The Art of Entertainment

Thank you to all of you who replied to my blog of last week. Basically I was told that the view my writing group was inadvertently giving me was not accurate. In fact, some of you are scared–the mask rule has been relaxed, no social distancing. My sister, who has the ability that my father had–to take in the larger picture and make a fairly accurate assessment–wrote: “Michigan is about the scariest place in the country right now; your last blog really, really romanticises what’s going on in the U.S.  You’re making the mistake of generalizing from a few anecdotal stories from your friends–basic social science error!!!!!  The result doesn’t read authentically or match people’s experiences here.Which isn’t to say that you’re not being authentic; it’s just you need to be more careful with your comparisons.” This is one of the reasons I love her. I can absolutely depend that she will tell me the truth. So, this week, I am not going to talk about the Pandemic or vaccines. Rather I want to talk about the way each one of us has found to self-entertain during these non-ending times.

MAKE EVERY MILE COUNT! You’re no longer just going for a run, a walk, a ride, or a swim, you’re working towards conquering a S.M.A.R.T fitness goal. VIEW ALL THE CHALLENGES

I enjoy entertaining myself and I’m easily pleased. I just have to watch Bijou run around in circles chasing her tail, falling all over herself, and I am in gales of laughter. I have discovered something else that I find so much fun. There is an App called The Conqueror. It is run by My Virtual Mission. I don’t know how I discovered it but it happened during the first week of January. I picked a real walk somewhere in the world and signed up to have my Fitbit talk to the app and record all the miles I walk. I was sent postcards by e-mail telling me where I was, describing the village and giving me some history. For every 20% of the walk I finished, a tree was planted. The website says, “We will donate toward the planting of a tree for every 20% of the challenge you complete. There’s no extra work or cost for you — just make sure you keep exercising! By the end of the challenge, you will have planted 5 trees. Imagine what we can achieve as a community! So far we have planted more than 450,000 trees since August 2020.”

My medal for walking 90 miles of Hadrians Wall. Now when the Pandemic is truly finished, I need to go do it for real!

I picked Hadrian’s Wall for my first walk-90 miles. I was also to pick an amount of time that I would do the walk in and I put 8 weeks. I had no idea how motivated I would be. As it turned out, I finished the walk in less than five weeks! About a week later, a gorgeous medal arrived in the mail. No photo on the website showed how really handsome and substantial the medal is! For my next walk, I picked The Ring of Kerry, a walk of 124.5 miles in Ireland. Again I received postcards, had trees planted, finished in five weeks, and now my medal is on its way. Last week I picked St. Francis Way which, like the others, is a real walk of 312.4 miles from Florence to Rome. This is more than twice as long as the Ring of Kerry. I am hoping to do this in 12 weeks.

What I see on my phone each morning when I’m checking if Fitbit added my miles!!!

I have always been competitive and not always in a good way. I learned awhile ago that competing against one’s self is a good thing. Every morning, I check what my FitBit told the Conqueror app. I wouldn’t dream of not walking every day (well, I do take a day off once in awhile for various reasons) and, according to the app, I have walked 250.9 miles since I first signed up on January 8th. Here I am, in my apartment in Paris which is in a third lockdown, and I have walked Hadrian’s Wall, the Ring of Kerry, and am 11% thru the St. Francis Way! So if any of you are, like me, staying inside most of the time but walking every day, you may enjoy this great app that tells you you are doing great things, walking long distances, and sending you medals to prove it!!!

We all find different ways to entertain ourselves during hard times. At the beginning of the Pandemic, I was too cautious to go outside. I discovered Walk with Lesley Sansome, and watched her on my computer following along with all her in-house “friends”. But I’ve never been a big fan of going to the gym. And, as soon as I screwed my courage up and started walking outside, Lesley Sansome went the way of a lot of my amusements. I love walking outside. I love walking. I’ve never thought of walking as exercise. I don’t like exercise therefore walking can’t be exercise (one of those philosophers that I studied in college would agree that my logic is correct!)

Statuette: Oscar ® Statuette © AMPAS ®

It also occurred to me about three weeks ago that every single one of the Oscar nominations, in almost every category, is available to stream. I’ve always tried to see as many of the nominated films as possible so that when the Oscars rolled around, I could make intelligent guesses. I also consider myself a huge film buff and the nominations from all the different festivals give me a great list of films I should have seen but didn’t know about. This year it was never clear to me what was streamed and what was only available in a theatre.Not to mention that I hadn’t heard of most of the streaming services..I mentioned a couple weeks that I’d seen Nomadland on Hulu. I discovered that Hulu will give anyone a free 30 day trial. So far I’ve seen, along with Nomadland, The Trial of the Chicago Seven, Mank, Promising Young Woman (had to rent on Amazon), and last night, I rented The Father (the fee is more than a movie would cost if theatres were open). Of the nominated films for best foreign film, I’ve seen Deux, from France and, from Denmark, Another Round (the director, Thomas Vinterburg is also up for best director). I have seen all the films in which an actress is nominated for best actress. I didn’t make it through the US vs Billie Holiday. Andra Day is terrific, her voice sounds very much like Ms. Holiday’s, but the film itself just isn’t compelling–to me. Maybe next week, I will give you my opinion on who will will and who should win but today I just want you to know they are all available. They are all good and it’s worth spending your time being entertained by an industry whose job it is to entertain you.

I finally watched Soul. I discovered that something I belong to also gives me Disney plus. Soul is nominated for best animation. I usually associate animated films with children or youth. Pixar has been coming out with terrific films-as much for adults as children. This one, starring the voices of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey , is very much for adults. I’d watch it again if I didn’t have a date with The Sound of Metal.

This is all to say that there are many fun things to do still in Lockdown. Many of us are genuinely fatigued by the last fourteen months but we are being advised everywhere to not let our caution down. It would be so easy to say ‘F__ it, I’m finished. I’m going back to the way it was.’ As I was writing, a notification popped up on my phone: over 3,000,000 million deaths around the world. I intend to not be one of those statistics.

A bientôt,

Sara

Christmas in Paris

The weather is chilly here in Paris, very cold (37oF)in the morning, rising as high as 43oF in the mid-afternoon. Sunday, the wind was so strong that TV and internet were advising people not to drive but, if you had to, to take special care. Yesterday, snow fell in Normandy where my friends live and here in Paris, we were supposed to get a glimpse of white stuff but no such luck. Snow is no longer a frequent visitor to Paris. When I was young, snow fell and stayed for weeks. Men selling chestnuts wrapped in newspaper would stand on the bridges and anywhere else that tourists would frequent. They were delicious and warmed your hands as you munched.

Covid-19 has changed most lives here in Paris. Fearing another French Revolution (my opinion), Macron lifted the second lockdown on December 15th. The idea that Parisians could not spend Christmas with their friends and family was unthinkable. At the same time, we had new curfew hours: 8pm-6am. The curfew would be lifted for Christmas Eve but not New Years Eve. The roads leaving Paris were parking lots for miles. I had plans to go to Brittany to spend Christmas and New Years in the tiny hamlet of Kerprouet where my friend, Roland, has property. Ninety minutes before the train was to leave, the news from the night before went through my head. A new strain of the virus had shut down most of the UK. It seemed like russian roulette to think it hadn’t made it to Paris. It had broken out in spain and in South Africa. I didn’t want to be one of those people who thinks I’m the exception, that when we are advised not to travel, those suggestions applied to others not to me. So I canceled out of prudence and had a very sad day–one of the saddest since the Pandemic started.

Champs Elysees

It didn’t seem like anyone was going to rescue me so I settled in for two weeks of reading, Netflix and other streaming stations, and a bit of purging. My cutlery drawer in the kitchen is sparkling and has far less things to choose from. I found some very interesting movies from 1947, the year I was born, on YouTube. One was Christmas Eve starring George Raft, George Brent, Joan Blondell. I consider myself a movie buff but I’d never heard of that movie. It is terrific. Maybe they line up the 1947 movies one after the other because, without my doing anything, the original Heaven Only Knows, that has inspired many remakes (or is that Here Comes Mr Jordan?), came on. This one stars Bob Cummings as Michael the archangel who comes down to set straight one soul. It is also terrific, easily as good as the Warren Beatty remake Heaven Can Wait. So if I have all these angel movies mixed up, I do apologise. Then there is the Christmas ritual with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Read from 1946: It’s A Wonderful Life on Amazon Prime, the yearly opportunity to review our own lives. It is also showing today on Arte in France.

Bijou, the cat.

I think many families must have left Paris. It’s quiet in the 16th, but stores are open for food and holiday “cheer’. On Tuesday, the powers that be met to decide if we would be going into a third lockdown. It was announced yesterday that No, we wouldn’t be. However, much of Eastern and Northeastern France will be starting a 6pm curfew. They also announced new groupings to get the vaccine. I am now in Group 2 whereas I was in Group 5 known as “Everybody Else.” They are predicting that Group 2 will be vaccinated end of February and March. I know that many people are hoping and praying that things will change in 2021 but the truth is that no one has informed the virus that things are to change on January 1. I fear a long, dark winter of things getting worse before they get better. What’s surprising to me–and much of French culture surprises me–is that 60% of the French do not want to get vaccinated. They are quite suspicious. All the more reason for me to get the vaccine so I feel safe walking amongst my neighbors.

So today ends 2020, the strangest year of my life. Someone in my writing group, said the cleanest joke she heard this season was: ‘Picture Snoopy at his computer typing a goodbye letter to 2020: “I just want you to know that I am typing this with my middle finger.”‘ It got a good laugh out of me. Most of the people I know will have dinner and go to bed before midnight–something we’ve done for years. But it is also a time of reflection. How did you survive 2020? Much to my surprise, I can honestly say that I mostly lived in acceptance and carefulness. I never questioned what the experts told us. I anticipated a lot of what would happen, I think, because I read my history. Pandemics don’t seem to change that much. How people deal with them changes.

I took some wonderful photos of lights in Paris but for some reason, WordPress won’t let me upload them–for reasons of security!!! So you are getting some recycled photos from last year!!!

Have a safe, a healthy, and hopefully a happy New Year. My very best to all of you. Thank you for being readers of this blog! I appreciate each and every one of you.

A bientôt,

Sara

The view from Normandie

As of Saturday, Paris will have a 9pm curfew. So will eight other cities in France. Germany and Ireland are joining the emergency measures to slow down the quickly rising number of cases of Covid-19. Hospitals are at capacity. “Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called on Parisians to respect the measures and “remain united”. “Faced with the heavy circulation of #Covid-19 in France and in Paris, we must remain united and apply the measures announced by the President of the Republic, even if they are harsh. It is a new ordeal, and we will face it, together and in solidarity with caregivers”, she tweeted.” France24.com. Macron says the second wave is coming on fast.

Maus, the cat!

So, thinking that this might be happening, I left Paris on Tuesday and came to Normandie where my friends live. They are visiting their first born grand-child and I am kitty sitting and housesitting. It is glorious here. The trees are golden and greenish and many bushes are flaming red. The ivy that has crept up the walls of this house is burnt umber, deep maroon and yellow. It is completely quiet. The apple trees have already produced buckets of apples and I get to gather ones that still remain on trees and make apple puree tomorrow. The mornings are crisp and cold. The temperature rises as much as 20o as the sun rises and warms the air. On my morning walk, I see many of the same horses I saw this summer but they are friskier, dancing around, nosing each other and cantering in circles. What a wonderful place to escape the curfew even if just for a few weeks.

In the evenings, I have been watching Netflix. Wednesday night, I watched a documentary called The Social Dilemma. I felt smacked in the gut. I’ve been wary of Facebook for awhile but I post this blog there and I have a Facebook page for my book: Saving Sara. I have tried to learn Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, and it is definitely a younger person’s thing. And now there is Emily in Paris, also on Netflix which is a walking advertisement for Instagram. After watching the documentary last night, I understand why I’m wary of Facebook but now I know I should be scared shitless. Dozens of ex-technologians of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Uber, Pinterest talk about how what they designed was meant to be fun for all of us but now has turned into a lawless monster that knows EVERYTHING about all of us. It is Big Brother for real. It is the promotion of so much hate and divisiveness. If I sound like I drank the kool-aid, it was not just believable, it all made perfect sense. The documentary illustrated it all with a docudrama of a family in which two children become addicted to their phones. I am in awe of the people who have taken a stand against this worst idea of Capitalism, that the almighty profit is God. There are no laws that govern what these companies can do. Watch this documentary: The Social Dilemma and be scared. https://www.humanetech.com/the-social-dilemma

Thursday night, I watched another documentary called My Octopus Teacher. This documentary is about a filmmaker who forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world. It is as feel good as the other is frightening. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s0LTDhqe5A

The filming is so beautifully done and the connection between the filmmaker and the octopus is told with such love that I found myself falling in love with the octopus also. I laughed and I cried and I was mesmerised. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Last night, I watched The Trial of the Chicago 7. For some reason I thought it was also going to be a documentary but it turned out to be a film made for Netflix by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame. If he was trying to make a political statement, it worked for me. I was in Chicago in 1968, the summer of the Democratic Convention but barely remember these events. As this election grows closer, I find myself fearing that awful violence may follow. I remind myself that violence was happening all the time in 1968–most of it instigated by the police. This film tells the story of those days of the Convention in flashbacks. The trial took place after Nixon was elected and he was determined to make an example of the seven Vietnam protestors by sentencing them to prison. As soon as I graduated college in 1969, I left the United States. Both my parents wanted me to stay and join in the protests to end the war. My mother called me a parasite as I was just hitching around Europe not really paying any real attention to the political situation. I was much more interested in sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman

When it came to showing the police beating on the crowds with their night sticks, Sorkin put in real footage. It was shocking then and it is shocking now. Fifty years ago and what has changed? The Republicans have gotten craftier and sneakier at winning elections. The Democrats have made an art out of shooting themselves in the foot.

The real Abbie Hoffman.

The acting was superb. Mark Rylance, who played Cromwell in Wolf Hall, was Kunstler, the lawyer defending the 7. Reviewers may not agree with me but his American accent was very good. Sacha Baron Cohen played Abbie Hoffman. I thought he was terrific.

Mark Rylance and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden

And that’s how I’m passing the time in France as I await the election and respect the severity of Covid-19

A bientôt,

Sara

What to do during a Pandemic or how I spent my Lockdown being happy!

The sun is out in Paris. It’s quite cold. It’s very quiet-except at 8 (20:00)H in the evening. Then we are all out on our balconies clapping and cheering. Day 7 of lockdown. People have been sending me wonderful videos that make me laugh out loud. Others are sending ideas of what to do with my time. I keeping a list of everything because I think that once I do all the cleaning and organizing that I haven’t down since…forever, I will want these pieces of advice.

Here are 450 Ivy League courses you can take online right now for free. https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/ivy-league-free-online-courses-a0d7ae675869/ I grew up in Princeton. When I went to university, Princeton was still boys only. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have gotten in anyway. But now I have a chance to get that Ivy League Diploma I’ve always wished I had!!!

My friend, Nancy, back in Oakland (and who faithfully reads this blog! Thank you, Nancy) sent an e-mail with many idea to while away the time. The one that jumped out at me was: “Take this time to declutter and reorganize your home or apartment!” I’m already doing that but if I can get advice that will help me get it down faster and make it less complicated, I will use it. Some of these require shopping and I do hate to make Jeff Bezos richer but Amazon is delivering: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/tips/g2610/best-organizing-tips/?slide=3&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=5e727c0952ce250001ce37cc&utm_source=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941&agent_id=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941

Then, whether we are inside or out, the weather is going to get warmer so here’s how to prepare your clothes for winter storage: https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/storing-winter-clothes-36717824?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=5e727c0952ce250001ce37cc&utm_source=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941&agent_id=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941

My friend, Marjorie, who also is a devoted fan of this blog sent along a couple of real winners. First resources for free virtual museum tours: http://mcn.edu/a-guide-to-virtual-museum-resources/ She says the Vatican virtual tours are spectacular: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/tour-virtuali-elenco.1.html Do you want to see Giselle at the Paris Opera: https://www.operadeparis.fr/en/magazine/giselle-in-replay The Guardian has links to the best theatre and dance to watch on-line: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/mar/17/hottest-front-room-seats-the-best-theatre-and-dance-to-watch-online as well as opera and music: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/mar/16/classical-music-opera-livestream-at-home-coronavirus

Movies….don’t have or want Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, here are hundreds of free movies on-line: Classics, Noir, Westerns and Indies: http://www.openculture.com/freemoviesonline And while you are there, look at the thousands of other interesting and challenging things you can do.

But Sara, I do have Netflix and Amazon Prime. The New York Times updates its list of Best Of every day: https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-quarantine-what-to-watch.html I took one suggestion and binge watched “The Stranger” by Harlan Coben while I cleaned out a closet, re-organized my filing system, did filing and then re-organized the closet. The Guardian loves lists. The Best Books of 2020. The top 50 movies of the past decade.

I have to stop here. Everyone in the world must be on their computer. Mine is slower than a turltle in hot weather. So here’s your final tip. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming free every until it runs out of operas. And Neil Young will soon be streaming from his fireside. How cool is that: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/mar/22/standup-sistine-chapel-best-online-culture-self-isolation-coronavirus-live-streaming

Now turn the news off and enjoy this time!

A bientôt,

Sara

Two Frances

Most of us come to Paris for the beauty. We’ve heard many say it is the most beautiful city in the world. For those of us who love to flâner (walk with no purpose in mind), it is heaven. The rest of France connotes lavender, sunflowers, paté, little villages high on hillsides that have been there since the Romans attacked the Gauls and the advantage lay with whoever was highest. Though it didn’t work out well for the Gauls in the end.

But there is another France. One that is easy to ignore if you are a tourist. Ex-pats that live in the western suburbs and the lower numbered arrondissements can also turn a blind eye. It’s not difficult to do. Last Thursday, I went to see the French entry for best foreign film: Les Miserables directed by Ladj li. On Friday, it won the Cesar for best Film (the cesars are the french equivalent of the Oscars). This Les Miserables, which loosely takes it’s theme from Victor Huge, takes place in a suburb to the east of Paris. The only white person was a corrupt and brutal policeman. The film showed us two days in the lives of the police who drive the streets of the Banlieu, the blacks who live in hovels, and the Muslim Brotherhood who attract many of the young people to them. The film was a thriller paced so perfectly that I thought my heart would jump out of my body. Although I knew intellectually about many of these banlieus, it was a completely different experience seeing it visually.

On Tuesday of the week before, I went to the American Library to hear a journalist I admire speak about his book: Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France. The author, Marc Weitzmann, won the American Library book award last November. I was present at the ceremony and was disappointed that he only spoke for ten minutes. I was anxious to hear more. It took him over five years to write this book and in that time, the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Bataclan theatre took place. Weitzmann told us that there are two or three incidents of hatred on Jews a day in France. As he talked, I thought ‘I don’t like the France he is telling us about.’

Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, was stabbed and her body was burned when her apartment was set on fire in what the French authorities said was an anti-Semitic crime. from the NYTImes

When I first moved to France, people would ask (they still do) why I’m choosing to live in France over the US. It is not an easy question to answer. Often I will throw in that the US had an election and it seemed smarter for me to stay here. Inevitably someone will say ‘well, what about French politics?’ And I, truthfully, can answer that I don’t know much thought I’m learning. My grasp of the french language that involves discussing politics, isn’t strong. Living in the part of Paris that I live in, I could probably spend the rest of my life here and never know much about the banlieu of Les Misérables and be shocked at the seemingly unconnected events of 2015. By going to hear Weitzmann, I’m no longer able to do that. He strongly believes that the extremist and hate-filled muslim brotherhood and the deep rooted French conservative far-right both have their roots in the same populism that is growing in Europe. It’s not the same ‘ism’ as in the States but it is far-right, it is a growing trend that is on the rise around the globe and supported by the US.

So I’ve found myself reflecting on my choice to live here. There is no doubt that the quality of my life is much higher here in France: I don’t need to own a car, I’m close to many cultural events–so many that I’m forced to choose on many an evening. But I can no longer tell people that it’s nicer here. So far, France doesn’t have a supremacist President but it’s not unthinkable any more. Weitzmann told us, in response to a question from the floor, that Norman Mailer predicted in the 1950s that by the end of the 20th century, insanity would be the norm. And so, two decades into the 21st century, political madness and lunacy clearly are the norm. When I or my friends remark “that is unbelievable,” we are confessing to being way out of step with what is considered normal today.

I think that I am rather normal when I say I want to be comfortable. Both the movie and the talk made me very uncomfortable. So much so, that I left both just before they finished. I like my rose-colored France. I want this country to be a better place than the US is today. I can’t really compare. It’s different but she shares the same extreme hatred and native terrorism that has been brewing in the US.

There is no way to end this post. I am staying in France. I love Paris, I love France. However, just as I had to strip away my naiveté of America, I’m now having to do that with my adopted country. I can choose to be educated or choose to keep my head in the sand. I don’t think there is a turning back at this point. French municipal elections are coming up very soon. Let’s see what the French have to say.

A bientôt,

Sara PS–there are spelling errors in the second paragraph. I know, you don’t have to tell me. But, for whatever reason, WordPress is not letting me do edits. I tried once and lost two paragraphs. So some things we just have to accept!

David Milch

I think everyone in the world has seen David Milch’s name somewhere on TV. Maybe it’s never registered with you. I’ve been seeing it a lot lately because I’ve been watching reruns of NYPD Blue, in order, here in Paris. I never saw it when it first came out on TV in 1993. I was busy rebuilding my house that had burned down in the 1991 Oakland Firestorm, busy watching the Oakland A’s in the evening and just busy. Together with Steven Bochco, Milch created a new kind of prime-time police drama. It ran for 12 seasons. Here in Paris, there are two episodes every weekday night. We’re just starting Season 9.

I love NYPD Blue. I love the flawed characters, I love the characterisation of New York and I love the writing. Imagine my shock when I returned from vacation, picked up my New Yorker and learned that David Milch has Alzheimers. He is 74 years old and was diagnosed in early 2015. He knows he has Alzheimer’s and has a whole list of things he wants to do. The article “Hello Darkness” was written by Mark Singer, a long time contributor to The New Yorker. Singer first met Milch in 2004 when Milch was writing the second season of “Deadwood”–which I have not seen but intend to having read this New Yorker article.

Milch is a complicated man. He is very smart and educated. He is a surviver of many addictions and many relapses. He also has bipolarity. As Singer says, somehow through it all, “he remained in command of prodigious gifts.” He was a writing professor at Yale and Robert Penn Warren was his mentor when he was an undergraduate there. While I’m reading a long list of academic achievement, I’m picturing Sipowicz muttering obscenities under his breath just loud enough so that Danny and Diane can hear. They roll their eyes. Sipowicz is one of a kind. Wikipedia says that Milch was inspired by his relationship with Bill Clark, a former member of the New York City Police Department who eventually became one of the show’s producers. But still…..I know how academics talk, I was raised by two of them and my sister is one. They do not talk like Sipowicz.

Photograph by Ryan Pfluger for The New Yorker

The more I read (New Yorker May 27, 2019), the more admiration I felt for Milch, for his talent, for his journey, for surviving addictions (among other things he made a fortune and lost it all to a gambling habit), for his family that has stuck by him. When Singer quotes him, he sounds like a gentlemen’s gentlemen. And how unfair this diagnosis of Alzheimer’s seems. “More than anything else, one would like to think of oneself as being capable as a human being. The sad truth, imposed with increasing rigor, is you aren’t. You aren’t normal anymore. You’re not capable of thinking in the fashion you would hope to as an artist and as a person. Things as pedestrian as not being able to remember the day. Sometimes where you’ve been. There have been a couple of times when I haven’t been able to remember where I live. And then there are compensatory adjustments that you make in anticipation of those rigors, so that you can conceal the fact of what you can’t do. It’s a constriction that becomes increasingly vicious. And then you go on.” p. 28 New Yorker.

Here is France, the name of the Director is always put above the name of the stars on a movie advertisement. Sometimes the stars names aren’t there at all. But the director always is. He’s the smart one. If you ask a french person about a movie and now, more and more, a good TV show, s/he’ll tell you who the director is. I’ve always sat through all the credits at a movie. I sit through all the credits for TV shows. I like knowing who did what even though I don’t know any of these people. After a while, you start recognising names. Like Danny Elfman composes a lot of movie music. So I knew the name David Milch very well. To me it was always Milch and Bochco. Which isn’t correct. Milch has gone on to do a lot of excellent work without Bochco. Things I’ve seen and not seen. So strange as it seems, reading this article was almost like reading about a friend who had become very, very ill. Only I don’t know where to send flowers. So I’m writing this tribute to a man who has entertained me for years, who turns out to be a complex, brilliant, interesting man who has struggled with some of the same demons I have. I pray he gets everything done he wants to get done.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 15: Creator David Milch at the “Luck” Press Conference at Four Seasons Hotel on February 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)

I’m told that the movie Deadwood will air on HBO this week. Having not seen the first two seasons, I’ll probably wait but if you are a fan and I hear there are many of them……

A bientôt,

Sara

JANE

Monday evening, my friend, Erica, and I went to see the documentary JANE.  It’s been awhile since I have talked about a movie.  This incredibly well edited, well documented film that uses footage that has sat unseen in the National Geographic library for over 60 years, chronicles Jane Goodall’s life and love with the Chimpanzees of Tanzania.

NG-Jane-OneSheet-Quote-ref.jpg

I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t heard of Jane Goodall but most, like me, know the bare basics.  That she was English, that she was the first person to ever get close to chimpanzees in order to record observations that had never been known prior.  I had seen photos of her up close with a chimp and both looked lovingly at each other.

What documentarian, Brett Morgan, has done in bringing Jane’s story to life is nothing next to extraordinary.  The film is narrated by Jane herself and set to the  emotional music of Philip Glass.  We see her as a young 26 year old woman who goes to Africa with no science degrees or education, chosen because she would be objective about what she sees.  We follow her as she attempts and finally succeeds to get closer to the Chimpanzees that live near to her.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/jane-the-movie/

I learned on the website that “Morgen took veteran indie cinematographer Ellen Kuras to Tanzania to spend two days filming a wide-ranging interview with Goodall, now in her early eighties and a subject of great candor, humor and warmth.”  The opening shots of the smaller beings in nature were clearly filmed in the present.  Yet, the footage from the 60s, shot by the great filmographer, Hugo van Lawick, who later becomes Goodall’s husband, hold up well next to the present footage.

Watching this film was a peek of such intimacy into the life of the young Goodall, the growing romance between her and van Lawick, the birth of her son and the birth of the first chimpanzee baby that she knew and all the challenges that followed.  One would be absent a heart to not be deeply moved when looking into the eyes of David Greybeard, the first chimpanzee that she named.  Chimpanzees make tools, think through actions, suffer grief and have war-like tendencies just as humans.  In fact, the one thing that differentiates the chimpanzee from the human is language.

Many much better written reviews of Jane have been written and I urge you to read them so that you will be convinced to go see this remarkable film.

Production company: National Geographic Studios, in association with Public Road Productions
Distributor: Abramorama
Director-screenwriter: Brett Morgen
Producers: Brett Morgen, Bryan Burk, James Smith, Tony Gerber
Executive producers: Tim Pastore, Jeff Hassler
Director of photography: Ellen Kuras
Archival photography: Hugo van Lawick
Music: Philip Glass
Editor: Joe Beshenkovsky
Animation: Stefan Nadelman

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Network, the movie

Until Saturday evening, I had never seen the movie “Network” that won four Oscars in 1976.  Turner Classic Movies is probably my favorite TV channel in the US and, as usual, leading up to Oscar Sunday, TCM is showing 31 Days of Oscar…..in alphabetical order!

I don’t know how I missed this movie.  I was recently out of Graduate School, wanted to stay in the Bay Area where jobs were scarce and was probably working around the clock to make ends meet.  I remember the iconic line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”.  I also remember that Peter Finch, who starred in the movie and won the Oscar for Best Actor, died before he could pick up his Oscar.  The belief is that his heart was already weak and some of the long impassioned speeches compromised his heart even more and he died of a heart attack months after the release of the movie.

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What was stunning to me as I watched Saturday evening, was how prescient the movie was.  Although supposed to be a “outrageous satire”(Leonard Maltin) , it predicted the news as entertainment and the hero worship of men who express their anger on TV and therefore relate and identify with the supposed mass majority of the American public. The movie opened forty-one years ago and predicted the rise of Donald Trump: a figure that TV made.

In a review that the great Roger Ebert wrote in 1976, he said “we may doubt that a Howard Beale could get on the air, but we have no doubt the idea would be discussed as the movie suggests. And then Chayefsky and the director, Sidney Lumet, edge the backstage network material over into satire, too–but subtly, so that in the final late-night meeting where the executives decide what to do about Howard Beale, we have entered the madhouse without noticing.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the madhouse.

This is indeed a great movie.  I encourage you to read the Ebert review then think about the rise of Donald Trump.

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-network-1976

Don’t forget to watch the Oscars this coming Sunday 4pm PST and 7pm EST.  There’s always something memorable even if you have to slog through a lot of commercials and boring speeches to get there.

This will be my last post for awhile.  On Thursday morning, I will be having total hip replacement surgery on my right hip.  I’m told that the process has advanced so much that  I could go home the same day.  I asked to spend one night in the hospital.  I have to learn Physical Therapy and be disciplined about doing it three times a day.  My goal and reward is, if everything goes well as is predicted, I have a return flight to Paris on May 2nd.  I miss Paris terribly.  It is something I will hold in front of me as the undisciplined part of me tries to talk me out of doing PT.

A bientôt,

Sara

La La Land

I’ve always been a fan of escapism: TV, movies, books, it doesn’t matter.  But there is something about going out to the Big Screen that does the trick without making you feel groggy  or hung over.

So while in the midst of my surgery anxieties on Tuesday, I took myself off to see La La Land by Damien Chazelle.  Since this isn’t Paris, I had to choose very carefully the theatre and the roads and availability of parking.  Without too much trouble, I arrived at BayStreet 16 AMC Theatres in Emeryville to see one of the Oscar contenders: La La Land

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As the film started to roll, the screen announced that La La Land was filmed in panavision and therefore Cinemascope, in very large letters, filled the whole screen.  The curtains pulled back just like in my youth.  Coincidently, I saw Mr. Chazelle chatting with  Ben Mankiewicz on TCM classic movies channel last night.  Ben said “You filmed this film all over Los Angeles, yet you’ve tried to make it look like it was filmed on a backlot.  All the old films from the backlot days tried to make it look real”  Mr. Chazelle said he was aiming for something in between: magical!!!

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The two men were introducing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (go see it asap if you haven’t already seen it.  Go see it again if you have!!!) Mr. Chazelle agreed that this film was one of the biggest influences on La La Land.  I think he said he has seen it 17 times.  That’s close to my record of Singin’ In the Rain.  So even though, I’d seen Umbrellas of Cherbourg, I watched it to see the influences.  I liked it so much better this time around.

 

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I digress.  La La Land pays homage to Singin’ in the Rain (in the beginning and throughout the movie).  Boy and Girl meet the first time while in cars and immediately piss each other off.  Boy runs into girl again and almost knocks her over.  Finally boy and girl meet a third time and the attraction begins.  Neither Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling have great singing voices but that’s part of it’s charm as in Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  On the other hand,, they do seem to be very good dancers and I would have loved to have seen more of them dancing.  Listen to the two of them sing “City of Stars”.  Ryan Gosling is playing the piano and he is GOOD, very good!!!

The story is age old: trying to make it in Hollywood, the ups, the downs.  Everything about the movie is charming: the actors, the singing and dancing, the ordinariness of the characters played by the two stars and, as in many Gene Kelly movies, there is a fantasy number that is beautifully produced and executed.  I want to tell you the ending but you must go find out yourself.

Rotten Tomatoes calls La La Land Chazelle’s love letter to a by-gone era.  Yes! A wonderful era full of singing and dancing and the opportunity to escape and forget the present with it’s anxieties and powerlessness.  It worked for me!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

 

 

I, Daniel Blake

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If you have ever walked by a homeless person and thought “There but for the Grace of God, go I”, go see I, Daniel Blake.

If you have ever listened to some of our well known politicians talk with utter contempt about the people using state systems to nefarious ends, go see I, Daniel Blake.

If you have ever felt complete powerlessness and building rage listening to Donald Trump talking about ‘those thieves and ingrates’ taking food out of his mouth, go see I, Daniel Blake.

Go see I, Daniel Blake

When I lived in the Bay Area, at Christmas time, I would get about thirty dollars in one dollar bills and give them out to homeless people until I ran out.  I stopped doing it here in Paris.  I was warned that many kids, big and small, were run by Russians and Slave gangs and it was all a con.  Many of the homeless are very aggressive and can be scary.  Many seem to have their “spots” where they sit every day.  These spots are won by the strongest and the fittest.  There is a man with a german shepherd who sits in front of the Monoprix every day unless it is pouring rain.  I rationalized my lack of compassion by saying that I saw an SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe) pull out an expensive iPhone.  I didn’t stop to ask myself if I, even with my iPhone, would ever sit on the sidewalk all day, summer and winter, hoping that some kind soul would put money in my paper cup.

 

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There is a moment in the film when Dave Johns, who plays Daniel Blake, says “all I want is my self-respect”

Ken Loach, the director, is 80 years old.  I, Daniel Blake won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this past summer.  It was his second Palme d’Or.  It is a film that will touch your soul.  Daniel Blake is a 59 year old carpenter who cannot work as he is healing from a heart attack.  He is fighting to keep his benefits.  He is treated like a dog by state agencies and the  people who work for them.  He is uneducated and never had the need to learn to use a computer.  He is told over and over that he can find the information he needs on the Internet.  He befriends a young woman (Haley Squires) whom he tries to help in one of these state agencies.  The friendship of two souls trying to work within the system, starving and slowly being humiliated is touching and real.  Everyone in the movie could be someone we know.  There is no flash, no extremes.

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This is political filming at its best.  I challenge you to leave the theatre with dry eyes and unaffected.

Go see I, Daniel Blake

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/25/i-daniel-blake-ken-loach-uk-box-office-trolls-top-spot2318.jpg