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Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Writer's Life 4/16 - Old Pros

Serious films are rare these days. That should be rephrased. All artists are serious about their work, be it light entertainment or weighty trips into the meaning of life. Last night I watched one of the latter, Youth (2015), courtesy of Netflix. Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, an Italian from Naples, it is a meditation on life, chiefly from the point of view of two men on the cusp of 80, a composer/conductor played by Michael Caine, who is 83 in real life, and a director played by Harvey Keitel, 76, The characters have been friends all their adult lives. They are at an idyllic spa in the Alps, Caine's character retired, Keitel's refining a work in progress. The script is all over the place. Thoughts and feelings often seem contradictory. I assume it's intentional, as humans tend to be at least occasionally contradictory, especially when at their worst. There is no plot. The narrative delves into the lives of the artists and others visiting the spa. The cinematography is spectacular and the overall workings frequently arty. Dreams are a big part of the narrative. I found all of the characters interesting. Rachel Weisz plays Caine's daughter, just dumped for a younger woman by Keitel's son. Somehow she looks 10 years younger than the last time I saw one of her films. Maybe her husband, Daniel Craig, has her working out as hard as he apparently does. Paul Dano, who to me is a dead ringer for Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, plays an actor preparing to portray Hitler. Jane Fonda (how I hate to mention her) has a part perfect for her -- foul-mouthed actress/diva set to star in Keitel's film. There are several memorable scenes: a fat, former soccer great, based on Diego Maradona, kicking a tennis ball high into the air repeatedly, not allowing it to touch the ground until he finally runs out of gas; the screenwriting crew with their heads literally together, hashing out the script; Keitel having a vision of multiple actresses standing in a field, reciting dialogue, presumably from his works; Caine visiting his wife, who has been in a catatonic stupor, for the first time in ten years. The audience gets to hear two of his character's famous Simple Songs at the end, one in concert, the other during the closing credits. Although they are performed excellently, I cannot say I liked them. One listen is not enough for proper judgment. The film was not a box office success, which is not surprising, as it is not what the general public wants. Is it a success artistically? I think so. The commentary section at IMDb is almost equally split be admirers and detractors, masterpiece or pretentious. 34,000+ users have rated Youth, forging to a consensus of 7.4 of ten. That seems fair, although I suspect I'd appreciate the film even more upon further viewing. Sorrentino, whom I had not heard of before this morning, has been active, credited with 18 screenplays and 22 stints in the director's chair. In 2014 his La Grande Bellezza was awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I commend him for taking risks and opening himself to criticism. Youth runs about two hours. Its pace is leisurely. I suspect its appeal is limited to those who dwell on life's mystery, and those interested in the creative process and the life of artists. It's tone is not positive, despite the success the main figures have achieved. Although I pretty much share its view of life and the constant battle vs. futility, it also forces me to remind myself of those friends who have gotten existence right for the most part, the shining example and hope they provide. I respect them all the more.

My thanks to Ann, who bought Billionths of a Lifetime, which contains two screenplays. She has a friend in the business. I don't expect anything to come of it, but one must try. Thanks also to the other kind folks who bought books on this glorious day.
Vic's Short Works:
Vic's 5th Novel:'s 4th novel:
Vic's 3rd Novel:
Vic's Short Story on Kindle:
Vic's Short Story Collection:
Vic's 2nd Novel: Kindle:
Vic's 1st Novel:


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