Never again will our culture know one of the signature pleasures of my childhood: perusing vinyl record racks. Certainly there's no shortage of LPs, which have gained credibility as objects of desire among the hipster set. But I'm not talking about today's readily available assortment of used records, overpriced reissues and expensive new releases on 180-gram platters. I'm thinking of the bygone era before the introduction of compact discs, when 8-tracks were lumbering toward extinction but the Sony Walkman had yet to spur an otherwise inexplicable popular explosion of cassette tapes. It was that period from the late Seventies into the early Eighties, a time when seemingly every retail environment had a record department in which I could easily kill any amount of time. Those years cover my maturation from about age nine to age fourteen, when I was often facing idle moments accompanying my parents at various stores. The record bins were my refuge.
I spent hours flipping through the bins, an egalitarian art gallery that thrilled me with arresting imagery and opened my eyes to a wider world. Prior to the Internet, it was the primary source of information about recording artists you admired as well as a showcase for bands of which you had never heard. Oh, you might have picked up a few tidbits in a music magazine, caught your favorite group in a rare television appearance or heard the hits on the radio. But the record racks familiarized you with discographies, song titles and the imagery those artists wanted you to see. You could look through someone's back catalog and piece together their longevity, relative popularity and aesthetic evolution. All of this could be gleaned by handling these marvelous, shrink-wrapped, 12-inch squares of cardboard packaging, sometimes bulging with the tantalizing thickness of double or even triple gatefolds.
Julie and I saw a total of 14 films in this year’s installment of our annual Oscar-nominated movie binge. The following reviews are listed from least-favorite to most-admired.
I suppose you must get tired of feigning interest when long-time fans confront you with lists of all the ELP concerts they saw, what was going on in their lives when they first heard Tarkus, how they named the family pet Emerson, etc. I can’t imagine the monotony of smiling at the same stories and politely answering the same questions again and again. All the same, I feel the fan’s compulsion to let you know about my personal appreciation of your work and why I believe you have made the world a better place. I’ll try to express my thoughts with some insights that perhaps you haven’t heard before!
Julie and I took in 17 films this year for our fifth annual Oscar-nominated film watching endeavor, including all eight movies in the running for Best Picture. Here are my thoughts on the lot, ranked from worst to best.
For the fourth consecutive year, my wife and I have dealt with the bitter reality of a Midwestern winter by running from it, hiding in the dark to watch films deemed worthy by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This time we set a new record, managing to see 17 films nominated in various categories. Impressive yet sad, is it not? And still, we could not bring ourselves to round out the acting awards by sitting through Into the Woods. Nevertheless, here is my ranking of this year's crop.
Thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with dysthymic disorder, a chronic condition that is considered less severe than clinical depression yet typically features similar symptoms that exist over a greater period of time. Prior to my diagnosis, I had likely endured dysthymia for five to seven years with very little therapeutic and no medical intervention. It took a lot of time for me to seriously consider that my symptoms were not caused by my circumstances but merely aggravated by them. The real cause of my recurring malady, or so my experience suggests, is a chemical imbalance that can be corrected to a degree by the appropriate medication.
Those ignorant of depression and its insidious nature might conclude that I had “nothing to be depressed about” when the condition first manifested itself in my late twenties. After all, I was a happily married new father of stable employment living in our own home in a pleasant suburban neighborhood. A loving and caring network of extended family, friends and neighbors enriched my life. I had plenty of outside interests to enhance my leisure time. How could I have been depressed? But, of course, the illness doesn’t work that way.
The nine films up for Best Picture
Once again, Julie and I have battled the winter blahs by immersing ourselves in the alternative reality of cinema, squirreled away in top row center for our annual marathon of Best Picture nominees. This year, we were able to see all of the films that received acting and directing nods as well. Below are my reviews of the dozen pictures in contention for these awards, presented in ascending order from least liked to best loved.
It's an utter indulgence, but for the second year in a row, my wife and I have seen all nine of the Best Picture nominees prior to the Academy Awards. Indulgent, I say, because the aggregate twenty hours and nineteen minutes that we spent watching the films might have been put to more practical use doing nearly anything else, not to mention the bucks frittered away on our admission and concessions tab. Still, there are worse things you could do with your time and money, and as a means of distraction from the dreariness of winter, it's cheaper than professional therapy (and perhaps nearly as beneficial). Plus we're all set to be the hit of the cocktail party, should we ever attend one.
Overall, I found more enjoyment and enlightenment in last year's crop of nominees, a diverse lot of worthwhile films with an average running time of 125 minutes. This year's average is 135 minutes, which is the time-consuming equivalent of adding a tenth movie to the mix. More and more audiences have been exiting theaters asking, "Why? Why did the movie have to be so long?" The unfortunate answer, I'm afraid, is "It didn't."
"What I really need," I expounded at the dining table, "is some flexible plastic tubing that I can use to make super-long straws so you can lay flat on your back and still take a drink."
"That is so lazy!' came a reprimand from the next room. Eldest daughter Amber had caught a snippet of my conversation with youngest daughter Melinda. Taken out of context, my statement sounded like one more slide on my slippery slope toward morbid obesity. "That's terrible!"
"No, no," I protested, "you don't understand."
Neither did the grinning woman who stood behind me in line at the hardware store as I purchased several feet of 3/8" diameter clear plastic tubing that afternoon. The coiled mass apparently reminded her of some bygone revelry, and a knowing smirk spread across her weathered features. "You gonna drink some beer with that?" she drawled.
A point to her for deducing that the tubing was destined to be used as flexible straws, but otherwise incorrect. Nor was my innovation designed for the sole purpose of minimizing physical activity, as Amber feared. In fact, I was looking for a way in which Melinda and I could maximize our observation of meteors during last weekend's peak of the Perseid shower. We knew from experience that merely sitting up to take a drink can mean a missed meteor. All of our preparations for comfort and sustenance would be arranged so that we could keep our eyes on the sky for hours without interruption.
My sense of balance is challenged even before I don the distortion goggles.
Four high school seniors zipping along country back roads in the wee hours of prom night. John is driving, and I am behind him in the back seat, our dates aligned on the passenger side. We have gone out to dinner, attended the dance and played games at the official post-prom, and now we are on our way to a classmate's home for breakfast. Up to this point, our behavior has been exemplary, our innocent revelry free of any and all inappropriate activities, but now John is speeding, and this transgression has just been noted by local law enforcement.
It is heart-stopping to be a teenager and to hear the siren and see the flashing lights that signal an officer's direction to pull over. We are terrified. Well, at least three of us are. As the sheriff approaches our car, John seems remarkably composed. He rolls down his window and asks with a sincerity that would have made Eddie Haskell proud, "What seems to be the problem, officer?" I am simultaneously mortified and amused; I want to laugh and to disappear.