R.E.M. - Strange Currencies
I don’t know why you’re mean to me
When I call on the telephone
And I don’t know what you mean to me
But I want to turn you on, turn you up, figure you out, I want to take you on
"Everything is going so well. You bet on the downfall of this country and you won."
Forget The Great Beauty, forget I Am Love: Paolo Virzì’s Human Capital is the most perceptive and imaginative parable of contemporary Italy’s skewed aspirations and obsession with the lives (and the money) of others.
While the story is interesting enough, the characters are well-sketched, and the acting is very good - particularly from my favourite Italian actor, Fabrizio Gifuni (The Best of Youth) in a dislikable role as the wealthy hedge fund owner and pater familias - Human Capital is very much a director’s film.
I must admit I am surprised: I have always liked Virzì’s quirky comedies but didn’t expect him to find this new depth and an impressive ambition in his work. His visual style has none of Sorrentino’s baroque flourish, nor Guadagnino’s austerity and coolness - it’s simpler, warmer, quite sentimental. There are at least four scenes I found completely preposterous - one in each chapter. And yet the whole film hangs together remarkably well. Virzì displays an understanding of human relations (particularly those of younger people) that is completely missing in many of his Italian peers’ work.
The script uses Stephen Amidon’s novel set in Connecticut and repurposes its critique of WASP bourgeoisie towards a more encompassing study of Italian social climbing. There are also echoes of Buñuel, AmoresPerros, Flaubert channeled via Franzen, even some nods to Wes Anderson. And of course the story could be well be another riff on the themes of money, class and car crashes composed by the greatest of them all, The Great Gatsby.
The result is a film that has at the same time a fiercely contemporary face and a timeless inner moral spine, an Italian story that can be relocated anywhere in the world where there are haves and have-nots. Some parable indeed.
Human Capital was announced this morning as Italy’s submission to the Oscar Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category. It is released in the UK on Friday 26 September - you can see it at Curzon Cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.
This is what I’m doing on Friday. It’s a crazy expensive ticket for a rep movie, but the price is right when it’s for the right cause: it’s hard to quantify just how much this film means to me. It was my first encounter with Shakespeare, Thoreau, Tennyson. My brother and I watched it a hundred times, my parents worried that Neil’s suicide would make an impression on our far too young minds. It certainly did. But not as much as that central dictum: “carpe diem. seize the day. Make your life extraordinary.” It should be no surprise to anybody who knows me well that I have suffered, and I have had therapy, and I was saved (temporarily, because it’s a constant battle against that big black dog) from my own depression by the realisation that I misunderstood that idea. An extraordinary life doesn’t mean success, wealth and fame, it doesn’t mean triumph, boasting, power, measuring yourself against others. An extraordinary life is one spent believing that every day has something to offer, no matter how small or large. Fighting every day to keep going, be kind, stay open. Choosing to adjust navigation techniques depending on the ebb and flow. It’s hard work, an extraordinary life. I will be able to quote along tomorrow, through some inevitable tears. So don’t judge me if I give my hard-earned cash to Secret Cinema hipsters*, or I fall for the easy emotion of a celebrity death. I’m nothing but an idealist trying to grow up.
Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
* All profits from the screening are going to charity. There will be other screenings in different venues, to be announced on the Secret Cinema social channels.
If you are in the UK and cannot attend the event (sold out in 4 minutes!), please consider giving a donation to Mind, the amazing mental health charity that helped me to ask for help and put me in touch with my therapist. Thank you.
I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t fall asleep again. I read about Robin Williams and I’m saddened and shocked in ways that surprise me. If you had asked me eight hours ago to list my favourite actors, or my favourite films, the top ten list wouldn’t have included neither Robin Williams, nor one of his many wonderful (and some terrible) movies (because who doesn’t have at least one terrible movie they are ridiculously fond of? Mine is Strange Days). But I’m looking back now and I can’t help but thinking that I grew up with Robin Williams. He was a nanny for all of us. From Mork to Professor Keating, from Mrs Doubtfire to Genie, he was a constant companion of my childhood and youth - a playful friend, a teacher. For my more grown-up self he was Garp. So many hours spent in his company. And now, at 5:03am as my birthday kicks in, I realise that it’s the things we don’t know we know that make us. What’s under the surface, what’s at the core of us has been moulded and sculpted by experiences and emotions that we are not in control of. That’s beautiful - and scary, if you find that below the surface lies something darker than you expected. (I had this very powerful experience on Saturday at the latest Marina Abramovic performance: a sense that once you are alone with yourself, something is exposed that can be extremely revelatory. I was surprised to find a sense of peace and resolution in myself at that time - I started off from turmoil, worry, mental and physical hyperactivity, accompanied by some of the demons that have been pestering me in the last five or so years - self-doubt and fear of the future. A pleasant inner glow has been accompanying me since. And my Chinese friend C. informed me that Jupiter moved into Leo a month ago, so it’s currently, apparently, a great cosmic time for those of us born under its star.) So here’s what we learn from the passing of a great man. That “the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” I have this Frank O’Hara poem stuck in my head, and I’m thinking let’s move on, keep passing the open windows and beware the undertoad, and love each other and take good care of ourselves, and try to enjoy this crazy world such as it is with its ups and downs, despite war, depression and the unbearable melancholy of Sunday nights, and a happy fucking bangarang birthday to me
Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they’ve always talked about
still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers. They
do have meaning. They’re strong as rocks.
There is a statue of Joffrey in the middle of Auckland, New Zealand??? And if you tweet with #bringdowntheking it will tighten the rope to bring down the statue???!!?!??!?!?
Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer
As a teenage photographer in early 80s East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Jamel Shabazz set out to document the then nascent movement of hip-hop. Through the iconic style of his MCs, neighborhood kids and gang members, the unequivocal attitude of New York’s youth was recognized as the calling card of the city’s creative renaissance. Published in 2001, Shabazz’ first book Back In The Days was celebrated as an exhilarating snapshot of the times, and his visual flair has been brought to life in a new documentary by the legendary hip-hop historian and director, Charlie Ahearn. “On the cover of Jamel’s book were two young men on 42nd Street. They were captured posing in such strong form as a kind of respectful bulwark against all the chaos that you see around them on ‘The Deuce,’” explains Ahearn, the notable filmmaker also responsible for the classic old-school movie, Wild Style. “I immediately knew that here was an original artist for our time.” 
©jamel shabazz.all rights reserved
In the last two years I have made three essay films – What is This Film Called Love?, A Story of Children and Film, and Here be Dragons. In the next year, I will make two more – I am Belfast and Stockholm My Love.
In making these, and watching many more – by Anand Patwardhan and Agnes Varda, for example – and after reading Philip Lopate’s book on the essay, I started to make a mental list of the elements of, and the principles behind, essay films. This list is a kind of manifesto.
A fiction film is a bubble. An essay film bursts it.
An essay film takes an idea for a walk.
Essay films are visual thinking.
Essay films reverse film production: the images come first, the script, last.
Filming an essay is gathering, like a carpenter gathers wood.
A fiction film is a car, an essay film is a bike; it can nip up an alleyway, you can feel the wind in its hair.
A road movie has outer movement, an essay film has inner movement.
An essay film is the opposite of fly on the wall.
An essay film can go anywhere, and should.
Two essay films should be made every year. Why? Because, after F for Fake, Orson Welles said this to Henry Jaglom during lunch at Ma Maison: “I could have made an essay film – two of ‘em a year, you see. On different subjects. Various variations of that form.”
Commentary is to the essay film, what dance is to the musical.
All essay films would be improved by a clip of Dietrich (see Marcel Ophuls).
An essay film cannot create the atmosphere of Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard;
A fiction film cannot explain that atmosphere.
Even Hollywood makes essay films – look at DW Griffith’s Intolerance.
Essay films are what Astruc dreamt of.
Digital had made Astruc’s dream come true.