Posts Tagged ‘commentary’

When the shelter in place orders came down in California, everyone settled in and immediately started looking for a distraction.  Binge watching Netflix was an obvious choice.  So was drinking.  Baking bread became an unexpected trend that had the power to unite  and, in some cases, unhinge people.   But I did not want my time spent sheltering in place to be a wine-fueled, free-for-all of sensationalized docudramas and lurid Netflix originals (because that’s my life when I’m not sheltering in place) – I needed purpose, I needed direction, I needed a quest.  I needed to . . . watch every film ever made featuring Jeremy Irons.

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I realize the title of the piece says “film” and this picture is a promo for a TV show , but I like it for the dramatic effect.

Sure, I could have just looked for sourdough starter and taken to the kitchen like a lot of my Facebook friends, but I failed home-ec and lying on the couch watching movies sounded way more doable.

Just like everyone else at the time,  I was looking for an escape and Jeremy Irons movies seemed like a decent option.  And unlike my second choice, the films of Keanu Reeves,  the films of Jeremy Irons seemed more reputable,  even scholarly in a very loose and possibly inaccurate definition of the word. It’s just something about the richness of his voice, the  intensity of his gaze . . . Perhaps I would find some greater meaning; perhaps I would  synthesize the entirety of Jeremy Irons’ acting career into an amazing thesis about life, cinema, celebrity and the Covid-19 pandemic.

I am better than you

I did have my preconceived notions of what I would be watching.  Dead Ringers,M. Butterfly, The Borgias and Watchmen are my favorite Jeremy Irons vehicles so I expected lots of uneasy narratives full of weirdness and ambiguity;  dark psychological dramas dripping with sexual tension and in some cases, outright sex.  Turns out I had already covered most of this territory.

On the first night of shelter in place I jumped right in with Brideshead Revisited.  I expected to hate it because the Amazon Prime Video synopsis made it sound dry and stuffy.  Instead I was immediately sucked in to the fabulous friendship of Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte, a relationship steeped in the excess of the 1920s and yes – dripping with sexual tension.  Although told in flashback from the 1940’s,  parts of it  reminded me a bit of The Great Gatsby (side note: Jeremy Irons plays F. Scott Fitzgerald in a made for TV movie, Last Call) . But as the story moves forward we see Sebastian’s excesses become his downfall. Charles Ryder finds a more suitable love interest in Sebastian’s sister, and then pitches a fit over Catholicism. Laurence Olivier gets some screen time, World War II happens and, after losing the thing that matters most, Charles Ryder decides Catholicism isn’t so bad after all. The end.

That was my viewing during the first week of shelter in place.

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I felt rather accomplished;  with Brideshead Revisited  under my belt and the movies I’d seen prior to taking on my quest I was certain I was already close to reaching my goal.   I decided to officially track my progress.  That’s how The Spreadsheet came to be. Using Jeremy Irons’filmography from IMDB as the source of truth, I imported all his credited roles into my spreadsheet and began to fill out what I had seen.  All told, there were 109 or so entries of which I had seen just a few shy of 30.  Not exactly the count I had expected. Granted, there were a lot of TV episodes early on in his career, and a fair amount of documentary narration which I chose to ignore.  Instead I decided to focus on films and TV movies.

I also decided I needed to categorize certain aspects of each film – really important things like: Are there sex scenes? Does he get naked?  Is he especially nice to look at in this film?  You know,  things that are at the very heart of a good film critique.  A few other categories arose as I continued my viewing : Is he trying to pull off an accent?  Did he do this just for the money?  What the hell were they thinking when they made this thing –  did no one read the script before filming?  Again, very valid criteria to consider for  someone like myself;  I did after all study film for two semesters at a community college back in the 90’s.  I kept changing the categories as I watched, vacillating between serious attempts to analyze his career and ways to keep myself amused.

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Eye Candy

The days went by.   I kept my son on track with his school work.  I checked in with my job.  I made an extra effort in my typical household duties to justify my time spent at home.  When the evening came I would plunk myself down on the couch, spin up the Jeremy Irons search on Amazon Prime and see what was next on my list.

I watched his big Hollywood movies like Man in the Iron Mask (awful) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (Is he trying to pull off an accent?  Check.  But otherwise a lot of fun). I watched small indie films like Better Start Running (surprisingly charming in parts… Jeremy Irons doesn’t quite fit the role of a disabled Vietnam vet from the South, but he committed to the part and made it work).  I watched movies I’d never heard of, like Chinese Box (a love story set in the time of Britain returning Hong Kong to China) and Waterland (an uncomfortable film about a high school history teacher and his wife (played by Jeremy Irons’ real wife) trying to move past old traumas.  Ninety five minutes has never felt so long).  I watched  films that taught me a little bit about history, including Elizabeth I  and The Mission (possibly the best film on the entire list –you really must see this is you haven’t already).  I watched films that introduced me to famous people like artist, Georgia O’Keefe; opera star, Marie Callas;  and Srinivasa Ramanujan, a math genius who was most likely forgotten until The Man Who Knew Infinity came out.

The Mission_

When I got to Lolita I felt too uneducated to properly critique it. Even worse,  I was uncertain if I should check any of the columns on my spreadsheet. It’s based on a famous novel but is it a good adaptation?  Should I like it?  I decided to go to the source material and that’s how I ended up reading Lolita.  For those who may not be familiar, Lolita reads as the confession of  a middle aged man passionately recalling his relationship with a 12 year old girl. ( They bump the girl’s age up to 14 in the movie to make it slightly more palatable.) It’s incredibly well-written; Nabokov’s use of the English language makes me realize I should return  my BA in English and get a refund.  The book feels more satirical than the movie, but Jeremy Irons portrayal of Humbert Humbert feels true to me. Side note- you can download the audio book and have it read to you by Jeremy Irons.

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Sometime after Lolita I watched Dungeons & DragonsDid he do this just for the money?  Check.  What the hell were they thinking when they made this thing?  Check.  This film features Jeremy Irons as an evil wizard or something like that;  he is  acting, with a capital “A”, while wearing a costume most likely purchased from the Spirit Halloween store.  Poor Thora Birch plays the young empress,  think Walmart’s answer to  Queen Amidala, and for whatever reason, she looks as if the make up artist had to  leave for another job right before he got to work on her eyes. This production also managed to drag Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Tom Baker (the best doctor from Dr. Who) into this mess. Definitely the worst film on the list and should be avoided at all costs.

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Avoid at all costs!

How it Ends

When I began my “quest” to watch all the films of Jeremy Irons while sheltering in place I thought it would be a fun diversion to pass the time until life returned to “normal”.  As of this writing, Memorial Day weekend, there are still shelter in place orders in effect for my county, although the guidelines have loosened up a bit.  I don’t know if or when “normal” will return. It seems more likely that someday in the future we will simply be past the pandemic but what life will look like then I cannot say.

As for  my “quest”, I am putting it on pause.  I have not watched all the films ever made featuring Jeremy Irons while sheltering in place, but that’s okay.   I may return to complete the list later on but for now I need a break from Jeremy Irons; his voice has taken over my inner monologue and every now and then it narrates my life like it’s the beginning of a movie . . .  also my bathrobe gives me flashbacks to Dungeons & Dragons.  Like I said, I need a break. I need to go outside and get some fresh air.  Our local park is open again.

I’ll leave you with two things: First,  this link to  a letter penned by French physicist and philosopher, Aurélien Barrau, and actor, Juliette Binoche (who co-starred with Jeremy Irons in Damage – a movie I watched before the “quest” but definitely allowed me to check some columns on the spreadsheet).  Signed by 200 celebrities and scientists, including Jeremy Irons,  the letter requests the world not return to the pre-pandemic normal. “The pursuit of consumerism and an obsession with productivity have led us to deny the value of life itself: that of plants, that of animals, and that of a great number of human beings.”   It is definitely food for thought.

Finally, just because ultimately my “quest” turned out to be an exercise in data collection, I present this (not exhaustive) list of the movies I’ve watched and haven’t watched, categorized by genre.  Also, feel free to check out the spreadsheet.  It’s open to comments if you’re so inclined.

Histories/Based on true events/real people

The Borgias

Elizabeth I

The Mission

Georgia O’Keefe

Marie Callas

Man Who Knew Infinity

Reversal of Fortune

Last Call

Comic Books and Video Games

Assassin’s Creed

Justice League/Batman

Watchmen

Fantasy

Dungeons and Dragons

The Color of Magic

Eragon

Based on a Novel

Lolita

Waterland

Beautiful Creatures

The Dream

Brideshead Revisited

Night Train to Lisbon

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The Color of Magic

Eragon

The Good

Dead Ringers

M. Butterfly

Brideshead Revisited

The Borgias

The Lion King

The Mission

The Bad

High Rise

An Actor Prepares

Damage

Dungeons and Dragons

It’s a Movie

Inland Empire

Better Start Running

And Now Ladies and Gentlemen

Margin Call

Chinese Box

Kafka

The Unavailable

Swann in Love

Australia

Danny Champion of the World

Still on the list to see

Stealing Beauty

Moonlighting

The Fourth Angel

Longitude

The House of the Spirits

The Time Machine

Heaven and Earth

Race

Appaloosa

Pink Panther 2

 

worldview changing

I came across this short article on HuffPost last night: Finneas Reveals Hidden Sounds In ‘Bad Guy’ And Our Worldview Is Changed and I could not resist writing a response.

The gist of the article is that Billie Eillish’s brother, Finneas, who produced her Grammy award winning album, revealed he subtly incorporated sound recordings of every day occurrences/items into the music. Examples given in the article include the sound of dental equipment and a crosswalk warning signal.

My first thought was – what has journalism come to? This is an article summarizing a TV interview that’s been given a sensationalized headline (Worldview changing?!?! Really?!?) just to entice people to click on it. (And I did!) But then the author declared Finneas’ method of using these every day recordings as genius and I thought: “Damn! I must be a genius too!”

Now, it’s true I never swept the Grammys so I guess I’m not quite on the same level as Finneas and his sister, but I have been using recordings of everyday items in my music for a long time and I’m pretty sure I’m not the first or last musician/producer to do that. In fact a quick web search will turn up many articles like this one giving details on unlikely sounds that have been used in pop songs in recent years.

I want to make it clear I’m not dissing Billie Eillish and her brother at all. I really liked “Bury a Friend” and “Bad Guy” the first 100 or so times I heard them and I also appreciate that she has achieved this level of success by bringing a whole new style to the table and not showing off her body. No, I just think the framing of the article was ridiculous and I’m using that ridiculousness as a jumping off point to make it about me – because I’m pretty sure that’s how the internet works these days.

So without further ado, here are three times I was a “genius” and used everyday recordings in my music.

“So Bad” – a copy machine

I found volunteering at my son’s school highly creative work and here’s proof: around 0:08, there’s two claps followed  by a sound like a phased drum; that’s the copy machine at my son’s elementary school recorded while making copies for the book fair.

“Body”  – a washing machine

The song begins with a drum roll and rhythm beneath the drum roll that continues throughout the song.  That rhythm is the sound of the washing machine at my friend Gina’s house.   Lucky for me, Gina does a lot of laundry even when she has house guests – had she not I probably would not have been inspired to write this song about David Bowie’s passing.

“Fan Fic” – a breast pump

 

Ah – my old Roland SP-555 sampler!  I loved that thing and I sold it thinking I was trading up to a better piece of equipment and I wasn’t.  I miss it so much!

Anyway – this song is at least ten years old and I had just come through a  year or so of occasionally pumping breast milk for my son.  The sound the pump made was unique and I started hearing voices in it – like singing voices, not like voices telling me to do things.  In this clip at the 30 second mark (after I finish pushing the “I play a sexy serial killer” button far too  many times) I hit the drums and a loop of the breast pump sound.  To me it sounds like voices singing “usha-may   usha-may  usha-may”.  Sadly this sound loop did not make it to the final recording of the song years later.

So there you have it, my favorite moments of “genius” from my songs.  If you have your own to add or know of other songs that use interesting sounds feel free to leave a reply!