All posts tagged “gold

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Where I Was From, Joan Didion (2003)

Subject: Author Joan Didion with her Corvette. 1971 Photographer- Julian Wasser Time Inc Not Owned Merlin-1381191
One way of describing Didion’s genius (there are many) is to note that she always permits, even invites the subjects she endeavors to report on to report on her as well. Didion knew growing up that she was from an old California family; as she got older she realized there is no such thing. In Where I Was From, she explores the cultural, social, and economic histories of the state with her characteristic mix of brilliant synthetic summary and piercing detail, and gradually begins to incorporate her personal experience, seeking to understand not just a set of historical phenomena, but her own identity as well. It is thrilling.

There are so many moments and passages I could single out for their clarity of thought and elegance of expression, but as a would-be writer myself, I’ve got to call out Didion’s perfect and insane decision to devote a chapter of this book to a critical analysis of her first published novel, Run, River (1963), which Didion wrote about her home and family in California while she was homesick living in New York as a young woman. First, who does that? Second, her critique is remarkably clear-eyed and unsparing, considering her close connection to her topic. But more, the move is a dramatization of the fact that while we may tell ourselves stories in order to live (to quote Didion herself), the stories of ourselves we tell ourselves ain’t always quite correct. As a result, it’s sometimes necessary to look back at those stories and, if not revise them, have a look at why they made sense at the time, and how their usefulness has failed to endure. This is a great insight on Didion’s part, and it dovetails beautifully with her thinking about California. Is there any other place in the world where the actual and the imagined are so indistinguishable? Maybe one moral of this book is that we are each sort of Californias unto ourselves.

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Black Sea, Kevin Macdonald (2014)

x900Longtime readers know I have a thing for submarine movies. It’s a subgenre (ha) with such a specific set of conventions that watching the movies is almost like reading sonnets; you marvel to see how the author finds freedom within the boundaries. This isn’t one for the ages, but it has its moments of interest. Typical motifs include:

– The guy who’s never been on a submarine before
– Uncontrolled dive and ensuing tension over whether the hull will collapse, punctuated by bolts shooting out of the hull sporadically
– Captain exhibits savant-like ability to navigate through narrow passage (cf The Hunt for Red October)
– Crew threatens mutiny
– Saboteur on board
– The old rustbucket sub turns out to be more durable than everyone expected
– Gruff but incredibly competent and creative mechanic keeps engine running against all odds
– Having to shut compartment doors on still-living crew members, guaranteeing they’ll drown, in order to save the ship

Less formulaic aspects:

– This isn’t a war movie or a sci-fi movie, which are by far the two most prevalent types of sub movies. It’s a movie about undersea salvage. I can’t think of another.
– Escape suits. I don’t remember ever seeing escape suits in a sub movie before.
– Businessmen screwing over workers. I can’t recall any other sub movies I’ve seen that have put me in mind of Marx.
– Divers going outside the sub to move around on the sea floor. That’s more unusual than you’d expect.

Pretty relentlessly grim and dark movie with an excess of turns for the worse and not a good one for the claustrophobic to watch, even by sub movie standards, but a worthy little bit of filmmaking nonetheless.