Sunday, December 06, 2009

what i read in november (and watched last night)

Last night AK, Pedro, Stephen, Maria, Calvin and I gathered for Movie Night, an intentionally less formal undertaking than Book Club, which is probably why we've only managed to do it twice this year. The first time we watched The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and some of us fell asleep despite the undeniable greatness of Wallace and Gromit.

So we decided to start the Favorites Series, beginning with Maria's all-time favorite, Dirty Dancing. I hadn't seen it since I was 11 or 12, and it was a blur of images in my mind, one of which was Bonnie pausing the VCR when Patrick Swayze wrinkles his nose in the final dance number. "My friends always hit pause then too!" AK said. "I never got it."

"I know," I said. "Jennifer Grey is much cuter."

It was really the perfect Movie Night movie, in that it was equal parts campy and good. Some film school class should study how two dance movies (say, Dirty Dancing and Center Stage) can have all the same ingredients (namely class warfare worked out on the dance floor) and yet one can be so good and one can be so mock-able.

Anyway, I actually logged in to do my little round-up of last month's reading:

Shoot and Iraqi
by Wafaa Bilal and Kari Lydersen: This book is the story of Wafaa Bilal, an artist who grew up in Iraq and, for a month following the U.S. invasion of his former home, chose to live in a Chicago art gallery where visitors to his website were invited to aim at him and "shoot an Iraqi" with a paintball gun (not unlike how the U.S. military operates unmanned drones). Expertly interspersed with this narrative is the story of his life in Iraq, which includes encounters with Saddam's oppressive minions and his own oppressive father.

For me, the book put a personal face not only on Iraq and the war there, but on conceptual art, which can seem as distant and confusing as a foreign war. For Bilal, art and survival are almost synonymous. When he builds a mud-brick hut to protect his paintings from sandstorms in a brutal Saudi refugee camp--and when other refugees follow his example by creating art, building huts and eventually creating a working village--I got shamelessly misty-eyed. Sadly, the case for art and against war is one we have to make over and over again, but not many do it better than Bilal.


I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett: This book is crazy. It MIGHT be about the arbitrariness of race and fortune and other identities, but there's such a firm commitment to nonsense in these pages (a Morehouse prof named Percival Everett teaches an indecipherable class called The Philosophy of Nonsense) that I'm not sure Percival Everett (the author, that is) even wants me to come to a conclusion. One part Don Quixote, one part Huckleberry Finn, this novel is a patchwork of allusions and genres. I can easily get turned off by such experimental work, but the humor of the plot and prose, coupled with the protagonist's good-natured worldview, were infectious.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler: I read this book in college and remembered liking it, so I was surprised not to be more into it this time around. I loved the language and geeked on all the L.A. locales I recognized--but the plot was hard to follow and too reliant on Philip Marlowe just happening to witness various crimes. I almost started to suspect HIM. And if you're looking for female characters who do more than tell the detective he's hot and a bastard in the same breath, you may not be shocked to hear that your search is not over.

4 comments:

deetles said...

Dirty Dancing, what a great movie! My favorite line: "Nobody puts Baby in a corner!" (I realize that's not very original, but it's the line TJ uses on me on occasions when I get kind of whiny, it always makes me smile!)

Peter Varvel said...

Great reviews/recommendations (especially the one for Bilal!).
The film school study also needs to include that Sarah Jessica Parker classic, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun!" :)

Cheryl said...

D: I never realized how sort of random that line is (almost like "This Danish is pure protein!" and all of sister Lisa's behavior), which makes it even better.

PV: I didn't even know that SJP was in Girls Just Want To Have Fun. AK (the movie buff around our house) will shake her head and sigh.

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