Archive | October, 2010

Essay Review: Slouching Towards Bethlehem

28 Oct

During spring of 1967, just before the Summer of Love, thousands of Americans flocked to San Francisco, the epicenter of the hippie movement that challenged everything that was understood about the world.

Psychoactive drugs, creative expression, revolutionary music and political ideals swept the nation. Long-haired flower children spoke of free love, peace and the necessity of exploring realms of consciousness. People questioned the policies of the generations before them and demanded change.

It was during this time that award-winning journalist Joan Didion stepped onto the scene. Embracing the changing landscape herself, Didion wrote about her experiences in what was called the “New Journalism” style, of articulating facts through narrative storytelling, which was popularized by Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson and Truman Copote.

Didion spent months in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco not knowing exactly what she wanted to find out, but made friends “where the social hemorrhaging was showing up… where the missing children were gathering and calling themselves hippies.”

In her 1968 essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” Didion draws upon her observations of Haight-Ashbury and removes the romanticized veil that has come to represent the hippie movement.

She bears witness to the social phenomena of the late ‘60s and communicates her experiences as an observer rather than a participant.

The title for the essay and the book of the same name, is taken from the last line of William Butler Yeat’s poem The Second Coming (1919) and shares the same apocalyptic vision.

During Didion’s time in Haight-Ashbury, she meets a 5-year-old on lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) who explains that her mother had been giving her drugs for the past year and that many of her fellow classmates “turn on,” too.

Didion, who was in her 30s at the time, describes her work Slouching Towards Bethlehem as the “first time I dealt directly and flatly with the evidence of atomization, the proof that all things fall apart.”

Throughout the essay, Didion encounters runaways who left their stable lives behind to live in the “Golden Land” of California, a place they believed promised freedom, love and acceptance, but instead found themselves homeless, hungry and looking for their next drug fix.

Didion is told to offer these vagabonds hamburgers and Coca Colas in exchange for interviews and comes to the conclusion that their lives are now filled with aimless endeavors where the past no longer matters and the future can’t be planned.

“We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum… we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it,” Didion writes.

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” acts as a time capsule into the ‘60s with Didion reporting on the intrinsic pitfalls of the counterculture and allowing readers to catch an intimate glimpse into the lives of those entrenched in the hippie movement. Her essay portrays a darker, more removed account of 1967 than could be expected from the versions of her subjects.

Originally published at The Daily Titan

Film Review: Let Me In

7 Oct

Let Me In, the Americanized remake of 2008’s critically acclaimed Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In, opened in theaters nationwide Oct. 1.

Before you start rolling your eyes at the thought of yet another romantic vampire film, know that this is not like your little sister’s dreamy Twilight saga. Let Me In is more like the cult classics the goth crowd (who dressed like vampires before they were cool) would watch.

This dark indie thriller is filled with gore, violence and scenes that will make you tense up and hold your breath. But it also has a tenderness to it that makes its story very human.

Written and directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), this intense film is the story of 12-year-old vampiress Abby (Chloe Moretz from Kick Ass), who moves into a small New Mexican town in 1978 and befriends her recluse neighbor Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee from The Road).

Contrary to its slasher-like film portrayal in advertisements, Let Me In is a coming-of-age drama about a young boy who is bullied at school, caught in the middle of his parent’s crumbling marriage and yearning for companionship. The plot revolves around the growing relationship between the two adolescent outcasts and Owen’s discovery of his unusual new friend’s true identity.

Let the Right One In is based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s best-selling Swedish novel of the same name and is the story of Lindqvist’s childhood, minus the vampire. Reeves said he initially didn’t think the film should be remade “because it was fantastic,” but later decided to rewrite the film in an American context because he related so much to Owen’s character. He also felt he and Lindqvist shared the same story in the same era, but in different parts of the world.

Reeves said he intentionally shot many of the scenes in soft focus and through barriers like glass to give the film a sort of voyeuristic, intimate quality.

“The orginal film has a kind of Skandinavian remove,” Reeves said. “I wanted the world to look the way it would to Kodi’s character. That’s why you don’t see the mother’s face – because it’s all sort of the emotional state that he’s in and the distance that he feels.”

Reeves, who is a big Alfred Hitchcock fan, said that the genius of Hitchcock (known as the “Master of Suspense”) was that he was able to make his audience identify with the killer, which he did with his own characters in Let Me In.

“I was trying to come up with a method that you would meet a character who was doing reprehensible things and you would meet them in the scariest of possible ways,” Reeves said. “…The film was a process of tearing those layers down and starting to sort of feel for him.”

Let Me In is the vampire film that girls who can’t get enough of the fad can finally take their boyfriends to (without wondering whether he’s starting to resent their taste in movies). Despite some moments of unconvincing computer-generated imagery effects, this low-budget thriller is skillfully filmed and has enough blood, love and insight into the human experience that it successfully appeals to even the most avid boycotter of vampire movies.

Originally published at The Daily Titan

Petty “Won’t Back Down”

7 Oct
                                                                                                                              Photo: Sam Jones

Suits, stoners, soccer moms, hippie chicks, bikers, bros, hipsters and party girls – the eclectic range of fans at Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Oct. 2 Irvine concert proved that the group’s music has yet to “back down.”

Concert-goers young and old filled almost every seat and patch of grass at the Verizon Amphitheater to be a part of the classic band’s “Mojo Tour,” aptly named after their first album release in eight years. A digital copy of Mojo was included with every online ticket purchase, which allowed fans to brush up on the new tunes before the concert began.

Judging by the influx of attendees well after 8 p.m. and the massive tailgating party in the parking lot, hardly anyone took the 7:30 p.m. start time seriously. As a result, opener ZZ Top played their last show of the tour to a much smaller crowd than the concert’s headliners.

Texas blues-rock legend, ZZ Top, played hit songs, like “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs” and “La Grange,” ending their 65 minute set with 1975’s “Tush,” as the fashionably late found their seats.

After intermission, excited fans grew restless. Suddenly, the stage lit up and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers started playing “Listen to Her Heart.” The entire crowd seemed to jump to their feet at once, belting out the lyrics along with frontman Petty, while the air appeared to immediately fill with the smoke of, um, some funny smelling cigarettes.

The group formed in 1976 after Petty was in several other bands that didn’t last. Currently, the Heartbreakers are comprised of guitarist Mike Campell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Ron Blair, guitarist/keyboardist/harmonica player Scott Thurston and drummer Steve Ferrone.

The soulful band who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 has had a multitude of hit singles off their 12 studio albums. They continue to show that their popularity isn’t faltering, which was proven by the packed amphitheater and sold out shows across their 2010 tour.

What makes a Tom Petty concert a Tom Petty concert, is the communal feeling audience members experience.  The night started with groups of meandering fans making their way to their seats, but by the end of the show, the crowd swayed and sang in unison, sharing, er, cigarettes.

Saturday’s attendees were treated to a rendition of the band’s most well-known songs. The lineup included “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Breakdown,” “Learning to Fly” and “Refugee.” The encore included “Running Down a Dream” and “American Girl.”

While the crowd sang their heart’s out during these songs, the moment the Heartbreakers began playing songs off their latest album, listeners flocked to the restrooms and concession stands – typical for any band whose hits are decades old.

Petty, who turns 60-years-old this month, showed the crowd he’s still got it after 34 years with the Heartbreakers. His distinct nasally yet melodic voice hasn’t changed a bit, and the aging rockers proved that you’re only as old as you feel.

The lyrics from “I Won’t Back Down” appear to have become the group’s anthem as they show fans they’re here to stay: “No I’ll stand my ground / Won’t be turned around / And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down / Gonna stand my ground.”

Originally published at The Daily Titan

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