Memorial Day weekend, 2013 has been a time of recovery – from a hectic-ish period at work, from a lot of poor eating and excessive drinking, and from an awful experience in Brooklyn last weekend that soured much of the subsequent week.
I know that Brooklyn is terribly fashionable these days, and I loved (to almost ecstatic levels) The Killers concert that I attended at the Barclays Centre last Saturday night. What I loved less was the risible service (ten people came and went directly to my left at one beer bar and received immediate service, while I was left parched) and the obduracy of taxi drivers who wanted to find some way not to travel from Atlantic Avenue to Williamsburg. While I cannot, in good faith, blame them, it is annoying when section 54-20 of the New York taxi code seems to be violated so flagrantly and regularly. It is also infuriating to take the G train at 11 p.m., to endure overhearing assorted conversations about girls named Jenna and their incredible singing abilities, and then find that the people who I was meant to see in Williamsburg – either Brooklyn natives or wannabe Brooklyn natives – have left. Like Californians, people from Brooklyn like to see themselves as being “chilled” and “relaxed”. Perhaps “chilled” and “relaxed” are defined as “passive aggressive”, “disorganised”, “deluded”, “ambitionless”, and “inconsiderate” in the latest edition of the yet-to-be-released-or-opened editions of the Webster’s dictionary for the Samsung S-3 Galaxy Note Hipster Phone. For now, I’d rather stay in apparently prehensile Manhattan where at least you know where you stand and can get on with things any day of the week – especially Saturday.
Rant over (and blog title finally honoured), this long weekend has made up for things in all sorts of ways. The New York Historical Society plays old films with speakers from the contemporary zeitgeist on Friday evenings, and I was able to attend after the longest time on the Friday that’s just passed. The offering this time was “Anchors Aweigh”, a Sinatra-Gene Kelly starrer that is a pro-navy pastiche of scenes with excuses for singing and dancing much more than a strict narrative, but quite lovely in dated fashion all the same. Saturday saw me at Botallack O’Clock, playing at the theatre on 59 East 59th Street and based on the latter period of artist Roger Hilton’s life. The play is at times moving, hilarious, surreal, and vaguely disturbing – perhaps, in that sense mimicking abstract art on the whole? (The Guardian review calls it an “intriguing if sometimes disconcerting combination”.) To my mind, at least, it serves as much as a study in madness as an explanation of Hilton’s life. The simple set and the small theatre are a nice contrast with some of the larger Broadway playhouses. At $28 a ticket and only 70 minutes of running time, the play is probably not the best play you’ll see this year, but may be worth watching on a spare evening.
The real reason that I’m returning to this spot after a hiatus of some months is Richard Linklater’s gorgeous Before Midnight. A friend and I watched it to round out the long weekend shortly before midnight, at Angelika, on Monday. As a fan of romantic comedies of most hues, I found the punchy dialogue and portrayal of the stuff-between-the-good-bits grippingly real. The film is beautifully shot in the Peloponnese, with extended scenes of the Aegean and sumptuous meals being prepared and devoured. A character named Patrick seems to be a nod to one of my heroes, Patrick Leigh Fermor. (A quick google search reveals that this was intentional, and the house is the same …) There is witty banter aplenty in the film’s first 45 minutes or so, with enough aphorisms to fill several bowls of olives – I couldn’t quite tweet them all from memory. (And I am terribly frightened by the fact that I seem to be tweeting more, even if at limited levels.)
The real action of the film, though, happens when the central couple moves away from the others. When there is external stimulus, they seem fine: a Byzantine chapel provides laughs and fellatio references; a long walk through the town triggers lovely memories and a shared sense of inevitability that they are where they ought to be. Biting, real, hurtful (but still hilarious) conversation only really takes place when they are left alone in a room – a phone call leads to a spiral of blame, and an expression of preferences becomes a series of accusations, as two apparently real characters deal with multiple families and the balancing act working women face and an international world. This is what seems most real – the fact that we can only talk this way with those who we love and can only express these doubts when we know that doing so won’t ruin everything. Perhaps not all conversations are as sparkling with wit and insight as the ones in this film, but perhaps they ought to be. Life would be terribly dull if only filled with niceties.
I couldn’t help but relate some of the characters’ experiences to ones that I’ve had recently. It probably takes 20 years to be able to build up the level of banter that Jessie and Celine have, but the film suggests that talking is important to sustaining a relationship. When the conversation dies, everything else is finished. It seems important, too, that romance should happen between the fancy dinners and gala events and moonlit nights amid silk sheets. The characters bond over the bad times as well as the good: the family issues, the bad moods, the times of self-doubt, and much else besides. And most importantly, there’s laughter. The film doesn’t say so explicitly, but its obvious message, even at the end, seems to be that where there is laughter, there can be love.
In that vein, since I last wrote here, a woman who I loved dearly and who often made me laugh has passed away. There have been many fine tributes to her, but the best that I’ve seen was on Saturday Night Live in the week following her demise. If you’ve not yet seen it, do. It’s here. Rest in peace, Baroness Thatcher. Among the many things in your life for which I give thanks, the fact that you almost certainly never visited Brooklyn is pretty high among them. The outcome of the Falklands War might have been quite different if you had.