12 Years a Slave

I’m late to this party, having gotten out of the habit of watching films in the theater, but I finally watched “12 Years a Slave” last night with my parents. It’s been a long while since a movie affected me like this, and left me so gob smacked. The entire time I could hear my mother sniffling next to me in the mostly empty theater, I could feel my heart pounding, alternating feelings of stomach churning tension and burning rage.

The film itself was technically amazing, the words, the silence, the direction; all of them served the story to an astonishing degree. I was immersed in the American South in the 19th century. The heat, the humidity, the closeness, the insects – I felt it all, and served to amplify the shameful, dehumanizing ordeal of slavery.  The physical aspect of it was the most obvious, but the slow erosion of Solomon Northup’s spirit is, in a sense, the worst aspect of it. The lowering of a proud, free man to a toadying, fearful husk was precipitous, and terrifying. All the bravado in the world can’t blind you to the fact that anyone can be broken. All it takes it time.

The reflection of the past in the present is depressing. The barely suppressed rage, the sadness, the shame. I have no idea why this country is alight from sea to shining sea.  I can’t fathom how anyone could deny what this was, or how terrible it was. I can’t write anymore about this.

24 Hours of Happy

I am at least 4 months behind, but after last weekend’s Oscars (and what seems like a lot of hearing it in the background), I became sort of obsessed with Pharrell’s “Happy”. It’s peppy and upbeat in a way that I typically don’t like at all, but something about it really crawled into my mind and sank its claws deep in my brain. So I went in search of it on the web and came across the 24 hour video for the song, at http://24hoursofhappy.com/.

To be honest, it was sort of a revelation. The idea, in a nutshell, is to play the song repeatedly and allow people to just show up and dance to it, and then leave at the end of the song. At the top of each hour, Pharrell sings the song and makes whatever moves he wants, followed by just random civilians dancing on the streets of Los Angeles. I assume it’s LA because where else would someone be dancing while a steadycam backed up in front of them while bystanders politely stepped out of the way, or walked around?

The people that showed up must have signed up somewhere and gotten the word to show up at midnight or 1a or 3am or 3p or whenever, and made up an amazing cross section of humanity. Good dancers, bad dancers, children, old dandies – you saw people you felt you could have seen on your block, in your school, or on your commute. The fact that they were just regular folks, as opposed to professional dancers or models, singing and dancing joyously was like a thick, red underline for the song and what it represents. There were a few celebrities in there; Magic Johnson, for instance, grooving a little awkwardly through his mansion; the kids from Odd Future. But for the most part it was regular folks.

After watching the first two or three hours (I told you I was obsessing), I started to notice things. For instance, there are some amazing dancers out there. These are people who are either trained or just gifted with  moves from on high. These people almost never mouth the words to the song. That is left to either the terrible dancers, or the folks who don’t dance at all, but just walk towards the camera with shy smiles on their faces.  Lip syncing is also the purview of people who think they’re great dancers, but are average at best or horrendous at worst. There are small children (some of whom were out waaaaaay past their bedtimes), who just shook and stomped with the primal energy that only a kid can have, and were followed by indulgent moms, clapping and saying “go ahead, baby!”.  There were the ladies, who mostly dressed to impress (though not always tastefully), and had a tendency to “sexy dance”. This involves a lot of tossing of the hair and touching ones own face, along with some gyration. There were people dancing on their own, or with their pets, or with their friends/lovers. And all of them seemed just so happy to be in it! They were all beauitful because all of them were dancing or moving with joy. 

Which is an amazing thing to see in a music video, when you think about it. Real happiness. Real joy. Real beauty that seems to spring from within. I don’t know if Pharrell (and his team of minions) meant for this to happen, but they achieved something that you don’t get to see very often and certainly not in such large amounts. It’s sort of art, it’s very happy.

The Library

I read this over at Medium and thought it’d be interesting to folks. It’s a short memoir in libraries and library books. I have only recently been back in a public library after a hiatus of some 25 years. Well it’s not really a public library, it was  a the library at UC Berkeley. As you can imagine, it’s fairly bland, full of college age people, and it’s nothing like the libraries of my youth.

I am referring – as I’m sure you know – about the 67th St Branch of the New York Public Library. It was the closest branch to my elementary school, and we were taken there on a field trip. I fell in love with the place, with all the books (for free!), with the globes and the especially with the table. It was no ordinary table, mind you. It was glass topped and filled with something like the pink slime from Ghostbusters II. You could spin the table top and it would spin the viscous, heavy fluid inside. Mesmerizing…

I miss it, the smell, the quiet in the middle of the day, the warmth. I wonder what it looks like now.