The Family Outside, The Films In

I note that it’s been seven years since we last had cable television in this household, something that popped up today as I was wandering through my old blog. An anniversary, then.

A weird anniversary, although this seems to be the month and why not? It’s not like I have to buy cards or flowers or throw a party. It’s OK to think about the years passing, where we were and how we got to here.

I still get blank looks from a certain demographic when I mention that we don’t have cable. It’s not dissimilar, maybe, to reactions from this same demographic when confronted with a family member’s vegetarianism, or at least a few years ago. It’s a puzzlement apparently so incomprehensible it merits a huh and then nada.

I’m sure this is just a lack of awareness of the options. Cutting the cord doesn’t mean giving up on television, but the alternatives to cable aren’t compelling to the person with cable, if you follow.

I recognized the Cord-Cutting Anniversary by a Facebook memory of another anniversary, but I’ll leave that for the time being. I don’t seem to run out of anniversaries these days, which I suppose is another way of saying old.

Speaking of which: This confusion over what is by now a well-understood phenomenon of people opting out of paying hundreds of dollars for channels they never watch must provoke another form of confusion among the younger generation (younger than I am; my kids). Even the sports fanatics have probably found ways to satisfy that don’t involve Comcast, and I’m pretty sure the idea of spending money for a grab-bag of video entertainment they couldn’t possibly watch a fraction of would feel bizarre, maybe less an indulgence than a peculiar hobby, like owning books you’ll never read or music you’ll never hear, just to own.

Not to mention, from a young parent’s point of view, the Wild West of uncurated entertainment. My grandson’s parents allow him to watch all sorts of things, understanding the utility of, say, PBS’s children’s programming or certain kid flicks. They just protect him from hours of screen time, and they’d probably be horrified if he had a steady diet of commercials aimed at him.

All of this to mention that I watched some movies on a recent trip.

This is my routine, now that I’m traveling in a tube through the air several times a year, regular as clockwork, to Texas. Usually these are solo trips, and my pattern is to download some movies onto my iPad, plug in the headphones as soon as I’m in my seat, and pass the time by locking in with a story.

I could read, but I read enough. I rarely watch movies.

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I saw Too Real, Marc Maron’s latest comedy concert on Netflix. I like Maron, I’m used to him, I know his thinking and his quirks. I’m not sure what he does is comedy anymore, nor am I sure he thinks it is. It’s organized musing from a guy in my age bracket, riding his contemporary fame where it takes him. It’s pretty classic Marc Maron and I enjoyed it, but mostly because of the direction.

Lynn Shelton, a Seattle resident and one of my favorite directors, shot what I think is the most beautiful comedy special I’ve ever seen. I can’t do it justice, given the subtlety of editing choices in this arena, but it just felt lovely and intimate, as if filming a monologist in a Broadway theater, the storytelling being the point, not the chuckles. Spectacular.

And then I watched August: Osage County, the 2013 adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play starring Meryl Street and many others, including a cameo by the late Sam Shepard. It feels like a filmed play, the emotional range sneaking into the theatrical realm, and the echoes of Mr. Shepard’s own plays were alive and obvious. I’m not sure it worked as a film, in fact, but I was mesmerized by the acting.

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Streep, of course, just nailing that Oklahoma matriarch who resembles other matriarchs, particularly Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey but owing much to just this amazing actress.

Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale are excellent, as always, and Juliette Lewis surprised me with a nuanced take on what would seem to be a classic Juliette Lewis role. Benedict Cumberbatch has a small, pivotal role, and listening to him wrap his tongues around Okie diphthongs was interesting and not ineffective at all. Ewan McGregor blended better, particularly as he was the family outsider, a member through marriage (and a dissolving marriage at that).

But it was his wife, played by Julia Roberts. OMG, Julia Roberts. I’ve watched her for years, seen most of her films, acknowledged her stardom and ability and somehow never considered the idea that she was one of our premiere actresses. But she is. The woman can act, and if August: Osage County is remarkable for anything, it’s her performance.

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On the return trip, I finally saw Paterson, last year’s indie hit starring Adam Driver as a New Jersey poet who pilots a city bus through William Carlos Williams’ home town, jotting down lines of poetry in between stops. It’s a quiet film, tiny drama played out over a week of unremarkable life, the kind of movie that easily could be stopped by a bored watcher, uninterested eventually and not likely to pick it back up.

This is a shame, because while there are no big, dramatic moments, no particular crises to endure or engage, it runs off the screen and lives in my head, now. I’ve liked Driver for a long time now, and he didn’t disappoint, a rich internal life suggested by his decent, ordinary external one.

I suspect poets can save the world; I also suspect most of them can’t tolerate it. Adam Driver, the Paterson of the film’s title, a name shared with his city, shows us a poet who submerges into dull routine, only to pop up with a line or two that captures the creative process in an onscreen font, line by line. I loved this film.

I like doing this, in this way. I was heading to the hill country, my first visit to my daughter’s new home outside of San Antonio. These are always emotionally charged trips, and it helps to tamp down the excitement—and the withdrawal—by disappearing into someone else’s story for a while. There are other stories from this trip, but for now I’ll just stick with my movies. The cord has been cut, the choices are limitless and all mine, and now these particular experiences will be shelved with the photos of this trip, the memories to be taken out at another time. I’m pretty content with all of this, understanding something of poetry and why it matters, and why it should.

Chuck Sigars1 Comment