Tiny Movies / The Art of a Music Video

I remember
We were walking up to strawberry swing
I can’t wait ’til the morning
Wouldn’t wanna change a thing

People moving all the time
Inside a perfectly straight line
Don’t you wanna curve away
It’s such
It’s such a perfect day

It’s such a perfect day

Now the sky could be blue
I don’t mind
Without you it’s a waste of time…

 


 

I forgot how much I enjoy watching good music videos. The kind that’s almost an art unto itself.

It’s not easy to make a good one (I reckon). You’re trying to tell a complicated story in a little more than 3 minutes and most of the time, people don’t have very much to say. But on the rare occasion where one does get it right, even a mediocre song can be elevated to something great. The music videos become tiny movies where the song evolves into the soundtrack of a little piece of film. Two elements sharing a dance on an empty stage.

Anyway, here’s a list of some of my favourites. I’m afraid they’re quite predictable. Most of them have some form of dancing, stop-motion, single shot takes, brilliant colours or just silly, romantic things…

 

Falling Water – Maggie Rogers

They say all Maggie Rogers videos are sort of the same (take a look at the Alaska or On + Off music videos) and while I agree, I just love the way she dances in this one. Half-possessed, half in total control. Hypnotising.

 

Carried Away – Passion Pit

Relatable. Also, Michael Angelakos and Sophia Bush make a cute couple.

 

Someone That Loves You – Honne

Love the direction and cinematography of this video and how it portrays night-time Tokyo, a city of pink and yellow neon, breathing new life into the tired storyline of a one-night encounter with a beautiful stranger. And the scene of the sakura billowing around the male lead at the end is just breathtaking.

 

Lost Things – A Fine Frenzy

Did I mention how much I love stop-motion?

 

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here – She & Him

Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt may be the biggest friendzone of the 21st century, but they do a mean 60s-inspired look and dance together.

 

Friends – Francis & The Lights feat. Bon Iver

Before I started listening to Francis & The Lights, a friend of mine told me that he had caught their live show and had never seen a more enigmatic and compelling artist in his life. He couldn’t be more right. I also never thought I’d live to see the day where Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) agrees to be in a synchronised dance with another grown man while singing a song about friendship. The bromance is strong in this one.

 

It Hurts! – Bad Bad Hats

Two and a half minutes of juvenility. A necessary thing.

 

Chateau – Angus & Julia Stone

Ever since watching Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere some years back, the Chateau Marmont has become an old and untouchable relic in my mind, shrouded in mystery and other dark things. While the cinematography and chemistry between the leads are lovely, I think I just dig this song a whole lot.

 

Dark Blue – Jack’s Mannequin

… And here’s a classic to round things off in style.

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Everything Goes

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Why Don’t You Dance?
Raymond Carver, 1938 – 1988

In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard. The mattress was stripped and the candy-striped sheets lay beside two pillows on the chiffonier. Except for that, things looked much the way they had in the bedroom— nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed, nightstand and reading lamp on her side.

His side, her side.

He considered this as he sipped the whiskey.

The chiffonier stood a few feet from the foot of the bed. He had emptied the drawers into cartons that morning, and the cartons were in the living room. A portable heater was next to the chiffonier. A rattan chair with a decorator pillow stood at the foot of the bed.

The buffed aluminium kitchen set took up a part of the driveway. A yellow muslin cloth, much too large, a gift, covered the table and hung down over the sides. A potted fern was on the table, and a few feet away from this stood a sofa and chair and a floor lamp. The desk was pushed against the garage door. A few utensils were on the desk, along with a wall clock and two framed prints. There was also in the driveway a carton with cups, glasses, and plates, each object wrapped in newspaper. That morning he had cleared out the closets, and except for the three cartons in the living room, all the stuff was out of the home. He had run an extension cord on out there and everything was connected. Things worked, no different from how it was when they were inside.

Now and then a car slowed and people stared. But no one stopped. It occurred to him that he wouldn’t, either.

“It must be a yard sale,” the girl said to the boy.

This girl and this boy were furnishing a little apartment.

“Let’s see what they want for the bed,” the girl said.

“And for the TV,” the boy said.

The boy pulled into the driveway and stopped in front of the kitchen table.

They got out of the car and began to examine things, the girl touching the muslin cloth, the boy plugging in the blender and turning the dial to MINCE, the girl picking up a chafing dish, the boy turning on the television set and making little adjustments.

He sat down on the sofa to watch. He lit a cigarette, looked around, flipped the match into the grass.

The girl sat on the bed. She pushed off her shoes and lay back. She thought she could see a star.

“Come here, Jack. Try this bed. Bring one of those pillows,” she said.

“How is it?” he said.

“Try it,” she said.

He looked around. The house was dark.

“I feel funny,” he said. “Better see if anybody’s home.”

She bounced on the bed.

“Try it first,” she said.

He lay down on the bed and put the pillow under his head.

“How does it feel?” she said.

“It feels firm,” he said.

She turned on her side and put her hand to his face.

“Kiss me,” she said.

“Let’s get up,” he said.

“Kiss me,” she said.

She closed her eyes. She held him.

He said, “I’ll see if anybody’s home.”

But he just sat up and stayed where he was, making believe he was watching the television.

Lights came on in the houses up and down the street.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if,” the girl said and grinned and didn’t finish.

The boy laughed, but for no good reason. For no good reason, he switched the reading lamp on.

The girl brushed away a mosquito, whereupon the boy stood up and tucked in his shirt.

“I’ll see if anybody’s home,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s home. But if anybody is, I’ll see what things are going for.”

“Whatever they ask, offer ten dollars less. It’s always a good idea,” she said.

“And, besides, they must be desperate or something.”

“It’s a pretty good TV,” the boy said.

“Ask them how much,” the girl said.

 

The man came down the sidewalk with a sack from the market. He had sandwiches, beer, whiskey. He saw the car in the driveway and the girl on the bed. He saw the television set going and the boy on the porch.

“Hello,” the man said to the girl. “You found the bed. That’s good.”

“Hello,” the girl said, and got up. “I was just trying it out.” She patted the bed.

“It’s a pretty good bed.”

“It’s a good bed,” the man said, and put down the sack and took out the beer and the whiskey.

“We thought nobody was here,” the boy said. “We’re interested in the bed and maybe in the TV. Also maybe the desk. How much do you want for the bed?”

“I was thinking fifty dollars for the bed,” the man said.

“Would you take forty?” the girl asked.

“I’ll take forty,” the man said.

He took a glass out of the carton. He took the newspaper off the glass. He broke the seal on the whiskey.

“How about the TV?” the boy said.

“Twenty-five.”

“Would you take fifteen?” the girl said.

“Fifteen’s okay. I could take fifteen,” the man said.

The girl looked at the boy.

“You kids, you’ll want a drink,” the man said. “Glasses in that box. I’m going to sit down. I’m going to sit down on the sofa.”

The man sat on the sofa, leaned back, and stared at the boy and the girl.

 

The boy found two glasses and poured whiskey.

“That’s enough,” the girl said. “I think I want water in mine.”

She pulled out a chair and sat at the kitchen table.

“There’s water in that spigot over there,” the man said. “Turn on that spigot.”

The boy came back with the watered whiskey. He cleared his throat and sat down at the kitchen table. He grinned. But he didn’t drink anything from his glass.

The man gazed at the television. He finished his drink and started another. He reached to turn on the floor lamp. It was then that his cigarette dropped from his fingers and fell between the cushions.

The girl got up to help him find it.

“So what do you want?” the boy said to the girl.

The boy took out the checkbook and held it to his lips as if thinking.

“I want the desk,” the girl said. “How much money is the desk?”

The man waved his hand at this preposterous question.

“Name a figure,” he said.

He looked at them as they sat at the table. In the lamplight, there was something about their faces. It was nice or it was nasty. There was no telling.

“I’m going to turn off this TV and put on a record,” the man said. “This record player is going, too. Cheap. Make me an offer.”

He poured more whiskey and opened a beer.

“Everything goes,” said the man.

The girl held out her glass and the man poured.

“Thank you,” she said. “You’re very nice,” she said.

“It goes to your head,” the boy said. “I’m getting it in the head.” He held up his glass and jiggled it.

The man finished his drink and poured another, and then he found the box with the records.

“Pick something,” the man said to the girl, and he held the records out to her.

The boy was writing the check.

“Here,” the girl said, picking something, picking anything, for she did not know the names on these labels. She got up from the table and sat down again. She did not want to sit still.

“I’m making it out to cash,” the boy said.

“Sure,” the man said.

They drank. They listened to the record. And then the man put on another.

Why don’t you kids dance? he decided to say, and then he said it. “Why don’t you
dance?”

“I don’t think so,” the boy said.

“Go ahead,” the man said. “It’s my yard. You can dance if you want to.”

Arms about each other, their bodies pressed together, the boy and the girl moved up and down the driveway. They were dancing. And when the record was over, they did it again, and when that one ended, the boy said. “I’m drunk.”

The girl said, “You’re not drunk.”

“Well, I’m drunk,” the boy said.

The man turned the record over and the boy said, “I am.”

“Dance with me,” the girl said to the boy and then to the man, and when the man
stood up, she came to him with her arms wide open.

 

“Those people over there, they’re watching,” she said.

“It’s okay,” the man said. “It’s my place,” he said.

“Let them watch,” the girl said.

“That’s right,” the man said. “They thought they’d seen everything over here. But they haven’t seen this, have they?”

He felt her breath on his neck.

“I hope you like your bed,” he said.

The girl closed and then opened her eyes. She pushed her face into the man’s shoulder. She pulled the man closer.

“You must be desperate or something,” she said.

 

Weeks later, she said: “The guy was about middle-aged. All his things right there in his yard. No lie. We got real pissed and danced. In the driveway. Oh, my God. Don’t laugh. He played us these records. Look at this record-player. The old guy give it to us. And all these crappy records. Will you look at this shit?”

She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying.


 

It’s the 1980s. Therein lies slivers of the distressed, suburban, American life. Unpleasant middle-aged men, twice-divorced, drinking themselves to death and completely abandoned to the drudgery of the working class existence. Linoleum kitchen floors, the air thick with the smell of Crisco & cigarettes & cheap whisky. Wives & mistresses, equally dissatisfied. Dirty motels and pools filled with green muck. Loneliness, loneliness, always loneliness.

Collections like these sadden & confuse & intrigue me all at the same time. Carver’s short stories remind me of Bukowski or Saunders because all of them induce the same feeling. I can’t quite put a finger on what that is, but I know it feels familiar – do you know what I mean? That hollow, empty sound that echoes throughout your body. It’s an education & sometimes, a reflection.

Anyway, Carver’s masterful short stories have kicked off this year’s reading list well. Here’s the rest of it:

  1. Fresh Complaint – Jeffrey Eugenides
  2. About Love & Other Stories – Anton Chekhov
  3. In Praise of Shadows – Junichiro Tanizaki
  4. Koel – Jen Crawford
  5. 32 Yolks – Eric Ripert
  6. The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything – James Martin
  7. The Unaccompanied – Simon Armitage
  8. Blood, Bones & Butter – Gabrielle Hamilton
  9. Love that Moves the Sun & Other Stars – Dante Alighieri
  10. The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
  11. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
  12. Pastoralia – George Saunders

I used to read 50 – 60 books a year but this number has dwindled drastically in the last few years. Adulting is tough, guys! So I’m setting the bar a little lower in terms of numbers but reading a little wider in terms of genre – Russian classics, chef biographies, religion & philosophy books, & a lot more American lit. I can’t wait.

Hope all of you are still finding time to read, no matter how busy you are.

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I’m going home.

I’m going away to leave you
I’m going to leave you in disgrace
Nothing in my favour
Got the wind in my face

I’m going home
hey, hey, hey, over the hill
Over the hill
hey, hey, hey, over the hill

(Over the Hill – John Martyn)


Covers are a tricky thing. On one hand, you adore the song. This is an absolute fact and necessary prerequisite because it obviously meant enough for you to choose it to cover, & the last thing you’d want to do is to butcher the song that holds so many tender memories for you. On the other hand, to do it the exact same way with the same instruments & arrangements & harmonies would be to remain at a creative standstill, to be trite & spiritless.

So therein lies the question – how does one pay proper homage to the artist & the work of art & at the same time take it a step further?

Well, I’ve got no clue. I just know that it happens occasionally when the right people are all in the right place at the right time. Michael Kiwanuka, Ben Howard & band, The Staves & Ben Lovett (Mumford & Sons) covering John Martyn’s 1973 hit Over The Hill on the Austin to Boston tour is a perfect example of that rare moment – slowed-down, wistful, evocative & yet distinctive from the original. It sounds like a kind of yearning, doesn’t it? Like a natural beckoning. I’m going home… hey hey hey, over the hill.

Here’s another fantastic cover of one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands ever.

Half of the time we’re gone
but we don’t know where
& we don’t know where
Here I am
The only living boy in New York…

The Man Who Ate Everything

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“Today’s mania for take-out food & the disappearance of home cooking have two related causes – smaller households & working women. (No man ever gave up cooking because he went back to work.) Are these trends likely to continue? With the aid of a see-through plastic ruler, I have projected the past twenty-five years of U.S. Census Bureau figures into the future, & the results are chilling.

Item: by the year 2050 the average family size will have decreased to about one person. everyone in America will be living alone.

Item: All women older than eighteen will be working outside the home.

Item: All women will be older than eighteen.

The inevitable conclusion is that by the year 2050, everyone will order take-out food at every meal.

Eating will become extremely expensive. You will need an annual income of at least $392, 114 in current dollars to get by. Grazing my way from one end of Manhattan to the other, I found that a modestly upscale take-out breakfast, lunch & dinner cost $40 plus $7 for taxi or $54, 896 a year for an average family of 3.2 persons. Department of Agriculture figures show that the average American family spends 14 percent of its income on food. Therefore, it must earn $392, 114 a year.

Finding good take-out food is not easy. Searching it out will become your full-time occupation in the year 2050, more than cooking ever was. Americans will once again become a lonely race of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers prowling the darkened city streets, wallets honed & sharpened, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting pint of pasta primavera & snare the slow-footed slice of pâté de campagne. We will scarcely have time to eat.”

How We Live Today
April 1988
an excerpt from “The Man Who Ate Everything” by Jeffrey Steingarten


A month ago, I found out that my favourite food magazine subscription Lucky Peach was halting publication because of “creative differences” between David Chang (chef & owner of Momofuku) & veteran food writer Peter Meehan. That magazine was a staple part of my diet (ha…) & I was devastated for about two days until I was recommended this book. It’s a relief to get my necessary dose of satirical food writing! Read this collection of essays by Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten if you’re in need of a good laugh.

On the Road – Austin to Boston

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“As itinerant musicians, we find ourselves here quite often, saying farewell again & again… After all the road is just one long goodbye.


I’ve been listening to The Staves a lot lately (something about their music resonates in this season) & a music producer friend of mine recommended that I watch this documentary chronicling their 2012 American tour with Ben Howard, Nathaniel Rateliff & Bear’s Den because it “outlined the reality & the romanticism of music-making & touring”. So I did, & it was just that: filled with powerful moments, featuring in equal measure the rapturous music & the people who made it, all twenty-five of them.

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The story is simple: In 2006, Ben Lovett (Mumford & Sons) & Kevin Jones (Bear’s Den), frustrated by the lack of live gig exposure for talented singer-songwriters founded the concert promoter, music label, & recording house Communion, & began planning these fantastic single shows & tours all across the US & the UK, bringing lesser-known artistes & their music to all sorts of venues – concert halls, chapels, bars, rooftops, friends’ backyards, & so on. Austin to Boston charts the 2-week, 10-show, 4000-mile journey a bunch of bands take across America in 5 Volkswagen vans, one journey bleeding into another.

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“When I think of Ben Lovett, I think of time travel. Old factory dreamer.”

(Gill Landry, tour driver)

“You know, this is a hard tour. People are exhausted. Everyone’s just pulling together & there’s no hierarchy & everyone’s just here because you feel part of something & that’s kind of embodied by the vans, you know, that’s like symbolised by the vans. We’re not in some big corporate tour bus or whatever. We’re in these little shitty little vans. Communion is like a camper van. It doesn’t work very well, it’s disorganised, it breaks down all the time but it still feels really nice when you’re in it. You know what I mean?”

(Kevin Jones, Bear’s Den & Co-founder of Communion)

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I think that touring in buses or vans is something of a time past in this age of plane travel, but I get what they mean, even with my little experience in this field. Music is always a magical thing, but music shared with strangers (who become new friends, & then family) across time & space becomes a transcendental experience. You know what I mean, don’t you, the swell? The perfect moment. I am always chasing it, & always finding it in unexpected places.

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“I like moving. I think it’s nice to always have a base & go back to it. Always in transit & kind of popping through places. Sometimes it’s really cool & sometimes it’s frustrating, but most of the time it’s a blessing. You get to see places like this… I’ll probably never come here again. You get those little moments where you’re like, ‘memory photo’, & then you move on. I don’t know what it is… I think anyone on this trip will tell you it kind of gets in your blood.”

(Ben Howard)

In this documentary though, it is not hard to find the perfect moment because the music is just so good… Ben Howard, the “indie snob’s John Mayer” & crazy, creative savant, ripping up the stage every night with his leftie-Fenders & wonderfully talented friends India Bourne & Chris Bond. & then there is the folk genius that is The Staves, who evoke mountains of tenderness with a single other-worldly, soaring harmony. With their songs, Emily, Jessica & Camilla render every room vibrating, every person speechless.

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“When I first heard The Staves, it was like being called by sirens from across a dark & silent sea. It’s hard not to be struck by their beauty when they walk on the stage… but when their harmonies set in, you’re done. You’re just done.”

(Gill Landry)

& there was the unexpected treat – the storytelling of Nathaniel Rateliff, so full of raw pain & truth, the only artiste I had not heard of before this documentary but whose music & stories struck me the most & made me cry. & of course not to leave out Bear’s Den, the youngest of the ragtag crew, with their deep, blossoming vocals & strings.

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Between Gill Landry’s (Old Crow Medicine Show, The Kitchen Syncopators) deep drawling narration & the distinctive direction & cinematography by James Marcus Haney (No Cameras Allowed) – an interweaving of gritty, b-roll footage, lens flares, high-contrast stage shots & intimate warm lighting – Austin to Boston captures the bittersweetness of old-fashioned touring perfectly, the grime & the splendour of being on the road, the friendships forged & the euphoric moment of a note sang well & sweet.

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“& the same way it came together, it parted. Since this tour has ended we’ve crossed paths many times & many places. Sometimes you can be quite far down a road you didn’t even know you were on. The draw of touring can be so strong that years can pass before you even stop to question why you’re even doing in the first place. Why make all those miles to perform to total strangers in far-off towns? Why leave all your loved ones behind to live out of suitcases & shit hotels & the back of vans? I suppose the answer I give myself is because it’s a damn good time. & so the road is one long goodbye & here we are, again… again… again.”

I am of blood & of bones & of heart & of head

  1. Vacation – Florist
  2. Is This Called Home – Lucy Rose
  3. Slacks – Valley
  4. The Moon Song – Karen O & Ezra Koenig
  5. Train Tracks – The Staves
  6. Something – Julien Baker
  7. Werewolf – Fiona Apple
  8. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens
  9. Cool & Refreshing – Florist
  10. The Fall of Home – Los Campesinos!
  11. Eagle Song – The Staves

The magic of folk music is derived primarily from the center stage that lyric takes in the performance of a song, a quality so rare in this day that it harkens back to a time past, back to the days of confessional poetry & its giants: Sylvia Plath & John Berryman & Anne Sexton.

If one were to analyse it, one would find that good folk lyrics perfectly balance the extremes of self-obsession & low self-esteem, landing on that stark line of idiosyncratic story-telling. To put it simply, good folk lyrics are honest & by that effect, allow others to express themselves in the same way. Music doesn’t always have to be about making a political statement. Instead, let’s talk – talk about childhood, faith, love, depression & death.

I don’t know how to be
What I wanted to be when I was 5
Sometimes blue eyes sometimes green

Bike rides
Snow hikes & Christmas lights
Sometimes freezing sometimes warm
I don’t know if I can love that anymore

Cause I got it all
I’ve got it all mistaken
for a meaningful life & a fun family vacation
like when I used to ride roller coasters with my dad
when a swimming pool in a hotel was a gift from God

like love or like a family
I don’t know how to be…

(Vacation – Florist)

You don’t know how to be, but neither do I. I’m figuring it out, so take your time.

Here’s one more.

Call me in the morning I’ll be alright
Call me in the morning I’ll be alright
Call me little honey & I’ll be fine

Call me in the morning I’ll be okay
Call me in the morning I’m far away
Call me little darling & I’ll be fine

“It Hurts to be Alive & Obsolete” – 20th Century Women

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When you were born I told you life was very big & unknown. There were animals & cities & music… you’d fall in love, have passions, have meaning, but now it’s 1979 & nothing means anything, & I know you less everyday.”


The Clash. Jimmy Carter. The pill & feminism. It’s 1979 in Santa Barbara, California & free-spirited, single mother Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) worries about the growing distance between herself & her 15-year-old son Jamie & the lack of a strong male role model in his life. She enlists the help of two women to help “raise” him: Abbie (Greta Gerwig), Dorothea’s tenant & a talented photographer who is well-versed in women’s liberation & the punk rock scene as well as Julie (Elle Fanning), an independent & promiscuous 17-year-old who is simultaneously Jamie’s best friend & love interest. A kind but hapless Billy Crudup features as William, a live-in handyman & car mechanic who does pottery in his spare time & can’t quite seem to get a grip on why he does the things he does. Together, this ragtag bunch make up a bohemian family who attempts to navigate life in a turbulent time in history or at the very least, get by.

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Dorothea: Men always feel like they have to fix things for women or they’re not doing anything but some things can’t be fixed. Just be there. Somehow that’s hard for all of you.

Jamie: Ma, I’m not all men. I’m just me.

Dorothea: Well, yes & no.

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Dorothea: I just think that having your heart broken is a tremendous way to learn about the world… & wondering if you’re happy is a great shortcut to just being depressed.

I won’t go into details – you can read a proper review here – but you must know that this film is a beautiful masterpiece & one of importance. I don’t think I’ve felt this way about a movie since Amelie or Phoebe in Wonderland, or anything from the Wes Anderson catalogue. It educates, yet reaches deep; it has profound historical significance, yet is relevant to any time & place & person. Through its curious mix of light & dark, its dramatic & comic tenors, this film has moved me inherently & perhaps not in the way one would expect.

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Dorothea: (listening to punk rock records) What is that?

Abbie: It’s The Raincoats.

Dorothea: Can’t things just be pretty?

Jamie: Pretty music is used to hide how unfair & corrupt society is.

Dorothea: Ah, okay so… they’re not very good, & they know that, right?

Abbie: Yeah, it’s like they’ve got this feeling & they don’t have any skill, & they don’t want skill, because it’s really interesting what happens when your passion is bigger than the tools you have to deal with it. It creates this energy that’s raw. Isn’t it great?

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Julie: (on having sex) Half of the time I regret it.

Jamie: Then why do you do it?

Julie: Because half of the time I don’t regret it. 

The cinematography & soundtrack & the poetic script are stunning, the dialogue is peppered with all the right kinds of pop-culture & literature references, but most importantly, the characters are well-crafted & intriguing. After you’ve watched enough films, you’ll find that what makes them compelling isn’t the love story or the happy ending, but the exploration of the people themselves. It’s not about what happens, but who it happens to, & why. 20th Century Women demonstrates this wonderfully, & is all at once a study of gender & generational differences, an accurate depiction of the fickleness & frustration of family, & a tender yet aching coming-of-age film. At one point or another, it hurts to be alive & obsolete…

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Julie: This is just my opinion. I think being strong is the most important quality. It’s not being vulnerable, it’s not being sensitive, it’s not even being… honestly, it’s not even being happy. It’s about strength, & your durability to get to the other emotions.

I’ll leave you with that.