Category Film

On “Rocketman” and Artists, and Rocking One’s World

Prodigies rarely have it easy. No matter how much fame or wealth they may manage to accumulate on the basis of their outsized talent, they often wind up leading desperate lives, besieged by an inner desert of radical isolation from everything—loved ones included—that would offer them comfort and a reason to go on.

Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Phil Ochs, David Foster Wallace: barely the tip of a vast iceberg of genius talents who struggled mightily before cutting short their own lives when their inner demons overpowered the seemingly all powerful will-to-live that animates all life forms.

Despite multiple dark circumstances that had him pushing toward and then hovering on the edge of such self-destruction over many years, British rock star Elton John has managed to escape a place on that list, at least as of today, well into his 72nd year...

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The Holy Ground of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“I saw people throwing pies in each others’ faces, and I thought: ‘This could be a wonderful tool. Why is it being used this way?’” So says a lanky, exceedingly soft-spoken Presbyterian minister with the classic middle America name of Fred Rogers, a man who turned children’s television in the latter part of the 20th century into a kind of ode to basic human decency rather than the casually cruel and empty-headed drivel it often was and still too often remains.

By the end of his 31-year tenure ministering to children’s souls via a daily half-hour public television show, Rogers had earned such a revered place in American culture that a documentary about his life’s work, entitled, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is currently packing theaters around the country with adults who, if the viewing I took in yesterday and again this morning is any indication, mostly sob their way through the film’s 9...

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Light and Dark in the Arts: What’s Your Pleasure?

A small group of us was discussing possible movie choices for the upcoming weekend a few nights ago when one person floated the possibility of “Chesil Beach,” the adaptation of a dark Ian McEwan novel about a rapidly failing, misbegotten marriage, almost shocking in its misery. Someone else, a psychotherapist who spends his days listening to those and many other such woeful tales, brightly asked, “Why would you want to subject yourself to that?”

Now, the therapist can most certainly be excused for abstaining from the prospect of extending the rigors of his day job into his leisure hours. (And paying to do so, no less.) But his question reflected a kind of fundamental “There are two kinds of people in the world…” issue that has always been of great interest to producers of art and entertainment.

Dark or light? Sweet or sour?  Frothy or strained?

Serious and sober or witty and weightless?

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Philippe Petit’s Art of the High Wire, and the Artworks It Inspired

At root, we go to art, whatever its form, to be changed. To alter our perception, to see something new or something we have seen before in a new way, to contemplate the mysterious, the beautiful, the joyous, the awful, the searing.

The best art upends our world, shatters our assumptions, pierces our ignorance and venality. It inspires question upon question, wonder upon wonderment, and as it does so, it assaults us physically—roiling our stomachs, fluttering our hearts, goosebumping our necks, disturbing our sleep.

All art aspires to these things if it is to be worthy of its name.

In this post, I want to discuss three related works of art that in my estimation accomplish all—or at least a good deal—of the above.

1. Tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s unparalleled 138-foot traverse between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City in 1974.
2...

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What Is “The Shape of Water?”

What is the shape of water, anyway? Liquid, right? No, wait, “liquid” isn’t a shape, it’s a quality, like “flighty” or “rambunctious” or “wildly imaginative,” isn’t it?

Or is liquid a sound, like that of rushing waters or the slurping of jello or the gurgly slip-slap of lovers deep in the rhythms of coitus mellifluous?

The beautiful sound and sight and feel of liquid’s most essential and satisfying form is everywhere in Guillermo del Toro’s current, compulsively watchable movie, “The Shape of Water.” del Toro both wrote and directed it in the kind of creative project control that gets all artists giddy with anticipation and all critics sharpening their knives to pierce the artist’s overreach.

What emerges from his fertile imagination sometimes feels as liquid and ungraspable as the water that seems to slosh everywhere but onto the theater seat one is sitting in, while it he...

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