Racine, Wisconsin: Sunset on Webster St., March 24, 2023
Racine, Wisconsin: Sunset on Webster St., March 24, 2023.

Another Week: Number 13

by | March 26, 2023

I chose a sunset-before-the-storm photo above because the weekly snow dumps are beginning to get tedious. So much for the “red sky at night” forecasting chestnut.

Amy and I haven’t spent much time together this week, so our streaming life is paused. I don’t want to watch movies and shows without her, so there’s been more reading, website tinkering, and guitar playing than usual — which reminds me of a Looney Tunes short we did watch together on Tuesday: Porky’s Bear Facts, from 1941. It’s a very uplifting seven minutes because, in the end, spring arrives.


Boston Strangler (2023)

On Tuesday, we viewed the new Boston Strangler on Hulu. It stars Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon as the two real-life reporters for the Boston Record American who broke the story of the “Boston Strangler” murders in 1962.

Primarily, it’s All the President’s Men, but with women — Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole instead of Woodward and Bernstein. There’s even a similar overhead shot of the two reporters alone together, searching the haystack for the needle in their painstaking investigation.

Despite listening to Mick Jagger singing, “Well, you heard about the Boston …” no less than two zillion times, I was still pretty foggy about the particulars of this famous set of thirteen murders. The name Albert DeSalvo did ring a bell with Amy. But even people who think they know the story will likely have their understanding challenged by Boston Strangler, which gets very twisty in its third act. This redraft is the film’s main value.

Beyond that, it’s good to see the previously overlooked reporters for the small newspaper get some credit. Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon deliver quality performances. Chris Cooper is also in the movie.

Overall, though, Boston Strangler does not ever grab your emotions in any way. You might expect it to be frightening, or for the reporters’ breakthroughs to be thrilling, or … something.

Instead, it’s just a series of events filmed in period costumes on period sets with a dark-cyan-and-gold, noirish color scheme like an action comic. Thirteen murders were committed by a person or persons unknown — yet what captured my attention more than anything else was the horrible, heavy-handed color grading.


Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999)

Wednesday was dinner-and-a-movie night at my mom’s, and both of those can involve a lot of deliberating.

Last week, for St. Patrick’s Day, I hit a home run in selecting Brooklyn (2015), starring Saoirse Ronan. Mom watched that one again the following night.

There are certain ingredients in the movies that she enjoys — and she’s seen quite a few, so just finding an unfamiliar one is a challenge. Generally, older movies — or movies set in the middle of the last century — go over better. She doesn’t want a lot of swearing or sex. Show business is a good topic, especially if there’s music and dancing. Civil rights struggles interest her. She could watch Hidden Figures on an endless loop.

So I felt pretty confident after five minutes of scrolling through HBO Max on my phone turned up Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry in the title role, scoring 83% on the Tomatometer. Ms. Dandridge, with whom I was not familiar, was an actress, singer, and dancer. Oscar-nominated as Best Actress for Otto Preminger’s 1954 adaptation of the musical Carmen Jones, she was the first Black person ever nominated for a leading role.

So we’re watching the movie, and like most biopics, it’s ticking off significant moments in its subject’s life. Dandridge and her sister wow the Cotton Club, she meets a fella, he follows her to Los Angeles, she is sexually scarred by her mother’s lesbian lover, she gets into movies, she has an affair with Otto Preminger, and so on.

Racism repeatedly obstructs her, culminating in the legendary scenario of a hotel draining its pool after Dandridge defiantly dipped her toe in it — with black men then assigned to scrub it clean of contamination.

Halfway through, Mom turns to me and asks, “Are you enjoying this?”

Well, not particularly — but I’m not going to search for something else at this point, so I suggest we stick it out.

We do. In another hour, it ends.

Exactly what disappointed Mom was not discussed — but even apart from any sexual content, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge was just a very flat, paint-by-numbers, made-for-TV biopic without a lot of heart.

For me, it’s an example of the flaw with the Tomatometer. Let’s say 50 movie critics each feel a movie is about 53% good. That would be a positive review from all of them, setting the Tomatometer at 100%. Since each critic’s vote is either up or down, any nuance is lost — and so, maybe, are two hours of my life.

But what do I know? Halle Berry won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for this movie, which took her six years to bring to fruition.


Jason Isbell in Garden & Gun, on HBO

Amy and I are both big fans of Jason Isbell going back to his days with Drive-By Truckers. We catch him and his wife Amanda Shires on YouTube every chance we get. Their “I SO Lounging” livestreams during the COVID lockdown were a pure tonic.

So I was happy to see that “Jason Isbell Picks a Legacy” is the cover story for the April/May issue of Garden & Gun — and that Jason Isbell: Running With Our Eyes Closed will be the next entry in HBO’s Music Box series of documentaries, premiering on April 7.

The magazine piece heralds Isbell’s new album — Weathervanes, to be released on June 9 — as “a rock-and-roll explosion.” It notes that Isbell, in addition to his excellent singing and songwriting, is a virtuoso guitarist. It hints at the price Isbell paid to acquire the 1973 Fender Stratocaster that Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Ed King used to come up with that lick on “Sweet Home Alabama.”


The Sound and the Fury — and the reverb

The week before last, I finished reading The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. It is probably the most difficult book I have ever read.

Its story is first told from the point of view of an intellectually disabled guy jumping back and forth to various points in his thirty-year lifetime, then by his brother in a style that is sometimes an unpunctuated stream of consciousness, then by another brother, and finally by a narrator.

By the end, I got the picture, mostly — but I was only half finished with the book. I’m reading the Third Norton Critical Edition, which includes a whole miscellany of related addendums, essays, and criticism to give me a better idea of what I just read before I go back and read it again, knowing what I know now.

The most recent morsels consisted of metaphysical philosophy, which can be hard for me to digest. One piece was excerpted from William James, regarding the stream of consciousness. The next was taken from Henri Bergson, addressing “Duration.” Both touch on the paradox of perceived individual moments that are nevertheless continuously morphing into each other in an unbroken flow.

Bergson writes this, which I can understand:

This inner life may be compared to the unrolling of a coil, for there is no living being who does not feel himself coming gradually to the end of his role; and to live is to grow old. But it may just as well be compared to a continual rolling up, like that of a thread on a ball, for our past follows us, it swells incessantly with the present that it picks up on its way; and consciousness means memory.

I get that. That’s what I’m doing here — unrolling whatever is left on the spool, one hour, one day, one week at a time, and accumulating a ball of string from each week’s scraps. And growing old.

But then he writes this, and my brain breaks:

What is really important for philosophy is to know exactly what unity, what multiplicity, and what reality superior both to abstract unity and multiplicity the multiple unity of the self actually is.

That’s when I have to get up, go to the window, and look at the snow for a while before continuing.



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