January 30, 2008

A brush with cinematic greatness

Last night, my friend Sonal and I attended a screening of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

And I have to agree with A.O. Scott (who came to one of my classes, by the way) that this is one of the best films. But for me, it's one of the best I've ever seen.

Devoid of music and the flounces of mainstream Hollywood, this film isn't necessarily about one idea or another and both "sides" of the abortion debate are turned on their heads.

The story focuses around the plans for an illegal abortion of a college-age woman in Romania. However, she can't do it alone. Her roommate is a flurry of plans and the obvious stronger character, but when the method of payment is up for discussion, everything is completely wrong.

Sonal and I left the theater still shaken. The long takes make you watch what you don't want to, but are transfixed by. I can still see some of them, and I imagine this is some kind of profound technique to simulate the experience.

But high recommendations here.

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January 28, 2008

A solitary place

There aren't many places in New York City where one can go and be genuinely alone. I've tried the Brooklyn Promenade, the library, my apartment's bathroom and even a corner of the grocery store by the peas and carrots. Nothing seemed to suit.

But today I found my solitary place in New York. I hesitate to even speak of it for fear of others finding it. You have to do that here--guard your place.

It's a good place -- a quiet place -- where I feel like I'm in the middle of the woods on a hot summer night.

Laugh if you want, but it's the school's sauna.

I went swimming today with a pal from school and she suggested trying it out. When we went in, a woman was sitting naked, reading a book. I think we took her "solitary place", now that I mention it. It's always weird being clothed, by the way, when others are naked...You aren't quite sure what to do. It's always a shock, and before you can hurry up and start talking again, the moment has already come and gone for the person to register that you have seen them in all their nudist glory.

But anyway, aside from that, my pal and I chatted for a while and when the lady left, we lay down on the wooden benches and stared up at the ceiling. I haven't felt that relaxed in quite a while. Everything seemed to empty out of my head and it was quiet. The door was shut and I stared up at the ceiling's planks, imagining leaves and lightening bugs and all the things that are coming, not just the things that are gone that I've dwelt on lately.

And as I laid there in my swimsuit, purging my body of tension and even some grief, I realized I'd found my little piece of home in New York City. It wasn't home, but it reminded me so much of moments I love and memories that cling.

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January 10, 2008

Her dresses

My grandma wears polyester dresses.

Many are stored in a white chest of drawers covered with baby powder and dust. They fill the top drawer like cloth waves of blue and purple and green, refusing to stay folded. Most of her dresses have a pattern. Some have white fabric in them that is more orange now, probably from her water that tastes like iron.

My mother once said that all she wants from the house when my grandmother passes is her rainbow of polyester dresses, so she can make a quilt from them. I can't imagine a prettier one.

Her dress today was pink, in her usual floral pattern, with small pink buttons sewn into the collar. The shape -- or lack thereof -- is what I remember from years ago: flowing skirts and billowing arm holes. But as I guided her arms through the fabric and slipped her gray-haired head through the hole, I realized...

My grandma wears polyester dresses.

I can't remember her in pants. I don't recall her wearing anything other than ballet flats with some kind of bow or tassel on the front. She's always worn hosiery and put her hair in curlers that have a pipe cleaners down the middle.

My grandma's dresses made trips to other laundry rooms without orange water last month, while their owner sat in a care home wheelchair. But now they're home, just like their occupant.

I helped my grandmother get dressed and thought of her dressing me when I was a little girl, guiding my arms into shirts and coats and shoes and dresses.

My grandmother can't do these things for herself anymore, but I am honored to do them for her in the time I have at home.

And I'll carry the memory of touching her polyester rainbow in a drawer for the rest of my life, thinking, in that moment, that the material would someday be a quilt, that my grandmother would be gone then, and that this fierce love I felt for the woman waiting to wear the pink polyester dress would never go away.

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January 8, 2008

More Murrow

A 800-page tome sits on my nightstand, now cut into a third by my pen book marker. I'm slowly trucking through CBS icon Edward Murrow's life in "Murrow: His Life and Times."

I really shouldn't say "trucking", though. Last night I hit the most interesting point in the story yet: the beginning of World War II through Murrow's experience in bombed out London. I haven't done much reading on this time period. It was just a blip in my western cultures course and nonexistent in high school, so the descriptions are particularly interesting. Broken glass. Fires ripping through neighborhoods. Bombs raining down from silver planes darting over the historical city, exploding monuments, churches.

And in the middle of all this, people lived. Ed Murrow seemed to thrive. A reporter with a story of epic proportions, he found the story that made him into a celebrity. But, like many celebrities today, he wasn't effectual. He didn't get America involved in the war, though the U.S. was desperately needed. The isolationist policies at the time didn't permit, despite the eloquent broadcasts from London's charred broadcast headquarters.

I knew the story would heat up when WWII rolled around. His pre-war broadcasts were censored by a Nazi officer, but he tried to slip things past him, particularly when Jewish shops and homes were targeted. And while I like to think that Murrow and the rest of the world knew what was going on, they didn't.

It's funny to think of it, but NBC had many ins with the Nazis and Germany that the other networks didn't. The Nazis thought, according to the book, that National Broadcasting Corporation meant a government-issued media outlet and gave them exclusive rights to coverage. NBC encouraged this mix-up.

But Murrow kept reporting even when he didn't have access. And he didn't just focus on officials and the rich left in London. He broadcast on the people without homes, living only on the rationed food. But this, I already know is his unique style. Harvest of Shame, a documentary on migrant farm workers, which came later in his career, is built on his interest in the disenfranchised experience. He brought reality through showing faces and giving names to the people he highlighted in his broadcasts, and his writing is remarkable.

Now I am about 200 pages in, I am making the book more of a priority. My essay deadline -- about Murrow's effect on the industry and if another Murrow could ever rise again in broadcasting -- is approaching, but I'm sincerely interested in reading more.

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