Wave goodbye

Standard

“So now you start to recognize
That every single path you see
Leads to a tear in your eye
So wave goodbye, wave goodbye”
Chris Cornell, “Wave Goodbye

The other day virtually everyone I ever knew in Seattle (okay, not everyone, but an awful lot of people) went to see U2 play their now 30-year-old album The Joshua Tree in its entirety. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder joined them on stage. I joked with my mom that Eddie Vedder is now the Tom Skerritt of music. See, Tom Skerritt constantly shows up everywhere – in film, in TV shows, in the fucking Pacific Northwest Ballet. He turns up in the big budget stuff, in tiny, no-budget indies, in large, memorable roles and in the tiniest roles ever. I mean, the guy appears in MASH (the film), Top Gun, Steel Magnolias, Picket Fences, Cheers, Huff and a whole compendium of other things. There were moments when I thought I was safe from Skerritt, and then, as if just to taunt me, he’d appear – for example, the little-known film, Smoke Signals, an adaptation of Sherman Alexie’s short story “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” from his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Or for example when he turns up in the film Singles for just a few minutes of screen time as the mayor of Seattle.

I could carry on almost endlessly listing off Tom Skerritt sightings, but my point: Eddie Vedder turns up on other musicians’ stages (frequently in Seattle but often in cities all over the world) so often that he rivals Skerritt’s ubiquity – only in the music realm.

It’s strange, then, today to think that Eddie Vedder is kind of … the last man standing of grunge-era frontmen. News broke today that Chris Cornell of Soundgarden had died at age 52 after playing a triumphant show in Detroit. Never quite “of” the grunge ‘movement’ (if you could really call it that), never quite getting his due as a songwriter (this has immediately changed upon posthumous evaluation). I’m guilty of underestimating the guy – I never cared a whole lot for the Soundgarden sound but have only, in Cornell’s death, taken a look at the songs and lyrics. I did not recognize the beauty or power of his talent (either the writing or the voice) fully until seen in another context (i.e., both in death and in hearing him in stripped-down versions of songs from other genres and sounds).

Of his own work, I honestly had no idea that Cornell’s writing was often so dark (even if that is not all it was). But I was certainly not alone in this errant and incomplete appraisal; masked by various labels and categorizations (“He was a cock-rocker in an era when everyone was supposed to be too depressed or doped up to fuck”, ‘grunge’ being but one of them, it’s almost as though many people just didn’t listen to what was beneath the sound. (One of the many articles on Cornell today cites, as an example, Johnny Cash’s cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” as an unlikely avenue through which people started to see Cornell’s writing genius.)

“It’s sort of a morbid exchange when somebody who is a writer like that dies, and then everyone starts picking through all their lyrics.”

What can you say about something like this? It’s a sad ending for someone who entertained, who evaded easy categorization, who defied labels and continued to reinvent and moreover brought solace and beauty to the lives of so many people. This is the best that can be said for most of us.

Photo (c) 2007 Guillermo Ruiz used under Creative Commons license.

Why I Changed My Mind: Julie Delpy

Standard

Julie Delpy is, for lack of a better term, a real woman. A woman of many talents, not afraid to be herself, not afraid to be quirky. And not even afraid to be a bitch. When she was younger, it was hard to see things like Europa Europa, her guest arc on the TV hit ER or Trois Couleurs: Blanc and see her as anything but bitchy – her roles were sort of icy or manipulative in ways that made it hard to see her in any other light. And things like Before Sunrise with the generally overrated Ethan Hawke did not lend any charm – a favorite “romance” flick for Gen Xers, Before Sunrise, never appealed to me (like most Gen X pop-culture goalposts and anthems, such as Reality Bites – also with Hawke or Singles, which still does not make sense to me).

The subsequent nine-year intervals between sequels to Before Sunrise, though, have made the films Before Sunset and Before Midnight quite compelling – and I think this is all down to Delpy. Since I don’t get and have never gotten the Ethan Hawke thing (somehow he was the one in Dead Poet’s Society who was singled out for attention, when it was Robert Sean Leonard‘s passionate and tragic turn as Neil that got my attention. Or the passionate, do-anything-for-the-girl classic guy-with-crush performance of Josh Charles as Knox Overstreet. What did Ethan Hawke do in that movie that was so remarkable except defy authority and be the first to jump up on a desk at the end? Yet Ethan Hawke has been the movie star and these others have been “television actors” in popular and well-respected shows, such as House and The Good Wife (and no, I don’t mean that in the snide way Warden Gentles did in Arrested Development), I can only imagine that the load is carried in large part by Delpy.

After the aforementioned “cold” roles in her early career, followed by some missteps like Killing Zoe and An American Werewolf in Paris, I think I could be forgiven my rush to harsh judgment. None of this is to say that her talents went unrecognized – I never watched these films and believed she lacked talent or was just playing variations of herself. I just wondered how it was that she always played this aloof or sometimes misguided character (thinking here of her “Leni” in Europa Europa – she was passionate all right, but the passion was wholly devoted to producing children for Hitler’s “pure Germany”. Perhaps in hindsight I can applaud Delpy’s believability because that role had to have been hard to pull off).

My re-evaluation of Delpy began when I saw Before Sunset. Yeah, I know – I hated Before Sunrise but still had enough curiosity to see where Jesse and Celine (the characters) ended up. I like to torture myself this way, watching things I don’t like, listening to music I don’t like – perhaps just to remind me that there are other, much more beautiful things to watch and hear in the world. But Before Sunset surprised me. Later I saw Delpy in other roles but really decided I liked her after seeing Two Days in Paris (and later, the even funnier Two Days in New York). (I also enjoyed the on-screen keying of cars that Delpy’s father engages in – dismissing it as “normal French behavior” – exactly what I have been trying to tell everyone who isn’t French!) Her performances were subdued and grounded in reality – and that transformed the way I saw her and interpreted her roles.

The change in my opinion also came about because I liked learning that Delpy is so active behind the camera as a writer and director – I love the idea that someone creates the stories they want to see, or they want to appear in. I have read a few interviews where Delpy has kind of downplayed the uniqueness of being a female director, particularly because France actually has quite a number of well-respected, well-known women directors. But this is rather an anomaly in the cinematic world. Not every country has a Claire Denis, an Agnès Jaoui, a Catherine Breillat, a Josiane Balasko, a Mia Hansen-Løve and the countless other women who direct films in France. Delpy can, I hope, forgive the rest of the cinema-loving world for admiring the rarity of her multitasking, multitalented jack-of-all-trades approach to her artistic career.

My feelings should not be overly influenced by what I read or the person Delpy is or appears to be – but the truth is, reading about her own feelings of insecurity or feeling like “a cow” after her child was born – and seeing how she actually looks like a real woman – a stunningly beautiful and stunningly natural woman – imbues her performances with a kind of earthy reality that is not easily found, felt or seen elsewhere. I don’t often have commentary on how actors and actresses look. They are resoundingly “perfect” and put together most of the time, and the especially beautiful and polished are slathered in accolades if they do anything that might make them seem anything less than perfect. It’s like becoming a regular or slightly unattractive person makes a beautiful person an automatic consideration for acting awards. Is that really the measure of how well someone acts? How much vanity they are willing to give up – temporarily, note – to alter their appearance?

Not the point. The point is that Delpy actually looks and sounds the part (“the part” being a woman in her 30s/early 40s). Contributing to the scripts for both Before Sunset and Before Midnight, the conversation – content and pace – throughout feels almost dull at times but in a refreshing and good way. Why? Because that’s how real conversation is. Sometimes it digs into emotion, sometimes it digs into feelings and insecurities and vulnerabilities, sometimes it is witty, sometimes it is just the kind of petty shit that people hurl at each other in moments of weakness, despair, anger. It’s not perfect – but in that way, it’s perfect. A perfect reflection of everyday life. In Before Midnight, Delpy especially – but really the whole cast (which is mostly Delpy and Hawke) – captures, with almost no action – the up-and-down nature of a relationship. Before Sunrise was lauded for supposedly capturing this, but it’s easy to have two young, idealistic adults meet and talk all night and have it be the most romantic night of their lives. Before Midnight, though, is entirely another level of “romantic” because it had to capture two people who had actually idealized each other when they were young – it showed the reality of what happens if someone pursues the “what might have been” or “the one who got away”. It isn’t going to be ideal. If anything, the dialogue and performances convey perfectly the fragility of relationships. All the things unsaid, the resentment, the misinterpretations – and the question of whether love is ever really enough.