And Now It’s Dark with Amy Winehouse

Amy

In David Lynch’s seminal classic Blue Velvet (which thematically shares with Amy a tortured dark-haired chanteuse manipulated by her own internal demons as well as the vile men in her life), the line, “And now it’s dark…” is used as a secret password into a nightmarish world lurking underneath white picket fences.  Later in Mulholland Drive, Lynch meditated more deeply on the tortured female soul, the flickering white lights after a failed actress’ suicide eerily like the flashes of the paparazzi’s cameras.  Asif Kapadia briefly muses on the cameras that blinded Amy Winehouse’s soul as well, but his humanist documentary is so much more than just a portrayal of the archetypal tortured artist.  Amy was a tortured soul long before the celebrity-obsessed cameras devoured what little was left of her.

Watching her meteoric rise and subsequent crash and burn play out in the media as it happened, I had this notion of Amy Winehouse as some meta-dramatist (with a killer voice, sassy attitude and old-school jazzy vibe) who was hell-bent on living the stereotypical hard-drinking lifestyle of a musician.  I baked in my head a stale soufflé of her as someone who wanted to drink because she thought it brought out the best in her art, because she thought that’s the way a real jazz musician had to behave, and that harder drugs were just a doorway to another level.  I couldn’t have been more wrong about poor Amy, who in her own words and rare archival footage, makes it clear she was most brilliant when she was sober and wrestling her demons through music, and that all the drinking and drugs were self-medication for when she couldn’t find her voice, not necessarily her literal voice, but her hard-fought catharsis in pouring out her soul through songs that filled the voids that had existed in her life since childhood (which was not so much Grand Guignol, but ordinarily sad in its universal familial strife).  I had no idea her lyrics (always noted for their cunning wordplay that lent itself so beautifully to her signature annunciation, lilt, rises and attitude) were so literally literal.  They often deceived a listener into thinking they were metaphors, but they weren’t.  She was not one to mince words.  Her albums were her autobiographies.  And they painted a tragic tale. Continue reading

Advertisements

The Weary Kind

There’s a telling scene about half way through writer/director Scott Cooper’s accomplished début film Crazy Heart where big Bad Blake tells his new “old lady” Jean that the best new songs are the ones that make you feel like you’ve heard them before.

Well, we’ve heard this one before:  Down-and-out alcoholic country crooner Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges in the role of a lifetime destined now for Oscar gold) gets involved with a sweet but jaded reporter named Jean (the strangely appealing, droopy-eyed and increasingly Olive-Oil-esque Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her young son (Moppet-for-Hire Jack Nation) and tries to make good one last time while living in the shadow of the uber-famous singer he taught everything he knew (a slightly miscast and pony-tailed Colin Farrell).  The film follows Blake’s ups and downs as he tries to create the family he never had, revive his career and clean-up his act. Continue reading

Of Music, Moroccan Food and Brothers

Of Music:

I’ve never tried to obtain the encyclopedic knowledge of music that I actively seek with film and literature, but I know what I like, and I’d like to think I know raw talent when I hear it.  Amidst a busy weekend a-visitin’ and travelin’ to Atlantic City and then up to the Big Apple, the highlight was watching Robbie Gil perform at Rockwood Music Hall on 197 Allen Street in NYC on Saturday night.  Live music isn’t typically my thing (in fact, this might’ve been the first live music act I’ve seen since college), but there’s certainly something to be said for the intimacy and communal energy at a small and eager venue, especially when you know the performer personally and are there mingling amongst not just his family and friends, but his fans, who swayed hypnotically, bobbed their heads, smiled and sometimes sung along with his powerfully lyrical and heartfelt songs.  If you are a fan of live music (especially of the bluesy rock nature) and live in or visit NYC frequently, you’d be a fool to pass up the chance to see Robbie Gil perform.  Continue reading

The Greatest Living Film Composers

Recently I couldn’t decide if I wanted to write a scathing critique focusing on the banality of the painfully quirky (500) Days of Summer or pen a love letter to The “feel good” Final Destination where we gleefully watched ridiculously good-looking and stupid young people die in unfathomably moronic and elaborate stunt-deaths — in 3D no less! — but neither film really warrants such efforts or talk.  In times like these when searching for things worthy of writing about, my thoughts turn to my blog’s old stand-by and most popular feature:  The Greatest “Blank of All Time” Lists.

I’ve toyed for quite some time with doing a list of film’s greatest cinematographers — which, by the way would look something like this:  Conrad L. Hall, Freddie Francis, Roger Deakins, Sven Nykvist, Caleb Deschanel (Zooey/Summer Finn’s accomplished father), Robert Elswit, Emmanuel Lubezki…but I digress — Continue reading

With a Head Full of Snow…

When the wind blows and the rain feels cold
With a head full of snow
With a head full of snow
In the window there’s a face you know
Don’t the nights pass slow
Don’t the nights pass slow

Even though The Rolling Stone’s “Moonlight Mile” is about a different kind of snow, the lyrics seem apt to describe the over-hyped winter storm that ushered in March of 2009.  Last night we all went to bed with heads full of snow and dreams of school closings and work stoppages and unplowed streets.

As the greater Philadelphia area continues to go through one of the coldest winters in memory, the entire Eastern Seaboard decided to tell Global Warming to “Get off our lawn!” as six to twelve inches of the white stuff was dumped from Atlanta to Boston Sunday night into Monday afternoon. Most snow connoisseurs will agree, this was some high quality blow, perfect for snowman and fort building and some of the best stuff we’ve experienced in years.

While driving into work, the flow of traffic prevented the madman-wannabe-photographer in me from capturing some of the more picturesque images. But part of the beauty of an open field blanketed in white or of snowdrifts collecting against farmhouses is that the perfection of the moment quickly fades, and even with a picture, you can’t take it with you. Only with the naked eye is the beauty true. Below are some of the fleeting images I did capture with my camera. Continue reading