I’S OF THE WORLD
I feel cultured today. And it’s not just the juiced vegetables and fruit smoothie I had for breakfast this morning. The theme for this past weekend was perspective. Various seemingly unrelated activities conspired to remind me of the existential context in which I live my life.
The first lesson in perspective came Friday night while watching “Dancing Outlaw”. Apparently, this 1991 short film about tap dancing hillbilly Jesco White is a cult classic. Previously, I had never seen nor heard of the infamous hick flick. Growing up in South Florida didn’t offer too many opportunities to experience real backwoods folk, and even though I went to school in Gainesville, life revolved around the college and my relatively sheltered experience was extended. Shortly after my Gator tenure came to an end, I moved to Los Angeles. Thus, I am admittedly unfamiliar with the ways of the hayseed. Frankly, the extreme brand of bumpkin freaks me out. It’s so foreign to me. So unlike the existence I’ve known. And while I appreciated “Dancing Outlaw” as a bizarre and entertaining documentary, when confronted with such a pointed portrayal of the reddest of rednecks, I cringed and squirmed and my eyes got heavy. But, for the sake of cultural awareness, I vow to give it another look, with open eyes and an open mind.
“Igby Goes Down” continued the cultural lesson. The bittersweet story of a prep school malcontent provided a glimpse into the world of the rich and dysfunctional. Being neither rich nor particularly dysfunctional, once again I found myself a stranger in a strange story. Poor Igby receives no love from his mother or brother and the only member of his family capable of showing any affection, his father, cracks under the pressure of his weighty life and goes insane. After getting booted out of numerous prep schools and escaping from military school, Igby lands a gig working for his prototypically successful godfather (a polished and slick Jeff Goldblum) in New York City. While in New York, Igby encounters an array of apathetic characters who perpetuate the feeling that nobody gives a shit about him. During the course of the film, Igby gets his ass kicked on three separate occasions and is betrayed in one way or another by almost every character in the film. Aided by a stellar performance by Kieran Culkin, I couldn’t help but feel for Igby. It’s as if you, as an audience member, are responsible for giving him the affection that everyone in his world refuses him. The movie is filled with no less than eight excellent performances by the likes of Claire Danes, Jared Harris, Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman, and Susan Sarandon, in addition to those previously mentioned. Clearly, these actors were directed well, as no single performance stands outside the story, and it didn’t hurt that they had some really sharp dialogue to work with. It’s a testament to the movie's effectiveness that I left the theater with such compassion for a spoiled little rich kid.
Late late Saturday night, after watching a horrendous episode of Saturday Night Live, My Girl and I stumbled upon an unexpected gem. PBS had signed off for the night and instead of turning into a pumpkin, it became The Discovery Channel, which was rerunning special entitled “Deadliest Job in the World”. It turns out the deadliest job in the world is crab fishing in the Bering Sea during one of the worst storms in eighteen years. Hellish conditions, off-the-charts risk factors, eighteen-hour days, weeks without sleep, and an ever-present threat of death combine to crown this job the champion of shitty jobs. But hey, the money’s good. You want to talk about perspective -- I’m sitting here answering phones for a handful of dollars per hour and I’m thrilled, now that I’ve seen the extreme alternative. Granted, you have to be a thrill seeker to even sign up for the gig in the first place, but some of the behavior these guys were displaying, I don’t know… Forty-foot waves crash down on them, eighty-mile-an-hour winds toss them around, and heavy rains pelt them in the face, while these ultra-rugged macho men stand on the deck trying to maneuver these large cages of bait and crabs in and out of the water. I understand that time is money, but for godsakes, take a break until the storm passes. Time and money don’t really factor into things when you’re dead, do they?
Yesterday was a full day of complete cultural immersion. My Girl, Young Goodman Brown, and I went downtown to the MOCA at California Plaza. Before we entered the museum, we strolled down the street to take in the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, still under construction but nearly complete and fully spectacular. Right off the bat, the museum bested expectations. The permanent collection starts with an exhibit called "Conversations" which is structured as a dialogue between several contemporary artists, including Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. In my humble opinion, Johns' painting "Map" was the highlight of the exhibit. After disappearing for some time, Young Goodman Brown came back to retrieve us and make us skip ahead to this surreal section where an entire room was dedicated to a work called "Proposal For Monument at Frienship Park, FL". The facade of a wood cabin and it's porch has rocking lawn chairs where you can sit and sift through an extensive collection of southern rock records and then play them on turntables. Of course, being the DJ and all, Young Goodman Brown had to do a little scratchin'. Seconds after he turned to me and said, "Look, man, I'm scratching," the security guard purposefully walked over and stuttered "You can't do that." YGB apologized, but I think he underestimated how much it bothered the stuttering security guard, whose every utterance sounds like a scratched record. In the same room is a bunch of fake rocks and a trash receptacle in the middle with speakers planted inside to play the southern rock records. The most intriguing exhibit was a collection of photographic works by Thomas Struth. There were perspective pictures of roads and cityscapes, stunning shots of nature, and ironic images of people in museums looking at great works of art. While browsing through the exhibit, My Girl wished out loud that there was a movie made up of great shots of buildings and nature set to music. Young Goodman Brown said "There is and tonight's the last night it's showing at The Egyptian Theater. It's called "Baraka".
"Baraka" is breathtaking. The film contains some of the greatest cinematography you will ever see and it's larger than life in 70mm. I know this may be a cop out, but I find the experience incredibly difficult to describe. Shot in 24 countries, the film is like a visual tour of the world, its peoples, and its cultures, and it's quite overwhelming. Suffice it to say that My Girl got exactly what she wanted.
In addition to feeling cultured, I feel well-rounded and literate. I feel like I'm a part of the world. I feel whole. How long can I make it last?