Category Archives: Film

“Going in Style”: The Politics of Masculine Critique

Sunday, March 26, 2017

“Going in Style”: The Politics of Masculine Critique

When Linda Fry, Laurel Ann Bogen, and I went to see “The Last Word” a week ago, the previews included the upcoming release of a remake, “Going in Style.” I was disappointed instantly. The original starred a trio of men, and the remake has recast it with three males. As much as I enjoyed the original film back in 1979. I equally remember my main problem with it. The story-line involves three old men who decide that the possible benefits of robbing banks would probably outweigh the penalties, given that none of them had much likelihood of serving even a small portion of any lengthy prison sentence. As a comic premise, it served its purpose, but let us consider that the majority of individuals who might entertain that option as a solution to their predicaments would most likely be women. Impoverished old women confined to bleak circumstances far outnumber men, and if the comic requires the unexpected, a trio of aging women would easily provide a multitude of punch-lines and gags using the same premise.

The gender shift I proposed in my critique of the first “Going in Style” did in fact show up in a middle-aged variant a year later. The success of “9 to 5,” which starred Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton, demonstrated that a comedy in which women took the law into their own hands was certainly a viable project. If one were to propose a remake, I would be more inclined to see this one in a theater rather than the upcoming release featuring Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, and Michael Caine.

However, given the patriarchal backlash in this country right now, it is not surprising that this remake of “Going in Style” blithely presents the crisis of masculinity as the bedrock for its antics. The context for this remake has been building for years. At the end of the last century, Susan Faludi’s Stiffed, for instance, examined the challenges that working men faced within the economics of gender. Nevertheless, to have three men react to the loss of their pensions by launching careers as senescent criminals only serves to distract us from the machinations of an aging baby boomer in the recent presidential election. Trump and his inner circle are giving us a new definition of “style” and they don’t intend the aftermath to be comic.

Eric Fryer and the Hot Stove League

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Eric Fryer and the Hot Stove League

For those readers of this blog who are not familiar with baseball terminology, the “Hot Stove League” is not a reference to a “league” of teams, but rather an almost archaic phrase that encapsulates fans of the game who must endure the winter with stoic curiosity. There is widespread agreement that the term originated during the second half of the 19th century in village stores of rural areas of the United States. Casual acquaintances, fellow churchgoers, and old neighbors would meet up on winter nights to speculate about the coming season, as well as to commiserate about the past season. At this point, with the United States still far short of 50 state composition, no major league team was more than a thousand miles away from its furthest competitor. Given the harshness of winter where the density of the clubs was distributed, the allure of tipping back on a chair in the vicinity of a warm stove must have been irresistible in an age with almost no technological connections. Needless to say, the term has little feasibility today. “” is a domain name on sale for $1,000, or so my search this morning turned up. I suspect the price will not go up in 2017. In fact, it will probably still be available in the next decade.

Nevertheless, the photograph of Three Rivers Stadium in the link above (and the off-stage image of the frozen river on the other side of the outfield walls) made me think of that term yesterday, and I celebrated my own version of it last night by watching Knuckleball, a film about the pitching careers of Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey. Much to my surprise, Linda enjoyed it quite a bit, too, in part because the film is not just about athletes, but an examination of what any meaningful undertaking involves: a willingness to persevere. The basic advice that retired knuckleball pitchers, such as Charley Hough, had for Wakefield and Dickey was that they had to believe that their best years would be when other pitchers had long been retired. I suppose one could describe knuckleball pitchers of the avatars of delayed gratification in professional baseball.

Almost every boy who has played baseball has tried to throw two pitches at some point, even if they are not pitchers. In loosening up one’s throwing arm before a game, or in my case playing catch with my brother in the back-yard, it was impossible to resist throwing a spitter and a knuckleball. I had better luck with the spitter, which dropped about two feet as my brother was about to catch my pitch. “What was that?” he asked. “An illegal pitch,” I said, “and it’s too bad it’s the only one I can throw half-decently.” The knuckleball pitch really is a curiosity, since it moves slowly enough that its lack of spin is perplexingly half-detectible. It seems as if one should be able to keep track of its trajectory, but those who play the position of catcher know far better how little fun it is to be behind the plate with a knuckleballer on the mound.

I suppose that my blog has taken the knuckleball pitch as a metaphor for its approach. One never knows what the subject might be on any given day: poetry, visual art, music, movies, theater, electoral politics, urban transportation, or health care. Today, for instance, one might reasonably expect to find part three of my sequence of entries on Charles Webb’s poetics and poetry; instead, I am going to write about personal memories of baseball and being a fan of a current MLB player.

When my father finished up his 20 years of military service as an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy, he moved his baseball and personal memories. When my father finished up his 20 years of military service as an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy, he moved his family back to San Diego County, mostly because he loved the mild winters. My parents had bought a small three-bedroom house in Imperial Beach when he was stationed in that vicinity in the mid-1950s, and they had rented it out after he got transferred to Norfolk for the tail end of his military career. As we packed up our belongings to head back to the West Coast, I realized that my experience of being a fan of professional baseball was about to change for the better. The three hour time difference would allow me to wake up and read the final outcomes of all the games, and not just the ones played on the East Coast. The morning newspaper in Norfolk was printed long before the games on the West Coast were finished being played, and it was irritating to have to wait until after yet another game had been played before finding out about the day before. It was the last reason on a long list of why I hated Norfolk, Virginia; it turned out to be the only thing that improved in my life for almost a half-dozen years.

In my pre-adolescence, I was extremely fickle about my favorite team at any given moment. In the summer of 1959, during the final year of my father’s enlistment, I grew enamored of the Los Angeles Dodgers, mainly because I liked the out-of-nowhere quality of a young rookie relief pitcher named Larry Sherry, who was said to throw a pitch, the slider, I had not heard of before. His rhyming name and (at the time) exotic pitch were immediately alluring to an impressionable young fan, who had also admired players on the Milwaukee Braves as well as the Pirates and Yankees. Joe Adcock, Eddie Matthews, Hank Aaron. What pitcher would want to face those hitters, except for that own team’s staff, headed by Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette? Two years after the Braves had beaten the Yankees, I was cheering for the Dodgers, although I admired the White Sox’s ability to win a 1-0 game with an eighth inning outburst of a walk, a stolen base, a sacrifice bunt, and a RBI ground-out.

The majority of casual fans tend to favor specific teams, and will follow them faithfully decade after decade. Over the years, I have found that I take more pleasure in noticing the minor triumphs and frequent stumbles of the journeyman player, the “Everyman” of an athletic career that owes more to effort than talent. There were certainly plenty of such players on the local team in San Diego, a Triple AAA farm club that featured players such as Kent Hadley, who moved to Japan after 1961 season, and Harry Simpson, who ended his career playing for the Mexico City Reds. Have glove, will travel. One player who epitomized the journeyman status of professional baseball was Jim Pisoni, whose talent was sufficient to serve as a back-up outfielder for a couple of teams, but who ended his career in San Diego in 1962. Indeed, for every player such as Tony Perez, who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Cincinnati Reds and the Montreal Expos, there are dozens who linger in the obscurity of Triple AAA record books. I remember seeing Perez play in San Diego, and he brought an electricity to the field that left no doubt where he was headed as a ballplayer. More typical was the career of Art Shamsky, who will always be in the record books as one of the players to have hit four home runs in four consecutive at bats (though in Shamsky’s case, not in the same game).

At an early age, therefore, I learned of the travails of any occupation, including the most glamorous one. Minor talents languish, no matter how much effort is put into it. The 10,000 hour rule does not translate into success, though it may draw a person some measure of admiration. I think of Ray Rippelmeyer, for instance, who never got to pitch an inning of MLB ball, despite several successful seasons for the San Diego Padres. Other players do manage to put together a very modest career that includes some playing time in the big leagues, and part of my fascination with the game is how it is like chess: the move of a single pawn at an early stage in the contest can shift the whole outcome.

My favorite player these day illustrates that kind of possibility. Eric Fryer is a back-up catcher who has played for several teams in the past half-dozen years, including the Pirates, the Twins, and the Cardinals. Last year, he played for both the Cardinals and the Pirates, and many Cardinal fans wish that the team had released Brayan Pena in mid-season instead of putting Fryer on waivers and allowing the Pirates to add him to their roster. Fryer had had an outstanding first half for the Cardinals, filling in for Brayan, who had injured his knee just before the season started. Brayan had a contract in place, though, and when he had finally appeared to be healed after the All-Star break, it was Fryer who was let go.

While Fryer “cooled off” considerably as a batter while playing for the Pirates, he nevertheless managed to get 15 hits in 74 at bats, including two doubles, one triple, and 8 RBIs. It was far better production than what Pena contributed to the Cardinals over the last three months of the season. In addition, Fryer patiently escalated the pitch count of opposing pitchers by drawing 10 BBs. From a fan’s point of view, a record of playing in 35 games in the second half of a season, and only racking up a .203 BA and an OBP of .291 in 88 PA (Plate Appearances) is hardly an adequate performance, even for a second-string catcher. And it isn’t. It was a weak second half of production at the plate by a AAA+ player who has played a back-up role for three teams over the course of six seasons and a career total of 124 games. Fryer’s lifetime batting average, by the way, is .250 exactly (63 hits in252 Abs, with a career OBP of .330.

And yet as the Cardinals cleared out their locker room at Busch Stadium and looked at the National League standing, they must have wondered if that one game difference in the Wild Card standing between their team and the San Francisco Giants might be attributed to the decision to waive Eric Fryer mid-season. If Fryer had played the entire season for the Cardinals, the odds favor an instance in which Fryer’s bat would have been productive enough to turn a narrow defeat into a narrow victory. The one-game difference bench player. Maybe two games, in fact. The irony is that statistical analysis would “prove” Fryer’s worth to be less than major-league caliber in the second half. The reality is it is very difficult to measure the exact worth of a player, especially when it comes to “small ball.” The following is a “small ball” instance of how Fryer might have made the difference on the Cardinals’ team in July, August, and September.

The case in point is nearing the homestretch of last season. On Sunday morning, August 28, 206, Eric Fryer’s performance during the previous seven games he had worked behind the plate for the Pirates was not what any manager of a Wild Card contending team would hope for. Clint Hurdle’s Pirates were only a game and a half behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card race, with slightly less than three dozen games to go. Since being picked up on waivers by the Pirates in July, he had slumped badly at the plate. He hadn’t exactly broken out of that slump the previous night, and yet his at-bat in the fourth inning of Saturday night’s game with Milwaukee could be considered the turning point of the game. Fryer came to bat with runners on first and second, one out, and the Pirates down by a score of 5-1 in a ballpark that has been their graveyard for the past decade. With the count of two balls and two strikes, Fryer fouled out three consecutive pitches, and then drew two balls to walk the bases loaded, after which three singles, a Milwaukee error and a groundout scored five runs, and enabled the Pirates to take a lead they never surrendered.

Of course, instead of drawing a walk that loaded the bases, Fryer could have swung at one of the five pitches he received subsequent to the two-two count and grounded into a double play, which would throttled the inning and left the score at 5-1. This is not to say that the Pirates would have gone on to lose the game. But it’s those fourth inning at bats that so often determine the course of a season. Probably every third game played by a team has such a moment within the first five innings; and Fryer’s most important AB on Saturday night exemplifies one of those “small ball” moments that can shift a season’s outcome. Most certainly, a similar performance with the Cardinals, if Fryer had kept playing for them all season, might well have landed that team in the post-season playoffs.

It should be added that in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, September 16, Fryer had two official Abs, with a RBI, one hit, and a run scored. The Pirates won both games. In the game in which Fryer played, the score was 7-3, with a sacrifice fly RBI by Fryer and a walk in the ninth inning on which he then scored on Pedro Florimon’s double.

All of this was taken note of when the Cardinals decided to offer Fryer a minor-league contract for the coming 2017 season. He’s guaranteed a job yet one more year, and a journeyman professional ballplayer can ask for little more. His wife and he had twin sons in the middle of the last season, bulking his family up to five offspring, so another year of working as a professional athlete is mandatory. It’s a career that disrupts one’s family life, but making a salary of several hundred thousand dollars will certainly help provide for that family’s well-being in one’s absence. I wish him the best of luck. He has an earnest intelligence about his approach to the game that I admire and his gregarious self-discipline is inspiring.

I’ve never been a Cardinals fan, but if Fryer ends up being the primary back-up catcher to Yadier Molina, I might well put aside my aversion to a team associated with a family-owned brewery that I detest. Molina is truly one of the exceptional players in the game today. Last season, forced to take on catching duties above and beyond a normal pace, Molina still batted .304 and had an OBP of .358. Go ahead and call being his back-up catcher a second-rate career. I would call it a gratifying honor for a life devoted to learning a skill in which passion still matters.

Fryer is not the only journeyman who played with more than one major league team last season to sign a minor-league contract, in recent weeks, for the upcoming season. This kind of arrangement, in which a player is not on the 40 man roster of a team, allows teams to provide depth at various positions so that a sudden surge in injured players won’t catch them short-handed in mid-summer. Alex Presley signed with Detroit Tigers, for instance, and Erik Kratz signed with the Cleveland Indians, while Matt Hague has returned from a year in Japanese baseball to toil for the Minnesota Twins as a “depth” player. They both know that they might spend the entire season at Triple A, but due to the strength of the players’ union, at least they are being decently paid for remaining available as potential substitutes. Travis Ishikawa remains unsigned, however, and it’s possible that his career as a professional athlete is over. At least he has that glorious moment of hitting a championship game winning home run to savor in the transition to retirement as a player. Finally, now that Chase Lambin has retired as a player and started a career as a coach, I wonder who is the oldest player in the minor leagues to have never had a single at-bat in the majors? Chasing the dream, they call it. Here is a link to a more realistic appraisal of being a marginal figure in the show business of athletics: “They like you. They just don’t like you, like you.”

Laurel Ann Bogen — “Wings That Which Takes Flight”

When Charles Harper Webb was putting together his first anthology of Stand Up poets, one of his leading choices as a representative figure was Laurel Ann Bogen, whose performances of her poetry over the past forty years have made her a legend in Los Angeles poetry. Along with Linda Albertano and Suzanne Lummis, she has also recited her poems as part of the poetry performance ensemble, Nearly Fatal Women. Her new collection of poetry is a retrospective of her work, “PSYCHOSIS IN THE PRODUCE DEPARTMENT,” which will be officially published by Red Hen Press in April, 2016.

I have obtained her permission, as well as the consent of producer and director Doug Knott, to post a film adaptation of one of her poems, “Wings That Which Takes Flight.” Bogen’s voice is heard in the film, though she does not appear in it.

Tess Gallagher thanked in “Birdman” acceptance speech

“Birdman” won Oscars tonight for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. It was a pleasure to hear Alejandro González Iñárritu acknowledge in his third and final acceptance speech of the evening that one portion of the screenplay was not completely original. “I want to thank Tess Gallagher,” he said, “for letting us use Raymond Carver’s story.” This may be the first time that two American poets have been mentioned in the acceptance speech for “Best Picture of the Year.” Both Gallagher and Carver well deserve to have their names included in that appreciation list. I remember seeing Gallagher read her poetry in New York City in October, 1977. She was one of the most radiant young poets I had ever seen in my life. Within a month, she met Raymond Carver, with whom she savored the final decade of his life. I never knew Carver personally, but by all accounts he took more chances with his ability to function as a writer than most writers would ever volunteer for. The bristling perfume of her poetry no doubt helped sustain him. It’s gratifying to hear poets acknowledged for being able to contribute to work at the highest possible level of recognition in cinema.

Linda and I were very pleased to see awards also given to “The Imitation Game” for “Best Adapted Screenplay.” The acceptance speech for “Best Song” for “Glory” was also a stirring and bracing moment.

Harry Northup — Poet & Actor

“Poetry Los Angeles,” Laurence Goldstein’s superb assemblage of poems that focus on some aspect of Los Angeles, has already gone into a second printing. My hope is that the success of his book will inspire the generation of poets born in the last decade of the past century to undertake their own versions of Goldstein’s project in the second quarter of this century. One of the poets who will be an essential contributor to those future anthologies is Harry Northup, whose career as a character actor has made every film he has appeared in all the better for the craft he brings to each role. The amount of work that goes into preparing for a few minutes of presence in a film is hardly ever visible to those of us in a darkened multiplex (or if we’re lucky, at a full-scale venue such as the Art Theater in Long Beach). Charlotte H N Cooper has conducted a recent interview with Harry Northup that provides concrete instances of the labor that the craft of acting in movies requires. The interview is framed by a deceptively piquant anecdote. Here is the link:

“Take a ride with Harry Northup”: Charlotte H N Cooper interviews Harry Northup:

With Harry Northup’s generous permission, I also include in today’s posting another one of his poems, “Sainted Ears,” that first appeared in his own blog.

Sainted Ears

The loss has been a great
lions & mountains
blessings, notions, nights among
A river in moonlight through

The loss has been sunlight
marshes, movies
Favoritism spurs loss
A tall tree alone in light
like a school girl dressed
waiting for approval

No longer heart
No beating but reassuring
Set table waiting for reunion
A scratch on the floor

The loss has been reassuring
for one spectacular reason:
No demand no hurry

Loss dresses alone
Does not travel in a herd

Loss forgives
like clothespins
Joyous reunion with function

Cannot drive alone
Forgives beehive
Reads by bus light

Enough skittle skattle
Splitting force combine cuts
Twins befriends
Nest when light opens

Circle & light
Darkness rushes
For to find would resemble
A viewing within spinning

Light heart & hand
To be under shadow in light

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Harry E. Northup

Alive Inside / I Need That Record

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In the next room, I can hear the interviews and voiceover from a film about the disappearance of record stores, “I Need That Record.” Lenny Kaye is talking about holding the artifact of the record and its ability to summon a time and place. Putting aside the critique of being caught up in the vortex of a commodity fetish and disjuncture addressed by Benjamin in his classic essay about art in the age of mechanical reproduction, Kaye’s yearning for that kind of encounter aligns itself with my own fondness for small press magazines and chapbooks from the 1970s and 1980s.

I took a peek at some of Brendan Toller’s film just now, and it showed the store space of a record store completely vacated and cleaned up. The former owner is heard saying, “There’s not a trace that anything happened here, that any band played here, that anybody met somebody here” and that what he misses is “community.” That kind of evacuation and erasure is not specific to record stores, of course. It is an essential part of the reproduction of social life in capitalism, and it amounts to a kind of Alzheimer’s disease of cultural meaning.

Oddly enough, Linda and I happened to watch another documentary film the night before: Alive Inside: the Story of Music and Memory. In this film, a social worker (Dan Cohen) undertakes the project of trying to stimulate women and men who are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease in assisted care nursing facilities. He discovers that the one way to “wake them up” is to provide them with electronic devices that can play a large backlist of music that would have been familiar to them as young people. Almost immediately, these individuals begin to respond to the music by being able to talk about their experience of hearing the music and moving their bodies in response to the beat. It may be true that corporate America has requisitioned both the pharmaceutical treatment of aging people as well as how people listen to the music that helps define their youthful years, but it appears that the power they wield is not so all encompassing that it can seduce individuals such as Dan Cohen away from finding palliative care that restores the plasticity of memory.

Go to for further information.

BIRDMAN — “When did you take a risk?”

BIRDMAN (Or, the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Linda and I went to a matinee of Birdman yesterday, not being any more familiar with the work of the director than of its most famous actor, Michael Keaton. I’ve never seen any of the Batman movies, and it’s more than likely that I’ll never get around to viewing them. As a professor at UCSD liked to say, though, “You don’t need to read some things. The culture has read them for you.”

The aspect I enjoyed the most was a chance to look at a Broadway stage from the vantage of the stage itself. The theatricality of the movie kept me interested, even when the over-the-top meltdown of the protagonist seemed to pull the script in unbelievable directions. At times, it seemed as if the film forgot that Broadway is not art: it is a business — show business. It’s about enlarging dramatically and comically intimate moments into gestures capable of being perceived from fifty to eighty yards away in such a way that people buy tickets to see it happen. To make a film about the production of a play in which this aspect is relegated to subjective disintegration left me looking for allegorical levels of meaning; allegory, unfortunately, is on back order these orders, and it’s a long wait. Style, though, can compensate for a lot of shortcoming, and this film has style to spare. As short on time as I am, I somehow have to find a way to see this director’s other movies. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is someone I hope gets a chance to still be making films forty years from now.

As brilliant as the cinematography is, Birdman’s script could have used one more draft. The drama of Birdman focuses on an actor who is trying to salvage his ego. Since show business is the worst place to undertake that kind of self-reclamation, the story has problematic incidents. In the opening scenes of the movie, for instance, rehearsals for a play based on Raymond Carver’s writing are not going well. One of the actors is not pulling his weight. He gets eliminated from the cast by an “accident,” in which a leko drops on him. Keaton’s character confesses to his lawyer that it wasn’t an accident. While this event certainly portends the protagonist’s breakdown, it doesn’t match reality of show business enough. I simply don’t believe that an actor that bad would have been cast in the first place. I have to retract that statement. Bad casting happens more frequently than the principals in many shows would care to recall. On the other hand, was such an extravagant discharge necessary to generate the aggravated self-destructive trajectory of a “has-been” actor attempting a come-back? Well, perhaps so. In an odd way, this film reminded me of “Sunset Boulevard”; a marinated pathos exudes from the story-line, which we watch with fascinated repulsion.

“Birdman” at times seems like a variation on an aging rock star trashing the dressing room in all too familiar tantrum. (There was — for me, at least — a distant echo of Sam Shepard’s “The Tooth of Crime.”) Comic relief is provided just in time, at the spot when according to the man at Art Theater’s candy stand, some people decide to take a cigarette break themselves. The scene in which Keaton’s character is trapped outside of the theater in his bathrobe, and he must squirm out of it in order to run around the theater and enter through the front door, is a classic moment: all the overwhelming anxiety any of us might have experienced at being caught naked in a crowd is encapsulated in a “bad dream” that is poignantly hilarious. The magnification of this scene in social media provided just the right note of absurdity to make it all the more delicious.

All the actors in Birdman will be able to look back on this project with genuine pride. The actor challenges the theater critic: “When did you ever take a risk?” For the most part, this cast brought a degree of legitimate risk to their commitment. With luck, they’ll get a chance to work together again.

Most entrepreneurs of plasticity in all its forms realize that the most delightful moments of a work’s development involve palimpsestual layering. The choice to include the most famous monologue from Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” falls short of being the underpinning that was hoped for, however. A more complementary selection from Shakespeare would be a short speech by Caliban from “The Tempest,” one in which he is addressing Ariel. (A cover of “Field” poetry magazine with Duncan Bell as Ariel in a 1988 production of “The Tempest” is on top of the table I am typing this on: the source of this chance suggestion.) Or, at the very least, the actor’s daughter could have been named Miranda.

Finally (and it’s not fair that this aspect is relegated to the final paragraph), the score to the film deserves consideration. It should be noted that the drummer provides a sane counterpoint of percussive determination to the “sound and fury,” and his inclusion in the play was worthy of the early work of Tennessee Williams.

This film is a must-see, and don’t wait for it to be available on DVD. It’s a mandatory big screen viewing.


Thursday, August 6, 2014

After posting my proposition about giving those born on the cusp of the millennium the name of “search engine generation,” Linda and I went to a screening of Boyhood, the first two-thirds of which surprised me with its lack of interaction with search engines.  Finally, in the last third of Boyhood, the protagonist, Mason, has a moment of technological satori and starts to come to terms with the social programming that the proliferation of search engines has found itself imbricated in. This break-through realization happens when our up-til-now placid hero suddenly launches into a wise-beyond-his-years monologue while he’s driving a pick-up truck in the company of a young woman who eventually rejects him because of his pessimism. This scene, which reveals Mason’s intuitive comprehension of the full consequences of search engine technology, is meant to link up with his comments later on about the 100 percent success rate that colleges now score in using a 20 question form to sort applicants for dormitory assignments into compatible roommates. Think about it: Mason shoots apparently outstanding photographs, but he doesn’t share any of it on social media? Perhaps I am exaggerating this aporia, but I doubt it. I will concede that search engine technology is acknowledged in Boyhood, but imagine a film made with the same premise that covered the years between 1960 and 1972 that would dare to make an equivalently minimal use of television and radio. Such a film, screen in 1975, would have left its audience wondering if the people who had made the film had lived in the same time period. There are many missing qualities in Boyhood, but this one in particular stuck out as especially egregious.

More disappointing than the film’s blissful ignorance of actual ground level conditions (note that the one brief bullying scene is something that could have occurred in a film such as My Bodyguard decades ago! What happened to cyberbullying?), however, are the few negative reviews that the film has received. I myself join with the handful of critics (such as Kenneth Turan) who dare to shrug their shoulders, but I also find myself startled by the lack of insight into the real problems of the film as an alleged masterpiece. I’m happy to see the movie get a lukewarm reaction from at least a few other critics, but what astonishes me is how little the negative critics seem to be able to see the most obvious problems. Let’s start with the ending: Oh, really? If this were a genuine documentary film, which it gives off a faux aura of being, I would accept the triumph of the protagonist as a well-earned prize, but it’s not an adaptation of an actual life. This fictional film wants to deliver the fictional formula of a happy ending, and it’s going to make certain the audience gets what it wants. Correct me if I’m wrong, but what’s the difference between this film and Flashdance. The young person triumphs and wins the scholarship. I almost began laughing at the end of the film. Are critics really falling over each other in a rush to praise such a predictable trajectory?

The film gets worse than that, however. Not only does he win a scholarship, he shows up at college and before he even attends a single class, he meets a young women who is going to be the kind of companion he wasn’t able to find as a high school student. I’ll grant you that the film didn’t completely follow formula. After all, IFC popped up on the screen at the start, so we can assume that we’ll be spared the kiss at the end of the movie that signifies the fulfillment, but as you can see, I’m hardly in the mood to award points for that.

It might be nice if critics, both those who loved the film and those who found themselves bored by its lack of genuine dramatic tension, bothered to take the time to step back and place a bildungsroman-type film into a larger context, but that might mean that would have to revisit a genuine masterpiece of American literature, Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. Yes, that story has an “upbeat” ending, too, but it’s a bittersweet one, something much closer to another recent film, Begin Again, which is a minor classic of “small story” poignancy. If you have the time and money to choose between films, I’d recommend Begin Again in whatever theater still might happen to be playing it. Granted, it too used a formula, the old “let’s put on a show, kids” routine, but its refusal to go for the easy December-May romance gave it a twist that enabled its characters and the fine actors playing them to feed off its dramatic integrity. I also appreciated the relative accuracy with which the film depicted the world of music production. The scene at the beginning where the producer hears a different song than the audience was worth the price of admission alone.