caleb thoughts

Life moves pretty fast

Bernard Sumner is one of my fashion idols. I love this dude’s haircut and I will try my best for the remainder of my military career to best replicate it. I honestly don’t know how he gets so much length on top without sacrificing the military shortness of the back and sides. Also love the understated black tank combined with the stark white short shorts. Total boss.

New Order’s entire art aesthetic in the Eighties was completely boss, too. The cover to Power, Corruption, and Lies is incredible. I have no patience for dance music in any era, but I make exceptions for them because of completely trivial, superficial reasons. Also, you can’t mess with their song “Your Silent Face.”

Were such a thought adopted, we should have to imagine some stupendous whole, wherein all that has ever come into being or will come coexists, which, passing slowly on, leaves in this flickering consciousness of ours, limited to a narrow space and a single moment, a tumultuous record of changes and vicissitudes that are but to us.

—C. Howard Hinton, What is the Fourth Dimension? 1884

From Never Let Me Go, one of the five best pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. I’ve also found, in my mid-twenties, that it is my favorite book.

“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”

“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how it is with us. It’s a shame, Kath, because we’ve loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever.”

“What I’m not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.”

“It never occurred to me that our lives, until then so closely interwoven, could unravel and separate over a thing like that. But the fact was, I suppose, there were powerful tides tugging us apart by then, and it only needed something like that to finish the task. If we’d understood that back then-who knows?-maybe we’d have kept a tighter hold of one another.”

“That was the only time, as I stood there, looking at that strange rubbish, feeling the wind coming across those empty fields, that I started to imagine just a little fantasy thing, because this was Norfolk after all, and it was only a couple of weeks since I’d lost him. I was thinking about the rubbish, the flapping plastic in the branches, the shore-line of odd stuff caught along the fencing, and I half-closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it, and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field, and gradually get larger until I’d see it was Tommy, and he’d wave, maybe even call. The fantasy never got beyond that —I didn’t let it— and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.”

I haven’t posted for a while (work sucks, I know). As a stopgap, I present this video. Admittedly, the video is pedestrian, but the song itself is a forgotten grunge classic.

When I talk about music—which is probably too often—I’m likely talking about grunge. It’s probably the last time “popular” music was created wholly without irony and, with minor exceptions (Kanye West) it merited any kind of artistic consideration.

Most people aren’t familiar with Temple of the Dog, but its anthemic chorus and Chris Cornell/Eddie Vedder harmony is pretty rad.

Defending Vanilla Sky

I will admit that Vanilla Sky is not a great movie.

I would probably further stretch my tenuous credibility if I called it a good movie. Most people identify it as the end of Tom Cruise’s (surprisingly-not-terrible) blockbuster renaissance period—although it did open at #1, a relatively incredible feat considering the marketing impossibilities associated with the film [side note: I hate how everyone every Monday is suddenly kid show business and talks the ins-and-outs of the box office like they’re the news editor at Variety. Can we start to enjoy movies outside of this heavily constructed, somewhat arbitrary economic apparatus? We’re watching entertainment, not poring over an excel spreadsheet]. It’s sold as an erotic thriller, but really it’s this science-fiction romantic psychological surrealist vanity project phantasmagoria populated with heavy helpings of pretty, vapid people and new-age existentialism.

If that sounds like a recipe for a terrible movie, it almost is. Some of its more indefensible qualities include making us believe Tom Cruise’s character is 33, having Penelope Cruz sprout off nonsensical pseudo-Zen garbage (ex. “I’ll see you in another life…when we are both cats), shoddy editing disguised as red herrings (the seven dwarves board, Cruise’s ubiquitous “regenerative” mask, etc.), and putting forth the notion—or maybe even thesis—that true love is possible after one chance meeting, that a person who knew someone for 12 hours may in fact have known them the best of anyone and that same person would go their whole life never getting over having lost them (although Titanic really juiced this one four years earlier). Hell, in the last ten minutes it accelerates, introducing concepts that weren’t even present earlier in the film, as if Cameron Crowe just didn’t have enough time in its 136 minutes to cram it all in: ideas of psychologists as parent-figures, family days at Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus, the death of the print industry, never-ending elevators, karmic consequence as penance, the beauty of Freur’s lost Eighties classic “Doot Doot” and a live cut of Sigur Ros’ “Untitled 4”, how cool Bruce Springsteen looks on the cover of The River, appropriate memorials, and the personal ramifications of time-accelerated inflation. I’m not even giving away the twist, a plot redirection that comes out of basically nowhere and makes Vanilla Sky into almost an altogether different movie and changes the entire context of the film’s Second Act.

But Vanilla Sky isn’t a terrible movie. It’s a flawed one. There’s a lot to recommend it:

  1. While Penelope Cruz often talks like the Cheshire cat, her character is one of the top five most desirable women in cinema. Her style is awesome (see that coat in the Second Act for proof), she can be pretty witty, she likes Jeff Buckley’s music, and she’s a gifted ballet dancer who can translate said skills to a night on the town. She also doesn’t mind beer and keeps it stocked in the fridge.
  2. The soundtrack is—with the glaring exception of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”—fantastic. Part of me suspects Cameron Crowe used this movie as a vehicle to broadcast his favorite mixtape to a wider audience. We’ve got Spiritualized’s “Ladies and Gentlemen We’re Floating in Space”, Sigur Ros, Freur, Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill”, Jeff Buckley, “Rez”, REM’s “Sweetness Follows”, Looper’s “Mondo 77”, and Dylan. Hell, they relegate Red House Painters’ “Have You Forgotten” to the background in a totally inconsequential scene and that song owns. Seriously, those are just the tracks I remember off the top of my head. Pop that CD in anywhere and you’ve got an awesome Autumnal mix.
  3. Cameron Diaz’ character is terrifying. Her discussion with Tom Cruise in the car is one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever seen. I’ve never thought she was a credible actress, but she brings it in this movie. She casts a chilling, creepy pall over the entire movie and belongs in the pantheon of movie villains.
  4. That funny, drunk dude who exclaims in the middle of Tom Cruise’s polite, classy birthday party, “People will read again!”
  5. The movie’s gorgeous. Plain and simple.
  6. The small questions the movie never answers. Did Penelope Cruz and Jason Lee hook up after Tom Cruise makes a doofus of himself at the club? Is Tom Cruise financing Diaz’ shitty pop album? How does he know Steven Spielberg? Where the hell is NYPD? Did Lee jealously reveal to Diaz that Cruise was using her for strictly sexual reasons? Why wouldn’t Cruise spring for that surgery to fix his arm?
  7. The moment some dude in the bathroom shouts to Cruise’s reflection, “Fix your fucking face!” and Cruise starts laughing maniacally.

That moment is my second favorite part in the movie—it loses out to the time right before the end when everything has been explained to Cruise and he closes his eyes, raises his head and sighs as the sun catches him on the face—because it nails the perils of alcohol, longing and alienation perfectly. I credit the filmmakers for not shying away from really, really fucking up his face. I’m in the critical minority when I say that I believe that Tom Cruise is a legitimate actor and I think he does his best work (outside of the seminal Risky Business, where he’s essentially Ferris Bueller’s much darker older brother) making us sympathize with a vain, careless, manipulative, asshole multi-millionaire. Vanilla Sky is ultimately a super-sad movie because of his performance. The way he describes headaches to his doctors in the film’s middle is quietly heartbreaking, as is his complete inability to find redemption. Vanilla Sky is a good movie because it’s so subtly moral. Cruise’s character makes terrible decisions and pays terrible prices for them and the film never lets him recover. It’s bold like that.

So really, I’ll defend Vanilla Sky for being bold. There’s not really another film like it, so willing to mash-up genres, motifs, and themes (hell, the films tagline is LoveHateDreamsLifeWorkPlayFriendshipSex. That alone tells you how ambitious—and almost admirably pretentious—the movie is) for the purposes of blockbuster entertainment. I’ve grown tired of Hollywood’s usual blockbuster. Instead of a good Avengers, give me the incredibly flawed spectacle of Cameron Diaz driving a car off a bridge at 85 mph.

Years ago I was an angry young man / I’d pretend that I was a billboard / Standing tall by the side of the road / I fell in love with a beautiful highway.

—David Byrne, Talking Heads, “[Nothing But] Flowers”

Ben Read’s country.

Ben Read’s country.

I don’t even know if this building is important. Duke University.

I don’t even know if this building is important. Duke University.

Duke University graffiti, Durham NC

Duke University graffiti, Durham NC

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen