On a Lighter Note

+ People have been onto the animation of Don Hertzfeldt for awhile now but I’ll be totally honest — I actually had never encountered his work until.he did a credits sequence for “The Simpsons” that was probably the most deeply weird 2 minutes of TV I’d ever seen. (I put it up there with the midget dancing scene in “Twin Peaks.”)

Hertzfeldt does deceptively simple-looking hand-drawn animation, coupled with surreal strokes of humor and strange, naked neurotic emotions; his work’s been at Sundance a bazillion times over the years, and he’s got a bit of a cult going on. I had never really seen it — animation is kind of its own thing, and certainly during my film school years it was never quite treated on the same level as, you know, “cinema.”

But I was aimlessly browsing Netflix’s streaming movies one night, though, and finally checked out Hertzfeldt’s feature “It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” I kind of fell in love: his work starts off funny, off-beat and quirky, but as it proceeds and the main character unravels mentally, the story becomes poignant and even tragic. Even though he draws stick figures, Hertzfeldt’s work is so human — so much about the frailty of human existence, and how unhappy we can be. In the end, not a light, fun breezy story, but a deeply resonant, sad one.

+ We went to see “Inherent Vice” the other night and while it’s not the most cohesive work, or even P.T. Anderson’s best film — I think for sentimental reasons I will always love “Magnolia,” though I have to see if it holds up over the years — I still mightily enjoyed it. Sometimes a movie is a well laid-out architecture of story events and ideas, and sometimes it’s just a shaggy dog running from one sprinkler to the next — this film’s a shaggy dog and an oddly loveable one. I really enjoyed Joaquin Phoenix doing a funnier, lighter role, and that second-to-last showdown scene between him and Josh Brolin’s square cop character is kind of worth the whole ride for me. Oh, and any film with Can on the soundtrack = aces!

+ Oh! And I wanted to tell everyone about the best book I read last year, which I should’ve wrote about last year, but I was busy being anxious and emotional. And in truth, I didn’t read it until the end of the year, anyway.

But! Now I’m telling everyone I know: Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings is a deeply genius read. Not an easy one, by any means — just to give you a sense, James has cited Faulkner as an influence on this book, and the multiple narrators and many layers of history and politics make it a dense, sometimes difficult book, which can get a little tangled, too, in the Jamaican patois James uses for some of the characters.

It starts off detailing the patchwork of circumstances and characters surrounding the attempted assassination of Bob Marley — still a very shadowy incident in Jamaican history — but then leaps off into cocaine-era NYC. But after awhile, you find your groove and it’s so worth the ride. I put down the book feeling hopeful, devastated, as if I’d time-traveled into the past and had an eagle-eye view to connect the butterfly effect of one historical almost-event with the sociopolitics of a seemingly unconnected time. Read it!

Anyway, I went on a big James kick after finishing Seven Killings and read his previous book, The Book of Night Women, a historical novel about a female slave on a sugar plantation in 19th century Jamaican. That might be a better place to start if you want to read James: the story is more compressed and linear, though again, it’s mostly written in patois — which you quickly get the hang of, really, but it takes a bit of time. But it’s also a brilliant book: brutal in its unflinching portrayal of slaver’s physical and emotional violence, yet beautifully rich and unexpectedly tender in its characterizations. Seriously: Best. Writer. Ever. Seriously!

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