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Archive for the ‘Sixties’ Category

A Home at the End of the World

I watched this because I listened to the audiobook of the novel and loved it, and when I found out there was a movie too, and that Robin Wright is in it, that really put the icing on the cake. I liked her ever since 1984 when the soap opera “Santa Barbara” started on TV.

Michael Cunningham wrote the novel and the screenplay. Cunningham is obviously an expert on the folks who practically invented the concept that, as the film’s tagline puts it, “Family can be whatever you want it to be.” This work comes from a mind saturated with Bloomsbury lore–Cunningham also wrote The Hours, a novel about Virginia Woolf that was made into a movie.

One of the central figures of Bloomsbury was the painter Duncan Grant. Apparently nobody ever said a bad word about Grant. He seems to have been universally loved by males and females alike, and the character of Bobby in A Home at the End of the World is what I imagine Duncan Grant must have been like.

When Bobby is nine, his big brother Carl gives him some windowpane, and they trip in the graveyard. Carl is a really beautiful guy, a true bodhisattva, and his relationship with his brother is probably the one he’s most present for. Of course Carl dies horribly and far too young. But rather than being messed up by that tragedy, Bobby incorporates Carl’s spirit into himself, and becomes exactly the same kind of loving and lovable person. (Carl is played by Ryan Donowho, who was in Michael Pitt’s band Pagoda, and for some reason that doesn’t surprise me.)

Bobby seems to be about 14 when he picks a friend and gets him stoned, out in the midst of lush nature, ahhhhh…..  He lends Jonathan his dead brother’s jacket, and Jonathan lends Bobby his jacket, and their bond is cemented. Jon’s mother Alice walks in on them getting stoned, and to Jon’s flabbergasted astonishment, Bobby induces her to join them. It’s a lovely scene, mother and son handing off a doobie to each other. Even more mind-boggling, Bobby slow-dances with Alice. Then they all dance. This is a dope-positive movie, and there aren’t enough of those.

Bobby pretty much joins the family. When Alice discovers that the boys are fooling around, she’s okay with it, but Jonny is uptight. Bobby is totally comfortable with the relationship. “It’s just love, man.” When somebody else is fretting about something or other, Bobby is likely to say, “This is perfect.” His best line is, and these are words to live by, “You can dance to anything.”

Now they’re grownups. Jonny (Dallas Roberts) has moved to New York. Bobby (Colin Farrell), who looks a lot like that iconic photo of David Foster Wallace, has stayed with his friend’s parents. But they plan to move to Arizona, and the father gently suggests that Bobby needs to be on his own. So he calls Jonathan, who is by now a full-fledged bisexual living in New York with an artistic wild woman named Clare (Robin Wright of course.). These are the kind of people who listen intently to Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” several times in a row. The three of them form a coalition, and Bobby learns that Jon and Clare have talked about having a baby. Clare talks Bobby into losing the hippie look. She cuts his hair, then takes him to bed. It’s his first time with a woman, and his reaction is a bit extreme, unless you factor in the feelings he might be having about betraying Jon. Of course Jon has male lovers, but the woman he lives with is a different case.

And sure enough, Jon is upset with the new closeness of Bobby and Clare. He goes to stay with his parents for a while, and won’t even take Bobby’s calls. But then his father dies, and Bobby and Clare arrive in Arizona to reclaim the lost member of their triad. Clare is pregnant and wants them all to be a family. So they reconcile. Her inheritance will buy them a house.

They abandon New York City and fix up a house in the country, and open a café in town, with Bobby as cook and Jonny as staff. The baby is born. Jon fears that he has AIDS. There’s another exquisitely beautiful, wild, life-affirming scene where the two men dance. They are so hot together, it’s just magical.

There’s a lot of detail passed by in the movie that was probably in the novel – like, who is the baby’s bio-father? And does Jon ever actually get tested for HIV, and does Clare know about his worries; and if the little girl is his, shouldn’t she be tested too? Anyway, Clare and the baby get ready to go on a trip. Everybody pretends to believe it’s just temporary, but she’s leaving Bobby and Jonny alone. But we know Jon is going to die, so she’ll end up back with Bobby and a nuclear family eventually.

People who create unorthodox families are incredibly brave and admirable. It’s mean-spirited to be irritated with these characters because they couldn’t make it work perfectly, all the time. On the other hand, they did make it work amazingly well for an astonishing amount of time, which is more than most of us are equipped or inclined to do. So, bless them.

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history-of-teletimes

The History of the Tele Times is made from some of the 6,000 hours of film accumulated by wizard documentarian Claire Burch. The focus here is on B. N. Duncan, legendary underground artist of Berkeley, CA. We revisit the esteemed “Fred and Ned” comic strip that Duncan created with Wild Billy Wolf, and the zine they started, which later continued with Ace Backwords, a major under-appreciated genius of our era. (One of his songs is on the sound track.)

From 1978 to 1982, The Tele Times presented the ultimate in outsider art, in every sense of the word. Primitive artist Narayan, for instance. It’s said that life on the streets is many times more difficult for a woman than for a man. It is interesting to be introduced to such a woman, however briefly.

Duncan is seen constantly photographing the kaleidoscopic Berkeley ambiance and interviewing its dwellers. Burch recorded the historic meeting of Duncan and Backwords and the historic meeting of Duncan and uber-cartoonist R. Crumb. We hear excerpts from the lively feud between Crumb and a stripper, and meet his partner Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

The interview with Duncan is very ably conducted by Ace Backwords (who, if there were any justice, would have his own TV show. I’d call him an even hipper Dick Cavett.) They discuss Gypsy Catano, and the occupation of People’s Park, and a whole lot more besides. The conversation turns to the subject of vehicle dwellers or rubber tramps including Vincent Johnson, the founder of Rainbow Village.

Historically speaking, these are the people who later turn out to have genuinely made history, rather than the politicians and armies, as is generally supposed.

The back of the DVD case has a nice quote from Michael Horowitz and Cynthia Palmer, venerable keepers of the psychedelic tradition. (A debate between Horowitz and Backwords would be an interesting event. The latter’s book, Acid Heroes, pretty much trashes the entire scene.)

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RELATED: A Trip Through Facets

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good-life2

The Good Life does not the good beginning have. There’s some voiceover narration employing the word “oftentimes,” and I’m thinking, “Oh, please.”

Miraculously, that teaser of a soliloquy, delivered by the protagonist, is the only false note. Once we’re past it, this quickly becomes a hella good movie. Plus, it incorporates the wonderful piece of oratory from Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

Jason (Mark Webber) is grand – the character and the actor, both. A painfully responsible young man, he parents his giddy, flaky mother. As if that weren’t enough, Jason also looks out for Gus (Harry Dean Stanton), an aging movie projectionist who can’t get over the death of his wife, among other things. Jason visits the beautiful old theater daily for the increasingly unrealizable purpose of keeping Gus on the rails.

The conversational topic is heroic pilot Amelia Earhart.
Gus: “They say she wore men’s underwear.”
Jason: “Who’s they?”
Without copping any kind of attitude, he says it all in two words. “Who’s they?” Jason is truly cool. As we used to say in the Sixties, he has his shit together.

He also survives brutalization by a psycho football player, and turns out to have a shocking medical problem. I remember hearing about a boy whose parents gave him, for Christmas, the same gun used by their other son to commit suicide. That may have been the inspiration for this package left to Jason by his dead cop father. He keeps it in a drawer, unopened, for quite a while. I know the feeling. I’ve received letters that needed to sit around and mellow; that couldn’t be opened until the right psychological moment. It’s all pretty grim, actually.

Then beautiful, mysterious Frances (Zooey Deschanel) comes along. At first, she seems like a blessing. There’s a scene between her, Jason, and Gus that rings true for anybody who has taken care of someone with a deteriorating mind. But heaven never lasts. Though Frances claims Jason as her soulmate, it is, unfortunately, his soul upon which she makes several demands. Frances is like Henry Miller’s wife, the legendary June: a totally unreliable fabulist and a magically irresistible femme fatale. There are such people, and one who’s really good at it can captivate victims of either gender, at will.

Half of Jason’s monumental obligations vanish when his mother finds a man, who will now presumably bear the burden of her unstable ways. As soon as Jason formulates in his own mind the intention to leave town, Gus dies. I can relate to that, too. I had a cat once, a creature of already-proven weirdness, who heard me talking on the phone about finding him another place. He sickened and died within days.

The truth comes out, about Frances, and it’s bad. But I like the ending.
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Written and directed by Stephen Berra

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