Anti-Summersong” or “Mistral”, nor the lulling blues melancholy of “Till the Water is All Long Gone”.
But this album breaks my heart. Through it all, I can’t escape the feeling that some fell force sucked away Colin’s joie de vivre, substituting mellow content to lead a normal life where once the world had been a playground. The music is still great, but I can’t feel the synergy between it and the lyrics anymore. At least “Lake Song” has been spared this fate. Here is what I can understand of “Mistral”: “So we already wrecked the rental car, and I’ve already lost my way. I feel entombed in this tourist bar, for a day anyway. So lay me out on the cobblestone, and unfurl this aching jib. The streets are built on ancient bones, and the crib of the rib. Won’t a mistral blow it all away? Won’t a mistral blow away? So it’s me and you and the baby boy, and a ? shed away, reeking out a little joy. What a waste. Bad mistakes. Won’t a mistral blow it all away? Won’t a mistral blow away?” I don’t know. It’s just… kind of shallow–a bit of babbling around the surface of a theme–and it’s pervasive through much of the album. “Better Not Wake the Baby” is packed with creative one-liners, all tied by a refrain of “but it better not wake the baby“. What does that mean? Plenty of Decemberists tracks have sent me to Wikipedia in the past, but I’m not going to find an answer here, and for that the song means nothing to me. “12/17/12”, my favorite track, still totally jars me out of my happy daze when Colin appears to rhyme “grieving” with “grieving” and “belly” with “belly”.
Go ahead. Crucify me. Point out the most obvious meanings; remind me that Colin still has a robust vocabulary; explain how it’s none of my business to criticize someone else’s creativity; note that it’s still better than 90% of popular music; tell me to shut my mouth and go listen to something else if I don’t like it. I don’t care, because the sad fact is I will go listen to something else. I spent more time on Castaways and Cutouts than on What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World while writing all this. I don’t want that. I want to love this album and hold it dear, but I can’t. I listen to the lyrics and more often than not I just hear Colin going through the motions without any of the magic. From the 5 Songs EP all the way to The Hazards of Love it was a constant indulgence, and now it is gone.
The opening track, “The Singer Addresses His Audience”, is the reason I can still listen with a faint smile. It is not one for the album, but for the memory of all that The Decemberists have meant to me over the years. In almost a parting farewell to Colin’s old stage persona, he sings in classic form: “We know, we know we belong to ya. We know you built your lives around us. Would we change? …We had to change some. We know, we know we belong to ya. We know you threw your arms around us in the hopes we wouldn’t change… But we had to change some, you know, to belong to you.”
And they still do, and I still love them, and I still look forward to catching them on their upcoming tour, but What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is a bittersweet experience.