Lexington, Kentucky’s Primitive Ricky released his great Cave Horse cassette about five months ago, so this post is a bit on the late side. But better late than never.
I was in LA in November for my cousin’s 40th bday and thanksgiving. And whenever I’m in the city of lost angels I like to stop into my favourite LA record store, Silverlake’s Vacation Vinyl. They have a great cassette section with rare, weird and experimental stuff, and the guys working in the store are really nice. Whenever I go there and start picking through tapes, asking them, ‘what does this sound like?’ they find a track online to play for me.
A label called River Girls had a couple cassettes there, and they all sounded pretty cool. Primitive Ricky‘s was my favourite. though. The store’s little sticker comparing it to a cross between John Fahey and Ashra was a good call. Most of the songs are acoustic fingerpicking complemented by drones and weird spacey synths.
Charlie Kaufman‘s films are not happy movies. Neither is Anomalisa. The “most human film of the year” blurb and uplifting trailer music are deceiving. This is a depressing movie. It might be Kaufman’s most depressing movie.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a depressed, middle-aged family man in an unhappy marriage. He lives in LA with his wife and son. He flies to Cleveland to deliver a speech about customer service, as he is something of a celebrity in the industry for writing a popular book on the subject. At the hotel where he stays for the night, he meets two women (presumably in their early-mid 30s) who drove from their small midwestern city to see him speak, and are very excited to meet him. Stone ends up taking a liking to one named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). He especially likes her voice and face, as they are unique, whereas everyone else looks and sounds the same [all the other voices in the film are provided by Tom Noonan]. He invites her back to his room for the night and she accepts. The next morning though, the magic begins to wear off…
Unlike Kaufman’s other directorial effort – the epic, complex Synecdoche, New York –Anomalisa is small and simple. Like a good essay, it’s concise and makes a strong point. But like the prim and proper top of the class, Anomalisa is a little boring and predictable. Perhaps that’s the idea, though: this is, after all, a movie about boring people.
While characters in Kaufman’s other films are usually eccentric artistic types, Anomalisa‘s characters are boring customer service people. Stone’s perception of the monotony and homogeny of the world reflect his jaded reality, but it may also reflect his own inner boringness. He is not an intellectual. He is not an artist. He does not have anything really interesting to say. He is a prisoner of corporate philosophy and middle-of-the-road living. He’s full of frustration but can find no way to channel it into anything productive. Even when he starts cracking at the end, all he can do is lash out at the world in the most predictable of ways (“America is going down the tubes”). And Lisa, for all her fascination with being an ‘anomaly’, is also boring, timid, self-pitying, passive, and typical.
To his credit, Kaufman treats these characters with compassion and understanding, rather than derision and superiority. One of the most beautiful moments of the film is when Lisa sings Cyndi Lauper‘s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. Surprisingly, the lyric’s of the 80s radio staple, sung acapella, are quite poignant. Rather than the carefree anthem suggested by the chorus, the verses reveal a bittersweet, yearning reflection on the American female experience. Lisa’s connection to the song’s lyrics reveal a hidden depth and soulfulness to her character; the tragedy is that she has been so limited by her midwestern, working class circumstances that this aspect of her character seeps out only on rare occasion. And now fate is about to deal her another cruel little knock in the form of Stone.
Compassionate, however, is the best the intellectual Kaufman can be for “normal” characters like Stone and Lisa. Clearly unfamiliar with these worlds – suburban LA and corporate Ohio – Kaufman only presents a passenger window view of them. He lacks the familiarity or true interest to explore the humanity of these worlds in detail (for example, compare Kaufman’s depiction of the midwest in Anomalisa to something like Mark Kozelek‘s depiction of it on the Sun Kil Moon album Benji). As such, Anomalisa is an interesting, even efficient experiment that matches a Kaufman script with Duke Johnson‘s eerie stop motion animation. But not much more.
Every time I visit my hometown of Toronto, there are a couple shops I make sure to visit. One of those is The Beguiling, a now-legendary comics shop located near Bathurst and Bloor, perhaps most famous for being the one-time working location of Scott Pilgrim author Bryan Lee O’Malley. I stopped by last week to see if any of the really independent stuff on the first floor (second floor is more mainstream stuff e.g. Marvel, D.C., Manga, etc.), might catch my eye. Alison McCreesh‘s Ramshackle: A Yellowknife Story immediately caught my attention.
I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow last year I became really interested in the arctic. I read Robert McGhee‘s beautiful book on arctic history The Last Imaginary Place. I watched stuff on YouTube about the arctic. I began dreaming of a road trip visit to Dawson City in the Yukon Territories. An old high school friend of mine lives there now. She posts about it on Facebook a lot. A book about life in Yellowknife sounded great. I knew basically nothing about the capital city of the Northwest Territories.
McCreesh writes about how she and her boyfriend Pat finished university and, after some road trips and random jobs around Canada, decided on a lark to move up to Yellowknife for a while. Once there, living out of their van, they struggled to adapt to the unique circumstances arctic life, including limited water and ‘unorthodox’ methods of dealing with human waste. They made friends with normal people, artists, bohemian types, etc. And learned about the history of the city.
McCreesh details all this beautifully in the graphic novel. She also takes time to explain the history of city and its current the social, cultural details, in order to provide everything with the proper context. As a result, Ramshackle is a wonderful, adorable, and educational little graphic novel. It made me miss the adventure of the open road, and the kind of life on the edge that led McCreesh and Pat to make Yellowknife their permanent home.