Don Williams

I don’t remember a time before being aware of my father’s record collection. That’s not only because the collection predates me, but because I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t a record player in the living room or dining room, when my father or my mother weren’t playing something.

My father is a country music fan, and I grew up listening to George Jones and Waylon Jennings and Tammy Wynette. I sorted through my father’s albums more times than I can remember. There was a lot of Johnny Cash and Bobby Bare. There were a few, pre-Bocephus, Hank Jr’s. There was Sammi Smith and Tanya Tucker.

I remember in kindergarten one day that the teacher asked us to write the names of albums on pieces of paper, and how I had no idea who Peter Frampton or ELO were. I pretended to know what Grease was. I’d heard of the Beatles but I’m not sure if I knew which songs were theirs. Many of my classmates had older siblings, and many of them probably had parents who listened to popular music. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Maybe that was the beginning of the feeling out of step. It’s a feeling that has never quite left me.

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Master of None S2

You’ve had this happen, right? You meet someone and you connect. And when I say connect I mean you see them for the first time and they are already familiar even though there is no possible way that you could have seen them. I don’t know if it’s a chemical level or a psychological level or a karmic level, but you are certain they are meant to be part of your life, and the conversations that follow only support that idea. Somehow it feels like it was meant to be.

Of course there can be complications. Maybe you’re married. Maybe that someone is also married. Maybe you live in different countries or cities or (in New York) different neighborhoods. But you can’t shake it. And to make everything worse — painfully, awesomely worse, that someone feels the same about you.

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I Should Have Been Home Yesterday

I’ll start with the theory that Steven Soderbergh; writer, cinematographer, and editor of the film, and screenwriter Jules Asner, wife of Soderbergh, made choices about what to include and not include in Logan Lucky, that nothing pointless is included. So the opening scene between Jimmy Logan and his daughter Sadie which includes a discussion about Jimmy’s favorite song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, is important. In fact, I think it’s a thesis statement.

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Remembering the Sweet Science

Boxing has always been romanticized. Among the “major” sports in the US, only baseball is clearly more romanticized. Baseball has had more written about it, in service of making baseball seem more cerebral or more connected to its past or more interesting. Full disclosure: I enjoy baseball but talk of green cathedrals and the beauty of the untimed game are not interesting to me unless delivered by Annie Savoy.

Unlike baseball, boxing is a brutal and often corrupt sport. Instead of being run by billionaire franchise owners who value the appearance of fairness and legitimacy in pursuit of exploiting athletes for profit, boxing has no appearance of fairness. Boxing is controlled by promoters who decide the next fight not by a tournament or a set of statistics but instead based on what will generate the most money. (To be fair, there are governing bodies and there are sometimes mini-tournaments to determine who wins vacant titles but the governing bodies only control fringe aspects of fights and those mini-tournaments often feature boxers without the cachet to generate significant pay-per-view revenues.) Outcomes in fights that don’t end in knockouts are determined by three ringside judges who may or may not use factors other than what happened in the ring to calculate their scores. And, of course, fighters may decide to take a dive for various reasons.

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Summer in New York

Yeah, I know, I have some nerve writing about summer in New York when Helena Fitzgerald already wrote brilliantly about it, but if I didn’t write on topics just because Helena got there first then I don’t know what I’d write about.

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The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

I don’t remember why the alarm was set but it went off one weekend morning. The station, of course, was WNYC and the show that was starting was about Jason Isbell. I’ve since gone back to find that the show was The New Yorker Radio Hour in which John Seabrook talks to Isbell. The first song played is “Cover Me Up.”

A heart on the run keeps its hand on a gun
You can’t trust anyone
I was so sure what I needed was more
Tried to shoot out the sun

I was hooked. I sat up (figuratively) and tried not to fall back asleep but also not let on to my wife that I was awake and should be getting ready for whatever we had set the alarm.

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The Big Sick

The Big Sick is your standard romcom: Boy meets Girls, Boy Loses Girl By Being Stupid, Boy Eventually Wins Girl Back. [Sorry, SPOILER] There is nothing in this broadest outline of the story that makes it unique, but of course what makes romcoms work are the details. It’s Sally and Harry trying to set each other up and having their prospective dates fall for each other. It’s William’s friends making him see he was an idiot for breaking things off with Anna. It’s Aaron burying the lead and telling Jane that he loves her. In The Big Sick its Kumail’s attempts to keep both himself and his family happy, and the impossibility of trying to anything meaningful halfway.

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The Leftovers and The Book of Me

When I was a teenager I came up with this theory of life that I’m sure is not unique. Basically, the idea was that from your own perspective you live until you grow old and then accept death. While someone else may perceive that you, say, die in a car crash, from your point of view you survive the crash, or maybe you were never in that crash. It was a perfect teenage theory in that it was inane and neither provable nor dis-provable.

The human mind tries to bring order to chaos, which explains why we think we can beat slot machines and why we come up with religions. As the universe is based on the laws of physics, of action and reaction and equilibrium, the human mind seeks equilibrium, creates explanations to fill in where there are none. I don’t know what was going on when I came up with my theory. Maybe I was bored. But it was a natural action, an effort to fill some of the space in my world.

I thought of this while watching the third and final season of The Leftovers, a series that takes place after the Departure when two percent of the world’s population suddenly disappears without explanation. Or at least there is no explanation until people start creating their own. The series is about grief and loss, of course, and its also about relationships and what they are built on, but especially in the final season it’s about what we need to believe about things that can’t be explained. Kevin Garvey believes that he needs to die to really live. Nora Durst believes she needs a scientific-ish explanation for why her husband and two children disappeared. By the end of the series Kevin and Nora are at peace, ready to love each other in whatever time they have left. The explanations no longer matter.

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I Love Dick

A few weeks ago I started watching the Amazon series I Love Dick, the latest from Transparent creator Jill Soloway. I only got partway through the first episode, only to the point when Chris speaks to Dick for the first time, when I had to stop watching. (I no longer remember why I had to stop.) I only watched enough to be intrigued but what was going to happen, only long enough to be reminded that Kathryn Hahn is a treasure and that I would watch her in anything.

I finally made it back to I Love Dick last night. My wife was doing something and we were going to watch TV when she was finished so I was going to watch something to kill some time. Then my wife walks in when Chris is reading to her husband Sylvère her first letter to Dick and my wife was hooked and we watched the rest of the series.

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Thinking of Marion Ravenwood

So I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark the other day, partly because its great and partly because it’s on Amazon Prime. Now, I’m hardly the person to talk about direction and form but there is so much pleasing in the movie, not just in the story and the acting but in Steven Spielberg’s direction. This was a bit on my mind lately because Matt Zoller Seitz tweeted this:

Mavericks often turn into has-beens, right, and maybe we are all tired of Spielberg now (although Stranger Things begs to differ), but in Raiders Spielberg was in his prime and the camera movement especially is so enjoyable. (To be clear, I’m not tired of Spielberg, or Scott for that matter.)

One other thing that I loved in the movie is the shadow work. I may post something later about other ways Spielberg used shadows but look at these few examples with Indiana Jones thinking about Marion Ravenwood.

This first shot is from the scene in which Marcus Brody goes to Indy’s house to tell him that the US government wants him to go find the Ark of the Covenant. While Indy is packing, he asks Marcus if he thinks “she” will be with his old mentor, Abner Ravenwood. (Yeah, the names in this series are excellent.) “She” is Abner’s daughter, Marion, with whom Indy had a relationship. Look at Indiana’s face in this shot.

Indy is in shadows while Marcus Brody is clearly lit. We know from context that something happened between Indiana and Abner and Marion that caused a falling out (and we can probably guess what it is), and the shadow on Indy’s face reinforce this.

Indiana travels to Nepal to find Marion who he hopes will give him the headpiece that he needs. (I assume you’ve seen the movie so all this makes sense to you.) Their reunion is not exactly joyful (Marion slugs Indiana and refuses to give him the headpiece). Marion tells Indiana that he broke her heart and hurt Abner also. She tells Indy to come back the next day to get the headpiece. This shot is of Indy as he walks out the door.

Again, his face mostly in shadow. There is still something between them but maybe they will never be able to put the old hurt behind them.

Shortly after Indy leaves, Marion is attacked by Nazis who are also looking for the headpiece. Indy rescues her and Marion takes the headpiece and tells Indy she’s his partner. Together they go to Egypt.

In Egypt, Indiana and Marion are in the sun with Sallah’s family, enjoying the weather as well as each other’s company. Eventually Marion gets kidnapped by those pesky Nazis and when Indy tries to rescue her he causes the truck she’s in to explode. Marion is dead. (Marion is not dead. [SPOILER])

So yeah, Marion is not dead but Indy doesn’t know this. So first Indy drowns his sorrows, then threatens to kill Belloq until Sallah’s children rescue him, and then he confronts his grief. This is the shot that brings it all home. Look at this.

It’s a callback to the door for Marion’s bar in Nepal and again there is Indiana’s face partly in shadow. Indiana and Marion reconciled somewhat but now they will never fully reconcile. Simply, there will always be a shadow when Indiana thinks of Marion.