Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ryan Recommends

We watched this film for the second time last night, and I must say that I absolutely loved it. Written for the screen and directed by P.T. Anderson (Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love), "There Will Be Blood" is a movie that gets even better with age. Some have told me that it moved too slowly for them, but to me the pacing was just right and the acting was completely brilliant. Plus, with the music score being done by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead, there was always something for my brain to be focused on. If you're going to invest 2.5 hours in a film, I cannot think of many films that have come out in recent years that would be more worth the investment.

Based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), "Everything is Illuminated" has become one of our all-time favorites over the past 2 years. It is beautifully shot, with plenty of dry wit and heartfelt family history to move you through. The music is extremely memorable, and as far as off-beat comedies go this is certainly one of the best out there. I liked it much better than other options such as "Running with Scissors" and "Winter Passing." Being that I am not an Elijah Wood fan, this recommendation should mean even more than if I were suggesting a Phillip Seymour Hoffman film (my favorite actor). See it, and enjoy it. Then go buy some Gogol Bordello records. :)

"The Darjeeling Limited" is the 5th movie from Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic), and for those who love his work it definitely did not disappoint. Shot in India, this beautiful story of 3 brothers on a "spiritual voyage" is hilarious, and yet rich with symbolism. I had concerns that Anderson was treading over the same material too often (white boys in the state of arrested development) but this movie still shed fresh light for me and was definitely worth making. I would suggest that you see this movie if you like dark comedy, family dysfunction, or India. ;)

"Lars and the Real Girl" was a little off-putting to me at first. Am I actually going to watch a guy buy a sex doll and then convince himself that she's real? Is that a movie?? But, I must say, I was terribly wrong to doubt this film. Not only were my worst fears not realized, but I was moved by the community aspects within the film. Ryan Gosling does a fine bit of acting, and although it is certainly quirky in nature, this movie is far from being non-accessible. It is not emotionally turbulent, it is not highly disturbing, it is merely a story of figuring out what it means to be human. And it's good.

"Paris, Je Taime" is a very unique film. It is comprised of 18 five minute films, all with different directors and different actors with different stories. One main thing in common: Paris is the backdrop. I loved this film and would certainly argue that it is one of the better ones made in the past 2 years. It is in French with English subtitles as you might expect, and the beauty and humor within this film makes it quite memorable indeed. Far from the norm, and yet not far from home, I would certainly suggest that you check out this movie.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means (honorable mentions would include "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", "King Corn," "Manderlay" and "The Squid and the Whale"), they are just some films over the past few years that have not seen incredible box office success but yield great rewards for those who invest the time. If you have any recommendations for me (or critiques of the ones I have enjoyed), please share with us by all means.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Super Tasters Taste More

"It's WHAT you like, not what you ARE like, that's important." Rob Gordon, High Fidelity

Sharing your taste with somebody can be a great way of letting them get to know you. Example: If you know that my favorite movie is "Life is Beautiful" and that I have no desire to see the new "Incredible Hulk" movie, you've learned something about who I am. If I told you that I loved ALL movies, what would you learn? Well, either that I am a liar, or that I'm incredibly boring. Either way, it hurts your desire to continue getting to know me.

That point seems pretty obvious to people when we talk about books or films, but I frequently get responses like this in regards to music.

People tell me that they love ALL music. They might go as far as to eliminate a genre or two (mainly country or rap) so that there is SOME dimension to their personality from the statement they've provided. One problem is that it's not true. The other problem with this answer is what it represents. We WANT to be viewed as open-minded, broad thinking people who have expansive tastes and are truly up for anything. You're not. I might go as far as to say that you'll LISTEN to anything. But love? No.

If you love everything than the word no longer has meaning. It does my wife no good if I love her if I also love ALL women and do not differentiate between them. Why do I love my wife? Aren't there qualities I see in her that makes her stand out, making her special to me? Absolutely. I might also love my sister, but it will be quite different from the way I love my wife. After that, I might love my friend, but my love for her would also be very different than the love I have for my wife and for my sister. There are varying degrees, and then at some point I'm going to bump into a woman that I don't particularly like being around. Maybe I don't hate, but I certainly don't love.

This is true of music if you really love any of it. It is good to know your tastes, and to think critically about them. Not so that they remain static and you preserve your favorites forever and never evolve! I believe it's possible for you to LEARN to love a certain piece of music, or a certain style of singing, or a particularly strong power chord. But you should figure out why you love something and don't care for something else, or you'll never learn anything. People want to "find themselves" or discover who they really are. Well, a window into that insight is lying right in front of you with your taste.

It actually can be a bit scary, looking yourself in the mirror and examining what you see. Maybe you like "Dream Theater" more than you think you should. Maybe you didn't like "Citizen Kane" as much as you thought you were supposed to. It can make you feel a little vulnerable putting yourself out there with any sort of opinion. But out there is where it happens, and it's where you belong. Don't hide behind a bland sheet of fake-love. Be real, be honest, and be humble. Your favorite song when you were 3 is probably not your favorite song today, so there's a very real possibility that your tastes may change. But knowing where you are today is still cool, and letting me get to know where you are is a form of intimacy, and without it our friendship is basically limp. So.... quit giving me the weak hand-shake. Just shake it!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Matters of Music

People LOVE music, right? It's rare that I come upon a human being who doesn't claim to have a love for music, it almost feels cold and foreign if they don't make that claim. They also acknowledge that music has impacted their lives in some way, and that they certainly wouldn't want to live without music. And yet, with all of these people telling me how much they care deeply for music, it's even more rare that I find somebody who truly does.

Let me explain.

If you love something, you show a devotion to it. You VALUE it. You would not stand by while it was abused and do nothing. And yet, not only are we not standing up for music, but often we find ourselves contributing to the abuses with our own actions. What is he talking about?? What abuses? I will tell you.

Music has become a form of consumption. Therefore, the qualities that have become the most important to us regarding music are similar to that of any other consumption item in our culture. Convenience is huge. We refuse to go out of our way anymore, as the internet has made music so unbelievably accessible over the past 10 years. We also want it on our terms. Meaning, if I don't want an album but I want just 1 song, I expect to be able to get just that song for about a buck or less. We're actually starting to expect it for less (meaning free) more often than before.

The market WILL meet these demands, music consumers out there. Oh, it already has and it will continue to push towards what we demand, towards what we VALUE. Look familiar? The form itself vs. a CD is not what's important, it's what is written on the walls between the lines.

We will compress the heck out of the quality of your track so that you can fit as many tracks into the space provided as possible. What are we saying as consumers when we buy this? We would rather have the convenience than the quality.

Now, above I am talking about the quality of the recordings diminished when crunched into the typical MP3 format on iTunes. Here is a more frightening reality to me: We are losing out on the quality of the art itself. By only buying individual tracks more and more, artists are not able to afford to put the time and energy into deeper work that requires patience and time to un-lock. It will truly be the age of the "single" and the time of the album will be lost in the sauce. If we all just bought tiny corners of great paintings, then pretty soon large canvas paintings would go away and they would just sell buttons.

Finally, even with large record labels dying and more indie artists out there to support than ever before, we have still found a way to make sure the artists remain screwed by a giant company. The support we could show them through buying their art directly would be immense, but instead we give almost all of it to a huge company that created no music whatsoever. What did they do for us, again? Oh yeah, convenience. I suppose having all the music I own fit into my back pocket is worth the instant slashing of quality, the slow death of great long lasting album-makers, and taking the money out of the hands of those who created this thing we so dearly love. ;)

What am I suggesting? If you love music, VALUE it as such. Do whatever you can to support the artists who create the works that you love. Uphold the quality of the work and don't compromise the integrity of the music for a slightly more convenient way of experiencing it. The new technology isn't evil by any means. But when we sell something that's more important to get it, something is wrong. Remember what you love about music, what your life would be like if it wasn't there for you, and then give it it's due. Or just stop saying that you love music so much, because it simply isn't true. :)