'Stand Clear of the Closing Doors': Lost on the New York Subway

The film uses the New York subway as metaphor, as young Ricky's journey provides a parallel to his family's: they search for him as they find each other.

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

Director: Sam Fleischner
Cast: Jesus Valez, Andrea Suarez, Azul Zorrilla, Tenoch Huerta Mejia, Marsha Stephanie Blake
Rated: NR
Studio: Oscilloscope Pictures
Year: 2013
US date: 2014-05-23 (Limited release)

Ricky (Jesus Sanchez-Velez) holds a sneaker. The camera in Stand Clear of the Closing Doors is close on his fingers as he rubs the faux suede, vaguely purple, and the Supra crown logo. He leans in to smell the shoe, his glasses glinting in the dim light. A pop tune plays on the shop's sound system, a speedy beat that links Ricky's close-up with a subsequent longer shot, his sister Carla's (Azul Zorrilla) legs, in textured tights and boots, as she waits for him, restless. "Come on Ricky," she says, "We gotta get cat food." Ricky remains focused on the shoe, as Carla walks into his frame, hoping to keep their disagreement between them, invisible to the boy she spots across the room, a boy trying on shoes, briefly looking her way when he hears Ricky's voice rise.

While Carla's nervousness, her hope not to make a scene, makes her like most other 15-year-olds, very aware of the world around her, Ricky, 13 and has Asperger’s syndrome, lives another experience, one they can't share. If their differences seem obvious, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors goes on to consider their similarities, the sensory and emotional fragments that make anyone's experience a mix of order and chaos.

This comparison is occasioned by a crisis, when Carla, frustrated with Ricky and also the fact that she's expected to look after him when their undocumented domestic worker mother Mariana (Andrea Suarez Paz) is unavailable, leaves him at school and he wanders off. The movie goes on to follow what might be described as parallel tracks over the next couple of days, as Ricky rides the New York City subway and Carla, Mariana, and eventually the kids' mostly absent father Ricardo (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), worry in their Rockaway Beach apartment, embarking each day to try to find him.

As the boy alone is surrounded by noise and movement, impressions that are alternately thrilling and frightening, weird and familiar, so too his family sees their environment and each other in new ways, the changes made vivid for you in a whirl of street and beach scenes, as well as a sonic cacophony, from construction and traffic, to the wind and surf of an approaching storm: the film is set in October 2012, when Sandy hits the Rockaways.

If the storm is an obvious bit of metaphor, the film's other framing devices help to complicate and expand how such signs circulate. Mariana confronts a school system that absolves itself of responsibility ("What he needs is a place where the staff has training specific to autism spectrum disorder," observes a white guy at a desk, training his budget can't accommodate) and a police force that can't act until the boy has been missing for 72 hours. When at last a detective (Santo Fazio) comes to her tiny apartment to ask questions and inspect the drawings of sea monsters Ricky has left behind, he's out of breath from climbing the stairs, a point underlined when he attaches his portable oxygen tubes to his nose. "Do you want some water?" she offers. He sweats and mutters no, then proceeds to the standard questions: does Ricky have friends, places he likes to go, maybe things he likes to do?

Mariana has already asked herself these questions, and already visited the beach her son likes to walk, several times over the course of the movie. She's encouraged to search by Carmen (Marsha Stephanie Blake), who works at the shoe store where Ricky finds sneakers he likes. "Right now your son just needs you," Carmen tells her, "He needs you to not give up, wherever he is, he can't find himself."

The film uses this notion as both structure and philosophy, that no one can "find himself," that such searches make community by definition. Ricky may not know he's lost, as his sense of time and place can't match his mother's. Simultaneously, Mariana and Carla must sort out another sense of loss while also finding themselves. The film ee this not in the end of the search but in the process, on the trains where Ricky rides and the streets and shore where Mariana walks and puts up fliers. The train is rather a perfect "place" to be lost, in constant motion but also still, inside each car. During these scenes, you see what he sees, sometimes in tight frames suggesting his focus, sometimes in mobile frames suggesting his distraction. Along with the news of Sandy, you're reminded of the US presidential election, which pops up in New York Post headlines ("Romney: The Only Choice") and the also the annual anarchy allowed by Halloween, as Ricky looks up to see figures in chainsaw killer or dragon or Lion King costumes, their faces masked or painted, riding the subway on the way to somewhere else.

Ricky by this point is exhausted as well as lost. And so his ride on the train is ongoing and allusive as much as it might be actual, an experience that his mother cannot imagine, for which his sister cannot apologize enough, and that draws his father home from the job he's been working "upstate." He comes back on Halloween, when Carla's on her way out the door in a pink Nicki MInaj wig: she stops short and embraces her dad who might, she hopes against hope, make things right. As she makes him dinner, bent over the stove in her costume, the camera watches her from the next room, where Mariana and Ricardo both sit, uncomfortably, uncertain how to speak to each other, how to make sense of the silence between them.

Here and elsewhere, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors connects experiences that look, on their surfaces, to be absolutely different. This isn't to say that the film disrespects differences, reconciles these experiences or conjures a neat morality. Rather, it renders the many impressions that might make up these experiences, the loud smudgy blurs of trains passing, the sound of the surf crashing outside Ricky's home, Mariana's long walks on sidewalks and on the shore, her efforts to put up fliers and her visits to church, where she and Carla find solace in a chorus, a sound you now understand is of a piece with the city's noise even as it might be different.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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