Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
When April with its sweet showers brought flowers to the lawns of May and birds filled the air with melodies, Dan-Dan the Yo-Yo Man made his annual pilgrimage to our playground at St. Mary's School. He drove up in a dark maroon 1950 Hudson we all recognized on sight: It had the Step-Down Ride that allowed it to out-corner Fords and Chevys at the stock car races out at the fairgrounds. To own a car like that was to be a Duncan Yo-Yo professional.
Dan-Dan dismounted on the far side of the big Hudson, and when he walked into view there were already two Yo-Yos spinning in the air before him, making a whirl of red and yellow. He walked smiling toward home plate, let the yo-yos bounce off it, and snapped them on the fly into his pockets. He took out one, and rocked the baby, walked the dog, skinned the cat, made the monkey climb the string, and went around the world. Then he pulled out a Camel, lit up, and passed out flyers for the city-wide Duncan Yo-Yo contest that would be held on the stage of the Princess Theater on Main Street in Urbana for the following three Saturdays.
My home town of Urbana recently did me the honor of dedicating a plaque on the sidewalk in front of my childhood home.
I have feelings more than ideas. I am tired, but very happy. My 11th annual film festival has just wrapped at the Virginia Theater in my home town, and what I can say is, it worked. There is no such thing as the best year or the worst year. But there is such a thing as a festival where every single film seemed to connect strongly with the audience. Sitting in the back row, seeing these films another time, sensing the audience response, I thought: Yes, these films are more than good, and this audience is a gathering of people who feel that.
Let me tell you about the last afternoon, the screening of a newly restored 70mm print of "Baraka." The 1,600 seats of the main floor and balcony were very nearly filled. The movie exists of about 96 minutes of images, music and sound. Nothing else. No narration. No subtitles. No plot, no characters. Just the awesome beauty of this planet and the people who live on it. The opening scene of a monkey, standing chest-deep in a warm pool in the snow, looking. Looking in a very long and patient shot, which invites us to see through his eyes. Then the stars in the sky above. "Baraka" is a meditation on what it means to be awake to the world.
I was born at the center of the universe, and have had good fortune for all of my days. The center was located at the corner of Washington and Maple streets in Urbana, Illinois, a two-bedroom white stucco house with green canvas awnings, evergreens and geraniums in front and a white picket fence enclosing the back yard. Hollyhocks clustered thickly by the fence. There was a barbeque grill back there made by my father with stone and mortar, a dime embedded in its smokestack to mark the year of its completion.
There was a mountain ash tree in the front yard, and three more down the parking on the side of the house. These remarkable trees had white bark that could be peeled loose, and their branches were weighed down by clusters of red-orange berries. "People are always driving up and asking me about those trees," my father said. He had planted them himself, and they were the only ones in town--perhaps in the world. They needed watering in the summertime, which he did by placing five-gallon cans under them with small holes drilled in their bottoms. These I carefully filled with the garden hose from the back yard, while making rainbow sprays over the grass around.
When I was in first or second grade and had just been introduced by the nuns to the concept of a limitless God, I lay awake at night driving myself nuts by repeating over and over, But how could God have no beginning? And how could he have no end? And then I thought of all the stars in the sky: But how could there be a last one? Wouldn't there always have to be one more? Many years later I know the answer to the second question, but I still don't know the answer to the first one.
I took it up with a favorite nun, Sister Marie Donald, who led our rhythm band and was our basketball coach. "Roger," she said, "that is just something you have to believe. Pray for faith." Then I lay awake wondering how I could pray for faith to a God I could not believe in without faith. That seemed to leave me suspended between two questions. These logical puzzles seemed to be generated spontaneously within my mind. They didn't come from my school or my family. Most of my neighborhood friends were Protestants who were not interested in theories about God, apart from the fact that of course he existed.
Here you'll find my list from Dec. 30, 1999.
A joke should have the perfection of a haiku. Not one extra word. No wrong words. It should seem to have been discovered in its absolute form rather than created. The weight of the meaning should be at the end. The earlier words should prepare for the shift of the meaning. The ending must have absolute finality. It should present a world view only revealed at the last moment. Like knife-throwing, joke-telling should never be practiced except by experts.
For many laymen, a joke is a heavenly gift allowing them to monopolize your attention although they lack all ability as an entertainer. You can tell this because they start off grinning and grin the whole way through. They're so pleased with themselves. Their grins are telling you they're funny and their joke is funny. The expert knows not to betray the slightest emotion. The expert is reciting a fact. There is nothing to be done about it. The fact insists on a world that is different than you thought. The fact is surprising and ironic. It is also surprising--you mustn't see it coming. That's why the teller should not grin. His face shouldn't tell you it's coming. If the joke is also vulgar, so much the better, but it must never exist for the sake of vulgarity. That's why "The Aristocrats" is not only the most offensive joke in the world, but also, in the wrong hands, the most boring.
I have lived more than nine months of my life in Boulder, Colorado, one week at a time. Here I am again. Here more than anywhere else I have heard for the first time about more new things, met more fascinating people who have nothing to do with the movies, learned more about debate, and trained under fire to think on my feet. So please don't zone out on me because I use the zzzzz-inducing term "Conference on World Affairs."
For 61 years, this annual meeting at the University of Colorado has persuaded a very mixed bag of people to travel to Boulder at their own expense, appear with each other on panels not of their choosing, live with local hosts who volunteer their homes, speak spontaneously on topics they learn about only after they arrive, are driven around town by volunteers, fed at lunch by the university, and in the evening by such as CWA chairman Jane Butcher in her own home. For years the conference founder Howard Higman personally cooked on Tuesday night. The hundreds of panels, demonstrations, concerts, polemics, poetry, politics and performances are and always have been free and open to the public.
Great movies under the stars for free. The lineup has been released for this summer's 10th annual Chicago Outdoor Film Festival, presented by the Mayor's Office of Special Events and programmed by the Chicago Film Office. In honor of two recently passed movie giants, Paul Newman in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and director Sydney Pollack's "Tootsie" are included. And a John Ford classic will screen in honor of the Abraham Lincoln centenary.
To: Bill O'Reilly