Its final season (S05) is soon ... well, soon for me. I'm waiting for the last episode to air April 25 and then I'm binging the whole thing. Till then, in no particular order, what I would ask Pamela Adlon, and Sam Fox. Wouldn't that be divine? A chat with Pamela Adlon.
This piece contains spoilers ...
Hello Pamela Aldon,
Let's start by talking about food.
Sam is a provider, but not just that. Sam is a nurturer, some of which she expresses through her cooking (she’s often in the kitchen making the most amazing meals and snacks). Does Sam see it that way? Does Sam see herself as a nurturer? Or is she just into cooking?
And, Sam cooks a lot (a lot), and what she makes looks deliriously delicious. But, we almost never see her or anyone else eating all those meals she makes. What’s up with that? Dramatically-speaking, is there a difference between showing a cooking scene and an eating scene?
Let's talk about music.
The soundtrack across all 4 seasons is stellar, and often the lyrics replace dialogue—how does that come about? Do you discuss the script and intentions for dialogue with the music supervisor? Is there already dialogue in the script that gets replaced with song lyrics?
The soundtrack is all over the map in terms of eras and genres, but there’s a through line—a consistent feeling. What is that for you? What’s the mood, the space, that you’re going for? Is it aligned with that the mood/space that the Fox family lives within? It all feels nostalgic and contemporary at the same time—or there’s a strain—again, a vibe, a feeling—that transcends time. This continuity seems to anchor to and through Sam: she is a woman of her time—whatever that time is.
Let's talk about Sam
Before what reads as a denouement in S04 E10, “Listen to the Roosters”, Sam seems to us to be experiencing some of the symptoms of peri-menopause, like her patchy pubic hair. As a middle-aged woman myself, I found this incredibly reassuring. It reminds me of a scene in Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener, 2013) when Julia Louis Dreyfus’ character discovers that her boyfriend, played by James Gandolfini, is missing a tooth—which she notices when they’re kissing. As she’s telling a friend about it she says she finds it sexy. Twenty years after a bike accident, I had to have a tooth pulled, and have since walked around with a gap in my mouth—Holofcener’s scene reassured me in the same way as yours did.
Some would probably characterize this disclosure about Sam—patchy pubic hair loss, discussing this facet of (female) middle-aging—as brave. Is it? And who is it, at the end of the day, who’s brave? Sam? Or, Pamela?
Does Sam has boundary issues, or has she chosen radical transparency?
Let's talk about being a Woman
Who is Sam as a woman? Particularly in this culture, and even more particularly in the context of LA. How does she perceive herself on the femininity continuum and within the social strictures that dominate how we define and perceive woman along that measurement.
It strikes me that the two filmic storylines that helped me feel comfortable about intimate (sort of female) “frailties” “losses” “shortcomings”—yours about pubic hair and Holofcener’s about a missing tooth—are both told by woman. Do you think, ultimately, women are more forgiving, more accepting, of our bodily foibles, if not achieving equanimity then at least acquiescence? (Even though women are more relentlessly put upon to perform beauty and perfection in a particular way.)
OK. Now let's talk about Motherhood.
Is Sam a good mother? Does she think she is? Do her kids think she is? In S02E04 Max exclaims to her mother “you didn’t do anything that a mother does”, and after some back-and-forth about the issue Sam exclaims back, “you’re right, I’m a shitty mother”. But Sam is holding back so much in that scene. Sam holds back so much from Max (and all her daughters) about their father’s shortcomings and the complicated strings that push and pull outside the view of children. And that is what a mother does. Including not rescuing her own reputation in the eyes of her children at the expense of the father’s. Do the girls really know this deep down?
What about Phil? Was she a good mother to Sam when Sam was a girl? These days Phil is somewhere between a bit “off” and totally unhinged, and Sam (appropriately) has a bit of a short fuse with her. So what about in their past? Sam seems to have achieved remarkable equanimity vis-à-vis her mother Phil. How did she get there?
Will Sam go through empty-nest syndrome (big time)? She is so centered in her place of motherhood—in the first seasons wearing the “maman” nameplate necklace—it seems like the departure of all three girls from the house will bring about an enormous emptiness. Will it?
In S02E02, “Rising", Sam leaves for the weekend—off for a girlfriends’ get-away to splash around at the home her friend Sunny’s uber rich boyfriend. Off in a private plane no less. Off to where a hired mariachi band greets the women when they arrive at Mark’s villa from the airport. Barely arrived though, Sam leaves. She gets Sanjay, one of the servants, to drive her away in a golf-cart escape and she goes to a modest seaside motel. Then Sam leaves again. We see her driving a black Dodge Challenger as picks up her girls, one by one, from their weekend babysitting places, and they all go the beach. A different get-away with her own girls (all of which we witness to the anthemic totem tune, Rising, by Corrina Repp.) But. Sam is still alone at the seaside motel. It’s been a fantasy. Where does Sam want to be?
Let's talk about the acting
Of all the girls, Max and Sam seem to have the most arch dynamic together. Is it because Max is full-on in hormonal teen time, or is there something in their relationship? Is all the tetchy stuff with the girls scripted or is any of it improvised? It sometimes sounds improvised, or seems so—especially with Max. Sometimes it looks like, Mikey Madison, the actor playing Max, is about to crack up.
What were you looking for in the actors who auditioned for the roles of the three daughters? Where you looking for discrete traits as well as a traits that operated within the three as sisters and daughters together?
Let's talk about the men
How is Sam feeling about men? She says she’s sworn off them. Has she? Is she angry about men? Relatedly, was Sam negligent or a push-over in the separation settlement with her ex-husband Zander? Was she a push-over in the marriage? In fact, how did Sam even marry a guy like Zander in the first place? He seems so louche and flaccid and Sam is so full of fire and power. It’s very hard to imagine how that relationship ever happened.
Relatedly, everyone in Sam’s immediate family—all female—have what our culture would deem to be male names: Sam, Max, Phil, Duke, Frankie. And Sam’s brother’s name is Marion, a name more conventionally thought of as female. What’s up with that?
What are your thoughts on ghosts? They make appearances across the seasons. And, more generally, what about energy? In Get Lit, S03E11, the episode starts with Duke and Phil clearing / smudging the house. In this same episode Sam’s father’s ghost appears. And in other episodes other ghosts appear too. There's S02E09, White Rock, where Duke sees the ghost of the dead woman. And in S04E10, Listen to the Roosters, Duke has a conversation with an old woman while seated on a bench near a food cart. At one point the woman proclaims to Duke that she can see the future. In the same conversation, and after Duke has said that she never wants to get married and have children, the old woman, who herself never married and never had children, talks to Duke about the role men played in her life, noting that they’d given her music, love, danger, ideas, adventure, all of which shaped her. But, as the woman says next, she’s preferred being alone and feeling good about being alone with herself. So, are men a distraction? Taking away from women who they are capable of being?
The woman on the bench vanishes—another ghost? Or is Duke actually talking to her future self?
It seems to be Duke who most intersects with otherworldly phenomenon. How did that come about in her life?
And, Sam. A bit more on Sam.
In S04E03, Sam walks in on Frankie who is in bed with a boy. Sam goes to talk to Max about it. Part of the conundrum for Sam is that Frankie is with a boy, and says so to Max, plaintively pointing out to Max that she said once that Frankie is a boy (S01E10), to which Max replies, “mom, I never said that”. It’s not true. But Sam doesn’t confront Max with that lie. How come?
In fact, Sam demonstrates enormous largesse towards those who have fallen short. Sunny’s ex, Jeff, is a really great case in point—Sam extends and huge “OK, we mess up in certain realms” to Jeff post-divorce, and even when he messes up again (S02E07, Blackout). But Sam is still is pretty ballast about it—she’s not thrown. She simply see Jeff’s utter mess, which seems to liberate Sam even further. How has Sam achieved such balance? Such compassion? Is that what she has?
Would Sam move to New Orleans? Is Sam a beast of LA? It seems very much her ecosystem. Could she live anywhere else? (Although, having been in New Orleans myself, and being someone chatty in the way that Sam is, it’s a great city for chatting people up, which is most definitely central to Sam’s ecosystem.)
Do you have a favorite episode?
In re-watching the series, S02E09, White Rock, really struck me. It seems to be about legacy. Family legacy: those lost, those stolen (the Indigenous man in the museum exclaiming his family belongings should be returned); even legacies that linger at the edge of our lives—the ghost the Duke sees and then makes peace with.
What’s with all the rain in S04?
Lastly. What are better things?
Tonight, it's the Oscar's. I'm rooting for a few things, a few people. In anticipation of the night, I share the conversation points I would love to get into with Maggie Gyllenhaal, the writer and director of The Lost Daughter and whose film is nominated in three categories. (I'm rooting for her.)
I found the film mesmerizing and as soon as I'd finished it I wrote down what most struck me. It came out in bullet-points, as questions I'd want to ask Gyllenhaal. I tidied that list up a bit, but it's still a bit elliptical, like someone snuck a list of questions into some paragraphs.
This piece contains spoilers ...
Leda is 48 and within her we still see her firm and fiery younger self—a self that surfaces full force in the flashbacks to Leda as a young woman, a mother, married, with two young daughters. Now Leda’s traveling alone and settled into an island village for an extended stay.
Within the first minutes of the film, Gyllenhaal gives us Leda’s body above the surface and below as she floats in the sea, paddles and stands in the water, watching what's around her; all 48 years of her in a bathing suit. In this way we understand two things about Leda: she has a body (which mothers distinctly understand from conception onwards) that engages with the world around her (swimming, dancing); and, she is a woman who is unapologetic in her solitude—at the beach, going to dinner, having drinks, at the cinema, alone.
We also learn, more gradually, that Leda sets boundaries: she won't move from her beach chair when asked by the matriarch of a boisterous family overtaking the beach and wanting more room; she confronts the disruptive drunks at the theater; she asks Lyle to leave her to her meal at the restaurant; she won't let Will up to her flat to discuss the tryst plans he has with Nina; she leaves her husband and children.
Leda wants things and pursues them in ways we’re conditioned to allow men to do, but not women. Maybe the most striking example is when, in flashback, we see Leda’s thesis advisor come to her dorm door at the academic conference they’re attending after her work was discussed in awed terms by another scholar in his address earlier that day. Now at her door, this advisor appears, humbled and a little bewildered, to ask Leda to join an invite-only dinner reserved for the conference rock-stars. Seated beside her stuffy advisor at the large table, Leda is bidden to join the more flamboyant academic who referenced her work earlier, and she re-seats herself with him and his rowdy pals at some distance from her advisor, relocating to the cutting edge, where all the fun is. Brazenly and unapologetically, Leda grabs onto the praise, going to where the high bar of new challenges and achievement reside. Women don't do this. Men do. Leda did.
Leda is also complicated. And weird, and maybe even a little nuts. Is she? As a younger woman, there was a slightly unhinged vibe to her in that what-ignites-me-extinguishes-me kind of way. Now, older, Leda seems slightly more driven by grief than the drive that propelled her toward the independence she grabbed onto earlier in her life. Now, on this island, in a gesture she can’t explain and we may find hard to understand too, Leda surreptitiously steals from a little girl at the beach a doll like her own long ago—a doll that she gave to her young spirited daughter Bianca who marred it and that Leda then chucked out the window where it broke apart on the road below. Now Leda tends to this stolen doll, mothering the doll, cleaning her, preening her, buying her a new outfit; sleeping with her. This looks like grief to me. This looks like the crazy that grief can coax out of us.
What is Nina’s attraction to Leda? Of course there's the defiance—Leda stands up to Nina's clan, that band of thugs she's married into. Is there more? Nina had to have trusted Leda an awful lot to openly acknowledge her sexual affair with Will, a betrayal that her husband, whacked on machismo, would surely punish brutally; in fact, Nina goes so far as to want Leda to collude in the orchestration of the next sexual betrayal by way of lending her and Will Leda’s apartment for a few afternoon hours.
But Leda’s betrayal of Nina's daughter, stealing Elena's doll, is what crosses the line for Nina: it's okay for a woman to betray her husband, but not her child. Did Leda break the code of motherhood? After all, Leda found and returned Elena to her mother at the beach when the little girl had wandered off and no one could find her. Now Leda’s just stolen the girl’s doll. How did Leda think Nina would react when she confessed to stealing the doll? Any differently? And why didn't she lie? Why didn't she say she found the doll and cleaned her up to return to Elena?
Who’s the lost daughter? As a mother myself, I think a lot about my own mother (from whom I surely learned some of how I mother) and what I feel most acutely is being a daughter who’s lost her mother (she died when I was barely a mother myself)—ultimately, leaving me the lost daughter. Is Leda a lost daughter?
And we haven’t yet talked about the cinematography, which is sublime. Nor have we talked about the acting, particularly that of Olivia Coleman, which is equally sublime. Coleman’s performance strikes a remarkable balance of depth and levity, giving us a woman who is confident, capable, and possibly a little cuckoo too. Someone both clipped and compassionate, self-actualized and encumbered.
Above all, Leda is defiant, and so is Maggie Gyllenhaal. When and where in contemporary culture is the silent consensus so blatantly broken open for us to watch a woman, a rotund one at that, eat an ice cream treat out in the open, lounging on a beach chair, her bathing suit visible though a gauzy beach dress, alone.
a documentary directed by Marcelo Mesquita and Guilherme Valiengo
about São Paulo’s street art and artists, particularly Os Gêmeos, Nunca and Nina
a piece I've written for Pull Focus, a cool Vancouver organization that happens to be founded and run by a friend of mine.
Art is communication, art is connection, art is even war. In the case of São Paulo, Brazil’s sprawling grey city, and in the case of the documentary Grey City about some of São Paulo’s artists, the terrain for this art is the street, more precisely the walls in the street.
In the 1980s, São Paulo took the world stage as the epicenter for urban visual street art known as pixo — graffiti and tagging. Its antecedents, Pixação, “wall writings", originated in São Paulo in the 1940s and 50s when citizens painted political statements in tar on walls in response to political slogans painted by political parties. Pixo’s evolution through to today has maintained that spirit of dialogue and defiance—a kind of urban calligraphy where some of São Paulo’s most marginalized endeavour to tag as high as they can, in as many public places as possible, incontrovertibly asserting their existence as a form of challenge to the city’s privileged who consider pixo ugly, ignorant, and illegal, much in the way they view the pichadores (the pixo makers) themselves.
The 80s re-emergence of pixo was an organic extension of other street art forms like hip hop and break-dancing. Such was the route for Os Gêmeos, the twin brother graffiti team featured in Grey City. With the same nimbleness of their breakdancing, identical brothers Otavio and Gustavo moved toward paint, starting first with pixo and then expanding their work into more pictoral murals. Today, their early pixo style can still be found within their murals, and the impetus to connect and converse with their city is at its heart.
Os Gemêos is out to communicate, to engage, and to contribute something positive for the public good—these are their guides. Producing their work during the day is critical to the process and to their pieces: how else will they know what’s going on, what they need to say, and to whom? How else will they connect directly with people and engage in real time? That’s how they see it. And what they encounter speaks back to them through the smiles and joy returned by passersby—this enthusiastic feedback loop affirming for them that they’ve honoured their vocation and their destiny.
Graffiti, however, also operates within the framework of the city’s regulatory, mercantile and political interests. So the war this artform engages in is often with the clean up crews contracted by City Hall to paint over the murals not deemed to be “artistic”—so, armed with grey paint, a subjective and anonymous army disappears the art, randomly and arbitrarily. However, in a metropolis of almost 20M people that sprawls across almost 8,000 square kilometres (the largest city of the Americas), the effectiveness of the clean up efforts doesn’t really keep pace with the artists, and so a kind of dialogue reverberates between leagues of creative resistance and the amorphous apparatus mobilized to squelch it.
This is where the graffiti movement truly embodies its role as a public art. No one possesses it, directly challenging the fundamentals of capitalism, and no one really controls it either, though many try and wish they could. In the case of Os Gemêos, their rigorous code of conduct keeps their work “clean”, in the sense that their concern with public good means shunning any form of negative messaging, and their tireless commitment to producing such work, in proliferation, eventually attracted international attention, rendering their colourful contribution to the city’s walls more and more challenging to object to.
Os Gemêos’ progressive rise to worldwide acclaim has ironically jettisoned their work to the reaches of national sanction too: they were commissioned to tag the plane of Brazil’s national football team competing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Perhaps, though, this is a most apt illustration of remaining true to the artists’ animating values—speaking truth to power—in this case attaining lift off with jet engines; though, told not to paint the jet’s engines covers, they did it anyway, ever true to another animating force of the grafiteiro, tagging where authorities don’t want you to. Perhaps not quite biting the hand that feeds them, we could fairly say that Os Gemêos is willing to paint it.
Here in our own grey city, Vancouver is now home to the latest Os Gemêos piece, Giants, thanks to Vancouver Biennale and their partnership with Ocean Cement on Granville Island.
Giants is an ongoing Os Gemêos project, adding Canada to the Giants growing international family of Greece, USA, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Brazil and England.
As Os Gemêos believes, “Every city needs art and art has to be in the middle of the people”, so Vancouver now has art, in the middle of the city, and this art happens to be a kind of people in its own right—Giants—an excellent symbol of art’s enduring heart, which is 3 dimensional, multiple, central, colourful, and gigantic.
Here's the film trailer .....
my thoughts on boyhood (the film) by Richard Linklater
Making anything takes time—making something with your hands, making a decision, an observation, a change—it takes time to do, and it also takes time away to reflect. The leisure of allowing time’s force to bear itself upon one’s work is seldom afforded, especially in the case of film. Michael Apted’s Up series is based in the passage of time, but sequentially, across 8 discreet segments that express the 49 years it so far encompasses. Boyhood gives us 12 years, but all within one piece.
So, what we see, Boyhood’s narrative conceit at first reading, is 12 years in the life of a boy, Mason, from 6 to 18, following with him through his own becoming. And it’s true, we do see this. What we also see though, when the screen drops dark and we walk away, is the work of an artist bringing to bear the inimitable insights that only time grants, when invited to.
Boyhood is infused with love and tenderness, cutting us all some slack about what’s imperfect and misguided in the shambolic jumble that is being alive and living a life. In Boyhood, people restrain themselves, without withholding; not settling for too little, yet accepting each other’s limitations because each seems to be aware that they too have their own.
Everything is mundane and anodyne, yet it’s all, also, potent and consequential. Like the fado singer who wails into words the deepest mysteries of what it means to live, Linklater, the mercifully milder balladeer, reminds us about the bittersweet truth that all is finite, and yet, splendidly, as Mason begins to comprehend, all we ever have is now. So use it well.
Linklater does—he uses time to tell this story, longitudinally checking in with now, twelve times. It’s across the passage of time, and through Mason’s growing, that we understand the ripening of self-knowledge and world wisdom; that, in the process of maturation and becoming, there’s no short cut. Time is a constant, and while we’re a part of it, the only way forward is through. So, what’s gained while we witness Mason feeling his way into his life and into his own becoming, is really our own. Witnessing the wilderness of Mason’s intimacies, we know our own; but we’re not on our own, alone, Linklater seems to say. Somehow, we’re all with Linklater, the film’s ultimate witness, a man who seems to have deliberately structured this work to document his own growth, looking back while casting forward from here, and what he sees and learns seems to lay perfectly over, or become embedded within, the gaze of a growing boy. The parallel lives of these two separate people are shared, and the continuity between them reaches across time and the screen to join with all of us.
In Boyhood, Linklater captures and conveys his own maturation as a man, exploring his own understanding of (his) life, and his own maturation as an artist, sorting, still, through his creative cosmos for what matters. And what he seems to be discovering is that these two things cohere: the artist and the man are one; the boy and the man are one; the maker and the witness are one—there is seamlessness between who we are and what we do, or there should be, or can be. And that’s what we can hope for, reach for, and make for ourselves.
We may all be just winging it, as Mason’s father confirms to his son, but what we do matters, and it matters most, Linklater is saying, to ourselves as much in our solitude as in our connections. At some point you’re no longer growing up, you’re aging, but no one can pinpoint that moment exactly, so take care, pay attention, notice the flow of the minutiae, cut a little slack, know that it matters, and take the time to make it so.
So, I broke more rules last night, and was even better at it 2nd time 'round.
I saw Frances Ha, in a bone fide movie theatre, and treated myself to a coke and popcorn. I then meandered home along the seawall on South False Creek.
At Spyglass ferry dock, I came across one of the public pianos, and a young man was playing the entire soundtrack from Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, barefoot. I sat on a bench and listened for a while, watching a few skiffs skim across the creek dodging sailboat squats.
Further on, I bought a cup of coconut ice cream and continued meandering. Close to home I jumped in a car2go because I was tired, and was then completely enchanted by a song on CBC's The Signal, so much so that I sat in the parked car to hear the song finish.
Le Fabuleux Hier Soir de Zoe
Here's that Signal song, inexplicably called Obvious Bicycle, which is a great title. The band is Vampire Weekend.
France Ha, by the way, is great. I think it's the most accomplished film by Noah Baumbach so far. Co-written with Greta Gerwig, the dialogue resonates and elucidates, even for those of us past our 20s. And Gerwig's Frances finely conveys the complexity of drifting when it gets away from us, and how a returning to self can be as light and gradual as the initial cutting loose. Sometimes without any one particular, discernible moment, or gesture, or decision to do so, we come back, very much in the way we drifted off - an accumulation, through time, composed of circumstances and gestures and decisions, none of which mounts to enough on its own. It calls to mind a poem I wrote about a boyfriend I once had, D:
to drift is not to flow
to rock is not to roll
to want is not to will
What rules were broken?
Not so much rules as my practice of living on a very modest budget. So I splurged, intentionally. I took myself out, with a promise to do so free of worry and regret.
Frances Ha went to Paris for a weekend. I went to the movies.