Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Un conte de Noël

Recently, the dysfunctional family movie seems to be making a comeback: first there was The Squid and the Whale, and then Rachel Getting Married. And, of course, the holidays have never been safe, given that at Christmastime we're all jammed together in the same house, forced to visit relatives we may or may not care for . . . and, predictably, grudges and bad attitudes rear their ugly heads along to the tune of "Jingle Bells."

But Arnaud Desplechin's movie is anything but predictable. A family torn apart by death and dysfunction reunites during the holidays when its matriarch, played by the ever gorgeous Catherine Deneuve, announces she has bone cancer. (Seriously: did this woman sell her soul to the devil? I don't understand how beautiful she is). Her illness is linked to the same disease that killed her son, Joseph, when he was only six, an event that fractured this family forever.

While the film is too long by about twenty minutes (this seems to be symptomatic of this genre), it is successful in illuminating the thin thread that bonds one to our relations, and how, in times of struggle or grief, a retreat into isolation can sometimes backfire. Elizabeth, the eldest child of Junon (Deneuve) and her husband Abel (the joyful Jean-Paul Roussillon), pays off her brother's debts in exchange for his absence. She calmly asks her father and the court to accept the money on the condition that she never have to see her younger brother again. Her reasoning is both mysterious and perplexing, but Anne Consigny plays the part with such grace and depth of sorrow that one is almost afraid (like the rest of her family) to question her motivation.

So, at Christmas, it has been six years since Elizabeth has seen Henri, her brother. In a delightful display of debauchery and intense accusations, Matthieu Almaric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum of Solace) once again steals the show in his self-destructive, ridiculous Henri. What follows is almost exotic in its European-ness: inside the house, avec les enfants, there is chain-smoking, fist-fights, sex, and a massive consumption of red-wine. While Americans may indulge in drinking and barbed language, the almost laid-back indulgence of this family seems to be old-hat. At one point, when Henri collapses after calling both his mother and sister "cunts," Junon simply replies, "Good, Henri was wearing me out, anyway," and cackles like a witch as he is carried up to bed.

The plot, waffles. There are occasional flourishes of unnecessary magic which feel out of place, albeit enjoyable. The power of this film is in the strength of the development and complexity of literally every single one of these characters. And there are several. While their independent stories sometime detract from the main point of the film (Junon's illness, reconciliation), each is entirely believable and fascinating in itself. For instance, Sylvie's story (Ivan, the youngest son's wife) may be the most tragic. Superbly acted by Catherine Deneuve's real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, one can't resent the slight rerouting of the plot.

In many ways, this narrative-snafus reflects the beauty of the family unit. Each part is intimidating and intense in its isolation, its individual experience, and sadly, oftentimes these cracks cannot be mended. But it is that sentimental sense of the holidays, and of events we cannot control, that force us to come together, even in resentment, where the slight touch of a hand, or the memory of a first-dance, can bring us all to appreciate the whole: whether it is ideal, or not.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Waves

Last night was the feather in my weekend's cap, largely due to The National Theater's production of Virginia Woolf's The Waves now showing at the Duke Theater on 42nd street.

Ben Brantley has given it a fantastic review over at the NYT, if you're interested in what a real critic has to say.

While Virginia Woolf is, undoubtedly, my favorite writer (both of fiction and nonfiction), her work is notably difficult to stage. Most adaptations consist of a talented English actress simply reading from the text, as if it were a monologue. Kate Williams, the director here, has blown that tradition out of the water.

I was skeptical about the idea of live video imaging to go along with her prose. However, as the play went on, what the actors (who function also as video and sound technicians on the stage) were capable of creating put to rest any doubts I had as to whether this sort of “media adaptation” would work for Woolf’s prose. Her language, illuminated by the silky English accents of these players, literally came to life on the stage. If you’ve read Woolf, you know about her concept of “moments of being”—small, seemingly simple events or sensations that, in a moment, are capable of revealing something important to us about our lives. The video helped to bring these moments to the forefront, by zooming in on the actor’s face, or hands—these detailed emotions, usually unreadable from several rows back, were projected at the intensity of film. Not to be outdone by cinema, however, the actions and activities of the actors still on the stage made it more than a simple exercise in filmmaking. All sounds were reinforced by separate players, using props (styrofoam plates, brushes, the pouring of water, the crunching of leaves underfoot) as if these minute sensory signals had been illuminated, magnified—as they often are when one thinks back on a moment so chillingly beautiful that it sticks in one’s mind forever.

The production is an absolute joy, both to the Woolf reader, and to those yet unfamiliar with her work. I’m excited and hopeful that Kate Williams’ future National Theater productions will make their way across the pond.

If you live in New York, run to the theater. It closes Saturday.

If you don't live in New York, read The Waves. It will change you forever.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You

Yesterday was rough. I have to try to believe that even if people are out to hurt me, only I can control how much they succeed. Not everything is intentional; not everything is about me.

Life's too short. How can I learn to appreciate the good stuff?

Jen says this so much better over on her blog.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Kneecapp'd Recap

On Mondays I generally feel like I've been hit by a mack truck and lack sufficient brain power to write a coherent post. That said, it makes me sad to see the blog go un-updated, so I've decided to introduce a set of links into the fold every Monday, under the heading: Monday Kneecapp'd Recap. I hope you all enjoy, and as always: thanks for reading!

  • FSG celebrated the publication of Robert Bolaño's massive posthumous novel, 2666, at Plan B in Alphabet City. Read Jonathan Lethem's insane review. As I was leaving the party due to suffocation, a girl stopped me on the street and said "Do you know what band is playing here?"
  • My favorite guy and I went to see the Elizabeth Peyton exhibit at the New Museum. I've been a fan of hers since the teenaged years. I'm obsessed with celebrity: Peyton paints her friends, but also celebs and historical figures, working off of famous photographs. An interesting take on portraiture.
  • We published the collected letters of Ted Hughes. You know how I feel about the guy, but even I have to admit this letter from Ted to Sylvia Plath after their first hook-up is pretty hot: "Sylvia, That night was nothing but getting to know how smooth your body is. The memory of it goes through me like brandy." 3/1956.
  • Daniel Craig is by far the beefiest Bond. Looking forward to checking out his Quantum of Solace this coming weekend. Oh. Oh, oh.
  • I just bought tickets to this production of The Waves, adapted from Virginia Woolf's novel, direct from the National Theater in London.
  • And finally, this behind the scenes flickr set as Obama and his family learned he was to be the 44th President of the United States, inspires me to practice serenity and stoicism.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Thank you, America.

"This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America."

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Great Slap in the Face

A few months ago, I was in a well of crisis about my career and what my next move should be. I've had a few freelance articles published here and there, and while I really enjoy writing I had never given much serious thought to doing it full-time. Then I heard that Jezebel was looking for a new writer to handle their fashion coverage. What a perfect way to get my foot in the door of online media, to get more experience and to write about a topic that I wanted to learn more about.

I immediately sent out a cover letter and was surprised when I received a response about a week later from Anna Holmes, the managing editor, telling me she was interested in my ideas and wanted to hear more.

So again, I responded, this time with a longer e-mail, complete with bulleted points about how I would expand Jezebel's fashion coverage and how my ideas would gel with the intent of the site.

Then Anna asked me to come and interview for the job.

At this point, about a month had lapsed since I had sent in my cover letter.

So interview I did, and I thought it went pretty well. Anna even asked me to test-blog, which I did, in a seven hour marathon of blogging, and promptly sent her the link.

I didn't hear from her for another three weeks.

Finally, after a few back and forth e-mails, an intern at Gawker e-mailed me asking if I would be available to come in and meet with Noah Robischon and Anna to discuss the job. Elated, I agreed. I met with Noah and Anna about a week later. Anna sat across the table from me, looking pretty worried. Noah asked me questions about how I could make fashion coverage interesting to Jezebel readers, and followed up with other questions that basically revealed he hadn't really spent much time reading my test blog. I left fairly confused but still feeling confident that I could do the job.

Two weeks passed.

Three weeks passed.

I heard nothing. I sent Anna an e-mail, asking what was up. No response.

Then Jezebel posted this, which appeared to indicate that Anna and, most likely, her superiors had chosen to simply promote three contributors to full time staffers rather than hire anyone new. Essentially, that post was how I found out I didn't get the job.

Since then, I have not received an explanation as to what happened, or even an e-mail simply telling me that I didn't get the job. I've had no word whatsoever, and my e-mails have gone unanswered.

Doubtless their decision had to do with the fact that due to the economic recession Gawker had fired about twenty people and wasn't looking to take anyone else on . . . and in the next weeks, Radar would fold, and large numbers of Condé Nast employees would also be let go.

I'm a smart girl and I can take a hint.

That said, it still would have been nice, or rather, maybe the word I'm thinking here is "professional" to have had a response from Jezebel, given that I spent close to three months waiting for them to make a decision.

It's disappointing, because I love Jezebel and I think they're a great blog. I had always considered myself to be one of their biggest fans. But thinking about this entire process which ultimately resulted in absolutely nothing puts a bad taste in my mouth. For a website that promotes women and supposedly encourages women to pursue whatever floats their boat, they surely made me feel like shit under their feet. I suppose I wouldn't want to work for a company that has such disregard for their potential employees, and I can't imagine how their actual staffers are treated.

I had always been a fervent defender of Gawker media. Now I keep my mouth closed when people put the company down and mark off the days to its inevitable extinction.


As for me, I still have a job in book publishing. We're not doing so well, either. People don't exactly have $30 to spend on a hardcover book when they can't pay their rent and the electricity's been turned off. I know, because I've been there. (In fact, I'm still there!) But at least I'm employed, and well on my way to understanding what it means to work for publisher that still has some semblance of respect for its writers and readers, even if that means we don't usually make the big bucks. Let's put it this way. Things can either get better, or they can get worse.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of this bullshit, and I'm ready for a change.